Apr 23, 2021
Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript April 23
April 23, 2021 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. She was joined by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Jen Psaki : (00:00)
Today, our new Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who made history when she became the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary. She is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and a 35th generation New Mexican. Secretary Haaland has worn many hats throughout her career. She ran a small business, served as a tribal administrator and became the first woman elected to the Laguna Development Corporation Board of Directors overseeing the business operations of the second largest tribal gaming enterprise in New Mexico. She also became the first Native American woman to be elected, to lead a state party. In 2018, she became one of the first Native American women to serve in congress. In congress she focused on environmental justice, climate change, missing and murdered Indigenous women and family friendly policy. She joins us today on the second day of the climate summit to underscore our commitment to protecting public lands and strengthening tribal sovereignty. She’s happy to take just a couple of questions because she has a hard out and I will always be the bad cop. And please welcome, thank you again for joining us.
Secretary Deb Haaland : (01:05)
Thank you. Thank you so much Jen. Good morning everyone.
Speaker 1: (01:12)
Secretary Deb Haaland : (01:22)
Thank you. Thank you so much, and thank you Jen for inviting me to be here today. I want to start our start off by wishing everyone a happy national park week. I hope you found a chance to get out and experience your public lands this week. The White House is actually a national park, so technically we’re all celebrating a bit right now.
Secretary Deb Haaland : (01:43)
I had always wanted to be a national park ranger and while I didn’t quite land that job yet, I’m pretty excited that tomorrow night I get the chance to swear in some junior rangers, all of your kids are welcome to join during the US Army Field Band’s virtual concert tomorrow night. I think you can find the link on our website.
Secretary Deb Haaland : (02:05)
I was happy also to celebrate this morning with the second gentlemen, we announced 16 new listings to the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program. Our park system is our nation storyteller, and I’m eager to ensure that these national treasures help tell a more inclusive and accurate story of our nation.
Secretary Deb Haaland : (02:25)
This week has brought significant news on climate action and on issues impacting tribal communities. And so I’m honored and grateful to have the opportunity to speak with you and take your questions today. We have no shortage of work ahead. President Biden has set ambitious goals that will ensure America and the world can meet the urgent demands of the climate crisis, while empowering our nation’s workers and businesses to lead a clean energy revolution. I believe that a clean energy future is within our grasp in the United States, but it will take all of us and the best available science to make it happen. The Interior department is in a unique position to be a leader in putting our nation on a path to achieve net zero emissions, create good paying jobs and benefit underserved communities.
Secretary Deb Haaland : (03:17)
We have taken steps in just the past few weeks to advance offshore wind proposals, restore balance to management of our public lands and waters and create jobs and revitalize land in coal communities. I’ll also touch on Interior’s work to honor our nation to nation relationship with Indian tribes and uphold our trust in treaty responsibilities. I believe just as President Biden does that we must engage tribal nations with all of government approach. And one need look no further than the first lady’s visit to the Navajo Nation to speak and hear from tribal leaders and Indigenous people. For too long Indian issues were relegated to the tribal offices within federal agencies. If we’re going to make sure that Native American and Alaska native communities thrive, that tribal sovereignty is respected and strengthened and if we’re truly to repair our nation to nation relationships, then that means every federal agency needs to be thinking boldly about our obligations to Indigenous peoples.
Secretary Deb Haaland : (04:24)
The significance of being the first Native American to serve in the cabinet is not lost on me. As I stand here today at this podium, I am moved by how monumental this week alone has been for Indigenous representation. On Monday, I delivered remarks on behalf of the US government at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues where I affirmed our commitment to advancing Indigenous people’s rights at home and abroad. I talked about how we’re putting the full weight of our federal government behind a cross departmental missing and murdered unit to address the crisis in Indian country. Yesterday, I announced that Interior is moving forward to implement the Not Invisible Act. Establishing a joint commission led by Interior and the Department of Justice on reducing violent crime against Indigenous peoples. And later today, Domestic Policy Advisor, Ambassador Susan Rice and I will convene the first White House Council on Native American affairs meeting of the Biden-Harris administration. We’re wasting no time. We have an ambitious agenda and so I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work across the cabinet in identifying and supporting tribal equities in the administration’s core policy pillars.
Secretary Deb Haaland : (05:48)
Last, I come from a family that farms, ranches and hunts. I’ve grown up in rural and agricultural communities and I know what it’s like to live in a community that’s been left behind. These experiences underscore why I believe so deeply in the work that we do at the Interior department and why I know that we can and will make a difference in the every day lives of families across this country. And with that, I’m happy to try and answer your questions.
Jen Psaki : (06:17)
Nancy, go ahead.
Thank you, Secretary Haaland. Can you give us an update on the moratorium on fracking on federal lands, new contracts?
Secretary Deb Haaland : (06:26)
Thank you so much. So the pause on new leases is still in effect until we finish a review that is due to the president. That means that the existing leases are still in effect. We are still issuing permits on those lands. When we finished the review, it’s an important review, we’re talking to many people we’ve had a gas and oil forum, we’ve talked to many folks across the country. When that review is done, then us and the president will decide next steps.
Can you give us a little more details on how that review worked, what exactly you’re doing, and when you think it will be concluded?
Secretary Deb Haaland : (07:13)
So I can’t say exactly when it will be concluded, but as I mentioned, we’ve had a gas and oil forum already that was virtual. The department folks are talking to governors, to legislators, to folks on the ground. It’s mostly getting everyone’s input, we want to make sure that every voice has a seat at the table, and it’s really that. As well as using the science. And that’s how we’ll do the review and it’ll go to the president.
Jen Psaki : (07:45)
Speaker 2: (07:46)
We heard Republicans in Utah talk about their preference for legislation to expand the size of Bears Ears instead of executive action. Do you think there’s room for bipartisan work there or we probably looking at executive action from this administration?
Secretary Deb Haaland : (08:01)
I met with those legislators when I was in Utah, the governor, the lieutenant governor, my former colleagues from the house. Legislators legislate and I think they should move ahead with legislation if that’s what they want to do. We will get the report done for the president and send it to the White House. And it will really be the president’s decision. The Antiquities Act is a presidential… It’s all him, he can decide. What I did when I went to Utah was make sure that, again, every voice was at the table. We talked to ranchers and farmers, we talked to children who use those lands and outdoor economy folks. We want to make sure that we include every voice and that’s the report that will go to the president and he’ll decide.
Speaker 2: (08:57)
Can I ask on a different topic really fast?
Jen Psaki : (08:58)
Speaker 2: (08:59)
We’ve heard so many tribes this year talk about really struggling with mental health issues for teens. I mean a lot of communities around the country, but just teens struggling with depression during this pandemic, is that issue that you guys are addressing in this domestic council?
Secretary Deb Haaland : (09:15)
This is our first meeting. So what we’re really going to do initially is assign committees to each cabinet secretary, and it will be up to them to look at the topics. Of course, we care deeply about this issue. It’s one that I know a lot of people are suffering from, so I appreciate you mentioning that. And once we’re able to get a clear path on where we’re going with the council, we’ll certainly let everyone know.
Jen Psaki : (09:48)
Mario, you got to be the last one, we’ll invite her back.
Thanks, Jen. Thank you Madam Secretary. A couple of questions, just piggybacking off of your comments at the top about national parks. Any reason why they’re still at reduced capacity when we know that social distancing or outside is the best possible case for COVID?
Secretary Deb Haaland : (10:11)
First of all, I’ll say we are taking every possible precaution to make sure that we are keeping people safe. I don’t ever want to jump the gun on this. We know there’s a lot of vaccinations that are happening. Yes, our country is safer since President Biden has been an office. We’re just not quite there yet. They’ll continually monitor that situation. We want everyone to keep their masks on the social distance and I appreciate the question. We can look into it and absolutely get back with you.
One business-related, what’s your plan for restarting the sale of oil and gas leases in the US Gulf of Mexico?
Secretary Deb Haaland : (10:52)
So existing leases are already happening, as I mentioned earlier, there’s not a moratorium even on new leases or just a pause. So when we have the review done… What I’ll say is right now, permits are still being issued and there’s still ongoing leases that are happening
Jen Psaki : (11:16)
Thank you Secretary Haaland, thank you for joining us and you’re welcome back anytime.
Secretary Deb Haaland : (11:19)
Speaker 2: (11:20)
Secretary Deb Haaland : (11:20)
Nice to see you. Happy national park week.
Jen Psaki : (11:26)
Happy national park week. A good thing to celebrate. Okay, a couple of other items for all of you at the top.
Jen Psaki : (11:33)
As you know, President Biden just concluded a historic climate summit with 50 world leaders to show that America is back at the table. On the first day, he upped the ante announcing that the United States will target reducing emissions by 50 to 52%, by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. He underscored America’s commitment to leading a clean energy revolution and creating good paying union jobs. We also want to lead the way, here in the federal government, toward achieving and act in a way that demonstrates our leadership on these issues. So some examples of our commitments, which some of you may have seen, include the GSA is committing to power its approximately 186 million square foot federally owned real estate portfolio with a hundred percent renewable electricity sources by 2025.
Jen Psaki : (12:23)
The Department of Transportation is taking a comprehensive approach to addressing the climate crisis and expanding ways for all modes of transportation to transition to zero emissions. Examples include funding for lower mission buses and expanding access to electric vehicle charging stations.
Jen Psaki : (12:39)
The Department of Defense is announcing a plan to complete climate exposure assessments on all major US installations within 12 months and all major installations outside the continental United States within 24 months, using the Defense Climate Assessment Tool. And the EPA will fund $1 million in grants and cooperative agreements through to work with underserved and vulnerable communities, including Indigenous communities to prepare them for climate related impacts. So it’s an across government approach.
Jen Psaki : (13:09)
Also, we wanted to highlight that today, the Department of Education announced plans to distribute $800 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan for states to support students experiencing homelessness. The department also took a series of steps this week to help states and districts access the $122 billion in American Rescue Plan elementary and secondary school emergency relief funds to support the safe reopening of K through 12 schools and address equity gaps exacerbated by the pandemic.
Jen Psaki : (13:42)
Also this week, US Department of Agriculture, I should say, issued a broad range of flexibilities that will allow schools and childcare institutions to serve healthy meals for free to all kids in the upcoming 2021 through 2022 through school year, roughly 30 million kids participate in school meals programs. And we know that for lots of kids, school meals are the healthiest meals they consume all day. Due to supply chain issues during the pandemic, USDA is giving schools added resources to maintain the nutrition standards of the school meal programs, including a strong emphasis on providing fruits and vegetables, milk, and whole grains. Because as many of you know, the pandemic cost steep spikes in hunger and food insecurity relating to, as we’ve talked about a bit in here, one in seven families struggling to put food on the table. We are hardened by the sharp decline from the implementation of a lot of these funds, as you can see in this chart, in the number of American households that say they’re behind on rent, or did not have enough to eat in the past week. Obviously there’s a lot of work to go and a lot more to be done, but we can see a clear, positive, downward trend on this chart, which is quite encouraging.
Jen Psaki : (14:54)
Finally, a quick preview of the week ahead on Tuesday, the president will deliver remarks on the COVID-19 pandemic. As you all know, Wednesday, the president will address a joint session of congress among other topics. As we talked about a bit yesterday, he will lay out the American Families Plan, the specific details and discuss a number of other issues that are important and major priorities to him, including expanding access to healthcare and putting in place policing reforms. On Thursday on the president’s 100th day in office, he and the first lady will travel to Georgia to highlight how he’s delivered on his promises to the American people. While he is there, he will participate in a car rally. And on Friday, he will have additional out of town travel that we will hopefully have more details for you in the coming days.
Jen Psaki : (15:44)
Finally, I know many of you saw this and reported it and tweeted it, but we announced this morning that the president will travel to the United Kingdom and Belgium in June for his first overseas trip as president. This trip will highlight his commitment to restoring our alliances, to revitalizing the transatlantic relationship and working in close cooperation with our allies-
Jen Psaki : (16:03)
… and Atlantic relationship and working in close cooperation with our allies and multilateral partners to address global challenges and better secure America’s interests. He will attend the G summit in Cornwall, which is happening from June 11th through the 13th. He will then travel to Brussels, Belgium, where he will participate in the NATO Summit on June 14th. While in Brussels, the President will also participate in the U.S.-EU Summit. With that, take us off.
Speaker 3: (16:27)
All right, thank you. With the climate summit promise reductions in carbon emissions that the President announced this week, without the investments in the infrastructure proposal, can those be achieved? With that, is there some red line with Republicans that you have as a result of making those goals happen?
Jen Psaki : (16:52)
Well, first, yes, absolutely. It can be achieved because we have several paths toward achieving that objective and that end goal. Some include legislation, the American Jobs Plan, but there are additional legislative options. There’s executive options that are also on the table. Of course, working with the private sector and states and localities to continuing to take additional steps forward. But I’ll also say that we have every intention of getting the American Jobs Plan passed and signed into law. As we saw, and we talked about a bit yesterday, there was a Republican counter proposal yesterday.
Jen Psaki : (17:25)
The stage we’re in now is we will have discussions, we’ll get a full briefing. We expect those to happen throughout the course of the next several days. We’ll review that plan. We’ll ask questions at a staff level, and then the President will invite a number of those members down here to the White House.
Speaker 3: (17:39)
If I could ask just one more.
Jen Psaki : (17:40)
Speaker 3: (17:42)
Is the President speaking today with President [inaudible 00:17:45], and with that, you’ve heard the Turkish Foreign Minister said earlier this week that if President Biden goes forward with his campaign pledge on Armenian genocide recognition, that it would harm U.S.-Turkey ties. How much is that idea weighing on the President’s mind as he makes this decision, whether or not to follow through on the campaign pledge? Especially, with the need for Turkish cooperation on things like Afghanistan and Iran?
Jen Psaki : (18:13)
I certainly understand your line of questioning. No, there’s a great deal of interest in this particular area. I don’t have any calls with foreign leaders to predict for you as would be the case with any call. We will certainly provide a readout once whenever we do a call with a foreign leader and the President of the United States, and actually down the rung below them as well. In terms of delivering on his campaign pledge, I don’t have anything to preview for you on that front either. I expect we’ll have more in the coming days. Go ahead.
Jen, on the Republican counteroffer, now that you’ve had a chance to peruse it, does the White House have any public reaction to what they’re putting out there?
Jen Psaki : (18:52)
Only a day, only a day.
There’s an initial reaction?
Jen Psaki : (18:56)
As we said yesterday, Nancy, we are… the President’s only red line is in action. We want to have an exchange of ideas on both sides, and from both sides of the aisle. In our view, this is an example of that. We’re reviewing the details of the proposal. We’re starting to have conversations at the staff level today. We expect those to proceed through the course of next week. We’ll ask questions, we’ll exchange additional ideas, but our view this is a good start and we look forward to having the conversation moving forward.
But it sounds like you have a bit of a different posture on this counteroffer than you did to their counteroffer, to the American Rescue Plan?
Jen Psaki : (19:37)
That’s true, we do. The American Rescue Plan was a plan and a proposal that was meeting what we felt was a crisis situation. Which was getting the pandemic under control, putting millions of Americans back to work. The President felt, as he said many times, as I said many times, there was an urgency in moving that forward, and there was less flexibility because he felt the size of that package needed to meet the moment. We are quite open to the mechanisms of how his ideas can move forward. It can be in a number of different proposals that can be worked through negotiating between members of Democrats and Republicans.
Jen Psaki : (20:14)
There are a lot of ideas, including the Frontier’s bill that Senator Schumer has put forward, where we feel there’s an opportunity to move forward in a bipartisan manner. There’s some overlap with what’s been proposed in the American Jobs Plan. So we do see it as different. We do think the process will be different. There’s more time to move forward. There’s more time to discuss and negotiate, and we’ll take advantage of that time available.
Got it. It’s not been pretty widely reported that you’re not going to be including a big health coverage expansion in the family’s plan. That was going to include reducing prescription drug costs. Why did the White House decide not to include that in this plan?
Jen Psaki : (20:54)
Well, I will say that the President is still making final decisions, as is his prerogative, over the coming days about what will be included in the speech and the American Families Plan, and the final components of that. When those final decisions are made, we’ll be a part of that as well. He will definitely talk in his speech about his commitment to expanding and increasing access to healthcare as is evidenced by the fact that we have opened up the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act and showing that more than 500,000 Americans that didn’t have health insurance have it now. That’s why he included subsidies in the American Rescue Plan to make it even less expensive.
Jen Psaki : (21:31)
But I will also say even as he’s making these final decisions, that the American Families Plan and the speech on Wednesday will not represent the totality of every priority item for him, and every item on his agenda that he wants to move forward as President.
Then, finally, if you don’t mind, India saw the biggest number of new cases in a day ever yesterday. Are there any plans to send any of the US stock pile of AstraZeneca vaccine or any vaccine to India?
Jen Psaki : (21:59)
Well, let me first say that the United States offers our deepest sympathy to the people of India who are clearly suffering during this global pandemic. We are working closely with Indian officials at both political and experts level to identify ways to help address the crisis. We’ve made vaccine cooperation a big priority, including with our Quad partners. India is one of our Quad partners, of course, in discussing vaccine creation and distribution for the future. We’ve also provided $4 billion to COVAX. From the earliest stages of the pandemic, we’ve provided India with emergency relief supplies, medical consumables, pandemic training for Indian state and local health officials, and ventilators.
Jen Psaki : (22:40)
Which has been part of our effort over the course of time, including $1.4 billion in health assistance to India, to help them prepare for pandemics in the future and deal with the current one we’re facing. There are ongoing discussions. I don’t have anything more to preview, but we are in touch with them at a range of levels about how we can help get through this period and help them get through this period of time.
Jen Psaki : (23:02)
Sure thing. Go ahead.
Speaker 2: (23:04)
Back to the infrastructure negotiations. We saw the White House respond pretty positively, or at least consider Joe Manchin’s proposal to raise the corporate tax rate to 25 instead of 28% as was the initial proposal. Should we read this conversation about raising the corporate tax rate to 39.5% as more of a starting offer?
Jen Psaki : (23:24)
Well, the President’s proposal for the American Jobs Plan was about modernizing and making a historic investment in our infrastructure. The tax component was about how to pay for it. We’re very open to a range of options, and he has some lines in the sand we’ve talked about, including not having the American people pay for it, or not being on the backs of the American people. As it relates to the capital gains rates and the top margins that you’ve seen reported out there, the President’s bottom line is that people making under $400,000 a year should not, will not have their taxes go up. If you look at these proposed numbers, which are consistent with what he talked about on the campaign trail, when he was running for President, what I can say is that it will only affect people making more than $1 million a year
Jen Psaki : (24:07)
That’s 0.3% of taxpayers, or three out of every 1000 taxpayers, that’s even as the top 1% saw their net worth rise by $4 trillion in the middle of a historic pandemic. He has some bottom lines of where he will not budge fast on individual numbers and who will be impacted. But he’s also open to discussion.
Speaker 2: (24:29)
We’re hearing that [inaudible 00:24:30] is also considering in the proposal ending the child tax credit. Even though we’ve seen progressives-
Jen Psaki : (24:35)
You mean extending it? Ending it?
Speaker 2: (24:37)
Phasing it out.
Jen Psaki : (24:38)
Yeah. Well, it’s not-
Speaker 2: (24:40)
Is that raw?
Jen Psaki : (24:40)
… permanent currently.
Speaker 2: (24:41)
Jen Psaki : (24:42)
So you mean extending it tr making it permanent?
Speaker 2: (24:45)
Is that the position, the government’s position? Progressives and plenty of moderates also say that it should be extended permanently, is that the position?
Jen Psaki : (24:52)
What I was trying to clarify, I apologize, is that it’s not permanent. The question is whether it will be permanent.
Speaker 2: (24:58)
Right, that will be a red line, like you said, or a definite part of the proposal?
Jen Psaki : (25:01)
Well, and the President absolutely feels that the child tax credit provides essential funding and help to people who need help the most. That’s why in the American Rescue Plan, he increased the child tax credit from $2,000 to $3,000 per child, and to $3,600 for children under the age of six. The expansion was the single largest policy contributor to cutting child poverty, as is evidenced by the chart we had up. We’re looking into the mechanisms and the cost of expanding the child tax credit, and that certainly is under consideration for the American Families Plan.
Speaker 2: (25:33)
Yeah, it doesn’t sound like you guys want to budge on that one.
Jen Psaki : (25:36)
I think you’re confusing, though, it’s current, and I don’t mean that it’s not currently permanent, so we’re not… We’re talking about how long will it be extended, and so what I’m saying is that we are quite open. We think this child tax credit is valuable. It has a huge impact on lowering poverty, reducing the level of poverty in our country. It helps women get back into the workforce. What we’re determining is what we can do, and there’s a cost of it. It’s about a billion dollars a year for every year, and so we have to figure out how to pay for it. This is all part of the discussion.
Speaker 2: (26:07)
Could I ask a question about Johnson & Johnson really fast here?
Jen Psaki : (26:09)
Speaker 2: (26:10)
We’ve seen so many of the FEMA mobile clinics rely on the J&J shot obviously to keep it so cold in it’s wide shot. FEMA have confirmed that only nine of its mobile clinics were still operational during this last week with the pause. Just how hard it is to get the Moderna and Pfizer shots in those mobile clinics part of the slowing rate of vaccinations that we’re seeing?
Jen Psaki : (26:32)
I’m happy to check and see if that’s a factor. What I understand the biggest factor is, though, is that we’re now at a point where we have reached, just two weeks ago, only 43… 43, it’s still a significant percent of adults, two weeks, had received their first dose. Now, it’s 52%, just two weeks ago, only 66 million people had been fully vaccinated. Now it’s over 90 million. We’re getting to this point, as I think Jeff Zients touched on this morning, where we are entering a new phase. Where it is more challenging. We have less of a supply issue. We have more of a it’s incumbent upon us to reach people and meet them where they are.
Jen Psaki : (27:14)
That’s the bigger challenge in terms of the numbers at this point in time. In terms of the difficulty, I think you’re asking about Moderna and Pfizer and how that impacts getting into mobile units? The temperature?
Speaker 2: (27:24)
Yeah. The mobile clinics weren’t really set up to be doing Moderna shots.
Jen Psaki : (27:28)
I’ll have to check with our COVID team on how they see that as an impact. Obviously, we are continuing to adjust the way and the means at which we’re getting into communities. We make adjustments based on what we think is the most effective. Obviously, the increase, massive increase in pharmacies is a reflection of that reduction in some of the vaccination sites. We also make evaluations by where it is most impactful to invest. Some of what we’ve been doing lately has been increasing our investment in community health centers, in primary care physicians, obviously, in pharmacies. But I will check with our team and see if that’s a factor. Go ahead.
Speaker 4: (28:04)
Thank you, Jen. With the President’s first trip abroad in June, that’s going to be the first time a President has actually traveled internationally since the start of the pandemic. I’m wondering if by the time he leaves to go on that trip in June, is he going to live travel restrictions to Europe as well?
Jen Psaki : (28:19)
I can’t make a prediction of that. That is based on the health and recommendations, the advice and recommendations of our health and medical team, and I don’t have anything to predict on that front.
Speaker 4: (28:33)
Have there been conversations about that given he is going to be traveling internationally about whether it can be a period where everyday Americans also start presuming that kind of a travel?
Jen Psaki : (28:39)
Well, I would say I think most Americans would see it as slightly different from the President of the United States. I’m not suggesting other, you’re saying otherwise, but as the President of the United States making a diplomatic trip abiding by COVID protocols and flying on Air Force One, then whether it is safe for mass numbers to fly internationally. Obviously, everybody wants that to be reopened. Europeans, we do, American people who would like to travel, but those conversations are really happening between health and medical experts. And they make an evaluation based on what they think is safe for the American public?
Speaker 4: (29:12)
Okay, thank you. On climate, there’ve been a lot of questions about the President’s new announcement about what he wants to see by 2030. But I think there are still questions about the specifics of how they’re actually going to get there. There have been studies that have suggested that to get to that kind of a goal, more than half of the new cars and SUVs that are being sold at dealerships would need to be electric. Right now it’s only about 2%. Is that something that the President agrees with, that there need to be half of those being electric by 2030?
Jen Psaki : (29:42)
That’s not a number or a goal that he set because he feels that there are a number of ways to get there. I saw that reporting as well, that’s an example of a way to get there, but there are additional ways including that impact a lot of sectors from electricity, transportation, buildings, industry, and lands. Our view is there a lot of pathways to get to reach this goal. Some of it will be done through legislation, through laws that will be put in place. Some of it will be done to incentivize investment in areas like electric vehicles and electric charging stations, which is already happening in the private sector.
Jen Psaki : (30:20)
A lot of the car companies will tell you this is where the future of their industries are going anyway. But we want to incentivize and make that something that we can jumpstart in a lot of those industries. But there are a lot of options for how we get there, and so it isn’t just one pathway to get there.
Speaker 4: (30:38)
Okay, sorry, I’ve got one more question. On this emergent facility in Baltimore that of course has been plagued with issues it seems like, and now US regulators have conducted a study and found that they did not follow proper manufacturing procedures. They had poorly trained staff that resulted in the contamination of materials that, of course, ruined what could have amounted to millions of Johnson & Johnson doses. This is a company that got $630 million from the federal government under the Trump administration. But is that a contract that you are going to keep, or has there been discussion about canceling that contract and not working with this company given they have not produced one usable dose of the COVID-19 vaccine?
Jen Psaki : (31:18)
Well, I think some of the AstraZeneca doses did come from there that have gone to other countries. But I will say that we believe-
Speaker 4: (31:28)
Jen Psaki : (31:28)
For the US, for the US, for the US. I will say to take some pressure off of the, or take some criticism off of the former administration, there are a limited number of manufacturing facilities that have the capacity. As you know, you’ve been covering this for some time, that have the capacity and have the ability to produce a vaccine like this in this capacity and size and numbers. There’s no question, hence, they haven’t been approved by the FDA for manufacturing that emergent has not met those bars, and over time, has not met those bars. In terms of future contracts, I don’t have anything to predict…
Jen Psaki : (32:03)
… bars. In terms of future contracts, I don’t have anything to predict on that front, but we’ll continue to look for the FDA to give the, for it to meet the FDA’s bar before we are providing vaccines from there to the American people.
Kaitlan Collins: (32:15)
You’re still going down that path for this facility to get approved by the FDA, despite the number of issues that they’ve had.
Jen Psaki : (32:21)
Well, again, they have to make changes. Obviously, the FDA is working closely with them and if they make those changes and they meet the FDA’s bar, that’s a different story. We’ll see what happens.
Jen Psaki : (32:31)
Go ahead, Mario.
Thanks Jen. Will the first lady be attending the president’s joining us rest next week? Will she have guests, as has been traditional in those cases?
Jen Psaki : (32:40)
It will be a little bit different because obviously there will be a limited number of people who are in the Capitol and a limited number that will be determined by the Speaker’s office, in terms of who will attend and who will have to watch virtually. Most of our staff, if not all of our staff, will be watching virtually. In terms of whether Dr. Biden will physically be there in person, I’ll have to check on that, Mario.
Jen Psaki : (33:04)
In terms of the box, there will not be the traditional box. We’re determining how we can, of course, engage the public and ensure we highlight some of the incredible stories of people who’ve been helped by the president’s policies and proposals, but it will not look like, or feel like in many ways, what past joint addresses have.
For those that will be attending, is the president’s preference that those people be vaccinated as well?
Jen Psaki : (33:32)
I would send you to the Speaker’s office and they’re determining attendance and requirements for those who are attending.
A couple of more questions, any update on Neera Tanden’s appointment to the administration at all?
Jen Psaki : (33:43)
I don’t have any update. The president remains interested in and committed to finding her a position in the administration and taking advantage of all of her talents.
Last question, has the president spoken to the families of either Dante Wright or Makayla Bryant in recent days?
Jen Psaki : (33:59)
I don’t have any calls to read out for you, Mario. I will check and see if he’s had conversations with any of those families too. Go ahead, Jeff.
Jen, a followup on India. You said that your discussions about how to help, can I just ask specifically if the US is helping with their shortage of oxygen right now? Is that something that US [crosstalk 00:34:20]?
Jen Psaki : (34:20)
The shortage of oxygen?
Jen Psaki : (34:22)
Let me check on that for you, Jeff. I mean, we have provided obviously a range of funding over the course of time. It’s a huge, significant amount of funding. We are likely one of the world’s largest contributors to India in terms of their health needs and it’s gone to a range of supplies and training, but I will check if the oxygen is specifically a part of how we can help at this point in time. There are ongoing discussions, so it may be that that’s part of the discussion now.
Okay. Also, on vaccines, the European Union said today that it is close to finishing a contract with Pfizer to have what would be the largest contract for vaccine for the coming years. Is the US in talks with Pfizer as well to get more vaccine for post-2021?
Jen Psaki : (35:14)
I’m not going to be able to read out at any point any contract discussions with any vaccine supplier. I can assure you having worked with Jeff Zients many times over, he is an over-preparer and committed to oversupplying the United States, as evidenced by the amount we’ve purchased to date. Obviously, we’re cognizant about the needs in the future, but I don’t have anything. I probably won’t have anything to follow up with you on contracts discussions.
Okay. Just lastly, yesterday, I think Mario mentioned the stock market dipped a little bit in response to the reports about your tax plans. Just wondering what the White House is feeling or reaction is to that? Are you concerned about Wall Street’s support or lack of support for these policies? To what extent does that play into your discussions?
Jen Psaki : (36:01)
Well, I’ve been doing this long enough not to comment on movements in the stock market, but I did see, just data, factually, that it went back up this morning.
Jen Psaki : (36:12)
Go ahead. Marie, go ahead. Sorry.
Back on healthcare, there’s a disagreement among Congressional Democrats about how to use the savings from lowering the government’s cost on prescription drugs, whether to put it into expanding Medicare or put it into the expanded subsidies for the Affordable Care Act. Is that something that the White House is going to take a position on? Are you going to let the Congressional Democrats work that out in any healthcare legislation?
Jen Psaki : (36:37)
Well, the president absolutely wants to lower the cost of prescription drugs and knows the burden on Americans and seniors is far too high. He’s talked about that on the campaign trail. I expect we will be in discussions about what the plans are and what the options are, but we’re not at the point to talk about that publicly quite yet.
Jen Psaki : (36:55)
Thanks, Jen. On the border, the administration has repeatedly cited the use of Title 42 to demonstrate that the border is not open. This is a Trump policy that progressive groups are increasingly arguing that it denies migrants who are fleeing violence and persecution a right to even apply for asylum. I wanted to know what is the White House’s message to these groups who largely are supportive of this White House, who are concerned about the continuation of this Trump policy?
Jen Psaki : (37:28)
Well, Franco, I would say first that we consider it a policy that was put in place or that we’ve continued to implement because we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic and that keeping the American people safe and ensuring that we are taking responsible steps as it relates to the pandemic is front and center for the president. Certainly, that’s what we would convey to any of these groups. At the same time, we absolutely believe that we should be a country, that we are a country that wants to treat people humanely, as is evidenced by our efforts to treat children who come into this country, who are under 18, who are coming in as unaccompanied children, in a manner that was not the same as the former administration. We understand and we have heard the frustration about this issue, but our objective as the president’s objective is to keep systems in place, or keep policies in place, or implement policies that help us address the pandemic.
Do you have some goals or some goals of when you may be able to lift Title 42?
Jen Psaki : (38:29)
I can’t make a prediction of that. That will, of course, be based on what the evaluation is by our health and medical experts on the status of the pandemic and the safety of the American people.
Can I ask you just a followup on the Turkey question?
Jen Psaki : (38:42)
I mean, Turkey is a NATO member. What consideration is the administration taking into the concerns that Turkey has about potential of this weekend’s activities?
Jen Psaki : (38:56)
I certainly understand all the questions. I’m not going to get ahead of the president, or get ahead of any decisions or announcements. Obviously, any decision that the president makes on foreign policy, he takes into account concerns expressed by allies and partners around the world.
Can I ask one more about immigration?
Jen Psaki : (39:14)
As we approach a hundred days, obviously COVID-19 was the biggest challenge that this administration faced.
Jen Psaki : (39:21)
But immigration was another one that took a lot of oxygen and political time from this White House. Does the White House feel like it could have communicated anything differently, done anything differently to address this challenge? Not only Republicans, but even some Democrats have been concerned about some of the messaging.
Jen Psaki : (39:44)
Well, I would say there’s no question, we’ve recognized that this is a challenging issue and we knew that it would be when the president changed the policies of the former administration when he came into office. Obviously, welcoming in, or ensuring that we had the capacity and we were using resources to treat children humanely and ensure they’re safe is a change in the last administration’s policy that was going to dissatisfy some who are supporters of the last administration, but not satisfy enough, as you alluded to in your question, some who think we should be welcoming many more across our borders. It certainly is an issue, as you know, you’ve covered this quite closely, where we recognized we were never going to satisfy everyone. What the president’s objective has been is to focus on the unaccompanied children, those who had been ripped from their parents’ arms, those who were being asked to take a treacherous journey back, ensure we could take steps there.
Jen Psaki : (40:41)
He also wants to push for a comprehensive immigration reform, providing a pathway to citizenship, ensuring we’re investing in addressing the root causes in these countries. That’s something he announced on day one of his presidency.
Jen Psaki : (40:54)
We are well, and there was some reporting this morning, that this was an issue that some supporters of the former president and some Republicans in Congress apparently are licking their chops about how to make children a political issue. We don’t see it that way. We felt this was the moral right step to take. We’re going to keep working with immigration advocates, with groups out there to get this bill passed, to get the Dreamers legislation passed, that continues to be a big objective for the president.
Jen Psaki : (41:22)
Speaker 5: (41:22)
Thanks, Jen, is the president aware of the shooting death of Andrew Brown, a black man from Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Does he believe that body camera footage from the police officers involved in the incident should be released?
Jen Psaki : (41:36)
He is aware of it. I’ve not talked to him about his particular view on that. I believe he’d likely leave that up to law enforcement and others to work out.
Speaker 5: (41:45)
Does the White House have a comment on that particular incident as well?
Jen Psaki : (41:49)
Obviously, the loss of life is a tragedy, and obviously we’re thinking of the family members and the community who have lost another, who have lost a loved one. There’ll be an investigation into this shooting, or into this death, and we will look for the outcome of that.
Speaker 5: (42:07)
Okay. On infrastructure, you had noted that the president will travel next week to Georgia immediately after his joint address, I guess, is what we’re calling it this year. His joint address to Congress-
Jen Psaki : (42:17)
It’s always the joint address in the first year of a presidency.
Speaker 5: (42:21)
Yes, it is.
Jen Psaki : (42:22)
A little history note. Yeah.
Speaker 5: (42:22)
After his joint address, do you have any other travel that you can preview for us, even if it’s just to say how frequently you expect the president and the vice president to be traveling to sell this infrastructure package, especially now that all adult Americans are eligible for the vaccine?
Jen Psaki : (42:38)
Well, again, the president will travel on Thursday, as well as Friday. I expect he’ll have some additional travel in the weeks ahead of that. You can also anticipate the vice president, the first lady, the second gentleman will be out traveling in the weeks after the joint address. Certainly, they’ll be talking about the jobs plan as well as the American Families Plan that the president will lay out in detail at his joint address. But I don’t have a prediction in terms of how many days a week. It really depends. We plan week by week and what is needed and that we balance, of course, with needs at the White House.
Speaker 5: (43:07)
Then two quick questions about Republicans. You also had said that the president wouldn’t be meeting with bipartisan groups of lawmakers to talk about his infrastructure package after that. Do you have any Republican senators that the president plans to meet, maybe a summit that he plans to have [crosstalk 00:43:21].
Jen Psaki : (43:21)
Aside from the meetings he had last week?
Speaker 5: (43:23)
Moving forward. He’s about to release his second infrastructure package. [crosstalk 00:43:27]
Jen Psaki : (43:27)
It’s not an infrastructure package. It’s a families plan focused on childcare and helping ease the burden on families, so American Families Plan. I expect he will, of course, probably invite in bipartisan members as a continuing conversation about the counterproposal on the American Jobs Plan. Certainly anticipate he’ll have more members of Congress in, in a bipartisan manner in future weeks.
Jen Psaki : (43:49)
Next week, you kind of have a sense of what the week looks like, right? I mean, he’s going to be preparing for the joint address. He’ll make some remarks. He’s going to travel two days. You can anticipate it would be after that.
Speaker 5: (44:00)
The context of the question is that there are Republican senators, such as Marco Rubio, or Mike Lee, who have said in the past that they are supportive of things like the child tax credit and maybe even extending it, but they don’t want to see things that they, in their view, see as welfare assistance or permanent entitlements, such as a federal paid leave law or child tax credit extension. How does the White House think that they can bridge that divide between the Republicans who were supportive of this generally …
Jen Psaki : (44:30)
Speaker 5: (44:30)
… but don’t want to see permanent entitlements, in their view?
Jen Psaki : (44:33)
Well, I would say first, someone you didn’t mention, Senator Romney has also proposed his own child tax credit plan. You mentioned a couple of others who have spoken in support of extensions of the child tax credit in different versions. We see that as an opportunity to discuss, an opportunity to seek bipartisan support on a tax credit that we think would be beneficial to families across the country, children, getting women back in the workforce, and so I expect the president will certainly have a range of conversations and he’ll continue to have members into the Oval Office.
Speaker 5: (45:04)
Jen Psaki : (45:05)
Go ahead. Oh, go ahead. Sorry. I could be more clear. Go ahead, Emily.
No problem. Thank you so much. Lawmakers from across New England are pushing for funding for a high-speed rail line between New York City and Boston in the infrastructure package. I was wondering if President Biden is supportive of this idea and how does he envision his infrastructure plan will support the development of high-speed rail into the US?
Jen Psaki : (45:30)
Well, it will certainly be a part of it. When Secretary Buttigieg was here, he talked about this a little bit. Part of the conversation that members of Congress are having, or we’re having with members of Congress, is what the composition of grants are. There are some grants that will be specific to individual projects. There are some that will be competitive. There will likely be some that are funding that goes to states. That’s how transportation funding has worked in the past, and we expect it to be a combination. That will be a part of the discussions that are happening moving forward. I’ve no question, as a person who grew up in New England, that there will be many advocates for that from the New England delegations, but we’re not quite at that point. That’s a part of the nitty gritty decision-making and discussions that are happening now.
Can I just clarify though, as a huge rail supporter, can you clarify whether it is his goal that this infrastructure package will either advance or start a new high-speed rail line in the US? There’s only one that under construction now.
Jen Psaki : (46:32)
Certainly high-speed rail is part of an option of investment. As the president, as you know, as you alluded to, the president is a big fan of Amtrak and railways himself, but we have to work through with Congress what the different mechanisms are for funding, where we fund the projects, are they through states, are they through different grants, and so that’s part of the discussion and the nitty gritty negotiation happening in the coming weeks.
Thank you. And just on behalf of two colleagues who couldn’t be here, does the president plan to visit Ireland when he is making his trip to the UK in June?
Jen Psaki : (47:04)
Well, I announced the confirmed parts of his trip at this point in time. I don’t have any additional stops to add, but the trip is two months away? A month away? Six weeks away? It’s all running together. If we have more trips or components of the trip to announce, we will do that. But there’s not currently a planned Ireland stop on this trip.
Jen Psaki : (47:25)
Speaker 6: (47:26)
Thank you, Jen. I have a question about refugee admission.
Jen Psaki : (47:26)
Speaker 6: (47:27)
The administration has given itself until May 15th to decide whether it’s going to revise upwards its cap of 15,000 refugee admissions between now and September 30th. What would be the reason for not going all the way up to the cap that the administration communicated already to Congress of 16,500?
Jen Psaki : (47:52)
The president has every intention of providing an updated number that will be significantly higher than the number from last week, because the intention he was trying to convey last week, or we were all trying to-
Jen Psaki : (48:03)
… because the intention he was trying to convey last week, or we were all trying to convey, was that we were resuming flights and that we were overturning the policy of preventing individuals, refugees, from applying from parts of the Middle East and parts of Africa. But I’m not going to get out ahead of the process. We’re assessing what’s possible. We’re assessing that through our policy and legal process, and we’ll definitely have an update of an increased number in advance of May 15th.
Speaker 6: (48:29)
Given that that number, 600,500 was already communicated to Congress earlier this year, and as a cap, a limit, it’s not a commitment to bring in that many people. Why not just go right up to that cap and that limit? What’s the reason for not going-
Jen Psaki : (48:40)
I am certain we will take that into consideration. You’re right in that this cap is historically aspirational. If you look back at history, most administrations don’t actually meet the cap, but it is sending a message to the world about the fact that we are a country that welcomes in refugees, that we want to get our systems and our muscles working in our refugee processing systems, both in the country and around the world.
Jen Psaki : (49:05)
There were some limitations this year that were unique to this year, in part because of COVID, in part because of the fact that the systems were decimated under the last administration, and we just have to take a look at all of that. But I think it’s an important point you touched on that I’d highlight, that oftentimes this is an aspirational goal, and one that we are just trying to reach to send a message to the world about who we are as a country.
Speaker 6: (49:27)
Does the Biden administration see increasing the number of refugees admitted each year as a long-term solution to helping alleviate the pressure on the border, of people who come to United States illegally because they don’t have other legal? Does the Biden administration see increasing the number of people allowed in the refugee program as a long-term solution to resolving the pressure on the border?
Jen Psaki : (49:53)
I don’t think we see it through the same prism exactly like that. It’s an interesting question. The president’s cap, or the president’s objective, has always been consistently from February through last week, welcoming in 125,000 by the end of next fiscal year. So really what we’re talking about, here, is what the cap is for this fiscal year. And as I mentioned, we’ve been dealing with a few challenges, but we’re assessing that.
Jen Psaki : (50:19)
We will have an increased number very soon. But as you know, a lot of these refugees are not coming… they’re coming from all around the world. They’re coming from Africa, they’re coming from the Middle East, they’re coming from many parts of the world. And so, while it’s all related because it’s representing who we are as a country and welcoming in people who are freeing persecution, freeing challenging circumstances, I don’t think he sees it exactly through that prism.
Speaker 6: (50:48)
Do you have an update on the number of refugees that have been admitted into the United States under the Biden administration?
Jen Psaki : (50:50)
Over the last week or so, or over the last few weeks, I think we do have numbers. I’m happy to get those to you after the briefing. Because of flights resuming, we’ve seen an increase even just over the last week. Go ahead.
I just got back to the trip to Europe. The statement today mentions a bilateral meeting with Boris Johnson. Do you know any of the priorities that will be discussed at that meeting? And just relatedly, a couple of years ago, President Biden, before he was president, obviously, said, he thinks Boris Johnson is the physical and emotional clone of Donald Trump. Does he still hold that view?
Jen Psaki : (51:27)
I don’t have anything yet to preview for you about the agenda. A lot of it will be dependent on what the world looks like at that moment in time, but there are a range of issues we of course discuss with our partners in the UK that I expect will be on the agenda. So as we get closer, we’ll have more to say. And of course, the president is meeting with him as a fellow global leader in the global community, and it certainly sends a message about the special relationship we have with the United Kingdom that this is his first trip.
And also the NATO summit. President Trump always liked to claim that he was successful in getting NATO members to pay more. Does this administration think President Trump deserves some credit for that? And are there elements of his approach that this administration will continue?
Jen Psaki : (52:10)
I know he thought he invented that, but having worked in the Obama administration, I can say that the objective has always been encouraging members of NATO to pay more, pushing members of NATO to pay more, and that’s consistently been the U.S. policy for some time. Go ahead.
Speaker 7: (52:25)
Thank you, Jen. Follow up on David’s question on the trip to the UK. Would President Biden like to meet the queen?
Jen Psaki : (52:33)
Would he like to meet the queen? Who wouldn’t want to meet the queen? Don’t you?
Speaker 7: (52:38)
Jen Psaki : (52:39)
Well, we’re still finalizing what the details are of the trip, so I’d certainly understand the interest. I’m interested as well, myself, and we will have more to share with all of you as the final details are put together.
Speaker 7: (52:52)
Okay. Now on a climate summit, President Biden just said that the announcements from Brazil were encouraging. My question, was it enough? And does it change the administration perspective about a possible bilateral climate deal with Brazil, or possible assistance to Brazil related to the Amazon?
Jen Psaki : (53:13)
Well, first let me say that reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, 10 years earlier than previously committed, and with no preconditions, as President Bolsonaro announced, and his commitment to double funds available for enforcement are crucial steps toward eliminating illegal deforestation by 2030, and we’re also pleased he recognized the important role of the private sector in helping us find solutions.
Jen Psaki : (53:41)
We agree with his emphasis on the necessary involvement of indigenous people and traditional communities and protecting, standing for us and biodiversity and with his recognition of the important role of the private sector in helping us find solutions. We look forward to continuing to work with Brazil, to continuing the dialogue, and we feel that his announcement yesterday was a good step forward.
Speaker 7: (54:02)
So does it change this perspective about a possible sending assistance? Bolsonaro also ask for assistance to protect the Amazon.
Jen Psaki : (54:12)
I have nothing to preview in terms of that, but certainly his announcements and pronouncements were received positively here. I expect there’ll be a great deal of follow-up, lots of discussions from our climate envoy and others who are leading this effort from the administration.
Speaker 7: (54:27)
So would now be a good time to call the Brazilian president, to have a call between the two presidents?
Jen Psaki : (54:31)
I don’t have any calls to preview for you. There are a number of officials, including our special envoy, who are leading the efforts for follow-up from the summit. It’s certainly a significant that we had 40 global leaders, some of the world’s biggest economies and emitters here over the last two days… well, virtually here, discussing this, and there’ll be a great deal of followup from here.
Speaker 7: (54:51)
Jen, one more. Also today, the discussions at the [inaudible 00:54:55] around clean energy. A lot of discussions about solar energy. Would President Biden considered bringing back the solar panels here in the White House?
Jen Psaki : (55:04)
At the White House? Oh, that’s a good question. I will have to check with our… probably the GSA? I will have to see who makes that determination, but we are pro-solar panel around here, so I will see where things stand on that front.
Speaker 7: (55:18)
Last one. We didn’t hear much about the connection between epidemic and the deforestation during the summit. And science shows that about 70% of epidemics start with deforestation. So what is the Biden administration doing to reduce the risk of future pandemics emerging from areas experience high deforestation like the Amazon?
Jen Psaki : (55:43)
Well, certainly addressing deforestation is not just a climate issue. It’s a big climate issue. It’s also a health issue, and we are encouraged again by the announcements made by the president yesterday, and we will continue to work with a range of countries around the world and through international forum to ensure the world is preparing for preventing the next pandemic.
Speaker 7: (56:07)
There are discussions here in Washington about creating a global fund for these specific point. So would the White House support a global conservation fund to stop deforestation in order to prevent future pandemics?
Jen Psaki : (56:22)
Again, there’ll be ongoing discussions with the Brazilians, with many of the leaders who attended yesterday at the level of our climate envoy and others who are running point on this. And I’m certain there are a range of issues that will be brought up, but I don’t have anything to get ahead of on that. Go ahead.
Speaker 7: (56:36)
Jen, does the president still plan to issue a statement on Armenian victims tomorrow?
Jen Psaki : (56:43)
I don’t have anything to predict. I expect he will have a statement marking the day, but I don’t have anything to confirm for you or predict about the content.
Speaker 7: (56:52)
And another question. The Israelis are sending a high-level delegation here to Washington next week to discuss the administration’s efforts to rejoin the nuclear deal, and also to stress their objection to that. How does the White House view with this visit, and is it likely to change this administration’s position on rejoining the nuclear deal?
Jen Psaki : (57:20)
No, but I will say that, one, there are ongoing discussions, or negotiations, I should say, that are happening now. They’re indirect, of course, on the potential for a diplomatic path forward on a nuclear deal. While we knew they would be challenging, we’re encouraged that there are still conversations between all parties, and that they’re still happening.
Jen Psaki : (57:44)
As it relates to Israel, we have kept them abreast as a key partner of these discussions or of our intentions, and we will continue to do that on any future visits. Okay. Oh, I have one quick… oh, hello. As we’ve been doing in our tradition every Friday, we welcome in someone who can’t be here physically with us in the briefing room. So this is Natasha Lindstrom of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, and I understand not to embarrass you, Natasha, but today’s your birthday? Is today your birthday? Oh, we can’t hear you. Uh-oh.
Natasha Lindstrom: (58:16)
I got it. Sorry. It is my birthday today, so it’s a neat opportunity to be here. Thank you for [crosstalk 00:58:20]
Jen Psaki : (58:20)
Well, happy birthday. Thanks for spending a few minutes with us here today. So, how can we help you? Or what questions do you have for me? I was going to say to the Press Corps, but that’s not actually how this works. But go ahead. That would be great.
Natasha Lindstrom: (58:36)
So, the pandemic’s shined a spotlight on many long-standing problems plaguing nursing homes across western Pennsylvania and nationwide, including facilities that have gone understaffed and demonstrate a history of poor infection control and ineffective management long before COVID. There’s also been the trend of historically poor-performing operators owned by complex webs of private equity investors, shell companies, increasingly snapping up cash-strapped facilities across our state and around the country.
Natasha Lindstrom: (59:04)
This set up can make it hard to figure out who’s in charge and where the money’s going. It also can allow owners to shirk accountability should anything go wrong, and it makes it tough to follow the money even though the majority of the budgets are federal taxpayer dollars via Medicare and Medicaid payments. Legislation in various forms to improve nursing home quality and transparency has bipartisan support, including bills put out by the likes of Pennsylvania Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey, but much of it has stalled for years.
Natasha Lindstrom: (59:36)
Now during the pandemic, we have seen an increase in scrutiny by the likes of HHS and CMS. In one of the more egregious cases, a federal grand jury investigation is underway and linked to some of the operators here in Allegheny and Beaver Counties in our region. Can you elaborate on what concrete actions are being taken, or will be taken, to move forward on regulatory, legislative, investigative, or other fronts to ensure accountability and transparency in the long-term care sector? How can we make sure the federal government, states, and owner-operators are all doing what they should be doing to improve the level of care even beyond COVID?
Jen Psaki : (01:00:12)
Great. Well, thank you, Natasha. And I think there’s no question that from the president’s standpoint, that the impact on seniors, what we’ve seen happen in facilities around the country, especially in the early days of the pandemic when there clearly weren’t the preparations in place, when there weren’t the systems in place, when loved ones couldn’t even engage with or reach their members who were staying in these senior care facilities, it exposed what a problem we have on our hands.
Jen Psaki : (01:00:40)
As you noted, there’s legislation that’s in Congress, and certainly we will look forward to taking a look at that more closely. And I expect as we are getting to the stage where the pandemic is hopefully under control, that’s our objective in the coming months, that we will all take a look at and reflect on what changes should be made for the future to be better prepared, to take better care of our seniors, to take better care of our communities in the future.
Jen Psaki : (01:01:06)
In terms of regulatory actions, I’m not in a position to get ahead of that. I’m happy to see if there’s anything underway that we would be able to speak to from here, but I think you have clearly identified a challenging issue that’s not only a problem in Pittsburgh or in western Pennsylvania and parts of Pennsylvania, but we’re seeing in states across the country as well.
Natasha Lindstrom: (01:01:26)
There’s a lot of blame game gets thrown around. So, the states blames owner-operators, owner-operators, they don’t have enough resources, the feds blame state. Whose responsibility is it to really make sure meaningful change happens even beyond the pandemic? Because a lot of these problems that were exacerbated by the pandemic, but have existed for many years, especially with the lack of transparency element.
Jen Psaki : (01:01:47)
You’re right. It’s really both. It’s not just one or the other. There are responsibilities that the state has because there’s certain funding that goes to the state to deploy in a lot of these areas, but there’s also responsibilities of the federal government to look across at different states and see these challenges that are happening, what we can do better by our seniors, what we can do better for the standard of care in these caregiving facilities.
Jen Psaki : (01:02:10)
And I think it’s really a partnership and both moving forward. Well, thank you so much. Happy birthday. I hope you have a wonderful celebration this weekend, and thanks again for joining us. Great. Well, thank you everyone. As I promised yesterday, I promised snacks. I did not bring them in here, but my mother-in-law made homemade chocolate chip cookies for you guys. So, there’s one for each of you in here and we will do it in a COVID-safe way, but thanks everyone, and have a great weekend.
Speaker 8: (01:02:36)