Jen Psaki, the new White House press secretary, does not enjoy answering questions, but when required to do so, she has two stock replies. The first is, “I’m going to circle back.” Psaki circles back on everything, perhaps bringing a new meaning to the term “spin.” The second is to point to the immutable characteristics of the figure being discussed, as if it has any bearing on the issue at hand. “I would point out first,” Psaki likes to say, before going on to explain that the subject at hand is a woman or a minority or a Catholic or what you will, and then quickly moving on. Transparency, let’s say, is not Psaki’s strong suit.
Which makes it all the more interesting that, on the question of gun control, Psaki is so bold. We are told incessantly that the Biden administration is guided above all else by “moderation,” and yet whenever the topic of restricting the Second Amendment is raised, that administration’s press liaison becomes visibly excited. Gun control, Psaki has confirmed, is “a priority” to President Biden “on a personal level.” Indeed, she says, Biden has made “a personal commitment” to limit gun rights, would “love to see action,” “is happy and eager” to “take on the NRA” and “hasn’t ruled out” acting without Congress. On most other topics, Psaki demurs from the outset. On this one, she positively emotes.
At least, she emotes until she is asked for specifics. Having been invited in early February to outline in more detail the “action” that President Biden would “love to see,” Psaki returned to form: “I don’t have anything to preview for you at this point,” she said, “in terms of what the policy will look like or what form it will take.”
We all know what President Biden hopes to achieve, of course, because his campaign website spelled it out in no uncertain terms. He hopes to institute every single one of the many bad gun-control proposals that have been floating around since 1975.
Jen Psaki knows what President Biden hopes to achieve, too, because, before she was employed in her current role, she was openly zealous about the matter. During the Democrat primaries in 2020, Psaki responded to Beto O’Rourke’s extraordinary and politically suicidal call for the confiscation of the most-commonly owned rifle in America by tweeting, “Thank You @BetoORourke TAKE GUNS. PLEASE! No one needs an assault weapon. This is a crisis.” On another occasion, Psaki tweeted, “Gun Registration. yes yes yes. It is a public health emergency and if any issue gets mothers out to the polls it should be this one.”
As it turned out, the prospect of stricter gun control got almost nobody “out to the polls,” which might go some way to explaining why there exists such a profound gap between the Biden administration’s enthusiasm for gun control in general and its unwillingness to add details from the podium. It seems fairly safe to suggest that Jen Psaki will not be shouting “TAKE GUNS. PLEASE” from the White House briefing room, nor exclaiming “Gun Registration. yes yes yes.” And why not? Well, because, as I write, the people of the United States are continuing to break firearms sales records, the number of first-time gun owners is still rising, and state after state is loosening, rather than restricting, its carry rules. And the midterms are coming.
Thus are we witnessing the unlovely paradox of an administration that is blasé in theory about limiting an elementary right, but nervous when challenged on the particulars. Will Psaki eventually drop the act, put meat on the bone and risk alienating the public? On that, I’ll have to circle back.