The trouble started on Friday with a report in a conservative daily newspaper. The New York Post told readers, "Unaccompanied migrant kids brought from the U.S.-Mexico border to a new shelter in Long Beach, Calif., will be given a copy of [Vice President Kamala Harris'] 2019 children's book, 'Superheroes are Everywhere,' in their welcome kits." The article ran on the front page, along with a photo of a copy of the book alongside a backpack.
In theory, this raised the prospect of a legitimate controversy: if the Biden administration was using funds to purchase and distribute copies of the vice president's book, it would obviously raise difficult questions for which there'd be no easy answer. It's likely why so many Republicans pounced on the New York Post's report.
The trouble, of course, was that the report was wrong. As the Washington Post explained this morning:
Long Beach city officials told The Washington Post that Harris's book is not being handed out in welcome kits. A single copy of the book was donated during a citywide donation drive, officials said.
It turns out that reality is surprisingly simple. Long Beach has welcomed migrant children, and officials have taken up collections to provide the kids with food and other aid. Some locals donated books, and one person in the community donated one copy of the vice president's children's book.
Why is that controversial? It's not. At least, it shouldn't be.
But after one conservative outlet ran with the false claim that every welcome kit for the migrant children will receive Harris' book, others quickly followed. Fox News ran with the story, as did the Republican National Committee.
It wasn't long before the nonsense spread to Capitol Hill. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) yesterday demanded to know whether "taxpayers paying for copies of the Vice President's book to be handed out at migrant shelters." A day earlier, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) asked whether Biden administration officials are "forcing taxpayers to buy Kamala Harris's book to give to those illegal immigrants."
Also yesterday, this even made it into the White House briefing room, with a reporter asking Press Secretary Jen Psaki why "every migrant child being brought to a shelter is being given a copy" of the vice president's children's book. Psaki had no idea what the reporter was talking about -- which makes sense given that the claim at the heart of the question wasn't true.
One of her predecessors -- Sean Spicer -- thought it'd be a good idea to wait until this morning, after the Washington Post had already discredited the made-up controversy, to express outrage that the media isn't paying more attention to claims that Harris' book "is in a welcome gift bag for migrants entering the country." Spicer, whose wisdom knows no bounds, added that the Biden White House "refuses to answer how or why" this happened.
That's because it didn't happen. It's a made-up story.
The timing of this unfortunate mess doesn't help matters: as many conservatives touted this fake controversy, the right also pushed the bizarre claim that the president intends to ban Americans from buying meat.
The larger context is jarring: Republicans appear to be having so much difficulty undermining Biden and his team that they're leaning on manufactured nonsense, and in the process, implicitly conceding that they're unable to find actual controversies worthy of criticism.
I don't imagine GOP officials are interested in my advice, but I'd remind them to pace themselves. The president hasn't yet been in office for 100 days, and it's likely there will eventually be real White House missteps worthy of Republican rebukes.
It's better to wait for those errors than to chase ghosts that aren't really there.