May 17, 2021
Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript May 17
May 17, 2021 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Jen Psaki: (00:13)
Happy Monday. Okay. A couple of things happening around here today. Today’s the deadline to file your taxes. That’s not a reminder to all of you, but take it as one if you’d like to. And we encourage everyone to file as soon as possible to make sure they receive the full amount of benefits they are owed. Filing taxes will ensure people benefit from the three rounds of relief and rescue payments issued since the start of the pandemic, including up to $1,400 per person provided in the President’s American Rescue Plan. Filing also ensures people get all the refundable tax credits they may be eligible for, like the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit.
Jen Psaki: (00:56)
And today, Treasury and the IRS announced that starting in July, the American Rescue Plan will deliver critical tax relief to middle-class and hard-pressed working families with children. The first monthly payments of the expanded child tax credit will be made on July 15th to 39 million households covering more than 88% of children in the United States.
Jen Psaki: (01:18)
These payments will be made on the 15th of each month unless the 15th falls on a weekend or holiday allowing families who received the credit by direct deposit to plan their budgets more effectively. Eligible families will receive a monthly payment of up to $300 per month for each child under the age of six and up to $250 per month for each child over age six until the year they turn 18. More than 80% of the 39 million households will receive the child tax credit by direct deposit to ensure safe and fast delivery.
Jen Psaki: (01:52)
Only other item for the top, for all of you, today we join the international community in recognizing the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Bi-phobia. The Biden-Harris Administration will always stand with the LGBTQI community and is steadily implementing the presidential memorandum on advancing the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex persons around the world. As the President stated, everyone is entitled to dignity and equality. We will continue to engage with our allies and partners to advance the human rights of LGBTQI people at home and in all corners of the world. Josh, why don’t you kick us off?
Thanks Jen. Two quick subjects, President Biden said last Thursday, that Israel had a right to defend itself and that its actions thus far were not a significant overreaction. After the events of the past few days, does the President still believe that Israel’s actions have been proportionate?
Jen Psaki: (02:51)
Well, first Josh, let me remind people that the president also did two calls over the weekend that we did readouts of, and in those calls he stressed the need for Hamas to cease firing rockets into Israel and affirmed, again, Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorists attacks. I would note from the reports, there have been more than 3000 rockets that have been shot from Hamas into Israel over the last several days.
Jen Psaki: (03:17)
He also expressed his concern that this current period of conflict has tragically claimed the lives of Israeli and Palestinian civilians, including children. And he raised concerns about the safety of journalists, including those who had to leave the building where the Associated Press was based, and reinforced the need to ensure their protection. So how we are looking at this from our standpoint is that our focus, our goal, every single action we take, every statement we make is with the objective of reducing the violence and bringing an end to the conflict on the ground. There are times in diplomacy where we’ll need to keep those conversations quieter, where we won’t read out every component of it. But that is our objective and that is the prism through which every action and every comment is being made.
Gotcha [crosstalk 00:04:07] And then, the Supreme Court agreed today to hear a Mississippi law that would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. And I was curious, does the administration believe that law is constitutional? And if the court upheld the law, what would this administration be prepared to do?
Jen Psaki: (04:25)
Well, I don’t have a comment specific to the Supreme Court taking the case. But generally speaking, given this is a State law, I can say that over the last four years, critical rights like the right to healthcare, the right to choose have been under weathering and extreme attack, including through draconian State laws. The President and the Vice-President are devoted to ensuring that every American has access to healthcare, including reproductive healthcare, regardless of their income, zip code, race, health insurance status, or immigration status. As such, the President is committed to codifying Roe, regardless of the unrelated… It’s all related, but to the outcome of this case. Go ahead.
Just stepping back a little bit from the current situation with Israel and the Palestinian Territories, we reported over the weekend that your envoy in the region has been basically telling both sides that they need to start thinking about what a peace process might look like after this happens. And I’m just curious whether the President is willing to invest himself in being a broker in that kind of a process and whether you’re starting to think about what that might look like?
Jen Psaki: (05:39)
Well, Trevor, I think it’s clear to everyone who’s been a part of and covered or been a part of… I was at the State Department back in 2014. We all know that the only way to bring an end to this escalation of violence is for there to be a two-state solution over time. And in both calls the President made this weekend, he underscored his strong commitment to a negotiated two-state solution as the best path to reach a just and lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Jen Psaki: (06:08)
But in terms of what that would take or what form and what it would look like, it is going to require both parties wanting to engage in that and wanting to have a discussion about the path forward. And, who would be the point person from this end, we’re certainly not quite there yet. It will be up to both parties to decide if they want to move forward on that pathway.
Okay. And then just one more question on that subject, which is what would be the value in making a case for a ceasefire from from your standpoint and would you do that?
Jen Psaki: (06:39)
Well, let me first say that what’s most important is that we all share, the United States shares with a range of countries around the world, those who have been outspoken at the UN, our partners and friends in Europe, a commitment and a desire to bring an end to the violence. And how we are approaching this is through the prism, again, of what steps can we take? What actions can we take behind the scenes? We’ve had over 60 calls in the past week from the President on down with senior leaders in Israel, the Palestinian authority and across the region. And how can we bring an end to the violence through our relationships in the region? Both with the Israelis and the Israeli government, and also with key other partners, whether it’s the Egyptians, the Qataris and other key countries in the region. So that is how we are approaching it from the United States. Go ahead.
Speaker 1: (07:27)
Thanks, Jen. I want to ask that in the inverse. Why not? What is the value in not calling for a cease fire right now, given many of those countries that you just listed are our close allies, France, UK, Egypt, Jordan have done so, are doing so?
Jen Psaki: (07:41)
That is true, but the role we were playing, the action, the prison we are making all of our decisions through is how can we help bring an end to the violence and bring an end to deescalate the situation on the ground? And our calculation at this point is that having those conversations behind the scenes, weighing in with our important strategic partnership we have with Israel, also with other countries in the region is the most constructive approach we can take. So our approach is through quiet, intensive diplomacy and that’s where we feel we can be most effective.
Speaker 1: (08:15)
Does the President’s assessment from last Thursday still stand, that he does not see Israel strikes as a significant overreaction?
Jen Psaki: (08:24)
Again, I noted that the President also had two calls over the weekend, since Thursday, where he conveyed his concerns about the current period of conflict, the lives of Israeli and Palestinian civilians that have been lost, and certainly raised his concern about the safety and security of journalists and others who’ve been impacted on the ground. So we’re not going to give a day by day evaluation. I will say that our objective is to, just like it is with other countries and our partners around the world, is to play the role we can play in the most constructive way possible to reduce the violence, to deescalate the situation on the ground. And a great deal of that is going to be through intensive, quiet diplomacy behind the scenes.
Speaker 1: (09:05)
Just one last question if I may, you mentioned the journalist on the ground on that Gaza tower strike. The Prime Minister Netanyahu called this, “A perfectly legitimate target.” Does this White House agree with that?
Jen Psaki: (09:15)
Well, I would say that any intelligence is being handled through intelligence channels. I don’t have a further readout or confirmation of any of that, those details, from here nor do I have an assessment of that intelligence that was stated by the Prime Minister. Go ahead.
The President obviously has a decades-long relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu, they met at a number of times. Of course, most recently, when he was the Vice President. Tom Friedman wrote today about this being a January 6th moment for Prime Minister Netanyahu. Is there a concern at the White House by the President that domestic politics in Israel are currently a barrier to an end to this escalation of violence?
Jen Psaki: (09:55)
I will say, Mike, good to see you first of all. I will say that it’s not our role to assess or analyze the politics on the ground-
Jen Psaki: (10:03)
… to assess or analyze the politics on the ground in Israel. Everybody has their own politics in different regions of the world, and we see that play out in foreign policy all the time. What our role is, is to be as constructive as possible in deescalating the violence, bringing an end to the conflict. And the President has known, the Prime Minister for some time, they’ve obviously spoken, as hence we did the readout this weekend, and I’m sure they will speak again. We are also deeply engaged at the highest levels. Our National Security Advisor spoke with his counterpart earlier this morning. We’ve done, again, more than 60 calls over the past week with a range of partners in the region. So our objective here, our role is not to do political analysis or provide motivation for any actions, but to take steps we can take as a leader in the world, as a country with deep relationships in the region to deescalate the violence on the ground.
Speaking of domestic politics, you have a letter from a majority of the Senate Democrats calling for the White House to demand a cease fire. You also have Democrats in the party, Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, calling Israel an apartheid state. Senator Bernie Sanders is saying that potentially this should lead the US to reevaluate foreign assistance. What’s the White House’s message to those in the President’s party on this?
Jen Psaki: (11:21)
I will say our message is sometimes you have to step back from politics for a moment. It’s not easy to do. We recognize and agree that watching the lives loss of these Palestinian children, of these families, the fear you see in the eyes of the Israeli people, it is heartbreaking. We want to bring an end to the violence, we want to deescalate the situation on the ground. The role we feel we can do that through, the most effective way we feel we can do that is through quiet and intensive diplomacy. That is what our focus is on at this point in time, but we share an objective of deescalating the circumstances on the ground. We share a view that a two-state solution is the only way to bring a lasting end to the violence.
And then just on another matter, you have two self-imposed deadlines coming up here for the White House. Next Tuesday is the anniversary of George Floyd’s death. The President has said he wants to see that legislation moved by then. And then Memorial Day is only two weeks from today as well. The White House has said they want to see progress on infrastructure talks by then. What is the White House doing to try to meet those deadlines? And can you define what progress on infrastructure means? Does that mean a bill on the floor? Does that mean a breakthrough agreement with some of these Republican Senators?
Jen Psaki: (12:32)
I would not expect a bill to be on the floor before Memorial Day. And all of you, including you who have covered the hill, know that would be some sort of record-breaking pace. So that is not what we expect. But I will also say that almost two weeks, which is the period of time between now and Memorial Day, is a lifetime in legislating, it’s a lifetime in negotiations and conversations and conversations in hallways and phone calls and meetings in person. It will be an active period, it will be an engaged period between high-level officials at the White House and members of Congress and their staffs and committee staff. But in terms of where we will be right before or around Memorial Day, our hope is that we will have a better sense on the path forward and what the opportunity is looking ahead.
And George Floyd?
Jen Psaki: (13:18)
And George Floyd. I will say that we are deeply engaged, of course, with the members and in close touch with the members who are negotiating the path forward, including Senator Booker, including the members of the House, Karen Bass, who is leading this effort, and we stay abreast of their discussions and their negotiations. The President, of course, is eager to sign a bill. He thinks police reform is long overdue, but we’ll continue to press forward. But we feel that is best placed in those negotiations and those constructive negotiations that are happening between members on the hill. Go ahead.
Has the President seen this letter that was sent by Senate Democrats today calling for a ceasefire?
Jen Psaki: (13:58)
Has he seen it? I’m not sure if he’s physically seen the letter. I know that he is, of course, aware of the calls and the points of view of a range of members of Congress on the conflict in Israel.
Has he spoken with any members of Congress about the situation?
Jen Psaki: (14:13)
I don’t have any calls to read out.
When members of his own party share the belief that he is giving too much credence to Israel in this situation, are they wrong? [inaudible 00:14:27] the situation on the ground?
Jen Psaki: (14:29)
Look, I don’t think it would be constructive to put any labels on it, as you’ve just outlined. The President’s view and the view of senior leaders in the White House is that our role as the White House, as the federal government, as the President of the United States, is to play a constructive role in diplomacy, to use our role, our relationships around the world, to have intensive, quiet discussions with leaders in the region that we have long-standing relationships with. We share an objective of deescalating the situation on the ground, of bringing an end to the conflict. That’s an objective we share with members of Congress who have different points of view. And of course we support their ability to have different points of view, but we’re approaching it through the prism of how we feel we can come to a most effective outcome.
Over the weekend, there were these reports that the Israelis had shared intelligence with the United States regarding what was going on in that tower that was blown up that housed the Associated Press and others. They said it was shared with the United States. The Secretary of State this morning overseas said he didn’t see it. He’s not the Intelligence Director, so perhaps that’s why. Has the President seen it? And can you confirm that the Israelis actually shared that intelligence with the United States?
Jen Psaki: (15:42)
Well, this would be handled, as you alluded to, through intelligence channels, and I’m not going to be in a position now or ever of committing or confirming who has or hasn’t seen intelligence. What I believe the State Department has confirmed is that the Secretary was saying he has not personally seen the intelligence, because such matters would appropriately be handled through intelligence channels. So that’s not necessarily a surprise, but in terms of who has or hasn’t seen it, what’s been communicated, I’m just not going to be in a position to confirm that.
Let me ask you one on COVID real quick. There’s been some pushback on the idea that those of us in this room or in indoor places generally should be doing so without masks on, even though that’s now the policy here.
Jen Psaki: (16:19)
SHould be not wearing masks? Oh, should –
Should be wearing masks.
Jen Psaki: (16:22)
Despite the CDC guidance, plenty of [inaudible 00:16:25] people say they’re not ready to take their masks off because they fear it will leave them unprotected, even though doctors have said masks are about protecting other people, not necessarily you wearing them. Does the White House hear that concern or criticism? I know there were governors and mayors over the weekend who’ve expressed concern that this came with very little notice. What says the White House?
Jen Psaki: (16:45)
Well, the CDC director promised the American people that she would convey the latest science to them as she knew it, that she would not delay, that she would not be impacted by politics or influenced by political pressure on the white house or elsewhere. And that’s exactly what she did. Now, that also means that she based that conclusion, as she outlined, on the fact that the vaccines work in the real world, vaccines work against the variants, and vaccinated people are unlikely to spread COVID based on their data and analysis by health and medical experts at the CDC. Now, because we are working in a way that we feel is what is going to rebuild trust with the American people and what should have always been the case, which is that health and medical experts will determine that guidance, it may mean it’s going to take some time for various sectors to implement.
Jen Psaki: (17:35)
It also is important to note what the President said in his remarks last Thursday. People may choose to continue to wear masks. They aren’t through their vaccine, they’re not two weeks post-second vaccine, they have not gotten the vaccine yet, they’re immunocompromised, somebody in their family is. We need to treat people with kindness. And this has already been such a politically charged issue. That’s not our objective. Our objective is to share … and the President will talk about it in his remarks this afternoon too, and make sure people have understanding and clarity of what the CDC guidance was conveying to people, which is that they are safe not to wear their mask if they have been vaccinated.
Is there anything else he’s announcing in those remarks that we should be listening for?
Jen Psaki: (18:16)
He is announcing. He does have some news in his remarks, Ed. He will also be announcing that the United States will send 20 million doses authorized for use in the United States to help countries battling the pandemic by the end of June. This is in addition to sending all of the manufactured AstraZeneca vaccine doses overseas during May and June, as soon as these 16 million doses are cleared. So that is a total of 80 million doses. And this is the most doses donated by any country in the world by five times. So we are waiting for, of course, AstraZeneca, as you know, to go through the approval process of the FDA, but this will put 80 million doses out into the world by the end of June. Go ahead.
Speaker 2: (18:57)
Hi Jen. Thank you. Wait, I want to ask you about that as well, but the 20 million doses are AstraZeneca doses, or are there other –
Jen Psaki: (19:03)
Other things doses of approved vaccines.
Speaker 2: (19:05)
Jen Psaki: (19:05)
Yes, exactly. Yes.
Speaker 2: (19:06)
Okay. So my question is, if you say that the only solution is a two-state solution that requires both parties to want that, which they don’t seem to right now, does that mean that despite all of your quiet, intensive diplomacy behind the scenes, that the US really has limited leverage and power to solve this problem?
Jen Psaki: (19:29)
Well, I would say first that right now, our quiet, intensive diplomacy is of course not negotiating a two-state solution. I know you’re not suggesting that, but just for clarity purposes, that is to bring an end and to deescalate the violence on the ground now. And certainly we feel we have strong relationships with Israeli leaders, we have strong relationships with key partners in the region, and we’re hopeful that those conversations, that quiet diplomacy will help bring an end to the violence and reduce the conflict on the ground. As it relates to a two-state solution, you’ve been through –
Jen Psaki: (20:03)
… As it relates to a two-state solution. You’ve been through many of these as have I and it is clear that it will require both parties to be committed themselves. The United States can not manufacture on our own a two-state solution. It would require both parties having that desire to move forward.
Speaker 2: (20:17)
So it sounds like what you want the American people to understand is that although you are trying your hardest and doing everything you can with all your relationships behind the scenes, the US does not have the power to solve this problem, or it doesn’t have the leverage to solve this problem.
Jen Psaki: (20:33)
Well, I would say first that it’s been seven days, every single life that is lost, a Palestinian life, an Israeli life is a tragedy. It has been seven days. As you know, these conflicts have been far longer than that. That is not our objective of course, we want to deescalate as quickly as possible. But yes, it would require actions from Israel. It would require actions from Hamas to end the violence on the ground. There are range of parties and entities who are involved in those discussions and we want to play as constructive a role as humanly possible.
Speaker 2: (21:07)
And I just have one more quick one. Is it fair to say that you don’t want to answer the question yes or no whether the president feels the Israeli response has been disproportionate?
Jen Psaki: (21:18)
I don’t think it’s constructive. We are going to take everything we convey whether it’s a statement or an action is going to be to the end of deescalating the situation on the ground. Hence, we’re not going to give a day by day grade. Clearly we want to end the violence. Clearly we want to deescalate. Clearly we want the lives of Palestinians, Israelis to be saved. Go ahead, Nancy.
The Washington Post reported that the Biden administration earlier this month approved $735 million in weapons sales to Israel. Is the White House considering putting that on hold during the fighting and it is the Israeli response foreseeing the administration to reconsider future arms sales?
Jen Psaki: (21:58)
I’ve seen the report. I would say the State Department would be the entity to confirm, which I don’t believe they have any future sales or weapons sales. We do have an ongoing and abiding strategic security relationship and partnership with Israel. But in terms of the status of that or considerations moving forward, I’d point you to the State Department.
And just one more question. Did the president speak directly with any Republican senators over the weekend on the infrastructure proposal or the negotiations?
Jen Psaki: (22:24)
I don’t have any calls to read out for you. Sometimes these are scheduled, sometimes they happen on the fly and oftentimes maybe we’ll just keep the theme going of diplomacy here. Sometimes those are best happening without particular readouts to have a constructive outcome. Let’s see. Go ahead.
Thanks, Jen. Just one more on Israel. As this crisis gets worse and worse every day, are there any concerns that we might not be able to hit that Afghanistan withdrawal deadline and might need to intervene in a peacekeeping fashion somehow?
Jen Psaki: (22:54)
No, not at all? Okay.
Jen Psaki: (22:56)
I’ve not been made aware of any concern of the overlapping of an impact on our Afghan withdrawal.
Glad to hear it. On a different notion or a different subject rather, the mask guidance again. Has this triggered a new conversation about whether we need to have, perhaps on a mandate, but a standard vaccine passport that businesses can use or is this decision to be left up to the states? I know the president was pretty critical of his predecessor for sort of taking that hands-off approach.
Jen Psaki: (23:30)
It has not changed our view that the federal government will not be playing that role. The private sector may and it may prompt the private sector moving forward on actions, which is where we think it’s appropriately situated. Go ahead.
Thanks, Jen. So EU officials actually announced earlier that Johnson & Johnson would be cutting its COVID-19 vaccine deliveries to the block by about half this week. And they were already behind schedule for the second quarter. Just in light of Biden’s apparent announcement later that he’s going to be sending 20 million vaccine doses abroad. Do you have any readouts for what countries [inaudible 00:24:04] vaccine directly might be sent to?
Jen Psaki: (24:07)
So let me just make sure I understood your question. So which countries are going to get these 80 million doses that we are announcing? It’s a great question. I know everybody’s eager to know where are they going. I expect we’ll have more in the coming days on what our criteria will be and our approach and some of where it will be sent to once it’s approved through the FDA.
… on the EU is disputes over intellectual property have all to do with reduced exports there or any conversation-
Jen Psaki: (24:34)
I think that’s really a question for Johnson & Johnson and their manufacturing.
And one more question [inaudible 00:24:39]. So inflation numbers obviously last week came back higher than were expected. As the Biden administration deliberates internally on the American Jobs and Families Plan with consistent levels of inflation or changes in the jobs reports influenced the proposals that you all will be bringing to Congress in the package or changing some of the policy that you [inaudible 00:24:58] propose if that continues?
Jen Psaki: (25:00)
Just to make sure I understand your question, are the CPI numbers from a few weeks ago impacting our proposals that we are-
… Any changes in policies you would propose given increased ambition numbers or-
Jen Psaki: (25:13)
No, that’s a good question. I just want to make sure I understood it. As we looked and dug into the data and we’ve talked about this a little bit last week, some of this data’s kind of fascinating I will say, but is that the economy is turning back on. We take inflation very seriously. Our secretary of treasury, obviously the Federal Reserve is responsible for monitoring it, but there are a number of factors as the economy turns back on including other areas like the cost of airline tickets, where if you look back at pre pandemic, they dropped by about 20%. They’re up about 10% since then, right?
Jen Psaki: (25:51)
So there are prices where the baseline was actually lower than it was prior to the pandemic. And that’s one of the things we’re seeing in the data, but it has not changed our view and the view of economists I would say around the country that there’s more that needs to be done to put 8.5 million Americans back to work to ensure that we are getting working families, working mothers, the assistance they need. And to ensure we’re competitive over the long-term. So it has not changed our overarching objectives and approach and our proposals. Go ahead, George.
Yeah, I wanted to follow on your opening remarks on taxes. Will you be releasing today the president’s and vice president’s tax returns?
Jen Psaki: (26:34)
We will be soon releasing as as we believe is the transparent approach and what the public expects the tax returns of the president. I’ll have to double-check on the vice president, but I would expect those will be out soon.
But not necessarily today.
Jen Psaki: (26:51)
Soon. So I would say stay tuned, stay at your computer.
One last thing on that. It used to at least be the policy that president’s returns were always automatically audited. If he is audited, that doesn’t change your decision at all on releasing the returns.
Jen Psaki: (27:07)
No, I would expect that we will continue to release the president’s tax returns as should be expected by every president of the United States. Go ahead.
Speaker 3: (27:16)
Hi, Jen. On Friday, Buzzfeed News was able to within minutes find President Biden’s private Venmo account, which is funny, but also speaks to the epidemic of privacy concerns that everyone [inaudible 00:27:30] the president. And I’m just wondering whether any kind of federal digital privacy reform, any legislation is on your radar.
Jen Psaki: (27:37)
It’s a really good question. And I very aware of the Buzzfeed story that came out last week. I will have to probably check with our team and see if there’s any specific privacy concerns, privacy legislation, or proposals that is, are being considered. I would suspect there may be, but I would delink it from the Venmo report, which was a very interesting report because obviously this is something that impacts millions of Americans out there who have a range of accounts, but I’m happy to check with them and we can get back to you.
Speaker 3: (28:07)
And I need to ask a Canada question.
Jen Psaki: (28:08)
A Canada question?
Speaker 3: (28:10)
Jen Psaki: (28:10)
Speaker 3: (28:11)
Yeah, Josh isn’t here-
Jen Psaki: (28:12)
Speaker 3: (28:14)
Are there any talks right now with the Canadian government about reopening the Northern border? Is that something that this administration is pushing for? And as you know, Canada is a bit behind the US and vaccination rates. I’m wondering whether there is any threshold you’d like to see them hit in Canada before the border is reopened.
Jen Psaki: (28:31)
I don’t have any update on the timeline. We are certainly always assessing as it relates to travel, borders, et cetera, what we need to do and keep in place in order to keep the American people safe especially during a global pandemic, but we are constantly evaluating. I don’t think we have specific criteria to make available, but you can let me know after, let us know after which reporter we should follow up with on it and we can see if there’s more specifics on that. Go ahead [inaudible 00:28:56]
Speaker 4: (28:56)
Thanks so much for taking my question. Does President Biden think that there are any war crimes being committed right now in the Middle East? There are some experts who told the New York Times that they think that there could have been war crimes on both sides.
Jen Psaki: (29:09)
We’re not going to be making an assessment of that from here. Our objective is on taking every step we can to reduce the violence, to deescalate the situation on the ground, to save lives, to ensure that we are bringing some stability back on the ground.
Speaker 4: (29:26)
Just to follow-up. Is the president at all concerned just about the number of civilians that are being killed? That’s why some of these experts are telling the New York Times that these are war crimes.
Jen Psaki: (29:37)
Well, I would say [inaudible 00:29:38] that in the readouts that we put out this weekend, we included and as I’ve noted a little bit earlier in the briefing, his concern about the lives lost, every life loss is a tragedy. And certainly that’s why we are eager to deescalate the violence on the ground, bring an end to the conflict so that more lives can be saved.
Speaker 4: (29:56)
I want to also switch to COVID. The largest national nurses union is saying that the CDC guidelines on masks-
Speaker 4: (30:03)
The nurse’s union is saying that the CDC guidelines on masks is putting front line workers, and especially people of color, at risk, and they’re calling for the CDC to reverse that. What’s the White House’s stance on that union in particular saying that their members and people of color are at risk?
Jen Psaki: (30:16)
Well, I would say we don’t have any particular response directly to the union. I will say that again, the objective of the CDC and of Dr. Walensky was to deliver on the commitment she made to the American people, which was to provide guidance based on health and scientific evidence on what people can do that is safe. And so, her guidance that was put out last week makes clear that if you have been vaccinated, their recommendation is that you are safe not to wear a mask inside, outside, and when you’re not in large public gatherings. There’s going to be a determination about implementation, and there are going to be populations and communities where they take a different approach to implementation, because a lot of it is going to be based on the level of vaccination, the level in each community. So, we certainly respect and value that, but it is still, our view is that science is the North Star. She was delivering on her promise, and we will continue to work with a range of communities on implementation.
Speaker 4: (31:25)
Can I ask you a follow-up on COVID? I’ve talked to some people who are very worried about the idea that we’re operating on an honor system in a lot of ways, where in places like Walmart and Target, there’s already starting to be rule changes based on the CDC guidance. What do you say to people who think that it’s worrisome to be operating on a honor system, that it could put kids or even immune compromised Americans at risk?
Jen Psaki: (31:45)
Well, I would say that what this guidance provides is information the public about what they can do to be safe. Wear a mask if you’re not vaccinated. That applies to kids. I have two kids. That isn’t always easy, but that is the health and medical guidance. If you are vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask in these settings. So the guidance is actually pretty clear, but it gives people the information and the power to be able to protect themselves. If you get vaccinated, you go through your two doses, you’re two weeks past your doses, you no longer need to wear a mask. If you are not, you should still wear a mask to protect others, but also to protect yourself. It also makes clear that kids should still wear masks.
Jen Psaki: (32:28)
So, I would say that we know people are digesting this. We’ve all been wearing masks. Many of us have been wearing masks, I should say, for 14 months now. And different companies, different organizations, different communities are going to implement based on a range of factors, including vaccination levels, cases, transmission rates, and we all should respect that. But it was the responsible step to put out the data from the scientists when it was available, and that’s exactly what we did.
Speaker 4: (32:59)
My question was on kind of the enforcement of this, and the honor system idea. That you’re trusting Americans all over this country to follow those guidelines. Is there any-
Jen Psaki: (33:08)
Well, what I’m saying is that, though, you’re empowered, if you are not vaccinated, to wear a mask. So, it is less about the honor system. You don’t have to trust the person next to you as been vaccinated if you have not been vaccinated. If you wear a mask, the guidance is saying that it provides protection. So, you know. If you’re vaccinated, you don’t need to wear a mask. The honor system is… I’m not sure I completely understand that argument, given it provides guidance directly to individuals about what they can do to protect themselves.
Speaker 4: (33:41)
And can I ask you one quick last one?
Jen Psaki: (33:42)
Speaker 4: (33:42)
Which is the CDC, from my understanding, it’s saying that it’s not going to be tracking breakthrough?
Jen Psaki: (33:50)
Speaker 4: (33:50)
People who get the virus if they’re already vaccinated, unless they’re hospitalized or they die. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about the thinking behind that, why the President thinks that that’s the best way forward, to not track people who get the virus if they’re vaccinated, if they don’t get hospitalized or die?
Jen Psaki: (34:09)
I know that we’ll have a health briefing, a COVID team briefing, I believe tomorrow if I’m remembering correctly the schedule. It’s an excellent question that I encourage you to ask them, and it’s certainly one that should be answered by medical experts.
Speaker 4: (34:23)
Okay. Thank you.
Jen Psaki: (34:23)
Go ahead, Lalet.
Thank you. I wanted to ask you about India. What is your assessment of the COVID-19 institution in India. The President has already announced $100 million of assistance to India. Is he thinking about additionally more assistance to India?
Jen Psaki: (34:37)
Well, I would say… Well, I’m not going to be able to give an assessment, as a non-public health expert, of the situation on the ground in India. We remain closely in touch and engaged, and we will continue to work through how we can provide assistance during this difficult time. As you noted, we expect our assistance to be about $100 million. We’ve sent seven air shipments, funded by the U. S. Agency for International Development, to India. The seventh flight carrying additional oxygen concentrators via commercial shipping center arrived today, and that obviously is critical for a number of the patients who are already battling COVID. So, we will continue to provide a range of assistance. We will remain in touch about what the direct needs are on the ground, and hope that we can play a constructive role in reducing the numbers and bringing some relief to the people of India.
Has the President reviewed the situation himself with his senior officials, and of those [inaudible 00:35:37] million [inaudible 00:35:39] vaccines, would India be one of the recipients? If yes, how much would India receive?
Jen Psaki: (35:43)
Well, first let me say the President is of course kept abreast of the COVID pandemic, how it’s impacting different regions in the world, including our important partners in India, and he has been deeply engaged as we’ve made determinations about the type of relief and assistance that we can and should provide. In terms of how we will distribute the doses, it’s an excellent question. I expect and hope we’ll have more in the coming days on how our team, led by [inaudible 00:36:10], in partnership with our National Security Team, will be making those determinations, what criteria they’ll be looking at, and where the doses will be going.
One final one. One of the consequences of the President’s visa ban, travel ban with India, has been several hundred families have been separated across India and U.S. Some of them are working there. Some of them went to travel. Either way, to unite those families back, not to wait [inaudible 00:36:35].
Jen Psaki: (36:36)
Within India? Within India?
Yeah. There are some families who are working here. They went to India for travel, or to get their visa stamp. But because of the ban, they are not able to come back and join their families here.
Jen Psaki: (36:47)
I know that’s very difficult. It’s a great question. I think the State Department is probably the best entity to have a discussion with about that. Okay? Thanks, everyone.