Mar 5, 2021
Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript March 5
March 5, 2021 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. She provided updates on COVID relief, job growth numbers, and more. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Jen Psaki: (00:00)
… than at any point in the Great Recession. At this month’s pace, it will take us more than two years to get to pre pandemic employment levels and will take even longer at the average pace over the last three months. This is unacceptable and it’s unacceptable when 4 million Americans have been unemployed for more than six months or when unemployment is at 9.9% for African-Americans and 8.5% for Hispanics. Congress must pass the American Rescue Plan now, so we can get Americans back to work and so we can get relief to the millions of people who are struggling.
Jen Psaki: (00:35)
As you know, this afternoon, the president and the vice-president will receive their weekly economic briefing with Treasury Secretary Yellen, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, Cecilia Rouse, newly confirmed, National Economic Council Director, Brian Deese, and Chief Economic Advisor to the Vice President, Mike Pyle. The economic team will provide an update on the jobs report released today, along with an update on unemployment by race and female participation in the workforce. Afterward, the president will participate in a round table with individuals who will benefit from receiving relief checks thanks to the American Rescue Plan.
Jen Psaki: (01:13)
As you may have also seen yesterday, or may not have, there’s a lot going on. So that’s why I wanted to shout this out. Senior White House officials hosted a virtual listening session with Asian-American and Pacific Islander advocates and community leaders from across the country to discuss the increasing rates of anti-Asian harassment and violence. The president is committed to ending anti-Asian violence and bias, and he’s made clear that is the policy of this administration to condemn and combat xenophobia against Asian-Americans wherever it exists. In a week one presidential memorandum, President Biden charged the Department of Justice with partnering with Asian American communities to prevent and better collect data on hate crimes against Asian American communities.
Jen Psaki: (01:56)
Last, but certainly not least, we have a week ahead. On Monday, the president will sign two executive orders to advance gender equity and opportunity for women. He will also visit a veteran’s vaccination center with Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Denis McDonough. On Tuesday, he will visit a small business that has benefited from a paycheck protection program loan. On Wednesday, the president will travel to Baltimore, Maryland for an event with the CEOs of Johnson and Johnson and Merck at Emergent Bio Solutions. And on Thursday, the president will deliver remarks on the anniversary of the COVID 19 shutdown.
Jen Psaki: (02:33)
With that, Alex, why don’t you kick us off?
Great. So we’re 45 days into the Biden presidency and he has yet to hold a presser. At this point in past presidencies, every president from Reagan had addressed reporters, some of them multiple times. So why the delay and when can we expect the president to hold a press conference?
Jen Psaki: (02:54)
Well, first as all you know, of the president takes questions several times a week. He took questions actually twice yesterday, which is an opportunity for the people covering the White House to ask them about whatever news is happening on any given day. We look forward to holding a full press conference in the coming weeks before the end of the month. And we’re working on setting a final date for that. And as soon as we do, we will let you all know, but this president came in during a historic crisis, two historic crises, a pandemic like the country had not seen in decades and decades and an economic downturn that left 10 million people out of work. So I think the American people would certainly understand if his focus and his energy and his attention has been on ensuring we secure enough vaccines to vaccinate all Americans, which we will do by the end of May, and then pushing for a rescue plan that will provide direct checks to almost 160 million Americans. That’s where his time energy has focus has been. But in the meantime, he takes questions multiple times a week and looks forward to continuing to do that. And as soon as we have a press conference, we’ll let you know.
Those [inaudible 00:03:58] though are not an ideal forum for us to be asking you questions. He can’t hear us half the time. We get maybe two questions and then we’re shuffled out. So why hasn’t he answered questions from the press at this point? Is it just that he’s too busy?
Jen Psaki: (04:10)
I think he’s answered questions, I believe the count is almost 40 times. And I would say that his focus again is on getting recovery and relief to the American people and he looks forward to continuing to engage with all of you and to other members of the media who aren’t here today. And we’ll look forward to letting you know, as soon as that press conference is set.
And then on the AUMF, can you talk a little bit about how the president sees, I wanted to quote your… You talked about the establishing a new quote, “Narrow and specific framework for a new AUMF.” How does he see those contours? And what’s his response to somebody like Tim Kaine who said that the president should have to consult Congress on something like the strike in Syria last week?
Jen Psaki: (04:52)
Well, there’s a couple of questions in there. So let me see if I can address them all. First, we did consult and notify the gang of eight, which is a very appropriate approach as well as which of course represents many committee heads and leaders. We then had ongoing consultations and briefings with members of following the strikes, including classified briefings, which we offered quite broadly from the administration. We are quite confident because we had a full legal review and process in both our domestic and legal and international authorities in conducting those strikes. And the president has been obviously a close ally and partner with Senator Kaine on a number of initiatives in the past. He agrees that the AUMF has been around for 20 years and it’s long overdue for it to be updated. What our announcement was or what our statement reference, was a reference to, I should say is an openness to having a conversation about what the scope of the narrow and specific framework should look like moving forward. So we want to have those discussions and of course those will happen, most of them privately, and then we’ll look forward to sharing with all of you what the outcome is.
And one more on the jobs numbers. One number that economists have highlighted as persistently problematic is the labor force participation rate. It remains low, sort of consistently. What is the administration’s plan in dealing with that [inaudible 00:06:17]?
Jen Psaki: (06:17)
Well, you’re absolutely right. And Jerome Powell actually spoke to this just for others reference, which I’m sure you’re tracking, and the concern that the labor force participation rate may mean the unemployment rate may not accurately depict the number of people who are out of work. And obviously the 9.9% unemployment rate for African-Americans is a good example of a reflection of that. We are taking a across the board approach to ensuring we are helping people get back to work and get through this difficult period of time.
Jen Psaki: (06:50)
Part of that, of course, is getting the American Rescue Plan passed to get people the relief and support they need as a bridge for this period of time. But the president has also talked about many components of His Build Back Better agenda, which we look forward to speaking to in the future, after we get the American Rescue Plan passed and the relief into the arms of Americans, and he believes there are a number of additional ways that we can help put Americans back to work, including good, clean paying… Or well paying, I should say, sorry, it’s a Friday. Well-paying infrastructure jobs that are good union jobs. He believes there are many industries of the future that can help put more people back to work.
Jen Psaki: (07:32)
But I will note one interesting and actually very troubling statistic per our economic team. I’m not an economist, as you all know, but this is their analysis is that more than 69,000 educators were laid off. And so certainly part of our objective too here with pushing for the American Rescue Plan is also getting relief out to schools who want to reopen and bringing teachers back, ensuring that teachers can be employed for the longterm and can ensure there are a smaller class sizes is also part of what that package will help address.
Jen Psaki: (08:03)
Speaker 1: (08:04)
Thanks Jen. Does the president have any thoughts on the filibuster, the so-called filibuster, especially now that some more moderate Democrats are now saying that they would like to see some filibuster reform?
Jen Psaki: (08:15)
His view and his position hasn’t changed.
Speaker 1: (08:17)
Even though some people say that could affect your agenda, that you couldn’t get some of those bigger bills through.
Jen Psaki: (08:22)
Look, the president believes that infrastructure, just to keep with the theme, it is not infrastructure week, but he did just have the meeting yesterday. That infrastructure is a policy and a proposal he’s long been a supporter of, as have Democrats and Republicans in the past. Even look at immigration reform. Immigration reform is an issue that many Republicans and Democrats who are elected have said, and have supported in the past. The private sector has supported. He’s a believer that there is a path and a way forward for Democrats and Republicans to certainly work together. And he’s hopeful, there’s an opportunity to do exactly that.
Speaker 1: (08:58)
I know you’re focused on the stimulus bill today, but is there a tentative plan for when you would see an infrastructure plan from the president?
Jen Psaki: (09:06)
Again, as we’ve said in the past, and you gave me a little bit of an opening for this, but our focus is fully on the American Rescue Plan. We look forward to the president, signing that into law, to relief and to checks going out to the American people, to funding going to schools so they can reopen, to more funding going out to get more vaccines in the arms of Americans. And his agenda and his priorities are not a secret, especially for those of you who covered the campaign. He talked about everything from infrastructure to doing more for caregiving, to doing more to help expand access to healthcare, doing more to address the tax system. Those are all components that are certainly under discussion, but we’ll have more to say in the weeks ahead.
Jen Psaki: (09:50)
Thank you, Jen. The White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain pointed out this morning that at the pace of today’s jobs report, it would take until April 2023 to get back to pre pandemic economic levels. But how much quicker does the White House believe the economy can recover to those levels with this $1.9 trillion package? How many more months or years does this [inaudible 00:10:10]?
Jen Psaki: (10:10)
Well, don’t take it from us. Take it from outside economists and independent analysis shows that passing the rescue plan will create 7.5 million jobs in 2021 alone and get our economy back to full employment. Will help create those, I should say. Help get our economy back to full employment one year faster. So it certainly will help expedite this effort and put more people back to work and pull us far ahead of that two year timeline that Ron Klain outlined.
And then just on some of the compromises that we’re seeing coming out of the Senate. The president agreed to limit eligibility for these stimulus tracks. He is also now allowing these unemployment checks to be lowered from $400 to $300 a month. Even though of course there is an extension there until September, but it seems like a lot of these compromises are tailored to the more moderate elements of the democratic caucus. Is the president concerned that all about losing progressive once this bill goes back to the House? And is there anything that he’s looking to do to care to some of those more progressive demands?
Jen Psaki: (11:07)
Well, it’s an incredibly progressive bill and I’m happy to outline some specifics on that since you gave me the opportunity, but one additional piece just on the UI compromise, as you mentioned. By eliminating the first $10,200 of UI benefits from taxation for 2020 combined with, of course, the extension through September, this amendment would provide more relief to the unemployed than the current legislation. It’s different person to person, of course, but on average it would provide more relief.
Jen Psaki: (11:39)
So that sounds pretty progressive to me, but you gave me the opportunity, so I just want to highlight a few of the things, and these are examples of why I think this is a package. We think this is a package that is incredibly appealing to many progressives in the country, and certainly should be to all progressives in the Congress. It cuts child poverty in half in large part through a historic expansion of the child tax credit. 6 million kids will benefit from the expansion and not only extends on… I already talked about that. So I’ll skip that over that it includes tens of billions of dollars for rental assistance and homeowners assistance, which will benefit lower income, disproportionately Black and Brown renters and homeowners. Includes money, as you know, to get shots back in arms so that kids can go back to school. Reopening schools and schools being closed has a disproportionate impact on lower income communities. Those are progressive proposals, progressive ideas. And $1.9 trillion package is certainly a progressive sized package. And so we are certainly confident, hopeful, and confident that we will be able to get support in the House.
And then on the border, could you provide any more details about that trip planned by senior members of the president’s team to the border? Who’s going? Any more details you can offer on that?
Jen Psaki: (12:57)
Well, and again, as I like to say, there’s a lot going on. So to catch people up who aren’t following exactly what you’re following, President Biden has asked senior members of his team to travel to the border region in order to provide a full briefing to him on the government response to the influx of unaccompanied minors and an assessment of additional steps that can be taken to ensure the safety and care of these children. Out of safety, security, and privacy concerns, the date and time of this visit will remain confidential, but the White House and for now, but we will provide a full readout of the visit once it concludes.
[inaudible 00:13:31] detail on who’s going?
Jen Psaki: (13:32)
I don’t anticipate. We certainly will have those details to share with all of you once the visit occurs, but I don’t anticipate us doing that yet.
I wonder if given some of the president’s rhetoric on the campaign trail and as president and some of the policies that he instituted, including rolling back some of the immigration policies of the Trump era, is he concerned at all that some of his rhetoric and some of his policies may have, as well-intentioned as they may have been, inadvertently contributed to the rise in migrants that we’re seeing at the border, in particular unaccompanied children. And does he have any…
… immigrants that we’re seeing at the border, in particular unaccompanied children, and does he have any intention to more forcefully tell those individuals that now is not the time to come, as the Secretary of Homeland Security said last week?
Jen Psaki: (14:12)
And as the Secretary also said last week … Was that last week? It feels … I’m not sure.
I think it was this week.
Jen Psaki: (14:17)
I don’t know. It may have been this week. As the Secretary said, this is a message we are conveying with every opportunity from the president, the vice-president, from officials in the region, and we’re doing that with the full support, of course, of the Department of Homeland Security and resources that we have available. I will say that the big difference, which we certainly understand the outcome may be an influx as we’ve seen of more children. If you were kicking children out, there’s naturally by a design, I’m no mathematician, but going to be more children who come in, because we believe that policy was inhumane, and we believe that children who are under the age of 18 should be treated with humanity and provided safety while we consider what the process is moving forward.
Jen Psaki: (15:03)
So we certainly have a different approach. We understand the outcome and the impact of that, but we are using every tool at our disposal and we will use every official we can to convey clearly this is not the time to come. The majority of people who come are turned away. Families, adults. We’re really talking about children, which is, I know, what you were saying,
But you do believe that part of that rise is due to some of your policies and rhetoric of this administration?
Jen Psaki: (15:30)
I certainly didn’t say that exactly, but all I’m conveying is that obviously we’re going to have more kids across in the country, since we have been letting unaccompanied minors stay, and the last administration immorally kicked them out in our view. So go ahead.
Speaker 2: (15:45)
Jen, thank you. To follow up on a question I asked about these minors yesterday, Reuters is now reporting that Fort Lee is going to be used as a housing facility for some of these minors in Virginia. Can you confirm whether that’s true and if you are considering other military bases around the country?
Jen Psaki: (16:06)
Well, as we’ve been just been talking about, obviously we recognize the challenge of having these unaccompanied children come across the border and the influx that we’re certainly preparing for and preparing to approach. So, of course, we have to look for facilities and places where we can safely and humanely have these unaccompanied minors in the interim. That would be the decision of HHS, so I would send you to them, but I don’t have anything to confirm in terms of additional facilities at this point.
Speaker 2: (16:35)
Got it. And I guess just to follow up on Jeremy, I think … Well, I don’t want to speak for him, but a lot of Americans are saying that the surges are happening under President Biden’s watch after he reversed them previous policies, so does the administration take any accountability for what’s happening?
Jen Psaki: (16:53)
Who are the Americans?
Speaker 2: (16:55)
Well, I know you don’t want to answer to him, but the former president released a statement saying that the Biden administration must act immediately to end the border nightmare that they have unleashed onto our nation.
Jen Psaki: (17:07)
Former President Trump?
Speaker 2: (17:09)
Jen Psaki: (17:09)
We don’t take our advice or counsel from Former President Trump on immigration policy, which was not only inhumane but ineffective over the last four years. We’re going to chart our own path forward, and that includes treating children with humanity and respect and ensuring they’re safe when they cross our border. Go ahead. Oh, go ahead. Sorry.
Speaker 2: (17:28)
Can I ask you about the vaccine? Sorry. So the mayor of Detroit has turned away thousands of doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Do you think that Mayor Duggan is making a mistake, and what is the message to other state and local leaders who might be considering doing the same?
Jen Psaki: (17:43)
Well, our message broadly is what our health and medical experts have conveyed, Dr. Fauci and all of our COVID team. There are three approved vaccines from the FDA. They all are safe. They are effective. They prevent severe disease and death, so anyone who is going to … Everyone in this country, I should say, should take whatever vaccine they have access to. As I understand it, the mayor was going to … Our team has been in touch with the mayor. There’s a bit of a misunderstanding. He was going to go out and speak publicly about accepting vaccines, so I’m not sure if that’s happened yet, so I’d certainly point you to that.
Speaker 2: (18:21)
Thank you, Jen.
Jen Psaki: (18:21)
Sure. Go ahead.
Speaker 3: (18:22)
Thank you, Jen. Are there any discussions within the White House about reversing the policy of allowing all unaccompanied children into the United States?
Jen Psaki: (18:31)
Speaker 3: (18:32)
None at all? So I guess is the plan then to take in and safely and humanely find a home for an unlimited number of unaccompanied children?
Jen Psaki: (18:42)
I think this issue requires us taking a step back as human beings and as mothers, of which I am one. I know that there are many in the room or many at home. These kids are coming. They are fleeing prosecution. They are fleeing difficult circumstances in their home country. When they come here, all we’re talking about here is ensuring that they are treated safely, they are not trafficked, they are not sent back on an unsafe journey. That’s what we’re talking about. When they come, when these kids come in, it doesn’t mean they are ensured that they get to stay. They go through the processing system that everyone goes through, but we want to ensure that that is done by treating them humanely and with respect. Many of them will be sent back home eventually, but we’re talking about how we treat them as they come in the country.
Speaker 3: (19:28)
Well, and I’m a mom too, so I certainly feel for all of these children that are fleeing very difficult situations and their homes to come here. But the fact remains, you have DHS projecting 117,000 unaccompanied minors by May, and that brings me to another question. A lot of these numbers and this data, they’re all coming from leaked documents from DHS, from HHS. Why doesn’t the White House just release these numbers? I mean, don’t the American people deserve to get the data straight from you and straight from the White House?
Jen Psaki: (20:03)
Data of projected numbers in internal documents for policy discussions?
Speaker 3: (20:09)
Data about how many unaccompanied children and migrants are crossing the border on a daily basis. I understand eventually it’s made public, but why not right now? [crosstalk 00:20:19].
Jen Psaki: (20:18)
It is made public by the Department of Homeland Security and the officials who oversee the entire process. It is made public, but we don’t as a policy make public or confirm private decks and policy documents, as no administration would.
Speaker 3: (20:36)
I understand. So can you confirm how many illegal border crossings there are on average every day right now?
Jen Psaki: (20:42)
I would send you to the Department of Homeland security and CBP, who of course would be overseeing that process.
Speaker 3: (20:47)
Okay. And one more question on immigration. House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, he’s requesting a meeting with President Biden about this issue. He’s also asking President Biden to acknowledge the crisis. Will President Biden take that meeting, and I’ll ask it again. Will he acknowledge that there’s a crisis?
Jen Psaki: (21:05)
Well, first the president and this administration’s focus is on digging out of the dismantled and inhumane immigration approach of the last administration, and that’s why the president has proposed an immigration bill that would not only address the root causes that Leader McCarthy referenced in his letter, but would move beyond the policy of funding ineffective border walls, by investing in smart security at ports of entry, and would also create a pathway to citizenship, and we would welcome the openness or desire to engage on that from the leader or any Democrat or Republican who wants to have a conversation about a constructive path forward. Go ahead.
Speaker 4: (21:43)
A couple of followups if I can. First on the AUMF discussion. So right now, there are two active AUMFs, 2001 and 2002. The president is in favor of replacing both of them with one, with two? What does that look like?
Jen Psaki: (21:56)
He wants to discuss a narrow and specific framework moving forward. Obviously, it’s outdated. Those are 19 and 18 years old, and that’s the discussion he hopes to have in partnership and with the leadership of Senator Kaine and determine what the approach and framework should be as we look ahead.
Speaker 4: (22:14)
Would that then, moving forward, looking at the sort of the CRA airstrike, for instance, would he have to go to Congress moving forward if he wanted to order another military engagement like that?
Jen Psaki: (22:27)
Well, the CRA airstrikes were, of course, and we had a whole legal process and review, and we’re confident in the legal authorities for that strike, and they were the self-defense of US military personnel who were threatened overseas. So I will leave it to the discussion of the framework moving forward, but I would say that we are confident in both our approach and the authorities we had for those strikes.
Speaker 4: (22:52)
And why not infrastructure, if I can?
Jen Psaki: (22:52)
Speaker 4: (22:53)
I know you’re focused on the COVID bill, but when the American Rescue Plan was first introduced, President Biden was very encouraged that there would be bipartisan support for it. It does not appear that there will be any bipartisan support for it. Republicans haven’t voted for it yet. What is the level of confidence then on the next big legislative agenda item like infrastructure? Were there lessons learned in sort of the engagement or the [inaudible 00:23:17]. I’m just sort of curious what that would look.
Jen Psaki: (23:20)
Well, first bipartisanship is not determined by a single zip code in Washington, D.C. It’s about where the American people sit and stand, and the vast majority of the American people support the American Rescue Plan, including Republicans. And so I think really the question is why are Republicans in Congress who aren’t supporting this package outliers in where the American public is in moving this forward? And on infrastructure, certainly I don’t have this in front of me, but I’m sure you have all have lots of research assistants who can look at who has supported infrastructure in the past. Many have spoken to their support for infrastructure packages. Many have. Republicans, of course, and Democrats, many have discussed it with the president, and so we’re certainly hopeful and confident that repairing roads, rails, and bridges, doing better by our caregivers, reforming our outdated tax system are steps, and anything else that was in the Build Back Better agenda. A lot of those pieces are pieces there’s been bipartisan support for in the past. Go ahead, Francesca.
I think we would all love research assistants, by the way.
Jen Psaki: (24:28)
Well, some of you do. You can steal them from other outlets. It could be like a sharing of resources.
Indeed. But I did want to circle back to the top. You mentioned that the president next week will sign a series of gender equity or gender equality executive orders, if you could say a little bit more at this time about those. And relatedly, in the stimulus package, he proposed 14 weeks of paid family leave, but that was temporary, would expire in September. So is that something that he would like to see Congress tackle legislatively?
Jen Psaki: (24:58)
Sure. On the first, I will preview for you. We will have a special guest or two here on Monday to talk about these executive orders, and I expect we’ll have a briefing call this weekend. So I’m not going to get ahead of it beyond that, but we’re looking forward to talking more about it. And on the second one, say that one more time.
So in the relief package, he proposed at least 14 weeks of paid leave, but that was temporary. It would expire in September. So what I’m asking is is that something he would like to see Congress make permanent and address in future legislation?
Jen Psaki: (25:30)
Well, we have, of course. This is just the beginning of our administration. He’s talked in the past about his commitment to paid leave and feels it’s an important component of ensuring there’s a diverse workforce, a workforce that has gender equity and racial equity. It’s an important component of that. We don’t know what next vehicles might look like, so it’s a topic and a policy he remains committed to, but I’m not going to get ahead of where we are in the policy-making process.
And staying on the stimulus package for a moment, the minimum wage, it won’t be in there at this point. As we saw a little bit earlier on Capitol Hill, Senator Sanders was speaking to reporters and he said, “If anybody thinks we’re giving up on this issue, they are sorely mistaken. If we have to vote on it time and time again, we will, and we’re going to succeed.” So, does the president want to see Democrats vigorously pursue a minimum wage increase, and as we talk about what you’d like to see in the future, is this something that you’d like to see the House and the Senate take up immediately after negotiations on the stimulus package conclude?
Jen Psaki: (26:29)
Well, first, we agree with Senator Sanders, and the president is going to be standing right alongside him fighting for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, because men and women who are working hard to make ends meet shouldn’t be living at the poverty level, and he will use his political capital to get that done. I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of the order or the timeline, but it remains a priority, and it is something that the president would like to get done and will use his capital to do. I’ll also add, you didn’t ask this, but there’s been a little bit of a rumor mill, so I’m just going to address it. Right now, as you know, we’re focused on the American Rescue Plan, getting it through Congress, and the president and his team are not engaged in conversations or negotiations about lowering the threshold for the minimum wage, just to be crystal clear on that. Go ahead.
Speaker 5: (27:15)
Thank you, Jen. So just following up on Francesca’s question, how will the president work to use his political capital to increase the minimum wage, if there, right now, doesn’t seem to be the votes in the Senate, and [inaudible 00:27:26] is not onboard with abolishing the filibuster?
Jen Psaki: (27:29)
Well, look, there are … He has an ambitious agenda moving forward that includes a number of proposals that there’s bipartisan support for, and he’s going to look, he’s going to work with Democrats and Republicans who are open to it to discussing how we move forward. But I don’t have anything to preview for you about the legislative strategy for an initiative that is after the American Rescue Plan.
Speaker 5: (27:51)
Can I just ask one more question for another reporter that couldn’t be here?
Jen Psaki: (27:53)
Speaker 5: (27:54)
What advice is the president receiving by his COVID team in regards to ongoing travel bans, and when would the president like to see them lifted?
Jen Psaki: (28:01)
He relies on the advice and …
Speaker 6: (28:03)
Jen Psaki: (28:03)
He relies on the advice and decision-making of his health and medical team and experts, including the CDC. So he’ll wait for them to make any decision about future lifting of those guidelines. Go ahead, Trevor.
Just a couple on technology. You had a statement out from Jake Sullivan last night on the Microsoft related breach. I’m just curious if that affected any government computers, departments, agencies, and any more color detail around that.
Jen Psaki: (28:30)
Sure. This isn’t… And for anyone who didn’t see National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s tweet last night, he spoke to the Microsoft breach that’s been reported. But this is a significant vulnerability that could have far reaching impacts. First and foremost, this is an active threat. And as the national security advisor tweeted last night, everyone running these servers, government, private sector, academia needs to act now to patch them. We are concerned that there are a large number of victims and are working with our partners to understand the scope of this. So it’s an ongoing process, Trevor, I would say. Network owners also need to consider whether they have already been compromised and should immediately take appropriate steps. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued an emergency directive to agencies and we’re now looking closely at the next steps we need to take. It’s still developing. We urge network operators to take it very seriously. But I don’t have any other readouts beyond that.
Okay. Just as far as any color around whether the government itself was impacted by this.
Jen Psaki: (29:32)
I think I conveyed there clearly that what National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, has conveyed and why he put this message out publicly was that this is an ongoing threat. And he was encouraging patches to be done across, as he said, government, private sector, academia, and we’re still looking closely at what happened and the next steps that need to be taken.
Okay. And then I just wanted to ask about Tim Wu who you announced hiring today. He has very publicly advocated for breaking up big tech companies like Facebook. Those are the kinds of issues he’s going to be advising President Biden on. Is that now White House policy? And what is he going to be doing with regard to the FTC and the DOJ and what they’re already doing on those big tech companies?
Jen Psaki: (30:26)
Well, first it’s been reported, but Tim Wu will serve at the NAC as the Special Assistant to the President for Technology and Competition Policy. He was recently a professor at Columbia University Law School. He previously served as senior enforcement counsel to the New York attorney general and as a senior advisor at the FTC. He brings, as you noted in some way, different words, but a wealth of knowledge and experience about technology and competition policy that will help ensure President Biden’s economic agenda supports working families, strengthens the middle class and protects consumers. The president has been clear on the campaign probably more recently that he stands up to the abuse of power and that includes the abuse of power from big technology companies and their executives.
Jen Psaki: (31:07)
And Tim will help advance the president’s agenda, which includes addressing the economic and social challenges posed by the growing power of tech platforms, promoting competition and addressing monopoly and market power issues, expanding access to broadband for low income and rural communities across the country. But his hiring is a reflection of the value of his expertise. If the administration policy was determined by every person that was hired, we would have 400 different policies in each issues. The president welcomes expertise, he welcomes experience and Tim Wu certainly brings that in droves.
Okay. Biden has never publicly talked about breaking up big tech company. So I just wanted to clarify, is that the policy of this White House-
Jen Psaki: (31:49)
We don’t have new policy to announce here, Trevor. Just that the president believes, as he’s talked about before, that it’s important to promote competition and address monopoly and market power issues. But we don’t have new policy to announce. We’re six weeks into an administration, but certainly we welcome the expertise of individuals like Tim Wu. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Speaker 7: (32:11)
Jen Psaki: (32:12)
Oh, sorry. We can go to both of you. We’re not in a rush. Go ahead.
Speaker 7: (32:15)
Okay. Thanks. Given the many questions about the transparency of the World Health Organization’s COVID investigation of Wuhan, is there a point at which the president who made this priority of putting US back into the WHO will say we’re getting fed up and actually go back a little bit towards former president’s position, which was that WHO was basically useless for the United States?
Jen Psaki: (32:41)
Well, I would actually say that we’re gratified that the WHO has determined to hold on releasing an interim report into the origins of COVID. That was a positive step, which was taken in part because of our involvement and engagement. In recent weeks, we have spoken with many international allies and partners who shared our concern about the ways in which early findings of the investigation had shared the same concerns. We feel this is an encouraging sign that US re-engagement is already having a positive impact. And we rejoined the World Health Organization on the first day of the Biden administration so that the United States could once again lead in an international fora.
Speaker 7: (33:21)
So the president is satisfied with the way that whole report work is going ahead right now?
Jen Psaki: (33:27)
No, it’s not… They’re holding on it.
Speaker 7: (33:29)
Right. So is he satisfied or not with that?
Jen Psaki: (33:33)
I would say he is. Feels it’s a positive sign, as I just said, because they’re not releasing a report where we expressed concerns about the origin of the data, the lack of transparency and that we felt it would send a negative message about… Not a negative message, I should say, kind of the inaccurate message about the origins of the pandemic. And that engagement, that outcome was in part because of our engagement.
Speaker 7: (33:59)
So when they put the whole thing out in the middle of March, what they’re saying, is he confident that, that’s going to be the-
Jen Psaki: (34:04)
We’ll look at the data and the report. We have a long said, we’d like to see the underlying data, but again, we feel the hold on releasing the interim report, we were gratified by that step that was taken. Go ahead in the back.
Speaker 8: (34:19)
Thank you, Jen. Last week, you very kindly confirmed the president’s very good relationship with Pope Francis. Today the pope is in Middle East and has a meeting coming up with the Ayatollah, al-Sistani. Someone, by the way, who’s never met with an American official before. And my question is, does the president have any feelings about the pope’s meeting with the Ayatollah and his effort to push forward with the vision in that troubled part of the world for unity and warm relations between Shia, Sunni and Christian?
Jen Psaki: (34:59)
Well, I have not spoken with the president about his personal feelings about the meeting that they have today. As you know, broadly speaking, the president believes that the path forward is diplomacy, should always be led by diplomacy. But I don’t have the details of their meeting or I’m sure they may do a readout of sorts. And if so, we’re happy to give a comment on it.
Speaker 8: (35:23)
The other thing is that as of March 1st, the Congress has not invited the president to deliver the State of the Union address. Meaning he is so far gone the longest of any president in his first year without confirming a date for the State of the Union, with the exception of President Nixon in 1969.
Jen Psaki: (35:42)
Well, a little bit of history. I like it.
Speaker 8: (35:43)
And who gave no address and waited until the following year. Is he going to follow that example or should we expect an invitation soon on the statement-
Jen Psaki: (35:53)
First for clarity purposes, and I know this wasn’t your intention, but it’s not a snubbing happening here. We are in the middle of a global pandemic. And of course, any joint sessions speech would look different than the past. We certainly intend on the president delivering a speech joint session, not a State of the Union in the first year that they’re in office, but we don’t have a date for that or a timeline at this point in time. And we’ve been engaged closely with leaders in Congress about determining that.
Speaker 8: (36:23)
Okay. Do we expect an announcement soon on that or?
Jen Psaki: (36:27)
We’ll see. We’re in discussions, we’re working with them. And as soon as it’s finalized, we’re happy to share that with all of you.
Speaker 8: (36:33)
One final question, the Turkish publication, Devar English, cited a Turkish businessman, I believe his name is, and I hope I’m pronouncing it right, [inaudible 00:36:47], who said that he is a friend of the Biden family, and he’s hosted to one of the president’s brothers on a vacation. It’s interesting that the president in all his calls to world leader has not called President Erdoğan yet. Does he plan to make the call like that or is he going to operate with back channels to [inaudible 00:37:07]
Jen Psaki: (37:08)
I’m not familiar with this individual or this engagement. But certainly, the president has many global leaders, world leaders he’s still needs to call and he will venture to do that in the coming weeks and months.
Speaker 8: (37:24)
So he will call President Erdoğan?
Jen Psaki: (37:25)
I’m sure at some point.
Speaker 8: (37:27)
Jen Psaki: (37:27)
Speaker 9: (37:29)
Jen, that House has sent the LGBTQ Equality Act to the Senate where it’ll be one of several bills that faces an uncertain future. Will the president reach out to lawmakers on the Equality Act?
Jen Psaki: (37:41)
It certainly is a piece of legislation the president supports as you well know. And he discusses a range of his priorities with members of Congress, the House and the Senate. And I’m certain, when given the opportunity, he will advocate for the passing.
Speaker 9: (37:55)
And I know you’ve been asked about the legislative filibuster in this briefing already, but I would like for you to address it as it pertains to this specific bill. Isn’t there a reasonable expectation and if the president strongly supports this bill, that he would want to welcome the filibuster to see it get to his desk?
Jen Psaki: (38:12)
The president’s position hasn’t changed. He looks forward to advocating for the passage of legislation that he supports and working with Democrats and Republicans to get that done.
Speaker 9: (38:22)
And finally, who at the White House is coordinating the approach to the Equality Act?
Jen Psaki: (38:30)
Well, certainly our legislative team oversees the approach to any piece of legislation working its way through Congress, but they tap into resources across the building as would be expected.
Speaker 9: (38:42)
Is there one person who is specifically charged with focusing on-
Jen Psaki: (38:45)
On the legislative team, we just don’t read out specific staffing responsibilities publicly. But I can assure you that with any piece of legislation, there are a range of individuals in the building who are asked to make calls, to write policy, to write talking points, to reach out to outside groups. And it’s a coordinated effort internally. Go ahead.
Speaker 10: (39:06)
I have a question about the vaccine diplomacy. Some European countries are turning to Russia and China for COVID-19 vaccine, including Hungary and Slovakia. Do you believe that by offering vaccine supplies, Moscow and Beijing are trying to help or divide Europe? And do you think that such offers should be accepted?
Jen Psaki: (39:32)
Well, we’ll leave that to individual European countries to determine. But I would say that we are concerned about the use or the attempted use of vaccines as a means of diplomacy by Russia and China. We of course support doing that through a international coordinating body like COVAX, which I know is not applicable to every country. And we of course want to work directly with countries around the world about how we can support their efforts moving forward. We understand that’s challenging at this moment in time because the president’s priority is ensuring every American is vaccinated. We’ll have enough vaccines to do that by the end of May, then there’s of course a distribution process after that. But that remains our priority here, but we look forward to remaining engaged through proper international coordinating bodies and directly with a number of these countries.
Speaker 10: (40:25)
May follow up? Aren’t you concerned that President Biden’s America first vaccine policy actually gives opening to China and Russia and reduces US influence around the world?
Jen Psaki: (40:39)
Well, I would first say that we work with European countries and partners, Asian countries and partners, countries and partners in South America on a range of priorities and issues, whether it’s security, whether it’s addressing the threat of climate, whether it is economic partnership and relationships. And we’ll continue to do that. We also have conversations about access to vaccines, and we’ll continue to do that as well. That’s something that comes up in a number of these diplomatic conversations. Right now, as you’ve noted our priority and our focus is on ensuring the American people are vaccinated. And we have to take into account a number of factors, including the fact that we don’t know which vaccine is most effective with children. That testing is still ongoing. We don’t know the most effective as it relates to all the variants. That is still ongoing. But we are very open and we will continue to have those engagements and conversations about how we can assist countries looking for vaccine supply.
Speaker 10: (41:35)
One more. Follow up to President Biden’s phone call with European Commission president today, have they discussed restoring air travel between Europe and United States?
Jen Psaki: (41:49)
I know we put a readout of the call out.
Speaker 10: (41:51)
Nothing about it [inaudible 00:41:52]
Jen Psaki: (41:51)
I’d have to talk to our national security team and see if that’s something. If it was raised on the other end, we’d leave that to them. I don’t think there was any intention of raising that from our end. So they may have more to speak to it from their end. Sorry.
Jen Psaki: (42:03)
… raising that from our end. So they may have more to speak to it from their end. Sorry. Go ahead.
Jen Psaki: (42:05)
Oh, I’m sorry. Can we go to you first, and then we’ll come back? Yeah.
Speaker 11: (42:08)
Thanks, just two questions. First, the president earlier this week in regards to the House Democratic caucus suggested that the White House under Obama didn’t take enough of a victory lap following the 2009 stimulus. I’m wondering if you can just expand on what the White House plans to do differently this time, assuming the Rescue package is passed in the coming days.
Jen Psaki: (42:26)
Sure. Well, I was here during that period of time, and I would say that any of my colleagues at the time would say that we didn’t do enough to explain to the American people what the benefits were of the Rescue Plan, and we didn’t do enough to do it in terms that people would be talking about at their dinner tables. And that’s one of the reasons we of course have been, trying to break down the impact of the American Rescue Plan into the key components that will impact people directly. The direct checks, ensuring funding to help expedite vaccine distribution, and of course reopening of schools. But our focus is on getting the package passed, and once it does, we look forward to taking some time using the president, the vice president, the first lady, the second gentleman, to engage with and communicate with the American people about how the package impacts them and how it will help them get through this difficult period of time.
Speaker 11: (43:30)
And then, second on infrastructure. Representative DeFazio said after the meeting yesterday that there were discussions about how to pay for an infrastructure package. I’m just wondering if you can give us a little more sense of what was discussed yesterday.
Jen Psaki: (43:43)
I don’t have any more details. We don’t even have a package that is being proposed at this point, and when we get to that point, I’m sure we’ll have this discussion. Obviously, the president has talked in the past about different revenue raisers, whether it’s rolling back certain tax cuts, but we’re just not at that point in the internal policy discussions quite yet. Go ahead, Alexandra. Alexandra, I was looking at you. Sorry, go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead, Francesca.
Two more questions for you, and then I’ll be done. So earlier this week, Secretary Blinken had a call with Juan Guaidó, who the US recognizes as the interim president of Venezuela. President Biden has not yet made such a call. I know you’ve said that he has a long list of foreign leaders that he’d like to call-
Jen Psaki: (44:26)
… but at what point do you think that he might give Juan Guaidó a ring?
Jen Psaki: (44:31)
I just don’t have anything to predict for you. And I will say, having served at the State Department before, sometimes a call from the secretary of state happens before a call from the president. Not always, but I don’t have a list of his upcoming calls planned for foreign leaders.
Okay, and the other one was I wanted to ask about a campaign pledge that President Biden made. During the campaign, he said that he would direct $70 billion to HBCUs, so I was wondering if you could provide an update on that. Is there any executive orders or legislation in the works that would address that issue?
Jen Psaki: (45:02)
He remains committed to supporting HBCUs and supporting them financially, but I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of policy. We are only 41 days in. Lot more policy-making, executive order-doing… Well, some executive order-doing to be done. Go ahead, and then we’ll come back to you, Jeremy. Go ahead.
Speaker 12: (45:20)
Jen, a number of state legislatures are advancing legislation seen as imposing additional restrictions on transgender youth, including those that would inhibit their ability to stay in sports and access transitional care. One such bill is on its way to the governor of [inaudible 00:45:36]’s desk, if that’s signed already. Has the president expressed any concern about these bills and the state legislatures?
Jen Psaki: (45:46)
I would just say that the president’s view is maybe not well known, but let me restate it here. I’m not aware of discussions directly with state legislators. If he had had those discussions, you would likely know, I should say, but the president believes that trans rights are human rights, and that no one should be discriminated on the basis of sex. Not only is this the law of the land, it’s his own deeply held view. The anti-discrimination executive order the president signed is focused on children being able to learn without worrying about whether they will be discriminated against, and this means not being denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports. And him signing the executive order sends a pretty clear message to state legislators, to lawmakers about where he stands on this issue, and what his position is as president. Oh, okay.
Speaker 13: (46:38)
I mean, if you want to take-
Jen Psaki: (46:40)
We’ll do two more. It’s a Friday. Okay, and then Jeremy can wrap us up. Go ahead.
Speaker 14: (46:44)
Thank you. Two questions about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The first is I just wanted to know if the White House had any sort of reaction to these twin reports in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times that aides to Governor Cuomo had altered the report on nursing home deaths to hide a higher death toll.
Jen Psaki: (47:03)
We’ve certainly seen those reports. Obviously, they’re troubling, and we certainly would support any outside investigation, but those wouldn’t be determinations made by us.
Speaker 14: (47:14)
Okay. And on the other controversy that Governor Cuomo’s facing, the third accuser did a long interview on CBS News last night. I’m wondering if the vice president or the president watched it or heard about it.
Jen Psaki: (47:27)
I’m not aware of them watching it. They obviously both have a full schedule we keep them to of course, as I’ve noted in here before, but I welcome the opportunity to repeat.
Speaker 14: (47:40)
So I guess my question is, in 2017, when then Senator Kamala Harris was calling on Senator Al Franken to resign for similar issues, she tweeted, and I quote, “Sexual harassment and misconduct should not be allowed by anyone, and should not occur anywhere.” So what does it say to women like Charlotte Bennett when the vice president of the United States will comment about that, but won’t say the same thing about these allegations against Governor Cuomo?
Jen Psaki: (48:08)
Well, I think the vice president’s view is that she believes all women should be treated with respect. Their voices should be heard. They should tell their story. There’s an independent investigation that is happening now being overseen by the New York attorney general, and she certainly supports that. And hopefully, all of the individuals who have come out should see that as her point of view, and one that I’m happy to reiterate on her behalf.
Speaker 14: (48:31)
So why won’t she say that?
Jen Psaki: (48:33)
Again, I think I’m speaking on her behalf. This is the White House. That’s the benefit of doing this briefing every day. Go ahead, Jeremy.
Thanks, Jen. Just a couple more on the COVID bill. Since the president proposed that $1.9 trillion package, the national picture has changed in a few significant ways. This jobs report today shows the economy is recovering at a faster pace than anticipated. About 16% of Americans have now received at least one dose of the vaccine, and yet the president hasn’t budged off that $1.9 trillion top line. Is he reconsidering that big number in light of these recent developments?
Jen Psaki: (49:06)
Well, at the same time, 4 million Americans have been unemployed for more than six months. The rate of unemployment among African Americans is 9.9%, 8.5% among Hispanics. Without this package, 9.5 million people are out of work. At this rate, we would not hit the pre-pandemic unemployment rate for two years. If that’s satisfying to Republicans in Congress, then certainly they can speak for themselves. But the president believes, and economists believe, and experts believe that in order to get this pandemic under control, in order to get people back to work, we need an infusion of this size package, because the twin crises we’re facing, that’s what would meet the moment.
And in terms of bipartisanship, obviously there are a few Republican senators who are still considering how to vote on this package, Senator Lisa Murkowski chief among them in terms of somebody who might support this bill. So how much of a priority is it for the president to try and win over at least one of these Republican senators, and how much time and energy is he planning to put into that effort?
Jen Psaki: (50:13)
Well, the president remains deeply engaged in getting this across the finish line. He takes nothing for granted, and I fully expect him to be on the phone through the course of the weekend with Democrats and Republicans as needed, answering questions they have, addressing needs they have. Obviously, he had a number of people to the Oval Office just this week. So he takes-
How much of a priority is it for him to get at least one Republican senator to support this bill?
Jen Psaki: (50:39)
Well, I think the president’s measure of success here is whether we get the package through so we can deliver relief to the American people, and we welcome the supportive Republicans in the Senate. We’re open to answering questions, to addressing concerns they have. But at the end of the day, our focus and the president’s priority is on ensuring that almost 160 million people receive direct checks that we are providing money to schools. By the way, polling this morning showed the majority of people supported that across the country so that they can reopen. And that we are ensuring we can get vaccines in the arms of Americans. We’re still in the middle of a crisis. We’re still in the middle of a war with the pandemic. And he welcomes their support, but his focus is on the American people. Thanks, everyone.
Thank you, Jen.