Jan 27, 2021
Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript January 27: John Kerry & Gina McCarthy
January 27 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. She was joined by John Kerry and Gina McCarthy to address the Biden administration’s climate plans. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Jen Psaki: (00:00)
I have to give you a fancy introduction. Good afternoon. President Biden is continuing to follow through on his key promise to take swift and bold action that addresses the climate crisis, building on his day one actions of rejoining the Paris Agreement and strengthening our clean air and water protections and holding polluters accountable. Today, he will take executive action to tackle the climate crisis at home and abroad while creating good paying union jobs, building sustainable infrastructure, and delivering environmental justice.
Jen Psaki: (00:41)
I’m thrilled today as a part of our effort to bring policy experts into the briefing room, we’re joined by two very special guests who are going to talk to you all about today’s executive orders and take a few questions as well. And I will as always play the role of bad cop when they have to go. National Climate Advisor, Gina McCarthy, and Special Presidential Envoy for Climate and my former boss, Former Secretary of State, John Kerry. And a big day for Boston in the briefing room. With that, go ahead.
Gina McCarthy: (01:09)
Thank you. It’s a big day for Boston every day. Thank you everybody. Today, President Biden will build on the actions he took on day one and he’ll take more steps to fulfill commitments he made to tackle the climate crisis while creating good paying union jobs and achieving environmental justice. In his campaign, he and Vice President Harris put forward the most ambitious climate vision that any presidential ticket had ever embraced, and he spent more time campaigning on climate than we have ever seen. The president also has consistently identified the climate crisis as one of four interrelated existential crises that are gripping our nation all at once. And he’s demanding answers that can address all four. And he’s not waiting to take action, getting us started on his first day in office because science is telling us that we don’t have a moment to lose to fight against all four of these crisises in a way that recognizes their intersectionality.
Gina McCarthy: (02:21)
He’s already committed the US to reenter the Paris Climate Agreement. And he committed us as well to start undoing the assault on our environment that has occurred over the past four years. And he is now taking additional action to really target the challenge of climate change. So today for me is a very good day. Just one week into it his administration, President Biden is continuing to move us forward at the breadth and the pace that climate science demands. Today’s executive order starts by saying, “It is the policy of this administration. That climate considerations shall be an essential element of US foreign policy and national security.”
Gina McCarthy: (03:11)
That’s where the big guy comes in. It gives my colleague, John Kerry, the first ever International Climate Envoy, the authority to really drive forward a process that will restore American leadership on climate throughout the world. And you will see in him more about that from Secretary Kerry. But here at home, we have to do our part, or we will not be able to make the kind of worldwide change that climate change demands. So this executive order establishes a White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, and it directs everyone who works for the president to use every tool available at our disposal to solve the climate crisis, because we’re going to take a whole of government approach. We’re going to power our economy with clean energy.
Gina McCarthy: (04:06)
We’re going to do that in a way that will produce millions of American jobs that are going to be good paying, that are going to be jobs that have the opportunity for workers to join a union. Because as President Biden has often told us, when he thinks of climate change, his first thought is about jobs. And it should be because people in this country need a job. And this is about making that happen in the most creative insignificant way that the federal government can move forward.
Gina McCarthy: (04:41)
And we’re going to make sure that nobody is left behind, and I’m not just talking about communities in terms of environmental justice, but workers as well. This order takes historic strides to address environmental injustice. It creates both a White House inter-agency task force to address environmental justice, as well as an advisory council. It directs the Department of Health and Human Services to create an office of Climate Change and Health Equity, because after all, climate change is the most significant public health challenge of our time. And it tasks the Department of Justice with establishing an Office of Climate Justice, because we know the communities who are being hurt and we know we have to start enforcing the standards today in ensuring that they are part of the solution and in places that we can invest.
Gina McCarthy: (05:33)
In fact, it commits 40% of our investment in clean energy towards disadvantaged communities so they can benefit from the new jobs that are available and see that better future. President Biden’s order establishes a working group on coal and power plant communities, because we have to make sure that in this transition, every agency in government is using every tool at their disposal to drive resources to those communities. And it fulfills longstanding commitments to leverage our vast natural resources to contribute to our clean energy future. It places a pause and review on new oil and gas leases on federal public lands and waters consistent with a promise President Biden has repeatedly made and has been very clear in the face of efforts to distort his promise. And it sets a goal of doubling offshore wind production by 2030. In addition, he plans to sign a presidential memorandum that aims to restore scientific integrity across the federal government and earn back the public’s trust, making a commitment to base solutions on the best available science and data.
Gina McCarthy: (06:53)
So today is a very big day for science and for our efforts to power our economy with good paying union jobs. Thank you very much.
John Kerry: (07:11)
Good afternoon, everybody. It’s great to be here. Let me say, first of all, what a pleasure it is to be here with Gina. I’m a big fan of Gina’s. Gina and I worked very, very closely together during the campaign when we sat down to bring the Bernie Sanders folks together around the Biden climate plan, and she is the perfect person to be tackling the domestic side of this equation, which is complicated. And nobody knows the details better than she does and nobody’s going to be more effective at corralling everybody to move in the same direction.
John Kerry: (07:56)
It’s also an enormous pleasure for me to be here with Jen Psaki. She mentioned that, nobody was her boss, but I had the privilege of working with her. And seven years ago, we gathered in the state department briefing room. She’s traded up, obviously, but she has not given away any of her fundamental principles and commitment to telling you all the truth, telling the American people the truth and doing so with great candor and transparency. And I’m very happy to be here with her.
John Kerry: (08:32)
The stakes on climate change just simply couldn’t be any higher than they are right now. It is existential. We use that word too easily. We throw it away. But we have a big agenda in front of us on a global basis. And President Biden is deeply committed, totally seized by this issue, as you can tell by this executive order and by the initiative of getting back into Paris immediately. That’s why he rejoined the Paris Agreement so quickly because he knows it is urgent.
John Kerry: (09:08)
He also knows that Paris alone is not enough, not when almost 90% of all of the planet’s global emissions come from outside of US borders. We could go to zero tomorrow and the problem isn’t solved. So that’s why today, one week into the job, President Biden will sign this additional executive set of orders to help move us down the road, ensuring that ambitious climate action is global in scope and scale, as well as national here at home.
John Kerry: (09:46)
Today in the order that he will sign that Gina has described to you, he makes climate central to foreign policy planning, to diplomacy, and to national security preparedness. It creates new platforms to coordinate climate action across the federal agencies and departments, sorely needed. And most importantly, it commissions a national intelligence estimate on the security implications of climate change to give all of us an even deeper understanding of the challenge. This is the first time a president has ever done that. And our 17 intelligence agencies are going to come together and assess exactly what the danger and damage and potential risks are.
John Kerry: (10:34)
The order directs the State Department to prepare a transmittal package seeking Senate advice and consent on the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, an amendment that by itself, if ratified and fully enforced globally, could hold the Earth’s temperature by 0.5 of an entire degree, not insignificant. And it sets forth a process for us to develop an ambitious new Paris target, as well as a US climate finance plan, both of which are essential to our being able to bring countries of the world together to raise ambition and meet this moment when we go to Glasgow for the follow-on agreement to Paris.
John Kerry: (11:18)
So that’s the only way for the world to succeed together, my friends. Again, this is an issue where failure literally is not an option. As he committed to doing on the campaign trail, the president is announcing that he will host a leader’s summit on climate change less than three months from now, on April 22nd, Earth Day, which will include a leader level reconvening of the major economies forum. We’ll have specifics to lay out over time, but the convening of this summit is essential to ensuring that 2021 is going to be the year that really makes up for the lost time of the last four years and that the UN climate conference, COP26 as it’s called, which the UK is hosting in November, to make sure that it is an unqualified success.
John Kerry: (12:15)
The road to Glasgow will be marked not just by promises, but by progress at a pace that we can all be proud of. And Gina is going to be putting her efforts in to making certain that that is true. The world will measure us by what we can do here at home. So with these executive actions today, we believe we’re steps further down that journey. Thank you.
Speaker 1: (12:41)
All right. Let’s start with Nancy.
Thank you so much. Secretary Kerry, a question for you, and then for Administrator McCarthy. You talked about the fact that it won’t really matter what we do very much if the rest of the world doesn’t do the same thing, but the US has had a fairly Rocky relationship with China recently. How do you plan to try to bring both China and India to the table on this issue?
John Kerry: (13:07)
Well, before I answer that, let me just say that the issue of making a difference, IE what we do at home, what I’m saying is you can’t solve the problem alone, but our doing things makes an enormous difference. What Gina succeeds in pulling together is essential to our ability to have credibility in the world. Now, with respect to China, obviously we have serious differences with China. Some very, very important issues. And I am as mindful of that as anybody having served as Secretary of State and in the Senate. The issues of theft of intellectual property and access to market, South China Sea. I mean, run the list. We all know them. Those issues will never be traded for anything that has to do with climate. That’s not-
John Kerry: (14:03)
… be traded for anything that has to do with climate. That’s not going to happen. But climate is a critical standalone issue that we have to deal on in the sense that China is 30% of the emissions of the world, we’re about 15% of the emissions of the world. You add the EU to that, and you’ve got three entities that are more than 55% or so. So it’s urgent that we find a way to compartmentalize, to move forward and we’ll wait and see. But President Biden is very, very clear about the need to address the other issues with China. And I know some people have been concerned, nothing is going to be siphoned off into one area from another.
Speaker 2: (14:47)
And then a question for either of you on coal, your executive order talks about oil and gas on federal lands, but it doesn’t really say much about coal. What is this administration’s policy when it comes to coal?
Gina McCarthy: (15:00)
Well, in terms of the oil and gas decision, is to make sure that we take a little pause and review the entire strategy of how we’re looking at public lands. So it will include looking at what new leases ought to be approved and sold. It’s looking at our ability also to look at coal in that mix. So the program review is going to look at how we manage public lands, consistent with climate, but also consistent with the marriage between climate and really growing jobs of the future. So it will be in the mix to be looked at, but it is not at this point included. It was not part of the commitments on the campaign, but we’re going to take a close look at all of it. And can I just add on your comment about China, which I’m not going to speak to the international dynamic, but I am going to say that part of the challenge that we face here is a challenge that President Biden has already started to address with his buy America pledge.
Gina McCarthy: (15:57)
We have to start not just shifting to clean energy, but it has to be manufactured in the United States of America, not in other countries. And there is going to be a large discussion about how we make sure that a lot of the investment is about building up on manufacturing base again. That’s great jobs, that’s often hopefully union jobs, but it is also a wonderful opportunity for us to recoup the benefits of that manufacturing and lower the cost of clean energy. Part of the way we’re going to get there is by making sure the federal government buys American and that the federal government looks at its procurement across every agency so that the breadth of what we spend is spent designed to advance job growth in the United States, to advance health benefits for environmental justice communities, and to begin to tackle the very challenge, the existential challenge of climate change.
Speaker 3: (16:56)
Jeff Mason: (16:58)
Thank you. Jeff Mason with Reuters. Question for both of you. Can you give us a sense of when you expect to have the so-called NDC or US target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions as part of the Paris Accord? And can you also give us a sense of how ambitious you plan to make that number? Will it be 40%, 50%, higher than that?
John Kerry: (17:23)
We’re united in this.
Gina McCarthy: (17:25)
I’m the dude who’s supposed to deliver this in a timely way and he sets the timing. So basically we want to make sure that the NDC is something that can be announced before the summit on earth day. And so we’re going to be out of the gate working with the agencies to see what kind of reductions and mitigation opportunities there are. And also again, to look at our public lands, to make sure that we can continue to store carbon in our soil, to work with agriculture and others, to look at how we better manage our forest so we’re not seeing the devastating forest fires that we’ve been having before. So all across the federal government, every agency, and you’ll see many of them specifically tasked in this executive order will participate in the task force that we’re going to have to actually develop the most aggressive NDC that we can to deliver the kind of boost that Secretary Kerry is looking for to be able to ensure that our international efforts are robust and sufficient to address the challenge internationally.
Jeff Mason: (18:34)
And just to follow up on that perhaps for Secretary Kerry, how do you assure international partners that the US will stick to whatever you propose after having seen the Trump administration take the US out of the Paris Accord?
John Kerry: (18:49)
Well, that’s precisely why we’re going to stick by it. And I think our word is strong. I’ve been on the phone for the last few days, talking to our allies in Europe, elsewhere around the world, and they are welcoming us back. They know that this administration already had a significant part of what will bring us to Glasgow, which was the Paris Agreement. The Obama, Biden administration had great credibility on this issue. And having President Biden be the person now who is driving this forward is enormously meaningful to the folks there. And they also know that I was deeply involved in the negotiations in Paris and I’m now asked by the president, by President Biden, to make certain that we do the same in Glasgow, if not more. So I have had no one question our credibility at this point in time, someone probably will.
John Kerry: (19:48)
And the answer will be that I think we can achieve things in the course of the next four years that will move the marketplace, the private sector, global finance, innovation and research, that in fact no one, no political person in the future would be able to undo what the planet is going to be organizing over these next months and years. This is the start of something new. I don’t know if you’ve read Larry Fink’s letter of BlackRock the other day, yesterday, but there’s a new awareness among major asset managers, commercial banks and others about the need to be putting resources into this endeavor because it is major in investment demand.
John Kerry: (20:37)
So I think the proof will be in what we do. Neither, Gina, nor I are going to start throwing around a lot of big promises, but you heard what she just said, and we will work very closely because we’re going to try to bring to the table to help inform her and the folks she’s working with, what we’re picking up abroad and what people are doing abroad and the steps that they’re taking and how we now have to measure ourselves against them, and they will measure themselves against us. We are well aware of that. [crosstalk 00:21:08]
Gina McCarthy: (21:08)
Let me just add something. I just want to call attention to the fact that cities and states have really picked up the initiative to move forward on clean energy, because the solutions are cheap. The solutions compete effectively against fossil fuels. We are talking about solutions that we’re not asking anybody to sacrifice, but add to their advantage. And if you look at the record over the past four years, while the prior administration might’ve wanted clean energy to head in a different direction, it’s gone faster and farther than anyone ever expected. And the idea that we could, with this new work that we’re doing together, send signals to the marketplace who are purchasing at the federal level and are re-looking at different ways of having on the ground change, we can build that demand. We can actually grow significantly millions of clean energy jobs. And all of a sudden the question won’t be whether the private sector’s going to buy into it, the private sector’s going to drive it. And so this is going to be a signal setter, the way the federal government ought to set on what our values are, what we think the future needs to be. And this is a value laden effort that President Biden has undertaken with full knowledge that it’s going to benefit jobs, it’s going to benefit our health and it’s going to lead to that future we want to hand to our child.
Speaker 3: (22:38)
We’ll just do these two in the front, and then they will come back, I promise. So go ahead.
Speaker 4: (22:43)
Thank you. Mr. Secretary, if you would, there certainly are oil and gas industry workers who are watching you both right now, who will hear the message, the takeaway to them is that they are seeing an end to their livelihoods. What do you say to them? Particularly those people who President Trump struck a chord with on the campaign trail when he promised to save their jobs? What is your message to them right now? And also to the oil industry executives who are listening, are you putting them on notice today?
John Kerry: (23:16)
Well, we didn’t come here to put anybody on notice except to the seriousness of President Biden’s intent to do what needs to be done to deal with this crisis. And it is a crisis. With respect to those workers, no two people, in this room, are more concerned about it and the president of the United States has expressed in every comment he has made about climate, the need to grow the new jobs that pay better, that are cleaner. That, I mean, you look at the consequences of black lung for a minor, for instance, and measure that against the fastest growing job in the United States before COVID was solar power technician. The same people can do those jobs, but the choice of doing the solar power one now is a better choice. Similarly, you have the second fastest growing job pre COVID was wind turbine technician.
John Kerry: (24:15)
This is happening. 75%, 70% of all the electricity that’s come online in the United States in the last few years came from renewables, not… Coal plants have been closing over the last 20 years. So what President Biden wants to do is make sure those folks have better choices. That they have alternatives. That they could be the people who go to work to make the solar panels. They were making them here at home. That is going to be a particular focus of the Build Back Better agenda. And I think that unfortunately, workers have been fed a false narrative. No surprise, right? For the last few years. They’ve been fed the notion that somehow dealing with climate is coming at their expense. No, it’s not. What’s happening to them is happening because of other market forces already taking place. And what the financiers, the big banks, the asset managers, private investors, venture capital are all discovering is there’s a lot of money to be made in the creation of these new jobs in these sectors.
John Kerry: (25:27)
So whether it’s green hydrogen that is going to come, whether it is geothermal heat or whatever it’s going to be, those are jobs. The same worker who works in South Carolina today putting together a BMW, which happens to be made there, and is currently an internal combustion engine can put together a car, but it’s electric. So this is not a choice between having jobs, having good jobs, having the quality of life. Quality of life will be better when Gina has put her team together, that produces choices for us that are healthier, less cancer, cleaner air, the greatest cost to America, the greatest cause of children being hospitalized every summer in the United States, we spend 55 billion a year on it, is environmentally induced asthma. That will change as we begin to reign in what we used to call pollution in this country, because it is pollution. And I think that workers are going to see that with the efforts of the Biden administration, they’re going to have a much better set of choices. And frankly, it will create more jobs than stuck where we were.
Gina McCarthy: (26:45)
Can I just add by pointing out a couple of things in the executive order that I want you to just call to your attention. We talked about the Civilian Conservation Corps. That is an opportunity to put younger people into work and vitally important efforts. But if you look at this, it also has set up a task force that is looking at these coal communities, communities that are really reliant on their local energy and utility. And it talks about how do we revitalize those economies. And it talks about how we can put people to work using the skills they currently have where they are to start looking at those old abandoned oil and gas wells that are spewing out methane.
Gina McCarthy: (27:29)
All of the coal that is mines, that haven’t been properly closed, that are doing the same, that has great impact on climate, but it also will keep an opportunity for those individual workers to have work in their own communities. We’re not going to ask people to go from the middle of Ohio or Pennsylvania and ship out to the coast to have solar jobs. Solar jobs will be everywhere, but we need to put people to work in their own communities. That’s where their home is. That’s-
Gina McCarthy: (28:03)
… put people to work in their own communities. That’s where their home is. That’s where their vision is. So, we’re creatively looking at those opportunities for investment so that we can get people understanding that we are not trying to take away jobs. Remember when we say climate change, eventually people are going to think jobs just like President Biden when he hears the words climate change. And so we’ll do everything we can to recognize that revitalization is necessary in these communities, to find creative ways to put them to work. And then we’ll going to do as Secretary Kerry says, and start investing in new technologies and new manufacturing, and that includes the large manufacturing like cement and steel. That’s work that we should be doing here. That’s work that inevitably is going to be necessary to rebuild our infrastructure, which is also one of the biggest opportunities we have for job growth moving forward.
Two quick ones.
Jen Psaki: (29:02)
I think I saw Peter.
Sure. Administrator, one to you, and one of the secretary, if I may. What you may hear from some corners of criticism is why are we doing this now when we’re already in an economic crisis? You look at the State of New Mexico where one third of the state’s budget is funded by oil and gas. Why not let the country get back on its feet before we do this?
Gina McCarthy: (29:23)
Well, the issue in New Mexico is that somebody reported a bid incorrectly, or maybe not as precisely enough, that this wasn’t about impacting existing permits and fracking. This was about new leases on federal lands. I think that the opportunity for the states to continue to accrue the royalties from both coal and oil and natural gas that is properly done on federal lands is going to continue, and there’s even an opportunity in the review of that program to look at the royalty issues, look at the job growth opportunities, look at a variety of things to make sure that public lands are being properly managed.
Gina McCarthy: (30:07)
Now, in terms of the job issue, we’re explicitly doing this because our economy is right now stagnant. We have millions of people out of work, out of jobs, millions of people that are afraid they can’t feed their families. If you’re faced with that, what do you do? You boost the economy and you grow jobs, but why at the same time, aren’t we thinking about the weaknesses of our current economy in terms of the number of environmental justice communities that have been left behind, the number of people that are breathing dirty air and their kids are getting asthma. So, instead, let’s think about all of it at the same time. I know it’s a crazy idea in your bureaucracy. You’re only supposed to do one thing. Well, we’re going to do and think about all of it, because people need to have jobs. This is all about building the jobs of the future we want, not continuing to knit niddle at an economy that is no longer going to be where our future lies.
Mr. Secretary, to you. Right now, over the course of this first week, there are a lot of big priorities here. There’s COVID the economy, immigration, racial justice, now climate change. As a veteran of Congress, of the Senate, what is the priority? And how quickly do you need legislation to make this permanent?
John Kerry: (31:27)
Well, the Peter, the priority is precisely what the president has set out, all of them, all six of the major crisis that he faces. And he’s addressing every single one of them. And he knows that the United States, all of us, have the ability to be able to do that. And the reason that has to be done is every single one of them are life and death. Every single one of them represent a challenge to the very fiber of our society. And the other reason, obviously, everything… I agree with everything Gina said, but I’d simply add that. The other reason for doing it now is the science tells us we have to. And that’s one of the things the president is restoring today in the executive order is respect for science and the science office. So, I mean-
$2 trillion price tag. $2 trillion for COVID. 2 trillion for… This is a lot of money to a lot of America.
John Kerry: (32:23)
It is real money and yes, it’s a lot of money, but you know what? It costs a lot more if you don’t do the things we need to do. It costs a lot more. There are countless economic analyses now that show that it is now cheaper to deal with the crisis of climate than it is to ignore it. We spent $265 billion two years ago on three storms, Irma, Harvey and Maria. Maria destroyed Puerto Rico. Harvey dropped more water on Houston in five days than goes over Niagara falls in a year. And Irma had the first recorded winds at 185 miles an hour for 24 sustained hours. Last year we had one storm, $55 billion. We’re spending the money folks. We’re just not doing it smart. We’re not doing it in the way that would actually sustain us for the longterm.
John Kerry: (33:18)
This is a critical. The goal of the Paris agreement was to hold the Earth’s temperature increased to two degrees centigrade. Even if you did everything that was in Paris, we’re going up 3. 7 or 4 that’s catastrophic. What President Biden is trying to do is listen to science, listen to facts, and make tough decisions about what we need to do to take the world a better place, and particularly, our own country. And that is what he is committed doing. So, yes, there are a lot of challenges right now, which sadly, all of them were exacerbated by the last four years. Now we have try to make up for that, and that is a hard pull, but this president is capable of doing it and he’s putting together a great team that I think can help him do that.
Thank you, sir.
Jen Psaki: (34:06)
Thank you. Thank you, Gina McCarthy. Thank you, Secretary Kerry for joining us. You’re free to go.
Gina McCarthy: (34:15)
Jen Psaki: (34:15)
To go see the president. You can all see they’re both experienced and passionate and tenacious, having worked with both of them in the past. The crisis is in good hands.
Jen Psaki: (34:29)
I know we have a short period of time here, but I just wanted to provide an update on a question that you all have been asking a bit about, which is what some of the outreach our teams are doing as it relates to the COVID package. That is a top priority for President Biden.
Jen Psaki: (34:46)
As we have talked about almost every day in here, probably every day, our team continues to build support for the American Rescue Plan as more and more voices across the country, recognize the urgent need to get American families the help they need. We’ve obviously seen a broad coalition of support emerge from the Chamber of Commerce to Senator Sanders and organized labor to hundreds of mayors and local public health officials. The president and vice president are engaged directly with members and have had a number of productive conversations that will continue through the course of the week and will only pick up in the days ahead. Senior White House officials are also engaging with not just congressional leaders, but also state and local officials, key constituency groups and others together, feedback on the proposal and move the package forward.
Jen Psaki: (35:33)
Let me give you a couple of examples from just yesterday. Chief of Staff Ron Klain engaged with members directly throughout the day, as did Senior Advisor Anita Dunn, which they will both continue to do moving forward. Councilor to the President, Steve Ricchetti, and Office of Legislative Affairs Director, Louisa Terrell, are quarterbacking the team’s broader legislative outreach, and have had dozens of conversations with individual members to understand their priorities and receive their feedback. In addition to ongoing conversations with leadership on both sides of the aisle already this week, members of the National Economic Council and Domestic Policy Council and staff from treasury have met with the relevant committees, including Senate Banking Committee, Senate Finance Committee, House Ways and Means, House Financial Services, House Education and Labor, and the Bicameral Small Business Committee. NEC Director Brian Deese is doing one-on-one briefings with members of Congress and meetings with caucuses, including yesterday’s meeting, which I believe has been reported with the problem solvers caucus to discuss the proposal. Hill engagement will continue with Jeff Zients and Brian Deese meeting with the new Dem coalition, along with several other briefings that are scheduled.
Jen Psaki: (36:43)
Also, our outreach isn’t limited to Congress, which is vitally important. This isn’t just about speaking to elected officials. This is also about speaking to the country and building support and educating and engaging with leaders across the country. Yesterday Jeff Zients and his team spoke with bipartisan governors. As you all know, they talked about the COVID package, by the National Governors Association, organized by them. And administration officials brief tribal leaders and a number of mayors yesterday as well.
Jen Psaki: (37:09)
And the Office of Public Engagement, led by Cedric Richmond, briefed civil rights groups yesterday, including the NAACP, the National Action Network, Justice Action Network, Urban League, Coalition of Black Civic Participation and Black Women’s Roundtable. Today, they’ve meetings with labor leaders, advocates for young people, as well as organizations dedicated to building wealth in the black community. On Friday, OP will also, the Office of Public Engagement, I should say, I hate acronyms, will convene 100 presidents of historically black colleges and universities also to discuss this proposal.
Jen Psaki: (37:42)
And the only other thing I wanted to mention before we get to your questions is that as you all know, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen was just confirmed. The president will be meeting with economic team on Friday, including Secretary Yellen, for briefing on the impact of delay in moving forward with the additional economic relief.
Jen Psaki: (37:59)
And now with that, let’s get to your questions. Alex, your first day in the White House Briefing Room.
Jen Psaki: (38:03)
And Alex’s first day. Two Alex’s first days.
It’s good to be here.
Jen Psaki: (38:06)
There’s an initiation afterwards that the press corp will conduct.
I’m ready for it.
Jen Psaki: (38:10)
Yes, go ahead.
I’ll make it quick, because I know you have a pretty hard out in a few minutes, but-
Jen Psaki: (38:15)
I think you all have a heart out too, but yes.
Absolutely. I wanted to ask about one of your favorite topics, impeachment. Nearly every Republican Senator last night voted to throw out the impeachment trial against President Trump. Does President Biden have a reaction to that? Does he trust Congress to hold President Trump accountable for the insurrection against the Capitol? And does he see censure against former President Trump as a viable alternative to convictions since it looks unlikely at this point?
Jen Psaki: (38:43)
Well, the president certainly respects the role that Congress has, Senators, of course the Senate, as they’re overseeing the trial, moving forward and determining the pace and the path forward for holding the former president accountable. That continues to be his belief. In all of his conversations that he’s been having with members about the recovery plan., they have said they expect from him that his focus will be on COVID relief. That’s how he will use the bully pulpit. That’s how he will speak to the American people. And they are eager to work with him on that. So that’s where his focus remains and what steps they take to hold the former president accountable, he’ll leave it to them.
Why the resistance on weighing in on the issue?
Jen Psaki: (39:27)
We’ve weighed in many times. The president has been asked about the issue. We put out a statement when the House put out a vote, voted on impeachment, I should say. But his focus is on doing, delivering on what the American people elected him to do, which is to get relief to the American people, to get the pandemic under control, to ensure working families can put food on the table. And that’s where he feels his efforts should remain.
Jen Psaki: (39:50)
Okay. Go ahead.
Speaker 5: (39:53)
Thanks. Does the White House have a comment on this social media profile that has emerged Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene? And is there a response to whether any disciplinary action should be taken against her, given everything that’s come out?
Jen Psaki: (40:07)
We don’t. And I’m not going to speak further about her, I think, in this briefing room.
Speaker 5: (40:12)
Jen Psaki: (40:13)
Speaker 5: (40:14)
One more, if you don’t mind, just kind of a little bit of housekeeping.
Jen Psaki: (40:16)
Speaker 5: (40:16)
The last administration had suggested that on the origins of the COVID-19 virus, that it may have originated in a lab in China. It was never definitive. Do you have an update on that, on the origin, where we are on that investigation?
Jen Psaki: (40:32)
Well, first, obviously, the misinformation of course, that has… we’ve seen also come out of some sources in China’s is of great concern to us. It’s imperative that we get to the bottom of the early days of the pandemic in China. And we’ve been supportive of an international investigation that we feel should be robust and clear. Our view is that we must prepare to draw on information collected and analyzed by our intelligence community, which is something that is ongoing and also to continue to work with our allies to evaluate the report’s credibility on the investigation once it’s done.
Jen Psaki: (41:13)
In addition, as you all know, Secretary of State ,Tony Blinken was just sworn in yesterday. And one of his priorities is of course, ensuring that our staffing on the ground in Beijing, which is something that fell back in the last administration, is returned to what it was prior, which means we want to have science experts, policy experts on the ground, in the roles that they should be serving in to ensure that we’re also there representing our interests from the United States on the ground in China.
Jen Psaki: (41:43)
Speaker 6: (41:43)
A couple of quick ones that I still don’t think I fully understand. I know the executive order that was signed, but has this White House invoked the DPA and how soon till we’ll actually see companies compelled to produce supplies or vaccine or whatever else that impacts Americans?
Jen Psaki: (41:57)
It was invoked the day it was signed. Within 24 hours of it being signed-
Speaker 6: (42:01)
You said that jump started the process, so I guess that meant it was invoke.
Jen Psaki: (42:03)
… For hours of it being signed-
You said that jump-started the process, so I guess that meant it was invoked.
Jen Psaki: (42:04)
Yes, and I confirmed that when it was the next day, the following day in the briefing room, which I realize everybody can’t be here every day because of COVID. But it was invoked, and it means that our work is ongoing with companies to ensure that we are expediting the manufacturing of materials to ensure that we can get 100 million shots in the arms of Americans. And I know there’s been some confusion about this and what exactly it is. What does the DPA mean? There are a few examples that our team has cited, including vaccine supply, low dead space syringes, which means it allows for the ability to get an extra dose into the Pfizer vial, which is important to getting more doses out there. Help additional N95, the production of additional N95 masks, isolation gowns, gloves, pipette tips, and high-absorbency foam swabs. So, we’re really talking about very specific materials that can be used by vaccinators to get these shots in the arms of Americans.
Thanks for clarifying. There was some confusion on the earlier call, which is why I repeated here. Let me ask one other question. Yesterday, you deflected this to the USOC, but my question’s a little bit different today. We’re now hearing from the organizers of this year’s summer games in Japan. And the head of Japan’s Olympics Committee is seeking public reassurances from President Biden himself, given that the US, of course, is the largest contingent of athletes that the games should be able to go on. As the world is dealing with the pandemic right now, based on where we are now with the vaccine, does President Biden believe the games in Japan can safely go on?
Jen Psaki: (43:40)
I’m not sure if this readout had gone out yet, but he had spoken with the prime minister of Japan earlier this morning. And a readout was going out as we were coming out to the briefing. I’m not sure if they spoke about the Olympics. I’m happy to check with our National Security team on that to follow up with, but I don’t have any more assessment of the Olympics at this point in time.
So, it hasn’t been discussed, whether he has a position on whether it would safely be able to go on yet.
Jen Psaki: (44:04)
I don’t have anything more other than… I haven’t had much on it, but I don’t have anything more than I’ve had on other days on it.
So we ask. So, we’ll follow up [crosstalk 00:02:11].
Jen Psaki: (44:11)
Understood, and they just had a call this morning, but I haven’t had a chance to talk to him specifically about it.
Thank you, Jen.
Jen Psaki: (44:15)
Speaker 7: (44:15)
Thanks, Jen. Two vaccine questions. First of all, this came up on the COVID call earlier, but how seriously is the White House considering using the Defense Production Act to compel other pharmaceutical companies to produce the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to be supplied?
Jen Psaki: (44:34)
Well, I didn’t hear the entirety of the call because we were doing some preparation for the event this afternoon, but from listening to our team talk about it, they’re obviously manufacturing facilities that have the capacity and the ability to get these vaccine doses out. And we don’t want to get behind the pace and start from scratch, I should say, and ensuring that they’re ready to do that. I don’t think our concern at this point is whether or not we’re going to have the vaccine doses. Obviously, the president announced yesterday the intention to purchase additional doses. Our confidence in the manufacturers to have those doses available. The concerns we have are one, contingency planning and all of the different things that can happen because this is a Herculean task that has never been done before, but also, ensuring we have vaccinators, we have vaccine sites, et cetera, available. So, I have not heard from our team of plans to seek other manufacturers at this point in time. And I’m happy to follow up with them and see if there’s anything additional.
Speaker 7: (45:37)
And then, on the 200 million doses, the president said he’s ordering them.
Jen Psaki: (45:41)
Speaker 7: (45:41)
What is the status of that order? Have Pfizer and Moderna agreed to produce 100 million doses each? And how quickly do they say they can do it?
Jen Psaki: (45:52)
Well, we expect to get the doses by mid to late summer, the majority of doses by mid to late summer, some earlier than that. So, we are confident that we’ll be able to get those from the manufacturers, yes. Go ahead, Karen.
Jen, a couple of questions on schools. Does the administration plan to develop metrics or standards for what a safe reopening of schools will look like?
Jen Psaki: (46:14)
We do. And our CDC director, and I’m not sure again, if she was asked about this important question, I know as a fellow mother, but we will have specifics that we’ll defer to the CDC on, on the safety opening of schools. As you know, the president has talked about his commitment and his goal of reopening most K through eight schools within 100 days. There are obviously a number of steps that will need to be taken in order for that to be possible. But he has directed the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services to provide guidance on safe reopening, and operating for schools, childcare providers, and institutions of higher education. But as our COVID team has outlined, that’s going to require testing materials, support for contact tracing, vaccinations for teachers, and ensuring they’re equitably provided. But our CDC director and team will be looking into putting together some specific guidelines so there can be clarity on that front, which I know a lot of districts are looking for.
[crosstalk 00:47:15] Those things you mentioned all cost a lot of money, and a big part of the COVID relief package is a lot of money to go to school reopening. If Congress doesn’t approve the money you want and schools don’t have what they need to pay for things to open safely, would the president support teachers staying at home and support virtual learning continuing through this entire school year?
Jen Psaki: (47:32)
Well, I think the president recognizes, as we all do, the value of having children in schools and doing that in a safe way, which is one of the reasons he set this ambitious goal of reopening most K through eight schools within 100 days. But one of the reasons that the funding for safe reopening, for getting schools the equipment, the testing, the ventilation, in some cases, that they need is because nobody wants to be having a conversation in May or June about why schools are not reopened. So, this goes back to the argument that our team has been making and all of these calls, and engagements, and meetings that I outlined about the importance and vital nature of each component of the package. We won’t get into a hypothetical. We are confident that Congress will move forward with a package. Let me just go… Oh, we got to wrap up soon. Okay. I’m sorry. We’ll do more questions tomorrow, but we have two such great guests. Jen, go ahead.
Thank you. I just have two quick questions. One is just on the climate actions today. They leave out Treasury’s Financial Stability Oversight Council, which experts say could play an influential role in addressing climate risks. Does the administration plans to take action on climate finance, and should FSOC direct agencies and regulators to address climate change?
Jen Psaki: (48:46)
Well, I’m going to use a reference that my friend and colleague, investor Susan Rice used yesterday, which is there are 1,453 days left in this administration, and addressing climate and the crisis of climate is an issue that the president has conveyed to members of his cabinet, members of his senior team is an absolute priority. So, Secretary Yellen has been in her role for one day, but certainly, I’d send you to them for any more specifics, but this is the beginning, not the end of our work on climate. [Nadia 00:49:16]-
Jen Psaki: (49:17)
Oh, go ahead.
[crosstalk 00:49:17] Is the White House concerned about the stock market activity we’re seeing around GameStop, and now, with some other stocks as well, including the subsidiaries or whatever… The company that was Blockbuster, and have there been any conversations with the SEC about how to proceed?
Jen Psaki: (49:36)
Well, I’m also happy to repeat that we have the first female treasury secretary and a team that’s surrounding her, and often, questions about market we’ll send to them. But our team is, of course, our economic team, including Secretary Yellen and others are monitoring the situation. It’s a good reminder, though, that the stock market isn’t the only measure of the health of our economy. Doesn’t reflect how working and middle class families are doing. As you all know, from covering this, we’re in the midst of a K-shape recovery. America’s workers are struggling to make ends meet, which is why the president has introduced this urgent package to get immediate relief to families. All right, I’m going to go Nadia, and then, we’ll be totally done because everybody has to go. Okay, go ahead.
[crosstalk 00:50:15] Thank you, Jen. Good to see you on a different podium. I have two questions: one about COVID and one about China.
Jen Psaki: (50:20)
Regarding COVID, the president promised to increase supply to states by 10 million doses. Yet, statistic shows that 47% of Americans are hesitant to take the vaccine, despite that the president and the vice-president took it publicly. What is the administration doing to convince Americans to take it to reach the herd immunity by, say, 70% by the fall?
Jen Psaki: (50:44)
You’re absolutely right, Nadia, that this is one of the biggest challenges we face. And for anyone who tuned into the briefing that our health team led this morning, it was one of the first issues that CDC director, Dr. Walensky raised. And one of the things we’re doing is prioritizing providing correct information about it. I’ll take the opportunity, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are safe and effective. That’s one of the things she said today. They were tested in large clinical trials to make sure they meet safety standards. About 30% of US participants in those trials were Hispanic, African-American, Asian, or Native American. About half were older adults. And so, we want to provide clear data as I just did, but also, we want to meet people where they are, communicate directly with communities of color, people who have concerns, and use medical and health professionals to do exactly that. Okay, you had a China question, and then, you really have to go, but go ahead.
And second, many welcome to your rejoining of the WHO. Yet, some wants to push for a transparent investigation into the relationship between China and WHO. And also, yesterday, in her hearing in the Senate, Governor Raimondo declined to black list Huawei technology in the US. Is this some kind of caving into China, or is it a nuanced way to deal with China?
Jen Psaki: (52:06)
I think the second reference, I think, was to Huawei, right? And then… Yes. So, let me just convey clearly our position on this. Let us be clear. Telecommunications equipment made by untrusted vendors, including Huawei, is a threat to the security of the US and our allies. We’ll ensure that the American telecommunications network do not use equipment from untrusted vendors, and we’ll work with allies to secure their telecommunications networks, and make investments to expand the production of telecommunications equipment by trusted US and allied companies. Again, we’ll take many more questions tomorrow. Thank you all. Have a great rest of your day.
Speaker 8: (52:43)