The panel on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" wasn't having any of what White House press secretary Josh Earnest was saying about Yemen, calling him out multiple times and putting him on the defensive during a tough interview Thursday morning.
The issue is that Earnest and the administration are touting Yemen, which is in the midst of civil unrest and being overrun by Houthi rebels, as a success story and a model for fighting against terrorism. Host Mika Brzezinski wasn't convinced.
“Should we dial back on the words that it is a success story, when you have the president fleeing on a boat?” Brzezinski pressed.
According to Earnest, the success of U.S. policy shouldn't be measured by the stability of the Yemeni government. He said the U.S. is not trying to create a "Jeffersonian democracy," but rather wants to make sure Yemen is not a place that can harbor terrorists.
"The fact is that even though U.S. personnel is no longer in Yemen, the United States continues to have the capacity and resources and reach to be able to take strikes when necessary against extremists that operating there,” he said.
That's when NBC News White House correspondent Chris Jansing stepped in.
“How, when you have the embassy closed, Americans have left, you have the parliament that has been dissolved, you have the president fleeing on a boat, maybe towards Djibouti, you have so many less possibilities for intelligence on the ground, how can you say that we are still in a counter-terror situation there?” she asked.
“We do continue to be in touch with some elements of the Yemeni government,” Earnest answered. “Obviously, that effort at security cooperation is not as robust and as successful as it would otherwise be if the Yemeni government were stable. ... The United States continues to have resources in the broader region that we can use to strike terrorists if necessary, and the president has indicated a commitment to using those resources to keep the American people safe.”
The grilling by MSNBC marks the second time in 24 hours that Earnest was pressed on American policy in Yemen. On Wednesday, ABC's Jon Karl was visibly shocked when Earnest continued to hold up Yemen as a model of counter-terrorism strategy.
"That’s astounding,” Karl said. “You’re saying you still see Yemen as a model? Building up a central government, which has now collapsed? A president who has apparently fled the country? You know, Saudi troops massing on one border, the Iranians supporting the rebels? You consider this a model for counterterrorism?”