May 24, 2021
Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript May 24
May 24, 2021 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Jen Psaki: (00:00)
… this morning. Good. You laughed. Thank you. Okay, I have a couple of items for all of you at the top. I will say I have a hard out at 1:00, but I’m going to try to get to as many people in here as humanly possible.
Jen Psaki: (00:11)
Today, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that they have awarded $200 million from the American Rescue Plan to support services for survivors of domestic violence. As we all know, the pandemic and its economic impact significantly increased the risks of abuse for victims of domestic violence and made it much harder for them to seek safety and support. This money will provide critical support through the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act program. It will provide 296 supplemental grant awards that will be used to fund domestic violence services in every state and territory, as well as supplementary funding for tribes, state, domestic violence coalitions, national resource centers, specialized services for abused parents and children, grantees, and national domestic violence hotlines.
Jen Psaki: (00:59)
Also, on COVID to start off today, wanted to, well, to second, I guess, today, I wanted to give you a brief update on our whole-of-government war-time COVID-19 response. We have gone from 6% of US adults with one shot on the day the president took office to more than 60% in just four months. We’re averaging about 24,000 cases per day, down from nearly 184,000 cases per day when we took office, and daily death rates have dropped nearly 85% since January 20th. Is there more work to be done? Absolutely. We’re still at war with the virus.
Jen Psaki: (01:36)
A couple of things that we’ve been able to implement. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, we’ve been able to accelerate and improve our COVID-19 response, school districts across the country have been able to leverage the resources needed to safely reopen, small and medium sized businesses are able to pay their employees for the time needed to take off work to get the shot and recover from it, and billions of dollars have gone to state and local organizations doing the boots on the ground outreach around vaccine confidence, which is of course, a big focus for us at this point. HHS is leading regular engagement with the COVID community core leaders to discuss best practices. Just a few minutes ago, we announced the president hosted a YouTube town hall with a range of influencers with millions of followers, primarily young people, who need to understand the benefits of getting vaccinated. Just another example of the ways we’re trying to use all of our resources here.
Jen Psaki: (02:31)
Last things I would just note on this, we’ve also worked with a range of companies too, and a range of companies have stepped up to ensure getting the vaccine is accessible to everyone. Big businesses from Target to Tractor Supply have stepped up to ensure their employees have access for paid time off. Companies are also leveraging creative ways to boost vaccination rates. United Airlines is offering rewards like free first-class flights and other sweepstakes to vaccinated travelers. Starting today, Uber and Lyft will be offering free rides to all Americans to vaccination sites until July 4th.
Jen Psaki: (03:06)
The last thing I just wanted to note is that today the president will be joined by Senator Murkowski, Senator Sullivan and Congressman Young, as he signs HR 1318, the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act. This law will allow large cruise ships to visit Alaska this year, a critical step toward returning to normal in a state where one in 10 jobs is in the tourism industry. This bill is an example of the critical bipartisan work that can be done in Congress, and the president is grateful to Senator Murkowski and Congressman Young for their leadership in this area. For anyone who was here the first day we took a question from somebody remotely, this was exactly the question that he asked, so here we are just a few weeks later.
Jen Psaki: (03:47)
With that, Darlene, why don’t you kick us off?
Thank you. You didn’t say when that bill signing is taking place. Is that today?
Jen Psaki: (03:53)
Yes. This afternoon.
This afternoon. Okay.
Then on infrastructure, can you say what the White House is expecting next from Republicans after the White House dropped the price tag last week and following that very sharp statement from Senator Capito’s office? What are you expecting from Republicans on that front?
Jen Psaki: (04:11)
Well, the ball is in the Republican’s court. We put forward a proposal on Friday that I detailed extensively here and you all saw the details of that proposal in the written summary that we provided transparently to all of you. Our reasonable counterproposal cut $ 550 billion from the president’s original proposal, including to some areas that were core priorities, continue to be core priorities to the president, investing in infrastructure. The last counter offer that came from the Republicans just came up $50 billion. Our concessions went 10 times as far as theirs, so the ball is in their court. We are waiting their counterproposal. We would welcome that. We’re eager to engage and even have them down here to the White House once we see that counter proposal.
Are you expecting the two sides to have more discussions this week, either here or up on the Hill?
Jen Psaki: (05:07)
Well, I’ll say we have remained closely in touch at a staff level and senior staff level here with members and with their teams over the course of the last several days, that will continue. Again, we look forward to seeing their proposal.
Jen Psaki: (05:22)
Speaker 1: (05:23)
Thanks, Jen. Just, I want to big picture as the country gets ready to mark the anniversary of George Floyd’s death, if you will. After that happened, the president called this a wake-up call to the nation. Given where things are here in Washington with police reform, has anything actually changed since Mr. Floyd was killed as it relates to policing and Black and Brown people in this country?
Jen Psaki: (05:47)
Well, let me first say that the president is still very much hopeful that he will be able to sign the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act into law. We are, of course, very closely engaged with the negotiators while also leaving them room to work. Just on Friday, the president spoke with Senator Booker. We’ve also seen that Senator Scott has publicly said that the key for us is to keep making progress and we’re going to keep supporting those efforts.
Jen Psaki: (06:20)
I would say it’s hard for me to assess from here community to community where we have seen progress made. Certainly the death of George Floyd, the tragic death of George Floyd, has unfortunately elevated into the public eye, thanks to the reporting from many of you, the need to put reforms into place, the need to rebuild trust in communities, and we’re certainly hopeful that that activism, that engagement will help move this legislation across the finish line.
Speaker 1: (06:48)
Then we’ll look back over the weekend and over the last year, this past weekend there were more than a dozen mass shootings across this country. 4,000 more people shot and killed by guns in 2020 compared to the year before. Is there a crime problem in this country?
Jen Psaki: (07:04)
Well, I would say certainly there is a guns problem, and that’s something the president would say. There are communities where local violence and community violence is an issue, and that’s one of the reasons that we have proposed and have now are implementing funding for community violence prevention programs across the country.
Jen Psaki: (07:22)
I will say that we don’t often highlight, and you just gave me the opportunity to, the fact that between mass shootings, mass shootings that get a lot of attention, that we lower the flags. There are hundreds, thousands of people who lose their lives, and that’s one of the reasons the president will continue to advocate for the Senate passing universal background checks, but also advocate for actions in states where we have seen the greatest level of activism over the past several years.
Speaker 1: (07:50)
Does COVID have anything to do with the increase in numbers that we’ve seen in the last year?
Jen Psaki: (07:54)
In terms of local community violence? It’s an interesting question. I’d have to ask our team to check on that. I know as I started off this briefing giving an update on that, we’ve seen a statistics on domestic violence, and obviously we know that there are the loss of life at the hands of gun violence is often, too often, suicide, can be domestic violence, and we’ve seen statistics as it relates to the impact on mental health. But I’d have to check with experts on the assessment of that.
Jen Psaki: (08:21)
Speaker 2: (08:22)
Thanks, Jen. Are US-based airlines safe to fly over Belarus right now?
Jen Psaki: (08:27)
Are you US airlines safe to fly over? There’s not been an update, I don’t believe, by our airline industry or by those who monitor the airline industry in the government in terms of giving new assessments or new recommendations on that. I’d certainly defer to them.
Speaker 2: (08:43)
Then kind of following up on that in terms of actions, is the US working with NATO? What’s the president’s approach right now in response to what occurred over the weekend?
Jen Psaki: (08:51)
Sure. Well, first, let me say the president was briefed. He’s been kept abreast, of course, but he was briefed this morning during his PDB by his national security team. Our national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, also raised our strong concerns on this issue of the actions of the government of Belarus with the secretary, with his counterparts, Russian counterpart, during their phone call this morning, which we provided a readout of and it was largely, of course, focused on moving the ball forward on getting to a meeting, but he also raised this issue.
Jen Psaki: (09:23)
We certainly, since you gave me the opportunity to do this, condemn the Lukashenko’s regime’s ongoing harassment and arbitrary detention of journalists simply for doing their job. This was a shocking act, diverting a flight between two EU member states for the apparent purpose of arresting a journalist. It constitutes a brazen affront to international peace and security by the regime.
Jen Psaki: (09:46)
We demand an immediate international transparent and credible investigation of this incident. We are in touch with a range of partners, bilaterally and through multilateral channels from NATO, the OSE, UN, EU and others. We have nothing to read out at this point, but we will continue to coordinate closely with them.
Speaker 2: (10:07)
One more quick one, since we’re in kind of a critical week on infrastructure.
Jen Psaki: (10:09)
Speaker 2: (10:09)
Does the president have a trigger, or has he identified like, if I see this, we’re walking, or if I see this, we’re going to keep this going past Memorial Day. Do you have that laid out kind of in black and white inside the White House right now?
Jen Psaki: (10:22)
I would say we’re eager to see their proposal and see what they have to offer. I think it doesn’t take anything more than simple math to know that if we came down by 550 billion and they came up by 50 billion, they have a ways more to go.
Jen Psaki: (10:34)
Oh, go ahead.
Speaker 3: (10:36)
President Putin and President Lukashenko are very close friends and allies. Does the events with the Ryanair and the arrest of the journalist, is that going to have an impact on the meeting? Are you prepared to announce a summit between the president and President Putin today, or when do you expect to be able to do that?
Jen Psaki: (10:57)
Well, I will say that as we provided in the call readout, our national security advisor did have a call with his counterpart and it was an important step. That call was an important step in the preparation for a planned US/Russia summit, the date and location of which we’re not ready to announce at this point yet. We’re still working on the details.
Jen Psaki: (11:17)
I will say that while our focus and the purpose of a meeting like this will be to move to a more stable and predictable relationship with Russia after several years where it has not been exactly that and we believe we can do that in a constructive manner, it does not mean that we will hold back on areas where we have concern, as you’ve seen over the past several weeks, where we have simultaneously issued an invitation to have a meeting while also putting forward sanctions for actions that we find unacceptable. Certainly, the fact that our national security advisor raised this issue is evidence of that, while also having a conversation about how we can move forward our planning on the summit.
Speaker 3: (11:56)
On another subject, can you give us a sense of what the meeting with the George Floyd family will look like tomorrow?
Jen Psaki: (12:01)
Speaker 3: (12:02)
How many members of the family will participate?
Jen Psaki: (12:04)
Speaker 3: (12:04)
Do you expect that to open for coverage? What should we expect?
Jen Psaki: (12:09)
I certainly can. Tomorrow the president is hosting members of the Floyd family here at the White House to mark the anniversary of his tragic killing. This is going to be a private meeting. We certainly will also put out a statement from the president marking the anniversary, a day that certainly impacted him personally and impacted millions of Americans, but he wanted this meeting to be private in order to have a real conversation and preserve that with the family. He has a genuine relationship with them and the courage and grace of this family and especially his daughter Gianna has really stuck with the president, as you have seen him talk about Kelly and others many times over the past several months. He’s eager to listen to their perspectives and hear what they have to say during this meeting.
Jen Psaki: (12:58)
In terms of the people who are attending, it is, let’s see, Gianna, his daughter, of course, will attend; Roxy Washington, his mother; Bridget Floyd, his sister; Philonise Floyd, his brother; his brother’s wife, Kitta Floyd; Rodney Floyd, another brother; Terrance Floyd, another brother; and Brandon Williams, who is George Floyd’s nephew. It will be a full family attending this meeting with the president tomorrow.
Speaker 3: (13:27)
Obviously there’s a deadline associated the president asked Congress that will not be met.
Jen Psaki: (13:30)
Speaker 3: (13:31)
There’s also been deadlines related to infrastructure with Memorial Day, wanted to see real progress. Is the president concern that setting deadlines on some of these key priorities has not been enough of a catalyst to get action? Is that a sign of how he’s approaching this not working or a sign of something else? I mean, these are key deadlines that you’ve set and some of them are not being met.
Jen Psaki: (13:54)
Well, first I would say on the American Jobs Plan, our timeline is really our own timeline and that is that we will be able to assess. We will assess internally as we go into Memorial-
Jen Psaki: (14:03)
Able to assess. We will assess internally, as we go into Memorial Day weekend, where things stand, what the next steps are and where we go from here. That can take a range of formats. As it relates to the George Floyd Act, the president used the opportunity of his joint session address to elevate a piece of legislation. That is working its way through with bipartisan negotiations, because he felt it was important to elevate it, and important to put out a bold and ambitious agenda. Now it’s clear by the negotiators, and by the fact that tomorrow is the anniversary, that’s not the timeline that the passing of the bill will be on, but he is encouraged that there’s ongoing progress and that there is a sense from the negotiators that there’s a path forward, and he believes he can continue to press on that. Go ahead?
Thank you. On the origins of COVID there’s a new Wall Street Journal story, that three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were hospitalized with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illness in November of 2019. That’s something that is apparently known to US Intel Officials, so why isn’t President Biden pushing for more access, more information to get to the bottom of exactly what happened?
Jen Psaki: (15:12)
We are. And we have repeatedly called for the WHO to support an expert-driven evaluation of the pandemics origins that is free from interference or politicization. Now there were phase one results that came through. During that first phase of the investigation, there was not access to data, there was not information provided. And now we’re hopeful that WHO can move into a more transparent, independent phase two investigation.
But with 589,920 dead Americans, at what point does President Biden say, “We don’t want to wait for the WHO, we don’t know what they’re doing, this needs needs to be an American led effort to get to the bottom of what happened?”
Jen Psaki: (15:56)
Well, first of all, we need access to the underlying data and information in order to have that investigation, and-
But he talks all the time about how he’s known President Xi for a long time. So why can’t he just call and ask him for that information?
Jen Psaki: (16:10)
I think you’re misunderstanding how this process actually works. An international investigation led by the World Health Organization is something that we’ve actually been pressing for, for several months. In coordination, with a range of partners around the world, we need that data, we need that information from the Chinese government. What we can’t do and what I would caution anyone doing, is leaping ahead of an actual international process. We don’t have enough data and information to jump to a conclusion at this point in time.
So is there any amount of casualties from COVID in this country that would make you want to not wait for an international effort and just do it as-
Jen Psaki: (16:49)
Well, I have to say, I think the family members of the loved ones whose lives have been lost deserve accurate information data, not the jumping to a conclusion without having the information necessary to conclude what the origins are. What we do share, everyone in this country, is a desire to know how this started, where it started, and prevent it from ever happening again. That’s something we all share. Go ahead.
Speaker 4: (17:14)
I want to ask you first about the negotiations that are going to be getting back underway in Vienna tomorrow over the Iran Nuclear Agreement. How would the White House assess the status of those talks? It doesn’t seem like there’s too much momentum toward an agreement, would you agree that things are kind of running to something of a halt here?
Jen Psaki: (17:31)
Well, we’re not going to predict an outcome before the fifth round, I think if I’m remembering the numbers specifically, have even begun. Look, the fact that there are starting a fifth round of negotiations, even as they are indirect, is a sign that we’re continuing to plug along on the path to diplomacy. We continue to believe that’s absolutely the right approach and the right steps, as it relates to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. We know because we have been through this journey before, that this is going to take some time, that there will be moments where it is challenging, and hard, and there are difficult conversations, and that is certainly playing out. But the alternative would be not pursuing diplomatic negotiations, and accepting that we won’t have visibility, or access to an understanding of Iran’s capabilities, it just would be similar to the situation we’ve had over the last couple of years. So, we have the best diplomats on the ground, we’re going to keep plugging away, working with our European partners and seeing what we can achieve here.
Speaker 4: (18:30)
There’s one more, infrastructure. In addition to the obstacles with Republicans, there is some resistance among Democrats to, for example, raising the corporate tax rate to 28%. Some Democrats are really agitating to appeal those SALT exemptions on taxes. So can you lay out some steps the White House is going to take this week, perhaps, to get back in touch with those democratic lawmakers to address their concerns? Because it seems now a deal might be made among Democrats and not necessarily with Republicans.
Jen Psaki: (18:57)
Well, first I would say that we’ve had about 500 engagements, if not more at this point with members, their staffs, their teams over the past several months, on a range of issues, including the American Jobs Plan, including Democrats. So I know we talk a lot in here about negotiations with [Capito 00:19:15], but I don’t want that to confuse the notion that we are talking with Democrats, with Leader Schumer, with Speaker Pelosi, with committee chairs all the time about what their priorities are, what they’d like to see in a final package, and that’s vitally important to these negotiations moving forward.
Jen Psaki: (19:33)
I will say that the President has been clear. He is quite open to a range of mechanisms for paying for these proposals, including raising the corporate tax rate to a lesser percentage. It’s all about how you pay for it, right? So it’s a matter of numbers. We’ve just put forward a proposal that lowers the cost of the overarching package by 550 billion. That requires less money, not a mathematician, but that is true. So there’s opportunity there. What we have not seen from the Republicans is any proposal on how to pay for it that doesn’t raise taxes on Americans making less than $400,000 a year. And as it relates to the SALT deduction, we’ve heard from members, we’re open to having those conversations. That is not a revenue raiser, as we know. That costs more money, so that would require more ways to pay for it.
Speaker 4: (20:26)
Just any specific engagements with those Democrats [inaudible 00:20:29] that might be happening this week?
Jen Psaki: (20:31)
I’m happy to see if there’s more that we can provide from our team. I will say that we’re in constant touch with a range of Democrats, from the problem solvers caucus, too, which I know are quite focused on the SALT deduction or a number of their members are, to leadership, to ranking members, but we can see if we can get a summary for all of you. Sure, go ahead Joe.
Jen, just a couple of follow-up questions. First on Russia, is it the White House’s belief or assessment that Russia was involved in develop Belarus decision on that plane?
Jen Psaki: (20:59)
I wasn’t trying to jump to that conclusion. Only to convey that as Kelly noted, there has been a close relationship, and so as we’re discussing ways we can engage to convey our point of view on the actions by the government of Belarus, that we’re going to do that through many channels. Our ambassador in Belarus has also conveyed that directly.
Okay. Follow up on the China, Wuhan question; can you just give us a sense of the White House’s view of that report that the Wall Street Journal cited? Is it accurate, and do you have any concerns that it may have been politicized?
Jen Psaki: (21:34)
I would say in terms of the report, which was specifically about individuals being hospitalized, we have no means of confirming that or denying that. I mean, it’s not a report from the United States. What I was conveying in response to Peter’s question is that it doesn’t mean we can draw a conclusion. We don’t have enough information to draw a conclusion about the origins. There is a need to look into a range of options, we need data, we need an independent investigation, and that’s exactly what we’ve been calling for
I think the journalist cited a the US intelligence report. So that would have been a US report.
Jen Psaki: (22:06)
Well, I don’t have anything more on a US intelligence report.
Okay. And just lastly then, on the issue of infrastructure, you’ve cited the fact that you’ve cut the proposal by 550, but a lot of that is going into other bills. So is it really a cut if you’re planning on putting that money elsewhere, in other legislation?
Jen Psaki: (22:28)
Some of it is, not all of it is, and we’ve certainly come down from our proposals, and there’s also bipartisan support for a number of those proposals to move them forward. So at the end of the day though, we have put forward a proposal, we’ve put forward a way to pay for it. We have come down from our original proposal a great deal, and we look forward to Republicans putting forward their own counter proposal so we can continue to negotiate. Go ahead, [inaudible 00:22:54].
Speaker 5: (22:54)
Thanks Jen. So on the COVID report, or y’all saying that the administration did not learn about these three researchers seeking hospital care until the Wall Street Journal reported it.
Jen Psaki: (23:07)
I don’t have anything more on that for you.
Speaker 5: (23:09)
Okay. On the Belarus plane, does the President consider the forced diversion of hijacking or not?
Jen Psaki: (23:19)
I don’t have a new definition of what happened here, other than to convey that, obviously we’re outraged as the international community has expressed, and we have expressed as well. And we think this was a brazen affront to international peace and security by the regime. At this point, we’re not legally ready to change any of the existing language regarding the terms, “Hijacking,” and, “Sanctions.” Obviously there are processes to consider.
Speaker 5: (23:44)
Thank you. And does the President plan to speak with President Lukashenko about this or has he already?
Jen Psaki: (23:50)
He has not spoken with him to date. I don’t have any calls to preview. Our ambassador has spoken with the lead at the government directly.
Speaker 5: (23:58)
Okay. And just one more question. On Friday, President Biden said he would not allow the Justice Department to seize the records of reporters. Has he communicated that to Attorney General Garland? And if so, how did he communicate that?
Jen Psaki: (24:13)
Well, I don’t have any private conversations to read out for you between the President and his Attorney General. What I can convey is that the President spoke clearly that he won’t allow the abuse of power to intimidate journalists, and he is alarmed by the reports of numerous abuses of power regarding how the previous administration used the powers of the Department of Justice, and thought it was right to speak out. I don’t have further specifics beyond that.
Speaker 5: (24:39)
But without revealing any private conversations, is the Justice Department aware that they are not to seize the records of reporters?
Jen Psaki: (24:47)
Well, again, I think the President always believes that we should always be refining and improving our approaches. The President made those comments quite publicly, so everyone, I think, is aware.
Speaker 5: (24:59)
Jen Psaki: (24:59)
Sure, go ahead, Mike.
Hey. Excuse me. Thank you Jen, two quick foreign policy questions. One on Israel; obviously the ceasefire seems to be holding for now, but there’s challenges ahead, obviously for the President who is under pressure, I think renewed pressure even today from the left to do more for Palestinians, and to protect and enhance the quality of life for them. On the other hand, you’ve got his pledge to essentially rebuild Gaza, which is a difficult proposition at best what Hamas in control of Gaza. So how does he see walking that line going forward? And maybe in the context of sending Blinken to the region as well?
Jen Psaki: (25:43)
Sure, well, as we announced this morning, the president asked Secretary Blinken to travel to the region, to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, also with additional in the region, to accomplish a couple of things, or to discuss a couple of things. One is creating sustainable conditions for a ceasefire. Yes, it is holding. We’re continuing to watch it, but there’s a recognition we need to continue to discus, and have conversations with our key partners in the region, who played an instrumental role in getting to the point we reached last Thursday, and also to discuss the path forward on rebuilding Gaza. And as you noted, Mike, we know that won’t be easy, in part because we want to prevent funding from going to Hamas. We obviously don’t communicate directly with Hamas, given they’re a terrorist organization. A number of countries in the region do, and so the Secretary’s trip over the next couple of days will be focused on those objectives, and I’m certain he’ll have the opportunity to provide a readout to the President when he returns.
Thanks. And then, on Russia, there was a part of the statement this morning which mentioned strategic stability, and the interests that the United States has in working with Russia towards strategic stability, which usually refers to sort of nuclear cooperation and the limiting of potential problems that could emerge from the spread of nuclear technology. So, should we see that as a signal of something that the President particularly wants to talk to President Putin about, and is that also a signal that maybe you’re pretty optimistic that this summit is actually going to happen in a matter of weeks, because you’re already at that stage where you’re talking about that level of agenda?
Jen Psaki: (27:30)
Well, I think we specifically put in the readout that the discussion was an important step in the preparation for a planned US-Russia summit, because we feel we are continuing to make progress toward that, even if we’re not at the point where it’s final, and prepared to announce. In terms of cooperation on nuclear capabilities and threats, I will note that this is one of the areas, even with the heightened level of tension with Russia over the past several years, where, when the president came into office, one of the first items on our agenda-
Jen Psaki: (28:03)
When the President came into office, one of the first items on our agenda was extending the START Treaty for five years. And obviously now we have five years from now for that, but also they’re an important partner as it relates to the Iran nuclear negotiations that were asked about earlier because they are a member of the P5+1.
Jen Psaki: (28:19)
So while we’re not quite at the point of conveying what the breakdown would be of a potential summit, that’s not yet confirmed, I would say that discussion, continued cooperation on nuclear stability would I suspect be a part of the agenda.
Jen Psaki: (28:38)
Speaker 6: (28:39)
Thanks, Jen. Staying on foreign policy, a couple questions on Venezuela.
Jen Psaki: (28:43)
Speaker 6: (28:44)
Would the administration be willing to be sanctions on Nicolas Maduro as a gesture of its willingness to engage and to facilitate talks with the leader?
Jen Psaki: (28:55)
I have not been given any indication that’s in the works, but obviously we continue to consider a range of steps with our global relationships around the world, including Venezuela.
Speaker 6: (29:06)
Does the administration have any reason to believe that Maduro is serious about negotiating his own exit?
Jen Psaki: (29:14)
I really don’t have an assessment of that. I’m happy to talk to our team that handles Venezuela and see if there’s anything more we can convey.
Speaker 6: (29:24)
Is the President personally involved in this policy portfolio? What is his involvement and does he see a window of opportunity in negotiations?
Jen Psaki: (29:30)
Well, the President is briefed regularly on a range of our global engagements. And obviously we have a talented team that manages relationships in the Western hemisphere, both here and at the State Department. I don’t have an assessment from the President at this point in time. He takes recommendations and considers them from his national security team.
Jen Psaki: (29:50)
Speaker 8: (29:50)
Thank you. What’s the President’s view on the January 6th Commission stand-off? Does he share the thinking of some who say comparing the day to 9/11 and that it should be treated as such, with that kind of seriousness? And if he does, would he take some steps himself, like address the nation or really get involved himself if the Republicans don’t go along with it and there is no bipartisan commission?
Jen Psaki: (30:18)
Well, we’re not quite there yet. There are ongoing discussions and negotiations. The President believes the attack on the Capitol on January 6th was an unprecedented assault on our democracy. He’s repeatedly conveyed that to the American public and spoken and said that in public addresses.
Jen Psaki: (30:35)
He doesn’t feel this is a political issue. This is really a question of how we secure our democracy and the rule of law. We saw 35 Republicans support, joined Democrats and supporting a commission moving forward. We’re talking about action in the Senate. And certainly we are going to continue to encourage Republican members to do the right thing, but ultimately it’s up to them.
Speaker 8: (30:55)
But would he get involved if they drop the ball?
Jen Psaki: (30:58)
We’re not there yet. We’re here every day. So we’ll have a discussion if that’s the point we’re at.
Jen Psaki: (31:02)
Speaker 9: (31:05)
It the infrastructure bill doesn’t get any bipartisan support, is the White House concerned at all about it impacting other areas you’re seeking compromise, police reform being one of those areas. And I ask because you mentioned McConnell said a couple of weeks ago, “100% of our focus is on stopping the new administration.” So it doesn’t seem like they’re going to be coming to the table in any real way on a lot of these issues [inaudible 00:31:26].
Jen Psaki: (31:27)
Well, first I would say on police reform, there are ongoing negotiations that both Senator Booker, Senator Scott and Congresswoman Bass have all conveyed are making progress, and they’re encouraged by the tone and tenor of those conversations. That’s a good sign. I talked earlier about how the President is going to be signing a bipartisan piece of legislation into law later this afternoon. Senator Murkowski and Senator Young will be here. There are a range of opportunities to work together in a bipartisan way, including on the Frontiers Act that has since been renamed, but you know the one I’m talking about. So, look, I would say that our view is that investing in our nation’s infrastructure, preparing our workforce to be more competitive in the global community to compete with China is something where there should be bipartisan support. We’ve put forward a good faith proposal, now the ball is in their court.
Jen Psaki: (32:18)
But as it relates to your question about Senator McConnell and what impact his agenda will have, our view is that it’s really a test for Republican senators. Do they want to find common ground? Do they want to engage with the President about moving an agenda forward for the American people, or are they going to take all of their direction from leadership? And we see there’s opportunity to move forward in a bipartisan manner, even with those comments made by Senator McConnell.
Speaker 9: (32:48)
And just quickly back to gun control, where are the talks on gun control? And more importantly, has the President talked to Senator Toomey or any of those other Republicans that have talked about background checks legislation, for example?
Jen Psaki: (33:01)
Well, the President has had a range of conversations with members over the past several months, and obviously putting in place common sense gun safety measures is something that has been a priority for him throughout his career. He helped pass the Brady Bill. He helped get background checks in place. He helped get the assault weapons ban passed, and he will continue to encourage and push that with members while he is President, top of his agenda.
Jen Psaki: (33:26)
In terms of the status of the legislation, I would point you to leadership in the Senate to have a discussion about that.
Jen Psaki: (33:33)
Speaker 10: (33:34)
Most of California is already in a drought emergency. There’s fears that wildfire season will be earlier and longer and worse than ever this year. Obviously we’re about to head to FEMA for a hurricane outlook briefing, you’ve announced some money, but what is the administration doing right now that could have an impact in this current drought and looking ahead to this year as wildfires?
Jen Psaki: (33:58)
Well, it’s a great question and I’d love to get you a more detailed answer than I’m going to have in front of me in this moment. I will say that there have been internal briefings through the inter-agency, through cabinet level inter inter-agency meetings and discussions about how to address not just hurricane season, but also the approaching wildfire season. In terms of exact funding and money, I would have to check with them.
Jen Psaki: (34:20)
Let me just note, if I may, that in advance of the President’s visit to FEMA, we are announcing, as you may have seen, we will direct $1 billion for community states and tribal governments into pre-disaster mitigation resources to prepare for extreme weather events and other disasters. And we certainly know that part of this effort is preparing communities for hurricanes, but also for pending forest fires that we know have impacted many parts of California. We know where they may impact. And our effort now internally is to get ahead of that and use every lever we have in government in coordination with local and state authorities to make sure we’re as prepared as we possibly can be, but we will see if there’s more specifics we can get you as well.
Jen Psaki: (35:05)
Speaker 7: (35:06)
Yes. On the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, one of the things that environmental groups like Friends of the Earth have said is that the coronavirus induced pause in big ship cruising has given the government an opportunity to kind of reconsider the environmental impact of cruises and modify the regulations. Is that something that the administration is considering?
Jen Psaki: (35:27)
I would say the Department of Transportation would oversee any new regulations or recommendations for that as it relates to the cruise industry. So the legislation is is a positive in our view because it helps reinvigorate an industry that accounts for a great number of jobs in Alaska and jobs that have been on hold for the past year plus.
Speaker 7: (35:48)
So maybe more broadly, then it is the human impact of the environment, something that has been revealed by this pandemic, something that the administration takes into account when it’s focusing on the better part of building back better?
Jen Psaki: (36:01)
The human impact in general?
Speaker 7: (36:03)
On the environment, yeah.
Jen Psaki: (36:04)
Of the cruise industry?
Speaker 7: (36:05)
No, just in general across the board. I think we’ve seen evidence that the environment has flourished at times because of a decrease in industry. Is that something that when you’re thinking about building back better, is worth taking into account?
Jen Psaki: (36:19)
Sure. I mean, I think if you look at the American Jobs Plan and proposals the President’s put forward, including his ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2035, our view is that clean energy jobs, investing in clean energy jobs which can help the environment, help ensure that we are protecting our earth for our kids and our grandchildren can be done simultaneously while creating jobs. So I think that initiative or that viewpoint is central to how the President sees his agenda.
Jen Psaki: (36:49)
And certainly we’ve seen interesting data I think that you’re alluding to over the past year as we’ve seen a slow down in some industries, but our objective is ensuring that we are investing in a sustainable way to ensure that we can create a system that’s creating millions of jobs, while also protecting our environment over the longterm.
Speaker 7: (37:13)
And one other thing on cruises. One of the reasons why they’ve been able to restart cruises from Washington to Alaska is because these cruise lines are testing people or asking for the vaccination proof from the guests on these cruises, something that state law in Alaska and Washington allow them to do to abide by the CDC guidelines. Florida. Isn’t doing that. Florida just passed a law that prohibits vaccine passports. Does the administration have a view on these kinds of laws and the impact that they might having on the cruise industry in Florida?
Jen Psaki: (37:44)
We don’t, I will say that we are not instituting vaccine passports from a federal level. We certainly understand that industries will make their own decisions about how to continue the work they need to do.
Jen Psaki: (37:58)
Speaker 7: (37:59)
Just a point of clarification, I guess, on the infrastructure. Memorial Day comes and goes and the White House is not any more satisfied than you are right now with the Republican offers. Is that the point in which the President asks Senate leadership, Democratic leadership to begin reconciliation?
Jen Psaki: (38:15)
We’re not quite there. We’re obviously in touch and working with Senator Capito and a number of Senate leaders, committee ranking members who she brought to the table. We’re looking forward to hearing a counter proposal from them.
Jen Psaki: (38:29)
We also, as any White House does, continue to talk with… Maybe I shouldn’t say any White House. Our White House does continue to talk with a range of members. The Presidents looking forward to seeing Senator Murkowski later this afternoon and Congressman Young, and we’ll continue to look for ways to move forward in a bipartisan manner. We’re not quite there. We’ll do this every day, see where we go this week.
Speaker 7: (38:49)
One more point of clarification if I may on the Belarus, the Ryanair plane. Is part of this trying to get a sense of sort of how you classify what Belarus did before you sort of figure out what sort of approach, what sort of consequences may follow?
Jen Psaki: (39:06)
There certainly is a process I mentioned in response to [inaudible 00:39:09] question about classifying, right? What it looks like from our standpoint. I’ll also say that an important part of our effort is to coordinate closely with our partners around the world. And so we’ve been in touch with them over the last period of time and will continue to be as we assess next steps.
Jen Psaki: (39:25)
Speaker 11: (39:29)
On the mitigation funds for FEMA for wildfires, there’s about 4.7 billion. Those monies, does that take away from any of the things that have been done with vaccination efforts using FEMA money?
Jen Psaki: (39:44)
I do not believe so. Let’s see. I can get back to you though on more specifics about where the funding comes from, but obviously we, like any administration, prepare for managing and planning ahead for hurricane season. So it’s a reflection of that.
Speaker 11: (40:01)
And one final thing on gun control. They’ve had a hard time in the Senate moving through with the background bills. With the legislative calendar so packed, do you expect anything before the August recess, or if it goes into next year with an election here, it’s pretty dim. So what kind of push is the White House planning to make on that?
Jen Psaki: (40:26)
Well, I will say that the President believes that we need to continue to press for progress on gun safety measures. And the fact is the two pieces of legislation that are moving, have moved through the House are for universal background checks. That’s something that’s supported by more than 80% of the country. And so it shouldn’t be a political issue. I know it is. We recognize it is, but the President will continue to press for those pieces of legislation moving forward.
Jen Psaki: (40:55)
He also believes that there’s an opportunity for activism and progress in states as we’ve seen on a number of initiatives, whether it’s red flag laws, and he took some steps to provide guidance through DOJ for states to put in place red flag laws, or additional background check legislation in states.
Jen Psaki: (41:12)
So there’s a number of levers that can be pushed. His position on gun safety measures is clear. There’s decades of evidence for it, and he will continue to press Congress to move forward.
Jen Psaki: (41:26)
Speaker 12: (41:26)
Yet another infrastructure negotiation question for you.
Jen Psaki: (41:29)
Speaker 12: (41:30)
You and other members of the administration have focused a lot on the $550 million you took off your offer, but a lot of the Senate Republicans over the past weekend say the bigger problem is not necessarily the dollar figure, but more, yet again, the broad definition of infrastructure and just massive disagreement there. Do you agree with that characterization of where talks are at now?
Jen Psaki: (41:51)
I think that’s a little perplexing. I mean, we’re calling it the American Jobs Plan, right? It creates millions of jobs. And I’m not sure why it wouldn’t be infrastructure to rebuild and replace-
Jen Psaki: (42:03)
It wouldn’t be infrastructure to rebuild and replace lead pipes around the country, which also has the benefit of ensuring kids have access to clean drinking water. There are a lot of areas of this bill that are maybe not in the traditional sense, but guess what? It’s 2021, and we need to modernize what we think about infrastructure, what we mean by it. And at the end of the day, what we’re just trying to do is create millions of jobs. And we’re hopeful the Republicans will put forward a proposal, come meet us somewhere in the middle, a counter-proposal, that can help accomplish the same thing.
Speaker 13: (42:33)
But that hope aside, have you seen any movement in getting to the same page of how one defines infrastructure over the past few weeks?
Jen Psaki: (42:40)
I would say we kind of refute that as the basis of discussion here. At the end of the day, what we proposed is the American Jobs Plan that would invest in yes, our nation’s infrastructure, modernize it, create millions of jobs, make us more competitive, put people back to work, and that’s what we’re having a discussion about and we welcome a counteroffer from the Republicans. The ball’s in their court. Go ahead in the back.
Speaker 14: (43:06)
Thanks, Jen. I have a couple of questions on TPS. It was just granted to 100,000 Haitians and just announced for Burma. There’s hundreds of thousands of Hondurans who were affected by Hurricanes Eta and Yoda, and they’re also waiting for TPS. Then also along that line, on October 4th, for the hundreds of thousands of Central Americans are using that protection, is the President aware of that deadline and is he willing to guarantee to all these hundreds of thousands of people that have made their lives here in the US, that they will be protected if Congress doesn’t do what or pass a protection for them?
Jen Psaki: (43:44)
Well, first let me note, that over the weekend, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Mayorkas, announced a new 18 month designation of Haiti for temporary protection to protect. [inaudible 00:43:54], as you noted, there are about a hundred thousand Haitians who could be eligible for that. In terms of assessing or making recommendations on TPS status, that would really be something that would be done by the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department. Certainly the President is aware and certainly aware of the plight of many people across the world, Hondurans and others, who have been impacted by hurricanes, other natural disasters, and other reasons why they certainly would be requesting this status. But I don’t have anything to predict for you or preview for you about additional countries being granted status.
Speaker 14: (44:30)
And on the ones that are losing it on October 4th, the people that already have the TPS, it’s expiring October 4th, hundreds of thousands, the families, 30 people, that were just marching in front of the White House?
Jen Psaki: (44:41)
Absolutely. And we’re certainly aware of that, and October 4th is several months away from now, but it would be, again, a recommendation and decision made by the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department.
Speaker 14: (44:52)
And then the last thing that I have is there was a meeting here at the White House with members of the Hispanic caucus. And when they came out, they said that the President guaranteed that he would be able to pass immigration protections for farm workers, TPS holders, and Dreamers through reconciliation, if nothing happens before that. Is there a deadline on that? Is there a time where just patience runs out, as we were talking about with infrastructure and Jobs Plan and the White House just decides to go along?
Jen Psaki: (45:23)
Well, I know that meeting was a couple of weeks ago, I guess, several weeks ago. And we’ve spoken to it since then. That sounds like it was a bit of a garble of what the President actually conveyed because the President doesn’t feel that reconciliation is the preferred path forward for moving these areas, priority areas of immigration forward. He did talk about, in his Joint Address, the fact that where there is agreement, which there is great agreement on Dreamers and even agreement on farm workers on moving this forward. We should move things forward in a bipartisan manner and we’ll continue to press for that.
Speaker 14: (46:00)
And last question is the Vice President planning on going to the border? I know she’s handling this. Why hasn’t she been there? Is she planning in the future to go and see what’s going on firsthand?
Jen Psaki: (46:12)
Well, the Vice President is overseeing exactly the same portfolio that the President did when he was vice-president, which is Northern Triangle, and engagement with countries in the region about how we can work together to reduce the rate of migration and work together to address corruption, address the root causes of why so many people are traveling to our border. I expect she will make a trip to the Northern Triangle at some point soon. So that would be where she would travel, given her purview. Go ahead.
Speaker 15: (46:41)
On infrastructure, is the budget proposal that’s coming Friday going to incorporate the original infrastructure plan into it, or this revised smaller one, or can you tell us anything about how you work infrastructure into the budget on Friday?
Jen Psaki: (46:53)
Certainly, the American Jobs Plan will be a part of the budget proposal that we put forward on Friday, but we’ll, I’m not going to get further ahead of what that will look like. You’ll have to tune in on Friday. Come back.
Speaker 15: (47:03)
Can you tell us if this Washington Post story on Friday that said this budget is not going to include the public option or a plan to reduce prescription drug prices? Is that correct?
Jen Psaki: (47:14)
Well, the budget language and the budget documents will certainly talk about the President’s priorities, which include lowering the cost of prescription drugs and putting forward, moving forward on a public option. But this budget proposal is about a proposal for the next, which will encompass a number of his proposals he’s already put to date, but certainly in the budget documents we put forward, it will highlight and emphasize his priorities as President. Go in the back.
Thank you, Jen. The SALT Deduction mostly benefits wealthy people, studies have shown that. Given the concerns about income inequality in this country, given the concerns about deficit spending, Does President Biden support doing a way with the SALT Deduction, as opposed to just lifting the cap, which some Democrats want to do?
Jen Psaki: (48:06)
Well, again, I think, Peter, as you know, it requires money and the President did not put it in his original proposal because he felt there were other areas that warranted his support and would help benefit a larger swath of the American public. But we also know that there are a number of Democrats who, and others, Republicans too, of course, who support different iterations of this, I think it’s fair to say. And he’s open to hearing from them and to discussing with them, but as we’re in the midst of negotiations, it would require paying for these proposals. And that is not a revenue racer. Go ahead in the back.
Speaker 16: (48:45)
Thank you, Jen. The White House hosted that President Moon of South Korea last Friday. It was one of the first indoor large gathering involving foreign visitors. So he already got vaccinated, fully vaccinated with two doses of AstraZeneca vaccine. Is there a list of vaccines that the White House accept as approval vaccination, because AstraZeneca is not approved by FDA yet?
Jen Psaki: (49:14)
Well, I don’t have anything to read out for you in terms of specific requirements of attendees. That’s not something we’re requiring here, as I think I read out on Friday, for attendees, for events. We had an event last week where we signed into law the COVID Hate Crimes legislation. Obviously, people who are attending events at the White House would be tested. That’s part of the requirement, but I don’t think I have anything more for you on that.
Speaker 16: (49:37)
The CDC already had guidelines for people who are in the United States who were fully vaccinated, can travel freely. What about our international travelers travelers? Will there be any same rule apply to international travelers?
Jen Psaki: (49:53)
We continue to review, our health and medical experts continue to review the data, and we would certainly refer to them on when they feel safe to ease those restrictions. And we certainly understand the desire of many people around the world to come here and many people here to go travel around the world. Go ahead.
Speaker 17: (50:10)
If I could just go back to Belarus. What does the President view as the most concerning action taken by President Lukashenko? Is it arresting Mr. Protasevich on trumped up charges or is it diverting the plane to land it and then to arrest him?
Jen Psaki: (50:25)
I mean, I think they’re both outrageous and concerning.
Speaker 17: (50:29)
So if the US believed the charges against Protasevich were legitimate, as it did with Edward Snowden in 2013 when the Bolivian president’s plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Vienna, because we thought Snowden might be aboard, would the US still object to the method used?
Jen Psaki: (50:47)
Again, I think I’ve given an extensive comment on this specifically. We’re working with our partners around the world. I don’t think I have anything more for you. Go ahead in the back.
Speaker 18: (50:54)
Thank you, Jen. I have a couple of questions, one’s on the Southern border, and another one on Columbia.
Jen Psaki: (50:58)
Speaker 18: (51:00)
Is this administration still using Title 42 to expel asylum seekers based on public health concerns? The UN High Commissioner for refugees has called these government is strictly end Title 42. Is that the intention? And is there a timeframe that you’re working on specifically now that the country is rapidly opening up?
Jen Psaki: (51:19)
Well, we are still at war with the virus. Yes, there has been progress made, but we are still in the midst of a public health crisis. So at this point, we are still implementing Title 42, and we’ve not changed our policy on that.
Speaker 18: (51:31)
There’s no time frame?
Jen Psaki: (51:31)
I don’t have any time for you.
Speaker 18: (51:33)
If I may.
Jen Psaki: (51:33)
Speaker 18: (51:34)
Is President Biden concerned that the US might be violating the universal declaration of human rights by not accepting new asylum requests?
Jen Psaki: (51:46)
In terms of from where?
Speaker 18: (51:49)
[inaudible 00:51:49] declaration-
Jen Psaki: (51:50)
[crosstalk 00:51:50] Because of Title 42?
Speaker 18: (51:51)
No, because the US is not accepting asylum requests at the moment.
Jen Psaki: (51:57)
Well, our objective is absolutely to get our asylum processing system back up and running. It was broken. It was not working for several years and it’s going to take some time, but we, that is our objective and something that is a priority for the President.
Speaker 18: (52:14)
[inaudible 00:52:14] Columbia. One last question.
Jen Psaki: (52:14)
Speaker 18: (52:15)
Thank you, Jen. Dozens of people have lost their lives in the ongoing protest and social unrest that has started in Colombia a month ago. 10 days ago, actually 55 members of Congress led by representative Jim McGovern, signed a letter to Secretary Blinken, urging the US Government to, “clearly and unambiguously denounced police brutality in Colombia.” Is the White House, that means you, I guess, ready to do so from this lectern?
Jen Psaki: (52:45)
Well, I will say we welcome announcements by the Colombian government to investigate allegations of excessive use of force by police. The Colombian government has, as you know, has activated a special urgent search unit to investigate reports of missing persons with 35 search teams deployed nationwide to follow reports received through their 24 hour hotlines. We encourage the authorities to continue to work, to locate all missing persons as quickly as possible, and we certainly encourage those actions. Go ahead.
Speaker 19: (53:15)
Back to Gaza. Secretary Blinken has made clear now is not the time to be bringing up the two-state solution. Well, the US has the ear of both sides at the moment. The world has watched 11 days of fighting and awful death toll. When is the right time to bring up the two-state solution?
Jen Psaki: (53:30)
Well, first, I’ll say that the President, the Secretary of State, all believe that the only way to bring a lasting end to the violence in the region is for there to be a two-state solution between the parties. It is going to require these parties coming together and agreeing that this is a path they want to pursue, negotiations they want to pursue, and an outcome that they’re open to discussing. What the Secretary is there, primarily on this trip, is to focus on immediate issues right now at hand, which is ensuring that we are creating conditions with our partners in the region for a sustained ceasefire, and also discussing the path forward on rebuilding Gaza, something that there’s a great deal of interest and support in the international community on, and there are great needs on the ground. So that’s the focus at this point in time, but we continue to support, of course, a two-state solution, or any negotiation sort of two-state solution. It’s something we’ve raised already, even prior to the conflict of the last two weeks with the Israelis and other partners on the ground.
Speaker 19: (54:29)
If I may, what more can you tell us about the President’s health regime? We hear he is lifting weights. What sort of weights is he lifting? Does he have a personal trainer? And what happened to his Peloton bike? Did he bring it to the White House?
Jen Psaki: (54:42)
I didn’t know where this was going, but I’m intrigued by it. I will say I have nothing to read out on the President’s private exercise regime, but I can tell you, having traveled with him a fair amount, sometimes he’s hard to keep up with.
Do we have a schedule on his physical exam?
Jen Psaki: (55:01)
I know you’ve asked about this before, and it is something we will be doing, of course, this year and providing transparent information to all of you on. I will see if there’s anything more specific I can get to all of you.
And was he briefed on the specifics of the COVID vaccine and the incidents of myocarditis in some young people? Has that been a part of his portfolio?
Jen Psaki: (55:22)
Yes. He is aware of that. And obviously, as you know, Kelly, our health and medical experts still continue to convey that it is the right step for 12 to 15 year olds to get vaccinated, that these are limited cases. And that, obviously, the risks of contracting COVID are certainly significant, even for people of that age. Thanks everyone so much. [crosstalk 00:55:43]