After a weekend of gorging on the process of the infrastructure negotiations and utterly neglecting the substance of a $1.2 trillion deal, the White House press corps on Monday — wait for it! — gorged on process and almost entirely neglected substance.

Reporters continued to pepper White House press secretary Jen Psaki with question after question about the Republicans’ new tactic — claiming Republicans were hoodwinked and that the deal has gone off track. Over and over, Psaki gave one variation after another of the same answer.

Reporters kept asking essentially the same question about whether the bipartisan package was linked to the reconciliation deal and if the president would refuse to sign one without the other. They were anxious to get her respond to the latest bad-faith effort from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to upset the apple cart. One exchange went like this:

Q: Senator McConnell today said that President Biden should tell Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer to de-link the partisan — bipartisan infrastructure bill from any reconciliation measures. Does President Biden intend to tell congressional leaders what to do on this matter?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me just reiterate: The president looks forward to signing each bill. He’s long supported the two-track approach.

And so it went — the same line of questioning, followed by the same answer:

MS. PSAKI: The president looks forward to and expects to sign each piece of legislation into law, and he’s going to work his heart out getting both of them across the finish line.
Q: But if he only gets — if the infrastructure bill arrives and the reconciliation package is not here yet, no one has clarified that, “Yes, he will sign it.” So can you clarify that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Kaitlan, I know we’re quite focused sometimes on process in here, but — and hypotheticals. The president is focused on selling this package to the American people — both packages, I should say. That’s what he’ll be doing tomorrow in Wisconsin. And we’ll be working closely with leaders in Congress to move both of these pieces of legislation forward.
Q: Okay. So the White House is not going to say, “Yes, he will sign the infrastructure bill it if comes alone to his desk”?
MS. PSAKI: The president expects to sign each piece of legislation into law.

Finally, CBS News’s Major Garrett asked about what was in the bill:

Q: And you have said a couple of times the president is going to tell the country what’s in it, but even those who have supported it say, “We’d like to know more about it.” I mean, when are the details going to be really available for those, for example, who live in Flint, Michigan, or any other city in America that does have a lead pipe situation to know exactly what’s going to be spent, when it’s going to be spent, and the core legislative language that, when I used to cover Senator Biden, he would be very much focused on?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what would you like to know? Settle in. I will I — will share every detail that anyone would like to know about the package. . . .
I will say — just because you asked me about the specific component of the package, just to give a little bit more detail there — it will put work — it will put Americans to work replacing 100 percent of our nation’s lead water pipes so that every single American child at home or in school can turn on the faucet and drink clean water.
And right now, as you may or may not know, up to 10 million homes and 400,000 schools and child care centers get their water from lead pipes and service lines. So, that is what it will aim to address in that specific category.

Even if one concedes that the process angle deserves a question or two, what is the justification for devoting virtually every question to a process issue that had largely if not entirely been resolved? The press may think it is being “tough” on the White House, but it is the easiest thing imaginable for Psaki to repeat the same answer. The press is not informing the public about the largest infrastructure deal in memory; it is not obtaining any new information.

If the White House press corps really wanted to get tough, there is no shortage of questions:

  • On the matter of paying for the measure, how much do you think you get from increased IRS enforcement? What’s the basis for that calculation?
  • Does saying revenue will come from “macroeconomic investment” mean you think it will help pay for itself? How much of the funding relies on this? Is that an appropriate method of funding the reconciliation bill?
  • The package is much smaller than it once was. How much less growth and how many fewer jobs would the new deal deliver?
  • The old deal specified that most of the jobs created would not require a college education. Did that change? If most of the jobs are in construction, what about workers in their 50s and 60s?
  • How are you going to pick the specific projects? Will members of Congress be earmarking items?
  • How quickly does money go out the door? If the bill was signed today, when would the first bridge be repaired or the first neighborhood get expanded broadband?
  • Outside analysts estimated that most of the jobs in the original bill would likely go to men. Did that become even more heavily tilted toward men, given that senior care providers, who are predominantly female, were cut out?

That is just a sample of the questions that might push the administration to reveal some of the trade-offs it has made. There are plenty of questions that might educate Americans about what is in it for them. However, so long as pack journalism and process obsession continue, we are unlikely to learn about any of this. You have to wonder what members of the press think is accomplished by their repetitive, substance-free queries.