Mar 12, 2021
Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript March 12
March 12, 2021 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. She was joined by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Jen Psaki: (00:00)
We are ending the week with a very special guest, National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan. He’s our first repeat guest here. Must be a lot going on in this world. He’s going to give us a readout of the Quad meeting that took place this morning, and also, of course, answer some of your questions.
Jake Sullivan: (00:23)
Thanks, Jen. Good to see everybody today. So as Jen said this morning, the President hosted the first ever Quad Summit. The first time that this group gathered at the leaders level. Of course, they gathered virtually because of the constraints of COVID-19. Each of the leaders independently in the course of the meeting referred to this event as historic, because it’s cemented a group of strong democracies that will work together going forward to secure a free and open Indo-Pacific. The President noted in his opening remarks that this is the first multilateral summit he’s hosted since taking office and that’s on purpose. It reflects his view that we have to rally democratic allies and partners in common cause and his belief in the centrality of the Indo-Pacific to the national security of the United States.
Jake Sullivan: (01:15)
During the meeting, the leaders addressed key regional issues, including freedom of navigation and freedom from coercion in the South and East China Seas, the DPRK nuclear issue, and the coup and violent repression in Burma. The President and his counterparts also spoke to the competition of models between autocracy and democracy and expressed their confidence that despite setbacks and imperfections, democracy is the best system to deliver for people and to meet the economic, social, and technological challenges of the 21st century. And I have to say that over the course of the meeting, a sense of optimism for the future, despite the hard times we’re in, was on full display. The four leaders did discuss the challenge posed by China, and they made clear that none of them have any illusions about China. But today was not fundamentally about China. Much of the focus was on pressing global crises, including the climate crisis and COVID-19.
Jake Sullivan: (02:17)
And with respect to COVID-19, these four leaders made a massive joint commitment today. With Indian manufacturing, U.S. technology, Japanese and American financing, and Australian logistics capability, the Quad committed to delivering up to one billion doses to Aussian, the Indo-Pacific, and beyond by the end of 2022. The leaders also agreed that they would meet in person before the end of the year, and they launched a set of working groups, including an emerging technology group that will help set standards in key technologies like 5G and artificial intelligence and another on cyber that will help our four countries meet this growing threat. These groups will deliver results by the time of the summit I just referred to that will happen before the end of the year.
Jake Sullivan: (03:10)
The Quad, at the end of the day, at the end of today, is now a critical part of the architecture of the Indo-Pacific. And today’s summit also kicks off an intensive stretch of diplomacy in the region. Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin will travel to Japan and Korea to meet with their counterparts in a two plus two format. They’re getting on the road this weekend. Secretary Austin will go on to India from there. Secretary Blinken and I will subsequently meet with senior Chinese officials in Anchorage, Alaska, and we will have other high level meetings and visits in the coming weeks with leaders from the Indo-Pacific that will be announced soon. Just a word on Anchorage before I turn to your questions. We’ve spoken a lot about our fundamental strategy of establishing a position of strength in the early going, and after the work of the past 50 days, Secretary Blinken and I will enter the meeting with senior Chinese representatives from a position of strength.
Jake Sullivan: (04:10)
President Biden is signed into law the American Rescue Plan, and the OECD has now projected that our economic growth will be the highest in decades and will help power global economic growth. We’re ahead of schedule on the President’s ambitious goal of a 100 million shots in 100 days. We’ve launched a bold effort to secure our critical supply chains. We’ve reclaimed our place in key international institutions, and with the current Presidency of the UN Security Council, we passed a strong statement on Burma just this week. We’ve revitalized our alliances in Asia and Europe. Last week with the Europeans, we agreed to a pause in tariffs in the long running Boeing-Airbus dispute, and we executed a strong joint response to Russia’s poisoning of Alexia Navalny. We’ve begun deep consultations with our European partners on a common approach to our concerns with China.
Jake Sullivan: (05:03)
In Asia, just in the last few days, we’ve reached new hosting agreements for our troops and our bases with both Korea and Japan. And now we’ve taken the Quad to a new level. So make no mistake. Today is a big day for American diplomacy. This summit is a big deal for the President and for the country, and we are looking forward to the work ahead. And with that, I would be happy to take your questions. Yeah.
Jennifer Jacobs: (05:27)
Thank you, sir. Jennifer Jacobs from Bloomberg News. In the Quad meeting this morning, did the President and his counterparts discuss the cyber attack on the Microsoft Exchange? And I’m also wondering if they discussed the chips shortage, the shortage of semiconductors, and was there any solution to that?
Jake Sullivan: (05:44)
Without getting into too much detail, they discussed both recent cyber attacks and semiconductors in the course of the conversation today. And indeed the leaders agreed as part of the emerging technology working group to look at this supply chain question, including as it relates to semi-conductors, to make sure that we don’t have shortages of critical materials going forward, whether it’s semi-conductors or rare earths. And with respect to cyber, the impetus behind this new cyber working group is not just the Solar Winds incident or the Microsoft Exchange incident, both of which the United States is responding to with urgency, but also cyber attacks that have hit Japan, India, and Australia just in the past few weeks and months. So this is a common challenge that we face from both state actors and non-state actors and we do intend to make the Quad a central vehicle for cooperation on cyber. Yeah.
Speaker 1: (06:41)
On the cyber attack of Microsoft, can you give us a sense at all of the scope and scale of this, how it might compare to Solar Winds, and is this still ongoing?
Jake Sullivan: (06:50)
It is still ongoing in the sense that we are still gathering information. We are still trying to determine the scope and scale. It is significant, but the precise number of systems that have been exposed by this vulnerability and have been exploited either by nation state threat actors, or ransomware hackers or others, that is something that we are urgently working with the private sector to determine. It is certainly the case that malign actors are still in some of these Microsoft Exchange systems, which is why we have pushed so hard to get those systems patched, to get remediation underway, and the U.S. government is mobilizing a robust whole of government response to it. Ultimately, a lot of this comes down to the private sector, taking the steps that they need to take to remediate, and we will give them everything we can to help them be able to do so. Yeah.
Can you declaratively say that the Microsoft Exchange hack was done by China?
Jake Sullivan: (07:48)
I’m not in a position standing here today to provide attribution, but I do pledge to you that we will be in a position to attribute that attack at some point in the near future. And we won’t hide the ball on that. We will come forward and say who we believe perpetrated the attack.
Talking about diplomacy, I want to ask you about Iran right now. What is the status of any talks with Iran given they rebuffed the U.S.’s effort to meet with them?
Jake Sullivan: (08:10)
Diplomacy with Iran is ongoing, just not in a direct fashion at the moment. There are communications through the Europeans and through others that enable us to explain to the Iranians what our position is with respect to the compliance for compliance approach, and to hear what their position is. And we’re waiting at this point to hear further from the Iranians, how they would like to proceed. But from our perspective, this is not going to be easy, but we believe that we are in a diplomatic process now that we can move forward on and ultimately secure our objective, which is to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and to do so through diplomacy.
As it relates to the Iran, is the U.S. not going to respond to the last round of rocket that hit Al-Assad? And we heard from the former Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, in the last couple of days saying the Ayatollah recognizes only strength? Is the U.S. demonstrating weakness in terms of that relationship?
Jake Sullivan: (09:09)
So, first of all, if you look at the pattern of attacks that took place over the course of 2019 and 2020 against American personnel and facilities, how frequently they occurred, what kind of damage they did, I’m not sure that the former Secretary is in a position to be trying to give us advice on the question of how to respond. Secondly, the United States reserves the right to protect its personnel and its facilities. We will do so at a time and place of our choosing and we will take whatever steps are necessary to deter further attacks and to impose costs on those who attack us. But I’m not going to telegraph our punches on any particular operation that we may take in the days or weeks ahead. Yeah.
John Palmieri: (09:48)
Thank you, Jake. John [Palmieri 00:09:49], Associated Press. On a broader picture, as a candidate, now President Biden called Saudi Arabia a pariah. He vowed a new approach in China. He vowed to be tough on Putin. But in his early days of his administration, both Republicans and Democrats alike have suggested that but he’s taking a little more cautious, more conservative approach. What should we read into this? Is this him displaying a more realist, more realism approach to foreign policy? Why not perhaps be the optimist that he did on the campaign trail?
Jake Sullivan: (10:18)
Joe Biden is the ultimate optimist, and today was the ultimate testament to his optimism. Pulling together for the first time ever, the leaders of Japan, Australia, and India in a grouping that is going to allow the United States to drive forward its agenda, its interest, and its values more effectively going forward and to lift up democracy as the signal form of government that can deliver for people and meet the challenges going ahead. So you heard him last night in his speech about where we’re going to be on COVID-19, you heard him yesterday at the bill signing about domestic renewal, and you heard him today about his deep belief that the United States will be in a position to lead and to succeed in the 21st century on the global stage. That’s the broad answer to your question. The more specific answer to your question is, let’s take each of those in turn.
Jake Sullivan: (11:08)
On Saudi Arabia, the President said he was going to change America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and he has, he has not only removed American support for offensive operations in Yemen. He has also taken additional steps to sanction individuals and to publish something the last administration was not prepared to do, an unclassified report on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. He has also indicated to the Saudis that going forward we are not going to give them the blank check the last administration did, either on how they treat their own citizens or how they operate in the region. But at the end of the day, his metric is, what’s going to advance American interests and values? And our near interest right now is to get a ceasefire in the war in Yemen so that we reduce humanitarian suffering there and to get deescalation in the region so that we increase America’s security and the security of our allies and partners.
Jake Sullivan: (12:08)
On both of those issues, he has pushed Saudi Arabia hard, and we believe that we are making progress as a result of his policy. If you look at Russia and China, he has both taken a firm line with respect to Russia, including working with the Europeans to impose costs already for the poisoning of Alexi Navalny, and preparing additional responses to other malign actions that Russia has conducted. And as far as China is concerned, the United States, as he has said repeatedly, believes that we are going to end up in a stiff competition with China and we intend to prevail in that competition. And he is amassing the sources of strength that we need to be able to prevail. And that is 100% in line with everything that Joe Biden said on the campaign trail. And 50 days in, we believe we are in a better position to deal with the challenge from China than we were the day that he took office. Yeah.
Steve Portnoy: (13:00)
Steve Portnoy from CBS News Radio. Thanks for coming in and taking our questions. I want to ask you a question about immigration diplomacy. When he was Vice President, Joe Biden went to Guatemala in the summer of 2014. You were on that trip as his National Security Advisor at the time. You went because of what was then an unprecedented surge of unaccompanied minors coming across the border. One of the things he said on that trip in June of 2014 was, “We can, A, first make clear in each of our countries in an unrelenting way, not with a public service announcement, that there is no free pass, that none of these children or women bringing children will be eligible under the existing law in the United States of America.” He said that was number one, and then he went on to describe root causes and American aid. Why has that not been the message that this White House is sending now, clear and unrelenting, that none of these children or women bringing children will be eligible under the existing law?
Jake Sullivan: (13:56)
The President has made clear and this administration has made clear that we are going to pursue an effective and humane immigration policy and unwind what we believe was the ineffective and inhumane policy over the course of the last four years. That’s point number one. Point number two is we’ve made clear that now is not the time to come to the United States. We are dealing with a circumstance in which we have to build the capacity to be able to assess the asylum claims of individuals who arrive here, and we have to deal with the obvious public health effects of a pandemic. So we are sending the message clearly, and you heard it from Roberta Jacobson from this podium earlier this week. We’re doing so in the region as well. But the President also believes that under our laws, people who are claiming asylum deserve to have their cases heard properly, effectively, efficiently, and as swiftly as possible. And that is the policy that we are going to pursue.
Steve Portnoy: (14:46)
Do you really believe that message is being received clearly in an unrelenting way? I mean, there was a young quoted in the Wall Street Journal this week who said that this President seems more friendly to him than the prior one, and he believes he’ll be able to come to the United States on that face.
Jake Sullivan: (14:59)
So this is day by day something that we need to be able to communicate from a range of different perspectives, from this podium, in the region itself, on the airwaves, and we will continue to do so as we go forward. Yeah.
Speaker 2: (15:14)
Just a follow-up to next week’s meeting with representatives from China. Do you think that tariffs and export controls targeting China will be part of the talks, and what does China need to do for the U.S. to dial back on tariffs and export control?
Jake Sullivan: (15:31)
I don’t expect that, for example, the phase one trade deal is going to be a major topic of conversation next week. This is our effort to communicate clearly to the Chinese government how the United States intends to proceed at a strategic level, what we believe our fundamental interests and values are, and what our concerns with their activities are, whether it’s on Hong Kong or Xinjiang or in the Taiwan Strait, or frankly, the issues that we heard today from our Quad partners, their coercion of Australia, their harassment around the Senkaku Islands.
Jake Sullivan: (16:03)
[inaudible 00:16:00] their harassment around the Senkaku Islands, their aggression on the border with India. So this will stay more in that zone, than get into the details of questions around tariffs or export controls. But we will communicate that the United States is going to take steps, in terms of what we do on technology, to ensure that our technology is not being used in ways that are inimical to our values, or adverse to our security. We will communicate that message at a broad level. But, in terms of the details of these issues, we have more work to do with our allies and partners, to come up with a common approach, a joint approach, before we go sit down point by point with the Chinese government on these issues. We will also want to bring other key representatives, senior economic representatives of the Biden administration, into those conversations, at the point in time when they’re appropriate to occur.
Jen Psaki: (16:50)
We can do one more here, guys.
Jake Sullivan: (16:51)
Speaker 3: (16:52)
So [inaudible 00:16:53] foreign minister who said he wanted to see more security cooperation with the quad. Do you see the quad, and the coordination between the different nations, as a way of perhaps in increasing the potential cost to China of maybe move against Taiwan? And did Taiwan and its status come up in your discussions this morning?
Jake Sullivan: (17:14)
So the way that we look at this is that the quad is not a military alliance. It’s not a new NATO, despite some of the propaganda that’s out there. What it is is an opportunity for these four democracies to work as a group, and also with other countries, on fundamental issues of economics, technology, climate, and security. So I’m not going to get into detail on what the elements of that security will look like, because we have work to do as an emergent institution to define what the agenda looks like.
Jake Sullivan: (17:42)
What we know is that broad based maritime security is already core to the quad agenda, that humanitarian assistance and disaster response, and the work of our militaries in that space, is already on the agenda. Where we go from there, on everything from freedom of navigation to broader regional security questions, that has to be worked through, not just at the leaders level, but at the working level as well. So we’ll see how that unfolds over the course of the months to come. Thanks guys.
Speaker 4: (18:07)
One more for Reuters, please, Jake.
Jake Sullivan: (18:09)
Speaker 4: (18:09)
Thank you. We’re reporting-
Jake Sullivan: (18:11)
Speaker 4: (18:12)
For Reuters, thank you. We’re reporting that India is likely to block its mobile carriers from carrying or using telecoms equipment by [Huawei 00:18:22]. Is that something that the United States welcomes?
Jake Sullivan: (18:24)
The United States has expressed its concerns about Huawei and the relationship between Huawei and elements of the Chinese government and military apparatus. And so this is a sovereign decision for India to make, but we certainly think it’s consistent with the decisions that we’ve made an advocated as well.
Speaker 4: (18:43)
Just a follow-up on the vaccines. We also have reporting from India that the temporary US ban on exports of key raw materials for vaccines could affect the objective of quickly ramping up production. Is the US open to easing that ban?
Jake Sullivan: (18:59)
So, first, the President had the opportunity to speak with the Prime Minister about this bold initiative that we’re undertaking. And we feel very good about our ability to execute against that. Secondly, I do not believe that there is an export ban.
Jake Sullivan: (19:14)
But the United States will happily work with countries around the world to make sure that we are doing our part, not just to make sure every last American citizen is vaccinated as quickly as possible, but that the rest of the world gets vaccinated as quickly as possible as well. So I’ll leave it at that. Thanks guys.
Jen Psaki: (19:30)
Thank you, Jake.
Speaker 5: (19:31)
Jen Psaki: (19:34)
Okay. Just have a couple of items at the top. Given all of the news, and then in the speech last night, I just wanted to just give a brief overview of some of the announcements the President made about how we were going to … Give more detail, I should say, on how we’re going to meet his commitment of, of course, directing states to ensure that every American is eligible to receive the vaccine by May 1st, how we’re going to expedite it, and how we’re going to get to the point where we are having July 4th barbecues.
Jen Psaki: (20:07)
So, first, he announced the plans to deliver vaccines directly to up to 700 additional community health centers that reach underserved communities, bringing the total number of community health centers participating in our federal vaccination program to 950. And this is hugely important, as we’re talking about addressing access, vaccine hesitancy, meeting people where they are in communities. Because these health centers are trusted places in many communities where people go and they get regular health services. And so this will dramatically increase that.
Jen Psaki: (20:39)
We’re going to double the number of pharmacies participating in the federal pharmacy program. When we first announced this, if you all remember, we announced that it was a pilot program, and we were going to see how it went. It’s extremely successful. And it has been very effective around the country. And so now the vaccine will be available at more than 20,000 pharmacies across the country. He will also more than double the number of federally run mass vaccination centers, to ensure that we reached the hardest hit communities. And he talked about this in the speech. And we’ve seen these in communities across the country. And many of you have covered this, where you can drive up in your car with your family members, get the vaccine, and it is quite efficient, and they can reach often thousands of people in these vaccination sites.
Jen Psaki: (21:23)
And also announced the deployment of more than 4,000 active duty troops to support vaccination efforts, bringing the total to over 6,000 in all. So that’s obviously a significant increase. And expanded vaccinators, the people who can give these vaccines, to dentists, optometrists, paramedics, physician assistants, veterinarians, and many more.
Jen Psaki: (21:44)
So the last piece, and I announced much of this yesterday, and I think you’re all quite familiar with what he’s doing next week, but in the forward tradition here, next week, the President, Vice President, First Lady, and the Second Gentlemen will hit the road to talk to the American people about the benefits of the American Rescue Plan.
Jen Psaki: (22:02)
On Monday, he will host an event at the White House on the implementation of the American Rescue Plan. On Tuesday, he will travel to Delaware County, Pennsylvania as part of the Help Is Here Tour, to amplify the American Rescue Plan. And on Friday, the President and the Vice President will travel to Georgia, to continue engaging with Americans about how they will benefit from the Rescue Plan. Jonathan, go ahead.
Speaker 5: (22:25)
John Palmieri: (22:27)
A number of influential New York lawmakers, including Representatives Nadler and Ocasio-Cortez, have now called the resignation of Governor Cuomo, in the light of new allegations of harassment, including one that was referred to law enforcement. My first question is simply this, does the President believe the Governor should resign?
Jen Psaki: (22:42)
The President believes that every woman who’s come forward, there have now been six I believe who have come forward, deserves to have her voice heard, should be treated with respect, and should be able to tell her story. There also is an independent investigation that is ongoing, of course, in the state, with subpoena power overseen by the attorney general. And he certainly supports that moving forward. We, of course, have watched the news of a number of lawmakers call for that, but I don’t have any additional announcements from here.
John Palmieri: (23:11)
A follow-up on this. In light of the investigation, in light that he has had some of his pandemic response powers taken away, does the White House still have faith in Governor Cuomo, if he remains in his position, overseeing the response to the pandemic in the state of New York?
Jen Psaki: (23:25)
Well, we certainly don’t want anyone in the state of New York to be penalized, that meaning not have access to vaccines, to vaccinators, not have access to funding from the Rescue Plan. And, certainly, we will continue to work with a range of officials to get that done and get it implemented. But the President and our COVID Response Team works with governors across the country, including Governor Cuomo, to implement these plans. And we’ll continue to do that.
John Palmieri: (23:54)
And one other topic.
Jen Psaki: (23:54)
John Palmieri: (23:55)
There are more than 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the US that can’t be administered here, but could save lives in Europe and other places in the world, if the company was freed from the obligation to deliver those doses to the US government. The company has appealed to the administration to let them export those doses. Why does the President not agree?
Jen Psaki: (24:14)
Well, let me just take a step back here and explain kind of what’s going on here. First, as we’ve stated a few times, but worth restating, the President’s priority and focus is on ensuring that the American people are vaccinated. Obviously, he made some significant announcements last night about the timeline of that. And we will have enough doses in our hands by the end of May, to ensure we can make that happen.
Jen Psaki: (24:38)
AstraZeneca is also not yet approved by the FDA. We also want to make sure we have maximal flexibility, that we are oversupplied and over-prepared, and that we have the ability to provide vaccines, whatever the most effective ones are, to American public. There are still 1400 people who are dying in our country every single day. And we need to focus on addressing that.
Jen Psaki: (25:03)
At this time, there have been requests around the world, of course, from a number of countries who have requested doses from the United States. And we have not provided doses from the US government to anyone. So this is not about Europe. This is about our focus and our priority, which we have been very public and clearly stated.
Jen Psaki: (25:22)
And what you’re referencing, in terms of access to doses, of course, part of the production is enabled because of the Defense Production Act. There is a contract obligation to deliver on the US doses, and to fulfill that contract. But any company, AstraZeneca is not a US company, they can also work with. And even if they were, they can work with any country to fulfill and to work on a deal to get access to doses. Go ahead. [crosstalk 00:25:53].
We just heard from Jake Sullivan, talking about, on immigration, the need to have a consistent and continued message to communicate to migrants that the border is closed right now. We saw Ambassador Jacobson. He says there has to be a message on the airwaves, and in that region as well. If you want to send the message to migrants that the border is closed, shouldn’t President Biden be the one who is clearly delivering that message?
Jen Psaki: (26:15)
Well, he did do an interview with Univision about two weeks ago, and made that absolutely clear. And I certainly expect he will look for the opportunity to do exactly that. I will note, however, that he is one of the voices, Ambassador Jacobson is one of the voices. There are a number of effective voices in the region, including leaders in the region, including partners we need to have in the region, NGOs and others, to deliver the same message that now is not the time to come. That the majority of people are turned away at the border, which is backed up by factual data. That adult families will be turned away at the border in almost every scenario. And so that is part of the data and part of the information that we’re looking for partnership to deliver in the region.
Is it working?
Jen Psaki: (27:00)
Well, again, Peter, I think we know. We’ve seen the numbers that CBP puts out on a regular basis. We know there are more children under the age of 18, who are, of course, coming across the border. That is consistent with what our policy has been.
Jen Psaki: (27:14)
But in terms of people who were turned away, who are coming to the border who are turned away, I mean, those numbers, are people hearing that, are they still making the journey? I don’t have any further analysis of that. I know that what people are looking at is that there are more children who are coming across the border, and we’ve certainly confirmed and acknowledged that.
Let me ask you about the President’s speech last night. This was a speech about the anniversary of the last year since the pandemic began. Of course, he spent a lot of time touting the success of vaccines. Yet there was no mention of the President under whose administration these vaccines were developed. Does former President Trump not deserve any credit on vaccines?
Jen Psaki: (27:50)
Well, the President himself, and many people in our administration, have conveyed that making the progress, and we’ve said this publicly, that was made on these vaccines, was a Herculean, incredible effort by science and by medical experts. And, certainly, we have applauded that in the past, and we’re happy to applaud that again.
Jen Psaki: (28:11)
But I would say there is a clear difference, and there are clear steps that have been taken, since the President took office, that have put us in a trajectory that we were not on when he was inaugurated. And leadership starts at the top. It includes mask wearing. It includes acknowledging there’s a pandemic. It includes getting a vaccine in public. But, even more importantly than that, it includes putting in place an operational process that can ensure that we have enough vaccines to vaccinate Americans, enough vaccinators, enough vaccine locations. None of that was in place when the President took office.
And certainly that’s on distribution and the like, but on the development of the vaccines, it was Operation Warp Speed that was invented, executed, initiated under the former president. So in the spirit of bipartisanship and unity last night, as opposed to the first comments which spoke about the denials and the first days, weeks, and months, why don’t you say, “With credit to the previous administration and the former president for putting us in this position, we are glad that we have been able to move forward”?
Jen Psaki: (29:09)
That is an excellent recommendation as a speech writer, but the President has spoken to it in the past. He has applauded the work of medical experts and scientists, and the prior administration. And what the purpose of last night’s speech was, was to give an update on what his administration has been doing, what he has done since he took office, the progress that’s been made, what the work is ahead, provide a light at the end of the tunnel, and ask Americans to engage in the process, and do what’s needed to be done, so we can get to those July 4th barbecues.
[inaudible 00:29:39], as he said, to bring all Americans together, which is why I asked.
Jen Psaki: (29:42)
Of course that is. But I would say that Americans are looking for facts. They’re looking for details. They’re looking for specifics. And I don’t think they’re worried too much about applause from six months ago, when the President has already delivered that publicly.
Thank you, Jen.
Jen Psaki: (29:57)
Steve Portnoy: (29:57)
You just said that leadership starts at the top, when it comes to getting COVID vaccines out. But when you described the messaging on immigration, you’re talking about leadership from Ambassador Jacobson and many others getting the word, and-
Jen Psaki: (30:11)
I don’t think that’s what I said, but-
Steve Portnoy: (30:14)
Well, you were explaining why President Biden is not out here.
Jen Psaki: (30:18)
Well, to be factual, because we’re all about facts, I actually started by saying he did an interview with Univision just two weeks ago, and that he would look for opportunities to continue to deliver that message clearly himself. But that there are a number of voices that are important and effective, and can be heard in the region. And that we will certainly use a number of voices to communicate directly in the region.
Steve Portnoy: (30:39)
So we’ve heard from some folks down at the border, in Brownsville, Texas specifically, of migrants who are being tested by some of the NGOs down there for COVID. They test 1700. At least 204 positive tests so far. That’s over a 9% positivity rate, more than double the national average. So what is the federal government doing to protect the citizens of a town like Brownsville, Texas?
Jen Psaki: (31:07)
Well, I don’t know where the … I’m not questioning the data, but I certainly would refer to CBP, and I’m happy to get more specific data.
Steve Portnoy: (31:14)
[crosstalk 00:31:14]. That’s where we’re getting them.
Jen Psaki: (31:15)
Officially from CBP, data on the testing. Well, let me walk you through. Because, obviously, there are a number of categories of individuals who are coming. And this is a question you’ve asked before, and certainly an understandable question.
Jen Psaki: (31:24)
So individuals who are taken, and so I’m just going to give you an outline of the testing, into ICE custody, migrants and entering ICE facilities are tested upon intake, and they’re quarantined if they test positive. That’s one category, of course. Unaccompanied children, of course, another category. All unaccompanied children encountered at the border receive a medical screening by contract medical professionals. That includes a medical assessment or health intake interview. Minor issues are treated on site, and major issues are referred to a local hospital.
Jen Psaki: (31:54)
So when a child is released into our custody, they quarantine for 10 to 14 days, and receive COVID testing through HHS. Those who are-
Jen Psaki: (32:03)
… COVID testing through HHS. Those who come into the country and are treated with alternatives to detention, sometimes that’s ankle bracelets and other means of tracking, DHS works with city and county leaders, as well as public health officials to provide COVID-19 testing and as needed isolation and quarantine for families released from border patrol facilities. And that’s something we’ve talked about a bit in here, in terms of a proposal that was made by DHS and FEMA in coordination with NGOs and local authorities to fully cover and pay for the testing that up to this point, the governor has declined that proposal.
Steve Portnoy: (32:37)
But based on what you’ve said before and our understanding of the policy, it’s just guidance that these migrants who test positive, many of them are instructed, “You should go and quarantine and isolate.” Does the administration know how many actually do versus how many actually just go off to wherever?
Jen Psaki: (32:56)
Well, I just wanted to convey, because I knew you were asking a good question here, that they’re very specific processes that are taken for each scenario. And certainly, with the individuals who are coming across alternatives, who are treated with, again, noted, sometimes ankle bracelets as they come across while they’re waiting for adjudication of their cases, those are the steps that are taken. Those are the recommendations that are made. And I just noted that there’s a proposal for testing all of these individuals as they come across. So that’s what our policy processes are, but in terms of specific data and numbers, I would certainly refer you to CBP or I’m happy to talk to them as well.
Steve Portnoy: (33:35)
And do you know if there are any administration discussions about vaccinating some of these migrants who are being held for much longer than normal or much longer than in previous administrations to stop the spread in the shelters?
Jen Psaki: (33:49)
That’s a really good question. I would say, obviously we’re focused on vaccinating eligible Americans in the country. But we do believe that vaccinating as many people as possible, keeps all of us safe and ensures the safety of all people living here, but I’m not aware of any plans. We are very focused on addressing and taking steps to address the public health challenges that we’re seeing across the border of course, with the pure number of people, the number of people who are in CBP facilities and in these shelters. We’ve talked a bit about working with the CDC on guidelines. But certainly with the pure numbers, we need to continue to look at and evaluate ways to prevent this from becoming more of a public health challenge.
Steve Portnoy: (34:35)
And then one other topic quickly. Last night in his speech, President Biden reiterated his goal. He wants a majority of schools opened by his 100th day in office, that’s April 30th.
Jen Psaki: (34:43)
Steve Portnoy: (34:44)
One day later, May 1st, he says that every adult is going to be eligible for the vaccine. We know that teachers have been prioritized everywhere. So why just a majority of schools as the goal instead of a specific high percentage or say all schools?
Jen Psaki: (35:01)
Well first let me encourage you, you could even go cover it I bet, the secretary of education is having a forum on schools and school reopening on the 24th. I believe it’s the 24th of March. There are a lot of steps that are being taken already by the Department of Education. They’re issuing a guide book of best practices. They’re already engaging with schools and school districts. They’re requiring that any school that is going to have access to funding from the American Rescue Plan produces a plan within 30 days to reopen their school. The school district does, I should say. There are a number of steps underway. We of course want to have schools reopened and have them reopening five days a week. That’s our objective, but it’s in the excellent hands of the secretary of education, who this is his number one priority every day, as the president talks about in his speech.
Steve Portnoy: (35:54)
Last one, would the White House be okay, or could the White House get behind a proposal for schools to remain in session full-time through the summer?
Jen Psaki: (36:04)
Well, some school districts will decide to do that and they can use funding from the American Rescue Plan to do that or to help ensure they can do that. So it’s really going to be a decision made school district to school district. And if that determination is made, we certainly support that, but that’s part of what Secretary Cardona will be working out with school districts. Go ahead.
Thanks Jen. On the 4th of July barbecues that you keep mentioning, it’s obviously a symbolic goal, but how did you arrive at that date? Why the 4th of July? Is that the date by which you believe most adult Americans will be able to be vaccinated?
Jen Psaki: (36:37)
Well, we’ll have enough supply by the end of May, right? And it will be state to state. So we did not want to give a conclusion of when everybody will be fully vaccinated, because it really depends on a couple of factors, some which are out of our control, right? People who have concerns about the safety and efficacy of vaccines, we need to continue to redouble our efforts to address that. Obviously, some states will have faster timelines than other states. But we recognize that with a May 1st timeline of everyone being eligible with the ability to have vaccines for every American available or we’ll have the supply for them by May 31st, that we felt it would be a timeline under health and medical experts, it would be a timeline by which we could have. And again, this is not large gatherings, as you know, Mary. It is having a small group of friends and neighbors in your backyard. So it’s certainly not a full return to concerts and soccer stadiums, but it is a baby step toward that and our team felt confident that we could get to that point.
So is it safe to say that by July 4th, you think we’re in the ballpark where you could have most adult Americans vaccinated?
Jen Psaki: (37:41)
Well, again, many of the factors are out of our control, including individuals being willing to take the vaccine. And that’s why it was so important for the president to convey that it is safe, it is effective. Tell your friends and neighbors it’s safe and effective, and that will be a factor here. It is going to require Americans continuing to wear masks, continuing to social distance, getting the vaccine. So that is a light at the end of the tunnel, but there are a lot of steps that need to be taken to get there.
As the president mentioned last night, you’re also launching new tools and making it easier to sign up, including a website. Why wait until May to roll that out?
Jen Psaki: (38:20)
Well, there was already a pilot program that is available in about half a dozen states and we’ve talked about expanding and building upon that. A lot of states also have their own websites where people can go. And of course, pharmacies as you know, in a program we’ve massively expanded as part of the announcement last night, you can do scheduling through there. This is a website that will make it possible for Americans to go see where there is supply available. And we just wanted to make sure that we had the time to have that up and ready, but we are confident we can do that by that timeline.
Jennifer Jacobs: (38:53)
Go ahead. Thanks Jen. Back to AstraZeneca, can you say how big is that stockpile? And then secondly, also on AstraZeneca, when does the administration expect them to seek the Emergency Use Authorization, the EUA?
Jen Psaki: (39:08)
Sure. Both excellent questions. I don’t have any prediction for when they will seek it. You probably just have to ask them that question. And I don’t have an update on the amount of supply. Obviously, there was an order placed last year prior to President Biden taking office. And as would not come as a surprise to you given, this is how it’s worked with every other vaccine, it doesn’t mean you have all of that, right? You often don’t have much of it until there is approval. And obviously, we’re not going to get ahead of the approval.
Jennifer Jacobs: (39:36)
Would you be able to follow up with that with us and just let us know how many doses are in that stockpile?
Jen Psaki: (39:39)
I’m not sure we will have a number to provide, but I’m happy to check for you on that. Go ahead.
Speaker 4: (39:46)
Jen, one question on last night. The president said he’s directing states to ensure that all adults are eligible for the vaccine by May 1. What more do states need to do to achieve that goal? Because it sounded a little bit like he was putting the onus on states, but States are asking for more supply, right? And they won’t be able to do that without more supply.
Jen Psaki: (40:08)
Well, we wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t anticipate that we would have much more supply available. That’s certainly part of the process and we are providing that through state allocation, but also directly to pharmacies. And so it certainly is in each state as you know, Jeff, but there is different prioritization of who is in each order. And so it’s just conveying what that should look like and HHS has the authority to direct States to adjust their prioritization.
Speaker 4: (40:36)
They made that clear yesterday too about the authority. I guess I’m just wondering, why does he need to tell states this? Is there a lag? Were states not moving in that direction?
Jen Psaki: (40:46)
I think it was making clear that this was his expectation of its being a leader, of governors and leaders in the country and providing some clarity to the American public about when they can expect to be eligible. Now, some states will move faster than others and we certainly anticipate that. Some states that may have smaller populations or bigger supplies as a result, relatively so I should say, they may move faster and that’s certainly a something we encourage. But he wanted to provide a certainty and a timeline for the American people, so that they can expect when they can be eligible. For months, he’s leveled with the American people. He tried to do that last night. Many of you have asked for a timeline for eligibility, a timeline for vaccine supply and a timeline for back to normal and he was venturing to do that last night.
Speaker 4: (41:38)
And one follow up on AstraZeneca. You’ve made very clear and the president has made very clear that the goal and priority is Americans. Do you or does he see any moral dilemma in sitting on some vaccine, we don’t know the exact amount, that has been approved elsewhere that could be saving other people’s lives in other countries while the process drags on for however long it will in the United States?
Jen Psaki: (42:05)
Well, we don’t know and we can’t anticipate, as you know, when the process will conclude. But I think his view is that his obligation, first obligation, is to addressing what is still a crisis in our country, right? And what is still a circumstance where, yes, he outlined last night that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but 1,400 Americans are dying every single day. And he wants to have, as the leader of this country, maximum flexibility. Now, as Jake just outlined, he also wants to be a key member of the global community and send the message that we want to be collaborative and cooperative and work with other countries to get the global pandemic under control. No doubt that is a tricky balance, but in the middle of a pandemic, we’re still at war with the pandemic, it was a priority to him to ensure that he has maximum flexibility as the leader of this country. Go ahead.
Speaker 2: (43:02)
Just a follow up clarification on the prioritization. Last week or earlier this month, the White House called on states to prioritize teachers in vaccinations. Now the White House is saying state should open up eligibility to everyone as soon as possible. So-
Jen Psaki: (43:17)
By May 1st, yeah.
Speaker 2: (43:19)
So what does that mean right now for advising states’ priority groups? Should they be getting rid of them? Should they keep them intact? I mean, should they still be focusing on teachers right now? How do they square all of this stuff, given that they’re saying that they have shortages of vaccines right now?
Jen Psaki: (43:37)
Well, I think there are some who are saying that and some who are not. And obviously, we’ve been increasing supply nearly every single week. Actually every single week, we probably have been increasing supply. And as you all know, we will also have more and more doses we’ll have access to as the federal government, to ensure that states are getting an increase in supply. It’s going to be decisions made state by state on how they provide clarity to the people in their state. I believe Alaska is a state that has already moved to eligibility for everyone. So there are probably models that some states can look to. Teachers remain prioritized, and that is done primarily through the pharmacy program. It’s been quite successful. I have not heard reports of confusion in recent days at all, about that program and the implementation of it. But each state will have to decide how they implement and their timeline, and he is just giving them the time to be able to implement in advance of May 1st. Go ahead.
Steve Portnoy: (44:35)
Jen, the president took pains last night in his speech to condemn attacks on Asian Americans, called them, “Un-American and wrong. They must stop.” Does the president believed that his predecessor had anything to do with a rise in attacks on Asian Americans?
Jen Psaki: (44:50)
I think the president has spoken about the concerns he had about the rhetoric and the provoking of hate speech by his predecessor and I think he’s not made a secret about that. But we’re looking at this moment 50 days into an administration, where there are still many in the Asian-American community still live with fear, still are being threatened, still are being attacked. And he felt it was important for him, as the President of the United States and leader of this country, to make clear that that’s not acceptable and to condemn that during his first prime time address. And so that was more not a reflection of his thinking about his predecessor and more about looking at what people are still facing in this moment.
Steve Portnoy: (45:38)
Is there anything more the administration can do on this point? There’s a push on the Hill, I understand, to have a DOJ official take on this problem. Is that something that the president would support and if absent legislation, is there something he could do or order the attorney general to do?
Jen Psaki: (45:52)
I think he would expect the attorney general would make decisions independently about how to best address, but I’m happy to talk with our policy team and see if there’s more. Obviously, he signed the executive order in the early days and condemned these actions last night. And certainly would expect, as I said, the Department of Justice to make independent decisions, but I can see if there’s any more specific policy actions we can take.
Steve Portnoy: (46:17)
Quick question about next week.
Jen Psaki: (46:18)
Steve Portnoy: (46:19)
This is the first Irish president in sometime. Any plans for St Patrick’s day, even here at the White House?
Jen Psaki: (46:24)
I expect we will have more to preview. Of course, we’ll be recognizing St. Patrick’s day, but I will have more to preview for you on what that looks like probably later in the weekend or early next week as it’s being finalized. Go ahead.
Speaker 6: (46:39)
Yeah. Following up on the earlier questions about July 4th, in order to reach that goal, I mean, is there a certain percentage of Americans that need to be vaccinated? Or if there’s no number, what does the situation need to look like? Do we need to continue on the pace that the country has been on in recent weeks?
Jen Psaki: (46:59)
Well, I think it’s important to note that we’re not talking about a July 4th celebration on the Mall. We’re not quite there yet, right? And we’re not talking about soccer stadiums being filled in communities across the country, that might require something more like what you’re talking about. We’re talking about the American people being motivated and excited by the fact, that if they get vaccinated, if they abide by, that there will be access to vaccines, they will be eligible. And if they take steps to get vaccinated, to continue to wear a mask, to continue to observe social distancing, then looking ahead to July 4th is an aspirational moment where people can plan small get-togethers in their backyard. But we’re not talking about a mass event here or a return to total normalcy, that’s not what this is. This is a step more toward the kind of socialization and engagement with friends and family that he knows as a human being, people have been missing over the last year.
Speaker 6: (47:57)
Yeah. And another question, you have $350 billion in direct aid to state and local governments. State and local…
Speaker 6: (48:03)
… dollars and direct aid to state …
Jen Psaki: (48:03)
Speaker 6: (48:03)
… and local governments, State and local governments right now are going through their budgeting processes. Has the white house been able to determine when they’ll be able to start getting money from that aid? Will it be in one large chunk from [inaudible 00:48:16] States or it will be over a staggered time. What have you been able to determine through the treasury department?
Jen Psaki: (48:20)
Yeah, that’s a great question. I know treasury is working hard at ensuring that this money is getting out the door, the portions of the money they’re overseeing, but I’d have to talk to them more about how that will be implemented or pushed out specifically and what the timeline for that will be. And hopefully, we’ll have more of an update on that early next week, but I’ll see if anything is ready before then.
Speaker 6: (48:41)
Yeah, one more final question under the American Rescue Plan and the $1,400 checks that Americans will see. There are currently no protections to prevent debt collectors from seizing stimulus checks during the last year. The second round of stimulus checks had such protections. Senator Ron Wyden, [inaudible 00:49:00] has a standalone bill that would provide those productions. Does the President believe debt collectors should have access or should not have access to that money and does he support the Wyden bill?
Jen Psaki: (49:13)
I haven’t talked to our legislative team about that. I know there were a number of adjustments made post the implementation of the package in December to adjust and address issues like non-filers having access, ensuring that we were reaching people who weren’t reached and were eligible. So I would have to talk to treasury about whether they have a concern about this at this point in time, or whether protections have been put in place.
Speaker 6: (49:38)
One more, I forgot. The 4,000 military personnel that the federal government plans on extending for the acceleration of vaccines, has it been determined where they are going? Is it to help the vaccination centers, mega sites? Can you talk more about the deployment of those soldiers?
Jen Psaki: (49:56)
They typically help in all sorts of locations where help is needed and determined in coordination with local governors and local elected officials and folks who are overseeing these centers. So it’s really case by case and State by State, but I don’t have a breakdown of where there’ll be going quite yet. Go ahead.
Speaker 3: (50:16)
Last night, the President said more Americans have died from COVID-19 then died in World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, and now 9/11. The numbers don’t bear that out, so why has he said that again for a second time?
Jen Psaki: (50:29)
Well, I’ll have to check on that specifically for you. I don’t have the numbers all in front of me either, but if it’s important to you, I will follow up with you after the briefing on it.
Speaker 3: (50:37)
Well he had been called out for it once before, so it was a surprise. We know you did a line by line edit, so it was a surprise that it went in again.
Jen Psaki: (50:43)
Well, I’m glad you’re focused on the important business, but I’m happy to check on it for you. Go ahead in the back.
Eric Phillips: (50:49)
Hi, Eric Phillips with CBN News. Thanks for taking my questions. I wanted to know, first of all, considering the challenges at the Southern border right now, what specifically can faith based do to help meet that challenge?
Jen Psaki: (51:02)
That’s a great question. I mean, faith based organizations are an incredibly important part of the NGO community as you know, as it relates to addressing immigration in a humane way, and oftentimes helping to connect these unaccompanied children with safe and vetted homes or sponsored homes. That’s a key role that they play. They also play a key role in working with local communities on addressing needs that come up, NGOs broadly, but many of them are faith based as well. So I think we see faith based organizations as an important partner in addressing the challenges we’re facing at the border and ensuring that these kids who are coming across are treated humanely, find a safe shelters and safe locations to be while their cases are being adjudicated and they play vital roles at most steps in the process.
Eric Phillips: (52:05)
When it comes to the vaccine, the administration is saying, “Hey, get vaccinated as soon as you can with the vaccine that’s available to you first.”
Jen Psaki: (52:13)
Eric Phillips: (52:14)
But what do you say to a significant segment of the population that has a moral problem with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because the company uses cells from aborted fetal tissue and its manufacturing process?
Jen Psaki: (52:27)
Well, I know that the Vatican has conveyed that all three vaccines are safe and effective and I know that is a powerful authority for many who are close to their faith, but that is something that has also been conveyed by health and medical experts. And we also recognize that, well, that is factual and I would certainly point you to those important authorities. We are not always the best messengers here, a Democratic administration to communicate to everyone in the public about the safety, the efficacy, and the importance of taking the vaccine.
Jen Psaki: (53:05)
And so, we are very open to working with a range of partners and messengers, outside groups, outside organizations in conveying exactly that because we believe that ensuring the public is vaccinated and saving lives is something that transcends political party, it transcends, disagreements about a range of issues. And so, we are very open to that and recognize that we are not always going to be the right voice or the right face for that message.
Eric Phillips: (53:33)
Lastly, I just wanted to ask you, how was temporarily tightening war power restrictions to places like Somalia, Yemen, and Libya going to be beneficial to the U.S. whereas ambassadors in those places used to be able to give the go ahead, now the white house has to, at least for now, give the green light before these actions can be taken?
Jen Psaki: (53:51)
Sure. Well, it was important to the President and our national security team that we take a moment to review the use of these powers, authorities over the last several years. It’s not forever, but they wanted to take a moment to do that review at the beginning of the administration and make a determination about how to best approach it moving forward. So that’s what it’s a reflection of. Okay, go ahead.
Jennifer Jacobs: (54:13)
Thanks Jen. One on vaccine hesitancy and one on gun control.
Jen Psaki: (54:16)
Jennifer Jacobs: (54:17)
So a latest poll that had been housed at Yahoo saw that 24% of un-vaccinated Republicans said they would never get vaccinated. This is higher than we found than any other group [inaudible 00:54:28]. Are you worried that the vaccine hesitancy from these Republicans, White Republicans will make it harder for President Biden’s goal of vaccinating all adults by summer and what is your guys’ thought or what is the administration doing to persuade Republicans in particular to get vaccinated? You’re talking about who are the effective messengers here.
Jen Psaki: (54:50)
Well, we are concerned about vaccine hesitancy in many communities across the country because we are going to get to the point clearly where we have enough supply to vaccinate every adult in this country. And it will get to the point where we have more vaccines than people who want to take the vaccine and we see that on the horizon. So we have taken a number of steps in communities where we feel we can be very effective messengers in. And that includes just statistically, just because I know you were giving a statistic about White Conservative Republicans, but Black and Brown communities are actually the hardest hit by the pandemic. Two times more deaths and hospitalizations, also communities where there’s high levels of vaccine hesitancy and we have taken a number of steps to open as I mentioned, these community health centers, invest in more mobile units.
Jen Psaki: (55:50)
A big issue though is access and accessibility and meeting people where they are regardless of their political affiliation. And so, one of the steps we’ve taken and we can effectively do outside of any partisan politics is ensure that there are locations with trusted locations, community health centers, pharmacies were anybody of any political persuasion can get the vaccine and they don’t need to wear a Joe Biden sticker in order to do that. But we also recognize, as I noted in response to the earlier question, that we are not always going to be the most effective messenger. And there are outside organizations that are doing a range of outreach, doing ads and things along those lines. One that featured former Republican President Bush and others. And I think that work is something we fully support and we feel is important in order to increase the number of people who feel comfortable and confident in the effectiveness of the vaccine.
Jennifer Jacobs: (56:45)
Follow up on that. We’ve heard a lot from the administration on very specific plans about like you said, Black and Brown communities and how they’re being disproportionately affected, but is the white house thinking of how to reach Republicans who will not take the vaccine? Talk about the ad, former President Bush was in it, of course [inaudible 00:57:00] President Trump was not there. Is there outreach to Trump or to any other high-profile Republicans to talk to these Republicans who said they will never take the vaccine?
Jen Psaki: (57:09)
I guess what I’m trying to say, but maybe not clearly enough is that we recognize as a Democratic administration with a Democratic President, that we may not be the most effective messenger to communicate with hardcore supporters of the former President. And we have to be clear eyed about that. Now we also know that it is not always famous people who are the most effective messengers. And so, when I was talking about access, what I was getting at is that doctors, medical experts, community leaders are often not seen as faith leaders, as partisan officials. And so, we also work to empower, to provide funding, to work with these different organizations to get into communities and convey this is safe, it’s effective, it will save lives. This is not a partisan issue. So that is a step we are taking, but yes, in terms of elevating outside voices, we certainly support that, but there’s a lot of outside work that’s happening to reach out to these groups as well.
Jennifer Jacobs: (58:11)
When should we expect to see any collaboration from the white house and high profile Republicans, on Twitter, on Instagram, anything like that to speak to these communities. Just as there are with other Black and Brown people?
Jen Psaki: (58:20)
Let me try this again.
Jennifer Jacobs: (58:22)
Oh, no, I’m hearing you, I just want to get very specific about outreach to Black and Brown communities is very specific, is there going to be very specific Republican outreach?
Jen Psaki: (58:28)
So what I’m conveying is we are focused on how do we address the root issues and the approach that will solve the challenge here. And what I’m trying to get at is that accessibility, it may not satisfy this Conservative Republican and this famous Democrat working together. That may happen, right? But the way that we have seen through data, the way that our health and medical experts have conveyed to us is that making it accessible, doing that through community health centers, ensuring there is access and supply, making sure that local doctors, faith leaders, community leaders have access to that, have the information is incredibly effective. That’s what we’re investing in and can also be quite effective with many of the groups that you’ve talked about.
Jennifer Jacobs: (59:15)
One question on gun control.
Jen Psaki: (59:16)
Jennifer Jacobs: (59:17)
Yesterday two Democratic supported bills about gun control passed through house, now it moves to the Senate. Curious what the white house’s outreach is going to be to senators to try to get 60 votes for these two very important [inaudible 00:59:30] progressive legislation on gun control.
Jen Psaki: (59:33)
Yeah. Well, first gun safety measures and putting in place background checks is something the President has been personally committed to for many years of his career. He thinks it is long overdue. It is steps that will help save lives, keep communities safe, children safe, schools safe. And he has fought against the NRA many times and won a few of those times as well. So he will, of course, be talking with leaders and members of Congress about how to move forward with gun safety measures. It’s a priority to him, but I don’t have any specific outreach to read out to you. Go ahead in the back.
Thanks. I have another question about State aid under the American Rescue Plan.
Jen Psaki: (01:00:15)
We’re coming up on a month out from the Texas blackouts, snow storm. Can Texas use this State aid under this rescue plan to weatherize its grid? Something that the speaker of the Texas house wants to do, he says, “Well, the federal help was intended for recovery from a disaster,” and this is a disaster.
Jen Psaki: (01:00:38)
Todd, I’ll have to check on the technicality of that and I can do it in the same way when I’m following up on the questions, I will go back to the treasury department on. I’m not sure if there are limitations in the use of it. Obviously, it’s intended broadly to ensure we’re keeping cops, firefighters, others on the beat, but I’m happy to check and see if there’s flexibility in there.
We wouldn’t want those cops to be cold. All right, a followup from yesterday. You said 64,000 frontline DHS workers have gotten vaccinated. This was part of the spat with Governor Abbott.
Jen Psaki: (01:01:12)
Governor Abbott said today that there’s a mass vaccination clinic next week for border patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley. And he is saying that that is coming in response to the pressure that he has put on the administration. How many frontline workers have not gotten shots and was this a response- …
Jen Psaki: (01:01:31)
How many border patrol agents have not received shots? You’d have to ask them that specific question. What I was conveying is that it’s a priority, we’ve made it a priority, DHS has made it a priority. I think that existed prior to Governor Abbott pressure. I’m not sure what the format the pressure took, but we certainly are happy that he’s happy to hear that we’re vaccinating border patrol agents.
Totally unrelated question. There was a bill filed a couple of days ago by a bipartisan group of senators and congressmen called the Journalism Competition & Preservation Act. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it. It’s the one that would give news organizations a temporary exemption from antitrust so that they could collectively bargain with Facebook and Google like the Australia law. Does the administration have a position on that?
Jen Psaki: (01:02:22)
I’ll have to check. It sounds interesting. I want to know the answer. I will check and see if we have a position on it. Go ahead in the back.
Speaker 7: (01:02:29)
Considering that the U.S. has a much better success rate in terms of COVID vaccinations then the European union. Is there an exchange between the U.S. and Brussels and what advice would you have for the Europeans to do it better?
Jen Psaki: (01:02:43)
We absolutely are coordinating, discussing, sharing best practices. And of course, addressing the global pandemic is that comes up in nearly every conversation, if not every conversation, the President, our Secretary of State, National Security Advisor have at every level. There are a lot of lessons we’ve certainly learned over the last couple of months and I’m sure our team would be happy to share them. And you’re right, we are now vaccinating more people on a daily basis than any other country in the world.
Eric Phillips: (01:03:14)
Thank you Jen.
Jen Psaki: (01:03:16)
Have a good weekend.
Jen Psaki: (01:03:16)