Feb 8, 2021
Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript February 8
February 8, 2021 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. She focused on COVID-19 relief and the American Rescue Plan. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Jen Psaki: (00:30)
Hi everyone, hi. TJ has an alarm going off, he’s excited about the briefing. Okay, just a couple of things for you all at the top, the President and his entire administration are continuing to engage closely with leaders on Capitol Hill about the need to act quickly on the American Rescue Plan, so we can finish the job of getting $2,000 checks out to Americans, so we can get more vaccines in the arms of Americans, so we can get economic relief to families facing eviction or food insecurity, and so we can help reopen schools safely.
Jen Psaki: (01:12)
We’re encouraged that both Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Schumer are in full agreement about the need to move swiftly on the President’s proposal. And the committee markups we’ll see throughout the week are evidence of Congress acting on that expeditiously. Our expectation is that this week’s House markups will track closely with what the President has proposed, but there will of course be adjustments to strengthen the bill, and tweaks as a result of the legislative process, which he’s quite familiar with having served there for 36 years; which is exactly how the process is supposed to work.
Jen Psaki: (01:43)
We’re also going to continue to make the case directly to the American people about the urgency of getting this package across the finish line, including through national and local TV and radio interviews, engagement with hundreds of mayors and county elected officials, consultations with stakeholders across the political spectrum, from labor and rural leaders to the faith community.
Jen Psaki: (02:03)
Here’s a quick overview, a number of you have asked about this, of the sense of the scope of our efforts. Over a dozen senior administration officials have conducted over 100 national TV, radio, and podcast interviews to discuss the American Rescue Plan. We’ve done over 30 local TV interviews in states ranging from Nevada, to Louisiana, to Pennsylvania. In the last week alone, our Legislative Affairs Team had done more than 300 calls with members and staff on the Hill, including 40 calls with Republicans or bipartisan groups. And you can expect that the President will engage throughout the course of this week with a range of stakeholders, including business leaders, mayors, and governors. And as we’ve discussed before, this message is resonating. Poll after poll show a bipartisan majority of the American people in support of the President’s plan.
Jen Psaki: (02:55)
A couple of other quick updates for all of you, many folks likely noticed if you all watched the Super Bowl, the President and the First Lady yesterday appeared in a PSA that aired during the pregame show, thanking healthcare workers and addressing the importance of continuing to wear masks and getting vaccinations when it’s your turn. This is a good example of how you can expect the White House in the coming months to reach out with critical public health messaging as part of an education campaign meeting Americans where they, are on their couches, watching the Super Bowl for yesterday, and communicating about the important mitigation steps people can take.
Jen Psaki: (03:33)
As you many of you also know last night during the Super Bowl, President Biden called service members to thank them for their courage, dedication, and service to our nation. He first called troops with Resolute Support Mission in Kabul, and then the USS Nimitz. He then shared, via ship broadcast, a message to the nearly 5,000 sailors and Marines who comprise the USS Nimitz crew. With that, let’s get to your question. Go ahead Alice.
Thanks Jen, I have two. The first is on your favorite topic, impeachment. Does the President have plans to watch any of the trial this week? And does the White House prefer a speedy impeachment trial, or would the President prefer a full airing of the violence at the Capitol, and [inaudible 00:04:15] and citing it through things like live witnesses?
Jen Psaki: (04:18)
Well, first the President himself would tell you that we keep him pretty busy, and he has a full schedule this week, which we will continue to keep you abreast of. And as soon as we have more details, but we’ve already announced his plans to go visit the NIH, to go visit the Department of Defense. As I noted, he will be engaging with business leaders, mayors, and governors, and of course continuing to make the case, and have conversations with Democrats and Republicans directly about his hopes and plans for the American Rescue Plan moving forward as quickly as possible.
Jen Psaki: (04:50)
So I think it’s clear from his schedule, and from his intention, he will not spend too much time watching the proceedings at any time over the course of this week. He will remain closely in touch with Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, arrange of officials on the Hill about his plan. And that’s exactly what they want them to do, is to remain focused on that. And he will leave the pace, and the process, and the mechanics of the impeachment proceedings up to members of Congress.
President Biden said there’s no need for Trump to receive intelligence briefing. Has Trump requested any, has he received any, and is that the official decision, or who is that decision left up to?
Jen Psaki: (05:32)
Well, the President said when asked, that there was no need for him to receive them. And he referenced, of course, his erratic behavior, which I think many Americans would agree with him on. He was expressing his concern about former President Trump receiving access to sensitive intelligence. But he also has deep trust in his own intelligence team to make a determination about how to provide intelligence information, if at any point the former President requests a briefing. So that’s not currently applicable, but if he should request a briefing, he leaves with them to make a determination.
Jen Psaki: (06:06)
Go ahead. Oh, sorry, I’ve been meaning to go to Reuters next. So we’ll go for it to you next. Go ahead.
Speaker 1: (06:10)
Thank you much. So you mentioned that there will be adjustments or there could be adjustments to the ARP. One component of that that was really important as far as the campaign promise was the $15 minimum wage. The President has already signaled that that may not make it into the full package. How important is that measure still to the White House, that how will you get it done?
Speaker 1: (06:31)
And then also the other thing that came out this weekend is looking at tweaking the level of who gets the stimulus checks. And Janet Yellen mentioned 60,000. Can you explain who gets left out? Who is between the 60,000 and the 75,000?
Jen Psaki: (06:47)
Sure. Well, on the first question, the President remains firmly committed to raising the minimum wage to $15; that’s why he put it in his first legislative proposal. And he believes that any American who is working a full-time job, trying to make ends meet, should not be at the poverty level. And it’s important to him that the minimum wage is raised.
Jen Psaki: (07:09)
He was referring this weekend to, as you noted in your question, the parliamentary process. Obviously it’s the most likely path at this point, is through a reconciliation process. There is a parliamentarian who will make decisions about what can end up in a final package. And that was certainly what he was referencing in his comments. In terms of what the options are, we’ll see what the parliamentarian decides, and then we’ll see what additional options are. But we’re getting a little ahead of where we are at this point in the process. I’m sure we can continue to have a discussion about it in here. And then state your second question one more time.
Speaker 1: (07:45)
Jen Psaki: (07:46)
Sure. Well, one of the pieces that the President has talked about, is his openness to engaging and having a discussion about what is unofficially called, “The scale up.” So his proposal, as you know, had proposed $1,400 checks to make the $2,000 whole, he had proposed kind of a threshold. There’s a discussion right now about what that threshold will look like. A conclusion hasn’t been finalized; that will be worked through Congress.
Jen Psaki: (08:16)
But either way, his bottom line is that families making $275,000, 300,000 a year may not be the most in need of checks at this point in time. But whatever the threshold is, there will be a scale up. So his view is that a nurse, a teacher, a firefighter who’s making $60,000 shouldn’t be left without any support or relief either. It’s just a question of where the scale up, what it looks like in a final package, but it’s still being negotiated at this point in time.
Speaker 1: (08:45)
If I could just ask you on the $15, doesn’t make it much harder to get it through if you don’t attach it to this COVID Relief Bill. And then the CBO is saying that in fact, if you did go through with it that it would lead to a 0.9% reduction in the number of jobs.
Jen Psaki: (09:06)
Well, I heard about the CBO score as I was walking out here, so I haven’t talked with our economic team about that specifically. And at this point in time, it’s still working its way through the process in Congress. And the parliamentarians still has to make a determination about what will be in a final package. Oh, I promised I’d go to you next, go ahead.
Speaker 2: (09:26)
Thank you. I have a couple of questions on COVID. But I want to just start with Iran.
Jen Psaki: (09:29)
Speaker 2: (09:30)
President Biden has said that the U.S. would not lift sanctions first, and that Iran would have to stop enriching uranium before negotiations could resume. But since then, the Supreme Leader has said that the U.S. has to act first and roll back sanctions in order to re-engage. Is this a non-negotiable point for President Biden? And if so, how do you get out of this stalemate?
Jen Psaki: (09:53)
Well, just to be very clear, the President never said that exactly. It was stated by the interviewer, Norah O’Donnell who did the interview, and he didn’t respond to the question. So the President’s position is that if Iran comes back into full-
Speaker 2: (10:07)
I believe he nodded.
Jen Psaki: (10:08)
I think if we were an announcing a major policy change, we would do it in a different way than a slight head nod. But overall, his position remains exactly what it has been, which is that if Iran comes into full compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA, the United States would do the same, and then use that as a platform to build a larger and stronger agreement that also addresses other areas of concern. And that would, of course, be done with our P5+1 partners, as it was done when we were putting together the JCPOA in the first place.
Speaker 2: (10:42)
So what’s the response to Iran’s argument that it was actually the U.S. that violated the JCPOA by abandoning it, and therefore it’s the U.S.’ burden to re-engage?
Jen Psaki: (10:51)
Well, those were actions of the former administration, as you know, and President Biden, of course, was a part of an administration that were advocating for the plan to be put together to begin with. But I think his position, the position of our National Security Team, and the position that he’s been conveying to our partners, is that it’s really up to Iran to come back into full compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA. And at that point we could move the discussion forward.
Speaker 2: (11:24)
Jen Psaki: (11:24)
Speaker 2: (11:24)
And on COVID can you talk about the concrete steps the administration is doing to target and stop the spread of the variants we keep hearing about? Does that include surging vaccines to areas impacted like South Florida, or California with the B117 strain?
Jen Psaki: (11:41)
Well, I know for you, and I know we had a lot of briefings today, who had the opportunity to participate in the briefing with some of our medical and health experts, they talked about the importance of not only vaccination, getting the vaccine when you’re eligible, that that is a protective step, obviously, and also abiding by a number of the mitigation steps that our health experts have-
Jen Psaki: (12:03)
… by a number of the mitigation steps that our health experts have recommended, but I’m not going to go beyond the advice of our health and medical experts at this point in time. Go ahead. [Caitlin 00:12:11].
Two questions for you. One, on the minimum wage. You’re saying it’s up to the parliamentarian to make a decision about whether that can be included in here. Of course we know Senator Sanders said they’re still waiting on that, but technically the vice president could overrule the parliamentarian on this and it hasn’t happened in a long time, but is that an option the white house is considering? Would President Biden want Vice President Harris to overrule the parliamentarian to include this in this package?
Jen Psaki: (12:37)
I’m not aware of that being allowed. I certainly take you at your word. I think our view is that the parliamentarian, who is chosen typically to make a decision in a non-partisan manner, in terms of what can be included in a package that goes through reconciliation, is the proper process for this to journey through.
When President Biden told CBS that he did not think it was going to survive, who had told him that it wasn’t going to make it through likely?
Jen Psaki: (13:04)
Well, the president was in the senate for 36 years. Again, it still has not worked its way through the process and that can take a bit of time and we certainly defer to the parliamentarian and members of the senate to give you a better assessment of what the timeline looks.
Okay. I have another question on [inaudible 00:13:26], but just to be clear. If the parliamentarian says, no, no $15 minimum wage, that’s the decision the white house is going with?
Jen Psaki: (13:32)
Well, let’s wait and see what they say. The president remains committed to raising the minimum wage. It’s something he talked about on the campaign trail, something he firmly believes in as a person and as a leader, but there hasn’t been a determination made at this point in time.
Okay. About impeachment, the president and the white house has not said either way if he believes that former president Trump should be convicted by the senate in this trial, but if he doesn’t believe that he should get access to intelligence briefings, why can’t he say whether or not he should be convicted by the senate?
Jen Psaki: (14:04)
He’s no longer in the senate. He’s retired from the senate and he’s president of the United States and his focus is on getting relief to the American people and that’s exactly what he’s conveyed publicly, of course and privately as well. He’ll leave it to his former colleagues in the senate or members of the senate to determine the path forward.
Doesn’t he think that someone, if he believes his behavior is too erratic to get access to intelligence, then doesn’t he believe that he should be barred from holding office again?
Jen Psaki: (14:29)
Well, he ran against him because he felt he was unfit for office and he defeated him and that’s why Trump is no longer president of the United States. I think his views of the former president are pretty clear, but he’s going to leave it with the senate to see this impeachment proceedings through. Go ahead.
Speaker 3: (14:49)
Just to follow up on that question, will the president commit to giving his view once all the evidence is heard in the impeachment trial and then secondly, a question on Myanmar, what is The US doing to perhaps accelerate some of the action we’re seeing over the weekend with protests and secondly, how concerned is the US about China, which has not stepped in forcefully and is not calling it a coup?
Jen Psaki: (15:12)
Sure. We have been, our national security team, has been in touch with the number of our partners and allies. We were outspoken quite quickly in the days following the coup and we named it, designated it a coup, very quickly. In terms of what actions we’re taking, there are considerations that are underway or policy processes that are underway on our national security team, as we speak. I don’t have an update on that today, but when we do, we will certainly make you all abreast of that and certainly we are concerned about China’s absence from the conversation and lack of a vocal role here.
Jen Psaki: (15:51)
On the first question, the president was asked about this this morning and he made pretty clear he wasn’t planning to speak to it. Again, he’s no longer in the senate and we put out a statement at the conclusion of the house proceedings. Certainly we’d consider doing that at the conclusion of the senate, but I don’t expect that he’s going to be posturing or commenting on this through the course of the week. Go ahead.
Thank you, Jen. I do have a question on COVID, but first on energy. When is it that the Biden administration is going to let the thousands of fossil fuel industry workers, whether it’s pipeline workers or construction workers, who are either out of work or will soon be out of work because of the Biden EO, when it is and where it is that they can go for their green job? That is something that the administration has promised. There is now a gap. I’m just curious when that happens. When those people can count on that.
Jen Psaki: (16:51)
Well, I’d certainly welcome you to present your data of all the thousands and thousands of people who won’t be getting a green job. Maybe next time you’re here you can present that.
You said that they would be getting green jobs. I’m just asking when that happens. Richard Trumka, who is a friend, long-time friend of Joe Biden says, about that day one Keystone EO he says, “I wish he, the president, had paired that more carefully with the thing that he did second by saying, here’s where we are creating the jobs.” There’s partial evidence from Richard Trumka.
Jen Psaki: (17:24)
You didn’t include all of his interview. Would you like to include the rest?
How about this. The Laborers International Union of North America said the Keystone decision will cost 1000 existing union jobs and 10,000 projected construction jobs.
Jen Psaki: (17:37)
Well, What Mr. Trumka also indicated in the same interview, was that President Biden has proposed a climate plan with transformative investments and infrastructure and laid out a plan that will not only create millions of good union jobs, but also help tackle the climate crisis. As the president has indicated, when he gave his prime time address to talk about the American Rescue Plan, he talked about his plans to also put forward a jobs plan in the weeks or months following and he has every plan to do exactly that.
There are people living paycheck to paycheck. There are now people out of jobs once the Keystone pipeline stopped construction. It’s been 12 days since Gina McCarthy and John Kerry were here and it’s been 19 days since that EO, what of these people who need money now? When do they get their green jobs?
Jen Psaki: (18:26)
Well, the president and many democrats and republicans in congress believe that investment in infrastructure, building infrastructure, that’s in our national interest and that boosts the US economy, creates good paying union jobs here in America and advances our climate and clean energy goals, are something that we can certainly work on doing together and he has every plan to share more about his details of that plan in the weeks ahead.
Just a quick one on the stimulus. There’s reporting that house democrats are going to come out with a $3,000 per child stimulus for some eligible families. Is that something that the White House supports making a permanent benefit?
Jen Psaki: (19:05)
Well, the president talked about this a bit on the campaign trail and the importance of child tax credits to help working families ensure they can make ends meat. This proposal is emergency funding as I understand it. It’s a central priority of his first legislative proposal, to cut child poverty in half this year and that’s why he included a child tax credit in the American Rescue Plan, but that’s again, emergency funding and something that will help people get through this period of time. Okay, go ahead.
Speaker 4: (19:35)
To follow up on Peter’s question. What’s the White House’s stance on Universal Basic Income? The idea of the government giving out regular checks on a routine basis to Americans who might need it.
Jen Psaki: (19:46)
I know that’s been proposed by a number of people, including some on the presidential campaign trail. I don’t have anything more for you on it. I’m happy to check with our economic team, if that’s something that they’re looking at at all.
Speaker 4: (19:58)
[inaudible 00:19:58], do you agree with the need that many on the hill and not just democrats are expressing that there ought to be these enormous, wealth, I won’t say enormous, but $3,000 or $4,000 per child checks, for families right now?
Jen Psaki: (20:13)
As I tried to just indicate, the president supports the proposal that representative Neil and others have put forward to ensure that there is money in the package that helps bring relief to families in the form of a child tax credit. That’s something he certainly would support. Go ahead.
Speaker 5: (20:34)
Thanks Jen. I have two questions. One of the other things that Secretary Yellen said yesterday, is that the president is open to a mandate on family leave and childcare. Is there a timetable on that?
Jen Psaki: (20:47)
I don’t have any more details or a timetable for you. Certainly as a father himself, this is an issue that he has spoken about in the past, but I don’t have any more details at this point in time.
Speaker 5: (21:02)
Yesterday, the president or did the White House have any concern about what we all saw on the TV from Tampa, about the thousands of people out celebrating and without masks? Any concern there?
Jen Psaki: (21:17)
Certainly. The president, I haven’t spoken with him specifically about the events of this weekend, but he did a PSA yesterday with Dr. Biden, making clear that social distancing, that mask wearing, that getting the vaccine when you have the opportunity to get the vaccine, are vital steps to keeping more Americans safe and saving more lives. Certainly, we know the Superbowl looked different from what it has in the past and he also conveyed that he’s hopeful that next year will be a moment where everybody can celebrate and party, but he is of course concerned when there are pictures and photos, we all are, that show many, many people without masks in close distance with one another at the height of a pandemic. Go ahead.
Speaker 1: (22:04)
Jen, I have two questions. First, President Biden said in the CBS interview that he hadn’t spoken to President Xi yet because he haven’t had an occasion to talk to him. There’s no reason not to call him, but is it actually part of the strategy to not call him yet and to hold off on that in hopes of sending a message to China that President Biden is not going to try to work really hard to curry favor? Is there something happening there?
Jen Psaki: (22:40)
Well, part of our strategy is to consult closely with our partners and allies and you saw we did readouts of these calls over the past week or so that the president spoke with the prime minister of Japan, he spoke with the prime minister of South Korea, he spoke with the prime minister of Australia and China was of course an important topic of conversation during those conversations. He also discussed China in calls with his European allies thus far. Part of our strategy is certainly engaging with partners in the region and allies and doing those calls and engagements first and also having consultations with democrats and republicans on Capitol Hill. I know I can’t say this forever, but we’ve only been here two and a half weeks. He has not called every global leader yet. He’s not had engagements with all of them and I’m sure he will do more of that in the weeks ahead.
Speaker 1: (23:33)
He has spoken to President Putin, who is somebody who is not quite an ally.
Jen Psaki: (23:38)
Speaker 1: (23:38)
That was more than a week ago at this point.
Jen Psaki: (23:43)
Yes, but he had that conversation in part because there was a timeline for New Start and the deadline that was approaching with New Start and during that conversation he made very clear that there are a significant concerns, he has, the administration has, about the reported actions of the Russian government, but for the most part his other calls have been with…
Jen Psaki: (24:03)
… the Russian government. But for the most part, his other calls have been with partners and allies in the region and in Asia and in Europe as well at this point in time.
Speaker 6: (24:10)
And then something else, Ron Klain said on January 21st that the administration was going to try to build what he described as a national clearing house for information about the COVID vaccine. Is something like that being built in the administration? And if so, how long do you think that’s going to take? I think people are really struggling to find information about their state, their county, and there’s so much difficulty in the vaccination process.
Jen Psaki: (24:38)
You’re right. There is a great deal of confusion, and one of the focuses we have had is trying to alleviate that confusion. And part of that has been through working with governors and local elected officials. One of their biggest requests has been to have more of a heads up on how much vaccine supply there would be, of course, to increase vaccine supply. We’ve worked to do both to ensure that there’s through planning time for vaccine allocation, increases in allotments as supply allows, and of course, deploying government resources to sites where they are needed.
Jen Psaki: (25:15)
We’re looking at a host of measures that could help us achieve our goal, of course, of getting a hundred million vaccines in the arms of Americans in the first 100 days, and also ensuring that we’re reaching communities where there are higher levels of vaccine hesitancy. And the president has directed his team to do use whatever tools and resources necessary to get the job done.
Jen Psaki: (25:36)
So there are a range of options under consideration, but I don’t have any updates for you on that particular proposal. Certainly, a lot of people would love that, but we’re looking to prioritize how we can be most impactful as quickly as possible and working with states and governors to make those determinations. Go ahead, [inaudible 00:25:55].
Speaker 7: (25:56)
Thank you. Back on impeachment.
Jen Psaki: (25:58)
Speaker 7: (25:58)
You mentioned that the president will be in close contact with Senator Schumer. Do you expect that to be daily? For example, have they spoken since he’s gotten back from Delaware? Will that be a regular way that the president is briefed on the progress of the impeachment trial?
Jen Psaki: (26:18)
I don’t expect that would be a primary topic. I actually expect it would be more about the American Rescue Plan and progress being made on that front. There are, of course, markups happening this week, more on the House side. And the president has remained in close touch with Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer very regularly over the course of the last few weeks, and I expect that would continue.
Speaker 7: (26:42)
Do you expect they will have any strategy discussions at all as the trial is unfolding?
Jen Psaki: (26:47)
I don’t expect that would be a primary point of discussion of their conversations.
Speaker 7: (26:52)
You said that he’s busy, and he’s not going to be spending moment by moment attention to it this week, but will he get a daily update or perhaps more frequently than that from White House staff?
Jen Psaki: (27:06)
I don’t expect that will be a primary focus for him this week or of his senior staff either.
Speaker 7: (27:12)
I have a foreign policy question following on [inaudible 00:27:15] question about Iran. When the president ruled out dropping US sections immediately, he didn’t then go on and talk about some of the other strategies that are out there including, for example, that the United States might drop its objections to Iran receiving an IMF loan, a COVID-related IMF loan. There are a couple of other ideas that would allow Iran to get some economic benefit that would not be sanctions and maybe grease the wheel for negotiations. Does the president have a view on those strategies and were they part of the discussion at the principals meeting on Friday?
Jen Psaki: (27:58)
I am not going to rule… I read out a principals meeting, which was primarily focused on a range of issues in the Middle East. Of course, Iran was a topic of discussion, was expected to be a topic of discussion. I think during the interview, the president was asked about whether he would roll back sanctions, and he conveyed, no, that the ball is in Iran’s court. It wasn’t a more extensive conversation than that during the interview, and that’s long been his position. So that really is the next step in terms of engagement with Iran from here.
Speaker 7: (28:32)
So that is not ruling it out necessarily, but that there might be other ways to help Iran get back to the table that would be short of dropping US sanctions?
Jen Psaki: (28:44)
Well, again, I think his view is that the ball is in Iran’s court to come back into full compliance with the JCPOA, and that that would be the basis for the United States doing the same, and then using that as a platform to build a longer and stronger agreement. But that is really the next step in his view in the process.
Speaker 7: (29:05)
I have one more very quickly on the post office, if I could. On-time First-Class mail delivery dropped to 38% in December of this year from 92% the year before. Does the president have a view on whether the Postmaster General should keep his job? And if he would like to see the Postmaster General removed, would he move to change the makeup of the governing board that could make that happen?
Jen Psaki: (29:31)
Well, as I understand it, there are a number of openings right now on the governing board of the post office or vacancies, I should say, that would of course work their way through a personnel process. I don’t think I have anything more for it on this for you, but I can follow up with our team and see what more we can report out. Go ahead.
Speaker 8: (29:49)
Back on the subject of the COVID checks, Bernie Sanders said it would be absurd to lower the threshold, the income threshold, and some other Democrats have raised the prospect that doing so could lead to a political backlash given voters in Georgia were explicitly promised this aid by the president, and they didn’t really have any reason to believe that fewer people would qualify for that aid under the Democrats’ plan. So I’m wondering if that’s something you guys are concerned about, and how you would address that criticism?
Jen Psaki: (30:21)
Well, the president proposed the $1,400 checks to make… Plus 600 is, of course, $2,000 because he was felt it was important and vital to get that direct relief to as many Americans as possible and target that relief to the Americans who need help the most, and that’s how his original plan and proposal was designed.
Jen Psaki: (30:42)
He’s also said, and I’ve said many times from here, that the final plan will look different from what the plan he proposed in his joint session address. It’s still working its way through Congress, and I don’t think a conclusion has been made yet on the exact level of targeting. And when it does, we’re happy to have a conversation about that. But part of this is an opportunity for members of both parties and members who are across the political spectrum, of course, even in the Democratic party, to weigh in on what the path forward should look like. Go ahead in the back.
Speaker 1: (31:15)
Thank you, Jen. A little bit of follow on a Iran and China question. What does president Biden consider the biggest threat to the US national security?
Jen Psaki: (31:26)
Overall in the world?
Speaker 1: (31:27)
Jen Psaki: (31:28)
Well, I’m not sure I’m going to define that for you in this moment. There are a range of threats that he’s talked about in the past, and I’m sure he’ll have more to say on his national security approach and strategy in the weeks ahead.
Speaker 1: (31:42)
[inaudible 00:31:42] question, last week, a report made by NGOs and universities was sent to the White House recommending that United States break negotiations on trade and orders with Brazil over climate and human rights violation. And likewise, some Democrats [inaudible 00:32:00] already had expressed the same opposition to expanding economic partnership with Brazil. Is the White House paying attention to those reports and to what’s happening in Brazil?
Jen Psaki: (32:14)
We certainly are paying close attention to what is happening in Brazil. Obviously, we share a vibrant partnership that spans two centuries of mutual interest and shared values. And we have even announced in recent days, on February 5th the United States government through the USAID announced it has delivered and additional $1.5 million in emergency COVID response in Brazil.
Jen Psaki: (32:42)
And we, of course, remain closely engaged in what is a significant economic relationship. We are by far the largest investor in Brazil, including in many of Brazil’s most innovative and growth-focused companies, and we’ll continue to strengthen our economic ties and increase our large and growing trade relationship in the months ahead.
Speaker 1: (33:04)
But, Jen, the policies of the Brazilian president and President Biden on many issues, climate, gay rights, other ones, are very different. How can they work together?
Jen Psaki: (33:17)
Well, just as is true in many of our relationships, we look for opportunities to work together on issues where there is joint national interest. And obviously, there’s a significant economic relationship, and we will not hold back on areas where we disagree, whether it’s climate or human rights or otherwise. And so, that will be the path forward with our relationship with Brazil as well. Go ahead, Yamiche.
Thanks so much. I have a few questions. The first is what should Americans take away from the fact that President Biden campaigned on unity, talked about unity, got into office, about two weeks in, has all but decided it seems, to go with a process where Democrats can pass a $1.9 trillion plan without the support of Republicans? I know that there are Republicans across the country that the White House is pointing to saying they support this bill, but there is the fact that Democrats don’t have to have Republican support in Congress for this bill, and the president is seemingly supporting that process. I’m wondering what people should take away from that, and will that definition of bipartisanship be the one that is going forward with this White House?
Jen Psaki: (34:26)
Well, the president ran on unifying the country, not on creating one political party. But I will note that 16 of the last 21 reconciliation bills that have gone through Congress have been bi-partisan. And certainly, there’s opportunity for Republicans to not only offer amendments as it’s going through the House committee process and then will go through the Senate committee process following that, but they will have the opportunity to, of course, vote for a package that the vast majority of the American people support.
Jen Psaki: (34:58)
So the president, his first priority is getting relief to the American people. But the vast majority of the public, Democrats, Republicans, independents, are with him in that effort. There’s a long history of bipartisan support for reconciliation bills, a parliamentary process. Again, I don’t think the American people are particularly worried about how the direct relief gets into their hands. And if that’s the process that it moves forward through, which seems likely at this point, the president would certainly support that.
I was watching also on impeachment. I know the president, you say isn’t going to be watching it, but there are going to be millions of Americans who will be watching it. I wonder what the president’s messages is to Americans, especially the ones that are still mourning the loss of people who died in the Capitol who are still wondering whether or not the former President Trump will be possibly acquitted in this trial. Even if President Biden doesn’t want to say whether or not President Trump should be convicted, I just wonder if the White House has any message to Americans who are gearing up for what could be a tumultuous and traumatic two weeks?
Jen Psaki: (36:02)
Well, the president’s focus-
And dramatic two weeks.
Jen Psaki: (36:03)
Well, the president’s focus is on delivering what those millions and millions and millions of Americans care deeply about, which is getting the pandemic under control, putting millions of Americans back to work, getting vaccines in the arms of Americans, reopening schools. And he has been clear that he views the events of January 6th as a horrific attack on our democracy. He put out a statement, we put out a statement from him, I should say, when the house voted. But he’s going to leave it to the Senate to determine the path forward here. That doesn’t change, in his view, that he was elected to deliver on the promises he made on the campaign trail. So that’s what he’s going to keep his focus on in the weeks ahead. Go ahead [inaudible 00:36:48].
Saying that the GOP can offer amendments, that doesn’t mean that they have to listen to them or accept them. So I wonder then if Republicans have to just accept what the Democrats have approved. I just wonder if you could talk a bit more about this definition of bipartisanship, because I know you are saying the Democrats are giving Republicans the opportunity, but there’s still this idea that Democrats two weeks in are going it alone.
Jen Psaki: (37:14)
Well, again, 16 of 21 reconciliation bills in the past have received bipartisan support. And the ideas in this package, the proposals in this package, have broad support from Democrats, Republicans and Independents across the country. So I would pose the question back to Republicans, why aren’t you supporting what the vast majority of the public supports? I’ll leave it at that. Go ahead.
Thinking about military [crosstalk 00:37:39].
Jen Psaki: (37:39)
Oh sure. Go ahead.
Jen Psaki: (37:41)
It’s okay, we can switch topics, it’s fine. Go ahead.
A completely different topic, which is Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin wrote his first memo on January 23rd, that the president had ordered a 90 day commission to pursue solutions to sexual assault in the military. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about if that’s a White House commission, a defense commission, who picks the commissioners, anything more you can say about that commission that’s supposed to be looking at sexual assault in the military.
Jen Psaki: (38:05)
I believe it’s a commission at the department of defense. It’s certainly an initiative the President of the United States supports, but I would send you to the department of defense for more specifics about the timeline and membership. Go ahead.
Speaker 4: (38:18)
Speaking of commissions, with some of the crises that the nation has faced in recent months, you’ve got COVID, more than 400,000 Americans dead, January 6th, the attack on American democracy, there have been calls for a 9/11 style commission to write the official history of those events. Is that something the president would support?
Jen Psaki: (38:34)
Of the COVID commission?
Speaker 4: (38:38)
Or January six?
Jen Psaki: (38:39)
Well, a determination of that kind would be made by congress, as you well know. And his focus at this point in time is on addressing the crisis in this moment. Which is ensuring that more Americans get shots in their arms, that we are getting the pandemic under control. There has been a report by HHS at the prior administrations handling of the COVID crisis. And we’ve also not held back in areas where we felt that it was handled in a way that impacted the lives of millions. So, but at this point in time our focus is really on getting the pandemic under control and we’ll leave that decision up to congress.
Speaker 9: (39:19)
Go ahead. Two quick ones. One is of the day, has President Biden reached out to anybody from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and if not, is that something that’s going to happen today?
Jen Psaki: (39:28)
It’s very exciting, the outcome of the Super Bowl, I guess if you’re a fan of the Buccaneers. I don’t have an update for if it’s happened yet, but I do have an update that we look forward to inviting the Buccaneers as well as the 2020 NBA champions, the Lakers to the White House, when it is COVID safe. But I don’t know when that will take place yet.
Speaker 9: (39:47)
Thank you. And on immigration, there’s some new reporting that ICE is going to get some new guidance to no longer focus on deporting illegal immigrants who have been convicted of DUI, simple assault, solicitation, drug-based crimes among other things. And I’m curious how that is in the interest of public safety.
Jen Psaki: (40:06)
Well, first it’s guidelines that would be put out by the department of homeland security, and I’d certainly sent you them. They have a confirmed secretary now, but the priority for the enforcement of immigration laws will be on those who are posing a national security threat, of course, a public safety threat and on recent arrivals. Nobody is saying that DUIs or assault are acceptable behavior, and those arrested for such activities should be tried and sentenced as appropriate by local law enforcement. But we’re talking about the prioritization of who is going to be deported from the country.
Speaker 9: (40:45)
More broadly, would this be what Biden’s talking about in the debate where he said in the Obama administration, they didn’t do enough to reform the immigration system because he was just vice-president but that if he was president things would change. Is this the kind of change that he was talking about?
Jen Psaki: (40:59)
Well, I think the kind of change he was talking about was putting forward an immigration bill at a time where a modernization of immigration is long overdue, that addresses not only a pathway to citizenship but puts in place smart security measures and addresses the root causes of these issues in the countries in Central America. So I think that’s primarily what he was referring to, but also prioritization, which again, would be up to the department of homeland security to ensure our focus is on the individuals who pose the greatest national security threat is also something he’s long supported.
Jen Psaki: (41:33)
Go ahead, [Caitlin 00:41:35].
Sorry. You seem to be saying this but I just want it to be clear. Former President Trump has not requested any intelligence briefings?
Jen Psaki: (41:42)
Not that I’m aware of, but I would point you to the intelligence community and the ODNI for more specifics.
And to follow up on that, is there a reason Morgan Muir is no longer leading President Biden’s daily intelligence briefings?
Jen Psaki: (41:55)
I believe he’s overseeing the process of preparing materials [crosstalk 00:42:00] but I don’t have any more details. I’d point you to ODNI on that as well.
Okay, so there’s no reason you know that he’s not leading the in-person briefings? He’s assembling the daily brief, he’s not leading them in person [crosstalk 00:42:09]-
Jen Psaki: (42:09)
Yeah. Which is a very important role to play and very labor intensive, but I would point you to them for more specifics on the briefings and who will be providing the briefings. Go ahead.
Speaker 2: (42:19)
Thanks, Jen. I have two questions. One’s a quick follow on impeachment. Aside from the particulars of this case, does President Biden think it’s constitutional to impeach and convict a former president who is no longer in office?
Jen Psaki: (42:34)
I’m just not going to have any more for you on weighing in on impeachment. I appreciate, it’s a big story, but our focus is on the American rescue plan and delivering for the American people.
Speaker 2: (42:46)
Got it. I do have a COVID crisis related question.
Jen Psaki: (42:48)
Speaker 2: (42:49)
Because the attacks in the Asian American community continue to rise. And over the weekend, there were some videos that went viral because elderly Asian Americans were really attacked in a way that is difficult to watch. And I wonder other than the presidential memorandum is President Biden going to take any further actions to address this problem and has he seen the videos?
Jen Psaki: (43:16)
I’m not aware that he’s seen the videos, but he is concerned about the discrimination against the actions against the Asian American community, which is why he signed the executive order. And why he’s been outspoken and making clear that verbal attacks, any attacks of any form are unacceptable and we need to work together to address them. But obviously the executive order’s something he did very early in his administration, it’s still early, but even earlier, because he felt it was so important to put a marker down.
Speaker 2: (43:50)
Is there anything more that can be done, like offer DOJ or FBI assistance to local law enforcement authorities?
Jen Psaki: (43:59)
We would support of course, additional action on a local level, a federal level, but I would send you to DOJ or FBI for any further specifics on that.
Speaker 2: (44:06)
Jen Psaki: (44:08)
Thank you everyone. See you tomorrow. [crosstalk 00:44:09].