Apr 2, 2021
Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript April 2
April 2, 2021 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. She discussed the March jobs report. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Jen Psaki: (00:00)
… Walsh with us. As you all know, Secretary Walsh was mayor of the city of Boston for the last seven years. While mayor, he led the creation of close to 140,000 jobs, helped secure a statewide $15 an hour, minimum wage paid sick leave and paid parental leave. He established universal high quality pre-kindergarten for all children and free community college for low income students. After following his father into laborers Local 223. In Boston, Secretary Walsh rose to head the Building and Construction Trades Council from 2011 to 2013. Before serving as mayor, he was a state representative for one of the most diverse districts in Massachusetts. There, he focused on creating jobs, protecting workers’ rights, expanding mental health treatment, and investing in public transit. As always, he’s happy to take a couple of questions. I’ll be the bad cop, but with that, we’ll turn it over to you.
Secretary Walsh: (00:49)
Thanks Jen. Oh, sorry. Thank you very much, Jen, and it’s an honor to be here today. I want to also thank President Biden and Vice President Harris for inviting me to share an update on the economic recovery at this important moment in time. The news today under the president’s leadership through the American Rescue Plan, the America’s workforce is climbing out of a deep hole that COVID has put us in. Our recovery is building momentum and many more Americans are certainly returning to work as we can see, but we still have a long way to go and there’s a lot of work to do. Today’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the American economy added 916,000 jobs in the month of March. The unemployment rate edged down to 6% from 6.2% in February. That’s certainly good news for over 900,000 working men, and women and families in this country.
Secretary Walsh: (01:42)
We saw a significant job growth in most sectors of our economy. It’s clear that the National Vaccine Program is not only saving lives, but it’s enabling more people to get back to work. Relief checks and expanded unemployment benefits are not only putting food on the table, they’re also stimulating our local economy. The supports that are being put in place for rent, mortgages, childcare, schools, small businesses and emergency paid leave are giving workers the security they need to hold on and start planning for a better future. The American Rescue Plan certainly has had positive effects across our economy, laying down the foundation for continued recovery. At the same time, over 8 million jobs that existed a year ago today are yet to return. Millions of people in this country are still hurting and disparities within the workforce continues to be a major concern.
Secretary Walsh: (02:33)
The African-American unemployment rate in March was 9.6%. The Hispanic rate was 7.9% compared to the 5.4% for whites. In addition barriers to the labor force participation for women continue to be a problem. That has been exposed and exasperated during this pandemic. We must continue to address the fact that working people and communities already suffering the most from inequality were hit the hardest during the COVID illness and job loss. That’s why American Jobs Plan proposed by the President Biden this week is so vital to our future. It tackles each of these issues head on and with bold action. The plan offers a necessary path forward towards sustainable economic growth that is robust, competitive, and inclusive. As a former mayor as Jen mentioned, as a former mayor, I know all about infrastructure needs. This plan would move us into the 21st century and to the forefront of the world in transportation, in clean energy and high speed internet, and would create millions of good jobs all across the United States.
Secretary Walsh: (03:36)
A report issued by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce found that the American Job Plan would create over 8 million jobs for people with just a high school diploma alone. It would increase the share of infrastructure jobs from 11% to 14% of the jobs in this country, reviving the blue collar middle-class economy and all across our country. As labor secretary, I’m thrilled by the investment, it would make for American workers in their skills, in their opportunities and in their right to organize and advocate for better paying, working condition and jobs. Those investments will create and open up access to good manufacturing and construction jobs. There’s also a major investment in our caring professionals. An industry with one in six workers who are disproportionately women of color live in poverty. We’ve seen how much our families depend on childcare and seniors care over the last year.
Secretary Walsh: (04:31)
Those skills, compassionate workers need and deserve a better deal. The American Jobs Plan would also double the number of registered apprenticeships over 1 million, while ensuring these programs reach those who have been left out in the past. I’ve personally seen the benefits of union apprenticeships up close. As mayor, I launched an apprentice program as mayor and as a labor leader, I’ve seen them change lives of women and people of color and low income communities in the city of Boston. For those reasons and many other, this plan that is the fuel to a true engine of our economy. The working people certainly will run off that. It’s not only the numbers that tell the story of the economy. This is about the conversations Americans are having at kitchen tables all across our country. Over the last two weeks, I’ve talked to parents, I’ve talked to childcare providers, I’ve talked to small business owners, members of labor unions, frontline, public employees, and federal and local employees, mayors all across America, cities both large and small.
Secretary Walsh: (05:32)
I’ve talked to senators. I’ve talked to a couple of governors. They continue to be concerned about the situation and what they’re seeing in their communities, but everyone seems to be optimistic and hopeful. They all see a pathway forward. Today’s data shows, while jobs are coming back, unemployment remains in necessarily lifeline for too many people for millions of Americans. A new opportunity, a good job, providing for your family, building up your community. Those are the things that will allow us to dream again. That’s exactly what we’re working for in this administration and all across America. With that, I’ll take some questions.
Jen Psaki: (06:06)
All right, Andrea.
Secretary Walsh, we’ve got some factory owners in the Midwest telling us that they’re really struggling to get people to take their jobs, so if we’re going to add 19 million jobs, where are the people who take those jobs going to come from and do you need to do extra training?
Secretary Walsh: (06:25)
Well, first of all, in this bill, there is job training money and there’s workforce [inaudible 00:06:28] money. I also think, I think the biggest thing that a lot of, what I’ve heard, a lot of workers are concerned about is COVID-19. People are still afraid of the impacts of COVID-19. Still too many deaths, too much loss of life. I think that the, I know this, that the president’s plan is a competent plan, a vaccine plan to get more and more shots out and the president I think doubled down on his efforts the other day about the vaccine. He reached his vaccine goal of 100 million vaccine shots, and now he’s shooting towards 200 million. That’s going to make a difference. I think what we’re seeing a little bit in some of the economy today, the numbers, people are feeling comfortable coming back into the workforce. People need to feel safe. The president stressed today, wear a mask, wash your hands with soap and warm water, physical distance, be careful, stay separate. All of those things is still very much, you have to do, any state, any city in this country.
Well, there is, I mean, there are gaps even now, sort of even before COVID there were gaps between what was available in terms of jobs and people who were willing to take them for manufacturing positions and things like that.
Secretary Walsh: (07:34)
I mean, I think that the numbers right now, when you look at the numbers, we still have, I think it’s 8.4 million people out of work, the people. Then there’s another nearly 2 million people that are not in the workforce. Again, I think it comes down to safety. I think it comes down to fear. Even within the Department of Labor, a lot of conversations I’ve had with the employees of the Department of Labor asking us, “When do we come back? What are the safety precautions going to be put in place?” We’re not bringing people back right now. I think that as mayor of the city of Boston, I heard it every day. Companies and people want people to come back into work, but people are still fearful. I think, as we get through the next couple of weeks, I that will shift and change. I think as people get vaccinated, as more and more people continue to get vaccinated, I think you’ll see more and more people want to come back into the workforce.
Jen Psaki: (08:18)
What will the impact on these travel changes that are taking place, the CDC is saying those who are fully vaccinated can travel. Obviously hospitality, travel, entertainment have been big sectors that have suffered a great deal. What do you see as the sort of comeback arc time-wise for those areas of the economy to have employment coming back?
Secretary Walsh: (08:41)
Again, that’s a great question. I think that, again, it comes back to people feeling safe and comfortable. I don’t mean to keep going back to being the mayor of Boston, but one of our major industries is tourism. We haven’t held a convention at the convention center in Boston for over a year. My office overlooks Faneuil Hall, there’d be, a day like today, there’d be thousands of people shopping in Faneuil Hall. If I were in my old office today, looking out the window, I’d probably see half a dozen. Again, I think the more that we can get the vaccine out to people, the more we can get shots in people’s arms, the more that we can control the virus and eliminate the virus. That is going to be key. I mean, I can’t stress it enough. President Biden said it today. I can’t stress the fact enough of wearing a mask.
Secretary Walsh: (09:21)
There are people that won’t wear a mask, but wear a mask for the people around you. Making sure that you’re being safe and getting testing. Testing. All of those things are so important to moving us forward. The hospitality industry had a pretty good day today. When you look at the numbers, the numbers show that. A lot of our restaurants are starting to reopen and open across the country, but they’re not there yet. We need to do everything we can within our power to combat this virus and beat this virus back if we truly want a full recovery. It’s great to see more and more people traveling, but we also, there’s many more people that just won’t get on a plane right now. Even with the vaccine, they’re worried. We just have to continue to educate and continue to fight this virus back.
Jen Psaki: (10:03)
Thank you, Mr. Secretary. As you know, the $15 an hour minimum wage fell out of the COVID relief bill, is it your expectation that that will be part of phase two of the infrastructure and jobs plan?
Secretary Walsh: (10:18)
I think the president’s been very clear. He is very supportive as I am, of raising the minimum wage. I think that we will continue to work till we get a vehicle that we can have a debate and a vote on the minimum wage. I think that the minimum wage is really … When you look at the aspects of today’s plan, one of the areas that we saw a lot of growth was in low skilled, mostly a lot of high school dropouts that came into the workforce, low waged earners. Minimum wage changes that dynamic. Those same workers coming back, having a minimum wage raises their wages, which will actually put more money back into the economy. That’s something that I know the president’s focused on, I’m focused as the Secretary of Labor, and then all those other members of the administration are to be focused on that as well.
You haven’t decided whether that’ll be part of phase two.
Secretary Walsh: (11:01)
It’s a conversation I’ll have to have with the president.
Then on today’s job numbers, one of the things we noticed was that the unemployment rate for Asian-Americans went up almost a full percentage point, even though those numbers dropped for almost every other demographic report, at least stayed the same. Do you know why that-
Secretary Walsh: (11:17)
No, that came up in the conversation in my briefing this morning. They’re still diving in to trying to figure out what that’s all about. We’ll get some information on you. We didn’t have the information today, because it seems a little … Everyone brought that … That number kind of jumped out. Everyone’s saying there’s something not right here.
Jen Psaki: (11:31)
On the infrastructure plan, to what extent should union jobs be prioritized in that infrastructure plan?
Secretary Walsh: (11:39)
I think in a lot of ways, I mean, a lot of those jobs will be union jobs. I think that it’s important though, that to make sure that those jobs that are inside this bill, whether it’s roads and bridges, whether it’s water upgrading, whether it’s VA, all of those construction jobs, if you will. I think it’s really important that there’s good wages with those jobs. The president and I believe in collective bargaining, the president believes in collective bargaining …
Secretary Walsh: (12:03)
… President, and I believe in collective bargaining. The president believes in collective bargaining, so certainly support having higher wages there. Again, I mean, we’ll have to see where this bill ends up and what’s actually in the bill. But we believe in those areas. The building trades actually support this part of the legislation because it’s about infrastructure. It’s about building roads and bridges and all the other things that are going to be here, so I think it’s important to have obviously good … This part of the bill is certainly one of those that creates entry points into the middle-class for people.
Speaker 1: (12:32)
And then on addressing income equality, is the Labor Department going to do anything different as far as gauging numbers? Are you planning to change the way you count, change the data for people?
Secretary Walsh: (12:43)
Yeah. So today was my first jobs day, and I had my first briefing at 8:00 this morning, and I had a quick briefing yesterday but not about the numbers today, and one of the things that I did bring up on the conversation was about women who have been pushed out of the workforce. Two million women have been pushed out of the workforce during COVID, so we talked about that as mayor, dealing with inequality and women’s inequality when it comes to getting paid what a man makes, and then looking what a white woman compared to a woman of color to a Latino, so I brought that up today. So what I want to do is do deeper dives with these stats, because you can’t fix a problem. Well, the stats are there, but you can’t address a problem correctly if you don’t have the stats.
Secretary Walsh: (13:28)
So I have a whole different group of people now, economists are going to help me with this, and I intend on using that to help close these gaps, and people of color as well. Close these gaps. It’s important. And part of the American Jobs Plan, when we think about as it goes through its process through Congress, we think about what the numbers say and how do we create and draw up programs through workforce development, union apprenticeships and other places? How can we make sure that those investments are targeted? So those are all things that we can collectively do, and also work with commerce, work with transportation, all of my colleagues, other secretaries, because this issue of inequality is not just a labor issue. It’s all across the board.
Speaker 2: (14:11)
Thank you. 916,000 jobs. Do you think that pace of hiring is sustainable?
Secretary Walsh: (14:18)
I hope so. I was asked a question like that earlier today. Again, there’s too many variables with the virus to say that that next month could be better. When we think about the summer, if you go back to a year ago, the viruses was surging, and then the months of May, June, July, August, September, we started to get back. It started to look good, and people started to come back out and go to work, and then the holidays came and we saw a spike after Thanksgiving. We saw another spike after Christmas, and I think that the virus is unpredictable. That’s why I think there’s a couple of different components here. The American Jobs Plan pushing to get passed is key, number one. Number two, making sure we continue to have, when the CDC’s up here talking about wearing and the need to be careful, we have to pay attention to that, and then all of the other questions that I’ve gotten today, whether it’s women in the workforce or factory workers not wanting to come back, all of that’s connected.
Secretary Walsh: (15:16)
So I just think we have to continue a plan, and I’m confident that when President Biden gets sworn in, he came up with a COVID plan right off the bat. He had a direction where he wants to go. He’s been talking about the vaccinations, a hundred days, a hundred million, doubling that number up, so what he’s laid out is working. Now, we just need to continue to work with our partners in state and local governments. We need to work with our governors, we need to work with our mayors, our town managers, our city councils, our town council. We have to continue to work collectively with all those groups.
Speaker 2: (15:48)
Speaker 3: (15:49)
Thanks. I appreciate it. Mr. Secretary, the president just spoke about his concern for people that have been long-term unemployed know over 27, 30 weeks. We know that right now, that’s such a big proportion of people that are out of work. Is there anything you can do? Any specific efforts underway to help people who are experiencing long-term unemployment?
Secretary Walsh: (16:09)
Yeah, I think the American Rescue Plan addresses some of that, and right now, again, this is my second week here. I’ve had some conversations with our workforce development folks to think about how can we make some targeted investments in some places. Some of those folks, for example, like you have restaurants around the country that people worked in them. They’ve gone out of business because of COVID because they’ve lost their business. Some of those folks might not want to go back into that industry, and some of those folks are probably the people the president was talking about today. How do we find those folks, get them trained into other opportunities and other skills that they can take advantage of jobs that are here today. I think that’s one of the things we have to do.
Speaker 3: (16:50)
And do you support the push by Amazon workers in Alabama to unionize?
Secretary Walsh: (16:54)
I support everyone’s right to collectively bargain. I think we’re all kind of waiting to see what the result of that election is, but I certainly believe everyone, as the president does, everyone should have the right to join a union if they choose.
Speaker 2: (17:04)
Thank you, Secretary.
Secretary Walsh: (17:04)
Thank you, everyone.
Jen Psaki: (17:05)
Good job. Wicked smart. We’ve been waiting to say that. I did tell him next time he comes back, he won’t get as nice of an introduction, so he’s prepared for that. Just a couple of items for all of you at the top. Three new reports over the last 24 hours underscore the critical importance of passing the American Jobs Plan, the jobs it will create, the type of workers who will benefit from it, and why we can pay for it by asking big corporations to pay their fair share.
Jen Psaki: (17:38)
First are the jobs. A report from Moody’s Analytics that came out yesterday afternoon projects that the economy will create 19 million jobs over the next decade if Congress passes the American Jobs Plan. Moody’s also projects that the plan will help reduce the unemployment rate and drive up labor force participation on a basis over the decade. A lot of the benefits will continue once the American Rescue Plan is played through.
Jen Psaki: (18:04)
Second are the blue collar workers who are going to benefit from this plan. According to another report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, an investment like the jobs plan would “reverse a longterm decline in jobs and earnings for those with high school diplomas or less,” which Secretary Walsh already touched on, creating 8 million jobs for this population. Create jobs at every education level, but the majority of infrastructure jobs will be for people with no more than a high school diploma. Finally is why we can pay for this once in a century investment in jobs and growth by asking corporations to pay their fair share. Another new report, people were busy reporting yesterday, by the Institution on Taxation and Economic Policy revealed that 55 big corporations paid $0 in federal taxes on 2020 profits. In fact, these companies actually received billions of dollars in tax refunds, so we believe they can pay more of their fair share so that we can help fund this once in a generation investment.
Jen Psaki: (19:05)
A couple of other scheduling announcements. President Biden looks forward to welcoming Prime Minister Suga to the White House, the Japanese prime minister in case you all were not following, to the White House on Friday, April 16th. This will be our first in-person visit from a foreign leader in the Biden-Harris administration, reflecting the importance we place on our bilateral relationship with Japan and our friendship and partnership with the Japanese people. We look forward to sharing more details, of course, in the days to come. Finally, on a week ahead on Monday, the president, while there will be no Easter egg roll … Next year, we’ll do a big one. But he will deliver remarks on the tradition of Easter at the White House. On Tuesday, he will participate in an event on the state of vaccinations, and on Wednesday, the president will participate in an event on the historic investment in the American Jobs Plan. With that, Darlene?
Thank you, Jen. I wanted to ask you. I have a COVID question, and just a little while ago, we heard the president appeal again to people to take the coronavirus seriously, saying that too many people are acting as if this flight is over, and it’s not. So I’m wondering why does the president think or you or the White House or the COVID team, why do you think this message isn’t breaking through for some people? Why does he have to keep saying it again and again and again?
Jen Psaki: (20:25)
Well, we have always anticipated that there would be ups and downs, and that’s why the president, the vice-president and all of us have continued to reiterate that we are at war with the virus, that we need to be vigilant, and that’s a message you’ve heard from him and members of our health team throughout the past several months, even when people were feeling more and more confident out in the American public. We don’t view the observation of public health guidelines as a political step. We view it as a step that helps save lives. Some people view it otherwise, but what our focus is on is on ensuring that we are expediting the getting vaccinations out to pharmacies, doubling the number of pharmacies that have them, more than doubling, expediting, increasing the amount of vaccines that are going out to States, which we saw a dramatic increase in that. And we’re also working with local mayors, business owners, and at the individual level to continue to reiterate what has long been our consistent message.
Is that message that it’s too early to celebrate, I mean, how often or how much of that is part of the public education messaging? There’s some PSAs that the administration is doing. How much of that message is part of that campaign?
Jen Psaki: (21:43)
The big focus of the public campaign is we can do this, and that it’s important to take the vaccine. Obviously, increasing partnering that public messaging with our efforts to expedite and getting more vaccines out, increasing the number of vaccination sites, the number of vaccinators. We’re doing those in partnership and also working, investing I should say, a significant amount of our public education efforts in local partners, which we’ve seen to be the most effective efforts. So that’s one of the reasons why that is where the majority of our funding for that public campaign is going.
And one other quick question regarding a call the president had today with the president of Ukraine. Are you able to say if Donald Trump and the investigation that he sought into the Bidens from the Ukrainian government, did that come up at all during the conversation?
Jen Psaki: (22:33)
I know we’ve put out a readout of the call. I’m not aware of that coming up on the call.
Yeah, that was not in the readout. Okay. Thank you.
Jen Psaki: (22:39)
Sure. Go ahead.
So just to back up on Ukraine, all right you concerned about Russian disinformation about the activities at the border? This has been a continuing theme, and then I have another one after that.
Jen Psaki: (22:52)
Jen Psaki: (22:54)
You are absolutely right, Andrea. It has been a continuing theme. We’ve seen this movie before of the disinformation campaign that Russia has implemented in the past as it relates to their aggressions at the border of Ukraine, so that is certainly something we are watching, we are concerned about, and we will continue to communicate from here, but also with our partners in Europe about.
Okay. And then just on the sort of jobs and infrastructure package, Reuters polls sort of show wide support for the infrastructure package and even for corporate tax increases, but when Reuters asks Republicans, the preface support is very partisan. So there’s a sense that Republicans will not support anything that has basically a democratic president’s name on it. How do you change that dynamic? The president talked about it just before and said he thinks that Republican voters will speak, but our polling shows that they’re going to follow …
We’ll speak, but our polling shows that they’re going to follow the leader.
Jen Psaki: (24:04)
Well, I haven’t looked at your particular polling, but consistently in polling, we’ve seen about 80% of the public believes we need to invest in our infrastructure across the country. And that is long outdated. And the president doesn’t believe that’s a political issue, whether it’s roads, railways, bridges, access to broadband. Access to broadband is an issue that is certainly a challenge, I should say, in inner cities and lower income communities. But is also an issue across rural America, in many parts of the country that are redder in the political sense and have more predominantly Republican populations.
Jen Psaki: (24:40)
I think what our focus is going to be on is continuing to communicate the different components of this package and how it’s going to specifically help the American people. We don’t see it as a politically charged package or as a partisan package. And most polls you look at, when you look at the components of it, as you alluded to, are consistent with that. So that’s what our focus will be on. We just announced it two days ago.
Just real quick, another foreign policy one. So in Vienna, now there’s this discussion about having… U.S. and Iranian negotiators are to be in Vienna at the same time, but not meeting directly.
Jen Psaki: (25:19)
Can you say a word about what you expect to come out of that shuttle diplomacy and how soon you think you could actually sit down at the table together with the Iranians?
Jen Psaki: (25:29)
Sure. Well, for people who haven’t been following it as closely as you, let me catch you up. We’ve agreed to participate in talks with our European, Russian and Chinese partners, to identify the issues involved in a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA with Iran. This is a welcome and potentially constructive early step. Even if the diplomatic road ahead maybe long, as it was during the first negotiations around the JCPOA. We are very clear-eyed about the hurdles that remain.
Jen Psaki: (25:58)
These talks will be structured around working groups, that the EU is going to form with the remaining partners in the JCPOA, including Iran. And the primary issues that will be discussed are the nuclear steps that Iran would need to take in order to return to compliance with the JCPOA and the sanctions-relief steps the United States would need to take in order to return to compliance as well. We don’t anticipate presently that there will be direct talks between the United States and Iran through the process, though we certainly remain open to them.
Jen Psaki: (26:27)
Go ahead, Kelly.
On the southern border of the United States, Customs and Border Protection has some new preliminary numbers about unaccompanied minors crossing in March. And they are way, way up, 18,500. Again, preliminary number, but a big jump. Suggesting it’s more than seasonal, suggesting it’s more than just the conditions on the ground. Is there a sense now that the administration needs to do something different in terms of the message of, “This is not the time to come, but children who are unaccompanied will be protected and cared for and be able to stay”? Is there any movement on that as the message?
Jen Psaki: (27:11)
That continues to be our message, and we continue to look for ways to project it more broadly and more effectively in the region, but that is a sliver of what our efforts are. And we don’t feel that simply telling people with more PSAs not to come, that that is going to be the only way to reduce the number of people who are taking the journey. So in addition to that, we of course, have these conversations that started last week, that will be ongoing and we’ll continue with our envoy and our officials, who will be working with governments and officials in the Northern Triangle to talk about addressing conditions and talk about reducing the temptation to travel.
Jen Psaki: (27:52)
Some of that will, of course, be aid and assistance and a discussion of that. The president’s proposed $4 billion in his own plan. But some of it will be, of course, continuing to communicate directly with the region. And we also will continue to reiterate that our policy remains in place in terms of implementing Title 42 authority, and that the vast majority of adults are turned away. These numbers are certainly… We are not naive about the challenge, but what our focus is on is solutions and actions to help address the unaccompanied minors who are coming across the border and making it less of an incentive to come. Including also continuing to implement the Central American Minors program. So kids can apply and people under 18 can apply from in country.
Does the president see the vice president’s role in stewardship of this issue, dealing with more than diplomacy and dealing with some of the operational issues that are being dealt with along the border with the Bureau and Border Patrol and HHS?
Jen Psaki: (28:51)
No, that’s a role that, of course, the Department of Homeland Security is playing. [Ale 00:28:55] Mayorkas, the secretary, who has a great deal of experience dealing with challenges at the border and implementing it. Now, we also have a secretary of Health and Human Services, who is in place, who can work in partnership. And they have oversight, as you know, over a number of the shelters. And that’s a key part of the partnership. But the vice president’s role is really focused on the Northern Triangle.
Jen Psaki: (29:16)
Speaker 4: (29:16)
Following up there, I know you’ve been asked this in the room before, but if it’s such a pressing issue, why hasn’t the administration named a CBP commissioner or an ICE director yet?
Jen Psaki: (29:27)
Those are certainly important roles and ones that we are eager to fill. I don’t have an update on the personnel there, but we also have a number of experienced leaders, including the secretary of Homeland Security, who had served as deputy secretary in the past. And others throughout the agencies, who are implementing our work on a daily basis.
Speaker 4: (29:47)
Just last week you were asked if there was a consideration for an immigrant in particular to be in either of those spots, you said you talked to the president about that. You had that conversation with him. Does he think that’s important?
Jen Psaki: (29:55)
I don’t have anything more about what characteristics will go into the personnel, other than somebody who’s qualified and of course prepared to implement as quickly as possible. But we don’t have a shortage of talented, experienced, qualified personnel addressing these issues. That’s not the biggest challenge we’re focusing on right now. The biggest challenge is expediting processing and ensuring we have more shelters available. We’ve made some progress in those areas, but there’s still certainly more work to be done.
Speaker 4: (30:23)
Can I ask you too quickly, just on the Georgia law. I had a conversation with the lawyer for Representative Cannon, who was arrested there outside Governor Kemp’s office, and he said over and over, he thought the Justice Department needed to get involved in what was going on in Georgia. The president, last week, said that the Justice Department was looking into its options, that he was looking into options. Can you update us on whether there’s… If there’s anything to update us on Justice Department looking into options to get involved.
Jen Psaki: (30:48)
There just wouldn’t be from here. It’s an independent justice department. So I would certainly refer to them on any plans they have.
Speaker 4: (30:53)
And any response from the White House to get involved? I mean, any update on what the White House, in any way, will respond to the Georgia law?
Jen Psaki: (31:01)
Well, beyond the Department of Justice?
Speaker 4: (31:03)
Well, will the president [crosstalk 00:31:04]. I mean, so is that it, it will only come from the Justice Department?
Jen Psaki: (31:06)
I don’t really understand your question.
Speaker 4: (31:08)
I guess, the president said he was looking into his options.
Jen Psaki: (31:12)
Speaker 4: (31:12)
So are there any other options beyond what we would see from the Justice Department?
Jen Psaki: (31:16)
Well, I think there’s one category, right, of legal action, we’d leave that in the Department of Justice hands. They’re an independent agency, right? In that sense, they’ll make independent decisions, I should say. The president, I think, was referring broadly to the importance of continuing to advocate for the expansion of voter access and the expansion of making it easier for people to use their civic duty to elect officials. So there are obviously pieces of legislation that are working their way through Congress. That’s the way he’ll continue to be involved. He will continue to communicate with, and work with leaders like Stacey Abrams and others who are implementing grassroots activism across the country. So there are a lot of roles the president can play. I would just put it in a different category, than whether there’s a Department of Justice legal step. Because that would be up to the attorney general.
Jen Psaki: (32:07)
Speaker 5: (32:08)
Thanks, Jen. On the issue of voting rights, the president said that he would support major league baseball, moving the All-Star game out of Atlanta. Now, a similar bill has passed the State Senate in Texas. So does the president believe that Texas businesses should move out of the state or boycott the state if this bill is signed into law?
Jen Psaki: (32:31)
Well, first, he didn’t call for businesses to boycott. Businesses have made that decision themselves, of course. He also was not dictating that Major League Baseball move their game out of Georgia. He was conveying that if that was a decision that was made, that he would certainly support that. And that’s true in the context of the remarks he made in that interview.
Speaker 5: (32:55)
What does the president believe the responsibility of businesses is in this debate?
Jen Psaki: (33:01)
In terms of activism or taking-
Speaker 5: (33:03)
Yeah, when it comes to voting rights, bills in the states where they reside, and where they call home, what does the president believe the responsibility is of businesses, when it comes to this issue of voting rights?
Jen Psaki: (33:15)
Well, the president has made his view clear. That he has major concerns about the bill passed in Georgia. He’s consistently argued, it should be easier and not harder to vote. And he believes that making it a criminal act to deliver water to people waiting in line is not making it easier. We’re also not calling from here for specific actions from businesses.
Speaker 5: (33:39)
Can you tell us a little bit more. The president said this morning that his infrastructure plan would create 19 million jobs. Can you explain a little bit more about how the White House came up with that figure?
Jen Psaki: (33:49)
It’s not our figure. It’s actually a figure by Moody’s.
Speaker 5: (33:53)
Okay. And then, on another subject, is the president aware of the reporting and the investigation into Congressman Matt Gaetz? And does he believe that the congressmen should resign?
Jen Psaki: (34:05)
I don’t think we have any further comment. I’d refer you to the legal authorities on that.
Jen Psaki: (34:09)
Speaker 6: (34:10)
Can I ask you about the funding and the rescue plan for Medicaid expansion, specifically, whether the administration is reaching out to the dozen states that have not expanded, to encourage them to take that funding? And how flexible you’re likely to be on any waiver requests for things like adding health savings accounts or work incentives? Some States say that would have to be included in order for them to expand.
Jen Psaki: (34:32)
That’s a great question. Obviously, the president is certainly supportive of and an advocate for states expanding access to Medicaid. He thinks it’s a way to ensure more people are covered in states and have access to affordable healthcare. But in terms of flexibility, I’ll have to talk to Gene, who I want to get in here and talk to you guys soon too, about any specifics there about those discussions with states.
Speaker 6: (34:55)
But are you doing anything in terms of reaching out to them, any outreach campaigns in general? Aside from whether you’re talking specifics about waivers yet, but just doing anything and doing a lot of outreach on the other components of the ACA and the rescue plan in terms of educational campaigns? Is there anything going on specifically on the Medicaid expansion?
Jen Psaki: (35:13)
We’re in touch with leaders and governors about all components of the implementation and that’s something. And I just referenced Gene because he’s overseeing that effort.
Jen Psaki: (35:22)
Thanks Jen. On Russia again and the international payment system, is the White House still seriously considering disconnecting them from that payment system, that SWIFT system? Is that still a live round?
Jen Psaki: (35:36)
Let me see, Jen, if I have anything specifically on this. I know we’ve talked about this a little bit in the past. I don’t know if I have anything new on this. I’m happy to talk to our National Security team and see if we have a specific.
Okay, great. And then, is there any update on the budget preview document that the White House was talking about putting out?
Jen Psaki: (35:54)
We expect it to be soon, but not today or this weekend. So rest easy.
Okay. Thank you.
Jen Psaki: (36:00)
Jen Psaki: (36:00)
Speaker 7: (36:00)
Thanks Jen. I have a couple different questions. I wanted to ask about the president’s Easter…
Speaker 7: (36:03)
Thanks, Jen. I have a couple of quick questions. I wanted to ask about the president’s Easter plans because he said on his phone call with faith and family community leaders that he would probably get together with family for Easter because they’ve all been vaccinated. What kind of messages are that sending if he’s asking Americans not to have small gatherings until the 4th of July, but he’s saying he’ll be with family for Easter? Can you clarify how big family-
Jen Psaki: (36:23)
I don’t have a specific number of family members, but I can assure you that the president strives to be a role model in every aspect of how he’s living in this difficult time we’re all going through. He obviously has a wife he’s been married to for some time. He has a couple of grandkids who he sees when he goes to Delaware. But it’s a limited group and certainly not the big Irish Biden clan that many of you have seen throughout the course of his time in public office.
Speaker 7: (36:53)
His immediate family have been vaccinated.
Jen Psaki: (36:55)
I don’t have any more updates on his immediate family. Did you have another question?
Speaker 7: (36:58)
I did. I did want to ask about one question about Congressman Matt Gaetz. Is the White House concerned that since he sits on the Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Justice Department, which is investigating him, should he at least step down from that committee? Is that acceptable?
Jen Psaki: (37:12)
Those are decisions that we’ll let leaders in Congress make. Go ahead.
Speaker 8: (37:16)
Thank you, ma’am. A couple of quick questions. During the pandemic, we’ve seen deaths of despair increase, and there’s concern with regards to the designation of fentanyl analogs as Schedule I. I’m hearing from folks on Capitol Hill that because the substance expires on May 1st, they’re worried that if that scheduling one of fentanyl analogs doesn’t get renewed by May 1st that more of that drug could come across the southern border. I know Manchin and Portman have a bill on this.
Jen Psaki: (37:52)
Speaker 8: (37:53)
Does the president support making analogs permanently Schedule I?
Jen Psaki: (37:57)
It’s a really good question. I know that in terms of addressing the flow at the border, that would certainly be the State Department to address. I’ll have to talk to our legislative team about kind of our role in this legislation.
Speaker 8: (38:09)
All right. I’ll follow up. And then the president had voiced his support for MLB making a decision about the All-Star game in Georgia. I’m wondering, when can we expect a final determination from the president about the United States participating in the Beijing Olympics, given that he said the Chinese president doesn’t have a democratic bone in his body?
Jen Psaki: (38:33)
I think the U.S. Olympic Committee would play a big role in-
Speaker 8: (38:36)
He weighed in on Major League Baseball here in the United States.
Jen Psaki: (38:39)
He actually didn’t … I think, I don’t know if you heard the answer, the question and the answer that happened a few minutes ago where we addressed this, and I answered the question. And I give a little more context, but maybe you weren’t paying attention to that part. Let’s go to the, go ahead in the back.
Speaker 9: (38:55)
I have a question and one from a colleague who cannot be with us. The first one is we’ve seen a surge of cases in Canada, in Quebec and Ontario, in particular. We repeat that the best way to break surges are vaccinate fast and as much as possible. I’m trying to understand why the U.S. wouldn’t loan more doses to Canada.
Jen Psaki: (39:18)
As you well know, and I think everybody in here knows, we are loaning approximately 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca to Canada, allowing them to receive doses sooner than they would through the normal procurement process. And we agreed that the vaccine, the virus, I should say, knows no borders, and it’s important to play a role in our global effort to get the pandemic under control. But the president, as the president of the United States, his focus is on ensuring adult Americans and the American people are vaccinated. As we’ve seen, as we’ve been talking about a little bit in this briefing, we know there are going to be ups and downs in that, and we’ve seen some areas where the virus numbers have gone up from what they had been before. We know this is going to be an up and down war against this virus. That’s where our focus needs to remain, but we remain open to the requests that are coming in from Canada, to other countries around the world. We’ll continue to discuss them.
Speaker 9: (40:14)
Because you were talking about the virus, of course, not respecting borders, and so I have a like side questions on this because the fastest Canadians will be vaccinated, the earliest we could open the border … And has it been, do you know if it has been evaluated, how much it would have helped the U.S. economy and the growth of new jobs if the restrictions at the border were quickly loosened?
Jen Psaki: (40:45)
I don’t have any numbers on that. I will say that we certainly are eager to continue the constructive, productive relationship we have with the government of Canada, with the people of Canada. But our first priority right now is defeating the virus and ensuring the American people are vaccinated.
Speaker 9: (41:03)
My last question is from [inaudible 00:41:07] from the Press Trust of India. Can you tell more of a possibility, because India and South Africa have made a formal request of the WTO about lifting intellectual property protections for COVID vaccine and treatment. Is the U.S. ready to consider this?
Jen Psaki: (41:27)
I know we’ve been asked about this before, but I don’t have any update on it. Sure. Go ahead.
Speaker 10: (41:32)
Just to follow up on the budget. Is there a reason why it was delayed? We heard it was coming this week, so is there any reason why it was delayed?
Jen Psaki: (41:40)
I expect it to be very soon, and I don’t have an exact day for you, but I expect it to be quite soon. I wouldn’t read into it more than that.
Speaker 10: (41:48)
Okay. And then on the infrastructure package, we saw that the president during the campaign released a much larger package that would address climate change needs in a much bigger way than this package does. Should we expect the White House to release more proposals for spending in a way that would address climate change and infrastructure that’s in line with what he proposed during the campaign?
Jen Psaki: (42:10)
First, let me say that this package recognizes the profound urgency and existential threat of the climate crisis, and it recognizes the opportunity before us to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, power our nation with clean energy, and right the wrongs of past environmental justice. There is a significant amount in this package on climate, green jobs. It will position the U.S. to meet President Biden’s goals of creating carbon-neutral power sector by 2035 and a clean energy economy by 2050, so it has a lot of good work in there by building modern, sustainable, and resilient infrastructure, ensuring clean, safe, drinking water is a right and available to all communities, revolutionizing electric vehicle manufacturing, mobilizing the next generation of conservation and resilience workers. But climate and the crisis is a priority. It’s one of the four crises the president has talked about being a priority for him as president. And certainly, this is not the end of our work in addressing the climate crisis.
Speaker 10: (43:11)
There could be a round two or perhaps in terms of addressing some of this a little more spending.
Jen Psaki: (43:17)
I expect we’ll continue to work on solutions and options for addressing the climate crisis. But this package that’s been proposed, this $2 trillion package, is a climate bill in many ways, and there is a lot of work in there that is going to help revolutionize the clean energy jobs market. Go ahead.
Speaker 11: (43:40)
You talked about the new CDC guidelines earlier for travel, and if you’re fully vaccinated, you don’t need to have a COVID test if you’re going abroad. How do you police that?
Jen Psaki: (43:51)
How do we release it?
Speaker 11: (43:52)
Jen Psaki: (43:53)
Oh, police that.
Speaker 11: (43:54)
I mean, do you have a vaccine passport?
Jen Psaki: (43:57)
That’s a private sector initiative and one that we expect that they would be the drivers of to determine. It’s just these are public health guidelines in terms of what is safe, and that’s why the CDC updated them.
Speaker 11: (44:11)
[inaudible 00:44:11] talking about how people are wary about coming back to work because of these things. Do you think that there might come a time where you need to have vaccine passports which will kind of be your way, gateway to carrying on normal life?
Jen Psaki: (44:23)
Again, this was a proposal made … A lot of private sector industries and companies, whether it’s the airlines or even venues where they’re looking forward to having big ticket events or soccer games, they’re looking for ways to figure out how they can bring people back to normal and make things normal again. This is really driven by the private sector, and we’ll see what they come up with.
Speaker 11: (44:49)
The government is?
Jen Psaki: (44:50)
Oh, okay. Yes, yes.
There’s a security situation at the U.S. Capitol that I know you’re not aware of right now. Can you just remind us, with the president not on campus here, who’s with him to brief him on issues? There’s a lockdown going on right now. There are reports of gunfire. That’s all I know from sitting here. But can you just remind us of when the president’s not here, how he’s informed of these things?
Jen Psaki: (45:13)
Absolutely. Obviously I’m not aware, as Kelly acknowledged, of the situation at the Capitol. The President of the United States always travels with a national security rep, of course, with somebody who serves as essentially an acting chief of staff, typically a member of the press team who travels regularly to kind of reconstruct the team that’s around him in the White House.
There’ve been some changes to the perimeter outside here with the vice president no longer in residence at the Blair House. Anyone aware if there’s any change in posture to the security here at the White House?
Jen Psaki: (45:46)
For currently in response to the events right now, I don’t have any update, but we will venture to get one for you should there be an impact. Thanks, everyone.
Would you come back out to brief us later? [crosstalk 00:45:57]
Jen Psaki: (45:56)
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Thanks, everyone.
Can you let us know who was with them, if possible?
Jen Psaki: (46:02)
I can. Yep. I certainly can.
Speaker 12: (46:03)
Thank you. Appreciate it.