Mar 24, 2021
Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript March 24
March 24, 2021 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. She discussed equal pay for women, gun reform, and more. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Jen Psaki: (00:03)
Okay. As you may know, or now you will know, today’s equal payday. And we have two special guests from the council of economic advisors, Chair Cecilia Rouse, and member Heather Boushey. Chair Cecilia Rouse recently served as the Dean of the Princeton school of public and international affairs. She is a renowned labor economists with expertise centered in the economics of education and equality. Cecilia previously served as a member of the council of economic advisors in the Obama/Biden administration and on the national economic council in the Clinton administration. She’s the first African-American and just the fourth woman to lead the CEA in the last 74 years of its existence.
Jen Psaki: (00:43)
Heather is a long time economic counselor to President Biden and previously served as president and CEO of the Washington Center For Equitable Growth and expert on the impact of structural inequities on economic growth. She served as the chief economist for Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential transition team, and as an economist for a range of think tanks and the congressional joint economic committee. They both have quite some resumes. I’m going to turn it over to them. They will each make some brief remarks and we’ll be able to take a couple of questions and they actually have a meeting with the vice president, they’ll have to get to shortly thereafter. So with that, I will turn it over.
Cecilia Rouse: (01:22)
Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to be here today. So today is equal pay day. A day that is, is a symbolic representation of how far into this year women must work to catch up to what men made in the previous year. Women working full time, year round, are typically paid just 82 cents for every dollar paid to men. It’s a reminder of the work that remains to be done to advance equity and ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Because of this gender gap, women lose thousands of dollars each year and hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. The disparities are greater for black and Hispanic women who earn 63 cents and 55 cents for every dollar that a white man earns. What does this mean? So a black woman must work around 19 months to earn what a white man would earn in one year. For a Hispanic woman that is almost 22 minutes.
Cecilia Rouse: (02:19)
So what does this really mean? It means I shouldn’t be standing here today in front of you, and really, I should be here sometime in August. So what are we doing about it? President Biden and Vice President Harris believe we must begin by passing the paycheck, fairness act. This bill would be an important step towards ending pay discrimination through transparency and accountability for employers. They believe we must provide paid family and medical leave, make childcare more affordable and build pipelines for training that enable women to access higher paying jobs.
Cecilia Rouse: (02:52)
There are also committed to raising pay for childcare workers, preschool teachers, home health aides, and others in the care economy and additional steps to increase wages for American workers, such as raising the minimum wage and empowering workers to organize and collectively bargain, both of which are important to reducing the wage gap for women. We have made progress. My daughter is here today, she’s downstairs. And when I was her age, the gender wage gap was about 60%, compared to 82% today. That said, there’s still a lot of work to do. The Biden/Harris administration is working to make sure our daughters have the same opportunities that our sons do. And to make sure that every American is given a fair shot to get ahead in this country. These aren’t simply women’s issues. They affect all families, the ability of our economy to recover, and our nation’s competitiveness. With that, I’ll turn it over to Heather.
Heather Boushey: (03:51)
Thank you. Thank you, Cecelia. So the pandemic and the economic crisis have undermined the health and wellbeing of women and children in the United States. There are now 4.2 million fewer women working than there were in February of 2020, in large part because of the pandemic. Millions more women have had to reduce their hours often because taking care of the children is a responsibility that continues to fall disproportionately on women. Our economic recovery depends on us addressing the barriers that have hampered women from fully participating in the labor force. So here’s the good news. The American rescue plan will change the course of the pandemic and deliver immediate relief and support to women, families, and their communities, critical to building a more equitable economy. The plan will increase the child tax credit from $2,000 per child to about $3,000 per child and even more for a child under the age of six. This means a typical family of four with two young children will receive an additional $3,200 in assistance to cover the costs associated with raising children. This will benefit 66 million children. The plan will also increase the earned income tax credit for 17 million workers, by as much as a thousand dollars, benefiting many cashiers food prepares and servers and home health aides. Those frontline workers who have helped their communities get through this crisis, many of whom are women, many of whom are women of color.
Heather Boushey: (05:32)
The plan also expands childcare assistance, helping hard hit childcare providers who are disproportionately women of color, cover their costs, and it will get families and additional tax credit to help them cut their childcare costs. Families will get back as a refundable tax credit as much as half of their spending on childcare for children under age 13, so they can receive a total of up to $4, 000 for one child or up to $8,000 for two or more children. If we add it all up, these are historic actions that will not only help rescue our economy, they will help support our countries women, and their families. But we know as Cecilia pointed out, we have to do more to close the wage gap and to take steps to ensure that all women, especially women of color, have their shot to get ahead. And so with that, we will take some questions.
Speaker 1: (06:28)
Okay, thanks. Question for you both. This is on racial and economic gaps. During the campaign president Biden talked about wanting the federal reserve to close income gaps and he wanted to measure the progress they make in closing those racial economic gaps. Would you be willing to say if any steps have been taken so far towards requiring that sort of thing. Is the white house still interested in talking to Congress about amending the Threat Act to require some sort of measures?
Cecilia Rouse: (07:00)
Sure. I’m happy to take that. So I can’t speak to that exactly at this time. What I can say is that this administration across the administration. We are committed to addressing racial wage gaps and racial inequity gaps. I can say at the CVA, for example, we are using data to understand the impact of all of our policies. When we study what’s happening in the economy, we want to look at how it’s not just affecting the average, but looking at all groups. And I would also mention that when chairman [filed 00:00:07:32] testified that last yesterday, I think it was just yesterday and last week, he pointed to the fact that as the federal reserve is doing his monetary policy, it is looking not just for the average unemployment rate to change. He is looking to see that the economy is doing well for everybody. So, we are very aligned in that.
Jen Psaki: (07:52)
Speaker 2: (07:53)
Thanks for doing this. Josh [Poke 00:07:55] with AP. Lots of Americans thought educational attainment would close the gender wage gap and racial inequality. But in fact, if you look at college grads, the gap widens between men and women. Some of that is due to age, but what are the factors driving here? Why has an educational attainment delivered more?
Cecilia Rouse: (08:15)
Yeah, so, educational attainment was actually very instrumental in making some of the gains between my daughter, the wage gap from when I was coming up and my daughter. So we know that women getting higher years of schooling was very important in the early years. But now we know that women on average are getting more schooling than men. So that is why this is not contributing as much. And what we see then is that there are other factors. So we see that the wage gap among young adults is actually fairly small and it opens up particularly when women start families, which is why the care economy and the efforts we’re making to ensure that workers, not just women, but all workers can balance work and family, is going to be so important. We also know that flexible workplaces is very important for helping workers to balance the work responsibilities and job responsibilities.
Cecilia Rouse: (09:04)
Claudia Golden at Harvard, for example, has found that the wage gap is smaller and occupations such as pharmacists, where there’s just more flexibility baked into the occupation. So there’s still more work to be done. And I think it really goes to helping women in particular, but all workers balance responsibilities of family and work.
Speaker 3: (09:23)
Heather, you had said the statistics on 4.2 million fewer women now in the workforce then before COVID. The President has said that women dropping out of the workforce during the pandemic is a national emergency. Are there new measures under discussion now specifically on that issue to re-introduce women back into the workforce, part of the Build Back Better Plan and what can be done to bring them back in?
Heather Boushey: (09:45)
That’s a great question. You know, I mean the most important thing that we need to do is wrap our hands around this pandemic. So the steps that were taken as a part of the American Rescue Plan to deal with the health crisis, make sure that the vaccine gets out, all of those things that is certainly going to be an important step forward so that schools can reopen safely. And then of course there are funds as a part of the American Rescue Plan, historic investment in childcare centers to help them reopen safely. So part of what we see in this declining women’s employment is because of the fact that they are responsible for children.
Heather Boushey: (10:21)
The fact that childcare centers have closed, schools aren’t open, families are trying to telecommute, or they’re trying to go out to their job and cope with children, not having adequate care, the right care. That is really, I think, going to play an important role in getting folks back in to the labor force. And I want to stress that’s on both sides, right? In those caring economy, parts of our economy, these are jobs that are disproportionately held by women. So in making sure that schools are open and childcare centers are open, we’re helping those women as workers and also as parents and caregivers.
Heather Boushey: (10:55)
So I think those are some of the first steps that we need to see, but over time, making sure that as you know, as Cecilia said, making sure that we have that strong foundation of the care economy on issues around childcare, also issues around how we help families that have someone who needs some extra care or sort of later in life issues, the aging and the disabled, along with making sure that we have workplace flexibility and we have paid leave. These are all things that help make it possible for people who have care responsibilities to be full members of our economy and our society.
Jen Psaki: (11:28)
Andrea, and then we’ll be done. Then we got to, we got to wrap it up. I’m sorry. It’s a equal payday.
Speaker 4: (11:35)
Just real quickly in terms of the infrastructure package that’s coming next, so that we’re talking about quite a lot of money, two to $3 trillion. What specific things do you think essentially have to be part of that and what role in all of this, does this sort of your push for the minimum wage increase, play and how do you convince Congress that that’s an essential part?
Heather Boushey: (12:01)
I can take a stab at that, and then… We know that the president has been so clear throughout the campaign and into governing on what his values are and where he wants to guide this economy. That we’re focused on how we can deepen, strengthen, broaden the middle-class. That’s why we’re so focused on equal payday, because we know that women are a key part of, make up the workers that make up the middle class. And he’s been very clear in his support of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. That these are the kinds of focus that we need to have as the agenda is built out. This is what he’s asked us to focus on. Alongside this, we need to make sure that we are making sure that the economy is directed at enhancing, supporting, building American competitiveness so that we’re creating those good jobs and they’re available for all people. Not just some people, but people all across these United States.
Cecilia Rouse: (12:57)
Yeah. I guess what I was just going to add to that is that this next package is really about investing in our future and in making the kinds of smart investments that we know will increase growth, and we want that growth to be widely shared. So the idea is not just to increase the size of the pie, but to ensure that everybody gets their slice, unlike many policies that followed in the past.
Speaker 5: (13:16)
Do you need to, I’m sorry, do you need to include some kind of private sector initiatives to nudge those companies that aren’t moving along as quickly?
Cecilia Rouse: (13:27)
Look, I really can’t speak to the specifics. I think you’re used to Jen saying she likes to keep her job, I kind of like to keep mine too. So we are looking at the most effective ways in order to make these kinds of investments that we know are just so important to our economy.
Speaker 6: (13:43)
Thank you so much. I think just to follow up on Karen’s question. Making sure that there are support for the women is one thing, but will there be any concrete measures in the Build Back Better plan to make sure the 4.2 million women have jobs to return to?
Cecilia Rouse: (14:01)
That is the exact purpose of the American Rescue Plan, right? The whole purpose is to get us through this pandemic, and to help our businesses that are viable, stay in business, to help the workers who need help paying their rent and getting food on the table to stay engaged and not just imagine that they’re going to drop out and drop out forever. We know that the longer that we have the economic crisis and the longer that workers are out of the workforce, the harder it is for them to come back. So that is the entire focus of the American Rescue Plan is to get us back on track. So that by next year, we are back to essentially full employment.
Jen Psaki: (14:38)
Thank you both so much for coming.
Cecilia Rouse: (14:40)
Jen Psaki: (14:40)
Would love to have you back.
Cecilia Rouse: (14:41)
Jen Psaki: (14:43)
Okay. I just have a couple of other items for you you all at the top. As you know this afternoon, the president first lady will joined by Megan Rapinoe and Margaret Purce at the white house for a virtual event with other members of the US Women’s National Team, where the president will sign a proclamation marking equal pay day. Additionally, the second gentleman is in St. Louis, Missouri for a listening session on gender equity in the workforce. As Cecilia and Heather just detailed, the pandemic and economic crisis have undermined the health and wellbeing of women and children.
Jen Psaki: (15:16)
The American Rescue Plan provides help for women and families by increasing the child tax credit, expanding childcare assistance and providing women and families the relief they need. It also provides $130 billion to help schools serve all students and reopen. Yesterday on the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, being signed into law, the president of course, traveled to Ohio, it was a great trip, where he announced that the administration would expand access to healthcare coverage by extending the special enrollment period until August 15th. I know a number of you noted that, but I just wanted to reiterate it since it was late in the day. This morning, the president was proud to sign into law, the Save Lives Act. The bipartisan piece of legislation will give the VA the ability to provide vaccines to all veterans and boost vaccine efforts for veterans, families, and caregivers. It’s truly a-
Jen Psaki: (16:03)
… and boost vaccine efforts for veterans, families, and caregivers. It’s truly a testament to what government can do when we work together. He’s grateful for the leadership of both the Senate and House Veteran’s Affairs Committee, both chairs, Mark Takano and Jon Tester, and ranking members, Mike Bost, and Jerry Moran. As we announced this morning, but to give you a bit more detail, the President will travel to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania next week on Wednesday, March 31st, where he will deliver a speech laying out more details of his plan to build the economy back better. Over the next several days, and this is probably why they were hesitant to give more detail, he will continue meeting with his economic team to finalize details of his proposal, including the scale, scope, and final policy components. His focus of course will be on investing in America’s workers, making sure the tax code rewards worth not wealth, delivering on the promises he made to the American people when he was running for president. With that, go ahead, Josh.
Thanks, Jen. On the shooting in Colorado, the President said Congress must act. The Senate Majority Leader Schumer has also said, Senate’s poised to act. But Vice President Harris said today on CBS that she thought the change would have occurred after the Sandy hook shootings. And I’m curious, what does the President think is different this time, and how has he changed his approach so that this administration can pass these changes when in the past have failed?
Jen Psaki: (17:27)
Well, first the President shares that sentiment as I think many Americans do, that when we saw 20 children murdered, when we saw six adults murdered, that, that would turn the tide of Congress. We have seen data and statistics across the country still broadly support background checks. I think it’s about 80% of the American public support background checks, including a good percentage of gun owners support background checks. We’ve seen states take action. Since that time, a number of states across the country have put in place a number of laws. Sometimes states are the leaders, as we know and we’ve seen in other areas of policymaking. But I think the President who has been in public life and public office for 50 years, more than 50 years, would be the first to tell you if he were standing here that just because you don’t get the policymaking and the legislation done the first time, it doesn’t mean you quit trying.
Jen Psaki: (18:22)
And certainly tragedies like we saw earlier this week, like we saw last week, mass shootings that are killing innocent lives, leaving family members without their loved ones, is a reminder of how important and vital that is. He has talked about, as he did yesterday, the importance of working with Congress. I know the Vice President touched on the fact that if we want something to be permanent, if we want it to be lasting, we need it to be legislation. He certainly believes that. But there are also executive actions under consideration that we will continue working through internally. And there’s lots of levers you can take obviously as president and vice president.
And then secondly, today’s the first chance for many in the media to see the situation on the Southern border at government facilities.
Jen Psaki: (19:04)
This is the first step of transparency. What else can we expect with regard to that, so that we can evaluate the situation and present it to the public?
Jen Psaki: (19:14)
Well first, as you noted, I know all of you have covered this, but just to kind of reiterate where we are here. So there’s a delegation of members of Congress and White House officials who are traveling to the Office of Refugee Resettlement at Carrizo Springs at the Influx Care Facility there. There is a network pool camera that will be a part of this journey, which will ensure that there’s network pool coverage, or network pool footage, I should say, that is provided to all of the networks so that you can all see as the media for yourselves and be able to provide analysis on that B roll footage.
Jen Psaki: (19:50)
And we also remain committed to transparency and we’ll continue to work with agencies on creating avenues for media access and visibility into these facilities. So I think our balance is of course, privacy, as you all know. It is also that we are in the middle of a pandemic and that these facilities, of course, can’t become forums for media access all day long, every day. I think we all agree on that balance, but we will continue to look for ways to increase transparency and provide additional access and to fill requests. Go ahead.
Thank you, Jen. A couple of questions on guns and AAPI representation.
Jen Psaki: (20:25)
At what point would President Biden consider taking executive action instead of waiting for Congress to wait. In other words, how many measures would have to fail before he stepped in?
Jen Psaki: (20:37)
I think he sees it as vital to take steps on two tracks, because congressional legislation, as the Vice President conveyed this morning, obviously has a more permanent lasting impact. Executive actions are of course, an important lever that every president has at their disposal. There’s current discussions and analysis internally of what steps can be taken,.that that has been ongoing for several weeks, even before these two recent tragedies, that he looks forward to getting an update on and seeing what can be moved forward on that front as well. So he’s not waiting for anything to fail, is really the answer to your question.
What executive actions do you think he’s most likely to take?
Jen Psaki: (21:18)
It’s a great question, I have it myself as well. But it’s an ongoing policy process internally. I will say that his view, the Vice President’s view and our policy team’s view is that it’s not just about addressing gun access that’s important. And obviously there’s legislation that’s under consideration on background checks that they both strongly support, they want to see move forward. It’s also about addressing community violence and a range of issues that are root causes and kind of lead to the deaths and the impact that we’re seeing that’s so troubling.
Thank you. And then on the other issue, the White House had conversations with Senators Duckworth and Hirono. I think one concern that they have brought is the question of who is advising President Biden from the AAPI community as we see this surge of violence. I know Ambassador Rice and Cedric Richmond are leading the engagement efforts. Who in the AAPI community is having direct conversations with the President about what’s unfolding?
Jen Psaki: (22:27)
You mentioned Cedric and Susan Rice who have been doing listening sessions for some time, and obviously those will continue to pick up. Obviously, the Vice President who is the first in the meeting and the last in a meeting on every issue, including the impact of the violence and the threats that we’ve seen increased over the past several months against the AAPI community. As a member herself of the AAPI community, is certainly playing an important role on that. And as we noted in a statement we released last night, we are also adding a senior level Asian American Pacific Islander liaison, who will ensure the community’s voice is further represented and heard, not just around crises, not just around an increase in violence, but in general, and playing an important role with a seat at the table.
And to be clear, this is a new position in addition to the one over in public engagement?
Jen Psaki: (23:20)
This is the one that we announced last night.
So it’s going to be a new senior level position?
Jen Psaki: (23:25)
Yes, Adis. Yeah.
Will this person also have a policy portfolio or will it just be mainly outreach?
Jen Psaki: (23:32)
I can get you more specifics. I think that all the roles that are in our liaison, playing liaison roles, typically have a seat at the table on a range of issues. So whether it is healthcare or climate or community violence. So typically it’s having a seat at the table on a range of topics, but I can see if there’s more specifics. Obviously we have not hired yet because we just announced this last night. Go ahead.
Speaker 7: (23:56)
To follow up on with this question on the President. You were talking yesterday about executive action on gun reform. The President also was making it clear, he wanted to see Congress act several times.
Jen Psaki: (24:05)
Speaker 7: (24:06)
Would he propose his own gun reform plan that he would present to Congress, as we’ve seen him do in the COVID relief plan, and we anticipate coming an economic plan. Would this be something that could originated here and not wait for Congress to move?
Jen Psaki: (24:19)
Karen, I think it’s a great question. There’s obviously a lot of pieces of legislation that have been proposed. There’s these two background check bills that have moved their way through the House. There’s also legislation that’s been proposed by Senator Feinstein, Congressman Cicilline, that addresses banning assault weapons ban, which is something the President worked to pass in the ’90s when he was in the Senate. So there’s a range of steps that can be taken to increase gun safety measures. What our team is looking at now is, “What is the legislation that’s out there? Are there any gaps that need to be filled, policies or proposals that have been introduced in the past, that could be re-introduced? So I don’t have anything to predict for you on whether there’d be something independent. I think we’re looking at what a number of passionate gun safety advocates on the Hill have already introduced to see where we can help push the boulder on that.
Speaker 7: (25:06)
Has the president spoken to any of the families of the Colorado shooting, any of the victims families?
Jen Psaki: (25:11)
I don’t have any calls to read out for you. He is somebody who obviously has a deep connection to loss, and we don’t always read out those calls. I can check and see if there’s anything that he has done that he’d be comfortable conveying to all of you.
Speaker 7: (25:25)
Okay. I just need one more.
Jen Psaki: (25:25)
Sure. Go ahead.
Speaker 7: (25:27)
Could you give us an update on progress from the Family Reunification Task Force? Have there been families, children reunited back with their parents? Where does that stand right now?
Jen Psaki: (25:35)
There have been, and a lot of that has happened through lawyers and outside groups and the NGO community that plays an incredible role here. There will be an update provided at day 120, that will be more of an official report, an update out of the Department of Homeland Security. So in advance of that, I’m not sure we’ll have incremental updates, but there have been some progress made thanks in large part to the work of legal experts and NGOs on the outside.
Speaker 7: (26:03)
And the Task Force is working with those NGOs?
Jen Psaki: (26:03)
They’re in touch with them as well. But we’ll have our first formal update on day 120, and then I believe every 60 days thereafter. Go ahead, Jeff.
Jen, why did the President wait until there was another shooting until he addressed gun violence in America?
Jen Psaki: (26:18)
He actually addressed it, we put out a statement in his name in early February, the anniversary of the shooting in Florida. So he has addressed it before, and certainly has stressed it even as President, and will continue to address it as President. And as you know, Jeff, from covering him in Congress for a long time, this has been a passion of his, putting in place gun safety measures throughout his career. That’s why he fought to get the Brady bill passed, why he fought to ban assault weapons, why he was the lead in the Obama Biden administration in putting in place more than a dozen executive actions to make it safer for our communities. And it’s something that he will continue to work on as President.
Of course, he knows of the President’s bully pulpit is unparalleled, and yet it took him until more than 60 days into his presidency to talk about gun violence on camera in America. What does that say about his commitment or how much political capital he’s willing to spend on this issue?
Jen Psaki: (27:16)
Well, I first would say that anybody who has been following the tragedies and the shootings that have happened in our country over the past several years, if not decades, knows that this is an issue the President is deeply committed to, and his career is evidence of that. And I don’t think anyone who’s an advocate is looking at how many words he’s spoken. They’re looking at what his background has been, where he has fought the fights. And he has fought the fights on the Brady bill, on the Assault Weapons Ban, on getting legislation passed. It wasn’t successful as was alluded to earlier in a question, we know that. But this is something he’s going to put his shoulder into, he’s going to work with members of both parties, he’s going to certainly advocate for. And I think for those who have survived gun violence, for those who’ve lost family members, they’re really looking for action and they’re really looking at the record that he has over the course of the decades of his career.
If I could Follow up on the question on the border. The access being granted today for the pool is of a facility that is aspirational of where you want to move these children. What about access to the facilities where there is overcrowding and there is an actual problem. Why was this one chosen over those?
Jen Psaki: (28:29)
We’re also open to providing access there. And this is just the first step in a process of providing greater access to the media.
And when would that decision be made? You’ve said earlier in this week that you would be working on access. Is this the only access or will that be coming in [crosstalk 00:28:45]?
Jen Psaki: (28:45)
I would consider it it’s ongoing. And we wanted to provide pool coverage. As you all know, who are in the field of television that allows for a video camera to provide access to all the networks, we felt that would be a good first step. And we’re looking forward to continuing to engage about how to provide increased access.
Would you agree that you’ve chosen the facility that is the aspirational facility, as opposed to the problem at this moment?
Jen Psaki: (29:11)
Well, I would say we all agree that the border patrol facilities are not places where children should be. Children should be moving more quickly through those facilities. That is what our policy central focus is right now, as you know, Jeff. And it’s also becoming a public health concern because of the number of kids who are moving through those facilities.
Why not show those to the American people?
Jen Psaki: (29:36)
We will, and we are working with the border patrol and with DHS to determine how we can do that. Go ahead, Jennifer.
On Iraq and withdrawing U.S troops from Iraq, could you please give us an update on Iraq’s request for the start of talks on that withdrawal please?
Jen Psaki: (29:52)
That’s something we are looking forward to convening next month. And I’m not sure if I have an update other than to convey that we look forward to our strategic dialogue with the Government of Iraq over the month of April. The meetings will further clarify that coalition forces are in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government and solely for the purpose of training and advising Iraqi forces to ensure that ISIS cannot reconstitute. And we are committed first and foremost to Iraq sovereignty. We look forward to these important discussions with Iraqi leaders on the future of our partnership that will convene next month. Go ahead.
Speaker 8: (30:30)
A couple of quick ones for you. So on Nord Stream 2, that is an issue that keeps coming up in the relationship with Germany. How soon do you think those sanctions will be implemented? And has the President had a chance to discuss this issue at his level with the Chancellor of Germany?
Jen Psaki: (30:47)
I don’t have any calls. Although we do read out the calls that he does. So you would certainly know if he had a call with the Chancellor of Germany, I can assure you. So not a new one that I’m aware of, that you are not aware of. We continue to believe it’s a bad deal. I don’t think we have an update on our policy position, beyond that.
Speaker 8: (31:03)
Okay. And then 14 states have now sued the administration over the oil and gas leasing. What do you say to that? And how do you move beyond that? I realize there’s a legal process, but how do you get your point across in this legal environment?
Jen Psaki: (31:22)
Well, I would say first oil and gas jobs aren’t going anywhere. The outgoing administration flooded the oil markets with cheap federal leases. This will not affect oil and gas production or jobs for years to come. And what President Biden has pledged to do is invest to create jobs and ensure America leads the clean energy revolution. Which is where the industry is largely going anyway, where there is the greatest opportunity for job creation. He wants to create good paying union jobs, and that’s something he believes and he’s committed to doing. I think there is some misinformation out there about what this means, which is why it’s not… I’m not saying from the media, I’m just saying in general. And again-
Jen Psaki: (32:03)
… I’m not saying from the media, I’m just saying in general. And again, there are oil and gas jobs that are out there. The existing leases will continue. He’s really talking about future leases.
Speaker 9: (32:10)
And then just one more on the gun issue. I know this is kind of a crazy question, but-
Jen Psaki: (32:14)
That’s always a good lead in when it’s a crazy question. It’s quite a lead-in.
Speaker 9: (32:17)
Given the history of people trying to enact gun control legislation in this country. Is there some consideration to taking a look at the Second Amendment and just addressing it from a sort of the underlying constitutional right to bear arms? Is that something that the president feels needs to be called into question so many years after the revolution?
Jen Psaki: (32:44)
No one is talking about overturning or changing the Second Amendment. What our focus is on is putting in place common sense measures that will make our community safer, make families safer, make kids safer. The majority of the American public supports background checks. The majority of the American public does not believe that anyone needs to have an assault weapon. So, that’s really what our focus is on at this point in time.
Speaker 9: (33:08)
Joe Manchin is not in support of this. Once again, you have a Democrat, a member of the president’s own party who is already signaling that he will not support that. You have a very slim majority. Can you convince Republicans to support this legislation so that you can work around a Democrat that’s not supporting?
Jen Psaki: (33:29)
As the president said yesterday, we don’t know yet. He hasn’t done the vote count, but it is certainly an issue he will talk to members about and convey why he feels it’s so important. That it shouldn’t be a political issue. That keeping our community safe, family safe, looking at the track record is what has worked in states, which is very informative. And actually to Josh’s earlier question, something that we know more about now than we may have 10 years ago. So, he will be conveying that to two members he’s communicating with. Go ahead.
Speaker 10: (33:59)
Two questions. Following up on [inaudible 00:34:02] questions about representation. The Biden administration is the first in 20 years to not have an Asian American lead one of the 15 executive departments in the cabinet. So how does the White House square that fact with the president’s pledges to make this the most representative, most diverse in history?
Jen Psaki: (34:19)
Well, I will just say the president remains committed to making sure this is the most diverse administration in history, that has always been, remains our goal. We’ve made a lot of progress. We have the most diverse cabinet in history. But we will continue to make progress. We have AAPI staff at senior levels and at all levels of the administration, and we will continue to work to find ways to elevate AAPI voices at the highest level of government. There are a number of cabinet level. I know it’s not 15 members, but just to note, obviously Catherine Thai, who received overwhelming support in the Senate in her approval to be confirmed for USTR. Julie Sue, the Department of Labor. I’m going to butcher that name. And I apologize to Kiran at OPM. Todd Kim, the assistant attorney general at DOJ.
Jen Psaki: (35:10)
So we will continue, and obviously there are more positions and roles that we need to fill. And I will say first and foremost, the president’s view is that we need to listen. And that is an important component of how we’re communicating with members of Congress as concerns arise. Also with leaders in the community as he and the vice president did last Friday. Why it’s been so important as we look to policymaking to have senior members of our administration do listening sessions in the community to determine how we can best address needs. There’s personnel, of course, and we will continue to work toward that. There’s policies, and that’s part of our objective and our focus at this point in time.
Speaker 10: (35:50)
And also on guns. The president also talked several times about a federal assault weapons ban. And I’m wondering how he plans to build a coalition around that, even when that policy is something that is supposed by many moderate Democrats in Congress?
Jen Psaki: (36:02)
Well, though it is supported by the majority of the American people. And that is an important fact. And it’s something that he has had long had a view and a belief that no one needs an assault weapon. That is not something that should be a part of what people have access to in this country. And he will continue to … So you’re asking kind of who will he talk to or who will he-
Speaker 10: (36:30)
[inaudible 00:36:30] coalition in Congress to build up support?
Jen Psaki: (36:32)
Well, part of it is certainly communicating with the advocates. It’s communicating with outside groups, with gun owners, many of whom will tell you that they don’t believe they would support an assault weapons ban. Communicating with leaders in states where laws have been put in place that had been impactful. And obviously having conversations with members he’s known for some time, having them at the staff level and determining if we can find a path forward. Go ahead.
Speaker 11: (36:58)
Thank you, Jen. I’d like to ask you two questions, the first about marijuana and the second about a bit of a historical mystery, kind of hoping you could help us solve.
Jen Psaki: (37:06)
Okay. There’s a lot of setups for these questions today. I like it. Go ahead.
Speaker 11: (37:11)
Sure. So Vice-President Kamala Harris says that she is a past marijuana smoker. She said, “It gives people joy and we need more joy in this world.” She is with a clear majority of the US population in supporting marijuana legalization. According to polls, two thirds of people do, including about half of Republicans. Yet last week, the Daily Beast reported that there were dozens of White House staffers who were either disciplined or terminated from their jobs for past marijuana use. You seem to confirm five terminations on Twitter. And my question is why would Biden allow this to happen? Especially considering the white house staff were led to believe that pot use would not be disqualifying, especially considering vice-president is herself a former marijuana user?
Jen Psaki: (37:57)
Well, let me first say that what we tried to do as an administration was work with the security service who actually makes these determinations about suitability for serving in government. In the past, and I served in the Obama Biden administration. The rules were actually far more stringent. So that isn’t about anyone’s personal point of view, it’s about working through the process, the history and modernizing and taking steps to address the fact that marijuana is legal in a number of states across the country, it is still illegal federally. We know that. There were, as I noted, I think in our comment last week, five individuals who are no longer employed at the White House, a number of them, there were other security issues that were raised. And that’s an unfortunate conclusion of course. But what we tried to do is enable additional members of the team who would not have been able to continue serving in past administrations to continue serving by updating our policy in coordination with the security service.
Speaker 11: (39:01)
Follow-up on that. Surely president Biden could implement changes here unilaterally, and just say that these people can come to work for him?
Jen Psaki: (39:08)
Well, I think if marijuana was federally legal, that might be a different circumstance, but I don’t think I have any more on you on this for you. Go ahead.
Speaker 11: (39:16)
More data on the number of people impacted other than the five people who were terminated?
Jen Psaki: (39:19)
I don’t have any more data for you other than to convey that there were a number of people who would not have been able to serve in past administrations. And because of our efforts to modernize and work with the security service, they’re able to serve. Did you have another question?
Speaker 11: (39:33)
Okay. So this is, as I set it up, bit of a mystery and I’m sure that you’ve inquired about this yourself and-
Jen Psaki: (39:40)
Oh, okay. Where’s the cat.
Speaker 11: (39:42)
No, no, it’s not that. So there was a report last year from the Senate Finance and Homeland Security Committees. It claimed that the wife of Moscow’s former mayor paid a company associated with the president’s son $3.5 million. There was no explanation for this alleged payments. And I’m wondering if you could tell us if that claim is accurate and if so, what the $3.5 million was paid for.
Jen Psaki: (40:09)
Not familiar with that claim. Doesn’t sound like it’s backed up by a lot of evidence. If you have evidence or specifics, happy to discuss it further.
Speaker 11: (40:16)
The Finance Committee’s report. So you haven’t asked about this?
Jen Psaki: (40:19)
I’m not familiar with the report at all. Go ahead.
Speaker 12: (40:22)
Thank you, Jen. With the May 1st deadline looming, when do you expect to hear from the president about the timing on the girl from Afghanistan?
Jen Psaki: (40:30)
It’s a good question. As you may know, Secretary Blinken is currently in Brussels and talking with our NATO European partners. He did press avail, I believe it was yesterday, but let me reiterate a couple of the points he made, and then I’ll get to your question. That our focus right now is for him to share some of our thinking with our vital NATO partners, consult with them, hear from them on where they see things going, they want things to go. That as the president had said last week, it’s tough meeting that May 1st timeline and the Secretary of State reiterated that in his remarks as well. Whatever we do will be informed by our allies and partners. But the president is currently discussing of course, with policy team members on what is possible. And hopefully he’ll have an update soon, but I don’t have a timeline on that for you.
Speaker 12: (41:21)
Jen Psaki: (41:22)
I can’t give you a timeline. It’s really up to his own decision-making and when he’s prepared to talk about that publicly. Go ahead.
Speaker 13: (41:29)
Thank you, Jen. I have a couple of foreign policy questions. I understand the administration has already supported COVAXX, is working with them to ramp up production, working out details with Mexico and Canada. But where is the president’s position on the request by more than 55 countries, as well as some democratic lawmakers on making vaccine patents through the WHO, giving a waiver to that?
Jen Psaki: (41:56)
Well, the top priority of the president’s and of the United States is saving lives and ending the pandemic in the United States and of course around the world. That includes investing in COVAXX, working with partners as we announced with the quad to produce a billion vaccine doses to surge vaccine production and delivery. As part of rebuilding our alliances, we’re exploring every avenue to coordinate with our global partners and are evaluating the efficacy of any measure by its true potential to save lives. So that’s how we’re looking at it through the prism. There are a number of steps and number of ways we are engaged in addressing the global pandemic through the global international community. And we’ll look at a range of options. But I don’t have any update for you on the patent question.
Speaker 13: (42:39)
As a general principle, do you believe that protecting American innovation and intellectual property of pharmaceutical companies outweighs the benefit of moving faster towards a COVID free-World?
Jen Psaki: (42:51)
Sure, I absolutely understand your question. What I’m conveying as we look at every option through the prism of whether it will save lives and how many lives it will save and try to put our resources and efforts into those that we think will be most effective. Obviously part of that is through engagement with the WHO I mentioned our quad partnership, our meaningful contribution to COVAXX and of course, when we can, we will share vaccines as we have already, as we already doing with Canada and Mexico. But we’re looking at a range of options. Right now, our focus is on continuing to address the pandemic that is ongoing in the United States, given a thousand people are still dying every single day.
Speaker 13: (43:29)
Another one about fishing. So can you comment a media reports on whether the administration is considering joining a group or South American nations to push back against Chinese illegal fishing? How big of a problem does the administration see this kind of Chinese practice of distant water fishing? And would this be something that you would consider with other regions Southeast Asia and Africa?
Jen Psaki: (43:55)
Sure. It is a challenge and a problem, and one that we’re watching closely. And for others who have not been following this issue as closely, it is an issue of overfishing in certain parts of the world. It is something our national security team is certainly watching and following closely. I can see if there’s more specifics on their engagement to update you on.
Speaker 13: (44:12)
One domestic question.
Jen Psaki: (44:14)
Speaker 13: (44:17)
The question on vaccination for federal government employees. So far, it’s been pretty much where they live. If you’re in DC, follow DC rules, Maryland and so forth. Is there any other kind of consideration from the White House to just expand access to vaccines for federal government employees?
Jen Psaki: (44:33)
It’s a great question. I’ll have to check with our COVID team. Obviously everyone will be eligible in just over a month, including our government employees and DC and Virginia have already made that commitment, maybe Maryland too, I don’t want to leave them out. So that is good news for every federal government employee. But I can check and see if there’s more specifics across the administration about our approach. Go ahead in the back of the room.
Speaker 14: (44:56)
A couple of questions. First I wanted to ask about voting rights. The Senate right now is debating its own version of the, For the People Act. There are a few hangups with it in the chamber. I was curious how much emphasis the president plans to put on this, if he will be reaching out directly, or if there’s a team from the White House that’s working on this issue?
Jen Psaki: (45:18)
Yes. I would say we’re very engaged, closely engaged on S1 that is being negotiated, as you said, and there are changes being made, which we fully expected that there would be as a number of senators, I believe have alluded to that being a possibility and things they’d like to see changed. So it’s working its way through the process. We get regular updates. Our legislative team does, and we remain very closely engaged.
Speaker 14: (45:43)
And I wanted to ask Leader McConnell has said that he hasn’t been invited to the White House and he hasn’t had a direct conversation with the president since the inauguration.
Jen Psaki: (45:52)
I think he corrected that statement.
Speaker 14: (45:55)
I was curious, because I know previously Leader McCarthy had said that he had tried to reach out to the White House to get an invitation here. Does the president plan to have some sort of big meeting with leaders from across the aisle where we would see photos of them together and things like that?
Jen Psaki: (46:15)
I’m sure he will. We obviously have been limited on COVID to any events in the East Wing. And at this point we’d be very much in the Easter egg roll preparations, which of course we will not be, but obviously more important substantive, vital meetings than that. He’s had a number of meetings, bi-partisan meetings in the Oval Office. He will continue to do those. Those have often been constructed with committee chairs or members with specific jurisdiction. He has a long friendship with Leader McConnell. He has spoken with him. He speaks with him regularly. We’re obviously not going to read out all of those calls. I expect that will continue.
Speaker 14: (46:50)
I wanted to ask. We’ve been seeing a lot of images of spring breakers, especially in Florida. And I was curious how aware of that the president, if he is being updated on that regularly. And if he plans to make any sort of address or public appeal to people on the issue?
Jen Psaki: (47:08)
Well, we do watch that closely. The president is briefed regularly by his COVID team. And of course he has seen the news coverage, thanks to all of you of spring breakers who have been gathering in far too many numbers. There of course, were steps taken locally in response to this. We also watched that closely. I’m not sure. I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of him addressing spring breakers publicly. I will say that his message broadly speaking, is that we are still at war with the virus. This is still a threat to the lives of the American people. We need to be vigilant. We need to wear masks. We need to hand-wash. And that is a message of course, directly to anybody who is not abiding by the recommendations of public health officials.
Speaker 14: (47:56)
Just one more. Do you have any update on the president’s plans? Will he be traveling to Boulder?
Jen Psaki: (48:02)
I don’t have any updates on-
Speaker 14: (48:03)
… plans. Will he be traveling to Boulder?
Jen Psaki: (48:03)
I don’t have any updates on that. As you all know, this tragedy only happened just about 36 hours ago, and obviously that would be done in consultation with local officials who I know are still digesting the events in their community, working on healing in their community. I can note, since you reminded me, he did speak with the mayor this morning as well, and he had spoken with the governor yesterday and will remain in close touch. Let me just go to the back and then we’ll come back. Go ahead in the back.
Speaker 15: (48:29)
Thank you, Jen. Last week, Secretary Blinkin and NSA Jake Sullivan had a meeting in Anchorage, as the Chinese court reports. Have they given a briefing to the president on the China policy? Have they teased any kind of policy on the Biden administration?
Jen Psaki: (48:49)
Although, I know that the president has spoken with Secretary Blinkin and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan since their return, obviously they talk about a range of national security issues, ongoing policy processes that are ongoing. We’re currently taking stock of where we are, which includes close consultation with allies and partners. As I noted, secretary of state is in Brussels currently on the way forward and will continue to work with China going forward when it’s in the interest of the American people. So we’re consulting internally, consulting with our partners and allies, and that’s really the stage we’re in at this time.
Speaker 15: (49:24)
I have a question related to illegal immigration. When Vice President or the Senator see supporting the cause of [inaudible 00:49:29] employment authorization cards for H4 and L2 visa holders. Now, these guys are saying, well, most of them are women, basically. They’re saying there’s very long delay in issuing [inaudible 00:49:40] cards for H4 and L2 visa orders. Some of them have also went to the court. What is delayed that?
Jen Psaki: (49:47)
I think part of the reason we want to push for action on immigration on the hill is to move forward with expediting the processing and doing that on several levels, including a number of the visas that you just introduced or just conveyed. So that’s part of the reason why we think that’s such an important piece to move on.
Speaker 15: (50:06)
A final one, a number of Indian American doctors, who job is to create peace during this COVID era, they are on the hill protesting against and demanding elimination of country hold off of green cards. I know the White House has sent a legislation to the hill and that talks about that, but they’re still protesting against a faster implementation of that facet of the bill. What is president’s message to those doctors?
Jen Psaki: (50:36)
I think the president would reiterate that he believes that there should be faster processing, that our immigration system is broken at many levels of the system and that he is eager for Congress to move forward with action there. Okay. Two in the back. Go ahead.
Speaker 16: (50:54)
Thanks, Jen. Back on guns, you mentioned by partisan meetings. I’m wondering if could give a little bit more of a sense of the president’s engagement with Congress on gun legislation specifically. Does he plan to have a bipartisan meeting on that at the White House? And has he spoken to Senator Manchin at all about his opposition to the background check bill?
Jen Psaki: (51:14)
I don’t have any meetings to predict. Obviously, this is an issue that there are a number of passionate gun safety advocates on the hill, as you well know who have strong views about what the path forward should look like. So I have no doubt that he has discussed this issue with them over the course of the last two months of his presidency. As it relates to the tragedy of Tuesday night, he was of course in Ohio all day yesterday with a very full schedule. So he didn’t have any calls yesterday, but it’s something he will continue to look for ways to engage, to discuss, to advocate for action moving forward.
Speaker 16: (51:50)
Is there an update on his joint session with Congress?
Jen Psaki: (51:53)
No update yet. We have a speech coming up next week and certainly he remains interested in and committed to doing a joint session. We remain engaged with them, but I don’t have an update on the specific timing.
Speaker 16: (52:06)
And if I can just ask one more from one of the reporters in the pool who couldn’t come here. There was an Axios report today that he met with historians to discuss how aggressive he could be on his economic agenda, among other topics. I’m wondering if you could confirm the meeting and maybe tell us who was involved and why he felt the need to meet with historians on this.
Jen Psaki: (52:25)
I will tell you presidents love historians. I know this from this is my second president working for them and I think it’s important to learn from what worked and didn’t work in the past, and gain perspective from people who study that. So he did meet with historians a couple of weeks ago. I don’t have the list of names in front of me. I can see if there’s more details we can provide. And really it’s meant to have an open conversation about the challenges our country is facing and looking back at history. And it’s a moment to step back and reflect and use it as lessons moving forward. Go ahead.
Speaker 17: (53:00)
Thanks, Jen. A few on spending, one on taxes as well. I know you can’t get into specifics at this point, but the president is being briefed on Biden’s economic team in the upcoming days. Is this an infrastructure package? Is it the president’s Build Back Better Plan? Combination of both? Give us an overview of what it is.
Jen Psaki: (53:20)
Well, our Build Back Better agenda, his Built Back Better agenda includes a number of components that he talked about on the campaign trail. Infrastructure is part of it. Making the tax code a fair and one that rewards work and not wealth is part of it. Doing better by our caregivers is part of that. Increasing access to healthcare is part of it. Investing in our clean energy economy is part of it. There are several components he talked about on the campaign trail. And right now, what he’s talking with his economic team and advisors about are is what the scale, the scope, and the components will look like in what he’s going to move forward and propose next week.
Speaker 17: (53:59)
The $3 trillion number has been put out there. I know the White House hasn’t confirmed that, but is it possible that it goes above $3 trillion? Like is $3 trillion viewed as the cap, or it’s certainly possible it could go even higher?
Jen Psaki: (54:15)
Again, I think what we’re looking at is all of those components, as I just laid out, all of which will not be in a speech next week, right? This is big components of his agenda that he talked about on the campaign trail. And right now he’s having a conversation about the scale and the scope of what proposals look like. There’s lots of ways to frame it, to shape it, to size it. So I don’t have any more to predict for you.
Speaker 17: (54:39)
Last one on this before taxes. Speaking of size and scope, it’s possible if it gets broken up that infrastructure could be one. So what does the president, what does the White House view as infrastructure? What falls under that umbrella?
Jen Psaki: (54:52)
Under infrastructure? Those are a lot of ways to look at infrastructure. I can’t preview for you. I know you’re not exactly asking this, what will be in the package that he’s still discussing, but obviously roads, rails, and bridges are part of what everybody historically thinks about. But there’s also components like our cyber infrastructure. There’s lots of ways to look at infrastructure, but what is in a package that he proposes in the coming months? I don’t have anything more to detail for you.
Speaker 17: (55:19)
And then on taxes, the White House says now that families who make up to $400,000 won’t pay a penny more under the president’s potential plan to the federal government in taxes.
Jen Psaki: (55:34)
Which is 98% of families.
Speaker 17: (55:37)
What about individuals? If you’re an individual and you make up to blank, you won’t pay more to Uncle Sam. What is that number?
Jen Psaki: (55:44)
Speaker 17: (55:45)
So the individual number is going to be same as the joint filer number.
Jen Psaki: (55:48)
Well, no individual making less than $400,000 will pay more in taxes.
Jen Psaki: (55:55)
If you’re an individual and you make $300,000, let’s just say.
Speaker 17: (55:59)
That’s less than $400,000, right?
Speaker 17: (56:01)
You’re a married couple that makes $301,500. That’s more than $450,000. 300. Traditionally, taxes, the joint filers pay about… It’s double, but you’re saying now it’ll be the same, right?
Jen Psaki: (56:17)
I think we’ll have more to say when we actually roll out a tax proposal, which we have not done yet. So this is a commitment he made on the campaign trail, which he’s committed to abiding by. But once we propose a tax proposal, we’ll have more to discuss.
Speaker 17: (56:28)
So just to be clear, individual filers, if you make up to $400,000, you’re an individual, you will not pay a penny more just like families won’t pay a penny more.
Jen Psaki: (56:36)
Speaker 17: (56:39)
Speaker 18: (56:39)
[crosstalk 00:56:39] can’t be here today. Can you give us an update on Major and Champ, and whether they’re coming to the White House?
Jen Psaki: (56:44)
Oh, I was waiting for this to come up. Of course. Champ and Major are here at the White House. They joined the first family at Camp David last weekend returned with them on Sunday. The dogs will come and go and it will not be uncommon for them to head back to Delaware on occasion, as the President and First Lady often do as well. Is it about the dog?
Speaker 19: (57:12)
Colin Call, he’s one of the president’s [inaudible 00:57:15]. He barely made it out of [inaudible 00:57:17] committee right now. Can you say is the White House still behind his nomination? It’s been controversial from the beginning. Any thoughts on that?
Jen Psaki: (57:23)
Absolutely. Colin is qualified. He’s experienced and he would bring an incredible reservoir of perspective to the job at the Department of Defense. So we look forward to his confirmation.
Speaker 19: (57:36)
So no consideration whatsoever of withdrawing his nomination?
Jen Psaki: (57:39)
Speaker 20: (57:40)
If I could close the loop on a Leader McConnell question, you said they speak regularly. He says that they’ve only spoken one time. He corrected his statement saying they spoke one time on Burma. Have they spoken beyond that one time?
Jen Psaki: (57:51)
I don’t have any more calls I don’t think to read out for you, which we will not make a case of doing as you know. So I don’t have more to read out for you.
Speaker 20: (58:00)
Has the president’s definition of bipartisanship changed since he arrived in office on January 20th?
Jen Psaki: (58:05)
No, his definition of bipartisanship has always been working on behalf of the American people and governing for all people, whether it’s Democrats, Republicans, independents, and moving forward on proposals and policies that will make their lives better.
Speaker 20: (58:20)
With or without Republican votes?
Jen Psaki: (58:21)
Well, he doesn’t believe that bipartisanship is defined by the zip code here. He believes it’s on how we can deliver relief to the American people.
Speaker 20: (58:30)
Jen Psaki: (58:30)
Okay. Thanks everyone.
Speaker 21: (58:32)
Do you have any timing when you might announce a replacement for [inaudible 00:58:35]?
Jen Psaki: (58:36)
I do not. But Shalonda Young has confirmed. She will be the acting. But I don’t have a personnel preview for you on that particular role.
Speaker 22: (58:44)
Jen, can I have one more question on China vaccine diplomacy? Is the administration doing anything specific to push back against the plans by China for countries to cut back or reduce ties to Taiwan? Is the-
Jen Psaki: (58:56)
I will check with our national security team if there’s anything on that for that. Thank you. Thanks.