Apr 20, 2021
Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript April 20
April 20, 2021 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. She addressed the American Jobs Plan and the trial of Derek Chauvin. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Jen Psaki: (07:15)
Speaker 1: (07:16)
Jen Psaki: (07:18)
Good afternoon. All right. Secretary Fudge would have been impressed with that response this morning. We’re all awake. A couple of items for all of you before we get started, this afternoon, the President will take a virtual tour of a Proterra electric bus and battery manufacturing plant in Greenville, South Carolina. He’ll be joined by the Republican Mayor of Greenville, Knox White, out of Greenville, Knox White is his name, sorry, underscoring the bipartisan support for the clean Energy Infrastructure investments and the American Jobs Plan. During the visit today, the President will make three stops around the manufacturing plant and speak to employees about different aspects of the company’s work, including battery installation, body assembly, and final inspection of the buses. The American Jobs Plan includes a total of $45 billion to accelerate the adoption of zero-emission transit buses and school buses, to achieve the President’s goal for all U.S.-made buses to be zero-emissions by 2030. This includes $25 billion for zero-emissions transit vehicles and $20 billion for electric school buses.
Jen Psaki: (08:29)
There are currently 475,000 yellow school buses, that sounds like a lot to me, that serve 25 million children, and 95% of them are powered by diesel. And there are nearly 85,000 transit vehicles, including buses, that still run on diesel or gas, which are linked to asthma and other health problems that hurt our community. So replacing these buses with clean technologies will create good jobs, support domestic manufacturing, tackle a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, and improve the health for many around the country. Also this morning, our COVID coordinator, Jeff Zients, had his weekly call with governors. He announced that this week, 28 million doses will go out across channels, with the vast majority going to jurisdictions. This is consistent with last week’s allocation. He also reminded the governors that there’s a significant amount of vaccine supply in the system, and the Federal Government stands ready to help states put shots in arms as quickly as possible. With that, Jonathan, why don’t you guys start it?
Thank you, Jen. Just a few minutes ago in the Oval Office, the President spoke about the trial of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, and he says, “I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict.” He says, “I think it’s overwhelming in my view.” So a couple of questions on this, we could start there. What precisely did the President mean? What is overwhelming? And does this mean the President thinks the police officer should be convicted on all counts?
Jen Psaki: (09:55)
Well, the President has clearly been watching the trial closely, as many Americans have been. He was also moved by… He’s moved, he was moved by his conversations with the family yesterday. He knows the family, and as somebody who has been impacted by grief himself, that was a large part of their conversation, the conversation he had just yesterday. As he also noted, the jury is sequestered, which is why he spoke to this, but I would expect that he will weigh in more further, once there is a verdict. And I’m not going to provide additional analysis on what he meant.
You’re not able to clarify what is overwhelming, the evidence, the case presented by the prosecution?
Jen Psaki: (10:34)
We’re not going to get ahead of the outcome. I expect when there is a verdict, he will have more to say.
As you say, the President made note that he only spoke out today because the jury was sequestered. But of course, everyone else in Minneapolis and around the country could hear what he said, they’d be in a position to hear what he said today. We know there are worries about unrest, is there now concerned that the President’s words could add to that if a “right verdict” is not reached?
Jen Psaki: (10:59)
Well, first I would say that regardless of the outcome, the President has consistently called for peace. And our focus as we are working with state and local authorities, is on providing the space for peaceful protest, and that will be consistent regardless of what the outcome of the verdict is.
All right. And then one more on this, the judge overseeing the case was pretty harsh language yesterday, sort of asked politicians to not weigh in on the matter. Is there concerns now that this, the President’s comments, could be grounds for an appeal, or even causing a mistrial?
Jen Psaki: (11:39)
Well, I wouldn’t… I think those were comments that judge made yesterday. Again, the jury is sequestered, which the President also noted in his comments. He certainly is not looking to influence, but he has been touched by the impact on the family, hence he called the family yesterday and had that discussion. And again, I expect he will weigh in further once there is a verdict. Go ahead, [inaudible 00:12:01].
Speaker 2: (12:01)
Thank you, Jen. Just to follow up, the President has talked about the importance of an independent judiciary. Why is it appropriate for him to weigh in on the verdict, even though the jury is [inaudible 00:12:13]?
Jen Psaki: (12:14)
I wouldn’t think… I don’t think he would see it as weighing in on the verdict. He was conveying what many people are feeling across the country, which is compassion for the family. What a difficult time this is. What a difficult time this is for many Americans across the country who have been watching this trial very closely. The jury is sequestered. That is different from where things stood just yesterday, and he noted that in his comments as well.
Speaker 2: (12:39)
He did call for the right verdict, though. Why is it ever appropriate to have any type of characterization before the jury has a say, especially for the President of the United States?
Jen Psaki: (12:50)
Again, we’re going to wait for the jury to come to their conclusion, and that is when he will have more extensive remarks about the outcome.
Speaker 2: (12:59)
This administration, this President, has been very clear in condemning rhetoric that…
Speaker 3: (13:03)
… this president has to be very clear in condemning rhetoric that it sees as adding to a climate of discord. Is it a double standard to not condemn or speak out against the comments by Maxine Waters, even if she didn’t mean to imply violence?
Jen Psaki: (13:20)
Well, first I would say that the Congresswoman has provided further clarification of her own remarks, and I would certainly point you to that. And if we’re looking in this scenario, we’re looking at a family who has lost someone. They’ve just watched a trial. They’ve seen the video play over and over and over again. Families across the country have watched the trial, watched the video play over and over again. Clearly the impact of trauma and the exhaustion is on communities of color around the country, more than it is on others. And the president recognizes this is an extremely painful issue. And of course sympathizes with everyone who feels the grief of George Floyd’s passing as well as the killings of so many other people of color at the hands of law enforcement. And I think having a conversation with his family yesterday, as someone who has been through trauma himself, that was a big part of their conversation. As I believe George Floyd’s brother also conveyed. You feel it deeply in your heart. And I think that, his comments were a reflection of that.
Speaker 3: (14:22)
And very quickly, I know there is a lot of focus on trying to get the Georgia Floyd legislation passed to the Senate. It’s passed through the House. Where does that stand and will the president move that effort up in terms of his list of priorities, particularly as he approaches his 100th day in office?
Jen Psaki: (14:38)
Well, first I would say that addressing policing across the country, addressing racial injustice, what he feels is one of the four major crises we’re facing as a country continues to be a top priority for the president. And certainly moving the George Floyd bill forward through the Senate, the president would be eager to have that happen and eager to sign that bill into law. And he has not only kept abreast of it, he remains engaged in it with his team here and also directly. Go ahead, Jeff. I’ll come back to you. Go ahead, Jeff.
May I ask for an update on the president’s goal to reopen schools. Is goal still by the end of this month to have majority of K8 schools open at least one day a week and if so, do you think you’ll hit that goal? And to what extent is the administration worried by some of the more recent outbreaks we’ve seen among older age students tied to recent variants of the virus?
Jen Psaki: (15:32)
Sure. Well, our goal remains to have the majority of schools open five days a week. And that is certainly something that is being led, that effort, by our secretary of education. And they’ve been providing regular updates. There’s numbers that we look at on a month to month basis. We remain confident we can reach that goal. There are also, because of the CDC steps that they put out publicly, it seems like months ago, maybe weeks ago is more accurate to say. We know that measures are effective and they can help mitigate risk in schools. And our Department of Education and also of course, is working very closely with schools on implementing those and ensuring kids can be safe. But we remain confident about our path to reaching that goal.
You’re pleased with the progress so far? To what extent are you concerned that rolling closures are going to drag into the fall? This is a core promise of the president to get schools open where he can.
Jen Psaki: (16:22)
Absolutely. And it remains a core promise. It remains something that his secretary of education is leading the effort on. I think the last data we’ve seen was from February, I believe, because of the reporting requirements, which showed that there was an increased number of schools that were open and also an increased number of schools that were open five days a week. And so we feel we’re on the right track. And these mitigation measures, including wearing masks, including taking steps to provide social distancing opportunities, the money that’s going out the door to schools and school districts that need that assistance are going to help us continue to make progress.
And with regards to your comment around the call with governors today, as you know. Of course, the production of J&J has been relying on that one plant in Baltimore coming up. The J&J is now no longer citing its goal of delivering 100 million doses by the end of June. They’re saying, they’ll say deliver 100 million, but they’re not saying when. How does this impact the president’s school? Of course, it was the availability of those shots that led him to say there’d be enough shots for every American by the end of May. What is his current goal and do you think that that plan will be online soon going to be FDA’s involved with it?
Jen Psaki: (17:29)
Well, of course, that’s going to… For the second part of your question, of course, it’s going to require FDA approval. As you know, there’s a meeting on Friday to determine what’s next as it relates to J&J and hopefully we’ll learn more then. We’ll see. But our goal, we remain confident in our ability to meet the needs that we feel will be out there in the public by the end of May. And we will have enough vaccine for every American by the end of July, without J&J. That is based on the supply that we’ve ordered from Moderna and Pfizer. And Pfizer, as I know you’ve probably seen, has also announced that they are going to work on expediting their own manufacturing and delivery of their vaccine. So we are confident we’ll be able to meet the demand in the public. Now, every American over 16 is eligible to receive the vaccine. And our focus is on continuing to encourage people to get shots in their arms.
Sorry, one other quick one. There was a report yesterday in the journal to the administration is considering reducing the amount of nicotine that can be in cigarettes and also restricting or banning menthol cigarettes altogether. Is that something that you can update us on about whether the administration favors either of these positions?
Jen Psaki: (18:39)
I have seen the report. Of course, I don’t have any proposals to preview today. We will review a range of policy options in line with the president’s public health goals. But to reiterate, there are no policy proposals or decisions to review today. Go ahead.
Speaker 4: (18:56)
Thank you, Jen. One more question about the comments from Congresswoman Waters. The Houseman earlier, Kevin McCarthy, is accusing her of inciting violence. And then you had the judge yesterday calling her words abhorrent and saying that she was being disrespectful of the rule of law. I just want to be very clear here, does the White House condone the congresswoman’s comments?
Jen Psaki: (19:16)
Well, first I would say again that the congresswoman clarified her own comments. And what I can do is speak for the president’s view, which is that it’s important to provide a space and an opportunity for peaceful protest, but protesting should be peaceful. That’s something he has consistently advocated for and he will, regardless of the outcome of the trial.
Speaker 4: (19:34)
But she was calling on some protesters to perhaps get more confrontational-
Jen Psaki: (19:39)
And she’s had additional comments since then, right?
Speaker 4: (19:42)
Jen Psaki: (19:43)
Speaker 4: (19:44)
Jen Psaki: (19:45)
Which provide additional clarification.
Speaker 4: (19:47)
But I guess my question is does the White House believe that those kinds of comments are helpful in the middle of this trial that everybody knows could lead to more violence and unrest?
Jen Psaki: (19:57)
Well, again, I can speak to what the president’s point of view is, which is that it’s important to provide an opportunity for peaceful protest. That’s what he’s continued to advocate for, what he’s consistently advocated for. But I would also say that when somebody provides a clarification for their comments, that’s an important context to include in anybody’s reporting.
Speaker 4: (20:16)
And also I’d like to ask the question about, since this is 4/20 and Senator Chuck Schumer said from the Senate floor, he called it the unofficial American marijuana holiday. And he said that he now supports legalizing marijuana on a national level. Is this something that President Biden would support?
Jen Psaki: (20:34)
Well, the president supports leaving decisions regarding legalization for recreational use up to the states, rescheduling cannabis as a Schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts. And at the federal level, he supports decriminalizing marijuana use and automatically expunging any prior criminal records. He also supports legalizing medicinal marijuana. So that’s his point of view on the issue.
Speaker 4: (20:57)
So if the House and Senate pass a bill legalizing marijuana at the federal level, would the president sign it?
Jen Psaki: (21:03)
Well, I just have outlined what his position is, which isn’t the same as what the House and Senate have proposed, but they have not yet passed a bill. Go ahead. Okay. Go ahead.
Speaker 4: (21:11)
Sorry. One final question if I could. Some people in prison on marijuana charges are asking President Biden to keep his campaign promise and release them. Where is President Biden on keeping that campaign promise?
Jen Psaki: (21:23)
Well, I think when I’m talking about rescheduling cannabis as a Schedule II drug, that is also going to have an impact on the criminal justice system as well. Go ahead.
Speaker 5: (21:36)
Thanks, Jen. It’s clear the dividing lines on the traditional infrastructure portions of the president’s job and infrastructure package are the pay force. And the president says he’s willing to open a compromise. Republicans seem willing to support new and higher user fees for Americans who use roads, bridges and airports. But the president’s insisted that such fees violate his campaign plans not to raise taxes on Americans earning less than 400,000. Is the president’s idea of compromise just adjusting the corporate tax rate, or is he willing to budge on these user fees?
Jen Psaki: (22:13)
Well, first the president’s pledge, which you touched on, which he outlined on the campaign and has reiterated since that he’s not going to raise taxes on people making over $400,000 a year. He’s not going to budge on that pledge. So that is a line in the sand for him. But this package and this proposal is really about creating millions of jobs. It’s about investing in and modernizing our nation’s infrastructure. It’s about ensuring that caregivers have the support they need. It’s about providing broadband access to Americans across the country and leveling the playing field. That’s what the discussion should be about. He believes it should be paid for. And there are really two options. Either you put the burden on the backs of corporations that can afford to pay more, or you put the burden on the backs of the American people. He’s happy to have a debate about that particular issue.
Speaker 5: (23:03)
Democratic lawmakers are calling on the Biden administration to scrutinize potential bank mergers, more aggressively arguing the Justice Department has approved too many leading to higher fees for consumers and reduced access. Is the White House looking at this issue and does it share these lawmakers concerns?
Jen Psaki: (23:21)
We’ve certainly seen the comments and the president supports competitive markets and thinks robust competition is good for consumers and for innovation. He has appointed and will continue to appoint highly qualified people who are focused on vigorously enforcing our antitrust laws. That’s one of his objectives he looks at. Of course, the Department of Justice which handles these mergers in collaboration with the banking agencies are probably the right sources to look to for additional content or comment.
Speaker 5: (23:48)
And last question, there’ve been at least three fatal crashes attributed to US Tesla drivers using autopilots. The NTSB has urged regulators will be more aggressive in overseeing that technology. Is the White House engaged on this issue and do they share the opinion of the NTSB?
Jen Psaki: (24:06)
Well, I know the Department of Transportation, as you noted, is aware of these incidents involving Tesla vehicles and that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, otherwise known as well, NHTSA, immediately launched a special crash investigation team to investigate the crash. They’re actively engaged with local law enforcement and Tesla to learn more about the details of the crash and will take appropriate steps when they have more information. And of course, they remain in touch as appropriate with teams on the ground.
Speaker 5: (24:36)
Sure. But there’s the White House have any concerns or anything specific-
Jen Psaki: (24:38)
Well, it’s appropriate for it to be handled through NHTSA and NTSB. So that’s where it’s being handled. Go ahead, Kaitlin.
Thank you. Yesterday you said the White House did not want to get ahead of the jury’s deliberations, but of course the jury is still deliberating. So what changed?
Jen Psaki: (24:53)
Well, the jury is now sequestered, which is a significant change. And certainly we want to allow them the space and time to consider and make a decision about what they believe the verdict should be.
Does the president still feel that he can come out after the verdict and regardless of what it is, tell people to accept it, given he’s weighed on what he thinks the verdict should be.
Jen Psaki: (25:15)
Well, again, I think anybody who’s been watching the president and you guys are probably tired of me saying that his position is that he believes there should be space for peaceful protest. He’s been consistent in that. That will be his point of view regardless of the outcome. That is what we’ve been communicating publicly, but also locally to mayors, to governors, to local law enforcement, as we’re communicating in preparation. So that’s consistently been his view and he’ll continue to advocate that regardless of the outcome.
And so what made him want to weigh in today on this before the verdict has come down?
Jen Psaki: (25:47)
Well, I think he was asked a question if I followed it closely.
[inaudible 00:25:51] my question but I asked him what his message was, was for the Floyd family, not what he thought the verdict should be.
Jen Psaki: (25:57)
Well, I think, Kaitlin, he obviously has been following this trial quite closely as many Americans have been.
Jen Psaki: (26:03)
… been following this trial quite closely, as many Americans have been. He has been, was obviously impacted by his conversation with the Floyd family yesterday, as somebody who has lived through loss and trauma himself. And he certainly has his mind and his heart on what is happening around the country, as people are digesting and watching these videos and watching this trial go forward. So he knows the jury is sequestered, as he noted in his comments, which is certainly a different place from where it was yesterday.
Reporter 1: (26:31)
And who is he consulting with about what his response should be after the verdict does come down? I know we talked about speaking with state officials and local authorities, but who is… More of his advisors that he’s speaking with about the right way to respond to the verdict, regardless of what it is.
Jen Psaki: (26:47)
No, I think that’s something that will come from the President’s heart and he will be prepared to speak to it in some form or another. I don’t want to get ahead of what that format will look like when we know what the verdict looks like.
Reporter 1: (26:58)
Okay. And my last question, the US ambassador to Russia is now coming home from consultations, of course amid a pretty tense week with Russia. Is he going to be meeting with the President? And can you confirm that yes, he will be going back to Russia?
Jen Psaki: (27:13)
That is absolutely the intention. He’s returning home this week to visit his family. He hasn’t been home in about a year, I believe, to meet with members of the new administration with whom he’s not had a chance to consult with since he agreed to continue serving in his post. And he’ll return to Moscow soon.
Reporter 1: (27:28)
Does that include a meeting with the President though?
Jen Psaki: (27:31)
I’m not aware of that being on the schedule, but it’s primarily to meet with new members of the team as the administration has turned over and there’s new personnel at the State Department, on the national security team, et cetera.
Jen Psaki: (27:42)
Reporter 2: (27:43)
Yeah. So the President spoke with the Floyd family yesterday. He talked about the trial today. What does he see as his role or responsibility as President during these deliberations, and then perhaps as a verdict comes down?
Jen Psaki: (27:55)
Well, I think one, the President, as I’ve noted a little bit in response to some earlier questions, certainly was touched by, impacted by his conversation with the Floyd family yesterday. He met with them last year. It’s a family he feels he knows a little bit and he’s somebody who has been through trauma and loss himself. And so if you put all the politics aside and all the everything else, that’s something that is an immediate, unfortunate bond between people who have lost family members.
Jen Psaki: (28:27)
He also understands this as an extremely painful moment for many people in this country who are exhausted, who are tired of seeing one person after another lose their life at the hands of law enforcement. He’s aware of that and the need for reform. So I would say, I’m not going to get ahead of what the outcome is or what the verdict is, and I would expect you’ll hear some comment from the President. I don’t know what format that will look like. We’ll have to see what the verdict is once it is concluded, the jury has made their decision, and that is concluded, and we’ll see what his role is moving forward. He’ll continue to call for calm.
Reporter 2: (29:06)
Okay. And what is the White House’s goals for the climate summit later this week? And were they pleased to hear that Vladimir Putin would be speaking at it?
Jen Psaki: (29:16)
Well, we invited him to attend as we did 39 other global leaders. So I would say first, we’re going to have a call, a briefing call, later this evening to give you all a better rundown of the schedule, the speaking, and what is planned for speaking at the summit. So I know there’s been kind of a mix of reporting out there, but we’ll give you more of a full rundown later this evening. But the President’s goal is really to convene the world’s major economies and other key voices to galvanize efforts to keep the vital goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach. And we know we have had some backstep on that, which the United States has been certainly a part of over the last couple of years. We have a role to play. He’ll certainly talk more about that. But during the summit, leaders will discuss mobilizing public and private sector financing to drive the net zero transition and to help vulnerable countries cope with climate impacts.
Jen Psaki: (30:12)
Obviously world’s larger economies, as you all know, have a sometimes greater responsibility for themselves, but also for economies that are not as economically advanced in helping address these issues. And it’s an opportunity to also talk about the economic benefits of climate action with a strong emphasis on job creation and the importance of ensuring all communities and workers benefit from this transition. So he’ll be talking about that, but it’s really an opportunity and a forum to talk about how as a global community we can all come together to address what he sees as one of the four crises of his presidency.
Reporter 2: (30:47)
Was Putin’s involvement important, given the tensions between the two nations right now?
Jen Psaki: (30:53)
I think it’s important for any large economy and developed nation to participate in a climate summit because the world’s largest emitters are also for the most part aligned with the world’s largest economies or the most populated countries. And so, hence those are the people who were invited and it just sends a message about the recognition that addressing the climate crisis is something that even when you have disagreements about other areas, we can agree on that.
Reporter 2: (31:22)
Do you know if Xi Jinping will participate as well?
Jen Psaki: (31:25)
I believe that almost every leader who was invited is attending, but they’ll give you more of a rundown of that later this evening, and a more detailed rundown of the speaking program as well.
Jen Psaki: (31:36)
Sure. Go ahead Francesca.
Thanks, Jen. You just suggested that the format that the President’s remarks would take after the Chauvin trial could depend on the outcome of the trial. The President hasn’t delivered a speech yet though on race relations or policing. So why not, and why wouldn’t immediately after this trial, regardless of what the outcome is, be the time for him to do that?
Jen Psaki: (31:57)
Well, first I would say again that addressing race relations and improving equity in this country is central to his presidency and central to his focus every day. And his actions, his policies certainly play that out. I’m not going to get ahead of what the outcome of the trial will be. And I’m just attempting to set an expectation about… That we’ll decide what’s appropriate and what the country needs to hear once we know the verdict and once we see the outcome.
You also said that he’d been engaged directly on policing reform legislation. Has the precedent picked up the phone and called any Senate Republicans, such as Republican Senator Tim Scott, about policing reform legislation?
Jen Psaki: (32:41)
I don’t have any calls to read out for you, but I can tell you that in his conversations with Democrats and Republicans, and he’s spoken with many of both, he talks about a range of issues. I’ll also say that a lot of the work on the George Floyd Act is happening on the Hill and the negotiations between members of the Senate, you referenced Senator Scott, obviously Senator Booker is playing a vital role. They’re going to have to work together with other members of the House to determine where there can be agreement and what an outcome can look like and if they can come to agreement on that. That’s the status. The President would love to have a bill come to his desk so he can sign it in to law.
But last summer policing legislation stalled because they couldn’t come to a consensus on issues like qualified immunity, no knock warrants, as well as bans on choke holds. So what is the President’s position on qualified immunity? And does he think that Democrats should agree to pass legislation that perhaps doesn’t ban no-knock warrants or ban choke holds, but would restrict their use in some capacity, such as limiting federal funding or something like that in order to get Republican support for that bill and get a bill passed into law?
Jen Psaki: (33:44)
Well, we’re going to allow Democrats and Republicans in the Senate to negotiate amongst themselves about what they think a final outcome or a final agreement could be. And we’re certainly hopeful that they’ll make progress in that, and the President is eager to sign policing reform legislation into law. And certainly we recognize that stalled last year, there has been work since then, and we’re hopeful that the President will be able to sign a law. I can tell you that there are a number of steps that he has taken, that he can take as a President, and his Department of Justice can take. And during the campaign, he emphasized the importance of the Department of Justice using the authority he spearheaded as a Senator to investigate systemic police misconduct. That doesn’t have to wait for Congress to act. And last week, Attorney General Garland reversed a Trump administration memo that limited the use of consent decrees with respect to investigation of police departments.
Jen Psaki: (34:36)
The President also pledged to appoint DOJ leadership that would prioritize pattern or practice investigations. He has two critical nominees pending who would do exactly that, Vanita Gupta and Kristin Clark. He of course supports, as I already noted, the George Floyd Act. He is also called in his initial budget for increasing funding for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division by millions of dollars in order to advance accountability and reform for abusive police practices. And finally, multiple states have taken action. Is it enough? No, it’s not enough. He wants to sign federal legislation into law, but his own administration has taken steps even while that legislation is working through the negotiations that happen in Congress.
And I know you need to move on, but can you share with us what the President’s position is on qualified immunity, no knock warrants, or choke holds?
Jen Psaki: (35:24)
I don’t have anything new to share with you from what he has said on the campaign trail. And I’m happy to provide that [inaudible 00:35:29] I’m sure you’re familiar with his views.
Jen Psaki: (35:30)
All right. Thanks, Jen. Following up a little bit on a question earlier, President Biden still opposes the legalization of marijuana. You outlined what he does support. But why does he still oppose taking a step? At this point public polling indicates about two thirds of Americans support legalizing marijuana. The Senate leader in his own party obviously is pushing for it. Huge numbers of elected Democrats. Many more states are pushing forward with marijuana legalization. Why is he reluctant to sort of take that final step and support legalization?
Jen Psaki: (36:02)
As you know from covering this, rescheduling cannabis as a schedule two drug would allow for researchers to study its positive and negative effects. He wants to look at that. He of course supports decriminalizing marijuana use. He supports leaving decisions up to the states and he supports legalizing medicinal marijuana. But he’ll look at the research once that’s concluded.
But right now he’s still reluctant to… Why is he still reluctant to support legalization despite the movement that’s happening towards it?
Jen Psaki: (36:35)
Of course we understand the movement that’s happening toward it. I’m speaking for what his position is and what’s long consistently been his position. He wants to decriminalize. But again, he’ll look at the research of the positive and negative impacts.
And then on a related note, yesterday the House passed the Safe Banking Act, which has meant to, in states where cannabis is legal, let businesses use the banking system legally there. I noticed the bill passed with a very big bipartisan majority. Half of the Republicans supported it. There was no statement of administration policy on that bill. Does the President support it?
Jen Psaki: (37:11)
That’s a good question, Kevin. I’ll have to check on it and we’ll get you a comment after the briefing. Happy too.
Jen Psaki: (37:16)
Thanks Jen. On refugee policy, you were asked on April 1st about why refugee flights hadn’t continued and the President not [inaudible 00:37:26] on refugees. And you were asked whether it had anything to do with the situation on the border. You said, “No, no, it’s not related to that.” Now of course the President referenced the border directly in his explanation over the weekend. You mentioned it yesterday. So how do you square those two explanations, previously saying the border was not a factor and then now saying that it is.
Jen Psaki: (37:45)
Well, let me walk you back a little bit to the last few months. I will do this briefly, I promise. Josh’s eyes are glazing over here as he’s… I’m just kidding. He’s worried how long I’m going to talk here. I’ll first say during the transition, Sean, we obviously, we took a look at what had happened over the last few years and how we could set a more aspirational, larger goal so we could welcome more refugees into the country. And we set a big aspirational goal, which we remain committed to, which is welcoming in 125,000 refugees by the end of the fiscal year next year.
Jen Psaki: (38:22)
And the President announced that and he announced that we want to get to, we wanted a down payment on that, I should say. 62, 500 by the end of this fiscal year. Now a couple of things have happened in the last several weeks and some of that was happening deep in the policy wells. And sometimes it takes some time for that to be communicated more broadly within the administration, including the fact that the impact on ORR, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, of having of course, welcoming in, delivering on a decision the President made to treat children as they come across the border humanely and ensure they are treated in a safe manner, has…
Jen Psaki: (39:03)
… and ensure they are treated in a safe manner, has a way on the system, including the Office of Refugee Resettlement, including personnel and including funding. That is a factor, but some of that decision-making is happening and people at the office of refugee resettlement in ways that maybe, I wasn’t communicated to about it at that time, but it happened over the last couple of weeks. In that time, I should say this month, though, just this month. So, recently, probably since I made those comments, HHS transferred 850 million from the Public Health and Social Services Emergency fund, and 287 million from other departmental accounts to the Unaccompanied Children Program, in order to ensure we can treat kids with humanity and ensure they’re safe. These transfers were made using the HHS Secretary Standing Transfer Authority, and have no impact necessarily on the refugee program, but it’s funding from the same office. The President’s responsibility is to look across government, look across resources and his team is, and see where there is a capacity, and where resource assessments need to be made.
Speaker 6: (40:11)
So, are you’re saying that the border has emerged as a factor in the last 20 days? I mean, even before April 1st, we were already seeing an increase in the number of migrants arriving at the border and the strains that was presenting to the system. Are you saying the border was not a factor back then at all and thinking about refugee policy-
Jen Psaki: (40:26)
Let me bring you behind the curtains of how policy-making works. You assess over time, and you look over time at your systems, your resources, your processes, what changes need to be made within government to address issues as they’re arising. Certainly we’ve seen, of course, there’s been a number of unaccompanied children and need to reopen shelters or open shelters across the country, taking care of children and doing it in a humane way is, costs money. That’s something that has certainly had an impact, but a big part of, as we’ve looked at, and assessed challenges here, the primary obstacle to reaching the goal has been the decimation of the Refugee Admission Program under the prior administration.
Jen Psaki: (41:10)
As you know, there is part when refugees arrive and they are resettled and provided benefits by ORR. There is also the vetting process that takes place, and through our State Department, this was all decimated under the last administration, and we had to make an assessment of that as well. That happens over a progressive period of time. There’s not a magic day when you wake up and an alarm bell goes off. You have to assess over time what the needs are and make changes as needed.
Speaker 6: (41:40)
Real quick, why did you guys identify May 15th as the horizon for when you would announce a new cap on-
Jen Psaki: (41:49)
I expect it’ll actually be sooner than that. We were always going to be assessing what our resources, our capacity would allow for, and, but I expect it will be before May 15th. It’s approximately a month from last Friday.
Speaker 7: (42:03)
May I just take a prerogative with my always unglazed over eyes and just follow up on this issue?
Jen Psaki: (42:08)
Sure, go ahead.
Speaker 7: (42:08)
It’s an important issue, but why not just raise the cap here? Promise the cap is just that it’s a cap. It’s not a guarantee. You’re not requiring that number of people to come in through the program. Why keep the cap lower, back off this promise? Progressives of course, were skeptical of this President early on and through the primary, they’re saying that this is a broken promise, arguably his first big one of this administration.
Jen Psaki: (42:28)
Well, first we’re actually going to set a cap and a large cap soon, and I expect it’s going to be before May 15th, but I think we wanted to … you’re right, in the sense that the cap is just a number. Most oftentimes throughout history, you don’t reach the cap. The cap is just a number. We could set the cap at 100,000 or a million. It doesn’t really … we’re trying to send a message to the world that we want to welcome in refugees and that’s who we are as an administration. Hence, we wanted to provide greater clarity for what our overall objectives were, even if they weren’t digested initially on Friday.
Jen Psaki: (43:03)
I would say that one, we’ll set that cap, two, we wanted to assess, given the impacts of the decimation of the Refugee Admissions Program, the need to move some resources around what was possible, but we do want to set a large cap. We do want to send a message to the world that we remain committed to our objective. We’ve always been committed to the objective and the goal of 125,000 by ,next fiscal year is really a question of how close we could get and what kind of down payment we could do this year. Go ahead, in the back.
Speaker 8: (43:33)
Thank you, Jen. So, just a quick clarification. When the President said, “it’s overwhelming”, a few hours ago in the Oval Office meaning the evidence against Derek Chauvin was overwhelming.
Jen Psaki: (43:45)
I think I’ve answered this question a couple of times. Okay. Go ahead. Do you have another question?
Speaker 8: (43:50)
I do, still the same topic, but as far as response to the verdict, should the trip to Minneapolis on the table, and would you consider joining a demonstration?
Jen Psaki: (44:01)
Well, I don’t, we’re not going to get ahead of what the outcome or the verdict is, and we’ll make an evaluation about what the country needs at that point in time. Go ahead, in the back.
Speaker 9: (44:10)
Hi. So, I know you just, in some ways answered the question about [inaudible 00:44:14] but I’m confused about why you won’t clarify what the President said about, praying that the verdict is, right, and it being overwhelming. The president obviously volunteered this information. No one asked him for his opinion about the verdict. Why not say this is what the President meant?
Jen Psaki: (44:29)
Well initially, I think, our objective is to … The President was obviously clearly impacted by his conversation with the Floyds, the Floyd family, just yesterday. He obviously has spoken to the video, the trial, the events of last year when they happened at the time. He is impacted by the exhaustion and the trauma that he’s seen across the country over the last several weeks. I think it was a reflection of that. But again, we’re not trying to provide greater information about predictions of a verdict. We want to leave that to the jury to make that determination. They’re sequestered, so they obviously can’t hear or listen to anything being said, but I just don’t, I’m not going to have more clarification for you.
Speaker 9: (45:15)
But quite simply, is it wrong for Americans to see this as the President saying, he hopes the officer’s going to be found guilty. The evidence is overwhelming. When people see that quote, is it wrong for them to make that assumption that that’s what the President’s saying? I
Jen Psaki: (45:27)
Think what people should conclude is that the President, like many Americans, has been deeply impacted by the trial. He’s been deeply impacted by, he was deeply impacted by his conversation with the Floyd family yesterday, that he understands that people are exhausted, that they are tired, that this type of violence and trauma we’ve seen around the country and continue to see over the past couple of weeks, and hopefully that’s what they take away from his comments.
Speaker 9: (45:53)
Apart from what the verdict might be, I wonder if you could speak a little bit to Americans who feel on edge, especially African-Americans who have seen so many verdicts, so many trials happen. No matter whatever the outcome is, I wonder if the White House has a message for people just feeling anxious about what comes after this verdict.
Jen Psaki: (46:10)
Well, first I would say that the President sees their pain, and understands or, and tries to understand the trauma that people have been through across the country, and he’s watching the trial closely. I think he would want people to know that he is working hard at making change possible. I can, I walk through some of the steps that has been taken by his Department of Justice. He would love to sign the George Floyd Bill into law, and that he also is here as a human being and he sees their pain. He recognizes their loss and their trauma, and he wants to put reforms in place to help address it moving forward.
Speaker 10: (46:52)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi came to the defense of Representative Waters. Representative Waters, as you said clarified … She said, “My actual words don’t matter.” I wonder why the White House isn’t also coming to the defense of Representative Waters, given the fact that she’s now facing an onslaught of attacks, especially by, I would say Republicans. I wonder why the White House isn’t saying we back what she said about being confrontational. She was obviously not threatening violence. There are civil rights leaders that are saying that’s what civil rights is, is to be confrontational, to be active.
Jen Psaki: (47:22)
Well, she could, she also clarified her own remarks, [inaudible 00:47:26] and I think that’s the most powerful piece to point. Good ahead.
Speaker 11: (47:29)
[inaudible 00:47:29] if I could. The Arizona Governor, he lifted the mask mandate on all public schools in that state. I wonder what the White House makes of that. Does the President support it? Does he want to see other states do that or maybe does he not like the idea that that happened?
Jen Psaki: (47:42)
Well, we certainly recommend any state and governor follow public health guidelines, and masking and social distancing, or put masking specifically since you ask about it, is one of the clear steps that can be an effective mitigation measure according to the CDC. Even as we’ve seen variants, and even as we’ve seen upticks in some parts of the country. So, certainly it wouldn’t be a step that we would support. Go ahead
Speaker 12: (48:07)
On the climate summit, will there be any kind of joint statement at the end of the summit? Also, will there be any bilateral meeting during the summit?
Jen Psaki: (48:17)
There won’t be any bilateral meetings planned for the summit, but in terms of a joint statement at the end, I don’t have a prediction of that. I expect you’ll all learn more on the call later this evening.
Speaker 12: (48:29)
Also, the meeting between President Biden and Prime Minister Suga last Friday, did they talk about the Fukushima waste water issue or what’s the President view on this issue?
Jen Psaki: (48:42)
I believe we are having our teams stay in touch and look at it. I don’t think that the steps are happening for a few years, if I’m getting this correct or few months. But, I would have to check with our National Security team and see if it was a point of discussion. Go ahead, Scott.
Thank you. So, another question about today’s unofficial holiday, which I think some of our colleagues are potentially celebrating. So, as you might remember, one of President Trump’s final actions in office was to grant clemency to a dozen people in federal prison who were being held on marijuana charges. But, there still remain a lot more in federal prison on marijuana charges, including Luke Scarmazzo, who was sentenced to 22 years in prison for operating a legal medical marijuana business in California. Given, as you’ve noted in the briefing, the President’s support for decriminalization, support for expunging exactly these types of offenses, are there any plans to revisit some of those bids for clemency, maybe in honor for the holiday?
Jen Psaki: (49:38)
Well, I would just take it as an opportunity to reiterate that the President supports legalizing medicinal marijuana. It sounds like it’s applicable in this, or would have been applicable in this case, and of course, decriminalizing marijuana use and automatically expunging any prior criminal records. In terms of individual cases, I can’t get ahead of those. Obviously, I’d have to … I don’t expect we would, just to expectation set. I’m happy to see if there’s anything more from our Counsel’s office we could share.
Speaker 14: (50:04)
Thank you, Jen.
Jen Psaki: (50:04)
Thank you everyone.
Speaker 13: (50:04)