Mar 18, 2021
Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript March 18
March 18, 2021 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. She was joined by Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Jen Psaki: (06:10)
Hi everyone. We have another great guest today. Joining us today is secretary, our new Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Marcia Fudge, who was confirmed just last week, who wasted no time. As you all know, Secretary fudge served as US representative for the 11th congressional district of Ohio for more than 12 years. She’s a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and earned a reputation of tackling the unique challenges of our district by working across political ideologies. In 1999, Secretary Fudge was elected the first female and first African-American mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, a position she held for two terms. As mayor of Warrensville Heights, she adopted one of the first vacant and abandoned property ordinances in the state. Additionally, she brought new residential development to the city and address the city’s growing for closure of crisis through the formation of a long partnership that helped residents maintain the financial security needed to buy or keep a home. As Secretary Fudge has said, her first priority as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development is to alleviate the housing crisis and get people the support they need to come back from the edge. She’s happy to take a couple of questions after she gives some remarks. Thank you again for joining.
Marcia Fudge: (07:19)
Thank you very much, Jen. Good afternoon. Good afternoon. [crosstalk 00:07:27]. Oh, thank you. I was wondering if I was in this room by myself. Jen, thanks for inviting me to speak about the importance of the American Rescue Plan as it relates to the urgent needs, housing needs facing our nation today.
Marcia Fudge: (07:42)
What a way to complete my very first week as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. At HUD, we know firsthand the severe impact of COVID-19 on our nation’s housing crisis. HUD staff in every region of the country have worked tirelessly to assist grantees and recipients of HUD assistance in their response to the pandemic. We’ve helped housing owners, housing authorities and communities, provided additional rental assistance and support new efforts to eradicate homelessness. We’ve extended the Federal Housing Administration’s foreclosure and eviction moratoriums until June 30th to support the immediate and ongoing needs of homeowners.
Marcia Fudge: (08:24)
Under the Biden Harris administration, HUD is making greater efforts to keep Americans safe from COVID-19. We’re strengthening partnerships between recipients of HUD assistance and public health agencies and healthcare providers. Many of the people living in federally assisted housing have risk factors that make them particularly vulnerable to COVID. These factors include disability, race, and low income, along with racial and ethnic disparities in access to care and treatment. We’re making sure that federal, state, and local efforts to reach those most at risk of COVID are linking those efforts to people living in housing HUD supports. The American Rescue Plan is critical to our success in these efforts.
Marcia Fudge: (09:13)
Some of you may know that my last vote as a member of Congress was for the American Rescue Plan. I was proud to vote for this historic legislation to get help to the American people during this moment of great challenge. I thank President Biden for the leadership that has gotten us to this point. The American people can be confident that help is here.
Marcia Fudge: (09:35)
The president has described the American Rescue Plan as shots in arms and money in pockets. I would add it relates to housing. The American Rescue Plan keeps people housed and brings people home. And with that, I would take any questions that Jen is going to allow me to take. So [crosstalk 00:09:55].
Jen Psaki: (09:54)
Marcia Fudge: (09:55)
Jen is in charge. I’m just here.
Jen Psaki: (09:58)
Speaker 2: (09:59)
Thanks Secretary Fudge. Thank you for being here. We appreciate your time today. The head of the national housing conference said that HUD’s [inaudible 00:10:06] gutted morale has never been lower. The challenges to HUD’s constituents have never been higher. In simple terms, can you just describe the state of your department as you take it over today?
Marcia Fudge: (10:18)
Well, I would say this to you and I actually had the opportunity to talk to the president about it since I’ve been here. We are thousands of people short of where we ought to be. Our staff is outstanding. They are under-resourced, understaffed and overworked, but we are going to make some major changes and very quickly. The Rescue Plan is allowing us to do things that we may not have been able to do without it. So I am especially pleased that the president had the foresight and the vision to give us a historic, maybe one time opportunity to change what is going on in housing in this country,
Speaker 2: (10:59)
You put out new numbers today, as they relate to homelessness in this country. Right now, obviously it’s a number that the whole country is dissatisfied by, thinks the numbers should be much lower. I’ll ask this in two different ways. One, can you set a goal where you think that number should be and in what timeframe you think you can meet such a goal to reduce homelessness in this country? And specifically for some of the blue parts of the country that some Republicans have criticized, San Francisco, New York, where the homeless numbers have been high, what specific advice and what you can specifically do to target those communities to alleviate those high numbers?
Marcia Fudge: (11:34)
Well, first thing I say is that the President gave us a charge early on as to what he wanted us to focus on. Especially in the first 100 days. Homelessness was at the top of the list. One was expanding vouchers. Thirdly, he wanted us to find ways to expand and put in the market new, affordable housing. So with the $40 billion that has come, that we have now, what we expect is this. We have $5 billion set aside to do nothing but address homeless issues. So we know that with those resources over the next probably 12 to 18 months, we know for a fact that we can get as many as 130,000 people off the streets. We also know that our local partners are going to assist us in finding other rental opportunities. So we believe we can put a major dent in it, but if nothing else, what we will let them know is that there is an opportunity to find a way off the streets. We have more programs in place to assist people who are already in public housing to find a way to buy housing. We know that affordable housing is a problem all across this country. I don’t know where my Republican colleagues live that don’t think that there is a problem, but there is. So many of us just choose to ignore it.
Jen Psaki: (12:51)
[inaudible 00:12:53], thank you for being here. The federal moratorium on evictions is set to expire at the end of this month. Are there plans to extend that? And if not, what do you say to families who are worried that they may be facing eviction?
Marcia Fudge: (13:05)
What I would say first is that the HUD moratorium expires on June 30th. The CDC is in the process of trying to determine what is the appropriate way forward. And I would hope that you’d ask them that question.
And just one more, if I can. The experts tell us that the December traunch of COVID relief is just now starting to come online. People that we’ve talked to are still seeing some big glitches when they try to apply. Are you confident that states and localities now have the systems in place to get this as well as the next round of funding?
Marcia Fudge: (13:36)
I’m very confident. I’ve talked with Secretary Yellen. The Treasury Department is up to the task. I mean, certainly it is a different Treasury Department. So I’m very confident that if they say that they can get it out in a certain period of time, they will. Our job at HUD is just to give a kind of guidance and assistance once those funds are received.
Jen Psaki: (13:56)
Thank you, Secretary. You mentioned earlier that housing prices are increasing. Also, the supply of new inventory on the market is decreasing at the same time. What can the administration do to get more homes on the market or bring prices down? How concerned are you about that dynamic?
Marcia Fudge: (14:14)
There are a couple of things that we know can happen out of this rescue package. One is if you look at places like Los Angeles, where they have actually purchased hotels and motels, et cetera, to give people an immediate place to go, there are resources in the plan to do that.
Marcia Fudge: (14:29)
The other thing that we find is that part of the problem with the market is that credit is not available and accessible to people who actually do qualify. So since FHA is certainly a part of what we do, we’re going to ensure that we can talk about down payment assistance. We’re going to talk about maybe some restructuring. We are going to make sure that people who qualify have access to credit. We all know that there have been problems across this country for many, many years. That is why I’m so pleased at President Biden talks about equity. He talks about equality, closing the racial wealth gap, which is bigger today than it was 50 years ago. So we know that we have the tools. I think it was just a matter of making sure that we have the will to use them. We now have the will.
Speaker 3: (15:19)
Madam secretary, thank you again. Back to the homelessness report that you guys put out this morning. The way that test is done is you test over a few days in January of the previous year, so that was pre pandemic, 2020.
Marcia Fudge: (15:31)
580,000 people on the streets, I mean, homeless, pre pandemic,
Speaker 3: (15:38)
Correct. 2.2% increase from the year before. Do you have any sense of how much more homelessness may have increased once that pandemic began say, April, May, end of the summer?
Marcia Fudge: (15:50)
I can’t give you numbers. We know that it has an increased, we just don’t know those numbers.
Speaker 3: (15:55)
So really not until next January will we be able to get some sense of how it might’ve affected-
Marcia Fudge: (15:59)
Jen Psaki: (16:00)
And Nancy and Alex, and then we’ll have to let the secretary go back to work. Go ahead.
Thanks so much for being here. Appreciate it.
Marcia Fudge: (16:06)
Two questions. One, does the Biden administration have any plans to restore or tweak that Obama era fair housing regulation, which the Trump administration weakened in the summer of 2020?
Marcia Fudge: (16:18)
We are looking at it. Certainly we know that fair housing is in fact the law of the land. And we want to use every tool we have. I think that the prior administration did roll back some fair housing tools that we have. So we’re looking at how we can go back and make those better and get them re-implemented if possible.
And then a second question. What are your thoughts on whether or not there’s a housing bubble right now in the US?
Marcia Fudge: (16:44)
Well, I would say that that’s a kind of a tricky question. There are those who would say yes. I would say at this point, that until I can get the kind of data that I need from the GSEs and from FHA, that’s not something that I can really give you an accurate answer on, but I know that there’s a problem.
Marcia Fudge: (17:03)
Give you an accurate answer on, but I know that there is a problem with the market today.
Jen Psaki: (17:08)
Alex, make it a good one, Alex. No pressure.
I’ve got two because I’m going to be just a little bit greedy. I have one from our housing reporter, which is, are there some parts of the COVID response, whether or not in ARP or generally, that are currently temporary, that you would like to see permanent when the crisis eases?
Marcia Fudge: (17:24)
Oh, I’d like to see most of it permanent. No question about it. I think that when we talk about housing needs, we can’t, at this point, come up with enough money to take care of all the homeless people in this country. We cannot, through this package alone, repair and restore 50-year-old housing authorities across this country, which are crumbling every day. We cannot abate lead in every single building we need to with these resources. We need at least another 70 to a hundred billion dollars to do those things. Yes, I’d like to see a stream of resources available to do this, not just in this package, but ongoing.
Right. And the second question is you may have seen that former Congressman Richmond weighed in on the primary to succeed him in his congressional seat.
Marcia Fudge: (18:19)
Congressman Richmond. The-
Jen Psaki: (18:22)
Never heard of him.
I was wondering if you want to take the opportunity to weigh in on your race and who you think should succeed you and what you’re looking for.
Marcia Fudge: (18:33)
Jen Psaki: (18:34)
Speaker 4: (18:34)
So how about the Senate race in your state? Is there Democrats who should run?
Marcia Fudge: (18:38)
Speaker 4: (18:41)
Marcia Fudge: (18:41)
Well, I have two friends that are thinking about it. Tim Ryan, of course, is thinking about it. I understand that [inaudible 00:18:47] is thinking about it. I think we’re going to put a good person in that race no matter who we choose, but they’re both friends. I think we have a good shot at it. I know people had written off Ohio. I haven’t written off Ohio. I believe we can win the Senate race.
Jen Psaki: (19:04)
Thank you, Secretary Fudge. Looking forward to having you back.
Marcia Fudge: (19:09)
Thank you, Madam Secretary.
Marcia Fudge: (19:16)
Jen Psaki: (19:16)
Thank you. Okay. Just have a … What did you say?
Speaker 4: (19:16)
You could have walk-off music after you’re done-
Jen Psaki: (19:19)
I would, we can. Wait till month three. Wait till month three. We’ll be rolling it out with people’s second visits.
Jen Psaki: (19:26)
As we announced yesterday, I just wanted to give you a little bit more information on the schedule for next week. You may have seen we confirmed that the president will be traveling to Columbus, Ohio on Tuesday. The anniversary of the Affordable Care Act being signed into law. The trip will be a part of our Help is Here Tour and will highlight how the American Rescue Plan will lower healthcare costs for many American families. And this is a component of the package that we’ve talked about, but we’re still working to ensure the American people understand how they can benefit from this particular piece. The Affordable Care Act has been an important lifeline for Ohio families for 11 years. The law cut the state’s uninsured rate by half, dropping from 12% to 6%. It has also provided critical consumer protections for millions more by preventing insurance companies from discriminating based on preexisting conditions.
Jen Psaki: (20:16)
And the American Rescue Plan makes coverage under the ACA even more affordable for Ohio families. Over 90,000 currently uninsured Ohioans can get a better deal on health insurance because of the law and premiums for people who have coverage under the ACA. And the former Ohio governor was one of the first, if not the first, Republican governor in the country to expand Medicaid access during that period of time. And that is certainly something we continue to note around here.
Jen Psaki: (20:43)
Another update on the schedule is in the week … Well, a couple of updates, I should say. Part on the schedule and part on the steps we’re taking as it relates to the horrific events in Atlanta earlier this week. In the rake of the horrific shootings in Atlanta on Tuesday, the president ordered the U.S. flag to be flown at half staff as a mark of respect for the victims of these senseless acts of violence. The president and the vice president will also meet with representatives from the Georgia Asian American and Pacific Islander community when they travel to Georgia on Friday. They will meet with the state legislators and community advocates to hear about the impact of the incident on the community and to get their perspective on the rise in anti-Asian hate incidents. The president will also offer his support for the AAPI community in Georgia and across the country and talk about his commitment to combating xenophobia, intolerance, and hate.
Jen Psaki: (21:34)
As many of you may know, and I think we were … I’ve been asked about this in here previously, but Senator Mazie Hirono and Congresswoman Grace Meng have introduced legislation that calls for expanded DOJ review of COVID-19 related hate crimes, for guidance from DOJ to law enforcement for best practices in reporting hate crimes, and ensures that hate crimes information and reporting is more accessible to Asian American communities. The president applauds their leadership on this issue, including along with Chair Judy Chu’s, and he strongly supports these crucial aims of this legislation.
Jen Psaki: (22:06)
He issued a presidential memorandum his first week in office directing the attorney general to support state and local agencies and AAPI communities to prevent hate crimes and expand data collection and public reporting. That is ongoing. The outreach and engagement from DOJ is already underway. There’s also a role for HHS to play, which we expect can pick up more once Secretary Becerra, future Secretary Becerra, is, today is sworn in. And as I noted yesterday, also from here, he’s asked Cedric Richmond, who, of course, we’ve all heard of, and former congressman, and Susan Rice to lead an effort to engage with the community as well.
Jen Psaki: (22:47)
Last piece. Today, the House will also be voting on the American Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. President Biden and this administration support passage of both pieces of legislation. These bills would provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers, individuals with temporary protected status, and farm workers. Both pieces of legislation passed the House last Congress with bipartisan support and have broad support from the American public. These bills, in his view, in our view, are critical milestones toward much-needed relief for the millions of individuals who call the United States home and an acknowledgement that a path to citizenship for these essential workers is critically important to our economy and our nation’s food and agricultural sectors. We also urge Congress to reform other aspects of our immigration system by passing President Biden’s bill, the U.S. Citizenship Act, a package, a bill that he proposed on his first day in office, which would establish a new system to responsibly manage and secure our border, bring long overdue visa reforms to keep families together and grow our economy, and address the root causes of migration from Central America. With that, Zeke, kick us off.
Thank you, Jen. Just following up on a scooplet from our pal Jeff over here-
Jen Psaki: (23:59)
A scooplet. I don’t know that Reuters calls it scooplets, but-
You’ve confirmed that the U.S. plan to loan 4 million AstraZeneca vaccines to Mexico and Canada … What’s the timeline for when that transaction would take place, and why only 4 million of a stockpile that is several times that for a vaccine that isn’t authorized yet?
Jen Psaki: (24:23)
Absolutely. As I’ve noted in here before, but worth noting again, our first priority remains vaccinating the U.S. population. But the reality is the pandemic knows no borders, and ensuring our neighbors can contain the virus is a mission critical step, is mission critical to ending the pandemic. We have three vaccines approved, as you well know. And of course, there’s a rigorous review process by the FDA. There are other vaccines, of course, including AstraZeneca that are going through the approval process now. And we have been taking action here to get ready to get those vaccines to the American people if they are approved. As we await FDA approval here in the U.S., many countries, as you know, have already requested, have already approved AstraZeneca and also have requested our doses from the United States.
Jen Psaki: (25:17)
That includes Canada and Mexico, but it’s certainly not limited to Canada and Mexico. And balancing the need to let the approval process play out of the AstraZeneca vaccine as it’s taking place in the U.S. with the importance of helping stop the spread in other countries, we are assessing how we can loan doses. That is our aim. It is not fully finalized yet. But that is our aim and what we’re working toward to Canada and Mexico. This is a complex process, and our team is working with the companies to move it forward. And I want to, on your question about the number of doses, there’ve been a range of reports about the number of doses. I can confirm that we have 7 million releasable doses available of AstraZeneca, and as noted in Jeff’s scooplet, which I’m just going to keep calling it, 2.5 million of those we are working to finalize plans to lend those to Mexico and 1.5 million to Canada.
And what’s the nature of that transaction with … Would it just be for future AstraZeneca production-
Jen Psaki: (26:20)
Meaning what’s in the loan?
Jen Psaki: (26:22)
It could be for future AstraZeneca doses or other doses, yes.
And on a different topic, I was wondering if you saw the comments from the Russian president Vladimir Putin this morning responding to the president’s comments in the interview on Tuesday night. Is the president worried at all that he may have inadvertently started a little war of words and that trading shots back and forth, that may get in the way of having, finding some common ground on various shared priorities?
Jen Psaki: (26:56)
President Biden and President Putin certainly have different perspectives on their respective countries and how to approach engagement in the world. But where they agree is that we should continue to look for ways to work together, as was noted in part of President Putin’s comments. And there are areas of mutual interest. New Start, which we just extended for five years, is an example of that. Obviously, Russia is also a member of the P5 plus one, as we look ahead to what’s possible there, as it relates to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. We are confident that we can continue to look for ways where there’s a mutual interest, mutual national interest, but the president is not going to hold back, clearly, when he has concerns … When he has, whether it is with words or actions.
Jen Psaki: (27:47)
Go ahead. I’ll go to you … You have a scooplet. You can go after a few other people. Go ahead.
Speaker 5: (27:53)
On that same topic, obviously, you say that you want to work together with Russia on areas of mutual agreement, but Russia has now decided to recall its ambassador. Is there a concern that the president agreeing that Russian President Putin is a killer could escalate tension even further?
Jen Psaki: (28:08)
Our Ambassador Sullivan remains in Moscow. We remain engaged, and he remains engaged, as does as our team on the ground with the Russian people. We continue to believe that diplomacy is the first step and should always be the first step and should be our objective as we pursue all relationships, even with our adversaries. We are hopeful that that will continue to be the case.
Speaker 5: (28:31)
I just want to get your reaction to actually some of Putin’s exact words here because he responded with a bit of a euphemism that translates roughly to, “It takes one to know one.” Pointing to slavery in America, treatment of Native Americans, the atomic bombing of Japan. Does the president have any response to that kind of language?
Jen Psaki: (28:47)
The president believes that one of the greatest attributes of the United States is our honest self-reflection and our constant striving for progress. And there’s always more work to do, as he’s stated himself. I’ve been doing this long enough not to try to get in the mind of President Putin, but I can assure you that President Biden still believes there’s more work we can do here in our own country. Go ahead.
Speaker 6: (29:13)
Just to follow up quickly. You were talking about self-reflection. Does Present Biden regret calling Vladimir Putin a killer?
Jen Psaki: (29:21)
Nope. The president gave a direct answer to a direct question.
Speaker 6: (29:26)
You don’t want to escalate tensions. How is that constructive to the relationship when you talk about diplomacy being primary between the U.S. and Russia? How is calling Vladimir Putin a killer constructive to that relationship?
Jen Psaki: (29:38)
President Biden has known President Putin for a long time. They’ve both been on the global stage for a long time, worked through many iterations of a relationship between the United States and Russia, and he believes we can continue to do that.
Speaker 6: (29:51)
Does the president believe that the leaders of … Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, does he view him as a killer?
Jen Psaki: (30:00)
I don’t think I need to add more killer names from the podium just today, but-
Speaker 6: (30:05)
I want to ask you about other countries as well.
Jen Psaki: (30:07)
Speaker 6: (30:08)
But let me ask you about immigration.
Jen Psaki: (30:10)
Speaker 6: (30:10)
If I can quickly.
Jen Psaki: (30:11)
Sure. Go ahead.
Speaker 6: (30:11)
The president has made it very clear in his recent interview that the border is not open. Effectively, it is closed, except for these unaccompanied minors right now under humanitarian grounds are being welcomed into the U.S. But as we speak, crews from multiple outlets, including those from NBC News are at the border, and they’re seeing many migrant families being accepted, young families being accepted into the country right now. Can you square those two? When the message was that families and individuals were being sent home, but unaccompanied minors were being kept. Why young families are, in fact, being kept here in the U.S. and detained?
Jen Psaki: (30:47)
We’ve talked about this a little bit in here before, and we are still applying section 42, and with the exception, is, of course, unaccompanied minors. There are limited scenarios, limited circumstances where we are … Very limited, I should say … Where families are coming across, going through proper protocols at the border, being tested, and then having their cases adjudicated. Part of this is that, part of the reasoning is that, of course, we’ve closed Matamoros, and there has been some, less participation in keeping some of these families in Mexico than in the past. And many of these policies we have supported, but the vast majority of people, vast, vast majority who come to the border are turned away. The border is not open. These are very limited scenarios.
Speaker 6: (31:38)
Sorry, I just swallowed some mask here.
Jen Psaki: (31:39)
It’s okay. We’ve all been there.
Speaker 6: (31:40)
How limited is very limited? How many are being allowed in as it relates to families? And specifically, if the message that the president was sending this week is that the border is not open, what is the message to those families, given some are being allowed in right now?
Jen Psaki: (31:54)
The message continues to be … I’d be happy to provide you the numbers. I think CBP has the most up-to-date numbers, so I’d point you to them, and they provide those regularly. We’d certainly support that. I don’t have them in front of me right now. I would say the message continues to be now is not the time to come. The vast majority of families, of individuals, are sent back, are not welcomed across the border, and that’s a message we will continue to convey clearly.
Speaker 6: (32:16)
And just to follow up. You talked about how the president saw those photos in one of the recent briefings as it relates to these shelters, detention centers, decompression centers. I’m not sure what specific photos he saw. We asked yesterday, we’ll ask again today, can you provide those? Will you provide those to the American public to see what it looks like there right now?
Jen Psaki: (32:34)
First, let me say that the White House, and we all need administration support, finding a way to grant access to the media, to the HHS, know our facilities or the shelters where these children are staying for a temporary period of time before they are placed with family members or with sponsored homes. The Office of Refugee Resettlement has not been hosting, as you’ve noted, media tours of unaccompanied children facilities currently due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we remain committed to transparency, and we’re considering potential options, and we hope to have an update on that soon.
Speaker 6: (33:09)
Even if we didn’t get a tour, can you provide us the photos that the president was provided?
Jen Psaki: (33:12)
There was a private briefing, an internal briefing from several weeks ago. We typically don’t provide those materials publicly, but we do want you to be able to, or a pool of media to be able to, have your own visuals and get your own footage of these facilities.
Speaker 6: (33:28)
Jen Psaki: (33:29)
Speaker 7: (33:31)
A few things. Back to Russia for a second.
Jen Psaki: (33:32)
Speaker 7: (33:32)
There was the SolarWinds hack. There was the reported bounties on the heads of US troops.
Jen Psaki: (33:37)
Speaker 7: (33:37)
The president said in his interview something on that is coming. What is the holdup? When is the response from the United States coming? Because he inferred in the interviews, stay tuned.
Jen Psaki: (33:48)
Right? We also have already put forward sanctions in response to the poisoning of Alexei Navalny. There’s already been a release of a report about their engagement in the 2020 election, and we will have responses to each of these-
Jen Psaki: (34:03)
And the 2020 election. And we will have responses to each of these malign actions that we have expressed concern about and the President has offered a review of. Weeks not months remains still the policy. There’s of course, internal policy decision-making to assess and take a look at the review, but also to make decisions about policy engagements. Some of the responses may be seen, some may be unseen, and of course, the President reserves the right to respond in a manner and time of his choosing as any President would. But he did make clear that the Russian government will pay a price.
Speaker 8: (34:36)
On these vaccines going to Mexico. This comes of course, as the United States is talking to Mexico about this border situation, where there any strings attached regarding the situation on the border with this decision to give AstraZeneca doses to Mexico?
Jen Psaki: (34:52)
Well there’s several diplomatic conversations, parallel conversations, many layers of conversations with every country, Mexico, Canada, Europe, Asia, around the world. And certainly being part of contributing to preventing the spread of a global pandemic is one of our diplomatic objectives. Another one of our diplomatic objectives is working to address the challenges at the border. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that those conversations are both ongoing and happening.
Speaker 8: (35:23)
If I hear you, the vaccine was given, were there expectations set with the Mexicans that they help deal with the situation on the border?
Jen Psaki: (35:31)
There have been expectations set outside of unrelated to any vaccine doses or requests for them that they would be partners in dealing with the crisis on the border. And there have been requests unrelated for doses of these vaccines. Every relationship has multiple layers of conversations that are happening at the same time.
Speaker 8: (35:55)
You couldn’t rule out or the United States isn’t ruling out using our vaccine stockpile in terms of [crosstalk 00:36:01]-
Jen Psaki: (36:01)
I’m actually trying to convey that there’s rarely just one issue you’re discussing with any country at one time, right. Certainly that’s not the case with Mexico. It’s not the case with any country around the world. And so I wouldn’t read into it more than our ability to provide, to lend vaccine doses of a vaccine that we have some available supply on to a neighboring country, where there is a lot of traffic that goes back and forth between the countries.
Speaker 8: (36:28)
Two other quick ones, one relating to the Atlanta shooting. You’ve been asked this before, but in February of last year, then Candidate Biden said that on his first day of office, he’d send a bill to Congress repealing the liability protection for gun manufacturers and closing the background check loophole. I know you’ve been asked about this. There’s an Attorney General in place now, when might we hear more about the administration’s plans regarding gun violence?
Jen Psaki: (36:54)
It remains a commitment, a personal commitment of the President to do more on gun safety, to put more measures in place, to use the power of the presidency, to work with Congress. And certainly there’s an important role as you noted for the Attorney General and the Justice Department to play in this regard. I unfortunately don’t have any updates for you today, but it is an issue he remains committed to.
Speaker 8: (37:16)
One quick local issue. The House Oversight Committee on Monday is holding a hearing on DC statehood. President is a supporter of this.
Jen Psaki: (37:23)
Speaker 8: (37:26)
If it passes the House, does it have a chance in the Senate given the filibuster situation right now? And what would he or the White House say to the critics who suggest that this is designed to be a Democratic party power grab, just to get a few more seats in the House and the Senate?
Jen Psaki: (37:42)
I think he would say that the half a million people who live in DC… Am I getting that number right?
Speaker 8: (37:47)
A little more than that now.
Jen Psaki: (37:48)
A little more, it’s grown since I left and went to the suburbs. Would argue with that point and so would he. I mean, he believes they deserve representation. That’s why he supports DC statehood. Go ahead.
Speaker 9: (38:01)
How’s the Administration made any effort… This is just as just a Putin related question.
Jen Psaki: (38:04)
Speaker 9: (38:05)
Has the Administration made any effort to find out what was said during the previous President’s two hour long one-on-one meeting with Putin in Helsinki?
Jen Psaki: (38:14)
That’s a great question. Obviously, there’s intelligence reports that may reflect that, but I’m not aware of any specific deep dive into that. I’m happy to check if there’s more on it.
Speaker 9: (38:23)
I’m sorry. One more question. The Chinese government has indicated that it wants to meet with President Biden virtually in April, before that Climate Summit. I’m wondering if the Biden administration is open to that and if there’ve been any talks about setting that meeting up?
Jen Psaki: (38:38)
I know we’ll have more on the Climate Summit, which is just over a month away now. So it’s coming closer and there are of course, a range of international global participants that we anticipate being a part of it. But we’re not at the stage where we’re discussing bilateral meetings at this point in time. Go ahead David. Oh, sorry, Jeff. I’ll come back to you next. I’m not trying to give you a hard time. Go ahead, David.
Maybe Mr. [inaudible 00:38:59].
Jen Psaki: (38:59)
Sorry to go back to the Russia [crosstalk 00:39:06]-
Jen Psaki: (39:06)
… here. But the President now by my count has said that Russia would pay a price for solar winds. He has said that they would pay a price for [inaudible 00:39:16]. And as you pointed out, there already been some sanctions there.
Jen Psaki: (39:19)
Yesterday he seemed to suggest that they would pay a price [inaudible 00:39:25] for the meddling in the 2020 elections.
Jen Psaki: (39:28)
And yet at the same time, your own colleagues seem to have sanctions fatigue out here. You’ve been-
Jen Psaki: (39:36)
Who are my colleagues? In the government?
Your colleagues in the State Department, the West Wing. I mean, you announced sanctions on Russia back when you were State Department spokeswoman. Is there any evidence that the method that we’re using so far of sanctions is actually effecting Putin’s behavior?
Jen Psaki: (39:57)
I don’t think we would rely David on sanctions alone. We do think that they have been effective modes. I mean, history… You’ve written many stories about it, about the role sanctions have played in moving global diplomacy forward. And we certainly are a believer in that, but as you also know there are a range of tools at the disposal of any President seen and unseen. And I’m just not going to get ahead of the process of what considerations are underway.
Okay. Obviously the meeting is yet to happen-
Jen Psaki: (40:27)
… today, but at the end of this whole process, once Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Blinken come back, what does the President think is the next right step? Is it further meetings at this level? Is it more direct conversation like the one he had for several hours last month with President Xi? Is it a response to the Chinese related hack that he’s also trying to [inaudible 00:41:01]?
Jen Psaki: (41:02)
I expect he’ll make a determination about that when they return and he has a chance to talk to Secretary Blinken and National Security Advisor Sullivan. In part, because he doesn’t see this nor do they as a preset series of meetings, like the traditional dialogues that we’ve seen throughout other administrations, including ones that he has previously served in. This meeting, we certainly anticipate will have difficult components of the conversation. They expect it to be frank. They plan to cover areas where we have concerns, including human rights, Hong Kong. Obviously we’ve put forward some sanctions related to the anti-democratic actions in Hong Kong over the last couple of days. Technology, whether it relates to the theft of IP or data protections, military tensions in the region. So it will cover, as will be no surprise to anyone here who follows China closely, a range of topics.
Jen Psaki: (41:59)
And I think the President’s eager to hear from them on how the conversation goes and work with them to determine what the next right step is. I will say that in his mind and in the minds of a National Security Advisor Sullivan and Secretary of State Blinken a big part of the strategy is approaching our relationship with China from a place of strength and strengthening our own economy at home, investing in the middle class, looking at it through the prism of competition, not conflict. And that means there’s also more work we have to do here.
From your answer, things like the economic and strategic dialogue [inaudible 00:42:35] in the Obama administration then continued some in the Trump administration, that’s over for now?
Jen Psaki: (42:42)
I would simply say that this meeting is not a part of a series of meetings at this point in time. Go ahead.
Oh, sorry, Jeff. You’re kind of getting hazed for your scoop lit.
I can take it.
Jen Psaki: (42:56)
Right. I know you can. Okay.
Jen Psaki: (42:58)
He’ll just sit on his scoop lit. He doesn’t care. Go ahead Karen.
A couple of questions on schools. Last month, the CDC released some guidance urging six feet of distance between students and staff. And now the CDC director says, she’s revisiting this. We’re reporting that this could come as early as tomorrow that will go from six feet to three feet. What does the White House say to teachers who are concerned that the science hasn’t changed in five weeks and that this is political, this change?
Jen Psaki: (43:22)
I would say that the CDC is full of health and medical experts, including Dr. Walensky, who would be the last person to characterize herself as political. She is a medical health expert, and she has looked at this through the prism of how we can take steps to make it safe to reopen schools, and is constantly evaluating how to ease some of the restrictions. And there are of course more that often you’ve all have asked about in here, which are good questions. What about travel? What about masks? They take an approach that is purely through the science. So we’ll let her speak more about it when they’re ready to release those formal guidelines.
Will the White House direct States to do something with that guidance when it’s released similar to what we saw when the President made the direction on vaccine eligibility?
Jen Psaki: (44:12)
You mean like, will we direct schools to-
You have to now do this. The CDC has said this six to three feet. You now have to follow this to push for reopening.
Jen Psaki: (44:20)
Well, social distancing is one of the mitigation measures right in the CDC guidance. And I have not seen the CDC guidance, so I don’t know how it will be characterized in there, but I would certainly say we’d have Secretary Cardona who was just here yesterday, work with schools and school districts to implement. And social distancing is one of the steps, masking, testing, vaccinations, and see how it can help reopen schools more quickly.
And you want to see this kind of overnight go from six to three feet in the schools that are open right now and possibly increase the number of students that can be in the classroom before the end of the year?
Jen Psaki: (44:53)
I don’t have a timeline for it. I don’t anticipate we’d ask any school to do something immediately overnight, but it will just be additional guidance, which a lot of schools are looking for from health and medical experts on how to safely reopen schools and ensure that the parents in the community, the teachers in the community, the students feel safe going to school. As they’re considering options, this is one of the options that will… and one of the mitigation steps that the school can take. Go ahead.
Speaker 10: (45:25)
Two quick questions to continue with the scoop lit theme. There was a report just about an hour ago that the President intends to nominate Bill Nelson as NASA Chief. Can you confirm that?
Jen Psaki: (45:39)
I have seen those reports. I don’t have any personnel announcements to make today. Seems like a cool job though, that I’m not currently on the path to, but it’s fine.
Speaker 10: (45:47)
You’re not auditioning right now?
Jen Psaki: (45:48)
I am certainly not. I don’t have any personnel announcements to make. Certainly seen the reports. As we have any updates we’ll provide them.
Speaker 10: (45:53)
And second question, the President said yesterday that he intends to try to raise taxes on anyone that was making over $400,000 a year. Does he intend to wait until the economy is out of the pandemic recession or does he feel confident that by making it only on higher earners, that it will not affect the broader economy?
Jen Psaki: (46:20)
Well, the President is certainly focused on ensuring the economy is continuing to recover and that people are going back to work and able to put food on the table to feed their families. When we’re talking about families making over $400,000 a year, that’s about 2% of households in this country. And this is a commitment that he talked about on the campaign trail. And his interest is in ensuring that people pay their fair share, whether it’s corporations or the highest income earners in our country. And he believes that hard work should be rewarded. And that this is one of the areas where there is an opportunity to rebalance how our policies are currently. But he would do this in coordination with of course, members of Congress, members of his economic team. And we obviously don’t have a proposed plan at this point, but it is a policy that he talked about on the campaign trail and he reiterated as you noted earlier this week. Do you have a second question too?
Speaker 10: (47:20)
Those were the two questions.
Jen Psaki: (47:22)
Okay. Okay. Got it. Okay. Okay. Go ahead, Jeff.
All right. Yay.
Jen Psaki: (47:27)
The man of the hour.
On AstraZeneca, you mentioned that the U.S. has 7 million releasable doses, and the company itself has said it expects to have up to 30 million in April. Given that will the U.S. consider lending, sharing more of these doses with the other countries that are asking now that you’ve confirmed that you’re doing the same for Mexico and Canada?
Jen Psaki: (47:50)
We don’t have anything to preview, but we have a number of requests from a range of countries around the world. And certainly we’ll continue those conversations.
Okay. But no commitment at this point to share specifically the AstraZeneca vaccine with others?
Jen Psaki: (48:03)
Well I will say broadly speaking, we also anticipate having additional doses of Moderna, of Pfizer, of a range of vaccines. Even as we focus on vaccinating, ensuring every American, every adult American has access to the vaccine. It’s just a matter of timeline. So I just don’t have an update or a preview on that, but certainly we’ll have those conversations and we are open to receiving those requests and obviously making considerations.
All right. I just on one other issue, you’re new U.S. Trade Representative will be ceremonially sworn in later today.
Jen Psaki: (48:35)
Yes. 97 to zero.
That’s [inaudible 00:48:39] voting number.
Jen Psaki: (48:39)
[crosstalk 00:48:39]. It’s pretty solid.
How soon will she start leading trade talks with the UK?
Jen Psaki: (48:47)
I don’t have anything to preview. Obviously that’s driven by the policies and the agenda of the President and the overall economic team. I’m sure we will be integrating her into all of the policy discussions as soon as she’s sworn in. Let me just get to the folks in the back. Go ahead.
Speaker 11: (49:03)
Thank you, ma’am. A couple of quick questions. When you were talking a moment ago about diplomatic negotiations between United States and Mexico, you said crisis on the border, was that-
Jen Psaki: (49:15)
Challenges on the border.
Speaker 11: (49:17)
Okay. But so that doesn’t reflect any change in-
Jen Psaki: (49:20)
Speaker 11: (49:21)
… administrations view of things.
Jen Psaki: (49:23)
Speaker 11: (49:23)
Okay. Well, another quick question then. On Monday, the President said it’s important to get the vaccine and then, ” even after that, until everyone is in fact vaccinated to wear this mask”, was he speaking generally or does he believe that we should all be wearing masks until everyone is in fact vaccinated?
Jen Psaki: (49:43)
Well, I think when he’s reflecting as the guidance from our health experts, that even if you’re vaccinated, I am vaccinated I still wear a mask because there hasn’t been conclusive studies yet on the transferability of the pandemic or of COVID from those who have been vaccinated and it continues to be the advice of health and medical experts to continue to wear masks.
Speaker 11: (50:07)
But every American, is that the standard? Until every American has been vaccinated or was he speaking generally?
Jen Psaki: (50:12)
I think he’s speaking generally about the need to still observe measures, like social distancing and wearing of masks. So that even when you’re vaccinated, you’re keeping your neighbors, your friends, your family members safe.
Speaker 11: (50:25)
Yeah. And then back in January, you noted that the administration was reviewing. how unmarried couples were handled under travel restrictions. Have there been any developments on those restrictions? I know that there’s a lot on the administration’s plate, but in how unmarried binational couples are treated?
Jen Psaki: (50:45)
I don’t have any update for you. The review is ongoing.
Speaker 11: (50:48)
Could I ask one more question?
Jen Psaki: (50:48)
Speaker 11: (50:49)
Thank you. You’re very generous. The Equality Act as it’s currently written would eliminate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a defense for religious organizations against discrimination claims. Given that President Biden vote in favor…
Speaker 12: (51:03)
… the nation claims, given that president Biden vote in favor of RIFRA, does he support it being abolished now?
Jen Psaki: (51:08)
I would have to check on the specific components of the package. I’m happy to do that for you after the briefing. Go ahead in the back. Yeah.
Speaker 13: (51:15)
Thank you very much, Jen. To East Asia coalition and one Asian American question. On US/China talks, can we expect the joint statement to have the talks?
Jen Psaki: (51:28)
A joint statement between them? I don’t have anything to preview. I know that National Security Advisor Sullivan and Secretary Blinken will be speaking briefly after the talks conclude, but I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of a joint state.
Speaker 13: (51:43)
Okay. Another question is according to Japanese media, Japanese Prime Minister Suga will meet the President Biden on April 9th. Can you confirm that?
Jen Psaki: (51:56)
I know there’ve been reports about a future meeting and the president’s certainly looking forward to meeting with the prime minister of Japan. I don’t believe a final confirmation has been made here of what that meeting will look like and what the format would be.
Speaker 13: (52:09)
One Asian-American question. From the unfortunate Atlanta shooting. We already see the half staff outside. Yesterday, you blamed the prior administration about this, which some people agree, but does what reports quote, ” The United States to rivalry with. China had already created an ease about Chinese Americans and Asian Americans.” And actually states we are going to see a huge jump in hate crimes against Asian Americans this year. So it seems to be that President Biden is in this catch 22. On one hand, he is trying to alleviate the hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans, or the other hand he kind of escalates the tension. How can he really alleviate this situation?
Jen Psaki: (53:11)
I would just refute the notion of that question. I would say that yesterday I was asked, which was a good question, if we thought that the former president’s rhetoric had contributed to the actions or the discrimination against Asian-Americans. And I said, we do because rhetoric certainly from the massive megaphone you have from the White House is something that is heard across the country. And it’s important to then be thoughtful about the words you use and how you convey opposition to discrimination of any kind. That was the question I was answering. The president and the vice-president are meeting with leaders of the Asian-American community tomorrow. The president raised his concerns about rhetoric, about attacks, about threats against the Asian American community and the country. During his prime time address, he signs an executive order. He’s asked his members of his administration to listen, hear, think about policy solutions. I would say he’s his effort is to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. So I would just dispute your question. Go ahead in the back.
Speaker 14: (54:21)
Thanks Jen. A few questions for you. The president mentioned in his ABC interview, his thoughts on potential changes to the filibuster. I wondered, does he support getting rid of the 60 vote threshold on the legislative filibuster?
Jen Psaki: (54:34)
I think what he said is that he’d be open to hearing ideas about going back to the talking filibuster, which Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is the best reference that anyone can make on that front. Obviously that hasn’t been the law in the Senate for since before I was born, so many years. But that is a proposal that had been put forward by Senator Manchin. And his whole point, and as he said in his comments, our democracy looks at moments like it’s broken and it shouldn’t be so easy to block legislation.
Jen Psaki: (55:07)
At the same time, his preference and his priority is working with Democrats and Republicans to find a pathway forward on a range of issues where there has been a history of bipartisan support, whether it’s infrastructure, immigration, making our economy and our workers more competitive against the competition with China. There are a lot of ways we can work together. That’s his preference. And so he was just expressing an openness to hearing from members of the Senate on what their ideas are. Ultimately though as president, he doesn’t vote here. It’s not a law he signs into law, it’s a Senate rule. So you’ll have to talk to them about what their ideas are and what they have the votes for to move forward.
Speaker 14: (55:49)
So he would defer to senators on whether they would support-
Jen Psaki: (55:51)
It’s not about deferring. He’s not in the Senate. He doesn’t decide what the Senate rules are, they do.
Speaker 14: (55:56)
Influence, if we were to voice an opinion.
Jen Psaki: (55:57)
He’s going to have the senators decide what rules they want to abide by moving forward.
Speaker 14: (56:04)
Just a couple of other quick ones. I wondered, there are a few key agencies that have yet to have a Senate nominated or confirmed leaders that are certainly in the news now, CBP, ICE, the FDA. During the pandemic, I wonder if does the administration have any plans or timetable for when it might put forward nominees to lead those agencies?
Jen Psaki: (56:25)
All important agencies. I don’t have any update on the personnel process, but we’re working our way through and ensuring we have the right people we can nominate for each of those important roles.
Speaker 12: (56:34)
Okay. And then lastly, I wonder this week, there’s a group of pallet basketball players ahead of the NCAA tournament who started a protest on social media with the hashtag #notNCAAproperty. And they’re looking for more financial freedom and personal protections from the NCAA. I wonder one of the things they’re asking for is a meeting with federal officials and potentially the Biden administration to about legislation on this. So does the president support college athletes being able to profit off their name and likeness and would the administration be willing to meet with these players if they asked for a meeting?
Jen Psaki: (57:08)
I’m happy to see if there’s any plans for a meeting, and if we’ve received the request. Go ahead in the back.
Speaker 15: (57:13)
Thank you Jen. Questions on the US/China meeting. China has a poor record of keeping promises. So how would you characterize the level of trust that the current administration has with regards to China and also for the lack of meeting between president Biden and Present Xi, what are the conditions for the meeting to happen? Thank you.
Jen Psaki: (57:42)
I don’t think I’m here to set conditions today. We haven’t even announced the specific details about the climate summit that’s happening in April, which I think was what the bilateral question was around. And we certainly haven’t made a final decision about any bilateral meetings around that meeting. As we do, I’m sure we can discuss it further. And then as it relates to the meeting today, I think … That starts today, I should say. It was important to our administration that the first meeting with Chinese officials be held on American soil and occur after we have met and consulted closely with partners and allies in both Asia and Europe. This is an opportunity to address a wide variety of issues, including ones where we have deep disagreements. And so, our focus is on having a frank discussion, raising issues where we have concerns and of course, looking for ways and places where we can work together. Go ahead.
Speaker 16: (58:35)
Thanks. While you’ve been briefing, President Putin has just extended an invitation to President Biden to continue their conversation, but this time he wants to do it live. He’s asking for a live streamed conversation, open direct dialogue. Putin says he’s available tomorrow or Monday. Is this something that you would consider?
Jen Psaki: (58:52)
I’ll have to get back to you, if that is something we are entertaining. I would say that the president already had a conversation already with President Putin, even as there are more world leaders that he has not yet engaged with. And we engage with Russian leaders, members of the government at all levels. But I don’t have anything to report to you in terms of a future meeting. The president will of course be in Georgia tomorrow and quite busy. Go ahead.
Speaker 17: (59:17)
One very quick, final question on the wall. On day one in office, I think it was the president signed a proclamation that was effectively putting a pause or halting wall construction. At the time, I think he directed federal agencies to formulate a plan within 60 days, depending who’s counting we’re on 58, 59, or almost-
Jen Psaki: (59:34)
We have two more days.
Speaker 17: (59:34)
Do we have? Okay, sounds like we’re at 59. I thought it was one, but we’ll go with two more days to redirect border wall funds and, “Resume, modify, or terminate segments of the structure that remain under construction.” Have those federal agencies provided you with their conclusions? Have you come to a conclusion? What is the status of that with that remaining one or two days left?
Jen Psaki: (59:55)
I will check and see if there’s an update. Of course there is funding that was appropriated previously that is still moving forward. Money that has not been appropriated as you noted, we’ve kind of pulled back on. But I will check and see, we have two more days, which is a lifetime in this place. And see if we have an update for you on the status.
Speaker 17: (01:00:15)
Jen Psaki: (01:00:15)
Thank you everyone. It’s okay. Oh, it’s your first day. I’m sorry.
Speaker 18: (01:00:37)
So a lot of my colleagues in this room and outside this room have been asking for a while now about the possibility of visiting these facilities, where unaccompanied children are being held after arriving and applying for asylum at the border. And part of the pushback that we’ve received from you and from DHS and HHS is that there are privacy concerns about reporters potentially.
Jen Psaki: (01:00:59)
Speaker 18: (01:01:00)
Privacy concerns and COVID. But specifically to privacy, reporters have been allowed inside these facilities for years through multiple administrations, by multiple agencies, including by the last administration during the family separation crisis, where I think the risk of further emotional damage to these kids is pretty acute. So has there been to your knowledge, any incident in which a kid’s privacy was violated by reporters who were there to cover the facilities in which they’re being detained?
Jen Psaki: (01:01:27)
During the last administration?
Speaker 18: (01:01:29)
During the long history of reporters being allowed-
Jen Psaki: (01:01:32)
I would say, as I noted in response to a question or two questions that were asked earlier that were very similar, our big concern has been the pandemic and COVID and safety. Of course, there are privacy concerns that anyone takes into account, or I would say any administration should take into account as it relates to members of the media visiting a facility where there are children as I’m sure you would certainly agree on.
Jen Psaki: (01:01:56)
I can’t speak to what the approach was of the prior administration who was ripping children from the arms of their parents. So I can’t speak to what their policies were, but we are working, and we’re very committed here from the white house and from the government and finding a way soon, very soon to ensure that there’s access by the media, not by us, providing you with what we see, but by the media, to these shelter facilities. We believe it’s important and vital and we’re committed to it. And we’re just working through the pandemic is about the safety of staff, the safety of kids as well. And that’s what we’re working through at this point in time. So hopefully I’ll have an update soon. Thanks everyone.
Speaker 18: (01:02:35)
[inaudible 01:02:35] social distancing, speaking of. The presence said in the interview, when he was discussing, going back to talking filibuster that the filibuster [inaudible 01:02:46] because, “We’re almost getting to a point where democracy is having a hard time functioning.” But my colleague points out that that dynamic has been true specifically in the Senate for a very long time years, even. So was there anything specific to the current dynamic in the Senate that made President Biden sort of decide that now is a moment to change the filibuster?
Jen Psaki: (01:03:05)
Sure. Well, as I answered in response to the question just a few minutes ago, there are a number of ideas that members of the Senate have put forward. They range, some are against changing the filibuster in the Democratic party. Some are for it. Some are for going back to a talking filibuster back to the days of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. He’s watching it closely. He was in the Senate for 36 years. He’s happy to hear their ideas. His preference remains working with Democrats and Republicans to get business done for the American people. So it’s a conversation as you well know that’s happening on Capitol Hill right now. And he’s certainly watching it as most other people are as well. Thank you everyone.