Press Secretary Jen Psaki Sidesteps Questions on Biden's SCOTUS Pick: 'I See What You Did There'

Justice Stephen Breyer is retiring and the president has promised to nominate a Black woman to replace him

Jen Psaki
Jen Psaki. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty

As soon as news broke Wednesday that Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer will retire, speculation began about who President Joe Biden will nominate to replace the liberal-leaning jurist.

At her daily briefing, Press Secretary Jen Psaki anticipated a barrage of such questions — and she was not wrong in her assumption — but preemptively hedged them by saying the White House won't comment on details of the president's decision-making process.

After all, she noted, Justice Breyer hasn't officially announced his departure from the court.

"Let me reiterate something that you heard the President say, and I also said over Twitter: 'It's always been the decision of any Supreme Court Justice if and when they decide to retire, how they want to announce it, and that remains the case today,' " Psaki said.

Still, there were questions.

"Does President Biden plan to honor his pledge to nominate a Black woman to the Court?" a reporter asked.

"Hypothetically" was thrown in, prompting some laughter among the assembled press.

"Well, I've commented on this previously. The president has stated and reiterated his commitment to nominating a Black woman to the Supreme Court and certainly stands by that," Psaki replied. "For today, again, I'm just not going to be able to say anything about any specifics until, of course, Justice Breyer makes any announcement, should he decide to make an announcement." (Soon enough, the White House announced that Biden would make a speech Thursday afternoon about Breyer's retirement, with Breyer in attendance.)

At Wednesday's briefing, another reporter tried her approach, asking, "Jen, what preparations is the White House engaged in broadly in the case of a Supreme Court vacancy?"

"I'm just not going to detail any of that from here," Psaki said.

The reporter pushed: "Doesn't every White House like to get ahead of this in case of a sudden passing — in the case of Ruth Bader Ginsburg?"

Psaki didn't budge. But then the same reporter posed another question.

"Is there any scenario in which the President would select his vice president, Kamala Harris, for the Supreme Court?"

Jen Psaki
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. Drew Angerer/Getty

Harris is the first Black woman to serve as vice president. She's also Asian American, a lawyer and the former attorney general of California.

"Again, I'm not going to speak to any considerations, preparations, lists. And as we've stated earlier, and you heard the president say: There's a long history of Supreme Court justices determining when they may retire, if they retire, and announcing that. That remains the case today," Psaki said.

But the White House press corps dug in: A third reporter followed-up on the Harris question, which was the subject of various grabby-if-wildly-speculative headlines on Thursday — such as "Kamala Harris to Supreme Court Would Open the VP Door for Hillary Clinton" from The Boston Herald.

"When you were asked about the vice president possibly being selected as a Supreme Court nominee," another reporter asked, "you said you're 'not going to speak to any considerations.' Does that mean she is being considered?"

Psaki dodged, so the reporter re-phrased.

"Just wondering, hypothetically and theoretically, would someone who was an attorney general of a large state and who served with many keys Senate votes be an attractive candidate to the president for an open Supreme Court seat?"

"I see what you did there," Psaki said, prompting more laughter. "But the president has every intention, as he said before, of running for re-election, and for running for re-election with Vice President Harris on the ticket as his partner."

There were a couple more Supreme Court-related questions, but Psaki stuck to her refusal to comment in detail about Biden's thinking or preparation.

At one point, when she called on a reporter who indicated two questions were coming, Psaki asked, "Is it about the Supreme Court?"

The reporter replied: "No, I'm not part of this bunch."

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