Feb 16, 2021

Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript February 16

Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript February 16
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsPress Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript February 16

February 16, 2021 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.

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Jen Psaki: (00:22)
Hi, everyone.

Speaker 1: (00:24)
Hello.

Jen Psaki: (00:24)
Happy Tuesday.

Speaker 1: (00:25)
Happy Tuesday.

Jen Psaki: (00:30)
Alright, I have a couple of items for all of you at the top. A lot of you have asked, maybe not in this room but in general, what’s next? What are we focused on next? The answer is the president is going to continue working on getting the American Rescue Plan passed. That is his top priority. He is traveling to Wisconsin later this evening, as you know, to have a conversation, engage with the American people about his plans to get the pandemic under control, to put people back to work. And Congress is continuing to do their job. Over the course of the coming weeks, we’re looking forward to making progress.

Jen Psaki: (01:09)
There is also news out this morning about a foreclosure moratorium extension some of you may have seen. The COVID crisis has triggered a housing affordability crisis with more than 10 million homeowners behind on mortgage payments, and communities of color at even greater risk of eviction and foreclosure. Today, the administration is taking another step to bring urgent action relief to American families struggling to keep a roof over their heads. So something the president talked about on day one, we talked about on day one, but today the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, and Agriculture announced they will extend and expand the foreclosure relief programs building on the steps President Biden spoke about a couple of weeks ago.

Jen Psaki: (01:56)
These critical protections were due to expire in March, but as part of today’s announcement, the foreclosure moratorium and the mortgage for Barron’s enrollment window will be extended through June 30. The administration will also provide up to six months of additional mortgage payments to forbearance for borrowers who entered forbearance on or before June 30, 2020. These actions will bring needed relief to most of the 2.7 million homeowners currently in forbearance and extend forbearance options for nearly 11 million homeowners with government-backed mortgages across the country. It’s critical, it remains critical, that Congress pass the American Rescue Plan to deliver more aid to struggling homeowners.

Jen Psaki: (02:40)
As we speak, or maybe a little earlier depending on when the call wrapped, Jeff Zients had a regular call with a number of governors, our COVID response coordinator of course, providing them with key updates on our pandemic response as well as hearing from them about the work they’re doing on the ground. As a part of that call, he announced that we’re increasing the vaccine supply to 13.5 million doses per week that will go out to states.

Jen Psaki: (03:08)
This is a 57% increase from the amount states received when the president was inaugurated. So since then, obviously, we have announced a couple of increases over the course of time.

Jen Psaki: (03:18)
We’re also announcing that we’re doubling the supply to our pharmacy program. When we announced that, we said it would be building over time. So today’s announcement amounts to two million doses going to local pharmacies this week, and this program will expand access to neighborhoods across the country so that people can call and make an appointment and get their shot conveniently and quickly.

Jen Psaki: (03:43)
Eventually, if supply increases, more than 40,000 pharmacy locations nationwide will be providing COVID-19 vaccines through this program. This is a critical, critical part of our plan.

Jen Psaki: (03:57)
Second to last item, second to last but certainly not least, we opened Healthcare.gov as planned and as we had announced for a special enrollment period until May 15 to provide all Americans the opportunity to sign up for health insurance. They can go to Healthcare.gov. Nearly nine million Americans are eligible for free or subsidized health insurance.

Jen Psaki: (04:20)
Finally, as you know a brutal Arctic mass impacted the Central United States this weekend, bringing freezing rain, sleet, and snow from Texas to the Mid-Atlantic. On Saturday night, Texas governor, Greg Abbott, requested a federal emergency declaration due to the severe weather storm. Homeland security advisor, Dr. Liz Sherwood Randall, called Governor Abbott on Sunday to let him know that the president had immediately granted his request to meet the state’s mass care and shelter needs.

Jen Psaki: (04:49)
Yesterday, Liz additionally called the other governors in the storm’s path on behalf of the president, including Governor Ivey of Alabama, Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, Governor Laura Kelly of Kansas, Governor Reeves of Mississippi, and Governor Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma. She expressed the president’s strong commitment to ensuring that the federal government proactively does everything it can to support state and local officials in preparing for and responding to the events that impact our citizens. We will, of course, continue to monitor the storm’s updates in the days ahead. With that, please go ahead.

Speaker 3: (05:24)
First, Jen, the president’s schedule didn’t have a whole lot of official events before he leaves this afternoon. Could you give us a sense of what he’s been doing today? Does he plan to reach out to those specific governors from those affected states, Governor Abbott and others, who are affected by the storm?

Jen Psaki: (05:39)
Let me take the second first. The president has been kept abreast, as I noted, of the events and been provided updates, regular updates, on the storm and the progress, and of course the emergency declaration. I don’t have any calls to read out but I expect he will be involved personally and if we have calls that he’s making himself we will provide that information to all of you.

Jen Psaki: (06:00)
In terms of what he’s spending his day doing, he’s continuing to have meetings with his policy teams and experts about his plans to bring relief to the American people and public and he’s remained focused on that today behind the scenes before he travels to Wisconsin for a town hall later this evening.

Speaker 4: (06:19)
Just on the vaccine announcement, is there any discussion of this winter weather affecting the vaccine distribution and what steps is the federal government taking to ensure that there’s no spoilage of those vaccines which have to be kept in those very cold temperatures during shipping and rain delays?

Jen Psaki: (06:35)
You’re right that we monitor, obviously … Mother nature and the weather can sometimes impact and requires contingency planning, which is something our team is quite focused on. Our COVID-19 response team is also in close touch with state and local governments across the country. We’re monitoring the situation in Texas very closely.

Jen Psaki: (06:53)
Obviously, FEMA is running point on a number of the operational pieces. But, while I don’t have an update now, it’s something we’re very mindful of and we contingency plan to ensure people are getting the doses they need at an appropriate timeline.

Speaker 5: (07:07)
[inaudible 00:07:07] different topic. Carson Bates, Bennie Thompson, filed a civil suit against former President Trump, part of what I expect to be a slew of civil suits against the former president and others involved in the January 6th insurrection. Does President Biden have any response to that and does he support efforts like that, to use the civil courts to hold President Trump accountable?

Jen Psaki: (07:28)
You know, he certainly supports the rights of individuals, members of Congress and otherwise, to take steps through the judicial process, but I don’t think we have a further comment on it than that.

Jen Psaki: (07:39)
Go ahead. Oh, sorry. Trevor, let me go to you. I promised. Go ahead.

Trevor: (07:43)
But just on a [inaudible 00:07:45] on foreign policy for you first. There was a rocket attack in Iraq yesterday. And Iraqi officials have said that the group that took responsibility to that attack has ties to Iran. My question is, one, whether you’ve made that determination as well. And two, what kind of retaliation would be considered?

Jen Psaki: (08:08)
Sure. Appreciate the question. We’re still working through attribution with our Iraqi partners to determine precise attribution for this attack. Obviously, that’s a priority. I will convey that we are outraged by last night’s rocket attack in the Iraqi Kurdistan region. Initial reports indicate that the attacks killed one civilian contractor and injured several members of the coalition, including one American service member and several American contractors. And we offer our condolences to the loved ones of the civilian contractor killed.

Jen Psaki: (08:38)
The Iraqi people have certain suffered for far too long from this kind of violence and violation of their sovereignty. I will also note, and I think the state department provided this update, but just for all of you, Secretary Blinken has reached out to the Kurdistan regional government Prime Minister Barzani, and Secretary Austin is speaking with his counterpart to offer assistance with the investigation and to help hole accountable those responsible for this attack, but we have not determined attribution at this point.

Trevor: (09:04)
And do you expect that there would be retaliation once that declaration is made?

Jen Psaki: (09:10)
Well, as always, the President of the United States and the administration reserves the right to respond in the time and the manner of our choosing, but we’ll wait for the attribution to be concluded first before we take any additional steps, or obviously, have any additional announcements.

Jen Psaki: (09:24)
I will convey to you that, obviously, diplomacy is a priority with this administration, and something that is front and center to our engagement with our global partners around the world. And certainly, these calls are evidence of that, but that will always be a part of our strategy as well.

Trevor: (09:41)
And to the point of diplomacy, one thing that Germany has asked for is some relief as far as the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline, and I’m just curious if you have an update on that, whether Biden will consider waiving the ability to do sanctions on [inaudible 00:09:59].

Jen Psaki: (10:00)
Well, our position on Nord Stream 2 has been very clear, and it remains unchanged. President Biden has made clear that Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal. It’s a bad deal because it divides Europe. It exposes Ukraine and central Europe to Russian manipulation. And because it goes against Europe’s own stated energy and security goals, we’re continuing to monitor activity to complete or to certify the pipeline, and if such activity takes place, we’ll make a determination of the applicability of sanctions. Importantly, sanctions are only one among many important tools to ensure energy security. And we, of course, will do this all in partnership with our allies and partners, but our position has not changed on the deal.

Jen Psaki: (10:43)
Go ahead.

Mary: (10:44)
The president is changing gears this week, obviously, looking beyond the hill to get out and sell this plan to the American people. Is this a sign that he recognizes that he’s not likely to get republicans in Washington on board?

Jen Psaki: (10:55)
He certainly wouldn’t agree with that. I would say that the president’s view of the package … Well, one, I would say first, the president has not shifting gears. He has been focused every single day, even as others have not, which is understandable, on engaging with partners, stakeholders, people who agree with him, people who don’t agree with him on getting this package through.

Jen Psaki: (11:16)
This is an opportunity, as you noted, to go out and have a conversation with the people of Wisconsin. People who agree with him, people who disagree with him. But if you look at the polls, they are very consistent. The vast majority of the American people like what they see in this package. And that should be an indication or should be noted by members of Congress as they consider they’re going to vote for it or not.

Mary: (11:39)
So, is he hoping then that these visits will help build pressure on members of Congress?

Jen Psaki: (11:43)
No. His objective is really to make sure he is engaging directly with the people who are impacted by the pandemic, who are impacted by the economic downturn, who are worried about whether they’re going to get a shot, who don’t know where to get information, who are worried about whether they’re going to be able to put food on the table. That’s the focus of this trip.

Jen Psaki: (12:05)
Obviously, republicans in Congress will have to make their own choice about whether they support the final package. It’s still working its way through Congress, but the vast majority of the public supports it, including the vast majority of most member’s constituents, so it’s really a question for them.

Mary: (12:20)
[inaudible 00:12:20] another topic. Would the president sign legislation to create a commission to investigate the January 6th attack?

Jen Psaki: (12:27)
Well, I saw an announcement, I believe it was yesterday if I’m remembering correctly, by Speaker Pelosi. Or, some comments I should say. It’s, of course, Congress’ decision to form this commission, as we’ve talked about a bit in here, but it’s certainly one the president would support.

Jen Psaki: (12:42)
And President Biden has made clear his views on the tragic events of January 6th, including where responsibility for them lies. He backs efforts to shed additional light on the facts to ensure something like that never happens again.

Jen Psaki: (12:55)
In addition to the recently announced desire to put together a commission or form a commission, we’ll continue to work with Congress to identify measures that the federal government can take going forward to prevent violence we saw on January 6th, and as you know, probably, Mary, there’s a number of hearings that are upcoming in the coming weeks, and we’ll be cooperative with those, of course.

Mary: (13:14)
What would we hope to learn through a commission? Because obviously, we saw a very thorough airing of the events last week.

Jen Psaki: (13:21)
Well, again, I don’t think the tenants of the commission have been formed. That’s up to Congress to do. We have a role to play in the federal government, of course, with ongoing investigations out of the Department of Justice, but he supports efforts to move forward with it, the desire to have one, certainly understanding and knowing how much the events of the 6th impacted members sitting on the Hill.

Jen Psaki: (13:41)
Go ahead.

Speaker 8: (13:43)
Jen, thank you. The president, yourself, have frequently cited what you describe as the failures or the shortcomings of the Trump Administration as it relates to their response to COVID. We’re now nearly a month into this administration. Does the Biden Administration now own the coronavirus response?

Jen Psaki: (14:00)
Well, certainly, the President of the United States owns the response to the COVID pandemic. That’s why he has focused on it every single day.

Jen Psaki: (14:08)
However, it’s important for the American people to know what we inherited when the president came into office. And what he inherited was not enough supply, not enough vaccinators, not enough places for vaccinations to happen. Communities had been left to fend for themselves. And so, that’s what he’s been focused on and working on.

Jen Psaki: (14:31)
But certainly, if he were standing here, he would say that why it’s the issue he wakes up every morning and is focused on because addressing it is what’s on the minds of the American people, and he’s the president. It’s his responsibility to focus on it.

Speaker 8: (14:42)
Let me ask, if I can, I want to bounce around a little bit back impeachment trial that just wrapped up. You guys posted a statement late on Saturday where you said that the final vote, though it didn’t lead to a conviction, the substance of the charge, the president said, is not in dispute, even those opposed to the conviction. He cited Mitch McConnell believed that Donald Trump was guilty of a disgraceful dereliction of duty, practically and morally responsible for provoking the violence unleashed on the Capitol.

Speaker 8: (15:05)
So, if he wasn’t convicted through an impeachment trial via Congress, via the Senate, how should a president who commits acts that President Biden says are not in dispute, be punished?

Jen Psaki: (15:16)
Well, I think, obviously, there was a process that worked its way through the Senate. That’s why we put out a statement on Saturday evening-

Speaker 8: (15:23)
Does he support criminal prosecution?

Jen Psaki: (15:24)
That will be up to the Department of Justice to determine. We’re doing something new here, and there’s going to be an independent Justice Department to determine what any path forward in any investigation would look like.

Speaker 8: (15:34)
Absent this president’s actions, though, does something like this … Does it seem … I mean, Mitch McConnell left that door open to criminal prosecution. Would actions like this, do they meet the bar for criminal prosecution?

Jen Psaki: (15:43)
I am not going to speculate on criminal prosecution from the White House podium. The president is committed to having an independent Justice Department that will make their own decisions about the path forward.

Speaker 8: (15:54)
Let me ask you a last question on the candidates. Housekeeping around here. TJ Ducklo, as we know, is no longer working for this White House. He was suspended for a week after comments that he made to a female journalist.

Speaker 8: (16:03)
The president, as you know, on Inauguration Day said, “If you’re ever working with me and I hear you treat another with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise you I will fire you on the spot. No ifs, ands, or buts. He didn’t fire TJ on the spot. He has since resigned. Has the president’s position on talking down or disrespecting others changed?

Jen Psaki: (16:22)
I think the president leads by example, and I try to do the same. And on Saturday, when we announced that TJ Ducklo had resigned his position, something we all agreed was the right path forward, I made clear that everyday we’re going to try to meet the standard set out by the president in treating others with dignity and respect, with civility, and with a value for others through our words and our actions. He’s no longer employed here, and I think that speaks for itself.

Jen Psaki: (16:50)
Go ahead.

Speaker 9: (16:51)
Jen, thank you. As you prepare to put out an immigration plan as soon as the end of this week, can you give us a little more information on the timing? And also, when it comes to the DREAMers, can you give us any specifics on whether a potential pathway to citizenship will be part of a plan for that particular group?

Jen Psaki: (17:11)
Well, there certainly is part of the proposal that the president outlined, proposed, on day one is an earned path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants who are living in the country. He’s also somebody who believes in the rights of the DACA recipients to be in the country. He was here during the, of course, Obama/Biden administration of which he played a prominent, important role and supported that program.

Jen Psaki: (17:39)
We’ve outlined the tenants of what we think the proposal should look like, which includes that, but also includes funding to address the root causes, includes investment in smart security. But Congress will have to work through what it looks like moving forward, and what components will be included in here or what components could be dealt with separately.

Speaker 9: (17:56)
And how important will it be to this administration that this be one overarching, large, comprehensive package, versus pieces of an immigration plan that are broken up and passed separately?

Jen Psaki: (18:08)
I understand, and I know there’s different points of view, and different views from prominent and important advocates on this particular issue, but we’re going to let the bill be presented formally at some point soon. I’m not going to get ahead of that process, and certainly, the president feels that all of these requirements that are in the bill, these components of the bill, are what makes it comprehensive. They all need to be addressed. That’s why he proposed them together.

Speaker 9: (18:35)
And does the president plan to assume that these Trump-era restrictions on immigration and work visas that have dramatically limited immigration, they’re set to expire at the end of March, will he let those expire naturally or will he rescind them before that?

Jen Psaki: (18:51)
Let me talk to our Department of Homeland Security. That is likely a conversation that would happen in coordination with them. Obviously, the president’s view is that the approach of the prior administration was immoral, but also, ineffective in terms of addressing the many challenges of an outdated immigration system, but I don’t have an update on those particular requirements.

Speaker 9: (19:16)
And then, just one question on Afghanistan. Has the administration decided whether to further troop withdrawals below 2500, and if the decision hasn’t been made yet, when do you expect one?

Jen Psaki: (19:27)
I don’t have any update on that front, or a timeline of when any additional decisions will be made.

Speaker 9: (19:33)
Do you feel that the previous administration withdrawing troops so quickly tied this administration’s hands?

Jen Psaki: (19:39)
You know, I think the president is somebody who is not new to the global stage, and certainly not new to the difficult decisions that need to be made around issues related to Afghanistan, issues related to the men and women who are serving and our own national security. So, he’s making decisions through that prism, but I just don’t have an update on what any timeline will look like.

Jen Psaki: (20:01)
Go ahead.

Speaker 10: (20:02)
Thanks, Jen. First, on the vaccine. You were talking earlier about how the president wants to address the concerns of everyday Americans with vaccines and the pandemic. One way the chief of staff proposed doing that last month was creating a national clearing house for vaccine information that would either be available online or through a hotline. Can you update us on the progress of that? Is that close to being rolled out?

Jen Psaki: (20:25)
I don’t have any update for you other than to convey that our team is always considering a range of options to make information more accessible, ensure more of the American public know how they can get a vaccine, when they can get a vaccine, where they can go to get a vaccine. That’s part of the reason the president is, of course, traveling to Wisconsin, but I don’t have any update for you on a clearing house or a website.

Speaker 10: (20:53)
It sounds like that’s only still under consideration. Is that something that’s really not in the works at the moment?

Jen Psaki: (20:53)
There are a range of options under consideration, and their focus is on taking the steps that are the most effective and efficient, and prioritizing those in the order through which they would help the American people.

Speaker 10: (21:04)
Now, on the situation in Texas, beyond disaster relief, is the administration considering any actions to address not only Texas’ power grid but the power grid in the Central United States that seem to really struggle with the winter weather in addition to some other issues. I know Texas is not really part of the national power grid. Is the administration looking at that situation and considering any kind of actions in the short term to address it?

Jen Psaki: (21:27)
Well, I think our focus right now is ensuring that the millions of people across Texas who are impacted by the storm get the relief they need. Obviously, that’s why the president and his Homeland Security advisor took very quick action over the weekend. Clearly, is their investments in the future in forms of energy, I should say, across the country. They’ll need to plan for inclement weather, but I think that’s a discussion and conversation that’s a little bit down the road.

Speaker 10: (22:01)
Well, and due to the fact that the Texas grid is not part of the national system, was that alarming to anyone in the administration? Would you prefer that there be a national grid that’s all integrated?

Jen Psaki: (22:09)
I would send you to the Department of Energy and others to answer that question. Go ahead.

Steve: (22:13)
Thanks, Jen. Back on tonight’s trip. Is there any particular reason Wisconsin was chosen as the site of tonight’s town hall?

Jen Psaki: (22:20)
You don’t like Wisconsin?

Steve: (22:20)
No, I just-

Jen Psaki: (22:21)
It’s a little cold. I looked it up this morning, but …

Steve: (22:24)
I’ve been there. It’s lovely. But is there any particular reason why? Is it Ron Johnson and trying to put pressure on him or engage democrats in a state the president just won? Why Wisconsin?

Jen Psaki: (22:33)
Well, Wisconsin is a state where, clearly, there are democrats, republicans, independents. As we saw from the final outcome of the vote in November, people who have different points of view on a range of issues. And it was a state where people have been impacted by the pandemic, they’ve been impacted by the economic downturn, and the president felt that he could have a good conversation with people about the path forward, and also, even people who disagree with him. So, it was not more complicated than that.

Steve: (23:02)
Let me ask you about the president’s ambitions in terms of getting Congress to pass. Gun control measures. In a statement you issued over the weekend, the president said the time for action is now. You’re asking Congress to do a lot of things now. What is your timetable for action on what the president calls common sense measures, and what’s the realistic hope that you have that’ll pass both Houses?

Jen Psaki: (23:21)
Well, we haven’t proposed a package at this point, so it’s hard for me to make a prediction about its likelihood of passing. But I will say that the president is somebody throughout his career who has advocated for smart gun safety measures. He is not afraid of standing up to the NRA. He’s done it multiple times and won on background checks and a range of issues, and it is a priority to him on a personal level, but I don’t have a prediction for you or a preview for you on a timeline of a package, and certainly not it would look like and how it would go through Congress.

Steve: (23:54)
One more question for you. The colleague who sat in this chair last week asked you a question about whether this administrations sees Saudi Arabia or Israel as allies with the United States. Your answer was interpreted by some as something other than yes. So, I wanted to give you an opportunity to answer that question more directly now.

Jen Psaki: (24:11)
Well, first, let me say on Israel, I know there’s been some questions about when the president will speak with Prime Minister Netanyahu, which was, I think, the root of that question or how that question started. So, let me first confirm for you that his first call with a leader in the region will be with Prime Minister Netanyahu. It will be soon. I don’t have an exact day for you, but it is soon. Stay tuned.

Jen Psaki: (24:34)
Israel is, of course, an ally. Israel is a country where we have an important, strategic security relationship, and our team is fully engaged, not at the head of state level quite yet, but very soon. But our team is fully engaged, having constant conversations at many levels with the Israelis.

Jen Psaki: (24:53)
And on Saudi Arabia, I would say we have made clear from the beginning that we are going to recalibrate our relationship with Saudi Arabia, and that President Biden … One of the questions there was also, just to go back to the context of it, whether he would be speaking with NBS. And part of that is going back to engagement counterpart to counterpart. The president’s counterpart is King Salman, and I expect that, in an appropriate time, he would have a conversation with him.

Jen Psaki: (25:24)
I don’t have a prediction of the timeline on that, but I’ll also say that Saudi Arabia is in a position where they are defending themselves from threats from the region. They have critical self-defense needs, and we will continue to work with them on those, even as we make clear areas where we have disagreements and where we have concerns. And that’s certainly a shift from the approach of the prior administration.

Jen Psaki: (25:52)
Okay. Go ahead.

Speaker 12: (25:53)
Just following up on his question. Does the president still plan to take executive action on gun violence?

Jen Psaki: (25:59)
The president has a range of actions at his disposal. I think you were asking, Steve, about a legislative package, which I know, but he hasn’t ruled out either of those options, of course, but I don’t have anything to announce for you in terms of what the next steps would look like.

Speaker 12: (26:13)
If I could just follow up on Texas. Is there anything else the White House can do to administer immediate relief for the residents of Texas right now?

Jen Psaki: (26:22)
Well, I think our national security team in part led by Dr. Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, who is our homeland security advisor, a position, I would note, that did not exist in the prior administration, is in close contact, monitoring developments of the storm. The president is kept abreast of that as well, and we are engaged with them on what their needs are and what steps can be taken. Of course, declaring a federal disaster declaration ensures that you have access to national resources, and I think that was a step that was welcomed by the governor.

Jen Psaki: (26:57)
Go ahead.

Speaker 13: (26:58)
I have a quick circle back question. You said a few weeks ago that the White House would check to see if it was technically possible to release the visitor logs from the Trump administration. Is there any answer-

Jen Psaki: (27:09)
I actually did answer that question.

Speaker 13: (27:10)
Oh. So, what was-

Jen Psaki: (27:10)
So, yes. The answer was that it exists in the National Archives, so they would have access and you’d have to go to them for access to archives of their visitor logs from their period of time, when President Trump was there.

Speaker 13: (27:25)
And then, you said a gun package, TBD on timing. It’s not in the works yet. In terms of what’s next after the relief package, is the plan to still do a big Build Back Better Bill next or a more narrow infrastructure bill? Do you know what’s coming next?

Jen Psaki: (27:42)
We’re focused right now on getting the American Rescue Plan passed, but the president is committed to engaging with a range of stakeholders. Of course, he had the meeting last week with senators about infrastructure. It’s one of the areas where there’s opportunity to work together. I think most people wouldn’t argue that our roads, our bridges, our streets need to be rebuilt, but there are a lot of different needs and policy objectives the president has. So, we haven’t yet determined what the next priority forward would be, but he is engaging with his policy teams, as Zeke asked earlier, what he did today, what he did over the weekend, and a lot of that is having those discussions internally and with stakeholders about what’s next.

Jen Psaki: (28:25)
Go ahead.

Speaker 14: (28:26)
Yeah. Thanks, Jen. Couple of quick questions. Both Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have both expressed some opposition to increasing the minimum wage as it’s laid out currently in the proposal in the Senate, and I wondered, is President Biden open to, I guess, lengthening the period of time over which the minimum wage can be increased? So, for example, getting it to 15 dollars by 2030? Is he open to potentially extending the timeline there to get more people on board?

Jen Psaki: (28:57)
Well, we’ll let the process play out through the Senate. Through the House first and then through the Senate as they’re negotiating what the final components will look like in a package. The president put an increase in the minimum wage in the initial package because he thinks it’s important for American men and women who have a full-time job, working hard, to have a decent wage, and he thinks it’s long passed time to raise the minimum wage. But, we’ll let the process see itself through, and I’m not going to negotiate what he’d be open to and not from the podium.

Speaker 14: (29:31)
Just a couple other quick ones. One, I just wanted to clarify something. Prime Minister Trudeau’s office, after his call with President Biden in January, he said that they had agreed to meet in February, and I just wanted to see if you could clarify. Did they plan to meet in person, or was that just … the phrasing was off and they plan to have another call?

Jen Psaki: (29:48)
You can meet over video, as we all know. I don’t have any timeline of a meeting to convey or to confirm for you, though, I would anticipate for all of you that it will be a couple of months before their president has an in-person or invites a foreign leader to meet in person here at the White House.

Speaker 14: (30:09)
The last thing. Spring training for baseball starts this month, and I wonder-

Jen Psaki: (30:13)
Yes. So my husband tells me.

Speaker 14: (30:15)
Has the White House or the Biden administration been in touch with Major League Baseball to give recommendations about safety protocols, about whether it’s safe to have the season at this point?

Jen Psaki: (30:27)
I’m happy to check with our COVID team and see if they’ve had any conversations. Obviously, this is not the first season during the pandemic, but I will check and see if there’s any role we have to play here.

Jen Psaki: (30:38)
Go ahead in the back.

Speaker 15: (30:39)
Thank you, Jen. With President Trump’s impeachment behind us, do you believe an impediment has been removed in terms of passing the COVID Relief Act? I mean, was that a distraction for anyone on the Hill or in the White House?

Jen Psaki: (30:53)
It certainly wasn’t for us, and members of Congress on the Hill continue to do their job in having conversations at the committee level. It was, obviously, an important week in our nation’s history. We put out a statement from the president on Saturday, and we understand why there was a focus on it from, of course, the media and also from many in the public, but we have said from the beginning that the president would remain laser-focused on getting the American Rescue Plan passed. That’s exactly what he did last week, and what he’ll continue to do this week, and we are pleased with the urgency we’ve seen from members of Congress as well.

Jen Psaki: (31:32)
Go ahead.

Speaker 16: (31:33)
Jen, does the president still plan to address Congress this month as he has said he expects to, and do you have any information for us about the time?

Jen Psaki: (31:43)
We don’t know where the February 23rd date came from. It’s a great mystery. I’ve not Nancy Drew’d that one out yet, but it was never planned to be in February and we don’t have a date for a joint session at this point. Certainly, the president looks forward to addressing the public. We remain in touch with leaders in Congress about a timeline and a format and what that would look like.

Jen Psaki: (32:04)
Obviously, it won’t look like it has looked like in the past, that many of you have covered and I have attended, where you all sit on the floor of Congress and the president gives a speech, because of COVID. But we’re not behind any timeline because that date was never accurate.

Speaker 16: (32:19)
And then, one more on immigration. There’s a federal judge in Texas who could soon decide the fate of the DACA program for DREAMers. If he moves to kill that program before Congress addresses the issue, what is the administration prepared to do to shield this population from deportation?

Jen Psaki: (32:35)
Well, the DACA program is important to the president. It is a program that he has long been committed to protecting and preserving, and taking every step he can to do exactly that. I’m not going to get ahead of a judge’s ruling in Texas, but we will certainly watch closely, and if there’s more to say after that, we will share it.

Jen Psaki: (32:56)
Go ahead.

Speaker 17: (32:56)
Jen, Mitch McConnell said … On the republican opposition to COVID relief, you said, “This is going to help unify their party.” He said, “I don’t think many republicans are going to be up for many things that are coming out of this administration.” You remember what Mitch McConnell said in 2010 about the Obama administration. He said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Speaker 17: (33:17)
So, I guess my question is what lessons were learned from then? And given McConnell doesn’t see any political incentive to work with democrats, can you work with someone who isn’t motivated to work with you?

Jen Psaki: (33:29)
Well, the president has known Senator McConnell for some time, and he’s spoken with him a number of times, and he’s certainly hopeful that they can find a way to work together in addressing the challenges facing the American people. But I don’t know if it’s about lessons for us as much as the country is-

Speaker 17: (33:49)
[inaudible 00:33:49]?

Jen Psaki: (33:49)
Well, here’s the thing though. The country is looking for action. The country is looking for progress, for solutions, on COVID, on the economy. The package that the president has proposed has the support of almost 3/4 of the public in most polls.

Jen Psaki: (34:05)
So, I’m not sure what numbers Senator McConnell is looking at, but the American people have been clear what they’re looking for, and if they make a decision, republicans in Congress, Senator McConnell, to vote against the will of their constituents, I would suggest to you ask them why that’s smart, politically, for them to do.

Jen Psaki: (34:25)
Go ahead, in the back.

Owen Jensen: (34:26)
Yeah. Good afternoon. Owen Jensen, EWTN, Global Catholic Network. So, regarding the American Rescue Plan, pro-life groups, including the Susan B. Anthony List, are very concerned that millions of US tax payer dollars will go to the abortion industry in violation of the Hyde Amendment. We know where President Biden stands on the Hyde Amendment, but that being said, can this administration, right now, guarantee if the American Rescue Plan is passed that no tax payer dollars will go to the abortion industry?

Jen Psaki: (34:57)
Which component of the American Rescue Plan are you referring to?

Owen Jensen: (35:00)
I’ll pull it up right here. “A 50 million dollar funding increase for the Title X program.” “750 million dollars for global health activities, and billions in funding for community health centers,” without applying the Hyde Amendment?

Jen Psaki: (35:14)
Well, the president’s view on the Hyde Amendment is well-known as you have stated in your question. He also believes that community health centers are a key part of addressing the pandemic, of ensuring that people in communities have access to vaccines, have access to treatment and information about making sure they’re healthy and their loved ones are healthy. So, that remains a priority to the president. He’s shared his view on the Hyde Amendment. I don’t think I have anything for you.

Owen Jensen: (35:46)
[inaudible 00:35:46] follow up with it. Can he guarantee Americans who don’t want their tax dollars, pro-life Americans who don’t want their tax dollars funding abortions, can the administration guarantee those tax dollars won’t [inaudible 00:35:55] abortion?

Jen Psaki: (35:54)
Well, I think, Owen, as I’ve just noted, 3/4 of the public supports the components of the package, wants to see the pandemic get under control, wants to see people put back to work, vaccines in arms. So, I think that answers your question. Okay. We’re going to move on. Go ahead in the back.

Speaker 19: (36:10)
In a couple of days, the president will address the Munich Security Conference. And I think one point the Europeans would like to better understand is what he means with foreign policy for the middle class. Does it mean to uphold Donald Trump’s tariffs, like in the case of aluminum from the UAE? The Biden Administration used the same reasoning as the Trump Administration.

Jen Psaki: (36:33)
I can assure you that this president is not looking to the last presidency as the model for his foreign policy moving forward.

Jen Psaki: (36:41)
President Biden has been working in the global arena for decades and what he means by foreign policy for the middle class is ensuring that our team working on economic issues, our team working on national security issues, our teams thinking about how policies impact the American people, are talking and that we make decisions and make policies through that prism.

Jen Psaki: (37:05)
We are certainly reviewing a range of tariffs that have been put in place by the past administration. I don’t have any updates on that for you, but what the president is speaking to is the importance of contemplating, integrating, our domestic and national security teams, and the policy-making, and the process that they go through in his view that we are stronger globally if we take care of our house here at home. So, that is part of his objective, as well.

Jen Psaki: (37:32)
Go ahead.

Speaker 20: (37:33)
Okay. Thanks, Jen. When President Biden and Governor Andrew Cuomo met last week, did they speak about the delayed release of data on the COVID-19 deaths [inaudible 00:37:42]?

Jen Psaki: (37:44)
The focus of the meeting was on the president providing an update on his plans to help get the pandemic under control, to discuss with them the American Rescue Plan, and in a large group meeting, have a discussion about what the challenges were that we’re facing, governors and mayors. You heard some of the mayors come out here, so no, that was not a focus of their conversation or topic.

Speaker 20: (38:06)
Another quick question. A lot of people, including Dr. Fauci, have said they felt side effects from the COVID vaccine. Did the president or vice president feel any side effects?

Jen Psaki: (38:15)
I don’t think I have any updates on that for you. They got their second vaccine several weeks ago, and they did that in public, but I can check if there’s more of an update from any side effects weeks ago.

Speaker 20: (38:27)
And as the [inaudible 00:38:28], I have a question from a colleague in [crosstalk 00:38:30]-

Jen Psaki: (38:29)
Sure, go ahead.

Speaker 20: (38:30)
… out there. Thanks.

Speaker 20: (38:31)
This question is from Thomas Burr with News Nation: “The president is flying to Michigan to tour the Pfizer plants and see the COVID vaccine. What is the administration now almost a month into office to increase vaccine availability and how many White House staffers have been vaccinated?”

Jen Psaki: (38:47)
We provided an update a couple of … Maybe a week ago or so. And our focus is on being as transparent as possible with our efforts to vaccinate senior staff and other staff around the White House complex. We have a limited footprint as well here because every staffer is tested on a daily basis as well. I think we said the objective was to have hundreds vaccinated by the end of February. I can double check if that’s the latest update on that particular front. Sorry, what was your other question?

Speaker 20: (39:19)
And then, what is the administration doing now to increase vaccine availability?

Jen Psaki: (39:23)
To the American public?

Speaker 20: (39:25)
Yes. Now almost a month into the administration.

Jen Psaki: (39:27)
Well, we’re taking a couple of steps. One is we’re increasing supply. Obviously, the president took the step of purchasing enough vaccines to ensure we have vaccines available to vaccinate every American by the end of July. We’ve also increased by 57% the vaccine supply that’s going out to states.

Jen Psaki: (39:48)
We’ve also taken steps to increase the number of vaccinators we have, people who can actually put those shots in arms, so that includes deploying members of the National Guard, taking steps including ensuring that retired nurses and doctors can be a part of the vaccination crew that is … vaccinator crew, I should say, that is putting shots in arms. So, we have increased the number of vaccinators. And we’ve also increased the number of vaccination sites, partly by putting plan in place to have several hundred community health centers where vaccinations can be distributed, working with states on mass vaccination centers, working with pharmacies, as I announced earlier in the briefing, I should say, to get vaccines in the hands of pharmacies, which, 90% of the public lives within five miles of a pharmacy.

Jen Psaki: (40:34)
So, there are a number of steps, but our focus has been on those three components: Increasing supply of vaccines, increasing vaccinators, the people who can put those vaccines in arms, and increasing vaccination locations so people know where to go.

Jen Psaki: (40:46)
Go ahead.

Speaker 13: (40:47)
Sorry. Just wanted a quick follow up on the president’s appearance before a joint session of Congress. In his primetime address last month, in January, reading from prepared remarks, he said, “Next month, in my first appearance before a joint session, I will lay out my Build Back Better Plan.” So, it feels like he did say it was going to be in February.

Jen Psaki: (41:06)
Well, what I was referring to was there was reporting on February 23rd, and I don’t know where that date came from which has never been inaccurate. So-

Speaker 13: (41:14)
It was never going to be February-

Jen Psaki: (41:14)
The February 23rd was just an inaccurate date. No one’s fault. It just was, and it created some confusion, so I was just trying to clarify it. Obviously, the president looks forward to speaking to a joint session, we just don’t have a date yet for when that will be, and obviously, it will look different because of COVID and because we want to be safe and project that safety in our responsibility of projecting that to the American public.

Speaker 13: (41:39)
[inaudible 00:41:39] specific reason it was potentially delayed from what the president himself thought last month?

Jen Psaki: (41:44)
There is not, and he conveyed he is looking forward to providing more details on a jobs package, and next steps in his agenda, and he still is looking forward to doing that and we just don’t have a date yet to announce for all of you.

Speaker 21: (41:57)
Thanks, Jen.

Jen Psaki: (41:58)
Thank you, everybody. Have a good day.

Speaker 22: (42:00)
Thanks, Jen.

Speaker 23: (42:00)
Thank you.

Speaker 24: (42:30)
Uh-huh (affirmative). Yes.