Feb 2, 2021
Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript February 2
February 2, 2021 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. She discussed President Joe Biden’s executive actions on immigration and took questions from the press. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Jen Psaki: (00:00)
We have a few updates for you all at the top this morning. First today, the President is signing three executive orders to rebuild and strengthen our immigration system. These actions are centered on the basic premise that our country is safer, stronger, and more prosperous with a fair, safe, and orderly immigration system. Today’s actions do a number of things. The first executive order creates a task force chaired by the Secretary of Homeland Security, to reunify families, which will work across government to find parents and children separated by the prior administration.
Jen Psaki: (00:45)
The second executive order develops a strategy to address the root causes of migration across our borders and creates a humane asylum system, including directing DHS to take steps to end the migrant protection protocols program, which had led to a humanitarian crisis in Northern Mexico.
Jen Psaki: (01:04)
And the third executive order promotes immigrant integration and inclusion and ensures that our legal immigration system operates fairly and efficiently by instructing agencies to review the public charge rule and related policies.
Jen Psaki: (01:18)
As many of you also may have been on the briefing call that we had a little bit earlier today, but for those of you who WERE not, we’ve announced, or Jeff Zients announced, our COVID coordinator I should say, that starting on February 11th, the federal government will deliver to select pharmacies across the country additional vaccine that’s coming online next week. This will provide more sites for people to get vaccinated in their communities and as an important component to delivering vaccines equitably. More than 90% of Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy. And I don’t know about you, my mother-in-law, my family calls me all the time, figuring out how they can call the CVS and find out when they can get their vaccine. This is a limited launch of the program, but supply will ultimately go up to 40,000 pharmacies nationwide.
Jen Psaki: (02:05)
Second, we continue to work to ensure States, tribes, and territories have the resources they need to turn vaccines into vaccinations. President Biden has already directed FEMA to fully reimburse States for the cost of National Guard personnel and other emergency costs. And today we go further by fully reimbursing States for the eligible services they provided back to the beginning of the pandemic in January of 2020. That means that States will be fully repaid for things like masks, gloves, mobilization of the National Guard, and they can use the additional resources for vaccination efforts and emergency supplies moving forward. This reimbursement effort is estimated to total three to five billion dollars, and is only a share of the resources that States need to fight this pandemic, which as we’ve talked about a bit in here before, includes testing, genomic sequencing, and mass vaccination centers.
Jen Psaki: (02:58)
Last, we announced that we would increase weekly vaccine allocation to the States for the next three weeks by an additional 5%, following last week’s 16% increase. So we’ve increased supply more than 20% since the President took office just about two weeks ago. These actions speak to the daily work we are doing to mount the coordinated federal pandemic response Americans need and deserve, I should say. As you also know, last night, the President had a meeting with ten Republican senators. He’s meeting right now with the Senate Democratic caucus over video to further discuss the American Rescue Plan. And we’ll have a readout on that later this afternoon that we will send out. Last night during the meeting, he welcomed the opportunity to have a constructive exchange of ideas over how we can improve the American Rescue Plan. He pledged that he would bring people together when he ran for President and last night was an example of doing exactly that. A new poll yesterday by Yahoo and YouGov showed that this plan has already garnered bipartisan support among the American people. He also reiterated, or we would like to reiterate, I should say, the urgency of acting quickly on the package. You all asked yesterday about the CBO reports, a new analysis that came out by the CBO that without action, that report showed also that without action, our economy won’t reach pre pandemic levels until 2025. That’s too long. So our goal with moving this package forward is making it faster.
Jen Psaki: (04:37)
I have a couple of additional readouts or follow ups, I should say, from some questions that have been asked in here over the last several days. Somebody asked me earlier, I think it was last week, about Puerto Rico. Today, there’s an update I have. The administration is releasing $1.3 billion in aid allocated by Congress to Puerto Rico that can be deployed to protect against future climate disasters. In partnership with the Puerto Rico department of housing, the administration is also working to remove onerous restrictions put in place by the last administration on nearly $5 billion in additional funds.
Jen Psaki: (05:11)
Someone also asked yesterday about how President Biden keeps in touch. There’s a number of ways, but he receives correspondence letters in his briefing book every night as past Presidents have done. He also regularly connects with Americans on the phone. We’ve put out some videos of that and we’ll continue to do that moving forward. And as you also know, he attends his routine of attending, typical routine, I should say, of attending public mass every weekend, which is something he did as President elect and something he will do, clearly respecting COVID protocols moving forward.
Jen Psaki: (05:42)
There was also a question, sorry, a couple of follow-ups here, about the President’s engagement with the Capitol police officer who lost, I think Ed, you asked this question perhaps, about the Capitol police officer, Officer Sicknick, who had lost his life in the events of January 6th. As you know, or many of you may know, the President spoke with members of his family shortly after his passing to express his condolences and sympathies to their tragic loss. I don’t have anything to update in terms of his schedule tomorrow, but I expect we will have more of an update on that in the next 24 hours, certainly.
Jen Psaki: (06:21)
Finally, I think, finally, I know this is a lot at the top, we can confirm that the President will visit the State Department now on Thursday, that was originally planned earlier this week, we had to move things around because of snow, where he will thank the men and women of the National Security Workforce for their service to our country and deliver remarks about reclaiming America’s role in the world.
Jen Psaki: (06:41)
Sorry, I did actually have one more item. And as you all have seen reports this morning of the FBI confirmation, that two FBI agents are deceased and three are wounded in a shooting in Florida. The two wounded agents were transported to hospital and are in stable condition, as some, I think have reported. President Biden was briefed this morning by Homeland Security Adviser, Liz Sherwood-Randall. This is obviously a terrible tragedy. I expect you’ll hear more from the President later this afternoon when he speaks to all of you. I know that was a lot. With that, let’s kick us off.
Speaker 1: (07:17)
Wonderful. Thank you, Jen. Two questions. Congressional Democrats are moving forward with COVID relief with legislation set to hit the house budget committee by February 16th. What kind of timeline does that create for you with regard to talks with Republicans?
Jen Psaki: (07:33)
Well, as many of you who have covered Capitol Hill know, there is a process. The budget reconciliation process is a lengthy one. And because I suspected that people would want to talk about the meeting last night today, I just wanted to take the opportunity to talk a little bit about that process and where we see there being opportunity.
Jen Psaki: (07:59)
First as you know, once a budget, well maybe as you know, but a lot of people watching do not know, that once a budget resolution has passed, the House and Senate negotiators will work to develop a reconciliation bill that can pass through the House and Senate. At several points in this process, as we look to the weeks ahead, Republicans can engage and see their ideas adopted. At any point in the process, a bipartisan bill can pass on the floor. So just creating the option for reconciliation with a budget resolution does not foreclose other legislative options. This is my, when a bill becomes a law, moment of the briefing today.
Jen Psaki: (08:34)
Second, Republican ideas can be adopted during the reconciliation negotiations, and is likely that several bipartisan ideas maybe, or we’re certainly hopeful of that. And third, Republicans have the ability to offer amendments both during the budget resolution and instruction phase of the process, and then later during the reconciliation and in that way can ensure their ideas are heard.
Jen Psaki: (08:58)
And I did all of that because I think it’s important. There’s been some misunderstanding about how this process works and think there was some view that the vote, the final vote was this week. You all know that’s not the case. There is some time. That’s why the President is engaging, why he did with Republicans last night, Democrats today, and why he’s conveyed that he would like to continue doing that in the days ahead.
Speaker 1: (09:21)
Secondly, Moscow court sends Alexei Navalny to prison for two and a half years for violating his probation for going to Germany to recuperate from being poisoned. Does the White House plan any additional steps in response?
Jen Psaki: (09:36)
Well, [inaudible 00:09:37], you may not have seen this because I think it just came out. But Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, put out a statement in response to the sentencing. I will, just let me reiterate some of the pieces from here. We are deeply concerned by Russian authorities efforts decision, I should say, to sentence opposition figure Alexei Navalny. Like every Russian citizen, Mr. Navalny is entitled to the rights provided in the Russian constitution. And Russia has international obligations to respect equality before the law and the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. We reiterate our call for the Russian government to immediately, unconditionally release Mr. Navalny, as well as the hundreds of other Russian citizens wrongfully detained in recent weeks for exercising their rights.
Jen Psaki: (10:24)
I will say so, to your specific question, there is an ongoing review. We announced, I think it was early last week of a number of the reported or concerning actions, I should say by the Russian government, which includes the treatment of Alexei Navalny, it includes a full assessment of the Solar Winds hack. It includes a review of the reports around bounties on troops, and it also includes reports of an assessment of engagement in the 2020 election. That’s an ongoing review by the national security team. When they conclude that, that will launch whatever policy process to determine what steps we will take from here.
Jen Psaki: (11:08)
Go ahead Mary.
On the relief bill, Democrats are obviously moving ahead with this process, you all are so hopeful that you can get bipartisan support, but you’ve also made it clear that you’re not going to slim down this bill significantly. So where right now is the greatest potential for compromise to try and achieve that bipartisanship?
Jen Psaki: (11:25)
Well you’re right, Mary, that I think, and this was evident in the discussion last night. It was, as we said in our readout, and I think as Senator Collins also said, it was civil, it was constructive. This is how democracy should work. We should be engaging. Democrats and Republicans should be engaging with each other, but there certainly is a gap between where we are and where the proposal, the Republican proposal that was discussed last night was. There are some bottom lines, I think the President has, which he has conveyed in the meeting last night and reiterated to us this morning, which is, to put it simply-
Jen Psaki: (12:03)
… he then reiterated to us this morning, which is to put it simply or accessibly for people, he believes a married couple. Let’s say they’re in Scranton, just for the sake of argument. One is working as a nurse, the other is a teacher making $120,000 a year, should get a check. That’s in his plan. And the plan presented by Republicans, they would not get a check.
Jen Psaki: (12:20)
And his view is that at this point in our country, when one in seven American families don’t have enough food to eat, we need to make sure people get the relief they need and are not left behind. As was also a part of our readout last night, there was a discussion there’s some technical follow-up where there’s opportunity to discuss issues like small business, issues like COVID relief, I’m not suggesting reduction. I’m suggesting how to do it effectively. And those technical discussions at a staff level will be part of what’s ongoing over the next couple of days, but the president’s bottom line is that this is a package. The risk here, as he has said, many times is not going to too big, it is going too small. That continues to be his belief. And that’s why he can, he supports the efforts by Leader Schumer and speaker Pelosi to move this package forward.
Can I ask a question on impeachment? The impeachment managers have now laid out their case. Trump’s team is leaving open the door, it seems to arguing election fraud in the trial. To repeating the false claims that somehow Trump won the election, those same false claims that fueled the riot. Is this administration concerned that the former president’s defense could incite further violence?
Jen Psaki: (13:32)
Well, certainly watching reactions in the country, watching the potential for violence is something that we will do closely from the White House across the country, no matter what prompts it, and that’s something we will certainly keep an eye on. But I think in this case, as you know, there have been dozens and dozens of court cases that have been debunked. The president of the United States is sitting in the Oval Office, engaging and governing the country. And obviously we have moved forward even more than we were prior to the inauguration in delivering on what the American people decided on in November.
Move on to immigration. Some reform advocates have criticized these actions for being reviews of certain programs like the Remain in Mexico Program rather than cancellations, why review and not reverse some of these programs?
Jen Psaki: (14:27)
Sure. Well, part of our effort, Mary is to assess the damage that has been done by the policies that were put in place by the prior administration. We want to act swiftly, we want to act promptly, but we also need to make sure we are doing that through a strategic policy process. And the president’s commitment to immigration is indicative and the fact that he announced an immigration bill his first day in office, and that he has signed and after this afternoon, a number of bills to overturn the immoral actions of the prior administration. But we want to ensure that our team led by the hopefully newly confirmed soon, maybe right now, secretary of Homeland Security has the ability to review the process and policies and make sure he’s putting the right ones in place.
Can you set the timing for these reviews, when the task force on reunification, for instance may actually put out their first finding?
Jen Psaki: (15:25)
We do. And it’s important to us that there are markers to give updates to the American people on this and many other issues. So there will be a report issued within 120 days, and then every 60 days thereafter on the progress being made. As I think you all know from covering this issue, this is very difficult. It’s emotional for a lot of people for understandable reasons. And we need to find out first where all these kids are and figure out where their parents are. And so we are starting at square one here, but our team wants to ensure that we are providing an update on what progress we’re being made, how it’s going to be approached and what the task force will be able to get done. Go ahead.
On the same subject. And this is going to be really big news across Latin America, especially in the countries where people have come from. What is the Biden administration’s message to people who may see this in the news in the next few days and think, “Oh, they’re changing the policy. Now might be a good time to go North.”
Jen Psaki: (16:30)
Well, the message continues to be what it has been. And I appreciate you asking the questions because it is confusing as we take a lot of these steps forward. One is that this is not the time. We want to put in place an immigration process here that is humane, that is moral, that considers applications for refugees, applications for people to come into this country at the border in a way that treats people as human beings. That’s going to take some time. It’s not going to happen overnight. Obviously we have a bill that we are hoping we’ll be able to move through Congress.
Jen Psaki: (17:06)
But we also feel, I don’t think any parent can look at what’s happened to those kids over the last couple of years and not feel that we should do everything in our power to get those kids back with their parents. So we are trying to repair the damage and the horrific actions of the prior administration, by trying to do everything we can to reunite these kids with their families, but it remains a dangerous trip. This is not the time to come to the United States. We need the time to put in place an immigration process so people can be treated humanely.
One of the other things that immigration groups have been talking about, some Democrats as well is the idea of potentially some kind of executive action that would shield immigrant workers who are considered essential workers from the threat of deportation. Is that being considered? Is that being worked on?
Jen Psaki: (17:56)
This will not be the end of our immigration actions or efforts to work on these issues. I don’t have anything on that policy consideration for you though.
That was my next question. This is still being worked on. Can you give us a sense of what else may still be coming?
Jen Psaki: (18:11)
Well then I would be getting ahead of a policy process, which I can’t do from here, Ed. But this is a priority to the president to do everything he can, obviously putting forward the bill, but also taking the executive actions he had in his power to take to overturn the immoral steps of the last administration. So that’s why he’s taking all of these steps within the first two weeks of being inaugurated.
I suspect the answer on this one might be similar, but I want to ask it anyway.
Jen Psaki: (18:36)
One of the things that was not addressed by these was the so-called tight Title 42, the CDC thing, expelling migrants and asylum seekers were literally no due process during the pandemic. The idea that they could be sent back right away because of the pandemic. Is that up for review? And why was that not perhaps addressed right away since it’s been a concern for a lot of advocates of immigrants who are trying to come across?
Jen Psaki: (18:59)
Certainly I know it has been. I would just say that continuing to take policy steps to address the plight of immigrant of migrant families, to do so in a humane and moral way is a priority of this administration. We obviously are going to continue to work on the immigration bill that we have proposed to Congress. These executive actions are just part of our strategy. And if there’s more to report to you on that, I’m happy to get to you directly. Go ahead.
Speaker 2: (19:28)
Can I follow up on the immigration question? The executive orders that have been described so hard don’t actually change or raise the refugee cap, which President Trump reduced substantially. Doesn’t also order the immediate release of children from ICE detention. The president has said that that’s something that should be done immediately. Why didn’t he do it today?
Jen Psaki: (19:47)
I think we’re going to have more again soon in the coming days and weeks on more steps and actions that the president is interested in taking. So I’m just not going to get ahead of that right now.
Speaker 2: (19:58)
So you’re saying he might still do it, but just isn’t doing it immediately.
Jen Psaki: (20:01)
Again, I was saying that there are additional steps the president will take, our policy teams will take, our experts will take to address immigration in a humane and moral way. There are also a number of steps that are under the purview of the Department of Homeland security and Secretary Mayorkas, who of course is has confirmation was a bit delayed. Some of those are going to be under his purview. And so I point to them to also engage with on some of those questions, but there is more the president will have to share on refugees and other issues soon.
Speaker 2: (20:31)
And may I finally ask whether the president has made a decision on keeping or keeping the scope of Space Force?
Jen Psaki: (20:37)
Wow. Space Force, it’s the plane of today.
Speaker 2: (20:42)
No, it’s an interesting question.
Jen Psaki: (20:43)
It is an interesting question. I am happy to check with our Space Force point of contact, I’m not sure who that is. I will find out and see if we have any update on that. Go ahead.
Jen. A couple, I’ll start with COVID relief. Senator Manchin [inaudible 00:21:00] was saying he was going to vote for the budget proposal, but made clear that his final vote is that it needs to be on a proposal that’s very targeted. He is opposed to the $15 minimum wage. Is the $15 minimum wage a must have for this White House in any final package?
Jen Psaki: (21:15)
Well, Phil, I should have also brought you up here to just talk about how a bill becomes a law, because I think you know.
17 part reconciliation instructions question.
Jen Psaki: (21:23)
Good, I can’t wait. We’ll all tune in for it. Phil, I think there are a lot of points of view as should not be a surprise to anyone of different members of Congress. We respect all of them. We’re happy to hear them. Hence, the president met with 10 Republican senators last night. But we’re not going to negotiate from here or frankly in public about what is going to be in and out of the package. We want that to work through the legislative process that is ongoing now.
And on the meeting with the Republican senators, you said the word reiterate, I think in the statement last night had the word reiterate three separate times. It’s very clear-
Jen Psaki: (22:01)
You like that word? It’s a good word. It’s a solid word.
Well it underscores that your guys’ position is firm. And so I guess my question is you’re talking about staff talks on technical details. Is that basically the ballgame right now in terms of the bipartisan talks? They can improve things on the technical side, there are pieces if they want amendments, but broadly, this is what it is and it’s moving?
Jen Psaki: (22:22)
Well, I think the president’s commitment is to urgently deliver relief to the American people. And that is what he has conveyed in every meeting he’s had or engagement he’s had with Democrats and Republicans. And as we just talked about, there’s a process that’s just in the early stages, that’s beginning on Capitol Hill to do exactly that. But there are also steps that can be taken or changes that can be made through negotiations that also, through the legislative process have to happen between the House and Senate. There are amendments that can be proposed and voted on, and we’re going to see that process through or allow that process to go through. As that’s happening, the president will continue to be engaged. He’ll continue to have more discussions with a variety of members of Congress from both parties to see if there’s places to come to consensus and agreement on how to approach some of the issues and challenges the American people are facing.
That’s [inaudible 00:23:12] you guys have made it very clear the $130 billion for K through 12 is crucial to reopening schools. I think there’s something along the lines of 60 to 65 billion in past proposals that have been obligated, but is mostly unspent right now on the public school front. What are you guys doing to ensure that gets out the door, given the priority it is in your next package?
Jen Psaki: (23:32)
Sure. Well, my understanding from talking to our economic team is that the funding that was in the $900 billion package, I think is if that’s what you’re referring, to will be spent in the next couple of weeks. And so what we’re trying to look ahead to is what are the needs as we’re looking to public schools across the country, that many of them need funding. Many of them need PPE. Many of them need testing. Many of them need better ventilation in their schools to ensure we have adequate funding needed to open the majority of schools within a hundred days-
Jen Psaki: (24:03)
… adequate funded needed to open the majority of schools within a hundred days, which remains the president’s goal. Go ahead.
Speaker 3: (24:06)
Yeah. Today, there was new data on the Sputnik V vaccine showing that it’s quite effective, and I’m wondering if the administration is concerned at all that Russia could use this vaccine to exert geopolitical power with nations in need, perhaps in Latin America.
Jen Psaki: (24:29)
That is not a concern I’ve discussed with our national security team. Obviously, our focus is on our own FDA approval process here and ensuring that we make as much of the vaccine available to the American public. And we just rejoined, as you know, the World Health Organization, because we believe that the more people who are vaccinated around the world, the safer we all are, but I’m happy to speak with them about it and see if that’s a concern they have.
Speaker 3: (24:54)
One other question on the COVID travel ban that is in place. Is that a temporary thing while the CDC and the Biden administration figure out a safe way for international travel to occur, or is that seen as more long-term, especially given that the variants are already here?
Jen Psaki: (25:13)
Well, these were steps taken, as you know, by our team in order to increase the safety of the American public. And certainly we don’t want them to be forever because we want to get the pandemic under control, but they will be in place as long as our health and medical experts believe they’re necessary or essential in order to keep the public safe. So the impact of variants, which is a very good question, is something they assess, and I would certainly encourage you to ask them that question on our next COVID call. Go ahead.
Speaker 4: (25:46)
There’ve been calls for some kind of boycott of China’s 2022 Olympics. Given the administration’s recent support of the genocide designation there, does President Biden support those calls to perhaps find a new host country? And have they engaged with other allies on that topic?
Jen Psaki: (26:02)
Well, I’ve seen some reports of that, and I don’t have any update for you or preview for you or change of our approach to the Beijing Olympics, no.
Speaker 5: (26:15)
President Biden has promised to make the visitor logs public, and then bring that back, that tradition. Obviously, you guys are not having a lot of visitors due to the pandemic. To the extent that these calls are taking on virtually, is there any talk about a virtual visitor log, or some kind of transparency on how those virtual meetings are being disclosed to the public?
Jen Psaki: (26:34)
Our pledge is to venture to be, hope to be the most ethically-stringent government in history, and we’ve put in place, he’s put in place, a number of steps and policies to deliver on exactly that. You’re right that there are not currently many visitors. At some point hopefully there will be, and we will be returning to the release of those visitor logs. That was not the case during the prior administration. At this point, there’s not a discussion of making virtual meetings a part of what’s released. Go ahead, Jeff.
Hey, Jen. I actually have more visitor logs questions.
Jen Psaki: (27:09)
The first one is, has anybody at the administration looked at the logs from the weeks before or leading up to the January 6 [inaudible 00:27:17] to see if anyone connected with the riot had been in the building?
Jen Psaki: (27:22)
You’re not the first person to ask this question. It’s a very interesting one, or newsworthy one, I guess I should say. I have not had a chance to talk to our team on whether we even have access to those logs. I mean, we obviously know what information is put in from visits, people who come to visit, and we have the ability to release that over the coming months. I’m not aware of an assessment of that, but I will also ask our team if we have access to them, or if there’s a plan to look at them.
[inaudible 00:27:47] get back to releasing… I know under Obama, they came out on a monthly basis a few months after the date of effect. If it’s possible, would you release them for the prior administration? Because there are a lot of people coming in and out of here where the public would only learn through a random media report or a camera who got a picture.
Jen Psaki: (28:04)
I’m not even sure if it’s technically possible. That feels like the first question, so let me talk to our technical gurus and see what I can find out.
Technical thing, if you don’t mind. The first impeachment, there was a lot dealing with a foreign leader call by the president to Ukraine. Is that system still intact, where there’s notes and records of foreign leader calls? And is anybody [inaudible 00:28:24], or anybody else looking at those?
Jen Psaki: (28:26)
From the prior administration?
Past foreign leader calls by the predecessor.
Jen Psaki: (28:33)
I am not aware of an assessment of those, Jeff. I think our focus is on our foreign leader calls the current president of the United States is making to global leaders in an effort to rebuild our place in the world and work on some diplomacy. [Katie 00:28:46].
I just have another question on immigration, on the family reunification task force. I know you said you’re at square one, but can you talk a little bit more about the work ahead in finding some of these kids? I think the current number… It might be higher, you can correct me. It’s at 600 or so. And I’m also wondering if you can talk a little bit about how officials are going to evaluate cases to determine whether the families will be reunited in their home countries, or if they will be allowed to stay here.
Jen Psaki: (29:12)
It’s a great question, Katie, and some of that is what Secretary Mayorkas, newly confirmed Secretary Mayorkas, and the task force will have to assess, and it will be a case by case. There are estimates of between 6 and 700 kids, but part of what we need to do in the early stages, or I should say what the task force needs to do, is determine what the accurate number is and where these kids are, and then determine case by case what the best process and approach is for reuniting them with their family members. So there’s a great deal of work ahead. There is a team that is very committed to that work, and part of what I’m sure will be in the report around 120 days is what progress they’ve made on that effort. Go ahead.
Does the president think cutting off aid to Myanmar’s government goes far enough, or are you all looking at additional steps? And what might those be?
Jen Psaki: (30:06)
Well, I think the State Department may have put a statement out, if I’m correct here, on the assessment made in the legal review that is calling the events in Burma a coup. And as you also know and we talked about a little bit here yesterday, but there were some sanctions relieved over the last several years because of steps that the government had taken toward democracy. There has been a rollback of those, and obviously looking at sanctions is a big tool that would certainly be assessed, and I think that would be the one I would focus on at this point in time.
We haven’t heard and we haven’t seen a readout of the president talking to President Xi, and I was wondering if there’s something scheduled or when that might be. It’s been a couple of weeks.
Jen Psaki: (30:54)
Less than two weeks, actually. It may seem longer to you. Our approach to China and our approach to our relationship with China is strategic, obviously, and we are working to ensure that we are approaching that relationship from a position of strength, and that includes engagement with our allies and partners. A lot of those calls have happened over the last 10 weeks… 10 days. That was a little Freudian there, with the 10 weeks. 10 days they will continue, and also engagements with Democrats and Republicans in Congress about the path forward. I don’t have any call to predict for you at this point in time. Obviously with Secretary of State Tony Blinken now confirmed, there are additional layers to engage with the Chinese, but we’ll let you know when a call is happening and certainly have a readout for all of you as well.
Speaker 6: (31:55)
That sounds a lot like the strategy is not to talk to him at this time, because you’re talking about speaking to allies and making other calls first. Have they requested a call?
Jen Psaki: (32:06)
I don’t have anything more for you. I don’t appreciate the putting words in my mouth. That wasn’t what my effort was. What I was conveying is what our strategy is here from the United States, which is to work with our partners and allies and determine what the right time is. Of course the relationship with China is going to be multi-layered. We’ll deal with climate, we’ll deal with the economy, we’ll deal with security. And that is, of course, a priority to President Biden. He’s spoken about it during the transition. He’s spoken about it. Obviously, he’s had engagements with his national security team about a range of issues, including China. We’ve been here less than two weeks, and when we have a call to read read out, I’ll make sure you know. Go ahead in the back.
Speaker 7: (32:47)
Thanks, Jen. I want to ask you a few on the rescue plan talks, and I want to follow up on a question that Phil had asked you. You had acknowledged that the gap between the administration and Republicans is why, but the talks last night was constructive. So after the discussion in the Oval Office last night, is the number from the White House still $1.9 trillion?
Jen Psaki: (33:08)
Speaker 7: (33:11)
On the issue of the minimum wage, you had said that the president believes that a nurse and a teacher, a couple who makes $120,000, should get a check. So that’s clearly a quote unquote red line. I don’t know if you want to describe it as that, but something that the president wants. But when you were asked about-
Jen Psaki: (33:29)
Red line is an old term. We’re not going to use it again.
Speaker 7: (33:33)
Okay. When you were asked about the minimum wage, you said you’re not going to negotiate from here, and you want to work through that. So it seems as if the president might be open to dropping the minimum wage from the bill. Is that a fair assessment?
Jen Psaki: (33:44)
I know there’s a lot of appetite for what is going to be negotiated in and out of the bill. I totally get it. This is a big topic of interest, but what I was just conveying as an example is that ensuring those checks are in the hands of Americans is a top priority for the president. I wasn’t taking in and out things in the bill. That will be a negotiation that will happen through Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Obviously, the reconciliation process has just started. There are many opportunities for Republicans to offer amendments. There’s a whole negotiation that’s going to take place, and the president will continue to be engaged with members of both parties through that process.
Speaker 7: (34:19)
And on the issue of Senator Manchin and his statement today, he talked about how he would like to see something targeted. He said, “Let me be clear, and those are the words I shared with President Biden. Our focus must be targeted on the COVID-19 crisis and Americans who have been most impacted by the pandemic.” His quote. Does the White House believe that at 1.9 trillion is a targeted package?
Jen Psaki: (34:37)
Well, the size of the package was determined not for shock value, but to address the dual crises that we’re facing, and that includes ensuring that millions of Americans can put food on the table. One in seven American families are concerned about food security right now. It ensures that we have funding that we can reopen schools so that kids can go back to school, mothers and fathers can not worry about their kids, and ensures that people can apply for unemployment insurance. The size of the package was determined of course in consultation with members on the Hill, but also based on the recommendations of economists, on health experts, and that’s how we came up with that number.
Speaker 7: (35:20)
Lastly, there’s going to be a jobs report on Friday. Depending on how that jobs report looks, might that change how the White House views what needs to be in the package or not? Or do you kind of believe that this is the best framework now, and that’s what you’re going with?
Jen Psaki: (35:35)
I mean, if there was a jobs report that there were 10 million jobs created, that would be great news. I don’t suspect that will be what the outcome of the jobs numbers will be. So no, it will not change. As we saw from the CBO numbers, which projected, I should say, that there would be growth this year. That’s obviously positive, but we’re digging out of a massive hole, and the challenge right now is that it’s going to take years to return to the pace of economic growth that the country-
Jen Psaki: (36:03)
… To the pace of economic growth that the country needs to be at. So, no. I wouldn’t suspect it would change things. Go ahead in the back.
Speaker 8: (36:07)
Thank you, Jen. A couple of followups.
Jen Psaki: (36:11)
Speaker 8: (36:11)
First, to Tamara’s question, Governor Hogan-
Jen Psaki: (36:14)
Speaker 8: (36:15)
Said that there has been two more cases of the South African variant in Montgomery County in Maryland in people who were coming back from abroad. I mean, is it not an opportunity… are you worried? Is that an opportunity to eventually widen the travel restrictions?
Jen Psaki: (36:36)
Well, I think what our team, our health and medical teams do, so the CDC and others who are actual doctors, is make assessments about what steps need to be taken, whether it’s masking, that, as you know, is now required on planes, or travel restrictions from certain countries in order to keep the American people safe. And certainly the-
Speaker 8: (36:57)
Well, it hasn’t worked in Maryland, obviously.
Jen Psaki: (36:59)
Well, I don’t know that it hasn’t worked, because we also have prevented a number of people from coming into the country and tried to take steps to reduce the spread of COVID and also the spread of some of these variants. But they will assess steps that need to be taken based on variants. Obviously, that’s something that they review on a daily basis.
Speaker 8: (37:19)
Follow up to Anita’s question.
Jen Psaki: (37:19)
Speaker 8: (37:22)
Correct me if I wrong, but the president hasn’t spoken yet with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He has not. Isn’t that surprising?
Jen Psaki: (37:30)
I don’t know that it’s surprising less than two weeks into an administration. He hasn’t called every foreign leader yet. He certainly would love to spend more time talking to foreign leaders. His first love is foreign policy. But I expect he’ll continue to have additional engagements in the weeks ahead. And, obviously, we have a long and abiding relationship with Israel, important security relationship. I’m sure they’ll discuss that and a range of issues when they do connect.
Speaker 8: (38:01)
Last question, Jen, since president Clinton and president Obama made Canada the destination of the first trip, can we expect the same thing from president Biden?
Jen Psaki: (38:07)
That was a very creative way of asking the first foreign trip question. I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of where the president will travel on his first foreign trip. I’m as eager as you all are. I’m as eager as you all are. I love foreign travel. I will remind you that his first call was, of course, to the prime minister of Canada. So, that is certainly affirmation of the importance of the relationship. Go ahead in the back.
Speaker 9: (38:31)
Yeah. Thanks, Jen. One on immigration and one on jobs, if that’s okay.
Jen Psaki: (38:35)
Speaker 9: (38:35)
So, the president’s third executive order, as I’m reading it, restoring faith in our legal immigration system and promoting integration of new Americans. Should visa applicants in the K1, in the student E2 to visa programs, should they take this as a sign that there’ll be granted travel waivers to return to the United States? I know you were asked about that last week.
Jen Psaki: (38:55)
Yeah, I was. And it is still under review. Obviously, as we talked about a little bit last week, or I don’t remember if you were here that day, but-
Speaker 9: (39:01)
Jen Psaki: (39:02)
But it was a question someone else asked. And married couples, as you know, are able to travel. There was a review of students and of couples who were not married. That review hasn’t concluded yet.
Speaker 9: (39:15)
And then on jobs, given that mayor, I guess now Secretary Buttigieg has been confirmed, when can we expect to see a detailed infrastructure plan, given the potential for new job creation there?
Jen Psaki: (39:27)
Well, we’re going to officially invite Secretary Buttigieg to come to this briefing room and talk to you all about it whenever he has that to discuss, or even before then. He has been, obviously, working on getting confirmed, but I know he’s eager to get to work. And we’ll see when he has more specifics to lay out. Go ahead.
Speaker 10: (39:44)
I can ask about the announcements today, with respect to the vaccine?
Jen Psaki: (39:45)
Speaker 10: (39:47)
Equity is a big part of that.
Jen Psaki: (39:48)
Speaker 10: (39:49)
We’ve been rolling that out previously. What extent is international equity factoring in? Right now, the orders you have add up, if they all come through, which is admittedly a big if, to quite a bit more than the U.S. would need. What would you do with all that? And are you concerned that you might be boxing out less wealthy countries from getting earlier access to the vaccine?
Jen Psaki: (40:08)
Well, that’s certainly not our objective. The president’s objective is to have as many vaccines. As you said, there’s a lot of factors that could happen here thar could prevent this from happening exactly as we’ve planned it. Freezers can break. Trucks can break. Snow storms, as we’ve seen this week. We’re fully aware of that. May our problem be that we have too many vaccines to put in the arms of the American people. That is not the current problem we’re tracking. So, that’s what our first focus is going to be at this point in time.
Speaker 10: (40:35)
So, if that happens, will you distribute them to allies first on a needs basis?
Jen Psaki: (40:40)
I certainly hope that’s our challenge and our problem. And I’m sure we will be happy to discuss that, if that is our issue. But, as you know, we’ve also rejoined the World Health Organization. We want to have a seat at the table. It’s important that our global community is healthy, not just our community in the United States. But we’re going to be focused first on ensuring the American people are vaccinated. Go ahead.
Speaker 11: (40:59)
I have just another vaccine question. You guys, you mentioned, you ramped up 16% distribution last week from 5%.
Jen Psaki: (41:04)
Speaker 11: (41:05)
You have a million doses going out to the pharmacies as well.
Jen Psaki: (41:07)
Speaker 11: (41:09)
Jeff was talking about how this is a ramp up of Moderna and Pfizer.
Jen Psaki: (41:12)
Speaker 11: (41:12)
What kind of visibility are you getting into what’s coming? Like did you know the 16% last week was coming? Did you know the five? Like how long in advance do you know?
Jen Psaki: (41:22)
Did we could plan to announce the new-
Speaker 11: (41:24)
That you could actually announce things and kick them into gear.
Jen Psaki: (41:26)
Yeah. Well, we’re working on trying to be able to have that ability and that assessment. As governors, I’m sure, will tell you or I’ve told many of you, that’s also what they’re looking on. Right? Looking at. So, we’re trying to get to a place where we know what’s coming so governors and local officials know what’s coming to them and they can assess where to distribute it in their states. The process is at the early stages, but our goal is certainly to have an understanding of when we’ll be able to ramp up distribution to states.
Speaker 11: (41:57)
Like on something like today-
Jen Psaki: (41:57)
Speaker 11: (41:58)
How many days ago did you know, “Okay. On Tuesday, we can announce that, on February 11th, we’ve got a million doses going out to pharmacies.” What’s the turnaround on that?
Jen Psaki: (42:09)
Well, that particular announcement has a couple of components. Right? It’s, of course, engagement with states and governors. And engaging with them is pivotal, but also with pharmacies and ensuring that they’re able to do it. I mean, if you log on to CVS to do an appointment to get a flu shot, you want to know that the system is going to work. So, there are a lot of steps in the process. I’m not sure how many days in advance we knew that it was full to go. Not many. But it takes a great deal of coordination to make sure governors feel comfortable with the announcements being made, that we’re fully coordinating with them, that they can explain to their public, that, of course, pharmacies are just a part of what we’re doing. Right?
Jen Psaki: (42:47)
A million doses is a lot. It is not going to vaccinate the entire country. We’re going to ramp that up. So, that leaves some onus on them to be able to communicate where people can also get their vaccine. So, that coordination is key, as a part of it, several components in this one. But we don’t usually sit on these announcements. So, I don’t think that long. Go ahead.
Speaker 12: (43:07)
Jen, Senator Schumer just came out and said that he had a “Really good lunch with the president and Secretary Yellen.” He also said that the president told Republicans last night that the 600 billion was way too small. Does that track with your understanding of what he actually said to them last night?
Jen Psaki: (43:25)
Yes. I mean, the president has been clear that our risk is not having a package that’s too big. It’s having a package that’s too small. And there have been public proposals, of course, by these senators and by others to split the package, to do a smaller package. And his view is that there are key components and funding that would be needed in order to ensure that millions and millions of people have checks in their hands, that we ensure people are getting those $1,400 checks, that we ensure that we are properly funding schools to reopen, that we have the funding needed to get shots in the arms of the American people. So, that is not a cheap endeavor, but those key components are all a priority to the president. Go ahead, Anita.
I just wanted to follow up on the meeting last night. In the readout and all that we’ve heard is about the relief bill. Did any other issue come up? It was quite a lengthy meeting, a couple hours. I wondered if the president brought up anything or if the senators brought up executive orders or other policy issues? Or was it solely focused?
Jen Psaki: (44:35)
It was focused on the American Rescue Plan. And they had a robust discussion about it. I don’t have any more of a readout for you than what we provided last night.
What bout the lunch? I know that I think it was happening as we came out here.
Jen Psaki: (44:46)
I know it’s happening right now. So, I don’t actually know. But we will put out a readout of it afterwards.
And the role was just to discuss the same, the bill? Nothing else?
Jen Psaki: (44:57)
Yeah. Exactly. And obviously, people can raise what they want to raise. I’m sure democratic senators will share with all of you what they raise, but the focus of it was to discuss the American Rescue Plan, the path forward, and the imperative of moving it ahead. Go ahead in the back. Oh, go ahead. I’m sorry. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Speaker 13: (45:11)
Okay. Is there any plan or date set for the president to address a joint session of Congress? And are you guys already working on his address? And is selling the American rescue package part of that? And in what way?
Jen Psaki: (45:25)
Not yet and not yet to the first two questions. And it really depends on the timing. Of course, there’s urgency, as you’ve heard the president say and all of us say in moving this package forward. I think, as he also said in his prime time address, when he announced the American Rescue Plan, he also has plans to announce a Build Back Better agenda. And our plans would be to do that once we are at a point where that can be the next priority. So, we don’t have a date yet. It depends on when that date is and what the focus will be. And not working on it quite yet. Go ahead.
Speaker 14: (45:58)
Yeah. So, on the UAE aluminum tariff announcement, I know the president had insinuated that he wants to do a full review of former President Trump’s tariffs before acting on any of those. And the former president signed that out on December 31st. Should we take this announcement as an indication that that review is completed? Or is this just a one-off instance specifically pertaining to UAE?
Jen Psaki: (46:25)
So, as you said, and for people who are not totally as familiar with this issue as you are, I know there’s a lot going on in the news. Shortly before the inauguration of President Biden, the United States lifted a 10% existing tariff under section 232 of the Trade expansion Act on aluminum imports for the UAE. His campaign promise included a commitment to carefully evaluating all steps taken by the previous administration on trade, as you also said, including the private deals and assurances that may have been made. As part of his campaign commitment, we are conducting an immediate review. So, the review is underway of the previous administration’s trade policy to determine what steps need to be taken. So, that includes decisions on tariffs and the previous administration’s decision to lift the existing tariffs on the UAE under section 230 at the last hour was made clearly in our view on the basis of foreign policy issues unrelated to trade. So, it’s all a part of the ongoing review.
Speaker 14: (47:26)
Thank you, Jen.
Jen Psaki: (47:27)
Great. Thanks, everyone. See you tomorrow.