Feb 18, 2021
Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Call Transcript February 18
February 18, 2021 press conference call with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. She discussed the winter storm hitting Texas, Oklahoma, and other states. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Jen Psaki: (00:00)
… secured an excellent policy advisor. Today, we are joined by Homeland Security Advisor and Deputy National Security Advisor, Liz Sherwood-Randall. She will discuss the administration’s continued efforts around the winter storm impacting Texas, Oklahoma, and other states in the central United States. And then she has time to take just a couple of questions before she needs to get back to her day job of, of course, monitoring the storm. But a little background on Liz before I turn it over to her.
Jen Psaki: (00:26)
She was the Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy from 2014 through 2017. Earlier in the Obama administration, she served as White House Coordinator for Defense Policy, countering weapons of mass destruction and arms control. Prior to that, she was special assistant to the president and senior director for European Affairs at the National Security Council. In the Clinton administration, she served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, and she began her career working for then Senator Joe Biden, as his chief advisor on foreign and defense policy. I’ll turn it over to Liz. She’ll take a couple of questions and then we’ll do a briefing after that. So Liz, the floor is yours.
Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall: (01:06)
Thanks very much, Jen, and hello to everyone. I’m sorry we can’t be doing this in person. As we in the White House have continued to monitor the situation with the extreme weather in the South, I’m glad to share an update with you on what we’ve been doing.
Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall: (01:21)
To provide you with some context for the beginning of this effort, as the initial storm system began to bear down on the South, I reached out last weekend, on behalf of the president, to Texas Governor Abbott, and then on Monday also to Louisiana Governor Edwards, Alabama Governor Ivey, Mississippi Governor Reeves, Oklahoma Governor Stitt, and Kansas Governor Kelly to offer any federal assistance that the governors might need to help their citizens to manage what we anticipated to be the brutal effects of the gathering storm.
Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall: (01:55)
Then on Tuesday, February 16th, President Biden called a broader group of governors, and there’s been extensive follow-up with respect to those governors’ conversations with the president on specifics they discussed during that call. For example, we responded immediately to Governor Abbott’s request for a federal emergency declaration. Oklahoma Governor Stitt submitted a request yesterday and it was approved last night for a federal emergency declaration. And late last night, we received a request from Louisiana Governor Bel Edwards, and FEMA’s processing that request as we speak. The president’s actions authorized FEMA to provide immediate assistance to alleviate the hardship and suffering that’s being caused by this emergency.
Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall: (02:38)
Let me just note, there is a silver lining to the very dark cloud of COVID, which is that our FEMA teams have been deeply embedded for quite a long time with state emergency preparedness and response agencies across the country and in this affected region. So there’s a great deal of familiarity among the people involved in needing to work these issues now because they’ve been working together quite a while on COVID response.
Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall: (03:05)
This morning, I was also in touch with the leadership of FEMA, and also with the Department of Energy, and our private sector partners in the electricity sector to explore whether there is anything more that we can do to provide support for our citizens across this swath of territory who are suffering from the effects of this storm. We know that there are still about a million or more people who are experiencing power outages in the hardest hit areas of the country, though those numbers are declining significantly. In Texas in particular, we’ve gone from multiple millions of people without power now to approximately 600,000 at the last data point that I received from FEMA earlier this morning.
Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall: (03:46)
It’s important to set expectations, however, that due to the nature of this storm, citizens will continue to experience rolling power outages in some communities. That’s just part of the process of trying to get power online and to get it delivered where it needs to go. In the meantime, FEMA is providing generators to support water treatment plants, and hospitals, and nursing homes in Texas. It’s also providing blankets, and meals, and other supplies as requested by the governor of Texas.
Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall: (04:22)
I want to express our deep thanks to all of the brave first responders who have continued to deliver essential aid to those in need in these very difficult circumstances. There are many infrastructure workers who are responding under extraordinarily challenging conditions to restore energy and water systems. And there are lots and lots of citizen volunteers who have selflessly extended themselves to help others.
Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall: (04:48)
We are urging all people affected by the storm to listen to public officials, to take precautions, to stay in doors, not to get on the roads unless they absolutely have to.
Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall: (04:58)
I’m just going to step back and make a couple of more observations, which is that more broadly, the extreme weather events that we’re experiencing this week across the central Southern and now the Eastern United States do, yet again, demonstrate to us that climate change is real and it’s happening now, and we’re not adequately prepared for it. In particular, power grids across our country, particularly in Texas, are overloaded by the demands that are placed on them under these circumstances and the infrastructure is not built to withstand these extreme conditions.
Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall: (05:34)
Going forward, we will be leading an effort to strengthen and harden our critical infrastructure so that it can be prepared to meet the full spectrum of challenges that we’re likely to face in the future. We know that we can’t just react to extreme weather events. We actually need to plan for them and prepare for them. That’s going to require the kind of technology innovation and close collaboration among the federal government, states, communities, and the private sector that enables us to incentivize the kinds of actions that need to be taken to build the kind of resilient infrastructure that we will depend on in the future.
Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall: (06:12)
President Biden continues to pledge the full support of the federal government, these efforts, and is demonstrating his commitment to serve all Americans in these difficult times, working across the states of the South to deliver any federal support that is requested by the leadership of those states. Thank you. And now I’m glad to take a couple of questions.
Speaker 1: (06:34)
Ladies and gentlemen, if you have a question, please press one, then zero. Once again, if you have a question, please press one, then zero. One moment for the first question.
Jen Psaki: (06:58)
Your line may be open. I’m not sure. Do you want to let them know who you just-
Speaker 1: (07:02)
Yes, I am. One moment. One moment. Zeke Miller. You’re open. Please go ahead.
Zeke Miller: (07:13)
Thank you so much for doing the call. Can you give us a rundown of the resources that FEMA has sent to Texas, the number of generators, the number of meals, any sort of data you have on that? And then to your point about hardening the grid, what role does the federal government have in making the Texas grid more resilient given that it is largely separate from federal oversight?
Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall: (07:40)
Let me start with FEMA. The update I have from FEMA this morning for what it has provided to Texas is, as I noted, it has moved water, blankets, shelf-stable meals, and generators, and fuel to help respond to this event. Specifically in Texas, it has made 60 generators and fuel available to support critical sites like hospitals and water facilities. It has moved in 729,000 liters of water, more than 10,000 wool blankets, 50,000 cotton blankets, and 225,000 meals. It’s also deploying additional capabilities, as we speak, trying to be postured for additional demands that Texas may express to FEMA for needs that FEMA can respond to. So for example, trying to figure out how to get more fuel oil and diesel oil, and if necessary to power facilities in this emergency.
Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall: (08:47)
To the question about the Texas grid, you’re right, the Texas grid is islanded. That is a deliberate decision that was made by Texas. But I do think going forward, there’s an important conversation to be had around how we can enhance the resilience of our critical infrastructure to meet the needs of all our citizens. For now, we’re focused obviously on these days. The future will give us an opportunity to conduct that discussion at the federal, state, and local level. Thanks
Speaker 1: (09:17)
Next, we have Jennifer Jacobs, Bloomberg News. You’re open.
Jennifer Jacobs: (09:24)
Thanks, Liz. The Texas Governor has ordered gas producers in Texas to sell the product within the state, effectively barring exports and potentially jeopardizing foreign allies that are relying on those supplies. It raises some commerce clause questions and issues under the Natural Gas Act. Is there anything you can say about whether the Biden administration is okay with all that?
Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall: (09:49)
So we’re aware of the decisions of the Texas state officials. This is an authority that is a state authority, and we’re in discussion with our Mexican partners, as well as with the state officials around the decision that the state officials are taking.
Speaker 1: (10:09)
Next we have the line of Ken Thomas. Will you please press one, zero again?
Jen Psaki: (10:17)
We’re waiting for that, this will have to be the last question. Dr. Sherwood-Randall needs to go back to her day job of monitoring the storm. But we’ll invite her back when we are all back in the briefing room.
Speaker 1: (10:26)
Ken, your open. Please go ahead. Ken, do you want to press press one, zero again. You took yourself out. Please press one, zero. You’re open. Please go ahead. Yes.
Ken Thomas: (10:43)
Can you hear me now? Great, Dr. Sherwood-Randall, what additional steps can the federal government take to relieve the power grid in Texas? I understand that the Energy Department could use some kind of emergency authority to connect Texas to the national grid. Is that under consideration?
Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall: (11:02)
So that is actually not something that is physically feasible at this time. We have already seen the Energy Department take the decision to enable Texas to use generation capabilities that otherwise would be constrained by regulation having to do with what is emitted by those sources of supply and those generation facilities. So essentially to relax some of the standards in an emergency for pollution so that they can generate sufficient power while some of their sources are offline or reduced.
Jen Psaki: (11:44)
Thank you. Thank you, Dr. Sherwood-Randall for joining us. We appreciate you taking the time out of a very busy week for you. We look forward to welcoming you into the briefing room [inaudible 00:11:53] available. Thank you.
Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall: (11:55)
It was a pleasure to be with you. Thank you. Bye-bye.
Jen Psaki: (11:59)
So I have a few just more additional updates to provide to all of you and then we will take as many questions as we can in the time allotted.
Jen Psaki: (12:06)
First, the federal government is also monitoring the weather’s impact on our vaccination efforts. We are experiencing delays in COVID-19 vaccine shipments and deliveries. CDC and federal partners are working closely with the jurisdictions, as well as manufacturing and shipping partners, to assess weather conditions and to help mitigate potential delivery delays and cancellations. Our COVID response team is in constant communication with local officials, hearing about what’s going on on the ground. By doing so, we’re able to work to deploy the resources of the federal government to the extent we can to address issues related to deliveries, distribution, and vaccinations. This week we’ve already had and will continue to field many one-on-one calls, correspond the email, and conducted new meetings with states, tribes, territories, and key partners to remain in close contact about our vaccination efforts in the impact of the storm.
Jen Psaki: (12:56)
We’re also working with our partners to move up scheduled deliveries whenever possible and to search shipment operations through the end of the week into the weekend. We’re in conversation about extended hours and additional appointments to try and reschedule shots given the storm. Our goal is to ensure vaccine distribution across all jurisdictions is as stable and equitable as possible through this program. And we continue to work closely with jurisdictions and pharmacy partners to achieve that goal. I would expect tomorrow, that when you all have one of the three weekly updates from the COVID team, they will provide a more extensive update on this and also answer any questions you have about the work that they have been focused on.
Jen Psaki: (13:38)
Second is today, President Biden’s immigration bill, the U.S. Citizenship Act will be formally introduced in Congress. This legislation modernizes our immigration system. It provides hardworking people who have enriched our communities and lived here for decades, an opportunity to earn citizenship. The President’s priorities reflected in this bill are to responsibly manage the border, keep families together, grow our economy, address the root causes of migration from-
Jen Psaki: (14:03)
… Grow our economy, address the root causes of migration from Central America and ensure that America remains a refuge for those fleeing persecution. The president believes all of these require immediate action that is long overdue. Immigration reform is not historically a Democratic or Republican priority, but an American one. Modernizing it is long overdue, the system. We expect elected officials from both sides of the aisle to come to the table so we can finally get this done.
Jen Psaki: (14:27)
I also wanted to note numbers out this morning on new unemployment claims; jobless claims increased, and for 48 weeks in a row now, new regular unemployment claims have outpaced their pre-pandemic high. Combined with stalled job growth over the last three months, we have a clear picture of the trouble our economy is in, and the financial pain being felt by millions of Americans. Economist experts and leaders across the political spectrum have come out and supported the rescue plan because they know it’s the best tool we have to get us through this economic storm, create millions of jobs and get Americans back to work.
Jen Psaki: (14:59)
Also, many of you have been asking for a preview of the president’s remarks and engagement remotely at the G7 and Munich Security Conference tomorrow. So let me venture to do that, and then we’ll take your questions. Or I will take your questions, I should say.
Jen Psaki: (15:14)
Tomorrow morning, President Biden will join fellow world leaders at a virtual gathering of the G7. This will be the first gathering of G7 leaders since April of 2020. This virtual engagement with leaders of the world’s leading democratic market economies will provide an opportunity for President Biden to discuss plans to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic and rebuild the global economy. President Biden will focus on a global response to the COVID pandemic, including coordination on vaccine production, distribution of supplies, as well as continued efforts to mobilize and cooperate against the threat of emerging infectious diseases by building country capacity and establishing health security financing.
Jen Psaki: (15:52)
In January, on President Biden’s first day in office, he announced that the United States would re-engage with the World Health Organization to strengthen global health. His first national security memorandum was focused on COVID-19 and the relationship between a safe and secure United States, defeating COVID 19, improving global health and advancing domestic and global health security to prevent, detect and respond to future biological catastrophes.
Jen Psaki: (16:18)
The administration has pledged the United States will join the COVAX Initiative to purchase and distribute vaccines globally, and through a multilateral mechanism. These global efforts reinforce the president’s progress to address the COVID pandemic at home, including increasing the pace of vaccinations, instituting public health measures for safe travel and providing schools with scientific guidance for safe operations.
Jen Psaki: (16:40)
President Biden will also discuss the global economic recovery, including the importance of all industrialized countries maintaining economic support for the recovery and collective measures to build back better. As we build back better, we must ensure that the recovery is inclusive and benefits all workers, including women and members of historically disadvantaged groups in all parts of our country. He will also discuss the need to make investments to strengthen our collective competitiveness and the importance of updating global rules to tackle economic challenges such as those posed by China.
Jen Psaki: (17:11)
Finally, President Biden and other leaders will also discuss a robust agenda of measures to address the global climate crisis; a key priority for the administration. The February 19th virtual engagement will be hosted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as part of this year’s UK G7 presidency and ahead of the planned G7 Summit in June of 2021.
Jen Psaki: (17:32)
I will stop there. With that, I’m happy to open it up and take your questions. And I want to take as many as possible, so we always love followups, but we want to get to as many people as possible, as we have an opportunity to do this virtually today. So we’re ready to open it up.
Speaker 1: (17:50)
As a reminder, if you have a question, please press one, then zero. Once again, if you have a question or comment, one, then zero.
Speaker 1: (17:57)
Zeke Miller with Associated Press. You’re open.
Jen Psaki: (18:02)
Speaker 1: (18:06)
Sorry, Zeke. Press one, zero again. You might’ve took yourself out.
Speaker 1: (18:22)
Speaker 1: (18:23)
Once again, Zeke, if you’re still on, please press one, zero. And we’ll move on. We have Jennifer Jacobs, Bloomberg News. Please go ahead.
Jen Psaki: (18:45)
Jennifer Jacobs: (18:47)
Jen Psaki: (18:47)
[crosstalk 00:18:47] slightly, but we’re trying.
Jennifer Jacobs: (18:50)
Question about reports on the recovery package being about $3 trillion for jobs and infrastructure as part of the president’s Build Back Better program. Is the $3 trillion about in the ballpark that you’re talking about?
Jen Psaki: (19:06)
Well, Jennifer, let me first say that, right now, the administration’s sole priority, our sole priority, is getting the American rescue plan passed, which means getting shots in the arms of the American people, getting families urgent economic relief they need, ensuring communities have the resources they need in the fight against COVID. I would not expect the president or any of us to lay out the next pieces of his agenda until that package is through and signed and that release is going out to the public. So there have been a range of reports, but what I can confirm for you is that there are discussions that are ongoing about the president’s agenda looking ahead. No final decisions have been made and we’re certainly not at the point where we are either finalizing or previewing his future proposals.
Speaker 1: (20:02)
Jen Psaki: (20:27)
Did we open it up to the next question? Or is it Jennifer-?
Speaker 1: (20:30)
One moment. I’m just searching for them.
Jen Psaki: (21:16)
Are we waiting for somebody to ask a question or are we having a technical issue?
Speaker 2: (21:35)
Jen, I think we’re having a technical issue. Give us a second. Thank you.
Jen Psaki: (21:38)
Speaker 1: (21:40)
Our next question will come from the line of Andrea Shalal of Reuters. Please go ahead.
Jen Psaki: (21:47)
Andrea Shalal: (21:48)
[inaudible 00:21:48] Hi.
Jen Psaki: (21:52)
[crosstalk 00:21:52] it’s getting a little [crosstalk 00:21:53].
Andrea Shalal: (21:53)
[crosstalk 00:21:53] to ask you [inaudible 00:21:56] around the technical infrastructure [inaudible 00:22:01], but I’m getting an echo.
Jen Psaki: (22:07)
I can hear you [crosstalk 00:22:09] in and out a little bit, but maybe could you start your question from the top?
Andrea Shalal: (22:14)
Yeah. I just put on a headset. I think that’ll make it easier.
Jen Psaki: (22:17)
Andrea Shalal: (22:18)
Okay. So my question is, we just heard about the forthcoming efforts to shore up the infrastructure grid in Texas. Do you have any idea whether that will be included in the recovery package that you’re talking about? Would that be a separate measure? Do you have any kind of sense of the price tag of that?
Andrea Shalal: (22:42)
And I just have a separate question on the COVAX effort.
Jen Psaki: (22:47)
Andrea Shalal: (22:47)
So there is a waiver that has been proposed by India and South Africa that would temporarily suspend intellectual property protection to ensure that vaccines can get to places in developing countries. Is that something that the United States support? It was blocked by the previous administration.
Jen Psaki: (23:13)
Well, let me first say on COVAX, that I expect we’ll have more news in the next 24 hours on our engagements and contributions to the overall global effort, but our commitment is to work with and through COVAX to ensure that there is equitable distribution of vaccines and funding globally, and also that there is a standard through which these vaccines are considered and distributed. I’m happy to talk to our team about that specific waiver, but again, I just wanted to reiterate that we are committed to working through COVAX and we’ll have more on our contributions to the global effort in the next 24 hours. I believe there’s also going to be a call later this afternoon to outline that in more specific detail.
Jen Psaki: (24:01)
On your first question, can you just say that one more time? I apologize.
Andrea Shalal: (24:07)
Yeah. I basically was asking about the need to shore up the power grid that we’ve just seen now in Texas, and whether that is already part of what you’re thinking about the recovery plan, whether it will be folded in. And if you have any estimate of what that specific component of [inaudible 00:24:28] infrastructure would entail.
Jen Psaki: (24:32)
Well, I would first say that, again, our sole priority right now is getting the American rescue plan passed. There is still more work to be done on that front. We have our foot on the gas and we are remaining engaged with Democrats and Republicans on the Hill about moving that forward. It is not on the president’s desk, it is not signed, and that relief is not in the hands of the American people. At the same time, there are ongoing discussions internally and with stakeholders in consultation about what the president’s agenda looks like moving forward, but no final decisions have been made, and so I’m not in a position, naturally, to preview that. But I wouldn’t expect that we will preview anything or you’ll hear the president talk about it until the American rescue plan is passed.
Jen Psaki: (25:20)
In terms of your question about Texas, as Dr. Sherwood-Randall conveyed, clearly there is a need to assess and take a look at how we protect and support critical infrastructure across the country, including our national energy grids, and ensure that we are better prepared in the future. There’s plenty of time to have that conversation. Right now, our focus is on working every lever that we have at our disposal through the federal government to get relief to the people of Texas. So I don’t have anything to preview for you other than to convey that our focus is on the emergency at hand, and that is what we are putting our internal and inter-agency efforts on.
Andrea Shalal: (26:07)
And Jen, can I just ask a follow up?
Jen Psaki: (26:10)
Andrea Shalal: (26:10)
Can the president reach out to Governor Abbott and ask him to try to stick to the facts on the cause [inaudible 00:26:16]?
Jen Psaki: (26:18)
I apologize, Andrea, you’re kind of coming in and out. Can you just start that again? I heard Governor Abbott, but I didn’t hear the rest of the question.
Andrea Shalal: (26:25)
Okay. Can the president reach out to Governor Abbott to ask him to stick to the facts on the cause of the [inaudible 00:26:35]?
Jen Psaki: (26:35)
The president spoke with Governor Abbott, I believe it was two days ago, and conveyed his commitment to helping to utilize the resources available from the federal government to help the people of Texas. We are engaged at many levels, as Dr. Sherwood-Randall conveyed, with governors, with members of their teams, with FEMA, with local authorities, to ensure that relief is getting into the right hands and into the right communities. But I don’t have an additional call to read out for you now.
Andrea Shalal: (27:07)
Speaker 1: (27:09)
Our next question will come from the line of Nancy Cordes of CBS News. Please go ahead.
Jen Psaki: (27:15)
Nancy Cordes: (27:16)
Hi, Jen. How are you? Thank you for doing this remotely.
Nancy Cordes: (27:21)
My first question is about the immigration bill. And I know you addressed this a little bit yesterday, but what’s the White House take on the pros and cons of passing parts of the immigration plan instead of doing it in one fell swoop? A number of these congressional Democrats seem to be very open to the possibility of doing it in a piecemeal fashion.
Jen Psaki: (27:43)
Sure. Well, first, the bill being introduced today represents much of President Biden’s vision, which includes addressing some key components of what he feels needs to be modernized in our system, including providing an earned path to citizenship, which includes, of course, [inaudible 00:28:03]
Jen Psaki: (28:03)
… Path to citizenship, which includes, of course, Dreamers, responsibility and effectively managing our borders, investing in smart security, and addressing the root causes of migration from Central America. He feels each of these components are vital and imperative to address our outdated immigration system.
Jen Psaki: (28:21)
Now, he also, having served in the Senate for 36 years, is no stranger to the process of a bill be coming along. And he is looking forward to working directly with members, hopefully both parties. Immigration reform, I should say, has not historically been a Democratic or Republican issue to determine what the path forward looks like. And he is all too familiar or very familiar with the fact that a bill proposed does typically not look like the final bill signed. But it is just being formally proposed today. We are eager to work with Democrats, Republicans, members of the CHC, others who have been working passionately on these issues for a long period of time. And, at this point, he’s just looking forward to having a bill to sign at his desk.
Nancy Cordes: (29:10)
Thanks. And then, what is the White House take on this concern that has been voiced by some House Democrats, like Henry Cuellar, or Vicente Gonzalez, that if you put out something this ambitious this early, that it’s first, going to motivate a surge of migrants to try to come here, and also open up President Biden to attempts by Republicans to try to paint him as soft on immigration?
Jen Psaki: (29:37)
Well, I would say the fact that the president put forward, felt it was a priority to put forward an immigration bill on his first day in office just reflects his own commitment to modernizing an outdated system. And also, taking every step he can to move forward from the chaos, cruelty, and confusion that was created by the immigration policies of the last four years. That’s not a position or an approach that’s being done through a political prism, but through a moral prism. What is right for the country, what is right for the millions of immigrants who are living in the shadows, and frankly, what is right for our security at the border, and what is right for addressing the root causes that led to the crises at the border that we have seen over the course of the last several years.
Jen Psaki: (30:32)
At the same time, as we have done many times, we will continue to convey and repeat from-
Speaker 3: (30:38)
Hello. [Crosstalk 00:30:40].
Jen Psaki: (30:41)
The fact that this is not the right time to come. We don’t have the systems in place. We don’t have the policies in place. We don’t have the laws in place or the processing in place at the border to consider a wave of people fleeing their countries. This is a priority. We’re eager to get it through. And we were also going to take additional steps, as you’ve seen from the Department of Homeland Security and their efforts to increase processing through executive actions, to inject some morality into this system. But this is not the time to come. We are eager to move forward with this as quickly as possible. And him proposing it on the first day, moving it forward within a month is a reflection of that priority.
Nancy Cordes: (31:25)
Jen Psaki: (31:27)
Thank you, Nancy.
Speaker 4: (31:30)
Our next question will come from a line of Francesca Chambers of McClatchy. Please go ahead.
Jen Psaki: (31:37)
Francesca Chambers: (31:37)
Hi. Can you hear me?
Jen Psaki: (31:39)
Francesca Chambers: (31:40)
Okay, great. Thank you. Thanks, Jen, for doing this. So, two questions related to the disaster relief aid, and then something on another topic, I guess, if you take them separately to make this easier. Is there federal assistance or aid available to municipalities who previously paid or are paying high gas prices for natural gas? Or does that assistance depend on a state request? For instance, the state of Missouri, would they have to make that request for a municipality? And then, on a related topic, [inaudible 00:32:12] had mentioned a request from Louisiana for disaster relief aid. But what about the other States that have been affected and whose governors the president spoke with earlier this week, such as Kansas or Kentucky? Have they requested aid? And, if so, when could they expect to get that?
Jen Psaki: (32:30)
Sure. Well, Francesca, I would say typically how it works is that states requests or in coordination, of course, a declaration of an emergency, a disaster declaration, and we work closely with them at the federal level to do exactly that. We have been sharing with all of you our engagements on a daily basis. So, you all are kept abreast of those conversations. But I would certainly point you to some of the state governments on what their needs are and requests and what they’ve been requesting, specifically of the federal government to ensure it’s helping provide the assistance to the people in their states that’s needed during this difficult time of the storm. It’s an excellent question about municipalities. I will have to follow up with our Homeland Security team on that specific technical question, a good one. But maybe we can connect you with them directly after the briefing.
Francesca Chambers: (33:21)
Okay. And then, on another topic, the vice president said today that she views the number of women leaving the workforce as a national emergency. Does the president share the Vice-President’s view on that? And, if so, does he plan to make a national emergency declaration and take action to address the declining number of women in the workforce, aside from the stimulus package that he’s presented to Congress?
Jen Psaki: (33:45)
Well, Francesca, I would first say that this is something that president and vice-president have discussed. And he has raised, in a number of meetings I have been in with him, his concern about the impact of the dual crises of COVID-19 and the economic downturn on women in the workforce. As you well know, it is not just about women who are leaving the workforce now. It is about what the impact will be in future years if there are women taking themselves out of the running for moving up the corporate ladder, out of the running for seeking PhDs, for getting law degrees, women taking themselves off of the front lines of essential industries like healthcare work. That has an impact, of course, on gender equality. It also has an impact on the economy moving forward. And any economist will convey that to you. So, the president has conveyed, in many meetings I’ve been in, his concern about this directly. And I know he’s discussed it with the vice-president as well.
Jen Psaki: (34:44)
I would say the American Rescue Plan, the key components in there, some are meant to help address exactly this crisis, including funding to reopen schools. As a mom myself, I can confirm for you, and many mothers across the country can confirm for you that, the fact that schools still need additional resources to reopen. Obviously, the CDC guidelines give us a good guidepost, give school districts a good guidepost, but many still need funding. That having kids go back to school has an impact on many working mothers, of course. Also ensuring direct relief goes out through checks, that’s something that will help households, whether they are single parent households or dual income households, where one of the individuals was laid off. Ten million Americans have been laid off. So, there’s no question. Many of them, as we know statistically, are certainly women. And certainly, getting people vaccinated will help more people return to the workforce, more kids go to childcare centers, and again, schools, as I said.
Jen Psaki: (35:44)
So, I would say the president recognizes the severity of this crisis, the impact on women. That’s part of the reason why there are some of these key components in this package. And he certainly agrees with the Vice-President’s assessment.
Francesca Chambers: (35:59)
He agrees that it’s a national emergency.
Jen Psaki: (36:01)
He agrees, certainly, that it’s an emergency and a crisis, Francesca. But I think we’re going to have to move on because I want to take a few more questions. And we’ll certainly connect you on the municipalities question.
Francesca Chambers: (36:09)
Speaker 4: (36:10)
Our next question will come from the line of Jeremy Diamond of CNN. Please go ahead.
Jen Psaki: (36:21)
Jeremy Diamond: (36:22)
Hey, Jen. Thanks for doing this. So, on the immigration bill, obviously front burner for you guys right now is the Coronavirus relief legislation. So, I’m curious if you could explain on the decision to introduce this today. Why now while there’s clearly a higher priority for you guys, as it relates to Congress?
Jeremy Diamond: (36:43)
And then, secondly, there isn’t much in the way of new funding for border security and enforcement in this bill. I’m wondering if the president is open to increasing funding for border security, including for more wall or fencing construction in order to get this built?
Jen Psaki: (37:00)
Well, first let me say that the president introduced, or I should say announced his plan to introduce this package, to work with Congress to introduce this package on his first day in office because he believes that modernizing our immigration system is an absolute priority for the country, and that members of Congress are able to move forward in negotiating the components of the package and what it will look like in a final package, even while we are pushing forward in our effort to get the American Rescue Plan passed. And, as you all know, Jeremy, and many people on the phone know, there are negotiations that will need to happen. There was a reset that was really needed to get this immigration bill discussed and negotiated. And that is what our effort is to do here.
Jen Psaki: (37:53)
As you know, representative Sanchez, Senator Menendez are starting this process. And we certainly are eager to have many more co-sponsors, Republicans join that, given that this has historically been an issue Democrats and Republicans are committed to. There is, of course, funding in here. One of the key components of the bill is investing in smart security at our ports of entry and doing it in a way that’s actually effective. The funding, the entire strategy of the last four years, was to funding for a wall that was not effective in securing our border. It was not effective in providing a pathway to citizenship. Obviously, it was not effective at addressing the root causes. That is not our strategy. But there will be a discussion and negotiation. We certainly understand that the sausage that comes out of the machine on the other side will look different from the sausage that’s introduced today. We’re supportive of that, and we’ll look forward to working with Congress to get the bill moving forward.
Jeremy Diamond: (38:54)
And just real quickly on another topic, Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis, yesterday threatened to move a pop-up vaccination clinic after facing criticism from some county officials. He threatened to move it to another County. Would that kind of action by Governor DeSantis or any other governor affect federal government shipments of vaccines to Florida and prompt the federal government to take oversight of vaccination deliveries and administration in the state?
Jen Psaki: (39:21)
Well, first let me say that our efforts to get a hundred million vaccines in the arms of Americans, a hundred million shots in the arms of Americans, I should say, in the first hundred days and exceed that goal is not through a political prism. And we certainly would not support any efforts to have the people of Florida or any state, Democrat or Republican, blue or red impacted by the decisions of their leadership. So, no. I would not see us taking action along those lines. We have increased, as you know, Jeremy, the shipment to states by 57%, since the president took office. There are a number of ways that vaccines are being distributed in Florida, but of course in states across the country. But we remain committed to doing that. And I don’t have anything more on that specific report, which I had not had the chance to review before the briefing.
Speaker 4: (40:24)
Our next question will come from the line of Nikki Schwab of Daily Mail. Please go ahead.
Nikki Schwab: (40:30)
Hi, Jen. Can you hear me?
Jen Psaki: (40:32)
Nikki Schwab: (40:33)
Great. Just wondering if the president has any reaction to these reports that say Senator Ted Cruz flew to Cancun amid this giant winter storm in his home state of Texas?
Jen Psaki: (40:46)
Well, I don’t have any updates on the exact location of Senator Ted Cruz, nor does anyone at the White House. But our focus is on working directly with leadership in Texas and those surrounding states on addressing the winter storm and the crisis at hand, the many people across the state who are without power, without the resources they need. And we expect that would be the focus of anyone in the state or surrounding states who was elected to represent them. But I don’t have any update on his whereabouts.
Speaker 4: (41:26)
Our next question will come from the line of Joey Garrison of USA Today. Please go ahead.
Joey Garrison: (41:33)
Hey, Jen. Thanks for taking this call. Can you hear me?
Jen Psaki: (41:36)
Sure. I can. Hi, Joey.
Joey Garrison: (41:38)
Yeah. Hey, how are you? Republicans increasingly are jumping on the reopening schools issue for the ’22 midterm elections, trying to blame Democrats and Joe Biden for the reason children aren’t in school. What’s your reaction to that, what’s pretty openly a line of attack right now? And do you think that’s a fair line of attack right now?
Joey Garrison: (42:03)
… now, and do you think that’s a fair line of attack right now as you’re looking ahead towards the midterms?
Jen Psaki: (42:08)
Well, let me first say on the political front that no polling I have seen has shown that as effective. And there was actually a poll out yesterday that showed that President Biden and teachers were the most trusted entities in terms of determining when school should reopen. We obviously rely on science and rely on our health experts. And we think that reflects where most of the country want us to be. They want schools to reopen. We’re also committed to doing that. So, there are CDC guidelines that came out on Friday that provided a roadmap for schools to open safely. The president wants schools to open five days a week. He wants kids to be in school. Teachers want kids to be in school. And he also believes that teachers should be prioritized as does the vice-president.
Jen Psaki: (43:04)
So, but he follows the guidelines as we all do and should that were put out by our health and medical experts that show there are a range of mitigation steps. Vaccinations are one of the additional steps that the CDC is recommending, but there are additional steps, including masking, smaller class sizes. And he is eager to have the secretary of education confirmed so that he can work with school districts across the country, lead that effort to reopen schools. And we remain committed to that.
Joey Garrison: (43:38)
Any concern about the issue though making Democrats vulnerable in 2022 if it’s not turned around, if schools don’t start reopening here in the coming months?
Jen Psaki: (43:49)
Well, I would say that the president, the vice-president and this White House don’t see reopening schools through a political prism. We see it as what’s in the interest of teachers, of students, of families, of parents. And we want to do it safely. And the president is committed to reopening schools five days a week as quickly as possible. He is committed to also following science and working with school districts to having a sector of education work with school districts to get that done. And he has also what is within his power is that we are working with Congress to get additional funding, which is essential to many school districts across the country so that they can follow and take these mitigation steps recommended by the CDC, including ensuring masking, smaller class sizes, that there are more bus drivers hired, that there are more teachers hired if needed. That’s within the president’s power, something he’s focused on every day and night so that we can open schools, open them five days a week within 100 days. And that’s where his focus is. We don’t see that through a political prism. Kids are not Democrats or Republicans and their parents, I think this is an issue that all Americans care deeply about.
Joey Garrison: (45:06)
Speaker 4: (45:10)
Our next question will come from the line of Kayla Tausche of CNBC. Please go ahead.
Jen Psaki: (45:18)
Kayla Tausche: (45:19)
Hi Jen, thank you for doing this. We appreciate it.
Jen Psaki: (45:22)
Kayla Tausche: (45:22)
I have two questions, one domestic, one foreign. The first is on the economy. This week we saw retail sales and inflation data that were unexpectedly strong. I’m wondering how the White House is factoring that data into the size of the rescue package and whether $1.9 trillion would, as some critics say, overheat the economy. And then my foreign question, which I’ll just go ahead and ask is that Iran has said it will stop allowing snap inspections by the IAEA beginning on Monday if parties to the nuclear deal don’t take their own steps toward full compliance. Is the president see it as his motivation to engage with Iran sooner rather than later?
Jen Psaki: (46:01)
Well, let me take the second question first, if that makes sense. Iran is a long way from compliance. Our focus is on working with our partners and allies to engage and coordinate on a range of issues, including the future of the Iran nuclear deal. Secretary Blinken has a meeting with his three counterparts later this afternoon. And I would suspect the state department would have a readout from that meeting, but certainly our focus is of course on preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear deal, but they’re a long way from compliance and our focus is also on working with our partners and allies on our priority I should say, Kayla.
Jen Psaki: (46:47)
On the economic question, I know a number of our economic experts, including our secretary of treasury, has answered this question, but I will say that most economists will tell you and most economic data will shows that we are crawling out of a massive hole and we’re crawling out too slowly. And that what is essential is to ensure that we put in, so of course, stimulus into our economy to help expedite that. And that is part of what this package will do by providing direct relief to the American people, by reopening schools, which will have a huge impact on working mothers and parents across the country, by getting vaccinations in the arms of the American people. Most economic data and studies have shown that this package will have a significant impact on that and that we still have a long way to go in our recovery. So, it is essential at this point in time.
Kayla Tausche: (47:51)
Thank you. Appreciate it.
Jen Psaki: (47:53)
Speaker 4: (47:54)
Our next question will come from the line of Peter Alexander of NBC News. Please go ahead.
Jen Psaki: (48:00)
Peter Alexander: (48:00)
Hey Jen, thanks for hosting us. Sorry we can’t do it in person. You sort of hit on this a bit, but I just want to sort of drill down a little bit on the immigration announcement today and what specifically is the strategy for this White House to get this immigration bill passed right now? Will you bring Republicans here to engage them in the process? Would you do it through reconciliation? How are you going to get something this big done?
Jen Psaki: (48:24)
Sure. All great questions Peter. I think we’re not quite there because today is the day that the bill is being proposed. Obviously Senator Menendez, Congresswoman Sanchez will be key leaders on the Hill to determine in coordination with us the next steps forward. But right now we are eager to communicate about what is in the package, why all of the components are pivotal pieces of the package and in terms of the mechanism or the timeline or the mechanics, we’re happy to have that conversation in the weeks ahead, but today the bill is just being officially introduced.
Peter Alexander: (49:03)
Speaker 4: (49:03)
Our next question-
Jen Psaki: (49:08)
Thank you. I’m just going to take two more questions and we’ll of course do this again tomorrow, but I just have a bit of a hard out coming up, but go ahead whoever’s next.
Speaker 4: (49:20)
Our next question will come from the line of Matt Viser of the Washington Post. Please go ahead.
Matt Viser: (49:27)
Hi Jen, thanks for doing this in an unusual circumstance. We know from earlier that Biden spoke with governors on Tuesday about the weather conditions. Most of his visibility though has been on another disaster of COVID. Can you highlight a little bit just how hands-on Biden himself has been with the natural disasters, if he’s briefed hourly, daily, if he has any plans to visit any of these states or plans to say anything more broadly about it at this time?
Jen Psaki: (50:06)
Sure. I will say that the president is kept abreast of the developments in Texas and the surrounding states and receives updates every day, but more than once a day. It is certainly a focus ensuring that the people of Texas, the people of the surrounding states have the resources they need is something that he raises in meetings frequently and has over the past couple of days. In terms of whether he will visit, I think as you well know, Matt, one of the factors to consider here is what the impact is, the footprint, right, of a presidential trip. It can take up resources, it can take up the time and energy of police and security. And so those are factors that we consider as we determine when and where he will visit, but he is in the White House today. Of course, that’s where he lives, but he is, I should say, working today, receiving updates today, I expect you would receive several updates from his national security team and he is focused on and has directed his team to ensure he’s updated, but also make rapid decisions and be responsive to the specific needs of the states as they come up during this difficult time.
Matt Viser: (51:27)
Jen Psaki: (51:30)
Okay. I’ll take one more question and then we’ll do this again tomorrow. Well, a different version of this, but…
Speaker 4: (51:37)
Our next question and queue will come from the line of Mr. James Rosen of Sinclair Broadcast Group. Please go ahead.
James Rosen: (51:48)
Thank you, Jen. Can you hear me all right?
Jen Psaki: (51:50)
I can. Hi James.
James Rosen: (51:52)
Jen, thanks for expanding the call today and it’s nice to be back with you if only by telephone. I just wanted to follow up on the comments of Liz to have the deputy national security advisor brief us on the Texas grid collapse. It’s not just the immediate logistical issues that she’s grappling with. I want to ask about the nexus between energy policy and national security. As you know Republicans in Congress and in the energy sector have been pointing out that according to data from the US Energy Information Administration, the US achieved one of the core benchmarks of energy independence in 2019. That was the first year since 1957 that the US produced more energy than the country consumed. And that’s one basic definition of energy independence. And they argue that the policies being pursued by the Biden administration will sacrifice those gains. How do you persuade the American people that US national security can be safeguarded by this transition to a green economy? Which of course has never been fully developed anywhere relative to our scale.
Jen Psaki: (52:59)
Well, James, in this White House we like to follow the facts and also rely on experts, as you know, and I would say that officials at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s power grid, has said that the failures in wind and solar were the least significant factor in the blackouts. And there has been a range of reports that have suggested otherwise inaccurately, but that’s not accurate according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
Jen Psaki: (53:31)
As Dr. Sherwood-Randall also conveyed, clearly there is a need to assess how we protect and support our national infrastructure to ensure it’s resilient and sustainable during storms, during any threats to it. And there is of course plenty of time to do that and it is a priority for this administration, but right now, our focus, the president’s focus is on ensuring that the millions of people or the many, many people across these states that are impacted are receiving the relief and assistance they need. So, we will have those policy discussions, but we are focused on the emergency at hand at this point in time. Thank you everybody so much for joining the briefing. I really appreciate your flexibility in getting through the technical details. And I’ll look forward to talking with all of you tomorrow.
Speaker 4: (54:28)
Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes today’s press briefing for today’s…