Apr 21, 2021

Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript April 21

Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript April 21
RevBlogTranscriptsJen Psaki White House Press Briefing TranscriptsPress Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript April 21

April 21, 2021 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. She discussed the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, Russia, and more. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.

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Jen Psaki: (00:00)
… eight of his presidency. As the administration, as we work to get even more people vaccinated, President Biden will call on employers across America to do everything they can to help their employees and their communities get vaccinated. That includes a tax credit for small and medium-sized businesses to fully offset the cost of paid leave for employees to get vaccinated and recover from any after effects of vaccination if needed. And a call for employers, large and small to take additional steps to help get their employees and communities vaccinated. With that, [inaudible 00:00:34] why don’t you kick us off?

Speaker 1: (00:35)
DOJ announced a pattern or practice investigation today the Minneapolis PD in aftermath of the Georgia Floyd killing and verdict. Under current law, it’s a high bar for convicting officers of federal civil rights crimes, does the President think it’s time to revisit this aspect of the law?

Jen Psaki: (00:54)
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, first as the President alluded to last night in his remarks after the verdict was announced, he believes the bar for convicting officers is far too high. It needs to be changed. He’s a strong supporter as he also conveyed passionately last night of the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, which does change the intent standard. Obviously there is negotiations that need to happen on Capitol Hill, but he believes the bar is too high.

Speaker 1: (01:24)
And if I can just square that. That includes the federal civil rights aspect of the law as well, or is he speaking more [crosstalk 00:01:30]-

Jen Psaki: (01:29)
My understanding is that’s also addressed in the bill.

Speaker 1: (01:31)
Okay. And second, if I could… Can I briefly… He’s obviously going to be meeting with world leaders today on the Climate Summit. What does he say to lay concerns considering how divided Washington is politically on this issue that this country is going to follow through on what he says this week?

Jen Psaki: (01:54)
The message he’s sending to the country and frankly to the world is that he feels that the climate crisis we’re facing around the world and certainly in this country as the world’s largest emitters is so significant that within a hundred days of his presidency, he’s convening the world’s largest economies to have a discussion about that. And he is going to put actions in place as well. Obviously he’s put in place a number of executive actions and we’ll have more specifics to announce in the coming days about what targets we’re setting here in the United States. And I understand what you’re asking me is what happens in 2024, right?

Speaker 1: (02:30)

Jen Psaki: (02:30)
Or is that what you’re asking me? Well, that’s a long time away, but the President has every intention of getting reelected and certainly ensuring that he is implementing policies where addressing our climate crisis, putting Americans back to work go hand in hand, which is absolutely his desire and his commitment and will be a part of his continuing agenda. Go ahead.

Kristin: (02:51)
Thank you, Jen. You just called on Congress to pass the George Floyd bill. President Biden did. Vice President Harris did the same last night, said it’s a key priority. Why should people have confidence that President Biden will be able to win over Republican support for the George Floyd bill when he hasn’t been able to do so on his other legislative priorities?

Jen Psaki: (03:13)
Like the American Rescue Plan that he passed into law in-

Kristin: (03:16)
He didn’t get Republican support for that.

Jen Psaki: (03:19)
He didn’t, but he certainly has support from the American people, more than 70% of the American people. I will say, Kristin that look, the President doesn’t believe that he alone can pull the George Floyd Policing Act across the finish line. That is going to be up to Congress. And right now there are negotiations that are happening. There are leaders on both sides that are having those discussions. The President obviously advocated, as you alluded to last night in remarks he delivered after the verdict. And we are also have been advocating… Our senior leadership has been advocating for this on the Hill, including indirect conversations with members. We’re in close touch with the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate leadership who are working towards this goal.

Jen Psaki: (04:02)
This encompasses many offices in the White House including… Of course the President talked about this quite a bit during this meeting with the CBC last week. But also our Legislative Affairs Team, our Public Engagement Team, the Domestic Policy Council and their leaders are deeply engaged. And we’re also in regular contact with the nation’s civil rights leaders who are also advocating for this. But I will also say that there are times, and this is true in diplomacy, but also true in legislating that we need the best strategy is to provide the space for those conversations to happen privately. And that’s part of our objective.

Kristin: (04:38)
[inaudible 00:04:38] you’re citing the fact that public polling showed there was bipartisan support for ARP, but in order to get the George Floyd bill passed you need 60 votes. So I guess the question is why should people have faith that the President will be able to get 60 votes to get the George Floyd bill passed?

Jen Psaki: (04:55)
Well I think what I was trying to convey, but let me try again, is that the President alone cannot pass the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act into law.

Kristin: (05:05)
How does he see his role in getting the George Floyd bill passed?

Jen Psaki: (05:08)
Well his role is to work with leaders in Congress as he has being in touch with leaders in Congress and the Senate and House. Also having a discussion with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, many of whom are playing important and prominent roles in getting this legislation across the finish line. He’s also asked members of his senior team, whether it’s the legislative team, the Domestic Policy Council, his Office of Public Engagement to work with outside organizations, civil rights leaders, and others to work together to put pressure on Congress to move forward. He used the opportunity last night to deliver remarks. And I will say, as he’s thinking about what his joint session speech looks like next week, he has every intention of using that as an opportunity to elevate this issue and talk about the importance of putting police reform measures in place.

Kristin: (05:59)
As you know, one of the key sticking points is that qualified immunity provision. Is the President willing to compromise on qualified immunity? Would he back a bill that didn’t include qualified immunity?

Jen Psaki: (06:10)
Well, again, I think the stage we’re in now is that leaders on the Hill need to have discussions among themselves about where they can find agreement. And often those discussions just like it is the case in diplomacy, the best strategy, the most effective strategy is to allow for space for those conversations to be happened privately. Once they come to agreement, and we’re certainly hopeful they’ll do that, we’ll have to take a look at what that looks like. Oh, go ahead.

Kristin: (06:37)
Jen, just to follow up from the other Kristins’ line of questioning.

Jen Psaki: (06:40)
Sure. Kristins in the front row.

Kristin: (06:41)
I know. We were laughing about that. When President Biden spoke with George Floyd’s family yesterday, he promised that he would do everything he could to get the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act passed. So would that potentially include supporting, getting rid of the filibuster if he can’t get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate?

Jen Psaki: (07:01)
The President’s view remains the same, which is that he believes there should be support from Democrats and Republicans to put in place common sense, long overdue measures to reform our police and justice system. And he believes rebuilding trust among communities is something that Democrats and Republicans should support. There are conversations that are happening now that involve Democrats and Republicans, and he wants to leave a space for that. So he doesn’t believe that having a discussion about the filibuster is constructive to that at this point.

Kristin: (07:31)
Okay. And two questions on immigration. Is President Biden potentially open to doing immigration reform through reconciliation?

Jen Psaki: (07:39)
Well, this is another area where the President looks both at past history and also recent history and sees that there has been bipartisan support. There is bipartisan support for example, on the Dreamers and moving forward there. And he believes that modernizing our immigration system and putting in measures in place to address that is something that should warrant bi-partisan support. So his view is that right now, that the conversation should not be about a reconciliation process it should be about moving forward in a bipartisan manner.

Kristin: (08:13)
I mean, these members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that President Biden met with yesterday, they said that we need to find any other form and avenue to achieve as much as we can and that can include reconciliation. So I guess, can you at least confirm that that did indeed come up during their meeting [crosstalk 00:08:29]-

Jen Psaki: (08:29)
That members of Congress raised this issue?

Kristin: (08:31)
No they were saying that President Biden raised this issue and that he at least expressed some degree of support for it.

Jen Psaki: (08:37)
Well, I guess I can articulate what the President’s point of view is and certainly what his intention of conveying in any private meeting was, which is that he believes there should be bipartisan support. Of course, members are going to propose a range of mechanics for moving things forward. But his view is that the conversation right now should not be focused on reconciliation, it should be focused on finding a bipartisan path forward. Go ahead.

Speaker 2: (08:58)
Thanks, Jen. You mentioned Republicans and Democrats negotiating this on Capitol Hill. Is it-

Jen Psaki: (09:03)
Immigration or?

Speaker 2: (09:04)
I’m so sorry. Immigration is on my mind.

Jen Psaki: (09:06)
No, no, it’s okay. I just wanted to make sure I was answering the right question.

Speaker 2: (09:09)
No, no. On the George Floyd Act, over this issue of police reform, does this White House see this as the George Floyd Act all or nothing? Is there room for Republican proposals like the one from Senator Tim Scott?

Jen Psaki: (09:25)
Of course, this is going to be a discussion. And a lot of the conversations right now as you know from covering this are happening between Democrats like Senator Cory Booker and like Senator Tim Scott. And they’re going to have to decide where they can find agreement moving forward. Ultimately, the President believes as he conveyed quite passionately last night, that we need to put in place police reform measures. They’re long overdue and certainly the events of the last few weeks, elevate this as an issue we should be adapting or not adapting to, we should be addressing as a society. So we know that democracy in action means there are negotiations, there’s compromise. We’ll see what that looks like. But our objective here is to stay in close touch through senior members of our White House team, through the President himself to be helpful and constructive and give feedback as needed, but also to leave space for those conversations to happen.

Speaker 2: (10:17)
Because you mentioned the negotiations on the Hill as a separate entity from this White House. Could you just elaborate on what you just said, the President’s involvement and senior staff’s involvement. We’ve seen the President get involved in negotiations on infrastructure, on COVID relief, will he get involved in something like police reform? [crosstalk 00:10:35].

Jen Psaki: (10:34)
He had a high-level conversation with members of the Congressional Black Caucus just last week, and this was a prominent part and important part of that conversation. And I wasn’t intending to send… So I appreciate you asking, I wasn’t intending to convey that it was separate. It’s not separate, but there are conversations that are happening between Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. We are staying abreast of those. We are certainly engaged with a number of those members at a range of levels in this White House, including at the President’s level, but also from leaders and…

Jen Psaki: (11:03)
…levels in this White House, including at the President’s level, but also from leaders in the Legislative Team, from leaders of his Office of Public Engagement, and from leaders of the Domestic Policy Council.

Speaker 3: (11:10)
Does the President have a deadline by which he would like to see this on his desk, given where this falls in the national discourse right now, and the importance and the potential for losing the momentum that exists?

Jen Psaki: (11:21)
Well, I think the President certainly sees this moment as an opportunity to redouble everyone’s efforts in getting this legislation passed and move forward, but he also recognizes, having served for 36 years in the Senate, that you can’t rush negotiations between Democrats and Republicans. He’s eager to have something on his desk, but we’re not here to set a deadline at this point in time. Go ahead.

Speaker 4: (11:45)
Thanks, Jen. I know we’re celebrating 200 million shots today, but there’s some indications that, at the very least, rates aren’t raising at the same rate as they have been previously in the administration-

Jen Psaki: (11:57)
The rates of vaccinations… Or sorry, just to clarify what you mean.

Speaker 4: (12:00)
Being put in arms. And my question is whether you guys see that as just sort of the inevitable blip from J&J coming out of circulation, if it’s hitting a wall with… We’re now moving towards folks who might be more hesitant to get the vaccine versus folks who already have, if it’s just sort of what’s in the data, or if you don’t… Basically, if you don’t think that the last few days have been representative of a broader trend? And more broadly, I know that you, or the President’s, planning to announce this tax break going into effect, but are there other things that you can talk about the administration doing to address hesitancies that now seems to be squarely pivoting away from folks who are eager to get the vaccine and then towards folks who are not?

Jen Psaki: (12:48)
Well, first I would say, and you asked a few questions sir, so let me see if I can answer all of them. What we’ve seen, and there was some interesting data that came out over the last couple of days, obviously, a lot was happening yesterday, is that we’ve actually seen a decrease in hesitancy, an increase in confidence among many communities. In some polling that was put out just yesterday, 40% of respondents said they were more likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine than they were a month ago. And in terms of conservatives’ confidence in vaccine, again, this is a poll, so it’s not perfect, but it was interesting data, a full 71% of Trump voters said they have either received at least one dose of a vaccine, or definitely, or probably will, up from 59% in an earlier poll conducted just one month ago.

Jen Psaki: (13:36)
But what we’re trying to address, to answer another one of your questions, is what we see as the issues, the barriers, to getting the majority of the American people vaccinated, and one of those barriers is access. What the announcement today is intended to do is, address one of those barriers to access, which is people, not through a political prism, but many people who have not been yet been vaccinated, are concerned they can’t take a day off of work, they don’t have additional paid leave. We’re trying to address that barrier, reduce that barrier as one that is preventing access. I will say that the reason we’re at this point where we are getting to a point, which we always knew we would reach, where we have greater supply, where we will at a point, get to a point where we have greater supply than we have demand, is because only in some regions of the country, I should say, as you know, not everywhere, is because we’ve worked quickly to increase supply and provide thousands of easy and convenient locations for people to get vaccinated.

Jen Psaki: (14:32)
In the last few weeks, we’ve sent out more than 115 million doses, but what we’re trying to do now, is address what we see as the barrier. I mentioned the tax cut, of course, trying to help businesses. We’re providing technical assistance to states. Again, we’re relying on local voices and local doctors to provide the best information, which every set of data we’ve seen, and even from some news organizations, show that those are the most trusted messengers. We’ve allocated $ 3 billion for states, we’re ramping up targeted media efforts. We’re also, along with the CDC, we’re working to help states expand vaccine distribution to primary care physicians, where many people are very much trusted local doctors. So yes, we will continue to assess and look for ways to increase access and get it out to more communities.

Speaker 4: (15:20)
Both The Washington Post and The New York Times last night had pretty detailed reports about the refugee issue. They suggested that the President himself overruled national security experts on his team and the Secretary of State Blinken. You’ve sort of maintained that there was never a policy change at all, but is it fair to say at this point that the President changed his mind from the 62,500 number, and then changed his mind again once he saw the sort of outrage and blow back from Democrats and refugee groups?

Jen Psaki: (15:54)
Well, I can say that we have every intention of putting out in an increase cap, and we hope to do that soon, in advance of May 15th. I’m obviously not going to get into private conversations between the President and members of his National Security Team, but I will say that one of the things that has been on the President’s mind, that I think was covered in a number of those stories, are the challenges and the challenges to our resources, and we’ve talked about this a little bit. One of those is refugee processing in a global, big global system. And there were muscles that have been atrophied over the last few years. It’s not just the Federal Government, it is also a lot of important organizations around the world that help address this, and his concern was, in part, is that system prepared?

Jen Psaki: (16:37)
Now, by setting a larger cap, which we have every intention of doing, we are sending a message, get your muscles back in action so that we can welcome more refugees and continue to strive toward the goal that he has always maintained of 125,000 refugees for next year. Our policy has not changed on that front. We’ve always wanted to reach 125,000, it’s just a matter of what we think we can get to this year.

Speaker 4: (16:59)
Well, the State Department is in charge of processing refugees.

Jen Psaki: (17:03)
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Speaker 4: (17:04)
The Secretary of State is encouraging the President to sign the paperwork to raise the cap. That would suggest that he feels that the State Department, despite whatever atrophy may have happened, could have raised that limit, and that the President, because of perhaps worries about if HHS would support the refugees when they got there, perhaps because of political calculations, overruled the Secretary of State. I’m asking if you can explain why, if the State Department says that they can do this, the President didn’t think that they could.

Jen Psaki: (17:36)
Well, first of all, it’s setting a cap, right? It doesn’t answer the question of whether we can reach that. This is an important point of whether we can reach that point.

Speaker 4: (17:43)
We’ve asked that a number of times and I don’t want to get into this, because there’s no reason that the President couldn’t have done what he said he was going to do, raise the cap to 62,500. And then if the State Department or HHS determined that they couldn’t process the refugees, just not at that number, as you said yesterday, or two days ago, that happens all the time. So this just sort of underscores [crosstalk 00:18:07].

Jen Psaki: (18:07)
And he has every intention of raising the cap. The Friday announcement was not about the top level of the cap. And I think that’s an important thing for people to understand, but I’d also say, as you alluded to in your question, the State Department, yes, they do the visa… They do the vetting, which is an important part of the process and can take months. And there are a low number of refugees that are currently through a security vetting process, despite numbers that have been put out there and in reporting, which are inaccurate. [crosstalk 00:18:35]. There’s a low number… What’d you say?

Speaker 4: (18:38)
There’s not hundreds of people that have already been approved by the State Department. I think the reports are something like 700 people have had to cancel flights because of…

Jen Psaki: (18:45)
And the flights are resumed. The flights are resumed, as a Friday, but there’s also another component of this because it’s an inter-agency process that addresses refugees resettlement, right? ORR, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is not a part of the State Department, has a component of this, as well, it’s a part of HHS. The President looks at all of the government, all of our resources available, what he thinks the capacity is, but he also is looking for assessments from the inter-agency team on what’s possible. That’s what his questions were, hence, we’ll have more to say when we have a conclusion on that.

Speaker 4: (19:17)
I think we’re talking past each other, so I’ll just ask once more and then we can move on if you don’t want to. But the question is whether the President changed his policy on the 6,500, and if on Friday, you intended it to be 15,000 and then changed the decision after the outcry?

Jen Psaki: (19:35)
Well, his policy was on Friday, was months before, continues to be, to reach 125,000 refugees in next fiscal year. 62,500 was a down payment. It will be slower this year than it will be next year. The President wants an assessment of how far we can get. That’s what he’s looking for. The State Department has a component of that, HHS is a component of that, we’re going to look at all of that. And the refugee cap and the point I’ve been trying to make, which I know you don’t love, but that’s okay, but to others, is that the cap is something that is not typically reached. We wanted to send a clear message, we are a country that is welcoming in refugees. We recognize that that is not the message that was sent, so we reassessed, but it’s not a change in policy. It’s just making sure we’re sending a clear message to the world about who we are, America’s back, we’re welcoming refugees. We need to get our muscles back working again, and we’ll have an updated cap hopefully soon. Go ahead, Trevor.

Trevor: (20:32)
To your point about kind of getting the muscles back to where you need to be, we’re curious just about what capacity does exist right now for the government, and when you talk about the Office of Refugee Resettlement, is one of the issues that some of the employees there have been transferred over to dealing with some of the asylum issues, is that one potential issue there?

Jen Psaki: (20:53)
Well, one of the issues… The President wanted an assessment of whether they could do both, right? There are components that it exists in different agencies of government, right? But whether they could do both, whether there was enough funding to do both, there has been funding transferred from other components of HHS to help address the unaccompanied children, the number of unaccompanied children who are coming across our border. But also, there was a hiring freeze at the Office of Refugee Resettlement during the last administration, and there were only a couple thousand, low number of thousand, refugees who are welcomed in during the last fiscal year. It’s not just government, it’s also external organizations who play a vital role.

Jen Psaki: (21:33)
And certainly, and this is one of the points I think, maybe we weren’t in agreement, but I think you were getting to, or what I was trying to get to, is that it’s also these high caps, the 125 cap is sending a message to the world, we are going to do this, work with us on this, work with us on vetting, work with us on resettling, and assistance that’s needed. There are legal requirements and funding requirements that we need to help refugees when they come into the country from ORR. There’s funding requirements for that, but we also acknowledge a lot of the funding comes from outside.

Jen Psaki: (22:03)
There’s funding requirements for that, but we also acknowledge a lot of the funding comes from outside organizations. That needs to be prepared as well. There’s one other factor we haven’t talked about, but is an interesting one, I think, is there are some limitations that have come about because of COVID, because sometimes, typically in the past, people have traveled to do some of these vetting interviews and expedite moving refugees through processing. Also, people coming into embassies around the world, that’s an additional challenge. We were looking at assessment of all of these items.

Trevor: (22:30)
And do you have a number just of how many refugee officers have been transferred over to dealing with asylum or unaccompanied minor issues?

Jen Psaki: (22:40)
Transferred over from UACs or transferred over [crosstalk 00:22:43].

Trevor: (22:42)
… work in the Office of Refugee Resettlement as officers, but now they’re working primarily on unaccompanied children.

Jen Psaki: (22:49)
We have some funding numbers. I don’t think I have staff numbers in front of me. I’d certainly send you to them, but we can check if there’s more specifics on that.

Trevor: (22:55)
And are there outstanding security concerns around the refugee resettlement program that are being addressed as part of this review that you’re doing?

Jen Psaki: (23:04)
Well, there’s a fairly stringent vetting process that takes place, and that can take months and months. It really depends. There have been some limitations and delays, frankly, because of COVID, which has happened in other areas as well. I’m not saying that’s the totality, but that is certainly a factor. But that can certainly take some time. So that’s had an impact as well.

Trevor: (23:24)
Okay. But [crosstalk 00:23:24].

Jen Psaki: (23:24)
But not new security issues, if that was what you were at.

Trevor: (23:27)
Yes. Thank you.

Jen Psaki: (23:27)

Trevor: (23:28)
And then just on policing just quickly, just curious, that we were talking about the DOJ announcement this morning.

Jen Psaki: (23:35)
Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Trevor: (23:35)
Is there any White House reaction on that decision to start that investigation? And has there been any other outreach that you’ve done to police groups or civil rights groups since the Floyd verdict as you move forward on that?

Jen Psaki: (23:48)
Sure. Well, let me first say that during the campaign, the president pledged to appoint DOJ leadership that would prioritize pattern or practice investigations. And so last week, obviously we didn’t know the outcome, right, of the verdict. But just to give a little history here, last week, the attorney general reversed a Trump administration memo that limited the use of consent decrees with respect to investigation of police departments.

Jen Psaki: (24:11)
And obviously, while we didn’t know what the announcement would be today, the announcement today of this new investigation into policing policies in Minnesota, there’s a direct pattern right there of what the president was advocating for, who he nominated, the overturning of the memo just last week.

Trevor: (24:31)
Thank you.

Jen Psaki: (24:31)
Go ahead.

Speaker 5: (24:32)
Hi, Jen. One on vaccines, one on Russia.

Jen Psaki: (24:34)

Speaker 5: (24:35)
What does the Biden administration consider to be vaccine discrimination? Should public or private spaces be allowed to exclude people opt out of getting the COVID-19 vaccine?

Jen Psaki: (24:48)
I don’t think those are standards we’re setting from here. Obviously, private sector businesses and entities are going to set their own standards.

Speaker 5: (24:55)
But you mentioned earlier you’d be releasing guidance on the privacy rights people can expect when it comes to a vaccination with COVID-19 [crosstalk 00:25:03].

Jen Psaki: (25:03)
Not sure. Are you referring to an FAQ related to vaccine passports or something [crosstalk 00:25:08]?

Speaker 5: (25:07)
… part of that. Yeah.

Jen Psaki: (25:08)
Okay. Well, I think just to be clear on the vaccine passport issue, what we also made clear is that that’s not something that is going to be conducted, reviewed, or overseen by the federal government.

Speaker 5: (25:20)
Okay. On Russia, today in his annual address, Russian president Vladimir Putin warned against foreign intervention in Ukraine, where there is a troop buildup reported in parts of Crimea and hundreds of protestors supporting Alexi Navalny. He has been arrested. Is there evidence that the White House sees that US sanctions against Russia are working?

Jen Psaki: (25:44)
Well, first, our sanctions were put in place in some … many of them done in coordination with our European partners and allies, because our strong view and the view of the global community is that there should be consequences for actions. We have never expected nor have we projected that one set of sanctions or any individual set of sanctions is going to immediately change behavior, but it is sending a clear message that behavior is unacceptable and it can’t continue.

Jen Psaki: (26:10)
I would also remind you that our consequences, as we’ve long said, many are seen sanctions and some are unseen and we don’t speak about more specifically.

Jen Psaki: (26:20)
Go ahead.

Speaker 6: (26:20)
Thank you very much. Two more foreign ones. Today, Australia announced it was … federal government announced it was revoking a deal by one of the states to do a Belt and Road Initiative with China, the Chinese or [inaudible 00:26:35]. Has the administration talked specifically with Australia about that deal? And more generally, is the administration talking with its allies and partners around the world about the BRI and generally trying to get POTUS to push back against that?

Jen Psaki: (26:53)
I think the state department would be the most likely entity within government to give any readout of conversations with the Australians. Obviously, economic partnerships, relationships, how we can work together as a global community and in a coordinated fashion as it relates to China is part of nearly every discussion the president has with a European partner or a country in the region.

Speaker 6: (27:15)
But specifically the Belt and Road Initiative, which obviously has been painted by Summers as this kind of very soft power/loan shark scheme taking over large parts of the world. But what’s the US …

Jen Psaki: (27:26)
Well, what about it is your question?

Speaker 6: (27:31)
Well, given that Australia today pushed back against this one specifically, I was just wondering if the US is having actual direct talks with partners about, “We’ve got to do something about this BRI.”

Jen Psaki: (27:43)
I can check and see if there’s anything more specific.

Speaker 6: (27:46)
Okay. And the other one is the president of Belarus and Putin as well today both are touting this supposed plan by the US to try to assassinate Lukashenko of Belarus.

Jen Psaki: (28:02)
I can confirm there’s [crosstalk 00:28:04] no basis in fact there.

Speaker 7: (28:05)
Thanks, Jen. I just want to bring it back to policing.

Jen Psaki: (28:08)

Speaker 7: (28:09)
On a call with George Floyd’s family and the family’s attorney after the verdict yesterday, the family’s attorney said, “Hopefully, this is the momentum for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to get passed and have you sign.” The president’s response was, “You got it, pal. All that and a lot more. Not just that, but a lot more.” So in your estimation, is that the president promising to the Floyd family that he will get a policing bill passed?

Jen Psaki: (28:32)
I think he’s promising to the Floyd family that he will use the power of his presidency, the bully pulpit, as he intends to do during his joint address next week, the role of senior leaders in his government to help push the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act forward.

Speaker 7: (28:48)
How far is he willing to push for it?

Jen Psaki: (28:51)
I’m not sure what that means.

Speaker 7: (28:52)
I mean how far is he willing to push to get something done?

Jen Psaki: (28:56)
In what [crosstalk 00:28:57] way?

Speaker 7: (28:57)
You just talked about giving people in the Congress, lawmakers, breathing room to talk and negotiate. But how far is he willing to get Democrats in line? Is he willing to keep just pushing for this? Is it a huge prior- … Can you prioritize, give me a sense of his priorities in terms of getting this done?

Jen Psaki: (29:17)
Well, I would point you to the fact that, one, the president gave a passionate call last night for the importance of moving forward in this moment with the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. It is on his mind as he is working with his team and all of us to draft his joint session speech, which is one of the highest profile moments any president has in the first year of their presidency. He has worked and has had discussions with leaders and members of Congress about moving forward on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, including as recently as his meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus last week. And he has asked prominent leading members of his administration to remain closely involved and engaged in this effort as it moves forward. So I’d say it’s absolutely a priority on his mind, and he feels this is a moment where there should be momentum for action.

Speaker 7: (30:06)
So just one on Putin, who today did have some aggressive language for Western nations that would interfere in Russia’s affairs. He said that Russia is response would be asymmetric, fast, and tough if forced to defend its interests. I’m just wondering promptly … And the Russians had also expressed skepticism that sanctions could do anything to box them into having a summit between Putin and the president. Can you give us any update on how Putin’s words today and his posture could affect any plans for a summit between the two?

Jen Psaki: (30:39)
Well, we have been clear that we desire a relationship with Russia that is stable and predictable, and we don’t think it needs to be … continue to be on a negative trajectory. The sanctions were not meant to entice anyone to attend a summit. That would be a strange strategy. It was meant to put in place consequences for the actions that were completely unacceptable in our eyes and the eyes of the global community.

Jen Psaki: (31:02)
At the same time, while we put those consequences in place, the president was sending a clear message to President Putin on his call that he believes we can have … this is an opportunity to have a discussion about areas where we think there’s an opportunity to work together on, whether that is nuclear non-proliferation, as we did with the continuation, the extension of the New START Treaty or the Iran Nuclear Deal, and also have discussions about areas where we disagree.

Jen Psaki: (31:28)
Obviously, it requires all parties having an agreement that we’re going to have a meeting. And we issued that invitation. We’re continuing to have discussions at a high level, as is evidenced by the national security advisor’s conversation with his counterpart earlier this week.

Jen Psaki: (31:44)
Go ahead. I’ll come back to you [crosstalk 00:31:45]. I just want to get to everybody. Go ahead.

Speaker 8: (31:45)
Thank you, Jen. A quick followup question on something you were asked yesterday, and then a second somewhat related question.

Jen Psaki: (31:52)

Speaker 8: (31:52)
Regarding yesterday, respectfully, I feel like you didn’t give quite a firm answer, and I wanted to try it again.

Jen Psaki: (31:59)

Speaker 8: (32:00)
You were asked whether President Biden will honor his democratic primary campaign pledge to release “everyone in prison for marijuana.” People are skeptical that you will. President Biden is personally responsible for sending some people to prison for life for marijuana under his 1994 crime bill, and Vice President Kamala Harris oversaw 1900 marijuana convictions as San Francisco district attorney.

Speaker 8: (32:22)
So will President Biden honor his commitments to release ever in prison for marijuana?

Jen Psaki: (32:27)
Well, I think what I did yesterday is reiterated what his position on marijuana was, decriminalizing or rescheduling and certainly legalizing medical marijuana. What you’re asking me is a legal question, and now we’re in government. And so I had to follow up with our legal team, and I don’t have any additional information quite yet.

Speaker 8: (32:44)
So regarding rescheduling, that wouldn’t necessarily release anyone from prison. Schedule two has Fentanyl and cocaine. You can’t just [crosstalk 00:32:51].

Jen Psaki: (32:50)
That’s right. It addresses things moving forward, though, which is important and important to many advocates.

Speaker 8: (32:54)
Should people in prison for marijuana who are asking President Biden to honor his pledge to release them, should they expect to be released, or are they going to serve life in prison for marijuana?

Jen Psaki: (33:02)
Well, again, I think I’ve st-

Speaker 8: (33:03)
Are they going to serve life in prison for marijuana?

Jen Psaki: (33:03)
Well again, I think I’ve stated very clearly what the President’s position is. What you’re asking me is a legal question. I’d point you to the Department of Justice, and if there’s anything more we can provide from here, I’m happy to provide it.

Speaker 8: (33:12)
My second question, President Biden yesterday, responding to the George Floyd case verdict said that George Floyd’s death, “ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see the systemic racism in the United States.” But he’s an architect of multiple federal laws in the 1980s and ’90s that disproportionately jailed black people and contributed to what many people see as systemic racism. Activist Cornell West said that Biden was one of the core architects of mass incarceration. And that quote, “I think Biden is going to have to take responsibility and acknowledge the contribution he made to mass incarceration.” To what extent does president Biden acknowledge his own role in systemic racism? And how does that inform his current policy positions?

Jen Psaki: (33:57)
Well, I would say one of the president’s core objectives is addressing racial injustice in this country, not just through his rhetoric, but through his actions. And what anyone should look to his advocacy for passing the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, for nominating leaders to the Department of Justice, to address long outdated policies and to ask his leadership team here in the White House to prioritize these issues in his presidency, which is current and today, and not from 30 years ago.

Speaker 8: (34:29)
Do you believe it’s important to accept his own culpability?

Jen Psaki: (34:32)
I think I’ve your question. Go ahead.

Speaker 9: (34:34)
Question, and you kind of touched on the first one, but let me repeat. Putin criticized the west by saying that all provocateurs will regret it more than ever. He compared European countries with jackals who quote unquote, “howl to their [inaudible 00:34:47].” But did not name specific names or countries. Does the US take it personally?

Jen Psaki: (34:52)
I don’t think we take anything President Putin says personally. We have tough skin.

Speaker 9: (34:58)
The second question is on February 2nd, on immigration. Biden signed an executive order calling for the CDC and Homeland Security to review Title 42. I’m wondering if there’s any update on that review.

Jen Psaki: (35:10)
Title 42 is still in place because we are still in the midst of fighting a global pandemic. So I don’t have any predictions of when that will change. Go ahead.

Taylor: (35:21)
Hi, Jen. Taylor [inaudible 00:35:23] with Spectrum News.

Jen Psaki: (35:24)
Hi, Taylor.

Taylor: (35:24)
Three quick questions. I’ll make them quick. First, has the president been briefed on 16 year old Mikaya Bryant being shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio yesterday? It happened moments before the Chauvin verdict came out.

Jen Psaki: (35:35)
Yes. I should say yes. And let me just say, since you gave me the opportunity, the killing of 16 year old Mikaya Bryant by the Columbus Police is tragic. She was a child. We’re thinking of her friends and family and the communities that are hurting and grieving her loss. We know that police violence disproportionally impacts black and Latino people in communities and that black women and girls, like black men and boys experience higher rates of police violence.

Jen Psaki: (36:03)
We also know that there are particular vulnerabilities that children in foster care like Mikaya face and her death came as you noted just as America was hopeful of a step forward after the traumatic and exhausting trial of Derek Chauvin and the verdict that was reached. So our focus is on working to address systemic racism and implicit bias head on. And of course, to passing laws and legislation that will put much needed reforms into place at police departments around the country.

Taylor: (36:30)
Has the president been briefed on it?

Jen Psaki: (36:32)

Taylor: (36:33)
Okay. And then also in Ohio, the family of Tamir Rice, the 12 year old Cleveland boy who was killed by police in 2014, they’ve asked the Justice Department to reopen his case. Does the president support that?

Jen Psaki: (36:42)
I would point you to the Department of Justice. It’s their decision.

Taylor: (36:45)
And lastly, a climate related question, there’ve been several lawmakers from Ohio and other states who have called for the US Postal Service Vehicle Contract to be paused with Oshkosh Defense. The lawmakers are alleging that there was maybe inappropriate political dealing with it, but also that it may not meet up to the president’s executive order on electrifying the fleet. Is the White House concerned about that. Do you agree with the pause and investigation?

Jen Psaki: (37:11)
I’ll have to check on that. It’s an interesting question. So just to understand it, it is about a contract that a company has that may or may not meet the electric fleet objectives in the executive order?

Taylor: (37:21)
Yeah. And the postal service has said they’ll at least be able to electrify 10%, but obviously the president has wanted to electrify the whole fleet.

Jen Psaki: (37:27)
Yes. Okay. Let me check on that for you. Go ahead.

Speaker 10: (37:31)
Thanks, Jen. I’ve got one on anti AAPI discrimination and I’d like to circle back on a vaccine question from last week. Let’s start with the vaccines. A number of lawmakers, democratic lawmakers in foreign countries have asked the president to waive vaccine patents to surge production. What possible reason could the president have for not doing this, given that a number of organizations like Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam have said that this would be integral to the global fight against coronavirus outside of protecting the financial interests of these pharmaceutical companies, or maybe maintaining leverage over production of the vaccine. And generally, is there any reason why he wouldn’t do this?

Jen Psaki: (38:14)
Well, I think our ambassador, our USTR, our ambassador gave some remarks related to this just last weekend. And I’d certainly point you to those. And we’re certainly looking at a range of options to help address the global pandemic, but I don’t have anything more from here.

Speaker 10: (38:27)
And then on anti AAPI hate, while the president directs Ms. [inaudible 00:38:33] to investigate claims of discrimination from that community in the college admissions process, the executive orders he signed in March, notably didn’t address this. And then the DOJ actually dropped a federal lawsuit supporting that claim in February.

Jen Psaki: (38:51)
Well, it’s her first week on the job. She just started. And she, as we’ve talked about a bit in here, will have a role both on policy personnel and outreach, and certainly have a seat at the table. I believe there’s still ongoing litigation on this specific case. So I would-

Speaker 10: (39:07)
[inaudible 00:39:07] bring it to the Supreme-

Jen Psaki: (39:08)
But I wouldn’t expect that would be something that a White House official would weigh into while there’s a DOJ ongoing litigation.

Speaker 10: (39:16)
Is that why the issue was absent from the slate of executive actions that the president too?

Jen Psaki: (39:22)
If there’s ongoing litigation, that’s typically a factor, but I’m happy to check with you if there’s anything additional on this issue. In the back.

Speaker 11: (39:29)
Thanks, Jen. Three foreign policy questions. On Yemen first, President Biden’s envoy to Yemen [inaudible 00:39:38] just testified in Congress just now. And he said that he doesn’t believe that Iran is helpful in ending the crisis in Yemen, which he considered a top priority in his administration. Is this a topic that you guys are going to raise in Vienna through your European partners?

Jen Psaki: (39:54)
I believe that the conversations in Vienna, which are ongoing as you know, are focused primarily on the nuclear file and how we can get to a point of meeting compliance obligations, I should say, on all sides. So there are a lot of channels we work through, but my expectation is that those will focus on that specific issue.

Speaker 11: (40:17)
Talking about Vienna, Western diplomats indicate in the negotiation seems to be going through successfully, going halfway through, as we say. And he believed that maybe you need two more rounds to get to some kind of agreement. Is this your understanding and what kind of agreement? Is it just to go back to the agreement itself? I mean, the previous one in 2015?

Jen Psaki: (40:39)
Well, I can say that for the past few weeks, the US delegation led by Special Envoy Rob Malley has been exploring concrete approaches concerning the steps both Iran and the United States would need to take to return to mutual compliance. And while the discussions have been thorough and thoughtful, if indirect, and we’ve shared some ideas, we still expect there to be a path forward. So I don’t think we’re in a position to set ambitious goals, like a conclusion in two weeks at this point.

Speaker 11: (41:07)
And finally, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just held a press conference with the Republican study group at Capitol Hill. And he basically wants to introduce a legislation called Maximum Pressure Act. Does this complicate your efforts now? Do you see it as an interference? Do you see it as helping you and putting pressure on Iran to come back to the negotiation table? How do you see?

Jen Psaki: (41:31)
Well, I don’t clearly have all the details yet on what the legislation is he’s proposing, but I would say broadly speaking, our view is that diplomacy should be in the lead. That the former administration pulled out of the Iran deal, which led us to a point where we had far less visibility into what was happening on the ground in Iran. It certainly did not make us safer. And so I don’t know what’s in his legislation, but I think it’s safe to say we have a very different approach.

Speaker 11: (42:01)
[inaudible 00:42:01] and the sanctions basically.

Jen Psaki: (42:03)
He would be opposed to lifting the sanctions? I don’t think we’ve indicated we’re moving toward that, but we’re having a discussion about how to meet compliance obligations on all sides. And we certainly believe that moving towards a diplomatic path forward is in the interest of the United States and the global community. Thank you, go ahead.

Speaker 12: (42:24)
Saturday is the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. Adam Shift and a group of about a 100 bipartisan lawmakers sent a letter to the president today asking him to follow through on his commitment that he made as a candidate. Will the president be following through on this commitment and will it be coming by Saturday with the latest remembrance?

Jen Psaki: (42:46)
Sure. I expect we will have more to say about Remembrance Day on Saturday, but I don’t have anything to get ahead of that at this point in time. Okay. Thank you everyone.

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