May 5, 2021
Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript May 5
May 5, 2021 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. She was joined by Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Jen Psaki: (01:33)
Hi. Good afternoon. Good afternoon. Okay. We have another special guest joining us today, Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack. As you all know, this is Secretary Vilsack’s second turn at the Department of Agriculture, which he led in the Obama Biden Administration from 2009 to through 2017, making him the longest serving member of President Obama’s cabinet. In those years, Secretary Vilsack fought to put Americans back to work by investing in rural infrastructure, renewable energy and large scale conservation partnerships. Under his leadership, USDA introduced healthier food choices in school meals to benefit 50 million children and expanded free and reduced price lunches for millions of kids.
Jen Psaki: (02:19)
Prior to his appointment, or nomination and confirmation, I should say, Secretary Vilsack served two terms as the Governor of Iowa and the Iowa State Senate and as the mayor of Mount Pleasant, Iowa. With that, I will turn it over to the secretary who will be taking a few questions once he concludes his remarks.
Secretary Vilsack: (02:41)
Jen, thanks very much. It’s certainly a pleasure to be here today with all of you. I’m here primarily to talk about food and nutrition security, and you may think that that is just about food and nutrition security, but in fact, it’s about a lot more than that. When you understand that 25% of workforce is directly or indirectly impacted by the food and ag industry, that it represents a significant percentage of our GDP, that educational achievement is somewhat dependent on youngsters having healthy and nutritious food as they begin their school year and school day, and the fact that it is a noted effort in reducing poverty, food and nutrition security becomes an important issue.
Secretary Vilsack: (03:23)
And certainly we’ve seen the impact of that during the course of the pandemic. When the American Rescue Plan was enacted, hunger in the United States was at 14% of our population, which was an incredibly high number. Today, as a result of the investments under the American Rescue Plan, we now know that hunger has dipped to 8% of America’s population. That’s a remarkable drop in a six month period. It is a result of extending SNAP as we did in the American Rescue Plan, creating a summer EBT program that will institute opportunities for nearly 30 million children to have access to nutrition during the summer months, increasing our commitment to WIC, and basically making a down payment, if you will, on hunger reduction.
Secretary Vilsack: (04:12)
We have the opportunity over the course of the next several months as Congress considers the American Jobs Plan and the American Family Plan to cement those results and to actually build upon them. There are three key investments for nutrition and food security in the American Families Plan. First, we’re going to make permanent this incredible and historic effort to feed kids during the summer months. There are, as I said, nearly 30 million American children who are in free and reduced lunch status in schools. At the end of the school year, there is no program other than the summer feeding program, which impacted and affected several million of those 30 million children.
Secretary Vilsack: (04:53)
Now we have the opportunity to provide each one of these families with a card that looks like this. This is the summary EBT card that’s available. It allows parents the opportunity to go to the grocery store as they do with their SNAP card and be able to purchase additional fruits and vegetables and other wholesome food for their children, ensuring that 30 million kids will have the opportunity to have nutrition during the summer, which means that they’ll be better prepared to begin school ready to learn in the fall.
Secretary Vilsack: (05:23)
We’re also extending with this effort the opportunity to impact free school meals in high poverty school areas by focusing on the community eligibility program that essentially identifies the ability of a school district where snap participation is roughly 40% to extend free meals to everyone in that school. This is going to expand opportunities for youngsters to be well fed. And we know from a recent Tufts study that one of the healthiest places in the country for children to eat is now in America’s schools. So we’re going to that extended and we’re going to focus with a specific laser like focus on elementary schools to make sure that our youngest learners have the best possible opportunity.
Secretary Vilsack: (06:06)
And finally, we’re going to invest a billion dollars, with Congress’s help and assistance, in trying to figure out strategies that will improve even more than we already have the nutritional value and quality of the meals that youngsters receive in schools. So these three steps, these three key investments under the American Families Plant will allow us to cement the gains under the American Rescue Plan and hopefully impact and reduce hunger to the point eventually one day where we won’t have to have a press conference about hunger. So with that, I’d be happy to take questions.
Jen Psaki: (06:38)
Andrew, you want to take us off?
Yeah. Secretary Vilsack, a couple of questions. One about the mind project that you had previously blocked and then the Trump Administration allowed those to open up. Do you have any particular view on whether that should be reopened or not? This is the twin mill copper mine.
Secretary Vilsack: (07:02)
There’s always a very difficult balance to strike in any of these questions. And certainly in this particular one, you’re balancing a pristine, incredibly important and valuable natural site, the boundary waters of the Mississippi, a tremendously unique area. It’s one that the late Walter Mondale felt very strongly about. And I know that from a personal experience with the former vice-president. He called me repeatedly on this issue. So you’ve got that on one hand. On the other hand, you obviously have jobs and economic opportunity.
Secretary Vilsack: (07:37)
I think the challenge is to try to see if you can strike a balance and that’s what we attempted to do in the previous administration and I don’t see any reason why we should change that calculation, trying to find the balance between preserving a pristine area and at the same time, looking for ways in which the job growth economic growth can take place in rural areas. And that’s what we’re going to attempt to do. There are no final decisions being made on this. This is obviously something we also have to do in conjunction with the Department of Interior. They have a stake in this issue as well.
Jen Psaki: (08:13)
I just want to get to a bunch of people and we have limited time. [inaudible 00:08:17].
Sure. One way of increasing snap benefits is by reforming the Thrifty Food Plan. And I know that that is under review right now. Can you talk a little bit about what that review entailed and when we should expect results in how the reforms would be implemented if the program is [inaudible 00:08:35]-
Secretary Vilsack: (08:34)
It’s a complicated question and one that hasn’t been reviewed in detail for quite some time. We expect and anticipate during the course of the summer months that we will complete our review and then have an opportunity perhaps to have a conversation about this in the fall. And this will be appropriately timed because, as you know, the American Rescue Plan called for an extension of the increase in SNAP over the course of the summer months until the end of September. So it’s timely for us to look at this.
Secretary Vilsack: (09:01)
I’d simply say that the principles that we’re operating under in this area are, number one, the benefit has to be meaningful to fit American families. With the American Rescue Plan, we saw an additional 100 a month for a family of four being added to their grocery purchases. It also impacts jobs, as I said before. That SNAP benefit increased and supported tens of thousands of jobs in grocery stores and across the food chain. It also has to be conveniently available. It’s one of the reasons why, again, the American Rescue Plan has provided opportunities for us to look at online purchasing, make it more convenient. It has to be operated with integrity, obviously. And we have to look for ways in which we can incent and encourage those dollars to be used in the best way possible to provide the most nutritious benefit to American families. And that’s the goal and that’s what we’ll look at when we look at the Thrifty Food Plan.
Secretary, a the group of Midwestern farmers last week sued over the COVID loan forgiveness program, arguing that it’s unfair to them because they’re white. Your reaction to that lawsuit and do you stand by the program’s structure?
Secretary Vilsack: (10:12)
It’s a great question. I appreciate it. I think I have to take you back 20, 30 years when we know for a fact that socially disadvantaged producers were discriminated against by the United States Department of Agriculture. We know this. We have reimbursed people in the past for those acts of discrimination, but we’ve never absolutely dealt with the cumulative effect. And by cumulative effect, I mean this. When I have the full advantage of all the USDA programs throughout the last 30 years, my operation could grow. I could invest in more land. I could get the latest and best technology. I could plant my crop at just the right time. I could make more money. If I had limited access or no access to USDA programs, obviously my operation, significantly limited.
Secretary Vilsack: (10:59)
So the American Rescue Plan’s effort is to begin addressing the cumulative effect of that discrimination in terms of socially disadvantaged producers. Secondly, when you look at the COVID relief packages that had been passed and distributed by USDA prior to the American Rescue Plan and you take a look at who disproportionately received the benefits of those COVID payments, it’s pretty clear that white farmers did pretty well under that program because of the way it was structured. It’s structured on size and structured on production. So I think there is a very legitimate reason for doing what we are doing. I think it has to be complemented with additional steps, which the American Rescue Plan provides an equity commission to take a look at whether or not there are systemic barriers that need to be removed at the department. And also, taking a look at how we might be able to create better technical assistance, better access to land, better access to markets for socially disadvantaged producers and for local and regional food production. So we’re going to continue to proceed forward. Understand that litigation is going to be what it is and we’ll obviously have the Department of Justice and others do what they do, but in the meantime, the US Department of Agriculture is going to move forward with that effort.
Thank you, Secretary Vilsack. You’ve just outlined the plans for the ARP funds through the fall to deal with some of the issues around hunger. How long do you anticipate those funds will last, particularly given that next year’s school year will be unique coming off of a year where most schools have been closed for the better part of a year. And will you need more funds from Congress to adjust [inaudible 00:12:40]-
Secretary Vilsack: (12:40)
Well, I think that’s one of the reasons why the president proposed the American Families Plan as a continuation and as allowing us to basically cement and make more permanent the gains that we’ve seen from the American Rescue Plan. In the meantime, we have worked with schools, understanding that they’re faced with a lot of uncertainty about the upcoming school year. And so we have already decided that we have available resources to be able to provide for universal free lunch for schools throughout the 21-22 school year. And that will extend, I think, until the end of June 2022.
Secretary Vilsack: (13:13)
With the passage of the American Families Plan, we would then have the summer EBT program to provide additional support and help. And that would give us, I think, enough lead time for school districts to be able to adjust back to what the new normal will be. In the meantime, we’ll be looking at hopefully the use of the pilot under the American Families Plan to see if there are ways in which we can incent additional nutritional value for those meals. And we’ll be using hopefully with the passage of the American Families Plan a more targeted effort in high poverty schools, elementary schools to expand universal free meals.
Jen Psaki: (13:49)
[crosstalk 00:13:49] last one.
On this idea of a carbon bank, since you’ve been on the job, what is the feedback that you’ve gotten from farmers? And is this something that you think needs congressional approval?
Secretary Vilsack: (13:59)
You know, I was at a meeting yesterday with the Environmental Protection Agency administrator-
Secretary Vilsack: (14:03)
I was at a meeting yesterday with the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Michael Regan. He did a terrific job. We had probably 25 farmers. I was very pleased with the level of support and interest that the farm community has for ways in which they can be engaged in this effort to reduce emissions and to be engaged in this climate effort. We had multiple questions about this in terms of how can we do this. Not we’re against it, or we are opposed to it, or we don’t think it should happen. It was how can we do this? How can we be part of this? Because farmers understand something very, very fundamental about this. This is the opportunity of a lifetime for us to create additional revenue opportunities for farmers. Now, why is that important? Because today 89.6% of American farms, the majority of income does not come from the farm for those farm families.
Secretary Vilsack: (14:50)
That means they have to have an off farm income. So it’s the Department of Agriculture’s job to find more better and new markets. Climate provides that opportunity. Whether it’s a fund or whether it’s conservation resources, whether it’s investments in technology that will allow them to capture methane and reuse it, or whether it’s creating new opportunities for bio-processing and new jobs in rural places, all of that has to be done. And I think the USDA has enormous capacity and enormous set of tools that can be used to provide the resources to work with the farm community to embrace this future. And I think they are in agreement with President Biden when he says the net goal here is net zero emissions by 2050. I think that’s doable. And I think in doing it, I think we’ll improve income opportunities for farmers, we’ll certainly do right by the environment. And I think we’ll also have healthier and better soil and cleaner water.
Speaker 1: (15:42)
Would it need congressional approval, a carbon bank?
Secretary Vilsack: (15:44)
Well, it needs congressional approval in the sense that you have resources in all of these programs that require funding. We have a lot of flexibility already at USDA, and we’re going to be utilizing that flexibility in a way that creates more new and better markets. And I think farmers are going to find that to be… they’re going to be very agreeable with that.
Speaker 1: (16:04)
Jen Psaki: (16:04)
Thank you. And as always, if you all have follow up questions, we are happy to connect you to this team [inaudible 00:16:12] Love to have you back. Thank you so much.
Jen Psaki: (16:20)
I’ll just know my first campaign was for the secretary’s gubernatorial race in 2002. So full circle. Couple of additional items for all of you at the top. This afternoon, President Biden, as you know, will deliver remarks on the American Rescue Plan’s restaurant revitalization fund. The administration’s program to provide relief to restaurants, bars, food trucks, and other food and drink establishments. As we all know, restaurants were some of the first and worst hit businesses in the pandemic. The restaurant and vitalization fund provides $28.6 billion in direct relief to restaurants and food and beverage establishments, and prioritizes those that are women owned, veteran owned and owned by other socially and economically disadvantaged individuals by only funding applications from these businesses for the first 21 days of the program, then it expands beyond there. Earlier today, the president also visited one local restaurant that was a beneficiary of relief funding through the revitalization funds pilot program, Taqueria Gemelas.
Jen Psaki: (17:26)
I’m going to butcher that and I apologize. I want to go there and have some tacos. Is owned in part by Mexican immigrants. And during the pandemic went from 55 employees to just seven. So clearly in great need. These funds will allow business owners to complete delayed projects, rehire and raise the wages of their staff, pay their rent and operate with confidence again. Applications for the program opens up on Monday. And in just the first two days of the program, 186,200 restaurants, bars, and other eligible businesses in all 50 states, Washington, DC, and five US territories applied for relief. 97,600 applications came from restaurants, bars, and other eligible businesses owned and controlled by women, veterans, socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, or some combination of three. 61,700 applications came from businesses with under $500,000 in annual pre pandemic revenue, representing some of the smallest restaurants and bars and businesses in America. And we look forward to implementing that program. With that, I think we can go, Alex, to you. Questions.
So the CDC summer camp guidance is very strict as Dr. Fauci acknowledged today. It requires even adults who have been vaccinated to wear masks outside at all times. It requires children to be socially distanced. Can you explain why that contradicts the administration’s guidance that vaccinated adults don’t have to wear masks outside? And also Dr. Fauci suggested that it may change as the science becomes clear. But is the administration at all concerned that there will be compliance with something this strict and there won’t be compliance if it continuously changes?
Jen Psaki: (19:09)
Sure. Well, first I think everyone can expect that the guidance will continue to be updated and will continue to change. And I think as a parent myself of kids going to summer school, not summer school, summer camp. Don’t tell them I said. I would welcome that. And there’s no question what the CDC is trying to do is provide guidance to the American public, to parents, to families that they can trust, that they know is reliable based on medical experts, doctors, based on data, on how they can feel safe. The guidance that was rolled out last week does not convey that when you’re outside in a crowd, you should not wear a mask.
Jen Psaki: (19:50)
If you are outside and you’re not in a crowd and you’re vaccinated, you don’t need to wear a mask. Obviously there is nuance in all of these applications and people are still learning how to apply it. But as kids are dropping off, as parents, I should say, are dropping off their kids at summer camp, as there are tons of kids, tons of parents, counselors, that certainly wouldn’t be someone alone. But I think what Dr. Fauci was conveying, Alex, is that they’re going to continue to look at the data and they want to put out updated guidance as they feel comfortable and confident in what they can provide to the American public.
And Thursday a new evaluation of the American Families Plan out by the Penn Wharton Budget Model. And they found actually that the plan would increase the deficit and fail to grow the economy as much as President Biden has planned. And so is there a risk in the long-term that the president might not be able to fully deliver on what he’s promised economically?
Jen Psaki: (20:49)
Well, first let me say, we strongly disagree with the analysis as do other independent experts. According to an analysis out this week from Moody’s, GDP in 2030 will be more than $700 billion higher than it would be without the Jobs Plan and the Families Plan. This is in large part because labor force participation will be nearly a full percentage point higher due to the effects of the benefits of childcare support and paid family leave. And that same analysis found that the economic benefits would only increase over time due to increase college enrollment and universal pre-K, which will help some of the 2 million women who are no longer in the workforce get back in.
Jen Psaki: (21:32)
The Penn Wharton Model analysis is also off in a number of important ways. It gets the cost of the investments wrong by about $700 billion, even though our estimates come from career officials at OMB. Moody’s, for example, arrived at deficits even lower than the administration, than we had, when it came to the effect of the Families Plan. And of course our plan would be implemented over a series of eight years and 10 years and paid for over 15. So we’re going to rely on the majority of economic analysis out there and our own analysis in here. And we’re confident we’ll be able to reach both our job creation projections, and of course do it in a way we can pay for it.
One international question, Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, missed the deadline to put together a coalition government yesterday or a new governing coalition. Is the president monitoring the situation and does the administration have any sort of response or perspective on the possibility of a new coalition government?
Jen Psaki: (22:28)
Well, we do read all of your news coverage, but we are not going to comment publicly on government formation while that process is underway. Go ahead, Andrea.
Hey. Follow up on Secretary Vilsack’s answer and the [inaudible 00:22:43], is that a decision that we think will be coming at any point soon or is that just sort of carved out?
Jen Psaki: (22:50)
I don’t have a prediction of that. I would say we’d refer you to the Department of Agriculture and they would, of course, be the right source for that information. We can see if there’s more follow up on it on the timeline.
Okay. And then on the issue of the G7 meeting and the subsequent meetings with Putin. Do you have any news for us on that front in terms of timing and also the agenda?
Jen Psaki: (23:14)
Not quite yet. As soon as we have details or any confirmed details of timing, location, date, participation, we will, of course, share that with you. And I would expect we wouldn’t have more specifics on an agenda if, and when we have it confirmed until much closer.
And then just one more on my favorite topic of [crosstalk 00:23:34]. So this morning there was the meeting of the WTO, Katherine Tai made some comments during an FTE session talking about time being of the essence, really sort of underscoring. There are multiple reports out also about kind of a division within the administration on this waiver issue. Can you just really walk us through what your own perspective is on this and why? So there’s so many people in institutions and organizations now really putting pressure on President Biden to back this waiver.
Jen Psaki: (24:14)
I think it’s important for us to just take a step back and remind everyone that the president spoke about his support for this type of a waiver back during the campaign. But we are running a process, we have been running a process in the administration that includes all stakeholders in the administration. And he is somebody who has welcomed people of different views. He wants to know the details. He’s a details guy, and he wants to dig into the pros and cons and all of the considerations for any decision. As we look at this decision, what we’re really talking about, I know you know this Andrea, but for others, we’re really talking about the US position as it relates to the WTO process, right? And that process will take a series of months and requires a unanimous point of view to move forward.
Jen Psaki: (25:06)
So what we are, the consideration now is the US position. Our objective, overall, as we look at this decision is how can we provide as much supply in the most cost-effective way to the global community? And clearly there are steps we’ve announced we’re in the process of taking. Providing 60 million doses to the global community once we have that available that our AstraZeneca doses. Earlier this week, Pfizer announced they’ll also be sending doses or manufacturing doses for the global community. And we’re going to continue to work with our partners. I expect we’ll have more. Now that the WTO meetings are underway, we’ll have more to say very soon on this.
Are you concerned about setting a precedent that could be… So even if India and South Africa narrow their proposal, which is apparently something that’s going on, and maybe you could confirm that that is your understanding. Even if that proposal is narrowed, are you concerned that you’re going to be setting a precedent that could harm US companies in the future, which is what we hear from US industry?
Jen Psaki: (26:10)
Well, clearly as these decisions are weighed, we take intellectual property incredibly seriously. And we also, though, are in the midst of a historic global pandemic which requires a range of creative solutions and we’re looking at it through that prism.
I’m sorry. I just want to be very clear. It sounds like you’re pushing us or leaning towards some kind of a waiver of some kind.
Jen Psaki: (26:37)
I’m not trying to give you an indication. That obviously would be an announcement or a decision that would be recommended by the USTR and a decision I would expect that would be made by the USTR. But what I’m trying to give you an understanding of which I think was your question is what are the considerations are and the thinking and decision.
[inaudible 00:26:55] a decision will be made?
Jen Psaki: (26:55)
Soon. Go ahead.
Speaker 2: (26:58)
I have questions on a couple of different topics. The first is on the debt limit. Is the White House concerned about being able to avoid a government shut down and raising the debt limit, considering the Treasury’s unsure how long it can use the extraordinary measures that has? And what’s the White House’s strategy for pressuring Congress to agree to either suspend that limit or leaving that to Treasury to figure out?
Jen Psaki: (27:25)
Well, first, I will say that on the issue at hand, raising or suspending the debt ceiling does not authorize new spending. Sometimes there… I’m not saying you’re confused about that. Some people sometimes are. It merely allows Treasury to meet obligations that Congress has already approved. So certainly they would be in the lead as they have historically been in most administrations on making that case. We expect Congress to act in a timely manner to raise or suspend the debt ceiling as they did three times on a broad bipartisan basis during the last administration, including the same year that the former president signed into law tax cuts that added-
Jen Psaki: (28:03)
… signed into law tax cuts that added $2 trillion to the deficit. So we certainly expect they will move forward. That this is something that has been done in a bipartisan basis. Democrats and Republicans have called for it in the past. That’s what we’ll be advocating for
Speaker 2: (28:17)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said this morning, when asked about the issues within his own party, that, “100% of my focus is on stopping this new administration.” He touted the unity within his caucus from Susan Collins to Ted Cruz, are you concerned with that? It will be difficult to work with Republicans when you have these kinds of statements coming from their leader?
Jen Psaki: (28:45)
Well, I guess the contrast for people to consider as 100% of our focus is on delivering relief to the American people and getting the pandemic under control and putting people back to work. We welcome support, engagement and work with the Republicans on that. The president has extended an open arm to that. The door to the oval office is open. He’s invited Senator Capito to bring a group of her choosing to the White House next week. We think there is opportunity for agreement to deliver on relief to the American people.
Speaker 2: (29:17)
One quick question, a judge this morning struck down the CDC’s national moratorium on evictions. Do you have a response to that? And the administration plans to appeal potentially?
Jen Psaki: (29:28)
Yes, I do. We understand that it’s just happened, as you alluded to, this morning. We understand the Department of Justice is reviewing the court’s decision and should have more to say later today. We also recognize, of course, the importance of the eviction moratorium for Americans who have fallen behind on rent during the pandemic. A recent study estimates that there were 1.55 million fewer evictions filed during 2020 than would be expected due to the eviction moratorium. So it’s clearly has had a huge benefit, but we would expect that a response and any, of course, decision about additional action would come from DOJ. You may hear more from them today. Go ahead.
Thanks Jen. Facebook has decided to keep former President Trump off of its platform for now. Senator Ted Cruz tweeted the following, “For every liberal celebrating Trump’s social media ban. If the big tech oligarchs can muzzle the former president what’s to stop them from silencing you?” What do you make of that comment? Does he have a point?
Jen Psaki: (30:29)
Well, let me first say that this is an independent board’s decision and we’re not going to have any comment on the future of the former president’s social media platform. That’s a decision that it sounds like the independent board punted back to Facebook to make in the next six months, as I know you all have reported. The President’s view is that the major platforms have a responsibility related to the health and safety of all Americans to stop amplifying untrustworthy content, disinformation and misinformation, especially related to COVID-19 vaccinations and elections. We’ve seen that over the past several months, broadly speaking, I’m not placing any blame on any individual or group, we’ve seen it from a number of sources. He also supports better privacy protections and a robust antitrust program. So his view is that there’s more that needs to be done to ensure that this type of misinformation, disinformation, damaging, sometimes life-threatening, information is not going out to the American public.
You’re saying more that needs to be done. Are there any concerns, though, about First Amendment rights and where does the White House draw the line on that?
Jen Psaki: (31:43)
Well, look, I think we are of course, a believer in First Amendment rights. I think what the decisions are that the social media platforms need to make is how they address the disinformation, misinformation, especially related to life-threatening issues like COVID-19 and vaccinations that continue to proliferate on their platforms.
I want to ask you also, Jen, about police reform, President Biden said he wanted it done by the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death, May 25th. Is he confident that Congress can meet that benchmark? Where do those negotiation stand?
Jen Psaki: (32:16)
Well, the negotiations are between members of Congress. He, of course, is confident in those discussions and the work that is happening under the leadership of everyone from Congresswoman Karen Bass to Senator Cory Booker, obviously Senator Tim Scott, who he called out in his speech just last week. We are in close touch with, of course, negotiators and kept abreast of their progress, but we will wait to see what comes out of those discussions.
If you do the math, though, this puts police reform in some regard ahead of the negotiations and one [inaudible 00:32:49] for the American Families Plan, infrastructure plan, which he set an end of the summer deadline for. Is this now the President’s top priority? Does he want Congress to tackle this first?
Jen Psaki: (32:59)
Well, I would say that the president believes Congress can and should move forward with multiple policies at the same time. Certainly that is what is happening on Capitol Hill. Those members who are playing central roles in these negotiations, and obviously they can speak to the frequency of the discussions and the status of them and we defer to them, they will be important participants, of course, in any outcome of negotiations around the American Jobs Plan. But those negotiations can happen simultaneously.
Speaker 2: (33:29)
Just finally, Jen, how does he see his role? He’s the one making this call to get this done, has he reached out to Tim Scott, the person who’s leading the charge on the GOP side.
Jen Psaki: (33:37)
I don’t have any calls or engagements to read out to you. But I can say that, as you know, a number of representatives of the families were here just last week meeting with senior members of the White House leadership. The President has talked about how it’s long overdue to put in place police reform measures that will help rebuild trust our communities. He used his joint session speech, the highest profile moment in a president’s first year, to talk about that and make the case. But the negotiations are happening in between members of Congress. He feels that’s the appropriate place for them to be, and we will continue to use opportunities to call for this moving forward.
Jen Psaki: (34:19)
Go ahead, Kristen. Kristen? I got confused. Kaitlan. There’s a lot of Ks, it’s a Wednesday. Go ahead, Kaitlan.
Kaitlan Collins: (34:25)
It’s all right. Kris and I also have been dressing alike lately, so it’s fine.
Jen Psaki: (34:29)
Kristen has a very good mask on today. This Kristen, both of your masks. Go ahead. Okay.
Kaitlan Collins: (34:34)
My question is on these restaurant funds.
Jen Psaki: (34:36)
Kaitlan Collins: (34:36)
When will they start being awarded and does the President envision having to ask Congress for more money for this?
Jen Psaki: (34:42)
Well on the second piece… Well first, the first awards as part of the pilot program, will it be funded Friday. So we’re-
Kaitlan Collins: (34:49)
[inaudible 00:34:49], not the pilot. The actual part of it, not the pilot.
Jen Psaki: (34:52)
Those who applied this week can expect to 14 days on average from submission to funding. So it will be a very rapid turnaround.
Kaitlan Collins: (35:00)
Okay. Does he envision asking Congress for more money for this?
Jen Psaki: (35:04)
When Congress comes back, we are happy to discuss the best ways to further support small businesses, including restaurants hurt by the crisis. So he certainly opened to that. As I noted, there has already been a large interest in this program and there are great needs across the country from these small businesses, from these restaurants that are in communities across the country. So we are happy to have a conversation with Congress about that.
Kaitlan Collins: (35:28)
Okay. My question on the patents, you were talking about how the President, last summer, expressed his favor for waiving these so countries would be able to mass produce these vaccines once they’re ready. Of course, that was when they were not ready yet, last summer. So just to be clear, is that still his position?
Jen Psaki: (35:44)
That has been his position. He also believes that there needs to be an internal policy process. That’s what’s been ongoing. The recommendation, the appropriate process, the recommendation to come from the USTR and then any announcement about a decision would come from USTR and that’s how government should function and should work. As I noted in response to Andrew’s question there, of course, considerations. But we’re also in the midst of a global pandemic and our objective is to getting as much supply out into the global community as quickly as possible and most cost-effective manner as we can.
Kaitlan Collins: (36:21)
But what did he communicate to Katherine Tai, his trade representative, before these meetings with the WTO on this are underway?
Jen Psaki: (36:28)
Well, there have been discussions happening here through a policy process. I don’t think his comments he made last summer are a secret. There’s certainly not. But again, he’s a believer that you need to have all parties at the table, everyone providing information, hearing details, pros and cons of every decision. That’s exactly what he asked for from his policy teams.
Kaitlan Collins: (36:50)
So given what he’s heard from the policy teams, from the health experts, people like Dr. Fauci have weighed in publicly about whether this would be helpful in making vaccines right now, or if that would be further down the road, but is his position still what he said last summer, which is absolutely, positively he will ensure there are no patents standing in the way of other countries and companies mass producing these life-saving vaccines?
Jen Psaki: (37:12)
That has been his position, but he is the President of the United States who believes in the advice, the counsel, the considerations of his policy teams. That has been the process that’s been ongoing over the last several weeks and I expect we’ll have more to say quite soon. It’s also important to note, just in response to one of the things you said, this would not be, this is about the U.S. position. There’d be an entire process at the WTO that would likely be months in the making. That’s just how the process works. So there’s also a consideration leading up to that.
Kaitlan Collins: (37:45)
Okay, thank you.
Jen Psaki: (37:46)
Okay, go ahead.
Speaker 3: (37:46)
Thank you, Jen. Yesterday you said that the CDC engaged with around 50 stakeholders when coming up with these guidelines for reopening the schools.
Jen Psaki: (37:53)
Speaker 3: (37:53)
So in addition to the teacher’s union, the American Federation of Teachers, who are these other, roughly 50 stakeholders?
Jen Psaki: (37:59)
Well, let me give you… I’m not going to read all 50. I’m happy to send them to you after. But just as an example, while I find this lengthy list, they include the YMCA. They include the Council of Chief State School Officers, National Association of School Nurses, the National Governor’s Association, Big Cities Health Coalition, Autism Speaks, Council of Great City Schools. So there’s a range of organizations and, as we were talking about yesterday, the objective is to have a better understanding of implementation, how it would work and ensure that these guidelines can be implemented and they would not provide harm to the communities that they would be impacting.
Speaker 3: (38:41)
But can you just explain maybe just a little bit more, why the CDC needs all of this input from so many outside entities? Why can’t it just come up with these science-based guidelines on its own?
Jen Psaki: (38:53)
Well they do so to ensure that the recommendations are feasible to implement and that they adequately address the safety and wellbeing of individuals the guidance is aimed to protect. That type of consultation is pretty standard as a part of their consideration processes.
Speaker 3: (39:08)
One other topic.
Jen Psaki: (39:09)
Speaker 3: (39:09)
Right now there is a huge Chinese rocket in outer space that’s going to be crashing down to earth, likely on Saturday, and nobody knows exactly where. It’ll likely be in an ocean, but it could, or pieces of it could come down over a populated area and this isn’t the first time that China has knowingly allowed something like this to happen. So does the White House condemn with this kind of repeated reckless behavior from China’s space program?
Jen Psaki: (39:35)
Well, let me first say that U.S. Space Command is aware of and tracking the location of the Chinese Long March 5-B in space. Obviously the space command would have more specifics on that tracking and an additional details. The United States is committed to addressing the risks of growing congestion due to space debris and growing activity in space. We want to work with the international community to promote leadership and responsible space behaviors. It’s in the shared interests of all nations to act responsibly in space to ensure the safety, stability, security, and long-term sustainability of outer space activities. So cooperation is a hallmark of our approach. We’re going to work with our international partners on that, and certainly addressing this as is something we’ll do through those channels.
Speaker 3: (40:21)
Just a quick follow up, if this rocket does cause some serious damages here on earth, would the white house enforce China paying some sort of compensation as required by the UN Space Liability Convention?
Jen Psaki: (40:34)
Well, again, I think we’d of course, refer to the advice and guidance from U.S. Space Command and Department of Defense and others, but we’re not at this point, we are certainly tracking its location through U.S. Space Command and hopefully that’s not the outcome that we are working through. Okay, go ahead, Eli.
Eli Stokols: (40:53)
Thanks Jen. I’m just interested if you have any response to some of the moves made this week by a few Republican governors to get rid of, protections that were in place for people public benefits, also public health restrictions, basically sending the message that the pandemic is over and criticizing Washington, the CDC bureaucrats, as Ron DeSantis put it, for telling people they still need to wear masks indoors, those sorts of things, saying the vaccines have worked. How are you trying to thread that needle, celebrating the progress of all the people who have been vaccinated and keeping these things in place and also trying to keep people from viewing this through a political lens? Any outreach to any of these Republican state officials about the message they’re sending and any response to them from the podium?
Jen Psaki: (41:36)
Sure. Well, first we not only do a governor’s call every single week with governors from across the country, from red states and blue states, to talk about implementation any changes we’re making to allocations, as we talked about just yesterday. But we also have regular engagement with governors and local officials about where the public health guidance is going, questions they have, and even sometimes challenges they have in their communities. Our position from the federal government-
Jen Psaki: (42:03)
… challenges they have in their communities. Our position from the federal government continues to be that the public health guidelines are in place to keep people safe. Not just governors and leaders of states, of course, but people in communities, families, kids, people who are in vulnerable populations. And that we’ll continue to communicate that from the federal level, even as governors are pulling back their implementation in some places where it might be premature.
Eli Stokols: (42:28)
The president yesterday was talking about transitioning from the mass vaccination centers, largely in urban suburban areas, and trying to really be more deliberate, proactive, like getting the vaccine to people in outlying areas, rural areas. Is there any concern about having enough vaccinators to reach people in those areas? Will this mostly be run through local pharmacies or is there going to be a similar effort to authorize different people in sort of medical fields to be able to administer vaccines?
Jen Psaki: (42:56)
Well, we did take that step sometime ago to expand the type of individuals who are qualified to be vaccinators because early on we recognized that it wasn’t just about supply. It was also about locations. And obviously as you alluded to, we’ve made some changes and adjustments, but also about vaccinators and ensuring that a larger group of individuals, dentists, veterinarians, others could also be eligible to do the vaccine and get into people’s arms, because we want to ensure that in a range of communities across the country, there’s a range of options for people who can do exactly that.
Jen Psaki: (43:32)
So that’s not a concern that we are tracking at this point in time, a lack of, because we did a lot of work preparing for those needs. And I would say that there were some mass vaccination sites we opened even last week, but what we announced yesterday is kind of a phased approach based on the phase we’re in, at this point in time, which is that we are recognizing the daily numbers will go down a bit because we’re at a such a high percentage rate relative to where people thought we were at this point in the pandemic. And we know it will be harder and harder to reach people and meet people where they are, hence the increase as you suggested in walk-in hours or the announcement of walk-in hours on mobile units, on partnerships with primary care physicians and doctors, to make it even easier and more accessible for people to get the vaccine.
Eli Stokols: (44:23)
Just one more tomorrow on the trip to Louisiana. So far, president is mostly traveled to states that are competitive swing states. Louisiana is obviously a red state, but has been impacted by COVID-
Jen Psaki: (44:31)
Except for Texas and Ohio.
Eli Stokols: (44:33)
Well, okay. But I mean, there’s been a lot of travel to some of these states. Can you just talk a little bit about the takeaway that people should have when they see the president showing up in deep red Louisiana tomorrow, and the issues that he wants to draw attention to?
Jen Psaki: (44:45)
Sure. Well, first the president, when he was elected knew from day one he was going to govern for all Americans and that was going to be his objective. And so even if it’s for people who didn’t vote for him, for states who didn’t vote for him, his focus is on delivering for them. So tomorrow, he’ll make two stops in Louisiana. His focus will be on talking about the American Jobs Plan and how that plan in a historic investment in infrastructure, rebuilding the type of bridges, roads in Louisiana that are long overdue to be upgraded, could help not only people’s travel and commutes, but also create jobs in these communities. And it’s not about just delivering for people who voted for him or people who have a blue check marks next to their name because they’re Democrats. And that’s part of what this message should send, this visit should send. Go ahead.
I get that you sort of prefer the Moody’s model over the Penn Morton. I’m just curious if the White House is going to accept whatever CVO and JCT scores the president’s propose will happen?
Jen Psaki: (45:47)
Well, I think our issue with the Penn Morton model was the data it was based on and that it was off. And so we’ll have to look at what the data that any at future analysis is based on. And then we’ll give an assessment.
So even official, you’re not embracing whatever the official assessment will be from CVO and JCT?
Jen Psaki: (46:04)
Well, Hans, there is no assessment at this point in time. Our assumption is that they would be abiding by accurate data. So we’ll look forward to seeing those assessments.
And when do you expect those assumptions and data to come in?
Jen Psaki: (46:16)
I don’t have a prediction of that. I suggest you ask them. Go ahead, Alex.
Does President Biden agree with Governor Witmer’s decision on the oil and gas pipeline? She’s citing essentially water quality issues. It’s really angered Canada. Does President Biden agree with that decision?
Jen Psaki: (46:34)
I’d have to take a closer look at the pipeline. I mean, we have been evaluating in a case by case scenario. Which pipeline are you talking about?
Jen Psaki: (46:42)
The Enbridge one. We look at each pipeline through the prism of the impact on the environment and also the impact on the economy. And we make assessments. So I’d have to talk to our team if that assessment’s been concluded or not.
Okay. And the president’s going to be talking about implementation later. What sort of oversight of plans are being talked about as far as the spending and making sure it’s-
Jen Psaki: (47:06)
For the restaurant program or just the programs in general?
In general, The inspector generals, I mean, can you give us an idea of what sort of oversight is being talked about?
Jen Psaki: (47:15)
Well, first, the president came into this job having served as the person overseeing the implementation of the American Rescue and Recovery, the ARA back in the early days of the Obama-Biden administration. He takes waste, fraud, and abuse incredibly seriously. And we have put in place changes in reforms to programs at SBA and other programs that have been implemented where we’ve seen incidents of that in the past. It’s also why he has somebody, Gene Sperling, overseeing the American Rescue Plan implementation to ensure there is coordination across government, that we are tracking where we see issues. And certainly he’s somebody who welcomes oversight and wants to do everything we can to reduce any waste, fraud, and abuse in these programs.
And just finally, I wonder if the president or anyone else in the administration spoke with the treasury secretary yesterday, given some of her remarks that she sought to clarify?
Jen Psaki: (48:13)
The secretary herself addressed her remarks later in the afternoon. So I’m not aware of any calls yesterday. She will be here in the briefing room and they’ll have their regular economic briefing on Friday. Go ahead in the back.
Speaker 4: (48:24)
So I want to talk about climate for a second. The president had said in his executive order in January, that he would call for a green procurement plan for the federal government. Part of that was about buying electric cars. The deadline for that plan was the April 27. Do you know what the status of it is and why the delay?
Jen Psaki: (48:46)
I don’t have an update on the status. It is something as you noted, he talked about early administration, he is absolutely committed to, but I’m happy to check with our team and see where our report on that lives.
Speaker 4: (48:57)
And I also want to ask, does the administration have a timeline at this point for issuing pardons and commutations?
Jen Psaki: (49:06)
I don’t have any previewing of that to provide and probably won’t from here. Go in the back.
Speaker 5: (49:13)
Yes. Was rhe Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti under active consideration to be that ambassador to India or any other country?
Jen Psaki: (49:24)
I don’t have any personnel announcements or assessments to make here from the podium, but hopefully we’ll have some more formal announcements on ambassadors soon.
Speaker 5: (49:34)
And the Tokyo Olympics are 12 weeks out. At what point does the president needs to make a decision about his attendance?
Jen Psaki: (49:44)
Speaker 5: (49:46)
And what factors are delaying the announcement?
Jen Psaki: (49:50)
Well, I think the president and his team assess any invitation as it comes in, but 12 weeks is some period of time. I don’t have any updates or predictions on whether or not he’ll travel or accept the invitation made to attend the Olympics. Go ahead.
Speaker 6: (50:04)
Thanks Jen. Two questions. First, on the large sports arenas that are beginning to allow for fully vaccinated fans in special sections, both City Field and Yankee Stadium in New York has made those announcements. And I know there are some others. Does the administration think that that is a good approach for sports teams to take and maybe other large event venues? And are there any concerns about equity when it comes to access to facilities, if particularly those that were built with some public money, in some cases I’m sure, when it comes to people who may not have been able to get vaccinated yet?
Jen Psaki: (50:49)
Well, first everyone in the country is eligible to be vaccinated. And certainly at this point in time, and as we’ve noted here have taken a range of steps to ensure we are meeting people where they are, getting these vaccine doses out to communities around the country. In terms of an assessment of the safety of this approach by sports teams, I’d have to talk to our COVID team about that. And I think it’s unlikely we’re going to be weighing into every private sector decision about how they’re moving forward once people are vaccinated, but I will check with them on that.
Speaker 6: (51:22)
Okay. And then the other question, if I can follow up on the debt limit question just a little bit.
Jen Psaki: (51:27)
Speaker 6: (51:29)
Does the president have a position on whether or not the debt limit itself should exist at all? Considering every couple of years we go through this question of what are the extraordinary measures and how much extra time do we have. And we know at the end of the day that it’s going to have to get raised or else we’re going to have some sort of economic calamity. Does the president have a view on the question more broadly of whether or not there even should be a debt limit?
Jen Psaki: (51:57)
Well, first raising or suspending the debt ceiling doesn’t authorize new spending. It merely allows treasury to meet obligations that Congress has already approved. Right? It has been the case for many years and there have been bi-partisan votes to support. So the president does believe that treasury should be able to meet its obligations and believes that Congress should move forward in a bipartisan manner as they have historically in the past, including three times during the prior administration. Go ahead in the back.
Speaker 7: (52:29)
Thanks. On the G7, is there any advance on whether the president will meet with the queen? And separately, has the president or First Lady been in contact recently with Prince Harry?
Jen Psaki: (52:44)
I don’t have any more trip details. Who among us wouldn’t want to go see the queen? But I don’t have any details to preview at this point in time. I expect as we get closer to the trip, we’ll have more specifics. And I don’t have any calls or engagements with Prince Harry or Megan Markle to read out for you with the president or the First Lady.
Speaker 7: (53:07)
Is there a timeline on the announcement for the British ambassador?
Jen Psaki: (53:12)
A timeline? I don’t have a timeline for that.
Speaker 7: (53:15)
Jen Psaki: (53:17)
No names to float out there for you. Hopefully, we’ll have some more ambassadors soon to announce.
When you say soon, would that be before or after he makes his decision on going to the Olympics?
Jen Psaki: (53:28)
I can’t order for you, Hans. There’s just so much excitement to stay tuned for around here. So we’ll see. Okay. Thanks everyone.
Speaker 8: (53:36)