Mar 11, 2021
Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript March 11
March 11, 2021 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. She discussed the American Rescue Plan/COVID relief bill. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Jen Psaki: (00:00)
Work of his team to address the greatest operational challenge the country has faced and the work his team has done to rapidly increase the number of vaccinations, vaccines, vaccinators and vaccination sites and he will lay out the next steps he will take to get the pandemic under control.
Jen Psaki: (00:17)
Even while he is focused on getting the American Rescue Plan across the finish line, he has been reviewing drafts of the speech last week he was and of course through the course of this week and making line edits. He has been providing line edits in order to ensure that he is striking the right tone and providing the right level of clarity as he prepares to address the country this evening. He plans to provide a clear outline of his approach, level with the American people about what is required of them, but also provide a sense of hope of what is possible.
Jen Psaki: (00:51)
I wanted to provide a little bit more on upcoming travel of all of our principals as we prepare to go out and engage with the American people about what is in the rescue plan. As you know next week the president and the vice president, the first lady and the second gentleman will be traveling across the country to kick off the Help Us Here Tour and amplify the American Rescue Plan. On Monday, the first lady will travel to Burlington, New Jersey, the vice president and second gentleman will travel to Las Vegas, Nevada. On Tuesday, the president will travel to Delaware County, Pennsylvania as you already are aware, the vice president and second gentleman will travel to Denver, Colorado. On Wednesday the second gentleman will travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico and on Friday the president and the vice president will travel to Atlanta, Georgia.
Jen Psaki: (01:40)
During their trips, they will discuss the benefits of the American Rescue Plan for working families and they will engage with people at each of these stops about how the American people can benefit from the components of the package moving forward. So they will talk about the $1,400.00 checks that 158.5 million American households can expect and many will start receiving them soon. He will talk about the historic expansion of the child tax credit. He will talk about extending, they will all talk about extending unemployment insurance for around 11 million Americans, the tens of billions of dollars in rental and homeowner’s assistance that is a part of this package, the expansion of the earned income tax credit which will go to 17 million workers, and the components of the package that significantly reduce health insurance premiums for millions of American families and of course the fact that the bill will lift 11 million people out of poverty and cut child poverty in half. They’re eager to get out there on the road.
Jen Psaki: (02:43)
I have one more exciting implementation update for all of you. Since the Treasury Department, Department of Treasury and the IRS are working hard to get relief payments out the door as fast as possible to the American people, people can expect to start seeing direct deposits hit their bank accounts as early as this weekend. This is of course just the first wave, but people will start … Some people in the country will start seeing those, those direct deposits in their bank accounts this weekend, and payments to eligible Americans will continue throughout the course of the next several weeks. So with that, Jonathan, why don’t you kick us off?
Thank you Jen. Tomorrow, the chief of staff tweeted there will still be a celebration in terms of bill signing and congressional leaders will be attending. Can you tell us who will be there and if any Republicans, none of them voted for this bill, would be invited?
Jen Psaki: (03:35)
So the celebration tomorrow will be a bipartisan … I mean a bicameral, excuse me, event, but it will not be bipartisan. It will include leadership and we are still finalizing the list of attendees but we hope to get that to you as soon as it’s finalized.
Can you walk us through … As part of the Help Us Here Tour, this is just behind the locations for the travel next week in particular. The president’s two stops, why Pennsylvania and why Georgia?
Jen Psaki: (04:04)
Well this is just the beginning of the president and the first lady’s and the vice president’s and the second gentleman’s travel and they will of course do some travel in addition to next week but it was important to the president to visit not just blue states but also red states, purple states. You will see that reflected as we continue to announce travel and trips that he will take in the coming weeks. Obviously these are two places where he of course talked about the importance of delivering on the promise of getting every American the $2,000.00 checks when he campaigned in Georgia in December, so that’s a place where that message really resonated of course with the people of the state and where it was amplified to the public, but it’s a place also close to his heart but this is just the beginning of the travel. I wouldn’t over-read into it other than he is looking forward to having the senior members, the principals from the administration out across the country, fanning out across the country which is exactly what they’re doing.
And one more on a different topic, the trial of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has begun in connection to the death of George Floyd. Has the president been briefed on the developments so far and he condemned the death, certainly what had happened. Does he believe the police officer should be convicted of murder?
Jen Psaki: (05:25)
The president obviously doesn’t weigh into … He’s not going to weigh into an ongoing legal case. He’s watching it closely as are many members of the administration. As you know he himself encouraged the House to pass the bill and he is very pleased that it did and policing reform broadly speaking is an issue that he believes is urgent and one that he is committed to working with leaders in Congress and also taking steps as he can take on his own to address. But he has spoken about the trial and of course the death of George Floyd in personal terms and that is a reflection of how he continues to feel as he watches the events unfold with the trial. It affected him personally, it redoubled his commitment to advancing racial justice. That’s why he signed an executive order on racial equity on his sixth day, one of the reasons why he signed an executive order on racial equity on his sixth day of office, and of course he will be watching it closely as many people in the country will be. [inaudible 00:06:32]
Speaker 1: (06:32)
Thanks. A follow-up on some of the vaccine news from yesterday. The president said that one reason he wanted to have another 100 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the cupboards as it were is to be prepared. If everyone is vaccinated by the end of May or at least able to be, what are you preparing for? What might happen that the U.S. would need an additional 100 million shots?
Jen Psaki: (07:01)
Well we talked about this a little bit yesterday but the reason why … One of the reasons why we ordered the additional 100 million doses is because we don’t yet know what vaccine is most effective with children, that testing is still happening with the FDA as we speak. As you noted, he wants to be over-prepared and over-supplied. We’re still looking at the impact of variants. This order of doses can also be used for booster shots which is something that’s also under review by the FDA so he’s just preparing to ensure we are ready for every contingency here in the United States. Of course we want to be a part of the effort around the world to vaccinate people around the world in a range of countries. That’s why we’ve provided $2 billion to COVAX with another $2 billion committed. We are the largest funder of global health in the world and we have invested over $150 billion in global health activities since 2000. We have re-engaged on day one with the World Health Organization and we are continuing to engage, he is personally and many levels of our administration are engaged personally with their counterparts about addressing this pandemic globally but his first priority and focus is on ensuring that the American people are vaccinated and once we are at that point, we will have a discussion about what’s next.
Speaker 1: (08:22)
My understanding is the president directed this to happen yesterday but the deal with J&J isn’t yet in place. When do you expect the deal to be made?
Jen Psaki: (08:33)
Soon I can get you an update. I can check with our team and see what the final details are but we certainly anticipate and expect the deal to fully move forward.
Speaker 1: (08:41)
Just one other vaccine question related to a story that my colleagues did from Europe. Has the U.S. told the European Union not to expect deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines from Astrazeneca that are made in this country?
Jen Psaki: (08:58)
I would say first we have conveyed privately what we have conveyed publicly which is that our focus is on ensuring the American people are vaccinated and of course any company can work with any country around the world on the purchase of vaccine supply and certainly that wouldn’t be something the U.S. government would be directly engaged with but in terms of the supply we have purchased, our first focus, our primary focus is on vaccinating the American people. That’s what we conveyed publicly and privately as well.
Speaker 1: (09:27)
Yeah, you said that a lot. But have there been any specific indications or conversations with the EU saying don’t expect this to come from our country at least until the rest of this population is vaccinated?
Jen Psaki: (09:43)
We have said publicly exactly what I have conveyed which is what I am conveying as we convey the same thing privately. Of course any country can purchase vaccines from these manufacturers directly. Go ahead.
Speaker 2: (09:57)
Thank you. Mexico’s president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said that people coming into the U.S. right now see Biden, President Biden, as the migrant president. Does the White House take that as a compliment?
Jen Psaki: (10:09)
Migrant, give me a little more context.
Speaker 2: (10:11)
Well he said they see him as the migrant president but so many feel they’re going to reach the United States, we need to work together to regulate the flow because this business can’t be tackled from one day to the next.
Jen Psaki: (10:25)
Well first it’s Mexico will have to be … Is an important partner in ensuring we’re addressing the flow of migrants from Central America through Mexico and many to the border of the United States. We have conveyed privately and publicly as well that the majority of people who come to our border will be turned away. We certainly also recognize that because the president and our administration has made a decision that the way to humanely approach immigration is to allow for unaccompanied minors to come and be treated with humanity and be in a safe place while we’re trying to get them into homes and sponsored homes that some more may have come to our border and there have been of course a large flow of children across the border. We recognize that but we made a policy decision because we felt it was the humane approach. But the facts are the vast, vast majority of people who come to our border are turned away and the statistics bear that out.
Speaker 2: (11:32)
Okay, and then in terms of keeping COVID out of the country, does the White House think that it’s a problem that travelers have to show a negative COVID test, proof of a negative COVID test when they fly into the U.S. from any foreign country but travelers don’t need to show anything like that when they just walk across the border as long as they don’t go to a port of entry.
Jen Psaki: (11:53)
Well I think there’s been a lot of confusion about what’s been happening at the border as it relates to people who are coming across and what happens when they come across and I know Governor Abbott down in Texas has expressed some of his concerns and many of those have not been based in fact. So let me go through a few of those because I know we’re all interested in facts around here. One, Governor Abbott has referred to what’s happening at the border as open borders, as us having an open borders policy. That is absolutely incorrect, the border is not open. The vast majority of individuals apprehended or encountered at the border continue to be denied entry and are returned under Title 42 as we have already mentioned.
Jen Psaki: (12:39)
Also he has suggested that we are not vaccinating CBP officers. Again, we like to deal with facts around here. There’s no higher priority than the health and safety of our federal workforce and the Department of Homeland Security and CBP has been clear that currently more than 64,000 frontline DHS employees including members of U.S. Border Patrol have received a vaccination. So that’s another point just to provide full clarity. The other piece is the question about the testing of migrants at the border, or testing of migrants as they are coming across and we have, DHS and FEMA have stepped in and worked with local mayors, NGOs and public health officials in Texas to implement a system to provide COVID-19 testing and as needed isolation and quarantine for families released from border patrol facilities. Their proposal and agreement would cover 100% of the expense of the testing, isolation and quarantine but Governor Abbott has decided to reject that.
Jen Psaki: (13:38)
So there’s a lot of confusion about these issues and I just wanted to provide a little point of clarity here.
Speaker 2: (13:43)
But not asking about Governor Abbott, asking about President Biden in charge of the federal government, why are the feds relying on NGOs to administer these tests? We’ve talked to people down at the border who say that migrants are only tested if they show symptoms. That seems like a loophole.
Jen Psaki: (14:03)
That’s not an accurate depiction. There is an important role that NGOs, that local mayors, that local officials play in working together and this is a proposal that was worked with DHS, with FEMA and others to help address and ensure that people are tested and Governor Abbott, I raise that simply because he had raised a concern about that and I wanted to be clear that we’ve put forward a proposal so I think the question is why is he standing in the way of local communities getting the funding and support they need to help with testing, isolation and quarantining efforts.
Speaker 2: (14:38)
But again, just a question about the Biden administration policy, COVID is COVID. COVID at the Dulles Airport Customs is the same as COVID in a border town, so I’m curious why it is that it’s enforced for people flying in from other countries but it is not a requirement by the federal government to test or to prove a negative test anywhere along the border except at a port of entry.
Jen Psaki: (15:02)
Well again, I can just describe to you what our policies are. There’s more to convey to you, I am happy to do that.
Speaker 2: (15:09)
Then just quick one on green jobs. You guys have talked a lot about tackling the climate crisis while creating good-paying jobs. Now the president of the Texas AFL-CIO has come out to say someone working in a refinery leaving to go install solar panels, they’re probably going to take a 75% cut in pay. Is that something the administration is aware of?
Jen Psaki: (15:33)
I’m not sure which jobs are being compared there. Here’s what I can convey to you. The president is committed during his presidency to invest in, work with labor unions, with climate activists, with a range of … With the industry to invest in good-paying clean energy jobs. He believes that unions have an incredibly important role to play in ensuring that those are high paying jobs, that those treat the people who are in them with the –
Jen Psaki: (16:03)
High-paying jobs, that those treat the people who are in them with the respect and value that they deserve through collective bargaining rights and a range of the benefits of a union organizing, being a part of a union. Obviously, that requires additional work and investment by the federal government working with Congress to invest in what we see as industries of the future. Oil and gas jobs are not going away. There are many industries that are, of course, continuing to function. The outgoing administration flooded the oil markets with cheap federal leases. This will not affect oil and gas production or jobs for years to come, but what our objective is, is to invest in what we see as the industries of the future, where we feel is where the jobs are going to be moving forward. The president looks forward to continuing delivering on his commitment to doing exactly that.
Speaker 3: (16:53)
High-paying, good-paying, but equal-paying?
Jen Psaki: (16:56)
High-paying, good-paying jobs. I think we’re comparing a little bit. I’m not sure what specific jobs you’re comparing. What I’m conveying is the commitment to ensuring that jobs in the clean energy industry will be high-paying union jobs. That’s what the president’s objective and commitment is too. Go ahead, Caitlin.
The White House has said that President Biden wants to look ahead to a return to normal in his speech tonight, but how does he do that while also striking the balance that 1,500 Americans on average are still dying from coronavirus every single day?
Jen Psaki: (17:30)
You’re absolutely, Caitlin, that his objective is to strike exactly that balance. This is one of the reasons that he has been line editing the speech for the last week plus to ensure that he is conveying that he is leveling with the American people, that he is delivering on his commitment to being truthful about the challenges that we continue to face, what is going to be required of the American public to get to a return to normalcy as you conveyed. He also wants to provide a sense of hope and what’s possible if we abide by the guidelines, if when you have access to a vaccine, you get the vaccine, what people can look forward to. That is exactly the balance that he is hoping to strike tonight.
Should we expect like concrete steps and policy changes in the speech tonight?
Jen Psaki: (18:17)
I think you can expect … This is his first opportunity prime time, of course, to really speak directly to the public. We all have a conversation about a lot of these issues every single day. Millions of Americans out there are living their lives. Some of them dealing with their kids in school, getting their jobs done, et cetera. This will be an opportunity for many people to really tune in and hear from him on his plan, on what his team has done to date, what steps they’ve taken and updates since he took office, but also, concrete steps he wants to take moving forward. There will be some news in the speech, but it is really about laying out clearly for the American public, what steps he’s taken, what his team will do and what is expected of them as well.
Since he’s just signed this bill, has he decided who is going to oversee the implementation of it? Then on the ceremony tomorrow, you have some Republican senators who did not vote for this bill now touting parts of it. What is president Biden’s response to those Republicans like Senator Wicker?
Jen Psaki: (19:23)
Well, we invite them to work with us on the agenda moving forward because clearly, the bill that the president just signed into law is something that the American people are excited about, that people will benefit from as soon as this weekend, as we conveyed. We are hopeful that as the president talks about his build back better agenda has more meetings with members of Congress, we’ll have more people on board from both sides of the aisle.
Regarding who’s overseeing?
Jen Psaki: (19:49)
Oh, as I mentioned yesterday, the president absolutely is committed to having a person who is running point on it. I don’t have any personnel announcements though today.
One last question on the border. The administration has refused to call it a crisis instead referring to it as a challenge and saying what you call it doesn’t make a difference of how you’re responding to it. Now, today there are over 3,700 children, unaccompanied migrant children in border patrol custody. They’re spending on average over 100 hours, four days in these facilities that are jail-like facilities not meant for children, so how can you say that’s not a crisis?
Jen Psaki: (20:23)
Well, I think what Ambassador Jacobson and Secretary Mayorkas were conveying, and what I’ve conveyed is it doesn’t matter what you call it. It is an enormous challenge. It is something that is front and center for the president. As I noted yesterday, he had what is a regular meeting, but he had a briefing yesterday on the trip to the border. There are a number of, while there are no final policy decisions, there are a variety of actions under consideration, including identifying and assessing other licensed facilities that can help add safe capacity for these children. Relaunching, as we talked about over the last couple of days, the Central American Minors Program, accelerating the unification of children with vetted families, family, and sponsors, steps like embedding HHS and ORR in the earlier parts of the process.
Jen Psaki: (21:13)
The president is very focused and very in the weeds on the operational details here and on taking and pushing his team to take every step that can be taken to address exactly what you noted Caitlin, which is the fact that children should not … These border patrol facilities are not made for children. We are focused on expediting the time they spend there, that these HHS shelters are not meant for permanent living, for anyone permanently living there, that we want to expedite the timeline between when kids cross the border and when they are getting to sponsor homes. Our focus here is on getting to the root of the issues and taking actions, and we don’t feel the need to play games with what it’s called.
Aren’t those the steps that you would take, if it was a crisis that you had on your hands?
Jen Psaki: (22:03)
These are the policies we’re taking to address. What we feel is a vital human challenge at the border, but what our responsibility here is to do is to project and convey what policies we’re taking, what the president’s commitment is. That’s exactly what we’re doing, and we don’t see the need to put new labels. Go ahead.
Jen, thank you. No Republicans voted for the COVID relief package and they argue that this is the sixth package, and it adds to a deficit that’s already a trillion dollars this year alone. What do you say to that criticism that ultimately this type of a sweeping piece of legislation will be a drag on the economy down the line?
Jen Psaki: (22:46)
Well, I would say to them, we’re in the midst of a twin crises from the pandemic to an economic downturn that is impacting tens of millions of people in this country. People are struggling to make ends meet. They are worried about whether their grandparents, their cousins, their friends, are able to get a vaccine, and they are suffering because they’re worried about the mental health of their kids who aren’t back in school yet. The president’s focus is on addressing those crises. I would send a question back to many of these Republicans as to why the deficit spending wasn’t as concerning when they were giving tax cuts to the highest income, but now it’s concerning when we’re giving direct checks and relief to the American people,
When you look forward at the rest of the agenda that President Biden has laid out, how do you get even moderate Democrats on board with another big piece of legislation, for example, his climate plan that has a price tag of $2 trillion?
Jen Psaki: (23:45)
There’s no price tag on a plan that doesn’t exist yet so there-
[inaudible 00:23:48] his campaign.
Jen Psaki: (23:49)
Well sure, but he also laid out many components of his build back better agenda during his campaign. We haven’t made a final decision yet as to what the format, the size, what the next proposal will be. It’s not even something that has been brought to him for a decision quite yet. Obviously, he’s had a lot of discussions and meetings to hear from Republicans and Democrats, but we’re just not at that point in the process yet.
I know you’re not going to weigh in on the specifics of what he’s going to tackle next, but given that this was not a bipartisan piece of legislation, and given that the president said that unity was one of the key things he wanted to try to accomplish, is he going to try to move forward on a piece of legislation where he thinks he can get bipartisan support? In other words, how is that going to factor in his decision making process?
Jen Psaki: (24:37)
Well, the president would of course love to have bipartisan support, and there are areas of policymaking that he has talked about quite a bit, as you noted some of them on the campaign trail, including infrastructure. Modernizing our immigration system has actually historically been a bipartisan policy making issue. He had a meeting on cancer and addressing cancer and tackling cancer of course. There are a lot of issues that he feels there’s opportunity to work together on. His door, the door to the Oval Office remains open to bipartisanship to finding ways to certainly work together.
I could try one more time on the issue at the border and just follow up on the comments of the Mexican president who said that the surge in unaccompanied migrants is because they see the president as the migrant president. What does that say about how the president is handling this situation?
Jen Psaki: (25:33)
Look, I think the president has been clear as has every member of our administration, you had Ambassador Jacobson doing this the other day that the border is not open. Now is not the time to come. We turn away the vast majority of people who come to the border. The vast, vast majority, these numbers are put out by CBP and the Department of Homeland Security and people can see those numbers. We stand by our decision and our policy as an administration not to send unaccompanied minors back on the treacherous journey. That is our policy because we feel it’s humane and it’s moral, and we think the world sees it that way as well.
Does the message need to be even clearer though? Yesterday Ambassador Jacobsen acknowledged that yes, she said in her own words, you’re trying to walk and chew gum at the same time. Does there need to be a more streamlined message in order to prevent this surge?
Jen Psaki: (26:27)
Well, she also talked about, Kristen, which is true in the region, we’re working against the efforts of smugglers and others who are conveying a different message. One of the steps we’re taking that I touched on a little bit earlier is also thinking of rebuilding or going back to some of the policies that were in place previously, where children could apply for the Central American Minors Program, which was ended in 2017. We estimate there’s about 3,000 kids who might be eligible, who could apply and they could apply from the region, which would mean they wouldn’t make the treacherous journey. They wouldn’t be at the border working through border patrol. We’re looking for ways to reduce the number of kids who are taking this treacherous journey. Then we’re also looking for ways to expedite when kids are connected to family members, to safe sponsor homes.
Jen Psaki: (27:27)
We’re looking for ways to expedite getting them from the border patrol facilities into the shelters as well. There’s numbers challenges here, and we’re working through a lot of the operational details and specifics, but we stand by that what we feel is a more humane approach to what is happening at the border. We are looking for ways operationally to make it more efficient, to move kids through the system more quickly. Ultimately, when they get to the point where they’re with sponsor homes, many of them will not be able to stay. Most of them. They have to apply and there they have to go through the process, but we still are working for ways to expedite the system in the meantime, Go ahead.
Speaker 4: (28:13)
One follow up on Jeff’s question on the discussion with the EU on the … Well, I don’t know if it’s necessarily an export ban, but the EU is saying the US request was denied to export vaccines, but specifically on the AstraZeneca one, that’s not yet authorized in the US and the US hasn’t sought authorization. Why are you guys sitting on these doses that could be used in the EU now, because it’s already authorized there, but not here?
Jen Psaki: (28:45)
Well, we’re not sitting … I’m not sure which doses you’re talking about that we’re sitting on.
Speaker 4: (28:50)
There’s a report out of Europe that the US told the European Union that they cannot expect any AstraZeneca shipments anytime soon.
Jen Psaki: (29:05)
Well, we don’t own, we didn’t purchase AstraZeneca supplies. I mean, so the there’s no export prohibitions and all vaccine manufacturers in the United States are free to export their products while also fulfilling the terms of their contracts with the US government.
Speaker 4: (29:24)
In any of these government contracts with the individual companies, are there specific export prohibitions if it’s not an export ban overall, in the contracts that the US government has with these companies?
Jen Psaki: (29:38)
But you’re talking about whether we’re going to give our supply to other countries, right? Or are you talking about whether these manufacturers are going to sell doses to other countries?
Speaker 4: (29:52)
Jen Psaki: (29:53)
Speaker 4: (29:57)
Whether the … Sorry, say that again.
Jen Psaki: (30:00)
I’m just trying to understand. Are you talking about whether these companies are allowed to sell doses of their-
Speaker 4: (30:07)
Well, I’m talking about how it’s almost like a triangle, right? Because these companies have contracts with the US government that say you have to fulfill this contract with us, and so is any of that prohibiting then exports of any of the doses produced here [crosstalk 00:30:26]?
Jen Psaki: (30:26)
As I just conveyed, these are not export prohibitions. Vaccine manufacturers in the United States are free to export their products while also fulfilling the terms of our contracts. There are supply that they are producing for the United States, but they can also work with other countries.
Speaker 4: (30:44)
Sorry. Now, we’re on the same level. The contracts that you have with these companies, are there any specific … Is there a specific provision in those contracts that would say you cannot export until you fulfill our contractual obligation with the US government?
Jen Psaki: (31:05)
I don’t have any more details of the contracts, but obviously these companies can work with other countries on selling their products. Manufacturers can work with them, with these countries directly. We have conveyed privately what we’ve conveyed publicly, which is our focus is on ensuring the American people are receiving the vaccine and that we are vaccinating the American public. That’s our first priority, but we are also engaging with and working with the global community to figure out how we can get the global pandemic under control together. Whether that’s through financial contributions or through navigating with them, how we can work together to address it. We’ll continue to evaluate as more vaccines become available in the United States. AstraZeneca isn’t even approved at this point. Yeah.
Speaker 4: (31:56)
One other topic, completely different. You just said again, the president hasn’t yet made a decision on the next legislative package or what it will be and when …
Jen Psaki: (32:03)
Speaker 4: (32:03)
… hasn’t yet made a decision on the next legislative package, or what it will, and when it will be unveiled. Seems to be a little bit of momentum led by Senate Majority Leader Schumer on a package that is like a broad sort of countering China package. Is the White House coordinating with the Senate Democrats on this? Are you in touch with them? And is the president sort of actively going to engage with this effort [crosstalk 00:32:27]
Jen Psaki: (32:28)
With the proposal by Senator Schumer?
Speaker 4: (32:30)
Correct. [crosstalk 00:32:32].
Jen Psaki: (32:31)
I’m certain if Senator Schumer wants to discuss it with him, he’s happy to discuss it with Senator Schumer, with Leader Schumer, but I would expect the president’s agenda moving forward will reflect the Build Back Better agenda that he talked about on the campaign trail. But the order, the size, the timeline has not yet been determined.
Jen Psaki: (32:51)
Speaker 5: (32:52)
Thanks, Jen. I have a couple of foreign policy questions.
Jen Psaki: (32:54)
Speaker 5: (32:55)
Specifically on Africa. But I just want to pick up something that you discussed earlier about the Central American minors program.
Jen Psaki: (33:04)
Speaker 5: (33:04)
I just want to make sure that I understand you correctly, that you were presenting that as sort of like an immediate solution to what’s happening at the border by saying that this will take about 3000 kids. Well, what I don’t understand is that first of all, what’s going to be processed are the kids who were already in the process and it was stopped in 2017 and then the State Department will continue to process new applications. That process in itself takes months, no?
Jen Psaki: (33:31)
They will be prioritized. The process was stopped as you noted in 2017 and the kids who were eligible then will be prioritized.
Speaker 5: (33:40)
It’s not an immediate solution to what’s happening at the border?
Jen Psaki: (33:43)
I don’t think I said that. I don’t have a timeline for you. If you were listening earlier, I gave a number of steps, actually. That’s one of the steps. The other steps address some of the things that you just raised, including the fact that we are working to find ways to accelerate the unification of children with vetted families and sponsors, embedding ORR and HHS in earlier parts of the process. We’re identifying and assessing other licensed facilities. This isn’t a challenge that’s going to be addressed through one step, but certainly the Central American minors program is a way.
Jen Psaki: (34:20)
The reason I talked about it is because it’s a way to help ensure that the application process for these kids happens not while they’re sitting in shelters in the United States, or even with sponsor families, but when they are still in their home countries and they will know before they make the journey that they are able to come and stay in this country. That’s a pretty pivotal step to take.
Speaker 5: (34:42)
Thank you for clarifying that.
Speaker 5: (34:44)
Now on the issue of Africa. Does the president share the assessment of Secretary Blinken that what’s happening on the Western Tigray region of Ethiopia is ethnic cleansing? Does the president have any specific view on the particular role of Prime Minister Ali in this conflict? And is the US considering any kind of action beyond urging the Ethiopian government to stop sending their forces?
Jen Psaki: (35:11)
Yeah. I got an update on this from my team earlier. Let me just see what I have here to update you on.
Jen Psaki: (35:20)
The administration has repeatedly engaged the Ethiopian government on the importance of ending the violence, ensuing unhindered humanitarian access, and allowing a full independent international investigation into all reports of human rights abuses. As you noted, Secretary of State Blinken has spoken to the Ethiopian Prime Minister twice to emphasize the United States concern about the humanitarian and human rights crisis we’re seeing. During his testimony yesterday, he reiterated the situation is unacceptable and has to change, and that we’re calling on the Ethiopian government to follow through on its commitments that it’s made. Also, at the UN Security Council, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield has reaffirmed US commitment to working bilaterally and multilaterally to help secure an end to the violence.
Jen Psaki: (36:05)
The president is deeply concerned, highly engaged on this issue. He recognizes that we have very active, ongoing efforts by our diplomats to try to move this forward to a better place, including getting humanitarian aid workers in with full access. Of course, he remains in touch and working closely with the Secretary of State.
Speaker 5: (36:24)
Another topic still on the continent. Still on Ethiopia, actually. The Trump administration was very much engaged in mediating the conflict between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan on the issue of the Nile dam. Is the Biden administration willing to continue mediation process, as has been requested by Ethiopia, sorry, by Sudan and Egypt?
Jen Psaki: (36:46)
I would send you to the State Department. They’d be more directly involved at this stage.
Speaker 5: (36:50)
One more Africa question.
Jen Psaki: (36:51)
Speaker 5: (36:53)
Western Sahara. Also, President Trump, as you know, recognize sovereignty, Morocco’s sovereignty of the Western Sahara region. Now Spain is asking for a UN resolution or UN brokered solution. Spain is a former colonizer of Western Sahara asking for a UN brokered solution on this issue. Has the administration completed its review on this particular Trump deal, because it does deal with the overall Abraham Accords policy, and what is your position on it?
Jen Psaki: (37:28)
As you know we are reviewing all of the many Trump positions, including the Abraham Accords, but I don’t have an update today for you on it.
Jen Psaki: (37:35)
Speaker 6: (37:37)
Yeah. I just wanted to go back to the border.
Jen Psaki: (37:39)
Speaker 6: (37:39)
My colleagues reported yesterday that the administration is looking at a NASA facility in California to house some of these unaccompanied children. Can you talk a little bit about the plan to identify and find space for them? What sort of facilities are you looking at?
Jen Psaki: (37:54)
I don’t have a list of facilities, but I will convey that we are, or reiterate, that part of our effort and our focus and what we’re prioritizing is identifying and assessing licensed facilities that can help add safe capacity for these children. Even with the update in CDC guidelines that we’ve talked about a little bit this week that allows for greater capacity safely at these facilities, we still want to ensure that we have facilities that are safe, licensed, and prepared to house children so that we can move them quickly from the Border Patrol locations. But I don’t have anything. We’re looking at a range of sites. Our team is. I’m sure some will be hopefully identified soon, but I don’t have anything to preview for you beyond that.
Speaker 6: (38:39)
Then on the trip with all the principals kind of crisscrossing the country next week, it’s an interesting list of states. I think you said purple, at least. I’m wondering, even though that this relief package has no support here, what have you been hearing, or what do you expect to hear from Republicans in these states? Do you expect it to be received by them at all? Have you heard much [crosstalk 00:39:03]
Jen Psaki: (39:04)
Republicans, like local elected or …
Speaker 6: (39:06)
Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jen Psaki: (39:07)
Look, I think what we saw, even during the effort to pass the American Rescue Plan, is that there are 400 governors and mayors across the country, many of them Republican. We had a Republican mayor come here and talk to you all about how vital and important this was to his community. We certainly anticipate that many of the local elected officials who supported the passage, who are seeing funding coming into their states to help ensure that cops and firefighters keep their jobs, seeing funding that’s going to come in and help reopen schools, seeing people in their communities get checks as early as this weekend, that they will be open, many of them, to engaging with the president, the vice president, the first lady, the second gentleman, where there’s an opportunity to talk about the benefits and communicate to their communities about how people can access these benefits. That’s a big part of this blitz around the country is ensuring that the American people have that understanding and that’s what all of our principals will be conveying.
Speaker 6: (40:10)
Could I ask another quick one?
Jen Psaki: (40:11)
Speaker 6: (40:12)
I’m just curious, I know the president has speechwriters, but were you around when he was working on this speech? Who were the advisors around him that have weighed in and pitched in ideas and helped him edit?
Jen Psaki: (40:23)
Sure. Look, I think, the president has been doing this awhile and certainly he had a good sense of what he wanted to convey. He is someone who is an anti-acronyms advocate, so he wants to explain things with clarity and with directness to the American people. I will tell you that when he goes through speeches like this, he asks questions that I can imagine friends of mine and family members of mine might ask. “What do you mean by that? And when you say that, how will I get access to that?” And that’s when he reads through the speech, what he’s looking to provide clarity on.
Jen Psaki: (41:06)
He fully recognizes that speaking during a prime-time address is a moment where you have to tell a story about and recognize the great sacrifices the American people have been through and speak with truth and with directness about what is still required, but also provide some hope on what’s ahead; because we are, as Kaitlan alluded to earlier, we are still in the middle of a war with the pandemic and he will certainly be clear about that. But he also wants to give people a sense of what’s possible and what’s ahead and what we can look ahead to once more and more people in the country are vaccinated.
Jen Psaki: (41:55)
Speaker 7: (41:56)
The president has visited Wisconsin and Michigan. He’s going to visit Pennsylvania, Georgia. Has there been a special emphasis on him visiting presidential battleground states in the early days of his presidency?
Jen Psaki: (42:07)
No, he did win a lot of states, so I will say that. You will see him visit red states, states he did not win, of course, blue states and states he did not visit during the campaign as well. That is certainly part of his desire and interest in commitment and something we’ve also talked about quite a bit, because he is committed to governing for all of the American people, not just people in blue states, or swing states, or purple states, or whatever color you want to call them. That is something he has a great interest in doing. He also visited Texas, which is certainly not yet a blue state. But when he was there, he traveled around the state with Governor Abbott, because his view is that when we’re addressing crises, whether it’s a weather crisis or COVID, or the economic downturn, that he’s going to govern for all Americans and work with people of both parties.
Speaker 7: (42:58)
Can I ask just a unrelated question. The relief bill includes subsidies for healthcare exchanges and COBRA coverage. The president during the campaign talked about also implementing a universal public option, lowering the Medicare age to 60. Does he still plan to pursue those policy initiatives, and when can we expect to hear more on that from him?
Jen Psaki: (43:21)
Yes. I mean, we’re only on Day 50. We’ve got a lot more time to go here. Buckle up. Yes, he is. Of course, this was his number one priority was getting this American Rescue Plan passed. Today is a very big day here in the White House. Significant moment for the American people, of course. But he remains committed to and interested in pushing forward with the rest of his agenda and the commitment team made when he ran for president over the course of the last two years.
Jen Psaki: (43:51)
Speaker 8: (43:52)
Thank you. Last June, then-Candidate Biden said, “Looking ahead, in the first 100 days of my presidency, I’ve committed to creating a national police oversight commission.” Is that something that he still intends to establish within the first 100 days?
Jen Psaki: (44:04)
He does. We have 50 days left. Look at all we’ve accomplished in 50 days. We have much more to happen in the next 50.
Speaker 8: (44:11)
Is there a timeline for when he will be?
Jen Psaki: (44:13)
I don’t have a timeline for you. This, of course, because when he came in, he knew that taking steps to get addressing the pandemic under control, to get relief out to the American people, had to be what he spent his time doing. But, of course, there’s a lot he wants to do to address the four crises, as he’s defined them, that are facing the country. Racial inequality is certainly one of them. He talked about, as you mentioned, the police commission when he was running, and certainly there’s a lot more that he would like to get done from his agenda.
Speaker 8: (44:46)
Can I just ask one more question about the American Rescue Plan?
Jen Psaki: (44:48)
Speaker 8: (44:49)
Following up on Kaitlan’s question, you’ve said that some of the money is starting to go out as soon as this weekend.
Jen Psaki: (44:54)
Speaker 8: (44:54)
Why has the White House not yet announced the person overseeing the implementation of the bill and when can we expect that announcement? Then once that person is appointed, how will that person be working with the various inspectors general of the agencies and the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to ensure adequate oversight?
Jen Psaki: (45:12)
The president believes it’s a model, looking back at the Recovery Act, where having a person who can pull all the levers of government and engage with mayors and city leaders and community leaders is an effective means of ensuring that implementation is efficient moving forward. I only told you about the one person yesterday who’s going to oversee this. While I don’t have personnel announcements for you today, it’s also clear that that is not delaying our implementation. I mean, the Treasury Department, the IRS will still be the ones who are implementing the direct checks, or the direct deposits, which is what the majority of people will get. And, of course, the Department of Education will still be the ones overseeing and working with school districts in order to get funding out to reopen schools. None of that is changing. We’re just talking about a person to be the coordinator, but it doesn’t delay the implementation of the bill. Of course, it’s a priority to him and why he wants to have somebody in that position.
Speaker 8: (46:13)
Will that person would be working with the inspectors general in the various agencies though, to make sure that the money is going out as smoothly as possible and that there’s no, I mean, I know that a lot of watchdog groups raised issues about how the money was dispersed under agencies in the Trump administration. Will the person overseeing implementation be looking at that to make sure that [crosstalk 00:46:30].
Jen Psaki: (46:30)
Well, reducing waste, fraud and abuse, and preventing it is certainly a priority for the president. He’s already taken steps to address that in the last 50 days. Certainly when he was overseeing the Recovery Act, that was a priority for him. I’m certain that as we look to implementation, that will continue to be a focus of his as well.
Jen Psaki: (46:47)
Go ahead, in the back.
Speaker 9: (46:48)
Yeah. Question about the first meeting today of the US/Israel strategic group. How important is it to President Biden that the US strategy on Iran be coordinated with Israel given the fact that the Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, doesn’t like the deal, has been very vocal about it?
Jen Psaki: (47:06)
Mm-hmm (affirmative). You noted a strategy, or a meeting today, I should say, that many here may not be aware of. I can share more details on that. But it’s vital to the president and to the administration that as we are looking ahead to approaching diplomacy and moving toward a diplomatic track to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, that Israel will be a continued partner, will be regularly briefed. That was true when the JCPO was being negotiated and put into place to begin with and certainly would be the case if this diplomatic track moves forward.
Speaker 9: (47:48)
Are you trying to kind of avoid some of the public acrimony that was evidenced when Joe Biden was vice president? I mean, it’s very clear that Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t like this deal.
Jen Psaki: (48:00)
Well, it was clear for some time, and then once it was in place-
Jen Psaki: (48:03)
Well, it was clear for some time. And then once it was in place, I think many countries in the region were happy to have the direct visibility into what Iran was doing, to have inspectors on the ground. And certainly we’re very familiar with the opposition as the bill was being negotiated. And we’ll continue to work with and directly engage with Israel if there’s a diplomatic path forward. And even without that, they’re an important partner, Israel is. But I would say it quieted a bit once once there was a recognition of the benefit of visibility on the ground. And we don’t have that now and we haven’t had it since the Trump Administration pulled out of the deal.
Just to follow up though, how concerned is President Biden of statements coming out of Israel, for example, from the head of the IDF who said military option is still on the table, that he thinks it’s a bad idea to get back to this deal? I mean, is the United States worried that the relationship with Israel could draw the United States into some sort of armed conflict with Iran?
Jen Psaki: (49:06)
Oh, we’ve been clear that we feel the best path forward is a diplomatic path. And that’s why we are working with our European partners to see what is possible along that front. We also believe that it’s an opportunity to expand on the JCPOA and work to address additional concerns we have in the region. But of course, we’re very familiar with the concerns Israel has expressed, and that’s one of the reasons we engage with them so closely around this and many other issues.
And just very quickly, last question, obviously there are imminent elections in Israel as well as. Iran is the sort of strategy right now to kind of wait until the outcome of those elections and know who you’re dealing with moving forward?
Jen Psaki: (49:51)
No. I would say the strategy is to work in close coordination with our European partners who will continue to be key partners as part of the P5+1, as is Russia and China, should there be a diplomatic, and we’re hopeful there’s a diplomatic path forward. And certainly, we view this as part of the diplomatic process waiting to see what the back and forth about the engagement will be, but we’re not looking to delay the diplomatic process. We are looking to hear back from the Iranians and work closely with our Europeans on the process.
Jen Psaki: (50:24)
Congressman John Yarmuth seemed to think the other day that the President’s budget might not be coming until May. When does the President plan to release his 2022 budget blueprint? And when he does, will he submit a plan that balances in a 10 year window?
Jen Psaki: (50:43)
I don’t have any predictions for you on the timeline of the budget. As we talked about a bit during the transition, because of some of the intransigence of political appointees during the transition period, we already anticipated it would be delayed back in December and January. Obviously the fact that we don’t have a confirmed OMB director in place doesn’t help expedite that timeline, so we knew it would be delayed, but I don’t have a specific timeline for you or a frame of what it will look like.
Does the president support congressional Democrats’ pushed to restore your marketing? Is that a way to sort of foster bipartisanship after this $1.9 trillion package that didn’t get any Republican support?
Jen Psaki: (51:26)
Well, we don’t have a package yet that we’re talking about that we are working through with Congress. Obviously the President’s spent 36 years in the Senate and he is quite familiar with the role of earmarks, but when we have a package to announce and we’re talking about the legislative strategy, we can probably talk about it more.
Because Democrats are making the case that it’s a way to get Republicans to support spending bills, things along those lines. Is that the White House’s view is earmarking a potential path to sort of break some of this gridlock.
Jen Psaki: (52:01)
We just don’t have a legislative package we’re even talking about here. So when we do, we can have a discussion about what the legislative strategy is. But we’re not at that point. The President just signed into law today a $1.9 trillion package that he is looking forward to implementing. That’s our focus. And in the coming weeks, we’ll have more to say what’s next and then we can have a discussion about how we’re going to get that package through.
And on the 1400 … Sorry, one more-
Jen Psaki: (52:25)
Go ahead. You’re fine.
On the $1,400 checks, consumer advocates are raising concerns that private debt collectors might be able to intercept part of it because apparently language protected that in the last round, the $600 checks, but because of the budget reconciliation process, Senators had to cut that out. Would the President support stand-alone legislation? I think Senator Wyden says he’s going to be working on that. And how does the President expect to get standalone legislation to take care of that issue? And how does the President expect to get bipartisan support for these provisions, technical corrections like these that pop up on every major bill like this?
Jen Psaki: (53:13)
I’m not sure if there are technical corrections needed. I’d have to talk to the Department of Treasury about that. I mean, in terms of the checks, 90% of them about will go via direct deposit to people’s bank accounts that they have because of people paying taxes. If there are other additional components that require that I’m happy to have that discussion with them and see if they think there’s technical changes needed and if those technical changes require Congress, which I’m not sure they would or wouldn’t at this point. Go ahead in the back.
Thank you. I have a couple of questions. Last week, President Biden in his virtual interaction with NASA scientist Dr. Mohan said that people of Indian descent are taking over the country. Can you clarify what did he meant by that because there have been some criticism by his opponents on his remarks?
Jen Psaki: (54:01)
Well, I would first say that the President was just recognizing and honoring and valuing, or this was his intention, the incredible contribution of Indian-Americans to science. He was speaking to an Indian-American woman who is of course a scientist and an important part of the NASA team. And he also was, of course, recognizing the incredible contribution of his own Vice President. And he just believes it was a reflection of his belief that Indian-Americans make a great contribution to the fabric of society, whether it’s science or education or the government. And that was what he was trying to convey.
Yeah. And number of Indian-Americans who came to this country as legal immigrants and want to make this as a home, they feel that this administration is not much focused on resolving the issues related to legal immigrants, rather than they are more focused on illegal immigrants. What do you have to see on that?
Jen Psaki: (54:58)
I would say you should write an article about how the President’s immigration bill proposes a number of fixes or changes in the legal and legislative system to ensure that those issues are addressed and we’re eager to move that forward with members of both parties.
One China question.
Jen Psaki: (55:19)
Today’s 50th day and tomorrow President is addressing the Quad Leader Summit. And a few days later, the Secretary of State and NSA are having their bilateral meetings and [inaudible 00:55:30] on China. After 50 days, what are the major asks from China? What do you want China to do so that we improve the relationship that the United States has with [inaudible 00:00:55:44]?
Jen Psaki: (55:42)
Well, I would expect obviously this meeting next week, we felt it was important to have it on US soil. We certainly anticipate that National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Tony Blinken will be discussing both the challenges we’ve had and not holding back on issues and concerns we have with the behavior of Chinese leadership, whether it’s on Taiwan or recent efforts to push back democracy in Hong Kong or on concerns we have about the economic relationship. So they will certainly raise those issues and the lack of transparency as it relates to COVID, human rights abuses as well. But they’ll also talk about areas of opportunity and ways we can work together. They will not be holding back in the conversation, but it’s an important moment next week to engage directly and in person. And I know they’re looking forward to it. We’ll have a robust readout I’m sure when that meeting concludes.
I have a foreign journalist colleague of mine who wasn’t able to be present here has sent me a question for you. The International Olympics Committee today announced that China would provide vaccination for athletes, teams, and attendees of the Tokyo Olympic Games. What is the response to IOC’s announcement? Does the administration recommend that US least 10 days to get vaccinations from the Chinese?
Jen Psaki: (57:12)
I would send you to the US Olympic committee. We of course are working to ensure that the American people have access to vaccines, will have enough to vaccinate all American adults by the end of May. Certainly that includes Olympic athletes, but I would refer you to them on their plans for vaccinating athletes. Go ahead.
Thanks Jen. A couple on topics we haven’t touched on yet. But Politico ran a poll yesterday, I’m not sure if you saw it, finding that 53% of Americans think that there should be a ban on transgender athletes competing in women’s sports. Included in that were 40% of democratic respondents who agreed that there should be a ban and 49% of independents. Obviously the President is committed to advancing LGBTQ rights, but looking at this through his call for unity lens, do you think these opinions are coming more from a place of trying to protect women’s rights or equality in athletics, or are these just flat out bigoted opinions that the President shouldn’t acknowledge at this point in time?
Jen Psaki: (58:16)
The opinions in the poll?
Yeah. People who voiced support for banning transgender athletes [crosstalk 00:58:22]-
Jen Psaki: (58:22)
I did not conduct the poll nor was I part of the polling committee that had conversations with people. What I can convey to you is that the president believes, regardless of this poll in Politico … Did you say Politico, I guess?
Jen Psaki: (58:35)
I didn’t see the poll or the article, I didn’t read Playbook. But the President believes that transgender rights are human rights, that kids should not be discriminated against and should be able to play sports. And that continues to be his belief and that hasn’t changed. But I’m not going to guess or attribute motive to the people who responded to that poll or any poll actually.
And then on the House’s passage of these gun violence legislation bills today, has the White House been actively courting Republican Senators to vote yay for this? Obviously from a numbers standpoint, that’s going to be a lot harder to pass there than in the house. And if not, does the President believe it can pass the Senate or those two bills can pass the Senate in their current iterations?
Jen Psaki: (59:25)
Well, first, the President is someone who is personally committed to addressing gun violence and working to put in place gun safety measures. He’s called on Congress to act. He supports Congress acting. He’s looking forward to working with them to advance priorities, including repealing gun manufacturers, liability shield. Of course, these pieces of legislation were regarding background checks and he certainly supports actions by the House to pass those bills. And I expect he will look for opportunities to be engaged and advocate for why these are not political issues. These are common sense efforts to keep our children safe, keep our country safe, and ensure that we are reducing gun violence in the country.
Just one follow up on the Quad Summit tomorrow. Does the president plan on speaking with our allies about ways we can force China to stop the genocide it’s committing against the Uighur Muslims in Jinjiang in that summit tomorrow?
Jen Psaki: (01:00:27)
Well, I know that addressing the genocide against Uighur Muslims is something that will be a topic of discussion with the Chinese directly next week. But certainly this conversation tomorrow, and we’re hoping I’ve invited National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to come and give you a readout of that meeting. I know there’s a lot of interest in the Quad Summit tomorrow. But we expect the conversation to be about a range of global issues. It is not focused on China. Of course, China is a topic on the minds of many leaders in countries, but we expect they will talk about the climate crisis, about economic cooperation, about addressing COVID, a range of issues and discussions. And certainly the position of the United States is that what is happening is genocide. We’ll look for opportunities to work with other partners on putting additional pressure on the Chinese, but we will also raise it directly. It will be a topic of discussion next week. Thanks everyone. [crosstalk 01:01:27].