White House press secretary Josh Earnest told CBS News reporter Major Garrett he was “not dancing around” a question during a confrontational back-and-forth during Wednesday’s press briefing.
The matter at hand was whether President Barack Obama had attempted to call House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) since Pelosi led House Democrats to deal a devastating setback to the president’s trade agenda on Friday.
“Did he pick up the phone and talk to the number one Democrat in the House that just stabbed him in the back on TAA?” Garrett said, referring to Trade Adjustment Assistance package that failed in the House Friday. “It’s a real simple question.”
Earnest said, “I’m telling you the White House chief of staff picked up the phone and called her on Monday and the president has made a large number of calls in the past few days.”
Garrett noted that was not his question. “I’m not asking for a large number of calls to people who are slightly less relevant in resolving this than the minority leader of the House. Did he call her? Yes or no?”
Earnest then said he had to “challenge the premise” of Garrett’s question.
“The people who are most relevant are the people trying to find this path forward, are part of the bipartisan majority that have allowed this legislation to advance,” Earnest said. “That’s why the president has frequently been on the phone with both the speaker of the House and the majority leader in the Senate.”
When Garrett asked again about Pelosi, Earnest shot back, “But again Major, she doesn’t want the legislation to advance.”
After some more give and take, Garrett said, “Question the premise all you want, just answer the question.”
NPR reporter Mara Liasson jumped into ask, “We have to assume the answer is no. Isn’t that a fair assumption?”
Earnest tried to conclude by saying, “You can assume whatever you like. Have we exhausted this? Can we move on?”