White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki Plays 'Not My Job' On 'Wait Wait' Psaki deals with the press pool all day, but what does she know about swimming pools? We've invited her to play a game called "Take a dip in this pool." Three questions about pools in politics.
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Not My Job: We Quiz White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki On Swimming Pools

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Not My Job: We Quiz White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki On Swimming Pools

Not My Job: We Quiz White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki On Swimming Pools

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PETER SAGAL, HOST:

And now the game where we put odd questions to people who just aren't used to that - but not this time. Jen Psaki has served in the trenches of government for years, but now she is the most prominent face of the Biden administration. She's the White House press secretary. She has already redefined the role by answering questions calmly and factually without insulting the questioner. We didn't know that was possible. We hope she sticks to it now.

Jen Psaki, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

JEN PSAKI: Thank you. This is when I'm going to get really nasty, so...

SAGAL: Finally. Finally.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I actually wanted to ask you that because a number of people have noted that you've been very generous, professional. We're not used to that.

PSAKI: (Laughter).

SAGAL: Have you been tempted yet? And I know this is not your first gig as a communications professional, but have you been tempted yet to just snap at somebody?

PSAKI: (Laughter).

SAGAL: It's, like, all bets are off.

PSAKI: You know, in Dana Perino's book, she talks about having her finger, the middle finger, up in the podium underneath when she's just, like, really - just they're getting under her skin. So (unintelligible) that out as an option. But no, it's only been a week. I...

(LAUGHTER)

PSAKI: I have a little secret thing I do - maybe not secret because I'm telling all of you. But when when reporters are getting really loud, or they're starting to ask crazy questions, I just slow down my pace, and I talk very quietly, and I treat them like I'm an orderly sometimes in an insane asylum.

(LAUGHTER)

PSAKI: Not that they're people in an insane asylum. But, sometimes, that's all you have to do to cool yourself down inside.

SAGAL: Were you - because this is what I would have done, and this is why I don't - I'm not trusted with jobs like yours. Were you tempted at all to come out in your very first day at the very first Biden administration press conference and announce that Biden's inauguration had the largest audience ever...

PSAKI: (Laughter).

SAGAL: ...Despite what everybody was saying, just to do it?

PSAKI: I mean, I was tempted. I did get a lot of people - some of my predecessors, not naming names - who sent me jokes - you know, jokes...

SAGAL: Yeah.

PSAKI: ...About crowd size. None of them were great. I was a little worried people would look at me...

(LAUGHTER)

PSAKI: ...With blank stares - like, what's happening right now? So I didn't do any of them. But I was a little tempted. I'm not going to lie.

TOM PAPA: Jen, is it your goal - I mean, you're very good at what you do, and it's very calming and nice to see. But is it - your set goal is just to try not to get on "Dancing With The Stars"?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Whatever you do, it's, like, not that, not that. Don't end up there.

PSAKI: And whenever I'm having a low day, I kind of - I have from time to time pulled up that picture of Sean Spicer - the video of him shimmying in that shirt.

SAGAL: Yes.

PSAKI: I've done (unintelligible). It's nothing personal. I don't wish him ill. But that shirt was pretty amazing. My goal is not to get on "Dancing With The Stars." I can promise that.

SAGAL: It's true. It wasn't the dancing. It wasn't the stars. It was the puffy sleeves that really...

PSAKI: The sleeves - I mean, I was...

SAGAL: Yes.

PSAKI: ...Your wife see that shirt? Did you wear that shirt knowing what the shirt looked like?

(LAUGHTER)

PSAKI: But I also wanted to give him advice.

YASSIR LESTER: Now, there's been a lot of turmoil with what I'm about to mention, but...

PSAKI: Oh, we're ready. We're ready.

LESTER: Which instructor does Biden ride with the most for Peloton?

PSAKI: Oh, that is a great question. Yes.

LESTER: I am a fellow Peloton head, so...

PSAKI: This is such a good question.

LESTER: So if you tell me, you're also going to have to give me his screenname.

(LAUGHTER)

LESTER: I'm just letting you know.

PSAKI: I mean, I am not afraid to ask him all sorts of random questions. I have not asked him this. I really want it to be Ally Love.

LESTER: Sundays with Love - come on.

PSAKI: Sundays with Love - it's just this really - really get a workout, get a little spiritual moment. It's everything.

LESTER: Yeah.

JESSI KLEIN: Oh, my gosh.

(LAUGHTER)

KLEIN: I had pictured President Biden as more of like a - I don't know - like, an Alex Toussaint guy.

PSAKI: Oh.

KLEIN: I don't know. I definitely need to know the answer to this. I've wondered the same thing.

PSAKI: We may need to follow up with all of your list.

LESTER: We should get to ride with him.

PSAKI: (Laughter).

SAGAL: So we notice you've been doing this for a while, and you're pretty good at dodging questions you don't want to answer.

PSAKI: Yes.

SAGAL: So...

PSAKI: That is true.

SAGAL: We wanted to see how you did it, so I'll ask you this. Hey, Jen, we're having this great time. We're having this great time Saturday night. We're all going to hang out. We're all going to be playing some foosball in my basement, drinking some, you know, White Claw. Why don't you come over? Can you come over and join us for that on Saturday night?

PSAKI: You know, that's a great offer. I really appreciate it. I'm just going to have to get back to you after the briefing on it. I promise I'll do that.

(LAUGHTER)

PSAKI: I do say it's...

SAGAL: Really? Is - that's it? Just...

PSAKI: Twitter's had a little fun with me because I say, I'm going to circle back. I'm going to circle back. Now, I will say, and my very hardworking team can confirm, I'm obsessed with circling back with reporters, and not just saying it, but after the briefing getting back to them. That is sort of a tic I have that I've got to work on.

But often, what I'll say - and everybody has their different things - is I will say, I just don't have anything more for you on it. I just don't have anything more for you - which is true. And sometimes that's the truth. That's what you've got to say.

KLEIN: That's, like, a great way to get out of a relationship, too. Just say...

(LAUGHTER)

KLEIN: I don't have anything more for you.

(LAUGHTER)

PSAKI: I don't have anything more for you now (unintelligible).

SAGAL: I'm sorry.

KLEIN: Yeah, and I won't be circling back.

PAPA: Can I circle back?

(LAUGHTER)

PSAKI: Sometimes, you just don't have the answer. And, you know, there - in there, you're just not going to know the answer to a million and one different questions they may have. And sometimes you just have to follow up with them. And that's OK, too. So I actually do do that. But when I am not going to tell them any more, I say, I don't have anything more for you on that. So that's my tip. Use it with boyfriends, whatever. That's fine.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Do you ever walk off the - from the podium after a press conference is done and, like, five minutes later think of the thing you should have said?

PSAKI: Every day.

SAGAL: Yeah.

PSAKI: I mean, every day. Every day, you walk up, and I say, didn't start a war. Hey, that's good.

SAGAL: Yes.

PSAKI: But, you know, every day, I meet with my team. They're awesome. And I say, OK, what problems did I cause today?

PAPA: Right.

PSAKI: What can I clean up today? And what should I say better tomorrow? And that's kind of what I go through. To President Biden's credit, I mean, he kind of - he says, if you mess up, fess up. And if you, you know, don't have the answer, don't make it up. And I follow that.

SAGAL: I have one last question before we get to the game. You have young children, right?

PSAKI: I do.

SAGAL: Yeah. How old exactly?

PSAKI: Two and a half and 5 1/2.

SAGAL: Two and a half and 5 1/2. And I guess the 2 1/2 is the 2 1/2 but does the 5 1/2-year-old know what you do for a living and understands why you have to be at work so much?

PSAKI: Yeah. Well, when - my husband has worked on the Hill for a long time. And we had this book, and it had the Capitol. And this is maybe two years ago, and she would say, daddy works there. And then she'd say, what do you do again, mom? I was working in a think tank. It was less exciting to her. But when I took this job, I - you know, I took her out to ice cream. I said, you know, Joe Biden, that very nice man who's going to help heal the country, asked me if I can help him for a while - you know, try to make it 5-year-old terms. And I said...

SAGAL: Yeah.

PSAKI: And I'm going to do this, but it's also a sacrifice for you because we're not going to get to spend as much time together. And, you know, in that way, you're helping Joe Biden, too, and you're helping heal the country. And I was, like, really proud of myself. And I was, like...

SAGAL: That's pretty good.

PSAKI: ...Does that make sense? And she said, not really, mommy.

(LAUGHTER)

KLEIN: Did she - and did she just say, I don't have anything for - anything more for you?

(LAUGHTER)

PAPA: Circle back.

PSAKI: I don't have anything more for you on that.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Well, Jen Psaki, it is a joy to talk to you, and we feel lucky to do so. But we have, in fact, invited you here to play a game that this time we're calling...

BILL KURTIS: Take a Dip in This Pool.

SAGAL: You deal all day with the press pool, so we thought we'd ask you about actual pools - swimming pools.

PSAKI: OK.

SAGAL: Answer three questions about swimming pools in politics, and you will win our prize for one of our listeners, the voice of anyone they choose on their voicemail. Bill, who is White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki playing for?

KURTIS: Samantha Stewart of Portland, Ore.

SAGAL: First question - pools have played an important role in international diplomacy, including which of these? A, to gain the upper hand, Mao Zedong scheduled a meeting with Khrushchev in a swimming pool, knowing that Khrushchev could not swim; B, the division of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War was settled by a four-lap swimming race between the British and French prime ministers; or C, the Paris peace talks to end the Vietnam War took so long because the Vietnamese kept taking long breaks to use the hotel Jacuzzi.

PSAKI: I'm going to go A.

SAGAL: You're going to go A. You're exactly right.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

SAGAL: That's what happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE SOUND EFFECT)

SAGAL: There are photographs from that summit between Mao Zedong and Khrushchev in the swimming pool in which Khrushchev is wearing floaties.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: All right. You got one right. Moving on. Now, as I'm sure you also know, there is a pool in the White House right now, an outdoor swimming pool built by Gerald Ford, who liked to swim laps. Which of these really happened at the White House pool? A, Jimmy Carter converted it into a cistern for rainwater to water the Rose Garden in an ecologically sensitive way; or B, Barbara Bush was attacked by a swimming rat in the pool, which was killed by her husband, President George H.W. Bush; or C, Bill Clinton won a cannonball contest by throwing in actual cannonballs he requisitioned from the secretary of the Army.

PSAKI: I want it to be B, so I'm going to go with B.

SAGAL: You're right.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

SAGAL: That's what happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE SOUND EFFECT)

PSAKI: All right.

SAGAL: Mrs. Bush said it was the worst thing that happened to her at the White House. OK, last question. Pools also played a role in the Cold War. How? A, the CIA came up with a plan to drop chemicals into all Soviet swimming pools to turn them instantly into Jell-O; B, the Soviets proved their superiority by building a nuclear submarine with a swimming pool on board; or C, the Soviets bugged the swimming pool at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and became convinced a top spy went by the codename Marco Polo.

PSAKI: I'm going to go with C.

SAGAL: You're going to go with C, that the Soviets actually believed there was a Marco Polo because they kept shouting his name.

PSAKI: I'm just going to go with it.

SAGAL: I think you're right. I think you're confident. But no, it was actually B. The Soviets...

PSAKI: Oh.

SAGAL: ...Built a nuclear missile submarine big enough to have a swimming pool on board.

PSAKI: I just couldn't believe that one. But all right. All right. All right - 2 for 3 - I feel OK about that.

SAGAL: Bill, how did Jen Psaki do on our quiz?

KURTIS: She had already won two, so you have won, Jen.

PSAKI: Woo.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE SOUND EFFECT)

SAGAL: Congratulations.

PSAKI: All right.

SAGAL: Jen Psaki is the White House press secretary. Jen Psaki, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

PSAKI: Thank you so much. It was so great talking with all of you.

SAGAL: Take care.

KLEIN: Thank you.

SAGAL: Thanks again, and good luck. We'll see you on the TV.

PSAKI: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SWIMMING POOL")

RED VELVET: (Singing) Hey, hey, you - so whatcha gonna do? (Speaking Japanese) in the swimming pool.

SAGAL: In just a minute, Bill takes you on a culinary journey you'll never forget and you'll probably regret in the Listener Limerick Challenge. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on the air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR.

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