Apr 15, 2021
Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript April 15
April 15, 2021 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. She addressed Biden’s announcement to remove troops from Afghanistan and sanctions on Russia. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Jen Psaki: (00:00)
All right. Okay. I have a couple of items for you, all view at the top. Today, we are announcing the release of $39 billion of American Rescue Plan funds to States, territories and tribes to address the childcare crisis caused by COVID-19. These funds are a critical step to pave the way for a strong economic recovery and a more equitable future. These funds will help early childhood educators and family childcare providers keep their doors open and make sure every state has a strong childcare system that provides families with what they need. Since the start of the pandemic, as we’ve talked about a bit in here, roughly 2 million women have left the workforce. That is disproportionately due to caregiving needs, and we are hopeful that this will help. As you know, later this afternoon, the president and vice president will meet with key members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
Jen Psaki: (00:59)
The meeting will broadly focus on their priorities, our shared priorities, I should say, including critical issues such as combating anti-Asian hate, the American Jobs Plana, impact on shared infrastructure priorities and immigration. Last night, we also announced the appointment of Erika Moritsugu as deputy assistant to the president and Asian American and Pacific Islander senior liaison. She will bring her experience and expertise to the Biden-Harris administration, where she will be a vital voice to advance [inaudible 00:01:30] and the administration’s priorities. And we’ll have a readout after that meeting, of course, as well as you know, the president will be making some brief remarks at the top. Also, an update on our COVID-19 vaccination progress, today, we reported over 3.5 million COVID shots.
Jen Psaki: (01:47)
Sorry, it was reported from yesterday, of course, but we had 3.5 million COVID shots yesterday. This is a new Thursday record. So certainly a step, a piece of good news. One more scheduling update, President Biden looks forward to welcoming President Moon of the Republic of Korea to the White House in the second half of May. We’re still finalizing the date for that, but this visit following the recent two-plus-two visit to Seoul by secretaries Blinken and Austin, and the national security advisers trilateral meeting in Annapolis will highlight the ironclad US-South Korea alliance and the long standing ties and friendships between the people of our two countries. With that, Almer, it’s been a week. It’s been a lot going on this week, so go ahead.
Almer : (02:33)
It’s not the end of the week.
Jen Psaki: (02:34)
We have more to come, go ahead.
Almer : (02:37)
With Prime Minister Suga coming tomorrow and now you just announced President Moon coming, I guess just looking ahead to both of these visits, what message is the president trying to send? And the census elevating particularly with tomorrow’s visit, the Japanese prime minister, is he sending a message to China by who he’s picking first?
Jen Psaki: (03:01)
Well, I think first, the president is looking forward to welcoming the prime minister tomorrow. And it is significant that our first bilateral meeting in person is with Japan. It emphasizes our important relationship and all of the cooperative work we have to do together. I will say that, of course, our approach to China and our shared coordination and cooperation on that front will be part of the discussion, as will our joint commitment to the denuclearization of North Korea. Security will be a prominent issue, regional security as well. So I would say these relationships have a range of areas of cooperation. It’s an opportunity to discuss those issues in person and I would anticipate that China will be a part of the discussion.
Almer : (03:52)
If I could ask just a question on the Russia sanctions today, in a statement, the White House noted reports that Russia encouraged Taliban attacks against US and coalition personnel in Afghanistan. The word report seems to leave some ambiguity. Does the White House believe Russia placed bounties on American troops?
Jen Psaki: (04:08)
Well, I would say first that we felt the reports were enough of a cause of concern that we wanted our intelligence community to look into those reports as a part of this overall assessment. They assessed with low to moderate confidence, as you alluded to, that Russian intelligence officers sought to encourage Taliban attacks against US and coalition personnel in Afghanistan. The reason that they have low to moderate confidence in this judgment is in part because it relies on detainee reporting and also due to the challenging operating environment in Afghanistan. So it’s challenging to gather this intelligence and this data. I will say that our intelligence community, I should say, assesses that General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, GRU also known as, manage interaction with individuals in Afghan criminal networks.
Jen Psaki: (05:03)
We have high confidence in that assessment and the involvement of this GRU’s unit is consistent with Russia’s encouraging attacks against US and coalition personnel in Afghanistan. So while there’s low to moderate assessment of these reports, we felt it was important for our intelligence community to look into it. And we, of course, will not stand by and accept the targeting of our personnel by any elements, including a foreign state actor. This information really puts the burden on Russia and the Russian government to explain their engagement here. Go ahead.
Speaker 1: (05:36)
Given that assessment, does the president have any regrets for how many times he attacked President Trump on the campaign about this issue or not taking action related to the Russian [inaudible 00:05:44]?
Jen Psaki: (05:44)
Well, I’m not going to speak to the previous administration, but I will say that we had enough concern about these reports and about the targeting of our men and women serving, the men and women who are proudly serving around the world that we wanted our intelligence community to look into it. Now, again, there are several factors that contributed to the low to moderate confidence in the judgment, including the difficulty of the operating environment and of course, the reliance on detainee reporting. At the same time, we still feel there are questions to be answered by the Russian government.
Speaker 1: (06:20)
[inaudible 00:06:20] on foreign policy, with the Russian decision with the Afghanistan decision, just trying to get a sense of how the administration operates here. There’s still Americans unjustly detained in Russia. I believe there’s an American who was kidnapped by a Taliban aligned group in Afghanistan. What level does the administration look at those hostages, I guess, as they think through broader foreign policy decisions? Do you have a team working on that? Did that play any role in either of these decisions?
Jen Psaki: (06:46)
Well, certainly every relationship we have, even when it’s adversarial or even when it’s not, we raise issues of the detainment of American citizens, or even sometimes citizens of our partners and allies around the world through those diplomatic conversations. Typically, those conversations are led by the State Department and officials that are working at the State Department. Typically, we don’t read out too much detail because our focus is of course, on bringing Americans home.
Speaker 1: (07:12)
Just one more, I think we ask you this every week, but on the refugee camp, we hear a lot of concerns from your allies on Capitol Hill. And I think the big concern is not necessarily right now when is the president going to sign the directive, it’s what are the issues that are holding it up? And I feel like Democrat Senators we’ve spoken to don’t have answers to that [inaudible 00:07:31] reached out to you guys, you don’t have answers to that either. Are there actual tangible reasons why this has not been signed yet?
Jen Psaki: (07:38)
Well, I can assure you and I can assure anyone who has concerns that the president remains committed to this issue. He is somebody who believes that refugees, that immigrants are the heart and soul of our country and they have been for decades. And that is why he has proposed a comprehensive immigration reform bill. That is why he wants to improve the processing of those seeking asylum at the border. And it certainly is an issue he remains committed to. That’s why he stayed at that. But I don’t have an update on the timeline of the signing.
Speaker 1: (08:12)
I didn’t ask what timeline. The reasons though, what is the hold up here?
Jen Psaki: (08:17)
It remains an issue. The president remains committed to raising the refugee cap and I can assure anyone who has concerns that that remains the case. Go ahead.
Jen, the US has been babbling sanctions on Russia for its [inaudible 00:08:33] behavior for years. As you know well, it hasn’t deterred them in the past. Why should we expect that these new sanctions will do something that passed sanctions have not?
Jen Psaki: (08:42)
Well, first I would say, Peter, that our objective here is not to escalate. Our objective here is to impose costs for what we feel are unacceptable actions by the Russian government. Some of these are done in coordination with our European partners and allies in the past. And our view is that when there are actions that are taken that are unacceptable, that are not aligned with our interests, that we feel go beyond what should be acceptable from any country you have a relationship with, then there should be consequences. We can’t predict what the impact will be, but we still believe that when there’s unacceptable behavior, we should put consequences in place.
Let me ask you about Afghanistan if I can quickly. The president’s own CIA director, William Burns, yesterday warned that there was a, quote in his words, significant risk that Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups could fill that vacuum that exists when the US and its allies leave that region. I have the quote for you, but you saw the testimony as well as I did. Why not leave a small residual force behind and knowing that he addressed this in some form, to support the intelligence community there to gather information? Why not leave a military force there to help protect them and their ability to collect intelligence?
Jen Psaki: (09:58)
Well, first I will say that we believe we have the means to keep our eye on any terrorist threats or any sign of Al-Qaeda’s resurgence without having a persistent footprint on the ground. And the evaluation and the decision made by the president was that based on the recommendations, the advice from national security advisors, from his team across the administration is that the threat of getting to the homeland now emanating from Afghanistan can be kept to a level that can be addressed without that persistent footprint. Now at the same time, because obviously our capacity and our capabilities have dramatically increased and improved over the last 20 years or even the 10 years, we’re going to reposition our counter-terrorism capabilities. We’ll retain significant assets in the region, as he talked about over the horizon capabilities to counter the potential re-emergence of a terrorist threat. That’s our focus and how we’ll approach any rising threat.
I know we’re going through a bunch of different topics on the vaccine and J&J obviously, the task force or the response team doesn’t brief on Thursdays. The single shot, as you know, was particularly attractive to those populations that are harder to reach right now. What specifically is the White House doing now to redouble its efforts to improve equity or to attain equity in the distribution of these vaccines?
Jen Psaki: (11:18)
Well, I would say that if we take a step back, which we sometimes like to do, our focus has been on ensuring that equity and addressing any issues related to confidence was central to our strategy. So we have had a robust strategy in place long before the announcement by the FDA a couple of days ago. We’ve also seen so far that by the number of shots that we were able to distribute yesterday, some data and pulling that’s been out there, and we’ll have to see as time goes on that we have not seen to date yet an impact on confidence in the vaccines at large. But there are a number of steps that we’ve taken over the course of time that we feel will continue to pay dividends and be impactful because we are over-prepared here. One is the launching of the-
Jen Psaki: (12:03)
… impactful because we are over-prepared here. One is the launching of the community core, our program to get fact-based messages into the hands of local messengers. More than 6,000 organizations are participating in that effort. We also launched a $3 billion effort providing to states and community-based organizations, funding and support to strengthen vaccine confidence. And we also have public health officials who have been out on your airwaves, across the board, communicating with local organizations to reassure and confirm that we have enough supply to meet the demand that is coming.
Speaker 2: (12:36)
The first lady had a common medical procedure yesterday. Any update on how she is doing?
Jen Psaki: (12:40)
I think we put out a note yesterday that she returned to the White House and resumed her daily activities, such as-
Speaker 2: (12:45)
So doing well. Good. Thank you.
Jen Psaki: (12:46)
Yes. Absolutely. Go ahead, Kristen.
Thanks, Jen. Does the president support the bill just introduced by the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to add four seats to the Supreme court?
Jen Psaki: (12:56)
Well, just last week, the President signed an executive order creating the bipartisan commission on the Supreme Court of the United States, a bipartisan group of over 30 constitutional and legal experts who are examining a range of questions about proposed potential reforms to the Supreme Court. And one of the issues they’ll look at is, of course, the size of the court, but they’ll also look at the court’s role in the constitutional system, the length of service, the turnover of justices. And they’re going to come back to the President with a report on what their discussions are and what their findings are. So he’s going to wait for that to play out on and wait to read that report.
I mean, this isn’t just coming from some obscure member of Congress. This is coming from the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. So it is the President, is the White House frustrated that Chairman Nadler perhaps didn’t wait for this report from the commission that President Biden just called for last week?
Jen Psaki: (13:53)
No. The President believes that it’s important to take a look at a range of points of view, whether they are progressive or conservative, different sets of legal opinions, and he looks forward to assessing that himself. And I expect he will not have more to convey about any recommendations or views he’ll have until he reads that report. But he certainly understands that members of Congress have a range of use and they’re going to propose legislation. He may or may not support it.
I just want to be clear. The President does or does not think that this bill is premature?
Jen Psaki: (14:24)
He believes that members of Congress have the right to put forward legislation on issues they support. His view is that he wants to hear from this commission that has a range of viewpoints.
Okay. One more question. Senator Ed Markey, he just said this, “We must expand the court and we must abolish the filibuster to do it.” Is the White House comfortable with a Democratic Senator explicitly linking those two ideas from the steps of the Supreme Court?
Jen Psaki: (14:52)
The President believes in freedom of speech and that members can come forward and share their points of views on a range issues, including the future of the courts. He has his own view and he looks forward to seeing the recommendations that comes out of his court commission. Okay, go ahead.
Speaker 4: (15:11)
I just wanted to start with the Russia sections. The Kremlin has been kind of downplaying the actions today, noting that Americans still buy debt on the secondary market. There’s also been some criticism from Republicans, including Senator [inaudible 00:15:27], who noted that the Nord Stream 2 sanctions weren’t part of this package. And so I was wondering if you could respond to both of those and maybe explain if this is a more modest package, then you could have perhaps pursued what the sort of strategic thinking behind those.
Jen Psaki: (15:42)
Well, one, broadly speaking, we felt this package was proportionate and appropriate for the response, but there were a number of steps, as you know and you’ve all reported on, that we did to give ourselves maximum optionality, including the executive order that provides authority for relevant agencies to target any sector of the Russian economy and anyone determined to be a leader, official, or anyone who’s played a role instrumentally and the government of the Russian Federal Federation. So that gives us a great deal of flexibility moving forward. And we wanted to have that. We felt it was important.
Jen Psaki: (16:16)
I will say that in terms of the impact, before we took this action, the United States only prohibited US banks from new purchases of non-verbal denominated debt in the primary market. This means the vast majority are over 80% of Russia sovereign debt. The ruble denominated portion was untouched by our sanctions regime. We have now made a move into this space. But again, we have maximum optionality moving forward. Our hope though is that we can move forward with a predictable and a stable relationship. We still felt, and as I said in response to Peter’s question, that it’s important to respond and put in place consequences to actions that we felt were unacceptable.
Speaker 4: (16:56)
So Nord Stream you felt would be disproportionate in response to this or Nord Stream is on a different track? Can you kind of…
Jen Psaki: (17:04)
I don’t have anything to predict about Nord Stream. Obviously we feel that it’s a bad deal, but these were the steps we felt were appropriate in response to these actions.
Speaker 4: (17:12)
And yesterday you said the President would address the resettlement of translators and other Afghanis who had helped US military forces in a speech. Didn’t sound like that made the final cut. So I’m wondering if you have any more details about that, especially considering the sort of immigration loopholes or immigration issues that have been present the last year because of COVID.
Jen Psaki: (17:33)
Sure. And I am happy to get you more specific details from our national security team as well. I will say that we will continue to provide and work with Congress to expedite and expand special immigrant visas. We remain committed to working with and helping people who have served alongside and been important partners to our men and women serving on the ground in Afghanistan. And we are of course maintaining, intend to maintain a diplomatic presence there as well, to help with that.
Speaker 4: (18:03)
And the last one. Yesterday, you guys said that you would keep the temporary scheduling order on fentanyl substitutes. Civil rights groups have said that this is counterproductive. It makes it both harder for folks to seek treatment and sort of replicates the war on drug sort of criminal justice system that has been shown to disproportionately impact communities of color. And so I’m wondering if you could explain the decision and respond to some of those concerns.
Jen Psaki: (18:34)
Well, this is a decision of course that’s made in part or the recommendations by ONDCP and the Department of Justice. I would just reiterate that we are committed to avoiding expiration of this legislation, but we also have expressed legitimate concerns related to some components of it, including mandatory minimums. So we’re having discussions about that, but we do want to avoid the expiration of this legislation and recognize the role that fentanyl plays. Go ahead.
Speaker 3: (19:04)
Thanks. The White House has said over and over again that you want a stable and predictable relationship with Russia, but that seems to run completely counter to the way that Russia operates. They tried to be unpredictable and they have been de-stabilizing in their actions. So is this goal really realistic to have a stable and predictable relationship with Russia?
Jen Psaki: (19:31)
Well, we feel that has to be our objective, and that part of our objective is to, as you said, have a stable and predictable relationship in order to leave space to pursue areas where we feel there is greater opportunity and also address areas where there might be greater challenge. Now we’re not going to get ahead of what those discussions look like. Obviously this continues to be a difficult relationship. There are adversarial components of it. But our objective is to move to a place to deescalate and to move to a place where that escalatory relationship is not a primary focus for the President and this administration.
Speaker 3: (20:12)
Is there something that the administration plans to do differently than all the other administrations that have been dealing with Russia and have struggled to get that predictable relationship that it would seem that most administrations have been wanting with Russia instead of this adversarial relationship? Is there something different that this administration plans to do?
Jen Psaki: (20:33)
Well, I would say first, we’re going to be clear with Russia, that we will impose consequences when warranted and that we are not going to hold back when in response to their behavior. At the same time, I think the President’s conversation with President Putin and his invitation and proposal that they have a discussion about areas of mutual agreement, whether that is working together on Iran nuclear negotiations or issues along those lines gives an indication that we feel we can work together in areas where we agree and continue to make clear areas where we have disagreements.
Speaker 3: (21:14)
On the issue of the sanctions, Russia has said that that makes the idea of a summit, which President Biden had wrote, that that makes that less likely to happen. Does the administration still expect to have a summit with Putin? Is that still something that the White House is going to press for?
Jen Psaki: (21:36)
The invitation remains open and we believe it would be a good step forward in continuing to move forward on the development of a stable and predictable relationship.
Speaker 3: (21:48)
Just really quickly. So on the FDA kind of punted on the decision of J&J, within 10 days, they’re going to talk about that pause. It is the White House frustrated at all that that decision is kind of on hold right now and that it’s going to take two more days to decide whether that pause is going to be removed or changed or anything?
Jen Psaki: (22:10)
Well, science moves at the speed of science, and they want to review more data. We believe they are the gold standard. The FDA is the gold standard in the world. Actually, their thorough and transparent approach should give the American public additional confidence in the role they play and the approach the United States takes to the approval of vaccines out on the market. So, no, we remain confident that we have the supply needed to meet the demand. Because we are over-prepared and oversupplied, we remain confident in that. We’ve also seen, as I noted at the beginning of the briefing, positive, so far in the last 24 to 36 hours, numbers in terms of individuals taking the vaccine. So we believe the FDA, their process to review the data is transparent, it’s appropriate. It is the gold standard, and we will look forward to hearing what their outcome is. Go ahead, Tyler.
Thanks. [inaudible 00:23:16] who is the president’s point person that moving forward on the border?
Jen Psaki: (23:22)
Well, first I would say that Secretary Mayorkas will continue to play a predominant role here. But there’s different components of this, of course, because one of the things we’ve talked about is addressing the root causes. Ricardo Zuniga is a special envoy, has a great deal of experience in the region in the Western hemisphere. He was named to that position only just a few weeks ago. So he will continue to play a vital role. And of course the Vice President will continue to play a role in the Northern triangle as well.
Just a little bit more on the Vice President’s role. Republicans have been over the past few days been quite critical of the Vice President in-
Jen Psaki: (23:57)
I’ve seen that. They need more to do, I think.
[inaudible 00:24:01] Is the White House suggesting that her-
[inaudible 00:24:02] issue. Is the White House suggesting that per diplomatic role is disconnected from the border? How are you guys squaring how you think about that issue?
Jen Psaki: (24:10)
I will say I’ll respect to you, but this confusion is very perplexing to me, I have to be honest, because the current President, who was the Vice President, he ran point on the Northern triangle when he was Vice President, and that’s obviously a role that is focused on diplomacy. It’s focused on working with these countries, working with these leaders, and the Vice President has had a number of those conversations at the leader level, and having a discussion about what steps can be taken, whether it’s improving the personnel and the approach they each take at the border, we’ve seen some steps they’ve taken on that front, or whether it is working with them to determine how we can provide the best assistance to address the root causes over the longterm.
Jen Psaki: (24:49)
That’s the role that the Vice President is playing. That is certainly a significant role. Of course that’s linked, because if we don’t address the root causes, we will continue to see influxes and large number of migrants coming to the border, cycle after cycle, just as we have seen over the last several years. It is not a one woman, even a one woman job. It is a multi high level official job. And so Secretary Mayorkas is playing obviously a significant role overseeing the border patrol facilities, overseeing a lot of steps and policy proposals that are coming about the border. The Secretary of Health and Human Services oversees the shelters. This is an inter-agency process, as it should be, and as it has always been.
And just one on the J&J vaccine. The White House officials were touting polling data that came out yesterday that showed the pause in the distribution of the J&J vaccine in [inaudible 00:25:45] Americans. New polling has come up today that shows that to be the opposite. Actually, there’s some declining confidence around the J&J vaccine. How do you reconcile those two? And what is the White House doing proactively to try to deal with issues of vaccine hesitancy?
Jen Psaki: (26:02)
Well, first, to be clear, I think the pull you’re referencing from yesterday was measuring vaccine competence writ large in all of the vaccines. And I think the poll today, if I’m correct, but correct me if I’m wrong here, was related specifically only to Johnson & Johnson, which are slightly different. So there’s a little apples and oranges. Our-
Well, some White House officials were touting that data yesterday on Twitter about pointing to it saying, “Look, the pause was a good thing given this data.” So-
Jen Psaki: (26:31)
Correct, which is what the poll said. So what I’m conveying is they were not measuring the same thing, which is, I think, important for people to understand. Our focus is on ensuring we get shots in the arms of every adult American, and we have enough Madrona and Pfizer vaccine to do that. We will. So we of course will see the FDA process will play its way out. And we are fortunate to have a massive effort underway to increase confidence long before the announcement by the FDA just a couple of days ago, which we will continue to implement. But I think it was touted in part because we want to ensure Americans understand and show Americans do understand so far that they can remain confident in the efficacy and the safety of the vaccines out there in the market that are currently being distributed with the FDA emergency approval.
Just two quick ones. Do you think that Secretary Becerra will be making a brief appearance at any point? I know a lot of the cabinet secretaries have come in. As you said, he has a big role in what’s going on with the care of migrant children. Will we have an opportunity to ask him questions and other-
Jen Psaki: (27:36)
Yeah, absolutely. Well, we haven’t had in all of the secretaries, as you know, here, and we hope to get them all in here in the coming weeks.
And then one more. Is the administration still planning to roll out the second part of the infrastructure of the American Families Plan this month?
Jen Psaki: (27:50)
That is our intention.
No changes on that front?
Jen Psaki: (27:53)
Nope. That’s our intention. Go ahead, Jeff.
Jen, a couple more follow ups on Russia.
Jen Psaki: (27:57)
Does the White House and the US intelligence community have a better sense now of what the impact of the SolarWinds attack was on the US government? What did the Russian steel? What was the broad impact?
Jen Psaki: (28:13)
We do have a little bit of a better understanding, I should say. So we know, one, that the compromise of the SolarWinds software supply chain gave it the ability to spy on, or potentially disrupt, more than 16,000 computer systems worldwide. The scope and the scale of that is obviously significant and national security and public safety concern, particularly given Russia’s history of reckless behavior in cyberspace and what they could have done had we not caught it and tried to address the issue. So there may be more than that, Jeff, and I’m happy to connect you with one of our cyber experts directly, if that would be useful to you.
Jen Psaki: (28:54)
Apropos that, something else that was included in the sanctions today were ive Russian cyber security firms. Can you give a sense to us of why those firms were chosen and what they did to the United States?
Jen Psaki: (29:10)
Well, I would say the firms… Let me see, I probably have more specifics on this year, Jeff. One moment. If not, I can also get you connected with our cyber experts on exactly that question. Obviously, the individuals and the companies who were designated have through our announcement this morning had a direct involvement in hacking, and that was the reason for designating and taking the actions we took. But let me connect you with a cyber expert so you can get more specific details.
Okay. And just one follow up on Justin’s question about Nord Stream.
Jen Psaki: (29:43)
Nord Stream had been, we understand, approved to be one of the sanctions. Did Chancellor Merkel advocate for that to be left off the list? Can you give any sense of why it didn’t end up being part of the sanctions today?
Jen Psaki: (29:59)
I don’t have any more detail on that. Understand the question. I would just convey that, obviously, if there’s additional actions taken, we certainly preserve the option of putting additional actions in place. And it doesn’t mean that we won’t have more. But I don’t have any more detail to project to you about any considerations about what sanctions were or were not finalized.
And one just on one other topic completely. Next week is the Earth Day Climate Change Summit.
Jen Psaki: (30:26)
Can you give us any sort of a preview on your plans to release the US target for emissions cuts by 2030? When can we expect to see that?
Jen Psaki: (30:36)
I understand the question too. It’s going to be a full week next week. Let me see if we can get you some more previewing by tomorrow. We’re still finalizing all of the specifics. So I just don’t have anything to provide to you at this moment. All right, go ahead. Hi, Laura.
Hi. Thanks. To follow up on a question Phil asked earlier, immigrant and refugee advocates say they can’t recall a time when a presidential declaration took this long after first announcing to increase the refugee camp. So [inaudible 00:31:04] asked again, what is the delay here?
Jen Psaki: (31:06)
Again? I can just reiterate, the President remains committed to raising the refugee cap and obviously his commitment to ensuring that we are treating refugees, immigrants, people who come into our country with humanity is evident in his policies, but I don’t have any more specifics for you.
Okay. On the infrastructure bill, Speaker Pelosi says that she wants to get this all done by July 4th. How much time was the White House willing to negotiate with Republicans before you start making big decisions about what to push through?
Jen Psaki: (31:37)
Well, we’d like to see some progress and some forward movement by Memorial Day. And we’d like to… The President would love to have the package signed, or passed, I should say, this summer.
Is the White House encouraging the Senate to pass a traditional infrastructure bill through regular order with Republicans?
Jen Psaki: (31:56)
Well, we certainly believe there should be agreement. There is agreement on a number of components. We’ve been encouraged by many of the conversations that we’ve had to date. We look forward to hearing alternate ideas or different ideas as they come forward. And there should be an opportunity for that. We’re also quite open to what path this takes. We’re not going to predetermine whether it has to all happen in one big package. There are different components that could move forward, certainly on their own. And right now is the time where members and their staff and committee staff are doing the hard work of determining where there’s agreement and how things, what vehicles peace can move forward through.
Senator Kunze was saying today that pass something with Republicans maybe on traditional infrastructure, roads, bridges, et cetera. And then everything else could go in a reconciliation bill. So you guys are open to that?
Jen Psaki: (32:50)
Well, that’s Senator Kunze’s point of view, which, of course, we certainly respect. He’s a friend of the President’s, but there are a range of views on the Hill, as you will know, Laura, about how this should move forward and what the size of the package should be and what components should go together. We’ll let that all work itself through. Go ahead, Hans.
Does the President think that young women ages 18 to 26 should register for the draft?
Jen Psaki: (33:12)
I’ll have to talk to him about that, Hans. It’s an interesting question.
[inaudible 00:33:17]. The Justice Department walked back and said that they weren’t going to join a suit that challenged the constitutionality of that. So I’m just wondering what the President’s position is. Does he think that everyone should register for the draft?
Jen Psaki: (33:27)
I’m happy to talk to him about it. And I’ll take a look at the Department of Justice case as well. Go ahead.
Thank you. The border patrol agents have been shifted in recent weeks from the Northern border, Canadian border, to the Mexican border. And we’ve seen complaints about shortages at the Northern border. How many agents are going to be diverted ultimately? And can they maintain security along that rather long Northern border?
Jen Psaki: (33:55)
Well, I am sure that is assessed as they are making changes or shifting resources. I would certainly point you to the Department of Homeland Security for specifics about the movement of border patrol agents
And some of their own administration’s immigration experts officials, so I had said that some migrant families are, in their words, self separating at the border and sending their kids across alone because they know that unaccompanied minors are not going to be turned away. Is it time to rethink that policy because of these unintended consequences in the way people are taking advantage of it?
Jen Psaki: (34:31)
Well, you’re right, Todd, that certainly is an unintended consequence. And we have been clear and we have continued to convey the message that our border is not open. That is a treacherous journey. And even as families are doing that, a number of these kids are still taking a very dangerous journey, even for a shorter period of time or distance, I guess I should say. But I don’t think we have any intention to rethink our approach to treating kids humanely and ensuring that they’re safe when they cross the border.
Can I ask a followup on the court packing bill?
Jen Psaki: (35:05)
So the President is not ruling out the possibility of expanding the court, and he has started this process that could lead to recommendations to expand the number of seats on the Supreme Court, right? So-
Jen Psaki: (35:20)
I think that’s getting a little bit ahead of the process. This is a commission that has officials who are many, very progressive, many, very conservative, have a range of viewpoints. They’re going to look at a number of issues. The size of the court is one of the issues, but there are a number of other issues they’ll look at. I’m sure the President will look forward to reviewing that report when it comes to his desk. And then I’m sure it will impact his thinking moving forward, but we don’t know what that report will look like. And he obviously can then still make the decision about what he supports.
But he hasn’t taken the idea off the table. So isn’t it a fair inference that he is open to the idea of expanding the size of the court?
Jen Psaki: (35:58)
Well, he’s spoken to the issue in the past, during the campaign. His position has not changed.
Jen Psaki: (36:03)
… in the past during the campaign. His position has not changed. However, he believes that it was important to look at a range of issues related to the court, given at times the politicization of the court. And that is what he has asked this commission to do. Go ahead.
Speaker 5: (36:17)
Thank you, Jen. Three quick questions.
Jen Psaki: (36:19)
Speaker 5: (36:20)
I want to go back on Russia and the sanctions.
Jen Psaki: (36:22)
Speaker 5: (36:22)
Know that we know the details, can we just go back and you can bring us back to the conversation the president had with President Putin. What was his reaction? How cold or warm was it as a conversation?
Jen Psaki: (36:35)
President Putin’s reaction? I would point you to the Russians to characterize that.
Speaker 5: (36:40)
People at the administration were on the call, listening to his reaction. The two men talked to each other through translators.
Jen Psaki: (36:47)
Speaker 5: (36:48)
Was it warm a little bit? Was it cold?
Jen Psaki: (36:51)
I’m not going to characterize the tone. I will say that on that call, the president made clear that there would be consequences, that consequences would be coming. He also suggested that they meet in person and that he wanted to have a stable and predictable relationship. So the content I think can tell you a lot about the tone of the conversation.
Speaker 5: (37:12)
About President [inaudible 00:37:15] visit next month, can you tell us if the administration had made some more steps to start a dialogue with North Korea and I guess it will be also part of the conversation with President [inaudible 00:37:29].
Jen Psaki: (37:28)
There’s been an ongoing review, of course, of the approach and the steps for it here. Of course, our objective is a denuclearized North Korea. That remains our focus, but I don’t have anything more about the review to read out.
Speaker 5: (37:43)
Jen Psaki: (37:43)
It’s an important part of our objective is to take our approach and approach the denuclearization of the North Korean peninsula in close coordination with our partners and allies in the region. And certainly, South Korea and Japan are two of our important partners in the region.
Speaker 5: (37:59)
And the last question my Canadian [inaudible 00:38:00].
Jen Psaki: (38:00)
Speaker 5: (38:01)
knowing that communities on both sides of the borders are suffering from the closing of the borders and the fact that now the vaccination has been going well on this side of the border, have conversations started with the Trudeau government about loosening the restrictions?
Jen Psaki: (38:16)
Well, obviously the conversations and that is raised as you know, by foreign governments, including Canada, certainly for the reasons that you outlined, but we are going to base any decision on the guidance and the recommendations of our health and medical experts. And there’s been no change that I’m aware of at this point. Go ahead.
Speaker 6: (38:36)
Hi, Jen. Thanks. I wanted to go back to the infrastructure plan, specifically the tax portion.
Jen Psaki: (38:42)
Speaker 6: (38:43)
What parts of that is the president flexible on? Are there parts of it that he would be open to negotiating about?
Jen Psaki: (38:50)
You mean in terms of the pay fors?
Speaker 6: (38:52)
Jen Psaki: (38:53)
Well, the president is quite open to alternate proposals to paying for his package. His most important focus here, his line in the sand is the vital imperative of investing in infrastructure and modernizing our infrastructure, creating jobs for the American people. He believes that should be paid for it. He’s proposed a way to do that. If others have alternatives to that, he’s quite open to a range of options.
Speaker 6: (39:19)
And one on climate. I know the summit is next week and going back to one of the early executive orders that the president signed on climate change. There was a line in there about creating a green procurement plan for the federal government where agencies would consider climate in their spending decisions. He set a deadline for the end of April on that. Do you know what the status is? And when we would expect to see it?
Jen Psaki: (39:45)
I expect for those of you who are excited about climate, we will have a lot more to say next week. And I will see, as I promise to Jeff, if there’s anything we can preview by tomorrow, but it will be a busy week or two on the climate front. But I’m just not going to get ahead of any announcements.
Speaker 6: (40:01)
Jen Psaki: (40:01)
Sure. Go ahead.
Speaker 7: (40:02)
Thanks, Jen. A few on the economic plan. We are being told that congressional Republicans are looking toward a counter offer on infrastructure with the top line number being in the area of $650 billion. And I’m wondering what the White House’s response to that would be.
Jen Psaki: (40:17)
We would welcome any good faith engagement on finding common grounds on infrastructure in this proposal. We haven’t received just to confirm any concrete counter offers so far, at least as of my coming out here to see all of you. So we’re not going to speculate about hypotheticals, but from the outset, the president has said that he wants this to be a collaborative process and he wants input from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on how we can improve the jobs plan. And certainly, he looks forward to hearing what their proposals might be. He has some fundamental and this kind of goes in response to an earlier question. He has some fundamental core elements that are important to him. Money to update our infrastructure, investments in longterm growth, investments in the American people, in their workplaces and their education and communities. So we’ll see what this proposal looks like.
Speaker 8: (41:04)
That’s a big push here in Washington to eliminate, as you know, the salt cap. And I’m just hoping you can sort of clarify the position from the White House. Do you believe that eliminating the salt cap is good policy that just needs to be paid for somehow? Or do you believe it’s not good policy?
Jen Psaki: (41:19)
Well, the president didn’t put it in his proposal, but I will say that we understand there are a number of members who feel strongly about the elimination of the salt cap. And we are happy to hear from them. As you also know, just with our little calculators out, it is not a revenue raiser. And so, it would add costs and potentially significantly to a package. There’d have to be a discussion about how that would be paid for, what would be taken out instead. And then, there’s sort of a discussion of what’s most important to achieving our overarching objectives.
Speaker 8: (41:52)
I want to ask you one in a different space and that is cryptocurrency. In the news the last many weeks, and certainly the last few days here, $2 trillion market cap, big growing space. We’ve heard from Janet Yellen, her thoughts. We’ve heard from Jay Powell, his thoughts. We’ve heard from Gary Gensler, his thoughts. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t believe we’ve heard President Biden, his thoughts on cryptocurrency. So can you give us some sort of insight, what is the president’s thinking on it?
Jen Psaki: (42:23)
I would suggest that Secretary Yellen, who is our, of course, treasury secretary, is the appropriate person to speak to it. I don’t think the president has a disagreement with her on this particular issue.
Speaker 8: (42:36)
So if he doesn’t have a disagreement, does he think that there needs to be some form of regulation at some point?
Jen Psaki: (42:41)
We would defer to her and her comments and views on cryptocurrency in the market. Oh, go ahead.
Speaker 4: (42:47)
I just wanted a follow up answer on North Korea. This is a very semantic question.
Jen Psaki: (42:51)
Speaker 4: (42:51)
But you said that the US has taken the denuclearization of North Korea. And then later, you said the North Korean peninsula. And that sort of betrays-
Jen Psaki: (43:00)
Sorry, of North Korea.
Speaker 4: (43:02)
… the thrust of my question, which is the policy was long denuclearization of the entire Korean peninsula. So I’m wondering if you could explain why that’s sort of shifted in the administration, and then you no longer see denuclearization of South Korea as part of this long-term negotiations.
Jen Psaki: (43:20)
Well, I would say that it’s just an indication that we understand that the denuclearize… I mean, I wouldn’t over think this to be honest, because we sometimes say one, we sometimes say the other, but we understand the intentions of the North Korean leadership are ones that we have concerns about. And that certainly is a factor. Yes?
A couple [inaudible 00:43:47] as it relates to the expanding the court discussion. Nancy Pelosi, we’ve heard her say she wouldn’t bring that proposal to the floor. Did the president speak to Speaker Pelosi in advance of her making those comments?
Jen Psaki: (43:56)
I have any calls to read out. I think the president’s been pretty… He’s spoken about his views and obviously announced the commission publicly last week.
And as it relates to his views as a Senator, his view was he was speaking of President Roosevelt, that he wanted to expand the court by six seats. He said it was, “a boneheaded idea.” Does he still believe it’s a boneheaded idea?
Jen Psaki: (44:15)
Well, the president feels that it’s important to take a look at a range of issues related to the courts. And I think that’s an indication that he’s seen the impact in recent years. And it’s time to take a fresh and clear look at a range of issues. The size is one of them. So is the length of service, the selection, the case selection, rules, and practices.
The last question is on the vaccine. Just one other thing. We heard with J&J now out of commission for the near term, at least for these next 10 days or however long it would be. The White House says that they will have enough doses for every American who wants it by the end of July, I think was the latest… Not just for everyone who wants it, but to be able to give it to them for everybody who wants it by the end of July. My question is that requires a calculation by the White House about how many Americans they believe do not want it. So the question is how many Americans by your judgment, by the White House’s judgment, are you assessing do not want to take a vaccine?
Jen Psaki: (45:16)
Well, I would say, let me try to answer this question. I think this is going to get to part of your question here is when we say we are confident we’re going to have supply for all eligible populations who want it, that means that by the end of May, for about 80% of the population. By the end of July, about 90% of the population. We also recognize, and as you guys have reported on, that there are populations in the country that are going to be hesitant, are going to be reluctant to get the vaccine. We are having a massive campaign to communicate about the efficacy, the safety, through a range of trusted messengers. And so we are working to rebuild that confidence as well, but we’re talking about what we think the demand will look like.
So to be clear in terms of the demand, is there a figure that had this assessment, there is an expectation that you guys believe there will be some Americans who won’t? Where do you set that number? Right now, obviously you’re trying to overcome it. Right now, what is your belief in terms of how many tens of millions of Americans it is that will say no.
Jen Psaki: (46:16)
I don’t have an assessment. I mean, there’s no playbook for this, right? So what I’m conveying to you is that when we say we will have enough 80% for 80% of the adult population, by the end of May, we think that we’ll meet the demand, right? But we assess day by day, week by week, what progress we’re making on addressing any issues with confidence.
Because by the end of May, I think by my calculation, having read on this, it’s 220 million total available doses, I think. There are 220 million Americans that could get their shots by then. That means that there’s an additional number of Americans above that who wouldn’t, but you guys don’t have a specific number that you’re circling right now.
Jen Psaki: (46:54)
I don’t have any number to share with all of you.
Jen Psaki: (46:56)
Thanks. Okay. Oh, go ahead. Did you have one last question?
Speaker 6: (46:58)
I wanted to ask about the Supreme Court commission that you’ve been talking about during the briefing. Will that commission at all study lower court reform?
Jen Psaki: (47:07)
It is looking at five issues. It’s primarily focused on the Supreme Court. It’s a presidential commission on the Supreme Court of the United States. So we’ll primarily be looking at the court’s role in the constitutional system, the length of service, the turnover of justices on the court, the membership and size of the court, the court’s case selection rules and practices, but the Supreme Court will be the focus.
Speaker 6: (47:29)
And no lower court at this point?
Jen Psaki: (47:30)
That’s what the focus of that commission is.
Speaker 6: (47:32)
Jen Psaki: (47:33)
Okay. Thanks everyone.
Speaker 9: (47:35)
[inaudible 00:47:35] participants for the 2:00 when you get a chance?
Jen Psaki: (47:36)
Oh, sure, sure, sure, sure.
Speaker 9: (47:37)