President Joe Biden asked Wednesday if a congresswoman who died last month was present at a White House conference on food insecurity.
At the event, the first White House hunger conference since 1969, Biden took a moment during his remarks to credit a list of bipartisan elected officials. All the officials he mentioned were behind a bill establishing Wednesday’s conference, and the late Republican Representative from Indiana, Jackie Walorski, was one of the sponsors.
“I want to thank all of you here for including bipartisan elected officials like Rep. (Jim) McGovern, Sen. (Mike) Braun, Sen. (Cory) Booker, Rep. Jackie, are you here? Where’s Jackie? I think she was not going to be here to help make this happen,” Biden said.
Walorski, who was 58, died last month in a car accident that also killed two of his employees. She began serving in Congress in 2013. Before her death, the congresswoman was the co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus.
When asked about the comment by reporters later Wednesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that Biden was, in fact, referring to Walorski.
“The president named congressional champions on this issue and recognized their incredible work. He had already planned to welcome the congresswoman’s family to the White House on Friday. There will be a law signing in her honor next Friday, so of course she was on her mind,” said Jean-Pierre. “She was the most important thing to the president. He is looking forward to speaking with them about his remarkable legacy of public service when he sees his family next Friday.”
Biden had issued a statement on her death, saying that both he and first lady Dr. Jill Biden were “shocked and saddened” by her passing. The White House also flew flags at half-staff in honor of his death.
“We may have represented different parties and not disagreed on many issues, but members of both parties respected her for her work on the House Ways and Means Committee on which she served,” Biden’s statement read. last month. “She also served as co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus, and my team and I appreciate her partnership as we plan a historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this fall that will be marked by her deep care for the needs of rural America.
At the end of a panel later during Wednesday’s hunger conference, White House Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice mentioned Walorski and the rest of the congressional group responsible for facilitating the conference.
“Well, okay, everyone, please join me in thanking Senators Booker and Braun, President McGovern and the late Jackie Walorski for their extraordinary leadership in making this possible. We wouldn’t be here without them,” he said.
Jean-Pierre bristled at reporters Wednesday when they repeatedly asked about Biden’s comments at the conference. Despite multiple questions on the matter during the White House press conference, Jean-Pierre refused to acknowledge if Biden had made a mistake. Instead, he insisted that the late congresswoman was on the president’s mind when he made the comment, at one point calling a reporter “rude” for pressing the issue.
When Jean-Pierre was read the president’s comments about Walorski, she replied: “I totally understand. I just explained: she was the most important thing. You know what we were able to witness today and what the president was able to raise in this conference, in this event was how his focus in wanting to deal with combating food insecurity in the United States. . And it’s something that he was lifting up and honoring.”
When CNN’s Phil Mattingly pressed Jean-Pierre about why the president was looking for the deceased congresswoman at the conference, the press secretary said, “I don’t think it’s that unusual to have someone on your mind, especially since there’s a big event. .”
He denied that the president was confused or that there was anything wrong with the teleprompter.
Jean-Pierre said the reporter who asked if there was some kind of mistake “did draw a lot of conclusions”, adding: “If that had been the case, I would have said so.” She did not commit to publishing the comments prepared by the conference president, saying she would not understand why that would be necessary.
On most occasions, the White House typically sends a transcript of the president’s remarks, which may differ from what is uploaded on a teleprompter before a speech.
Another reporter asked: “The confusing part is: why, if she and family (are) the most important thing, does the president think she is living and in the room?”
“I don’t find it confusing,” answered Jean-Pierre. “I think a lot of people can talk, sometimes when you have someone on your mind, exactly that.”
He also said reporters should put the comment in “context” of him yelling at congressional leaders about food insecurity and brushed off a question about whether the president believed he handled the situation adequately, saying he had answered the question several times. times “and my answer is certainly not going to change”.