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Reporter confronts Psaki with two easy questions about COVID testing plan, but she refuses to answer them multiple times

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MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

White House press secretary Jen Psaki became visibly frustrated Tuesday when a reporter confronted her about a story that claimed the Biden administration rejected a plan to mass-produce and distribute at-home COVID-19 tests.

What is the background?

Vanity Fair reported just days before Christmas that experts approached the Biden administration in October with a plan to mass-produce and distribute at-home COVID tests ahead of the holiday season. But the plan was ultimately rejected, the report claimed.

President Joe Biden later denied his administration had rejected the plan, as medical experts criticized his administration for not increasing testing capacity. Still, Biden announced last week the government had purchased an additional 500 million COVID tests — for a total 1 billion tests — and on Tuesday soft-launched a government website to begin distribution of the tests.

Senate Democrats have even criticized Biden for his failure to adequately enact a plan to expand COVID test access.

What happened with Psaki?

During the White House press briefing, New York Post reporter Steven Neslon asked Psaki two softball questions about the Vanity Fair report: Who participated in the October meeting, and was Biden informed of the plan before it was allegedly rejected?

But Psaki did not answer either question. Instead, she blamed market forces for no early testing distribution plan and mentioned what Biden has done since then.

"The issue at the time, which was a very small part of the conversation, was that the market had not expanded enough to, at that moment in time, be able to launch the website we’re launching tomorrow," she said. "And the president, you know, used the Defense Production Act, invested $3 billion to expand it, quadrupled the size of our testing capacity, and now we’ve ordered 1 billion doses. So, we see that as— our COVID team and the members who participated saw that as a very constructive meeting, a good meeting, a lot of which we’ve worked to implement."

Nelson, sensing Psaki's question-dodging, responded by asking Psaki how Biden can "shut down the virus" like he promised if he is not being briefed on new ideas to improve the government's pandemic response. Nelson then asked his original two questions again.

"How can President Biden shut down the virus if he’s, you know, not being briefed on these ideas? I mean, that’s my question," Nelson responded. "So, I’m wondering: Who were the advisers, and was President Biden briefed on this idea at the time?"

Psaki claimed she answered the questions, but again blamed market capacity and cited Biden's investment in the DPA.

Nelson then tried again, but Psaki had none of it.

"I hear what you’re saying, but that’s not the question I asked. The question I asked was: Which —" Nelson said before being cut off.

"Do you have another question? I think I’ve answered your question," Psaki said. "Again, I’ve answered your question. If you have another one, I’m happy to answer it. Otherwise, I’m going to move on to the next person."

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