Feb 1, 2021
Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript February 1
February 1, 2021 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. She discussed President Joe Biden’s proposed COVID relief package and racially equitable vaccine distribution. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Jen Psaki: (02:15)
Just to have a couple of things for all of you at the top. First, over the weekend, the president’s Homeland Security advisor, Dr. Liz Sherwood Randall convened a coordination call with the acting FEMA administrator and the Director of the National Weather Service on the storm system moving toward the mid Atlantic region. It’s not just moving toward, I think it’s clear it’s here if you look outside of our window and up the Eastern seaboard. Liz and her team joined the FEMA daily operations briefing yesterday and remain in regular contact with the FEMA response team about changes in the storm forecasts and any need for federal assistance. The White House wanted to assess the potential impact and determine any early action that the federal government could take to support across many states likely to be affected.
Jen Psaki: (03:02)
Liz also proactively called governors of states in the storm’s path overnight and into today, and she will remain in close touch. Those include Governor Cuomo, Governor Murphy, Governor Wolf, Governor Carney, as well as New York City mayor DeBlasio. She expressed the President’s intent to ensure close coordination going forward among federal, state, and local officials and preparing for and responding to weather emergencies. Also, as many of you have noted, the President spoke with Senator Collins yesterday as you all know, invited her and other Senate Republicans to the White House later this afternoon. This meeting is part of the President and our administration’s close and ongoing engagement with members of both parties on Capitol Hill and on the American Rescue package. Throughout those conversations, we’ve underscored the economic and health challenges that our country faces, issues he will, of course be reiterating today and the need to move swiftly to address them with a package that is big enough to get schools safely reopened, give financially struggling families and communities a bridge, and deliver on his promise to speed up vaccine delivery and defeat the virus.
Jen Psaki: (04:13)
It’s important to remember that the size of the package was designed with the size of the crisis, dual crises as we’ve said, and I wanted to just call out a couple of economists and some economic data that we’ve seen over the last several days. A new report by the Brookings Institution estimates that with the American Rescue plan, we could boost GDP by 4% and return our economy to pre COVID levels by the end of 2021. A separate analysis by Moody’s Analytics found that the President’s plan would create 7.5 million jobs this year and double our economic growth and return our economy back to full employment one year faster. The IMF’s chief economist said their preliminary analysis found that the plan could boost us economic growth by 5% over three years.
Jen Psaki: (05:02)
A couple of other just updates for you. Just today, the US Conference of Mayors sent a letter to congressional leadership, urging them to take immediate action on the American Rescue plan. This letter was signed by over 400 mayors. I know there’s a lot going on, so just wanted to highlight it for all of you. In West Virginia, Governor Jim Justice, also Republican, said in interviews today that he agrees that going big in this moment is critical. And last thing I just want to do before we get to your questions, I often note I’m going to circle back. I hate to disappoint conservative Twitter, but I’m going to circle back on a number of things as we often do directly. But Hurricane Maria funds, which was a question that was asked last week. The President has made clear, the status of them I should say, that it is a priority for his administration to release this funding. We are working to do so. So that is in process.
Jen Psaki: (05:50)
On the White House fence, which a couple of people asked about I believe it was on Friday, our goal, the President and the vice president’s goal is for the Secret Service to adjust the perimeter as soon as it makes sense from an overall security standpoint. So we’re working closely with them on that. And they are, of course, would be in the lead on that front. And the last piece I just wanted to give a quick update on was there was a question about the White House’s support for FEMA’s request of troops. We, of course, support a whole of government pandemic response that is catering to the unique issues and needs of our states. FEMA’s working in strong partnership with states to get a handle on their needs and accordingly have requested the significant manpower in some cases for this unprecedented pandemic response effort. I expect we’ll have more on this as the days continue this week on how they will be utilized.
Jen Psaki: (06:41)
With that, let’s go. Darlene, welcome to the briefing room. Oh, I know you’ve been here many times before, but it’s our first engagement here. Go ahead.
On the President’s meeting this evening with the senators, can you give us a sense of how he views that meeting? Is he going to be negotiating? Is he going to be prepared to counter anything that Republicans might offer or is it just a session where they ask to meet with the President and he’s simply giving them an opportunity to voice their concerns?
Jen Psaki: (07:11)
Well, the President has been clear since long before he came into office that he’s open to engaging with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress about their ideas, and this is an example of doing exactly that. So as we said in our statement last night, it’s an exchange of ideas and opportunity to do that. This group obviously sent a letter with some outlines, some top lines of their concerns and their priorities, and he’s happy to have a conversation with them. What this meeting is not, is a forum for the president to make or accept an offer. So I think that’s important to convey to all of you and his view, it remains what was stated in the statement last night, but also what he said on Friday, which is that the risk is not that it is too big, this package, the risk is that it is too small and that remains his view and it’s one he’ll certainly express today.
Jen Psaki: (08:03)
Go ahead, Darlene.
So what would you say is more important to the President at this point on this first legislative test? Is it going big or going bi-partisan? It seems like you can’t have both.
Jen Psaki: (08:16)
Well, I think the president believes we can, and there is historic evidence that it is possible to take a number of paths, including through reconciliation if that’s the path that is pursued and for the vote to be bipartisan, but it’s important to him that he hears this group out on their concerns, on their ideas. He’s always open to making this package stronger and he also, as was noted in our statement last night, remains in close touch with speaker Pelosi, with leader Schumer, and he will continue that engagement throughout the day and the days ahead.
Jen Psaki: (08:49)
Speaker 3: (08:50)
You mentioned that President Biden’s proposed COVID relief package is designed be commensurate with the crises. This group of [inaudible 00:08:59] Republicans, what they’re offering as you know is more than a third less, the top line number, the 600 billion is more than a third less of the 1.9 trillion that President Biden says he wants. Given that, do you see that as a serious attempt at compromise on their part?
Jen Psaki: (09:14)
Well, I appreciate the opportunity to give more comments on their proposal. I think it’s, they put their ideas forward. That’s how the President sees it. He felt it was an effort to engage on a bipartisan basis and that’s why he invited them to the White House today. But his view is that the size of the package needs to be commensurate with the rises we’re facing, the dual crises we’re facing, hence why he proposed a package that’s $1.9 trillion.
Speaker 3: (09:42)
Does the president plan to invite Democrats into the Oval to have these similar conversations?
Jen Psaki: (09:45)
Well, I can promise you we’re less than two weeks in. There will be many Democrats in the Oval Office, and I’m sure this is just part of our ongoing effort to engage directly.
Speaker 4: (09:56)
Well, asking that again in a slightly different way, there are Democrats who see that the first meeting the President is having face to face with lawmakers is with Republicans and not Democrats. Why is the White House doing that?
Jen Psaki: (10:09)
Are there any specific Democrats you want to call out?
Speaker 4: (10:11)
No, but they’ve just been talking about it, concerned that-
Jen Psaki: (10:14)
Just people talking about it in hallways? Okay. Well, I can assure you that speaker Pelosi and senator and leader Schumer, they have been in very close touch with the President directly and members of the senior team. He has been in touch, but also members of our senior team have been in touch with Democrats across the political spectrum and that will continue. And there will be definitely Democrats who will be part of conversations here at the White House.
Speaker 4: (10:38)
Two others on that, you said in your statement that the scale of what must be done is large. That’s bottom lining. Is $618 billion considered large by the White house?
Jen Psaki: (10:49)
Well, I think our statement last night made clear that the President believes that the risk is not going too small, but going not big enough and that his view is that the size of-
Jen Psaki: (11:03)
… and that his view is that the size of the package needs to be commensurate with the crises we’re facing, that’s why he proposed 1.9 trillion. There’s obviously a big gap between 600 billion and 1.9 trillion, and I don’t think any of us are mathematicians, otherwise, we wouldn’t be here, but we can all state that clearly. And so clearly, he thinks the package size needs to be closer to what he proposed than smaller.
Speaker 4: (11:23)
And in that statement, you called that $1,400 relief checks a substantial investment in fighting COVID and reopening schools, small businesses, and helping families. A lot of that isn’t in the Republican proposal. So why have this meeting at all, if they’re not even going to take seriously what he is proposing?
Jen Psaki: (11:39)
Well, again, this is an opportunity to exchange ideas, to have a conversation. That’s why he invited them over here to the White House. He outlined the specifics of what he would like to see in the package in his speech, his primetime speech, just a few weeks ago. And there are some realities as we look to what the American people are going through right now. One in seven American families don’t have enough food to eat, right? We’re not going to have enough funding to reopen schools. We don’t have enough money to ensure that we can get the vaccine in the arms of Americans. So there are some real impacts, which he will certainly reiterate as he has publicly and privately in many conversations, but they’ve put forward some ideas he’s happy to hear from them, but he’s also feels strongly about the need to make sure the size of the package meets this moment and feels the American people expect that of their elected officials.
Speaker 4: (12:32)
Can I ask you to confirm this statement the president just put out? Among other things, it says, “The United States is taking note for those who stand with the people of [inaudible 00:12:42] in this difficult hour. Is that perhaps a message to China?”
Jen Psaki: (12:47)
I think it’s a message to all countries in the region and countries who will be asked to respond or to consider what the appropriate response will be in reaction to the events that have happened over the past couple of days.
Jen Psaki: (13:03)
Speaker 5: (13:03)
Thank you. On Friday, we heard the president come out and say that while he wants to pass this bill with support from Republicans, if we can get it, it has to pass with no ifs, ands, or buts he put it. If we can get it part, should we take that as a sign that the president recognizes, he may have to be abandoning his hopes for bipartisanship?
Jen Psaki: (13:22)
I think it’s hardly an abandoning of bipartisanship. We’re still at a phase where the House and Senate are working through, as you know, from covering Congress, the entire reconciliation, what the process would look like on the budgetary front this week. Senator leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi have both said they would also like it to be bipartisan. We’ll see what comes out of this meeting today. And if there are good ideas to put forward, we’ll put forward them. There’s still time to do exactly that. And even if through the parliamentary process that the Congress will decide, it moves toward reconciliation, Republicans can still vote for that. And there’s certainly a precedent of that in the past
Speaker 5: (13:58)
You mentioned that the Republicans still vote for the bill. Obviously, even if it’s done through reconciliation, but some Republican sources say that’s not really bipartisanship. It doesn’t satisfy that promise because it’s not true compromise.
Jen Psaki: (14:09)
I think that the one in seven American families who can’t put food on the table and the teachers who are waiting to ensure that…
Speaker 5: (14:44)
… this issue is going to be much harder to achieve down the road on other issues.
Jen Psaki: (14:48)
The president is confident that issues like reopening schools, getting shots in the arms of Americans, ensuring people have enough food to eat are not just Democratic issues. He takes his former Republican colleagues at their word, of course, that they’re committed to these issues too. And that’s why he’s wants to have the conversation.
Jen Psaki: (15:07)
Speaker 6: (15:07)
Thanks, Jen. I want to ask you about GameStop. Some lawmakers have proposed legislative reforms like restrictions on short selling and financial transactions tax, the latter of which President Biden supported during the 2020 campaign. So I want to ask you now if the White House would support actions like those to address the situation.
Jen Psaki: (15:27)
Well, as we’ve noted in here several times before, but I just want to reiterate, obviously this is under the purview of the SEC in terms of their review and monitoring, but there is an important set of policy issues that have been raised as a result of market volatility in recent days. And we think congressional attention to these issues is appropriate and would welcome working with Congress, moving forward as we dig into these further policy issues. But I don’t have anything further to predict for you other than we certainly welcome the opportunity to work with members who have proposed the ideas.
Speaker 6: (16:00)
Has there been any direct engagement with those members so far and what they proposed?
Jen Psaki: (16:03)
I don’t think I have anything to read out for you on that front. Obviously we’re engaged at a variety of levels every day with a range of offices on a number of issues. So, but I don’t have anything more for you.
Speaker 6: (16:13)
And then lastly, one more on the story. So there’s no confirmed members right now in the Financial Stability Oversight Council? And is it the White House view that that lack of like officials in place is affecting your administration’s approach to this situation?
Jen Psaki: (16:31)
Well, again, the SEC is looking carefully at recent activities, and if they’re consistent with investor protection and fair and efficient markets, that’s where we think the purview is and the focus is at this point in time.
Jen Psaki: (16:42)
Speaker 7: (16:43)
If I can ask one follow up on the meeting with the Republicans and then follow up on the [inaudible 00:16:47] question as well, what is the timeline of the President’s [inaudible 00:16:50] negotiations to end? I mean, how urgent is this? That these benefits are going to end it in the middle of March. How much time is there to have these types of meetings, as you say, with Democrats and others that may want to take part?
Jen Psaki: (17:03)
It’s incredibly urgent. And as you noted there are timelines coming up, I should say, in terms of when the Americans who are applying for unemployment insurance will no longer be able to get access. As I noted earlier, one in seven American families doesn’t have enough, can’t put food on the table. We need to plan for how we’re going to get more vaccines in the arms of Americans. We need to have funding to help public schools have the preparations needed to reopen. So there is urgency. This is what the president is spending his time on as evidenced by the meeting later today and what the majority of our senior team is focused on at this moment. But there is still time to make changes, to continue to have a discussion. And that’s why we’re kind of escalating the number of meetings and engagements we’re having through the course of this week.
Speaker 7: (17:55)
If I can, I’m interested in statement that he put out. He says the reversal of progress when they [inaudible 00:17:59] an immediate review of our sanctions laws and authorities followed by appropriate action. Is the appropriate action related solely to sanctions or what other type of response may be on the table?
Jen Psaki: (18:09)
Well, I think that’s why that was called out in the president’s comments. AS you know, we removed sanctions, the United States, I should say, removed sanctions on Burma over the past decade based on progress toward democracy. The reversal of that progress will necessitate an immediate review of our sanctions laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action. So that’s why he called it out. I don’t have any additional steps beyond that to predict for you at this point in time.
Jen Psaki: (18:34)
Speaker 8: (18:35)
But some Democrats are open to repeal of the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions in the COVID bill. Does the president support those insertions and more broadly, does he support the general repeal of that deduction?
Jen Psaki: (18:50)
The president supports Democrats and Republicans putting good ideas forward and having a discussion about them and determining how we move forward with urgency to get this plan passed, but I’m not going to negotiate from here.
Speaker 8: (19:03)
So Senator Manchin was a little upset with some comments the Vice President made on a local television show. Has the White House reached out to him in any way to kind of clear the air?
Jen Psaki: (19:12)
We’ve been in touch with Senator Manchin as we have been for many weeks and we’ll continue to be moving forward. And not only is he a key partner to the president and to the White House on this package, but on his agenda. And we will remain in close touch with him.
Speaker 8: (19:29)
Next question from Burma. In regards to the Myanmar, what, if any efforts, are being made to coordinate a response with allies such as Japan, EU, and Britain, and has there been any contacts with China to discuss the situation?
Jen Psaki: (19:43)
Well, we have had intensive consultations at multiple levels with allies and partners in the region and around the world. I would expect many of those would come through the state department. So id certainly refer to them for more specifics.
Jen Psaki: (20:02)
[inaudible 00:20:03] Burma, in your statement last night, when you said you might take action, you referred to it as Burma and Myanmar. In the president’s statement just now, he only uses Burma. Is that indicative of a formal shift of the United States government on how you’re to refer to that Southeast Asian country?
Jen Psaki: (20:19)
Well, our official policy’s that we say Burma, but use Myanmar as a courtesy in certain communications. So for example, the embassy website refers to Myanmar because they are by definition, dealing with officials and the public. The state’s department website uses Burma, Myanmar, and some places in Burma and others.
So there’s no official change. You last night used both and the president goes four times with Burma. Was he meaning to be discourteous?
Jen Psaki: (20:45)
I don’t think that’s the conclusion you should draw. Certainly he is watching this closely as is evidenced by his statement.
Jen Psaki: (20:52)
Speaker 9: (20:52)
You said there’s still time for negotiation, can you be a little bit more specific? Is president trying to get this one week, two weeks to try to come up with a bipartisan solution? And then secondly, the CBO said this morning that the economy should return to pre-pandemic levels by about mid-year, even if there’s not additional legislation. So how does that assessment affect what your effective negotiations are?
Jen Psaki: (21:14)
So on the first, I’m not going to give a deadline here other than to say that it is urgent we move forward for all the reasons we’ve already been discussing, including the need to ensure families can put food on the table, the need to ensure we have time to plan for getting schools the necessary funding to reopen. The need to ensure we can get vaccines in the arms of Americans. Clearly there’s urgency, as you know, and as many of you know who cover Congress, there’s a process that’s ongoing this week. There’s still some time here as that process works its way through for changes to be made. So that was what I was referring to.
Jen Psaki: (21:49)
On the second question, you… Sorry, can you repeat the second question?
Speaker 9: (21:52)
The CBO, their projection this morning, the economy is going to return to pre pandemic size by the middle of the year and that’s without any additional stimulus.
Jen Psaki: (22:02)
Well, the president’s plan…
Speaker 9: (22:03)
… Any additional stimulus?
Jen Psaki: (22:03)
Well, the president’s plan, as we’ve been discussing in here, was designed to achieve certain basic goals. Getting shots in the arms of Americans, helping the one in seven families who are going hungry, and the nearly seven million Americans who are facing possible eviction during a pandemic. The CBO projections for next year’s growth isn’t a measure of all of these things. Right? It’s not a measure of how each American family is doing, and whether the American people are getting the assistance they need, or whether we’re able to get vaccines and the shots of people. So, you know, of course… It answers a different question, I should say. So, our focus is on what the American people need to get through this crisis, which is why we are pushing for this piece of legislation. Go ahead.
Speaker 10: (22:46)
Thanks, Jen. On school reopening, the Democratic mayor of Chicago has said that it’s safe to reopen schools. They’ve invested $100 million into safety measures. But the teachers there remain on the verge of striking. Does the White House agree with the mayor, that if enough funding has been put into place and safety measures have been taken, that kids should return to schools?
Jen Psaki: (23:07)
Well, let me first say the president has enormous respect for Mayor Lightfoot, and he has also been a strong ally to teachers his entire career. Of course, as you know, Dr. Biden, his wife, is a teacher, so even in his home. He trusts the mayor and the unions to work this out. They’re both prioritizing the right things, which is ensuring the health and safety of the kids and teachers, and working to make sure that children in Chicago are getting the education they deserve. So, he is hopeful, we are hopeful, they can reach common ground as soon as possible.
Speaker 10: (23:37)
Does the White House have a role to play here, though, with Chicago and other cities, in terms of mediating these negotiations and getting kids back to school?
Jen Psaki: (23:43)
We certainly remain in touch with a range of parties, but again, we hope that they can come to common ground soon.
Speaker 10: (23:52)
And just lastly, on the overall COVID relief package, in terms of understanding what the White House house means by bipartisan, would you consider a bill bipartisan if it doesn’t have any Republican support in Congress, but it has support among Republican voters?
Jen Psaki: (24:11)
Well, I think you touched on an interesting point, which is that 74% of the public, according to recent polls, supports this package and the key components of this package, Democrats and Republicans. We just saw the Republican governor of West Virginia come out earlier today and advocate for a big package. So, you know, when the president talks about unifying the country and bringing the country together, he’s not suggesting that he is going to make one party out of the Democratic and Republican parties in Congress. But he is meeting with Republicans today, 10 Republicans who have sent this letter, because he feels they made a good faith effort to put the top lines of a proposal forward, and he wants to have that engagement, and encourages that sharing of ideas. So I don’t think it’s an either/or, but I think it’s a both. And we certainly feel that the components that are in this package are the basis of what should garner bipartisan support.
Speaker 10: (25:07)
So based on the polling you cited, if there’s not enough Republican support in Congress, would that be considered bipartisan, based on the measures he’s setting for himself?
Jen Psaki: (25:15)
I will let you be the judge of that. Go ahead.
Speaker 8: (25:18)
Thank you very much, Jen. I have a question for a reporter who couldn’t be here because of social distancing.
Jen Psaki: (25:24)
Speaker 8: (25:24)
This is a question from Cleve Wootson from The Washington Post. What kind of preparations went into Vice President Harris’s interviews with West Virginia stations yesterday, or last week? What kind of preparations-
Jen Psaki: (25:35)
I’m not sure what your question is.
Speaker 8: (25:37)
What preparations went into Vice President Harris’s interviews with local stations of West Virginia?
Jen Psaki: (25:43)
Like how did her team prepare her? Or can you be more-
Speaker 8: (25:45)
Was it part of a larger White House strategy to put pressure on politicians in West Virginia?
Jen Psaki: (25:53)
The bottom line is our focus is communicating with the American people about how the American rescue plan can help put food on the table, can help ensure we can get vaccines in the arms of Americans, and help send kids back to school. That’s our overarching objective with all of the communications we do.
Speaker 8: (26:10)
After Senator Manchin’s criticism of that interview, did President Biden personally speak with Senator Manchin?
Jen Psaki: (26:16)
As I noted before to an earlier question, we’re certainly in touch with Senator Manchin and his team, as we have been for some time, and will continue to be. He’s an important partner as we look to move forward on this package, and of course all of the president’s agenda.
Speaker 8: (26:28)
And I have a question about the meeting with Republican senators today. The proposal that they put forward would take the over $300 billion in aid to states and local governments that Biden has put forward, and zero that out. There would be no aid in that proposal to state and local governments. Is that a nonstarter for President Biden? I mean, can he even move forward with a proposal like that?
Jen Psaki: (26:53)
Well, there is a reason that that funding was in the initial proposal. Including, you know, sometimes the definition of calling it state and local means people don’t know what it means, right? And I’m not suggesting you’re doing that. We’ve probably shorthanded it, too. You know. That is funding for firefighters, for local communities, for enabling them to help get through this period of time. I’m not going to outline for you what the red lines are from the podium, when there’s discussions that are ongoing. But again, the reason that each component was put in the package was because economists, health experts, many that the president and others consulted with felt they were essential components to help get the American people through this period of time.
Speaker 9: (27:37)
Can I follow up on that state and local?
Jen Psaki: (27:38)
Speaker 9: (27:39)
Republicans are pointing to a J.P. Morgan report that most states have had a drop in tax revenues, and some states have seen an increase in tax revenues, as an example of why that state and local relief isn’t needed in this latest package.
Jen Psaki: (27:52)
Well, again, I think our objective is to focus on not J.P. Morgan reports, but what state, local governments and others are telling us they need to ensure that the people in their districts, the resources in their districts, the people who are making government function in their districts, have the funding and resources they need. Go ahead. Hi, Yamiche.
Hi. How are you? Two questions. The first is, does the president support House Democrats moving forward with the process of reconciliation? Today there’s some reporting that they’re waiting for guidance from the White House.
Jen Psaki: (28:28)
The president, as was noted in the statement last night, is grateful for the urgency and the pace at which they’re moving. As you know, this process can take a little bit of time, but he certainly supports them moving forward to move a package ahead. But again, the process, the mechanics through which they move, is up to them. He’s leaving it up to them, and he believes that there is still room for bipartisan support for this package. Which is why he’s having this meeting today, and why he’ll remain very engaged himself, and why he’s asked his senior team to remain very engaged in the days ahead.
Follow up to that. With reconciliation, is there a timeline that this White House is looking at as, “Okay, now we have to move forward with reconciliation.” You keep talking about how urgent it is. I’m wondering if there’s a deadline in the White House’s mind or in the president’s mind, to say, “Okay, we have to move forward at this date.”
Jen Psaki: (29:21)
Again, urgent means urgent. It means this is going to be the focus of the president, the vice president, his senior team. Hence, he’s having a group of Republican senators here later today. He will continue to be closely engaged with not just Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer, but a range of Democrats, as will members of our team. And the fact that he’s spending so much time on it, and our team is, shows you how much of a priority it is here.
And then could I ask you about COVID?
Jen Psaki: (29:47)
I know there was a COVID briefing today, but one statistic that really stood out to me, and probably to a lot of Americans, is about 47% of vaccinations are coming in with no racial data. That means more than 50% don’t have racial data. I’m wondering if the president has a fix for that, if there’s a legislative or a policy change that’s going to be made. Because I’m wondering how you ensure that the vaccine is given equitably, if you don’t know who’s getting it.
Jen Psaki: (30:11)
Well, first, the racial disparities and the impact of this pandemic are not lost on the president, and that’s one of the reasons he asked Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, who was of course part of the briefing this morning, to lead this task force, and why he campaigned on the need for response rooted in addressing the disproportionate impact on communities of color. There are a couple of steps that we are taking substantively. One includes standing up and supporting additional venues for vaccinations targeted at reaching those at the highest risk, and the communities hardest hit by this pandemic. So, going into communities and meeting people where they are, and not expecting every community to go out and seek and search where they can find the vaccine. Meeting with states to discuss their plans for ensuring equitable vaccine distribution, and offering assistance in achieving that goal.
Jen Psaki: (31:01)
As you all know, and as we’ve talked about in here, governors are obviously overseeing the distribution and efforts to ensure that the vaccine is getting into communities across the country. We are closely engaged with them, and looking for ways to help assist in that front, and think strategically and creatively about how to do that. We’re also working with the CDC to identify and explore ways to urgently improve the quality of vaccination data reporting by race and ethnicity. There’s no question it’s not the level that we need it to be at.
[inaudible 00:31:32] directive that’s going to happen, or is there a message to the people that are giving out the vaccines, “We need this data”? I just wonder how that actually gets changed on the ground level. I don’t know if it’s a presidential memorandum or policy change. I’m just wondering, if someone walks into CVS, how does that person taking their data say, “Yes, the White House needs me to get this data from this person”?
Jen Psaki: (31:53)
Well, again, equity is essential and a priority in everything we do, including addressing COVID and the pandemic, which is the president’s top priority. I would certainly defer to our health and medical experts, who I know spoke to this a bit this morning, and I think Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith will be out more in the next 24 hours or so, talking more about steps we can take on this front. Go ahead.
Speaker 3: (32:19)
I have a follow up to Yamiche’s great question about reconciliation, and it’s that the Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, back in 2017 famously said, “Winners make policy. Losers go home.” Given that, why shouldn’t Democrats, why shouldn’t President Biden be as tactically ruthless as Republicans have been in pushing priorities that he champions?
Jen Psaki: (32:40)
Well, I think the president has been clear that he is encouraged by the pace, the rapid pace, I should say, that Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer are moving this package forward. At the same time, as you know, there is time, because this process can take a bit, to make changes as needed. And he wants to be a part of those conversations, hence he invited Republicans…
Jen Psaki: (33:03)
… as needed. He wants to be a part of those conversations. Hence, he invited Republicans to do that exactly here today. I can’t speak to Senator McConnell’s role or commitment or point of view or anything. He’s certainly not asking me to be his spokesperson, lord knows, but President Biden ran on a commitment of, of course, unifying the country but also of hearing from all sides and having engaging and having an opportunity to have discussions. Today is part of doing that.
Speaker 3: (33:33)
Quickly, can I circle back, to use that phrase, to a question I asked during the transition?
Jen Psaki: (33:37)
Anyone can steal it. It just means you have to get back.
Speaker 3: (33:39)
I’ll circle back to this. Has the White House made a determination about whether it will continue to extend the privilege of intelligence briefings to former President Trump? Given the concerns among some Democrats that he’ll either misuse it or leverage it to enrich himself.
Jen Psaki: (33:53)
This is a good question. I’ve raised it with our intelligence teams, or our national security team, I should say. It’s something, obviously, that’s under review, but there was not a conclusion, last I asked them about it. I’m happy to follow up on it and see if there’s more to share. Go ahead in the back.
Speaker 11: (34:07)
Right. Thank you, Jen. Last Friday, a few dozen men from the white supremacist group Patriot Front were filmed marching on the National Mall toward the Capitol. What is the administration’s latest threat assessment on white supremacist groups like this coming to Washington? Is the threat, seems increasing?
Jen Psaki: (34:26)
Well, I think the fact that there was a tasking done through our national security team on domestic violent extremism that is going to review all activity that could pose a threat, including the activities of white supremacists, tells you what a priority is. Tells you that we believe that there is more that needs to be done and a greater assessment.
Jen Psaki: (34:48)
That review is ongoing. As soon as it’s concluded, I’m sure we’ll have more to share with all of you about our view at this point in time. Go ahead.
Speaker 12: (34:57)
Thanks, Jen. On just a bit of a housekeeping matter, since the Senate delayed its confirmation vote on Alejandro Mayorkas, does that mean that the immigration rollout that you guys have linked to that confirmation is going to be pushed back as well?
Jen Psaki: (35:10)
Well, we are certainly hopeful he will be confirmed tomorrow. We have every intention of moving forward tomorrow with the immigration executive actions that we have discussed in here a bit. Go ahead in the back.
Speaker 13: (35:22)
Thank you. Last week, a statue of Mahatma Gandhi was desecrated, vandalized in city of Davis of California. [inaudible 00:35:31] Indian Americans, others, followers of Gandhi in this country, that the President knows about it and that he has [inaudible 00:35:38]. This was the third time this has happened in this country. Last two times it happened in this city itself, in Washington, D.C.
Jen Psaki: (35:45)
Well, we certainly would have concern about the desecration of monuments, of Gandhi. That’s certainly what we would express. Sorry, what was the last part of the question you were asking?
Speaker 13: (35:56)
Does the President knows about it and what are his thoughts on it?
Jen Psaki: (36:01)
If there’s more to share on the President’s point of view on it, I’m happy to get back to you on that. Certainly we would condemn that desecration and watch it closely.
Speaker 13: (36:10)
One follow up on Burma, [inaudible 00:36:12] question. Do you recognize the new army leadership in Burma? Or you don’t recognize this to be a [inaudible 00:36:20]?
Jen Psaki: (36:19)
Well, I think our statement makes clear what our view is on the events of the last few days and where we stand with the declared new government.
Speaker 8: (36:31)
As you know, President Trump has been barred from a lot of social media sites. Secure us whether you think his absence has made your job any easier, or the White House’s job any easier as it kind of goes forward on these COVID negotiations.
Jen Psaki: (36:45)
In what way?
Speaker 8: (36:45)
He’d create a lot of noise, right? He would have certain gravitational pull with Republicans who may be more inclined to take a harder position. Wonder if that’s been anything that you guys have thought about or kind of considered.
Jen Psaki: (36:58)
This may be hard to believe. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about or thinking about President Trump here. Former President Trump, to be very clear. I think that’s a question that’s probably more appropriate for Republican members who are looking for ways to support a bipartisan package and whether that gives them space. I can’t say we miss him on Twitter.
Speaker 8: (37:19)
Does President Biden support the continuing ban of President Trump on those sites?
Jen Psaki: (37:24)
I think that’s a decision made by Twitter. We’ve certainly spoken to, and he’s spoken to the need for social media platforms to continue to take steps to reduce hate speech. We don’t have more you on it than that.
Speaker 14: (37:38)
[crosstalk 00:37:38] particular way that the President is trying to keep touch with basic, everyday Americans, such as getting a sampling of letters that are sent [crosstalk 00:37:46] past Presidents have done, especially as it relates to the pandemic?
Jen Psaki: (37:51)
That’s such a good question. He is looking to remain engaged. It’s hard when we haven’t done any travel yet, and we’re certainly hoping to do that at some point in time to engage with Americans more directly. I don’t have anything specific. He does receive, of course, letters. It takes some time for them to come in. As you know, they kind of go through a process once they arrive at the White House. That’s something he’s eager to have access to.
Jen Psaki: (38:17)
Obviously, there’s also many ways to provide feedback or input to the White House, which he’s eager to receive, too. Let me see if I can get more detail for you on that. Go ahead, [inaudible 00:38:30].
Speaker 15: (38:30)
Another housekeeping question. Do you know if all 10 Senators are coming to the meeting this evening?
Jen Psaki: (38:36)
[crosstalk 00:38:36] It’s a great question.
Speaker 15: (38:37)
[crosstalk 00:38:37] invited, but are they all coming?
Jen Psaki: (38:37)
I don’t have a official manifest, but we will venture to circle back with all of you on that after the briefing.
Speaker 15: (38:47)
If I can ask another one on Burma. The President’s statement that just came out. He’s calling on the international community to come together in one voice to press the Burmese military to reverse what they’ve done. Do the events at the Capitol on January 6th make it harder for the United States to be part of this international community that he’s calling on?
Jen Psaki: (39:05)
Look, I think President Biden … I don’t think the international community sees President Biden as a root of the events on January 6th. Certainly, he has made every effort, through conversations directly with partners and allies, through how he has spoken publicly and discussed about the events on January 6th, and through his own commitment to restoring rule of law, democracy here in the United States. The United States remains a country in the world that is looked to for leadership. It’s going to take some time, but he’s certainly committed to doing that.
Speaker 15: (39:43)
Jen Psaki: (39:46)
Go ahead, [inaudible 00:39:46].
Another housekeeping, related to the Capitol. Does the President or anyone else here plan to visit Wednesday to pay respects to Officer Sicknick?
Jen Psaki: (39:55)
I will check on his schedule for you, Ed, on if there’s more to outline for you. Go ahead, Hans.
You may hear this tomorrow if we have an immigration [crosstalk 00:40:04], if for unaccompanied migrants arriving at the border now, after that appeals court decision, are they being turned away right now?
Jen Psaki: (40:13)
We’re going to have a briefing tonight for all of you on our actions tomorrow. The President will have more to say, so I’ll refer to that.
Is that going to be one of the subjects, one of the items that’s going to be discussed?
Jen Psaki: (40:24)
I’m not going to preview it more for you. We’re still kind of doing the final review, believe it or not. We’ll have a briefing tonight in advance of our announcement tomorrow. Great, thank you, everyone.