White House press secretary teases review of ‘MAGA’ talk after Hatch Act violation

Karine Jean-Pierre
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Friday, June 2, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Evan Vucci/AP

White House press secretary teases review of ‘MAGA’ talk after Hatch Act violation

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The White House fended off a series of awkward questions on Tuesday after being accused of a Hatch Act violation.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre often cites the act, which bars government employees from political campaigning, as a reason not to answer questions from reporters. But she now stands accused of violating the act by using the phrase “mega MAGA Republicans.”

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“Special counsel has said that your use of ‘MAGA Republicans’ violated the Hatch Act,” a reporter said. “What kind of guidance have you previously been given by the White House counsel on that matter?”

Jean-Pierre responded that she knew there were many news reports on the matter, possibly because her use of the act has frustrated reporters, but argued she has been consistent.

“We do everything that we can to uphold the Hatch Act and take the law very seriously,” she said. “Many of you have mentioned with friendly consternation how often we follow the Hatch Act throughout these past two years. … The White House counsel’s office is reviewing their opinion and is going to respond, so I’m certainly not going to get ahead of how the White House counsel is going to respond.”

The Hatch Act was passed in 1939 and prohibits government employees from engaging in overt political statements in their official capacities. Previous administrations, including several Trump White House officials and former Biden press secretary Jen Psaki, have drawn complaints of violating the act.

Jean-Pierre, on the other hand, has been accused of citing it too much, even while attacking Republicans in other contexts, such as using the term “MAGA Republicans” as a pejorative. The Office of Special Counsel, a government watchdog agency, found that the phrase violates the act, though it did not recommend a reprimand.

The press secretary defended her use of “MAGA,” which is an acronym for “Make America Great Again,” and cited its frequent use by Republicans.

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It’s unclear if she’ll continue to use the term going forward.

“We have used this term many times before,” Jean-Pierre said, pointing to a review by the White House legal counsel. “It’s nothing new in the context, and the way we use it is in the context of talking about their policies and in talking about their values. That’s how we have used this term. And so I will leave it there.”

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