Jan 22, 2021
Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript January 22
January 22 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. She announced that the Biden administration is taking steps to assess the threat of domestic violent extremism after the attacks at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Jen Psaki: (00:22)
Good afternoon, everyone. Happy Friday.
Jen Psaki: (00:26)
Today, we are joined by National Economic Council Director, Brian Deese, who will highlight some key aspects of the executive orders the President is issuing today related to the economy, and underline their impact on American families and workers. Brian is kind enough to take a few questions. I didn’t have to twist his arm too much, but he does have to go to a briefing with the President. So I’ll be the bad cop and come up when he has to cut it off. Go ahead, Brian.
Brian Deese: (00:54)
Thanks Jen. I wanted to just take a couple of minutes to talk to you about the executive actions that the President will take today, but to start with a little bit of context. Our economy is at a very precarious moment. We are 10 million jobs short still of where the economy was when this pandemic started. Last month, the economy lost jobs for the first time since last spring. Retail sales fell last month, and just yesterday, we saw another 900,000 Americans file for unemployment insurance. That’s a weekly rate that is higher than any week during the great recession. It’s a moment that requires decisive action to beat this pandemic and support the economic recovery that American families need. That’s why a week ago, President Biden laid out a comprehensive American Rescue Plan. A plan that is focused on changing the course of the pandemic, getting students back in school and giving families and businesses a bridge to the economic recovery, while also addressing the stark inequities in our economy that this crisis has exposed.
Brian Deese: (02:16)
We have been engaging closely with members of Congress, with governors, mayors, business and labor organizations in the week since, and we’ll continue to do so and hope that Congress will move quickly to consider this important proposal without delay. At the same time, the American people are hurting and they can’t afford to wait. They need help right now, and that’s the motivation behind the actions that the President will take today. I want to be very clear. These actions are not a substitute for comprehensive legislative relief, but they will provide a critical lifeline to millions of families. Just to get into the specifics, the President will sign two executive orders today. The first directs agencies to consider a number of actions that will provide emergency relief for working families affected by the COVID-19 crisis, within existing authorities and helping to correct some of the errors or omissions of the prior administration in providing families with relief. I just want to touch on a couple of elements that are in that executive order to give you a sense of what we’re talking about. On the issue of food insecurity, which is a growing crisis in America of hunger, nearly 30 million Americans last week said that they didn’t have enough food to put on the table. The President will ask the Department of Agriculture to consider taking immediate steps to provide nutrition assistance to hard-hit families.
Brian Deese: (03:57)
First by increasing pandemic EBT benefits by about 15%. This is the program that is aimed at supporting families who traditionally rely on the School Lunch Program to provide meals to millions of kids through their schools. In the pandemic, the pandemic EBT Program provides direct assistance to families to cover those costs, but the way it is being implemented today doesn’t get to the full costs necessary. With these changes in eligible family with three children would get about an additional hundred bucks over two months to help pay for food. Second, increasing the SNAP Benefits, emergency SNAP Benefits for as many as 12 million low-income Americans. This is the core program targeted at preventing hunger in America. These changes again, for a family of four would mean about a 15 to 20% benefit increase. Third, revising the Thrifty Food Plan, which is really the basis for determining SNAP Benefits is out of date and needs to be updated to better reflect the cost of a healthy diet.
Brian Deese: (05:12)
Another element of this executive order is to promote worker safety. Here, President Biden will ask the Department of Labor to consider clarifying that workers have a federally guaranteed right to refuse employment that would jeopardize their health. If they do so, they will still qualify for unemployment insurance. This is a common sense step to make sure that workers have a right to safe work environments, and that we don’t put workers in the middle of a pandemic in a position where they have to choose between their own livelihoods and the health of they and their families. The second executive order that the President will sign is focused on the jobs of federal workers and on federal contractors. He will direct his administration to initiate a process starting today that would allow him within 100 days to issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay at least a $15 minimum wage and provide emergency paid leave to workers.
Brian Deese: (06:19)
This was something that the President talked about on the campaign that when we’re using taxpayer dollars, federal contractors should provide the benefits and pay that workers deserve. The order will also protect and empower federal employees who’ve dedicated their careers to serving the American people, many in very difficult circumstances during this pandemic and the steps will include restoring collective bargaining power and worker protections for federal workers, eliminating schedule F. So-called schedule F, which is threatened the protections of career employees, and also provided a potential pathway to burrow political appointees into civil service, and also promoting a $15 minimum wage by directing the OPM, the Office of Public Management to develop recommendations to pay more federal workers at least $15 an hour.
Brian Deese: (07:15)
Finally, just one final note, in addition to the executive orders that we’ll be issuing today, we will be focusing on another key priority of the President and the Vice-President, which is equitable relief to small businesses. In previous rounds of relief, too much of the support that has been dedicated to small businesses has left out the smallest businesses, mom and pop businesses that don’t have existing connections with a financial institution. In particular, black, Latino, Asian, and Native American-owned businesses were shut out completely. A lot of that is because the outreach and communication from the federal government was either unclear or just nonexistent, and so too many of those companies have been denied relief, and many of them have had to shut their doors for good.
Brian Deese: (08:06)
The President is completely focused on changing that and he has directed us to take immediate steps to make sure that we’re listening to these communities, we’re taking their advice on how to improve the distribution of relief. Just this morning, I met along with representatives of the Small Business Administration with dozens of groups representing black and brown-owned businesses and other underserved communities, as well as lenders to hear their ideas on how we can improve communications and act on them. We discussed the President’s idea of having navigators who are dedicated to helping small business owners find the right relief programs, fill out paperwork, get the money into their bank accounts, the kind of support that many of these businesses don’t have because of the embedded relationships that more well-connected businesses do. There are some groups out there in the country who are doing this really successfully. We’re determined to learn from them and to scale those efforts nationwide. In this vein, I look forward, I will be joining Vice-President Harris later today. She will be meeting with small business owners to discuss both the American Rescue Plan and the need for more effective, small business relief delivered without delay. That is today. That as our focus through a set of executive orders. I’m happy to take a couple of questions of which you all have many.
Jen Psaki: (09:36)
DO you want me to [inaudible 00:09:38]?
Brian Deese: (09:38)
Sure, sure. This is the good cop bad cop thing.
Jen Psaki: (09:42)
Kristen, go ahead.
Thank you, Jen. Hi Brian.
Brian Deese: (09:45)
Good to see you. Thank you for taking questions today. I want to ask you about the call on Sunday with a bipartisan group of lawmakers. What can you tell us about the call? Will President Biden be on the call and what is your message to moderate Republicans like Mitt Romney, who say the economy can’t have another stimulus after you just passed a $900 billion relief package last month?
Brian Deese: (10:09)
Yeah. Thanks Kristen. The President has made clear to his team that we should be reaching out to members of Congress from both parties to make the case for the rescue plan and to engage with them, understand their concerns. That’s what we’re doing, both myself and senior members of the team. We have been doing that over the course of time. We’ll continue to do that, including the call on Sunday that I’ll be doing with a group of senators and we’ll continue that engagement going forward.
Brian Deese: (10:48)
In terms of the the message, it’s pretty clear. We’re at a precarious moment for the virus and the economy. Without decisive action, we risk falling into a very serious economic hole, even more serious than the crisis we find ourselves in. Economists across the board, including today, President Trump’s former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors are arguing strenuously that now is the time for that type of decisive action for the economy, and that we can’t wait to provide the resources to make sure that we can open schools. We can get vaccine shots in people’s arms, and we can provide that bridging relief to families and small businesses. There’s a lot of support. I met with a group of mayors yesterday, a bipartisan group of mayors from across the country. You hear from mayors, you hear from governors, just crying out that in order to take on these crises, the public health and the pandemic and the economic crisis at the same time, now is the moment for that kind of decisive action. That’s the case we’ll be making.
Just to be clear, Brian, will President Biden be on the call and if not, why not if this is so urgent?
Brian Deese: (12:05)
Like I said, we’re doing outreach. The President has directed the team to do outreach to members of Congress, to business and labor organizations, to mayors and governors, and we’re in the process of doing that. I’ll be having that conversation on Sunday. You can expect that other members of the administration will be engaging with members of Congress across time as well.
Just very quickly, Brian, if I could, what would a February impeachment trial, how would a February impeachment trial impact getting the COVID relief package passed?
Brian Deese: (12:39)
Look, I think that we are facing right now, a period of multiple crises, and what we’re going to need is to be able to act on multiple fronts. Certainly, we understand and as Jen has spoken to, we understand that the Senate has a constitutional obligation in this context, but we also have these pressing economic and pandemic priorities as well. That’s why we’re engaging. That’s why we’re focused on making the case, certainly with the expectation that Congress will heed that call and move forward.
Jen Psaki: (13:18)
I promise to do a whole group thing after this, so [inaudible 00:13:21] questions for [inaudible 00:13:22]. Go ahead, Mary.
Thank you very much. If you are able to pass this nearly $2 trillion plan, do you envision this being the last round of stimulus, or do you think you may need to do more?
Brian Deese: (13:33)
What I can tell you is if we don’t act now, we will be in a much worse place, and we will find ourselves needing to do much more to dig out of a much deeper hole. What I can tell you is the single most important thing economically right now, is to take decisive action along the lines of what we’ve laid out in this rescue plan. You hear again, from economists across the board, whether it’s the Federal Reserve, the International Monetary Fund and economic experts across the political spectrum as well, when you’re at a moment that is as precarious as the one we find ourselves in, the risk of doing too little, the risk of undershooting far outweighs the risk of doing too much. That’s the economic logic, the economic case behind this package. I think you’ve also heard the President clearly explain that his economic approach is one where rescue and recovery need to come together. He’ll be speaking more about his recovery plans in the coming weeks that are about building back better, an urgent priority to start creating the kinds of good jobs that we know we’re going to need coming out of this crisis.
After the recession, it took nearly a decade to get the country back to full employment under the Obama administration. If you’re able to pass this rescue package, how long do you think it will take for every American who wants a job to be able to have one?
Brian Deese: (14:57)
Well, I would just point to just one example of a, of an independent analysis that was done of the American Rescue Plan by Moody’s, and what they found was that if we pass the American Rescue Plan now, we could see seven and a half million jobs created just this year. We could see a return to full employment, a full year ahead of what is projected if we don’t. Those are the stakes involved, and without this kind of decisive action, we’re going to have a much deeper economic hole. That’s why we are so focused on making the case for a decisive action now.
Jen Psaki: (15:34)
Thanks, Jen and Brian, I wanted to follow on [inaudible 00:15:39] question a little bit. The President’s talked about seeking unity on this bill, but also being clear-eyed when there’s policy differences. I’m wondering if after this call, which is with sort of the bipartisan coalition that you’d need to get this bill passed, if you expect to know whether the White House will pursue legislation, bipartisan legislation, or sort of head towards legislation through reconciliation …
… sort of head towards legislation through reconciliation. And I’m also wondering if you could talk about what sort of red lines will be the point at which you say, “Okay, if you’re not willing to negotiate this in the bill, we’re going to just start working with Democrats.” As a Speaker Pelosi and others have encouraged you to do.
Brian Deese: (16:20)
Well, I guess I’d say two things to that. The first is if you look at the elements of the American Rescue Plan, it was designed with a bottom up focus on what our experts saying is the actual need. What’s the actual need to get schools open? What’s the actual need to have a national vaccination distribution plan? To underwrite the strategy that you heard, Dr. Fauci and the president talk about yesterday. And what’s the need to support families and businesses during this transition?
Brian Deese: (16:48)
And the second thing is that as a result of that, I think we’re seeing a lot of support. As I said, bipartisan mayors, bipartisan governors, business organizations, Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable. Economists across the board saying, “This is an appropriate response to an unprecedented economic circumstance.” So, that’s the approach that we are taking. And that’s the perspective that we are bringing here. And I think that we are heartened to see that kind of support. And that’s the conversation that we’re going to have with members of Congress, be they Republicans or Democrats, including looking at where we’ve come over the last year and the lessons we’ve learned, that without decisive action, we know the consequences. And so now is a moment not to undershoot or to wait and see. Now it’s a moment to act.
I guess my question is I think a lesson that a lot of the President Obama and others have talked about from the ACA fight was continuing to court Republican support beyond a point of it being productive. And so I’m wondering for you guys, what is the decision point going to be where you might have Republican mayors, but it doesn’t look like you have Republican senators right now. At what point do you say this is no longer worth kind of pushing forward?
Brian Deese: (18:13)
We’re making the case. We are engaging. We’re having conversations, we’re listening. And we are also focused on the urgency and the need to act. And so, what I can tell you is that’s where the president’s focus is. That’s where the Vice-President’s focus is. That’ll be continued to be our focus is we want to engage and we want to act and that’s going to be what guides us here.
Speaker 1: (18:36)
The last one, but Brian will come back.
Speaker 2: (18:38)
Thank you for doing this, Brian. Back to the point of the objections of some of these Republican senators who have already spoken out. They say they just passed 900 million or so at the end of the year, most of it isn’t even out yet. How do you know if that money hasn’t gotten into the system yet that you’d even need to release more at this point? Why move ahead with a trillion dollar plan if the 900 million that’s already been approved, hasn’t even gotten out?
Brian Deese: (19:04)
Sure. Well, first of all, we waited for six months or more before Congress acted. And so really a lot of what that 900 billion was doing was filling a hole in the second half of 2020 that desperately needed to be filled. And so, this is not an issue of Congress acting too much, it’s an issue of not acting enough. And the second is, if you look at the components of that $900 billion. Again, we could go line by line, but these are resources that are either already out the door or are addressing economic challenges or public health challenges that were in the rear view mirror.
Brian Deese: (19:50)
So as we find ourselves today, looking forward, we need a very decisive set of actions if we are actually going to get schools open, if we’re actually going to get a vaccination program up and running. And I think that the case that we will make is that today we’re not where we need to be. And if we go line by line in the American Rescue Plan, these provisions have been designed based on an assessment of need. And we think they’re going to absolutely be necessary. So, I think that looking forward, we’re quite confident that this is the prudent assessment of needs.
Speaker 2: (20:30)
I want to clarify two quick things. How many federal employees or federal contractors are making minimum wage right now? Do you guys know?
Brian Deese: (20:42)
So, I don’t have an estimate of that right now.
Speaker 2: (20:45)
And then last night you said that there are roughly 8 million people who haven’t received their stimulus checks.
Brian Deese: (20:51)
Speaker 2: (20:52)
How do you find them?
Brian Deese: (20:54)
So it’s a great question. This is principally an issue associated with people who are non filers. So they’re not filing income taxes in most cases because they don’t make enough money to need to file a federal income taxes. And so, as a result, the way that the IRS and the Treasury Department in the previous administration has focused on getting those checks out has been to work through the tax system. But those are people who are legally entitled to those checks. And so we have a number of strategies that we’re going to pursue, and that today will start with the president’s executive order to direct the Department of Treasury to consider a whole range of efforts, including creating an online portal that would allow people to easily identify if they’re eligible, to work through counterpart organizations, to actually affirmatively do outreach to communities where we know there are significant numbers of these families and these individuals to let people know they may be available.
Brian Deese: (21:57)
Some of this is education outreach as well. And it’s a little connected to what I was saying about small businesses as well. What the president is directing all of us to do is to really focus on the affirmative steps that we can take. An affirmative strategy to say, it’s not enough to just say, “Well, if folks don’t know, or if they don’t have a network, then they’re left out in the cold.” We’re going to work both directly in what the federal government can do and with partner organizations to try to make sure that every American who is entitled to a benefit is actually receiving it.
Speaker 2: (22:32)
But if there’s someone out there right now who hears you saying this and realizes I’m eligible, and I haven’t gotten it. Right now today, is there a way for them to raise their hand and say, “Send me my check.”?
Brian Deese: (22:43)
Starting today, we’re going to start a process to make that a lot easier for families, including being able to go online and do that. But that’s work that’s going to start today.
Speaker 1: (22:55)
I totally skipped Andy [inaudible 00:00:22:58].
Thank you. I just have one small question on the mechanics of the EO targeting the food insecure. Does the USDA have the money to distribute these plus ops that you’re talking about cars that are going to need to be an appropriation from Congress?
Brian Deese: (23:14)
These are mandatory appropriated programs, so there’s no need for additional congressional action. It’s a change in regulation on the eligibility for benefits. So, these are changes that can be made under existing statute and under existing budgetary authority without any additional action from Congress.
Brian Deese: (23:34)
Mandatory program. So the benefits are paid out based on who is eligible.
Speaker 1: (23:46)
Thank you, Brian. We’ll be back.
Brian Deese: (23:46)
Great. Thank you all.
Jen Psaki: (23:50)
All right, everyone happy Friday. Have a couple of things just at the top on some things you’ve been asking about. So hopefully they address some of the questions you may have. First, we applaud the Senate’s strong bipartisan confirmation of Lloyd Austin, who has been breaking barriers all of his life as the first black secretary of defense in our nation’s history. Secretary Austin’s confirmation is a major benefit to our national security. And he’s going to hit the ground running, leading the Pentagon. He will be sworn in today, but he will be sworn in more officially by the … not more officially I should say. But he will be sworn in more ceremoniously on Monday by the vice president. Similarly, the president is very happy to see that Janet Yellen, the first woman who would ever lead the US Treasury Department was unanimously voted out of committee this morning.
Jen Psaki: (24:40)
This should only be the beginning. We’re facing unprecedented challenges and threats to our national security during these emergencies and our country urgently needs our secretary of Homeland Security in place. Alejandro Mayorkis is one of the most knowledgeable Homeland security experts in the country. He’s earned by partisan praise and he’s been previously confirmed by the Senate three times. This is a confirmation that we are going to continue to press on in all of our engagements and conversations with the Senate. I also have some news to share on the president’s response to domestic violent extremism. The January 6th assault on the Capitol and the tragic deaths and destruction that occurred underscored what we have long known: the rise of domestic violent extremism is a serious and growing national security threat. The Biden administration will confront this threat with the necessary resources and resolve. We are committed to developing policies and strategies based on facts, on objective and rigorous analysis. And on our respect for constitutionally protected free speech and political activities.
Jen Psaki: (25:42)
Our initial work on DVE will broadly fall into three areas. The first is a tasking from president Biden’s send to the ODNI today requesting a comprehensive threat assessment coordinated with the FBI and DHS on domestic violent extremism. This assessment will draw on the analysis from across the government and as appropriate, non-governmental organizations. The key point here is that we want fact-based analysis upon which we can shape policy though. So this is really the first step in the process, and we’ll rely on our appropriate law enforcement and intelligence officials to provide that analysis. The second will be the building of an NSC capability to focus on countering domestic violent extremism. As a part of this, the NSC will undertake a policy review effort to determine how the government can share information better about this threat, support efforts to prevent radicalization, disrupt violent extremists networks, and more.
Jen Psaki: (26:37)
There’s important work already underway across the inter-agency in countering DVE. And we need to understand better its current extent and where there may be gaps to address so we can determine the best path forward. The third will be coordinating relevant parts of the federal government to enhance and accelerate efforts to address DVE. This considered, NSC convened process will focus on addressing evolving threats, radicalization, the role of social media, opportunities to improve information sharing, operational responses, and more. Just a couple more items. As you all know, right now, the president and vice president are having lunch. This is something they look forward to doing every week. There’ll be discussing their agenda, particularly getting relief to working families and containing the COVID crisis. And I’m sure they’ll talk about the last 48 hours as well. Later today, the president will speak with Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau. We’ve confirmed that earlier this week. He’ll also speak with President of Mexico Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Jen Psaki: (27:39)
We’ll have readouts of both of those calls when they happen. Yesterday evening, the First Lady held a virtual event to honor and show gratitude for the hard work of educators across the country, especially during this difficult time of COVID-19. She was accompanied by the presidents of both the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association. Over 11,000 educators attended the virtual meeting. Today, she will tour the Whitman Walker clinic in Washington, DC to highlight and promote support services for cancer patients and caregivers.
Jen Psaki: (28:09)
And while I know that was in our guidance, we want to use this platform here to also share with you information about both the vice-president and the first lady moving forward. One more item as well. Earlier this morning or late this morning, I should say the president called General Daniel Hokinson, who is the head of the National Guard to thank him for not just his work of the last few weeks, but the work of the National Guard over the last several years. He talked about his own personal commitment and connection to the National Guard, given his son had served previously. And he offered assistance, any assistance needed of both the government, but also on a personal level and asked him to reach out if there was anything that he ever needed. I will stop there. Just a few updates. So why don’t you kick us off?
Speaker 3: (29:05)
Thank you. I know this has been asked of you several times, but now that there is an impeachment trial imminent, does President Biden have an opinion on whether former President Trump should be convicted? And then secondly, with how this is going, you’re now getting a little bit of momentum on confirmations. You have all that you need to get going on coronavirus, on the economy and so forth. Is this just going to slow everything down and does it also take away from the ability to unify?
Jen Psaki: (29:39)
Well, first remarkably at this moment in history, we have some recent precedent of the Senate conducting an impeachment trial while also doing the business of the American people. And when the trial was being conducted last January, there were also hearings that were happening nearly on a daily basis. And we expect that type of work to continue. I’ll also note purely on an operational level, the House can also proceed and continue to do the work on the American Rescue Plan, move that forward. And we certainly expect and hope that they will do that. But what the president’s view is what can not be delayed through this process is his proposal to get relief to the American people at this time of crisis. So he remains confident after serving decades in the Senate, that the Senate, members of both parties can walk into gum at the same time and can move forward with the business of the American people.
Speaker 3: (30:40)
Does he believe that former President Trump should be convicted?
Jen Psaki: (30:43)
Well, he’s no longer in the Senate, and he believes that it’s up to the Senate and Congress to determine how they will hold the former president accountable and what the mechanics and timeline of that process will be.
Speaker 3: (30:55)
[inaudible 00:30:55] just on DVE, if you don’t mind? Are the tools and methods available to federal law enforcement or are they what we need right now? Are we still stuck in sort of a post 9/11 mindset? And does there need to be really broad, radical rethinking about how we sort of approach things in the federal law enforcement?
Jen Psaki: (31:18)
The reason that the president wanted to do this review and the national security team wanted to do this review is because it’s a priority to ensure we are assessing what is happening in government and how we can do it better. So clearly, more needs to be done. That’s why the president is tasking the national security team to do exactly this review on his second full day in office. So it’s sending an indication of that. Let me just give you just a little bit more information. Homeland Security adviser, Dr. Liz Sherwood-Randall has asked Joshua Geltzer to pioneer scoping effort in the first 100 days in coordination with the senior director for counter terrorism, Claire Lincolns. Geltzer previously served as the senior director for counter terrorism on the national-
Jen Psaki: (32:03)
[inaudible 00:32:01] previously served as the Senior Director for counter-terrorism on the National Security Council from 2015 through 2017. And Deputy Homeland Security Advisor, Russ Travers, will also bring his extensive experience. So those are some of the people who will be involved in overseeing this review and an assessment of what the steps are going to be following. Go ahead, Kristen.
One on impeachment. And then if I could, on COVID. On impeachment, did House speaker, Nancy Pelosi consult with President Biden before sending the article of impeachment over to the Senate?
Jen Psaki: (32:33)
I don’t have any calls between them to read out for you, Kristen, obviously they’re in regular touch. I can say from a previous question you asked Brian, that he’s been in touch with members of both parties about his agenda, even since he was inaugurated. So obviously a range of topics come up in those discussions, but I don’t have anything more to read out for you.
Just on the timing, Leader McConnell has said that he’s going to push for a February timeline. I know that you don’t want to comment specifically on the timeline of this, but how would a February trial impact the effort to get COVID relief passed?
Jen Psaki: (33:04)
Well, the president’s expectation, he believes in the Senate and their ability to multitask and get the work and business of the American people done at the same time while they’re proceeding with an impeachment trial on whatever timeline begins and ends on, Kristen, so [crosstalk 00:33:20].
Is that fast enough for him? Is mid-February fast enough for him?
Jen Psaki: (33:23)
He’s going to leave the timeline up to them, but what is important and again, there’s precedent for this, is that they’re continuing to move forward with getting the relief to the American people, because that certainly can’t wait and be delayed until March, April or May. We can’t afford that.
If I could follow up with you on what you said about COVID yesterday, you said your goal is a million shots per day, which would be double, you said, what the Trump administration was doing. According to the CDC, we have reached a million shots a day last week. So given that, given the urgent need for vaccinations, why not aim higher?
Jen Psaki: (33:58)
Well, first of all, we’re not packing up our bags and leaving on at a 100 days, we felt it was important and we set that goal before any American had received a single shot. So the incoming Biden administration felt it was important to set what was described as a bold and ambitious goal at the time and many doubted we could even get there. So we want to set our own markers and markers for the American public so that they know we’re meeting our goal. If we surpass that, that’s great. We’re going to continue working after day 100 as well, but there are a number of factors here, Dr. Fauci also talked about, it’s not just having the access to the vaccine, it is about addressing vaccine hesitancy. It’s about ensuring we have the materials needed. It’s about, and you all have done reporting of course, on different issues going on in States from New York and others, where there are concerns about supply, where there’s confusion about the process and we need to address that. So there are a number of operational challenges that are happening at the same time. Okay, let’s go ahead.
Speaker 2: (34:59)
Following up on the vaccine, stakeholders we’ve talked to, state leaders, medical experts have said one of the questions that they’re trying to figure out is how much vaccine is actually in the national stockpile right now? Do you have any sense of it yet?
Jen Psaki: (35:14)
Our team, as you know, has been on the ground for about 48 hours, but certainly what they want to determine is not just the operational issues I referenced, but also what we’re looking at in terms of supply. We are, as you may know, well, we are going to be starting briefings next week, I should say, a couple of times a week with some of our health experts. So I expect there’ll be able to provide some update of what they’ve reviewed and what they have access to at that point in time.
Speaker 2: (35:41)
Two other quick ones on the previous occupant. House intelligence committee chairman, Adam Schiff, is calling on President Biden not to extend the courtesy to President Trump of getting access to intelligence briefings. Has the decision been made on that?
Jen Psaki: (35:55)
Not that I’m aware of, but I’ll follow up with our national security team and see, we would certainly leave the decision to them, to the intelligence community.
Speaker 2: (36:02)
Clear up the confusion here about the who exactly dismissed the chief White House usher.
Jen Psaki: (36:10)
Well, it happened [crosstalk 00:36:10].
Speaker 2: (36:10)
Is it the Biden administration, or was it the previous occupant?
Jen Psaki: (36:13)
It is very important question. I’m so happy you asked it. It happened before we walked in the door and so I don’t have anymore information than what we’ve provided. Go ahead.
Speaker 4: (36:23)
Not to belabor this point, but you’ve said that Congress can walk and chew gum at the same time, which is true, but there are also so many hours in the day. Has the president expressed any concern that a Senate trial will slow down additional confirmations or movement on a COVID relief bill?
Jen Psaki: (36:38)
Only that it cannot. There are only so many hours in the day, you’re right, but again, if there’s a Senate trial happening in the Senate, of course it would happen in the Senate. The House can move forward on a package. And certainly there is capacity and ability to have discussions, have hearings, take steps to move forward on the president’s COVID relief package. And we don’t think it can be delayed or it can wait. So they’re going to have to find a path forward. He’s confident they can do that.
Speaker 4: (37:06)
And President Biden has made pretty clear that he believes former President Trump is unfit to serve. Does he think he should be barred from holding federal office going forward?
Jen Psaki: (37:14)
Well, we’ll leave it to Congress. He ran against him because he thought he was unfit to serve and he’s no longer here because President Biden beat him, but we’ll leave the steps, the accountability steps to Congress to determine.
Speaker 4: (37:27)
[inaudible 00:37:27] COVID questions, any update as to whether the president may sit down with congressional leaders to discuss and try and hammer out this package?
Jen Psaki: (37:35)
Sure. Well, I will say without giving you specifics necessarily, but… Which I know you’re looking for. So I shouldn’t have just walked myself into that rabbit hole, but-
Speaker 4: (37:43)
Jen Psaki: (37:46)
But the president has already done a number of calls with Democrats and Republicans that will continue. He’s very eager to be closely involved, roll up his sleeves and be making calls himself. Soon, but I don’t have an update on any meeting. I will though just add, just for context, I know the reporting, thanks to your reporting I suppose, about the meeting this weekend kind of got out there and obviously Brian confirmed it. There are a lot of meetings happening at one time with a lot of different officials. So I wouldn’t see that as this is the negotiating tool that is one of many engagements. And one of many discussions that the president, the vice-president, senior members of the White House team are having and are ongoing.
Speaker 4: (38:29)
And as outlined right now. Is he confident that you have enough Democrats on board with this plan to pass this?
Jen Psaki: (38:34)
Well, he announced the plan about a week ago, right? And his view is that this is how democracy should work, which is the president of the United States announces what his vision is and what his plan, his proposed plan is, to address the crises the American people are facing. Then there are ongoing discussions with Congress. They like some pieces, they don’t like other pieces. You all have seen Democrats like many pieces, Republicans even like some of the pieces too. And he’s had those encouraging conversations, but the final package may not look exactly like the package that he proposed, that’s okay. That’s how the process, the legislative process should work. Go ahead, Justin.
Thanks. Welcome back.
Jen Psaki: (39:16)
I had a question on COVID, but I want to start with just some housekeeping from questions you had earlier in the week that you said you might circle back on. So I was wondering if-
Jen Psaki: (39:27)
Sure. We can start there.
Jen Psaki: (39:30)
Oh, I was… Okay. On the plane, we are certainly aware of the White House Military unit’s proposal that has been submitted to them about reconsidering the color scheme of Air Force 1. I can confirm for you here, the president has not spent a moment thinking about the color scheme of Air Force 1 or anything in the House or any article of anything and no one is going to submit a decision memo to him on that particular topic, but certainly we’re aware of the proposal. And as there any updates, we’re happy to provide them to you.
Maybe a little more substantively, I was wondering, you had mentioned surrenders yesterday, but not if you were or not specific companies that might’ve had DPA contracts either started or are coming. And then also DC statehood was an issue that was raised in our previous briefing.
Jen Psaki: (40:26)
Sure. Well, on the first, I don’t know if specific companies for you, I can circle back with our COVID team and see if we have more specifics. Obviously those conversations are happening as we speak. There was a question yesterday about whether the Defense Production Act had been invoked. It has been invoked, so those processes are now rapidly ongoing. The president has supported DC statehood in the past. That certainly remains his position, but I don’t have anything for you on the timeline or next steps there. [inaudible 00:40:54] Oh, go ahead.
Just the COVID one quickly, kind of trademark of the last administration’s efforts were that there would be a big announcement like Jared Kushner’s testing website and then no timeline put on it and never really materialized. So I was interested when the chief of staff last night, said that there would be a central clearing house for vaccine information. And I was wondering if you could provide a sort of expectation or a timeline on what Americans could expect that there’s a .gov email address or .gov website or a phone number that they could go to, to find out their specific vaccination information.
Jen Psaki: (41:30)
Well, I know all members of my family are also asking the same question as I’m sure yours are. It is something we’re eager to do and also provide more information to the American public about when they can call their pharmacy and schedule an appointment just to make it much easier. The lack of information and the disinformation at times about how people can get the vaccine, when they can get the vaccine, who’s eligible, has created a great deal of confusion. As you all know, I don’t have anything on the timeline, but I will remind you that the person who saved healthcare.gov and the person who helped him are working on the COVID team. So we’re in very good hands and they’re certainly committed to getting more information out in a more accessible way. Go ahead.
Speaker 5: (42:10)
[inaudible 00:10:10]. I have two questions, the first is having to do with the operations of the [inaudible 00:10:14], curiosity about [inaudible 00:00:42:16], so I’ll ask you, who has Oval Office walk in privileges in this White House? Do you have Oval Office walk in privileges as you speak to the president and how has that access to the president controlled you?
Jen Psaki: (42:30)
Well, I don’t know that I’m going to give you a list of everybody, but I will convey that since the first conversation I had with then president elect Biden, he conveyed to me, it was important that we have regular conversations and we’re able to have a discussion about how he sees things and questions that are coming up to ensure that we are providing you all with information, not just about our policies, which is of course pivotal, but his also his thinking on issues. So I talked to him this morning and certainly I expect and anticipate I’ll have regular conversations with him. And there are a number of other people who have those conversations with him on a daily basis as well, that’s part of his style. And part of his style of governing is to make sure people who are engaging with the outside world have an understanding of his thinking.
Speaker 5: (43:16)
One more question for you. Is Dr. Deborah Birx still a member of this president’s COVID response team?
Jen Psaki: (43:21)
I will have to circle back on that one. That’s an excellent question. I don’t have any information on it in front of me. Go ahead.
Speaker 6: (43:27)
Thank you, ma’am. I’ve got a question about the Senate and then also a foreign policy question, if you’ll let me.
Jen Psaki: (43:32)
Great. I love foreign policy questions.
Speaker 6: (43:35)
Thank you. Senator McConnell and Senator Schumer have been going back and forth over discussions when it comes to a power sharing situation. Obviously the sticking point has been the filibuster. Are you concerned that those negotiations could potentially delay the president’s legislative agenda, his nominees. And then also does the president still oppose overturning the legislative filibuster like he did in that interview with the New York Times?
Jen Psaki: (44:04)
Sure, well, the president’s position hasn’t changed. But I will say he’s conveyed in conversations with both now Leader Schumer and Senator McConnell that they need to have their conversations, of course, but he is eager to move his rescue plan forward. He is eager to get relief to the American public. He wants to work with both of them to do exactly that and he wants it to be a bipartisan bill. So that is his objective.
Speaker 6: (44:31)
So his position hasn’t changed. He opposes overturning the legislative filibuster.
Jen Psaki: (44:35)
He has spoken to this many times. His position has not changed.
Speaker 6: (44:38)
And then the previous administration on their way out the door declared the China’s human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims were quote, crimes against humanity and quote, a genocide. Does the president agree with that determination and will he keep it?
Jen Psaki: (44:54)
Well, I know that our secretary of state is just about to get confirmed or so Senator McConnell tells us, and I’m sure he will be reviewing. I know he will be reviewing a number of the decisions and assessments that have made. Obviously the president has spoken before to the horrific treatment of Uighurs, but I don’t have anything more for you on it. I can check with our national security team and see if we have a more up-to-date statement. Go ahead.
Speaker 7: (45:20)
Hi, just a couple of quick follow ups, the USDA for families that depend on schools to feed their children. That is a $100 for three children every two months. Is that too little too late? What more are you thinking of doing?
Jen Psaki: (45:38)
Well, first I will say that the executive actions, and this is something when we were discussing this with the president earlier today are just part of his effort to bring relief to the American people. His priority was overturning a number of the detrimental steps that the Trump administration had taken and to take steps that he can through executive authority, through the review of the legal team to do, to bring that relief.
Jen Psaki: (46:05)
But he has also proposed this large package, as many of you have pointed out to all of us, to bring additional relief, and he wants to work with Congress to build on the executive actions, to take a bipartisan approach, to making sure that kids have food to eat. That people who don’t have jobs have the relief they need, that we can get the vaccine out, that schools can reopen. Those are all priorities of his, but his big focus is undoing that in a bipartisan way with Congress.
Speaker 7: (46:34)
And there was this other detail mentioned about the $15 minimum wage. And I know Brian spoke about federal contractors, but the issue is obviously faced a lot of opposition in Congress over the years, is President Biden planning to speak to Senator Schumer, to blame the bill, the legislation that the House passed on $15 to the Senate? I mean, how does this broadly help workers around the country?
Jen Psaki: (47:03)
Well, again, this is just one part of his step to provide relief to the American people. There are many federal contractors, of course, serving the government and he felt it was something that was not just a right to do, but something that was necessary to do, but he has proposed a significant relief package or package that will provide assistance to many, many Americans. And he will continue to advocate for the $15 minimum wage moving forward. There’s no question about it. Go ahead.
Speaker 8: (47:31)
Thank you very much, Jen. And I’d like to focus on vaccinations. There’s arguably something that the federal government can do in this front. In New York, there is a looming tree [inaudible 00:47:42] that’s actually happening today. Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio say that they’re going to be running out of their batches of first doses of the vaccine today. They don’t expect to get more until Tuesday. So there’s going to be a three-day gap, is the federal government and is President Biden going to do anything to prevent that?
Jen Psaki: (47:59)
Well, we’ve asked the CDC to look into exactly this issue and…
Jen Psaki: (48:03)
The CDC to look into exactly this issue and see what can be done. I don’t have any update beyond that, but certainly we don’t want any states to run out of access to vaccine. We are hopeful that in the weeks ahead, as we get our sea legs here and our team starts to operationalize engagement with governors, engagement with local officials, to provide them a greater understanding of supply, of what we are going to have access to, in a timeframe that’s farther in advance, that we can avoid situations like this in the future, but we’ve asked the CDC to look into what’s happening.
Speaker 9: (48:37)
Just to follow up on that. There’s arguably a way that federal government could just basically flip the switch and help alleviate some of this problem. New York City says it has 65,000 doses that are reserved for a second shot. Is the federal government considering allowing those to be used for the first shots, so there is not this three-day gap of first shot vaccinations.
Jen Psaki: (48:58)
As you know, in the past, we have advocated for releasing additional access from the reserves, but we have really deferred to health and medical experts. So that’s why we’ve asked the CDC to look into what the options are.
Speaker 9: (49:11)
So you’ve asked the CDC to look into this. So there is [crosstalk 00:49:14]-
Jen Psaki: (49:14)
Well, to look into, to have the conversation with officials in New York and to look into what is possible, but I don’t want to [inaudible 00:49:21]. We want to lean into health and medical experts to make the decisions. Go ahead.
Speaker 10: (49:26)
Thanks Jen. One of the executive orders that was signed yesterday requires that international travelers quarantine or self isolate. Is the administration going to do anything to enforce that rule or is it mostly an honor system? And then on current matters, one more. Has the president considered establishing any sort of national memorial to memorialize those people who’ve died from coronavirus?
Jen Psaki: (49:49)
Sure. Both are excellent questions. And the first one I should have information on, but I’ll have to follow up with you on both of them. I’m not aware of a discussion about the second piece. So that’s an interesting idea, and I will bring it back to people and see if there’s more to say.
Speaker 10: (50:01)
On the immigration bill, has the president got a sense of any feedback on the immigration bill that list sent to the Hill yesterday? And is there an overall timeline for when he’d like to see that move?
Jen Psaki: (50:15)
Well, we already have co-sponsors of the immigration bill, as you may have seen, which is obviously a good sign. There are a number of experts, as you know, because I’m guessing you have covered this issue for some time. If you’re asking with a level of detail, who have worked on immigration reform, had bipartisan discussions in the past. And we are hopeful that this proposal that this bill that he sent forward, we sent forward yesterday will be an opportunity for a reset to really restart those discussions. But we expect that will be the first step here. And that we’re hopeful that the components of this proposed bill, which are different from what has been proposed in the past, because it includes smarter security. It includes a path to citizenship, but it also includes funding to address the root cause will help you the basis of those discussions and we would like to see them move forward quickly.
Jen Psaki: (51:03)
Okay. Why don’t you go ahead?
Speaker 11: (51:05)
You mentioned the issue of the vaccine hesitancy, does the president believe that all Americans should get the vaccine and then for those who might be reluctant to get it, how do you convince them that it’s safe?
Jen Psaki: (51:16)
Well, he does. The more people who are vaccinated, the safer we are. Health and medical experts have also conveyed that. That’s what I’m quoting. In terms of addressing vaccine hesitancy, it’s a big challenge. You heard Dr. Fauci talk about this yesterday. It will be easier for the first traunch of Americans to convince them to get the vaccine. They’re just looking for information on where to go and how to sign up and how to get grandma to come with them. It is really the next layer of people who are concerned as you alluded to about the safety and about the efficacy. And unfortunately there is a large percent, larger than should be percentage in minority communities, communities of color. And so we’ve been quite thoughtful or we want to be quite thoughtful about how we do outreach and engagement.
Jen Psaki: (52:07)
Obviously it’s making it accessible. So ensuring we have these community centers and health centers can provide the vaccine, but also who’s communicating on behalf of the government or on behalf of the safety of the vaccine. The president certainly will be doing that. The vice president will be doing that. I know a lot of celebrities have offered. That’s okay, but what’s been interesting in the data are great. We welcome that. But what’s interesting in the data is that local doctors and local officials, people from the community are people who are often most trusted. And so we’re really trying to empower and be able to fund local communities to be able to be the spokespeople, to build that trust.
Jen Psaki: (52:50)
Go ahead in the back.
Speaker 12: (52:51)
Thank you, Jen. You mentioned that the COVID package, the talks may evolve. It may change the package and there are already some things that you feel like there’s bipartisan support for. Is there any consideration that’s taken place or that may take place in separating some of these pieces out and passing the things first and foremost that may generate bipartisan support given the urgency that you’ve talked about?
Jen Psaki: (53:14)
Well, I will say, as Brian said that our objective here, or the way that the package was designed was to address the core issues of the crisis. So I think the tricky piece of that question is, do you delay vaccine funding to distribute the vaccine? Do you delay funding for unemployment insurance? Do you delay funding to reopen schools? Nobody wants to be having a conversation about why schools aren’t reopened in May or June. Democrats, Republicans, no members of Congress. So there are key components in here that, in the package that was designed, to address the current crises. So right now we’re having a discussion about the big package, but as you noted, there are viewpoints, points of view, no surprise, about many components of it. We certainly understand that. And we welcome the discussion and engagement with members of both parties.
Speaker 12: (54:03)
On the fact-finding period for the domestic violent extremism orders that you, the letters that you’ve sent, is there a period when that you’re expecting to get maybe some [crosstalk 00:54:12]-
Jen Psaki: (54:10)
When we’re getting the report back. I don’t believe we have outlined that yet. We can follow up with you if there’s a specific timeline that we’re putting out publicly at this point.
Jen Psaki: (54:22)
Speaker 13: (54:23)
Jen [inaudible 00:54:24] committee yesterday said that President Biden wouldn’t be signing any free trade deals because the focus was on the domestic economy and infrastructure. Where does that leave the potential for UK US trade deal? Which is it months away or next year or year after?
Jen Psaki: (54:41)
Well, I can’t give you any timeline. I will say that what is important to the president and also our national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, is that we do, everything we do must help advance working families and the American middle-class. And that certainly includes any trade agreements, and that is part of their objective and how they would approach it. But as you noted, at this point in time, we’re working to get the pandemic under control, provide economic relief to the American public. We of course can do multiple things at the same time, but those are our primary priorities at this point.
Speaker 13: (55:16)
Can I ask what happened to the Churchill bust and what should be read about its removal from the oval office?
Jen Psaki: (55:21)
Oh, such an important question. It’s the plane of today. I will follow up on that. I don’t have… It is something that may certainly be existing in the complex, of course, I’m very familiar with the bust, but we will circle back with you if there’s more to update you on that.
Jen Psaki: (55:37)
Speaker 14: (55:37)
Okay. To follow up to what they were just asking you, on domestic unrest, first of all, does the president have any comment on the ongoing violence in Oregon and Washington State that we’ve seen in recent days?
Jen Psaki: (55:49)
Well, certainly we had our team on the ground, our national security team, even before 12:01, early in the morning on Inauguration Day, because we wanted to be able to monitor events happening across the country and any unrest that was resulting from the last couple of weeks. I haven’t spoken with him specifically about those events, but it is something that our national security team [inaudible 00:56:14] Randall, our Homeland security advisor is closely monitoring, of course. And, but if we have additional update, I’m happy to provide it to you.
Speaker 15: (56:22)
Speaker 2: (56:23)
Speaking with the leaders of Canada and Mexico, any word on who else is next? And has there been any discussion about when or under what conditions he, the vice president, the secretary of state would fly overseas to meet with world leaders.
Jen Psaki: (56:37)
So despite his desire, my desire, if that matters, to do a foreign trip, I think it will be a bit of time. I don’t have an update for you on when that will take place at this point, but I would expect he’ll have a, of course, additional foreign leader calls next week. As has as been the case with our national security team, you can anticipate that those will start with our allies and partners, including many of the Europeans, but I don’t have a specific day by day calendar for you at this point.
Speaker 2: (57:04)
This is his first weekend in the White House, does he still plan to go to mass every weekend? And has he picked a parish here in the Washington area or a place where he plans to go?
Jen Psaki: (57:14)
Well, his faith is certainly quite important to him, as you know, from covering him. And I would expect that he attends church, continues to attend a church very regularly. He has not selected a church yet, but if and when that happens, we’ll certainly keep you updated. Let’s see. I haven’t taken the… Go ahead all the way in the back.
Speaker 16: (57:33)
So Japan is planning to host the Tokyo [inaudible 00:57:36] in six months, but they have not made a specific point [inaudible 00:57:41] because the pandemic. So [inaudible 00:57:47] to be a game as planned, or is President Biden confident to be a safe [inaudible 00:57:55] in Tokyo. And does he feel safe [inaudible 00:57:58] Tokyo this summer?
Jen Psaki: (57:58)
Well, as a big Olympics fan. I’m certainly looking forward to it, but I have not talked to the president or our national security team about plans for the summer or the games. So we’ll have to take that question too and circle back with you, but did you have another one? Maybe I can get another one.
Speaker 16: (58:19)
Yeah. And how about President Biden’s [inaudible 00:10:24]. I’m talking about Japan and North Korea. I understand the [inaudible 00:58:28] with his Japanese counterpart. [inaudible 00:58:34] Japan.
Jen Psaki: (58:36)
US policy in Japan as it relates to North Korea? Cool. Okay. Well, the president’s view is of course, that is without question that North Korea’s nuclear ballistic missile and other proliferation related activities constitutes serious threat to the international peace and security of the world and undermine the global non-proliferation regime. And we obviously still have a vital interest in deterring North Korea as does Japan, of course. We will adopt a new strategy to keep the American people and our allies safe. That approach will begin with a thorough policy review of the state of play in North Korea, in close consultation with South Korea, Japan, and other allies on ongoing pressure options and the potential for any future diplomacy. So I will say we will, as we have, historically, the United States will work closely with partners in the region to determine a path forward and work together on deterrence.
Speaker 16: (59:38)
How about the TPP? Is President Biden [inaudible 00:59:40] join the TPP [inaudible 00:59:40] partnership?
Jen Psaki: (59:41)
Well, again, I think, President Biden knows TPP wasn’t perfect and believes we need to make it stronger and better, but at this point, our focus and his focus as it relates to the economy is on doing everything we can to advance working families in the American middle middle-class. And so that will be his focus in the coming months.
Jen Psaki: (01:00:08)
Go ahead, Justin.
Just a quick one on Inauguration Day, China sanctioned a number of outgoing Trump Administration officials. I know the NSA has put a statement out kind of denouncing that, saying that it was a political act, but there’s been a call from some Republicans on Capitol Hill to either retaliate with sanctions against Chinese officials or to expel the ambassador here in Washington. I’m wondering if you’re contemplating either of those actions.
Jen Psaki: (01:00:34)
For those who didn’t have the statement, well, because it was, there’s been a lot going on this week, I think we can all agree. The Biden Harris administration has noted China’s sanctioning of more than two dozen former Trump Administration officials and posing these sanctions on Inauguration Day, as they did as seemingly an attempt to play partisan divides. Americans of both parties should criticize this unproductive and cynical move. And President Biden looks forward to working with leaders in both parties to position America to out-compete China. And I don’t have any additional update though, on other considerations.
Jen Psaki: (01:01:05)
Speaker 6: (01:01:06)
Thank you ma’am. This morning, the White House put out a statement on the anniversary of Roe V. Wade. As a candidate herself, the vice president proposed an abortion rights law akin to the Voting Rights Act. Is that something that she still supports? Is that something that the president is exploring?
Jen Psaki: (01:01:24)
I don’t have any update from the vice president’s policy. Obviously her policies are the policies of the Biden Harris administration, and those statements today speaks to those policies. We have ventured to get you a week ahead and I promise that we will do it in the future, but we don’t have any really detailed specifics to share with you at this point in time, other than the president will not be leaving the DMV, I can assure you next week, and he will continue to sign additional executive actions and engage with members of Congress. We will have a more detailed schedule, but we’re still ironing out all the specifics.
Jen Psaki: (01:02:01)
Thank you everyone. Let’s do this again on Monday.