Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, May 4, 2021
May 04, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:55 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. It's been awhile. I feel like somebody taller than me may have been in here more recently. Let's see. Well, happy — what day is today? — Tuesday. (Laughter.) Happy Tuesday to all of you. We haven't been in here since last Tuesday.
So just a couple of items for all of you at the top. I wanted to provide a brief update on the situation at our southern border. After four years of an immigration system rooted in destructive and chaotic policies, President Biden is taking the challenge head on and is building a fair, orderly, and humane immigration system; that's our objective.
After coming into office, our administration immediately jumped into action to address the influx of migrants at the border — something that began during and was exacerbated by the Trump administration.
And we wanted to provide a couple of data — pieces of data you may have seen, but they've come out since the last time we had a briefing in here.
At the end of March, there were more than 5,000 children in Customs and Border Protection Patrol stations. Today, that number is approximately 600.
The amount of time children spend in CBP facilities is down by 75 percent — from 131 hours at the end of March to under 30 hours now.
And just yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will begin the process of reuniting a number of families who were separated by the policies of the previous administration.
Clearly, we're not done; there's a lot of work ahead. Migration is a dynamic and evolving challenge, but the President has a plan and we're working on implementing it.
Just a few more brief updates for you. As you know, Friday is "Jobs Day." Here we are again. And to mark the occasion, I wanted to convey to all of you that we are going to be welcoming in Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to the briefing room on Friday to provide an update to all of you and take some questions.
And throughout this week, the President, the Vice President, Cabinet members, and other administration officials are fanning out across the country to make a forceful argument for the President's economic vision. The President, of course, began that push just yesterday, in Virginia, to talk about the Jobs Plan and the Families Plan, and it will continue today with the Vice President who will be traveling to — who will be in Milwaukee.
As part of this, we'll also have Secretary Vilsack joining us in the briefing tomorrow to talk about the vital child nutrition proposals in the American Families Plan.
Finally, today, Jeff Zients and members of our COVID Response Team held their weekly meeting with our nation's governors.
This week, over 29 million doses will go out across all of our channels, with two thirds of those doses going to jurisdictions and one third to federal channels.
Jeff reiterated the federal government's commitments to help expand access to the vaccine, boost vaccine confidence, and help states with the unique needs — their unique needs in this vaccination effort.
Zeke, why don't you kick us off.
Q Thanks, Jen. First, on the President's COVID speech this afternoon: Do you have a preview of what he's expected to say? What should the American public expect to hear from him? And any new updates on the White House policies regarding mask wearing or testing here on campus now that CDCs has adjusted their guidelines last week for fully vaccinated Americans?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, in terms of the President's remarks later this afternoon — I've been doing this long enough not to get too far ahead of him, but I know there's been some reporting out there — so you all and the American people can expect to hear an update from the President on our goals for vaccinating Americans by middle of this summer.
Also, some more updates on our plans to make the vaccine more available and accessible across the country, and certainly some information about what people can expect once they get vaccinated.
In terms of your second question, we are working — our team here is working to determine how we will apply the CDC guidelines that will constantly be updated, as you all know, to our efforts and the work we do here in the White House.
Now, there wasn't — there weren't recommendations or weren't — there wasn't guidance given on workplace use — right? — so we're really talking about wearing a mask outside. I think — when I leave the White House, I take my mask off. If I'm coming back into the White House, sometimes I put it back on when I'm taking the walk just to save some time.
But in terms of the number of people who will be in the building and how we will apply, we're still working through that internally.
Q And, Jen, there were some reports out of Iran over the week — over the weekend about a potential deal for the release of some U.S. hostages there. I know the State Department has contested that report, but just sort of as the — as a matter of principle, is the President open to a dollars-for-hostages deal, essentially ransom payments, to free prisoners? Or does he want — does it need to be a part of a broader package with the Iranians?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our policy as the U.S. government has not changed on ransom. But I will tell you that discussions to bring home Americans who are held in Iran are something that are raised — that is raised at the highest level through discussions. Obviously, those are indirect. They — those are often indirect discussions, or we have our own channels, of course, and they are separate from the nuclear discussions in Vienna.
But it is a commitment and a desire by this administration to certainly bring those hostages back. But reports over the weekend that an agreement had been reached to exchange prisoners was not true. As I said, we always raise this issue, but there's no agreement at this time to — on the release of these four Americans.
Q And just one final one. More than 100 days into the administration — when you were up here, at the beginning of the administration, you announced the domestic violence extremism review. Do you have an update on, sort of, where that is?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q And what will the final work product of that review be?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let me give you an update on that. So as — as you noted, Zeke, on the — we announced early on that we would be undergoing a domestic violent extremism review through the NSD — through the national security team, and we announced that during the President's first week. We — I can report that we completed our policy review in the 100 days we allotted for it.
And right now — and this review, of course, tackled domestic terrorism from a range of angles and was comprised of input from various agencies across government.
So the stage we're in now is that we are taking — we're lear- — taking a look at what — what occurred during that review, lessons that we've learned, and ensuring that the policy responses that we've been discussing and developing are the right ones. That's going to take a little bit of time.
Our ultimate goal from this review has always been to develop a strategy that will convey to the American people an overarching sense of how we'll be taking on the threat posed by domestic terrorism — something the President has talked about as one of the greatest threats we face.
I anticipate an update on that and the policy recommendations will be weeks, not months. But at this point, that's the stage of the process.
Q Thank you, Jen. Just about Secretary Blinken's comments yesterday about Russia at the G7. He said that the United States wants a "more stable" and "predictable relationship" with Russia. What is —
MS. PSAKI: Secretary Blinken? Just to make sure.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. I think you said "Secretary Clinton," or that's what I heard. But — okay.
Q No. No. No. Secretary Blinken. And I was — I was wondering: What does Russia really have to do to make that happen, considering the Navalny situation, considering the Russian aggression at the Ukrainian border? How do you have a stable and predictable relationship?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our relationship with Russia includes us voicing concerns where we have them; taking actions and putting consequences in place when actions warrant, as we have in the treatment of Aleksey Navalny, as we did in reaction to the engagement or the hacking of our own election here in the United States.
At the same time, we do think there are areas where we can continue to work together on. This is how, historically, national security relationships and diplomatic relationships have worked around the world.
So I think what we are sending a message of is that we are not looking to escalate the relationship in terms of rhetoric or actions. We are — of course, we reserve the right to put in place consequences should their actions warrant. And we want to have a stable relationship where we will work together in areas where it is constructive, as it — as might — as there might be an opportunity as it relates to the Iran negotiations, as an example. And we will continue to voice concerns as we have them.
Q And one on sharing IP data — because the administration seems to be under increasing pressure to share IP data from doctors and even some global leaders. Dr. Fauci recently joined industry, during a television interview, to say that that's perhaps not the best way to get shots in arms. And I was just wondering what the official White House view is on that.
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn't say that's an exact characterat- — characterization of his comments or remarks that he made. But I will say that I would expect we'll have something to say about this once the WTO session gets underway. Obviously, Ambassador Tai is — would be making a recommendation to the President. That's not something that has happened at this point.
And obviously — just for people to understand — for everyone to understand this process, because sometimes it's shorthan- — shorthanded in a — on television or in other places — what we're talking about is the United States' position. It's a WTO process, and what ultimately happens here will not be up to the United States alone. This is a waiver that there would have to be agreement among WTO members on.
I think what I saw Dr. Fauci's comments speak to as well — which is certainly our position — is that our objective is to save lives by producing as much supply as possible and getting shots in arms around the world in the most effective way. And we're determining what the right steps are to do exactly that.
Q Okay. Thank you. And one last one on India.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q I know I have been asking you constantly about that —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — but it's obviously really important. Is the administration doing all it can to help India?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me give you an update. And I know we've provided a few of those, but I don't think we've done a substantive one here on what has happened or — or what the recent shipments have been.
So six air shipments, funded by USAID, have departed the United States, five of which have already arrived in India. These flights include health supplies: oxygen and oxygen supplies, N95 masks, rapid diagnostic tests, and medicine. And these are a lot of the components that the Indian government has expressed a vital need for. More flights are on the way, with total assistance expected to exceed $100 million.
At the request of the government of India, USAID provided these urgently needed supplies to the Indian Red Cross to ensure they reach those most in need as quickly as possible.
In terms of oxygen support, which as you all know is a big component of what they need right now — we're talking about oxygen cylinders. So USAID delivered approximately 1,500 cylinders that will remain in India and can repeatedly be refilled at local supply centers, with more planeloads to come.
Oxygen concentrators — USAID has sent approximately 550 oxygen concentrators to obtain oxygen from ambient air. And USAID has also delivered a large-scale unit to support up to 20 patients each of an oxygen generation unit.
We've also sent 2.5 million N95 masks, and we have an additional 12.5 million N95 masks available should that request come from the Indian government.
And we've directed our own order of AstraZeneca manufacturing supplies to India, allowing India to make over 20 million doses.
We've also provided 1 million rapid diagnostic tests. And this weekend — this past weekend, USAID delivered 20,000 treatment courses of the anti-viral dug [drug] remdesivir to help treat hospitalized patients.
And we're also working — one of the questions that's come up is about assistance and know-how. And CDC experts will work in close coordination with India's public health experts in the following areas: laboratory surveillance and epitdemeo- — epidemiology — I'm not a medical expert; emergency response and operations development; bioinformatics for genomic sequencing and modeling.
So we are in close touch. That's a summary of what we've done just over the last several days. And we're working to meet the immediate needs they have now, even as we consider, you know, when we have AstraZeneca doses available, what can happen there.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.
Q Thank you. You mentioned Secretary Yellen is coming on Friday. She said in remarks published today that, "It may be that," quote, "interest rates will have to rise somewhat to make sure that our economy doesn't overheat." Does President Biden agree with her?
MS. PSAKI: I think Pr- — President Biden certainly agrees with his Treasury Secretary. But I will say that one of the reasons I think you're asking this question is about inflation concerns, and something that we watch closely here, obviously, in the Treasury Department and in the White House in close coordination. And that is something where there's agreement.
I looked at Secretary Yellen's remarks — or the ones that I saw. What she also conveyed is how vital it is to make these investments now, and how important it is for our economy, for investment in research and development, for leveling the playol- — playing field on the workforce to make exactly this investment.
So, of course, officials who don't work here — in the Federal Reserve and other places — closely watch what needs to happen. I'm not going to speak on interest rates. But we also take inflationary risk incredibly seriously, and our economic experts have conveyed that they think this would be temporary and that the benefits far outweigh the concern.
Q I ask, in part, because, of course, the previous administration was routinely criticized for repeatedly sharing its views on what rates should do. Secretary Yellen is expressing her view on what will happen to rates. Do you think that this is an appropriate comment for a Treasury Secretary? I mean, is she expressing an opinion on what the Fed should do when she says this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, of all people, Secretary Yellen certainly understands the independence and the role of the Federal Reserve. And I think she was simply answering a question and conveying how we balance decision making here.
Q Can I pivot to one other thing? This week, Facebook is going to decide whether or not to reinstate Donald Trump's accounts on Facebook and Instagram. If he is reinstated, is there any change in strategy that the White House would put in messaging? In other words, if he's on these platforms expressing his views, does that change what you do at all?
MS. PSAKI: No.
Q Thank you, Jen. Ahead of the President's speech today, is there any context or data you can share about the holdouts — about people who are still not getting vaccinated or signing up to get vaccinated — so we can understand if the problem is access to the vaccine or hesitancy because they think it's unsafe?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, first let me say that what we've seen is that the more people who are vaccinated — and today he'll talk about the fact — but you are aware of this data — that 150 million people in this country now have had one dose — adults, I should say — 105 million have had two doses.
The more people who are vaccinated, the more that confidence increases and the more people want to get vaccinated. That's not a surprise to us; that was what we anticipated and hoped for, given if your friend or your neighbor or somebody in your community is vaccinated, it gives you greater confidence about the efficacy of the vaccine and maybe you see what the impact and the benefits are.
We always expected (inaudible) to be at this phase where once we reached that percentage, approximately, of people who were vaccinated — once we got to the point where it was no longer an issue of access to supply — because we have more than enough supply for the American public — that it would become more and more difficult to meet people where they are and to reach them.
And the biggest factor we've seen consistently has — we always focus on confidence, of course, but even with confidence, the biggest challenge is access. And access can mean a lot of things. It can mean concern about safety — though we've seen improvements in confidence levels. It can also mean where do you get a vaccine, which is why we've invested so heavily — and the President will talk about this today — in programs like our Pharmacy Program, mobile vaccine units, mass vaccination sites, partnering with primary fair- — care physicians, local doctors, et cetera; but also why we anoun- — made the announcement last week about paid leave, so that people can take a day off of work and they don't have to worry about losing income. We were seeing that as a factor.
So we're constantly evaluating how to make this easier and more acceptable — accessible. But we knew we'd be at this point where it would become more difficult, and we've been preparing for that.
Q Thank you. And —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
Q — I know you've seen the reports about the FDA approving the Pfizer vaccine for kids between the ages of 12 and 15.
MS. PSAKI: Not yet.
Q Not yet. But is there anything you can tell us about how close they might be and, in the meantime, what the administration is doing to prepare so that those kids can get the shots right away?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I can't get ahead of the FDA process. And certainly, in part because we want to ensure people have confidence in the safety of vaccines when they make a decision.
But I will say the President will talk a bit about what preparations we are making here to ensure that if a vaccine is approve — if the Pfizer vaccine is approved by the FDA — or others in the future — that we make that accessible to additional younger populations.
Q Thanks. And just one more on infrastructure.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q On Sunday, Ron Klain said that the White House had invited a group of Republican senators —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q — to come talk about infrastructure. Do you have any details about that meeting, including whether the President will attend?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, so I think he was referring to the invitation the President made to Senator Capito, that we announced last week, and a group of members she selects to come to the White House.
Since Congress is on — Senate is on recess this week, we anticipate that meeting being next week, and it just hasn't been locked in yet on the day and who will be included in that group of attendees. But that's what he was referring to this weekend. But we don't have an update quite yet. As we have one, we'll share that with all of you.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Kristin.
Q Thanks, Jen. I just wanted to give you a chance to respond to the accusations that the American Federation of Teachers, the country's largest — second-largest teachers union, influenced the CDC's guidelines on reopening schools. You had Republican Senator Tom Cotton saying that this is evidence of a politicized public health agency "answering at the beck and call of the teachers' unions." So how does the White House respond?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say: First, that's false. Let's take a step back and talk about how the CDC works. The CDC — it's actually a longstanding best practice for the CDC to engage with organizations and groups that are going to be impacted by guidance and recommendations issued by the agency.
It doesn't mean they are taking everything they want or even a percentage of what they want, but it's important to understand the implementation components. They do so to ensure that recommendations are feasible and that they adequately address the safety and wellbeing of the individuals the guidance is aimed to prodect [sic] — protect.
So the CDC engaged with around 50 stakeholders that are on the frontlines in this pandemic and have requisite perspective for the guidance.
Q The President reiterated last week that July 4th is the target date for returning American life to something closer to normal. Can you just define what exactly "closer to normal" is? What does that look like for the average American?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, the President will have more about his updated goals that we have as an administration by that July timeline that he'll talk about later this afternoon. You know, what he's talked about is, if you're — giving incentives for people to be vaccinated, to understand what the benefits are, what the benefits are of getting a shot or two shots.
And one of the things he's talked about for some time since his primetime address — before the joint address was people being able to gather in their backyard and have a barbecue.
And, obviously, we follow the advice and guidelines of our health and medical experts. But if we increase the number of people who are vaccinated around the country in communities, that will enable people to do more things that they're used to.
So, the guidance last week, of course, said that if you're vaccinated, you don't have to wear a mask outside, as long as you're not in a crowd. It also said if you're vaccinated, you can go a lot of places if you're wearing a mask, and you can feel safe and comfortable. But he'll have more to say later this afternoon about the July timeline.
Q Okay, and one more question —
MS. PSAKI: Sure
Q — about — since we've been talking a lot about the refugee cap, something that's not entirely similar, but certainly related — the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program is facing this backlog of thousands and thousands of applicants. And, of course, time is running out with the withdrawal beginning over the weekend. So, can you just kind of summarize what exactly is the plan to address this back- — backlog before all U.S. troops withdraw?
MS. PSAKI: You know, Kristin, it's a great question. It's an important program the President talked about, of course — has talked about in the past and he is committed to.
I would say the State Department would oversee the process for those visas, so I would point you to them.
Q But, I mean, is there a plan or is the plan still being drafted?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have an update on the plan. I will just convey to you that ensuring that people who have been partners to the United States, who have played such a vital role, who are eligible, can apply, and that we do that. Our embassy, of course, is remaining there and a presence there as well. But they would be the right agency to talk about processing and timeline and what that looks like.
Q Is there any chance that like you guys might surge volunteers or staff to the embassy in Kabul to help?
MS. PSAKI: It's a great question, but I would, again, point you to the State Department because the personnel would come from there.
Q On the refugee cap, since it is now going to be set at 62,500 this fiscal year, but President Biden says he doesn't think we'll actually get there: So, where does he think we'll be by September 30th on the number of refugees?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, that, you know, what's important about this cap is, one, that he wanted to — as he said in his statement yesterday — he wanted to eliminate any lingering doubt from any refugee across the world that the United States wasn't a country that would welcome refugees in to apply. Under the Biden-Harris administration, that's exactly who we want to be.
But setting this cap, the objective is twofold. One is it helps send a message — that message to the world I just conveyed — but also it helps get the muscles working that have atrophied over the last several years when we were not welcoming in many a- — many refugees.
So, this is not just a federal government or U.S. government, you know, effort. There are so many organizations who play incredible roles in the United States and around the world. They have been understaffed. They've been under-resourced. And some of our success will depend on the ability to rebuild those systems.
So, yes, we will not — it is unlikely we will meet that 62,500 cap. It is actually, historically — rarely is that the ca- — are the caps meant — or met, I should say. But our objective is to get those muscles working again and send a clear message to the world.
Q And right now the number is still around 2,000. That was the latest we had gotten, so it just was — is there an update on what that number is right now?
MS. PSAKI: I can see if there's an updated number. We have had people start coming in because we resumed the flights and because we overturned the policy that prevented refugees from applying from the Middle East and from Africa. We're constantly updating those numbers, but I'll see if there's a number to update you on.
Q And then, on what Jeff Zients told the governors today on that call, that now the White House will redistribute vaccine allocations if a state doesn't order the full allocation they'd get that week.
Can you just walk us through what changed in that policy since last month when the Michigan governor made a direct appeal to the President to get more vaccines for her state? She was told that couldn't happen at the time. So, can you just walk us through the thinking —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — on this policy change.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, first, we are always evaluating how to ensure we're getting more supply out to the country and out to the American people — more shots in arms. So, even just a few weeks ago, we were in a different phase of our vaccination effort when supply was more constrained. And states, for the most part, were ordering at or near their full allocation.
So, what this announcement does and what — what Jeff conveyed to the governors, is they can still order — it's up to them. They can order up to their full allocation based on population. They can also order less than their full allocation. And the less — the doses that are not then given to that state will then go into, kind of, an overarching supply that could then be distributed to other states by population.
Now, that same governor could, the following week, decide to order back to their maximum allocation. So, it gives flexibility, week by week, but it's really just an indication that we're in a different phase now that we were — than we were even a couple of weeks ago, in terms of access to supply. And we want to ensure the doses are — that we free up unordered — unused and unordered doses.
Q And last question: Does the President still think that we will get to herd immunity in the U.S. this calendar year?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President's — we try to leave the predictions of when we will reach any definition by medical and health experts of that term. I will say that what the President will talk about today is what percentage of the population he hopes to be vaccinated by the summer.
That obviously is a step forward. And what we can do from an operational standpoint from the White House, from Jeff Zients and our COVID team, is continue to operationalize getting these shots out into the country. But assessments of what that will mean, we will leave to our health and medical experts and apply our guidance accordingly.
Good ahead, Karen.
Q Jen, to follow up on that question then from Kaitlan: The President was asked about that yesterday, and he said there's a debate about it. And on the call with the governors today — we obtained audio of it — Dr. Fauci seemed to downplay the notion of herd immunity.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q He called it "an elusive concept of a number." So, is that no longer the administration's goal? Does the White House not believe that's possible? Is this a deliberate shift away from that?
MS. PSAKI: Again, it's a great question. I just don't want to answer — and I know we typically have a briefing with our health and medical team on Tuesdays, so you may have to wait for the next one or the next time one of these doctors is on television to talk about the definition of it.
But what our objective is, is, of course, to vaccinate as much of the population as quickly as we can, and the definition of what that will mean for communities, what that will mean for going back to normal, we look forward to applying that.
Believe me: We all want to take our masks off inside, and we all want to return back to normal. And we understand the frustration of the public, but we will leave the definition of that to our health and medical experts.
Q And is the administration planning to phase out FEMA's mass vaccine sites in favor of focusing more on local-level community health centers, the mobile centers that we've been talking about? Is it not effective to be using those mass vaccine sites anymore at this point in the campaign?
MS. PSAKI: It's more effective in some places than others. So, we announced a couple of new mass vaccination sites last Thursday or Friday. There are some places where those mass vaccination sites — that's a mouthful, for some reason — have not stayed open.
And we evaluate, working in coordination with, of course, governors, local health and medical experts on what's working. We look at the data and see what's working. And there are some programs, like our pharmacy program, we initially launched it as a pilot with just a couple thousand pharmacies, right? Now, it's over 40,000 or even greater than that, because that, we've seen, is very effective.
We're partnering with local primary care physicians, in part because, through our data, we see that people trust their local doctors and that if it's easy — if you know you're going there to get your checkup, that that is an easy place to do vaccinations.
So, there are certain parts of the country or certain communities where we still have mass vaccination sites, where we'll continue to open them. But, we're constantly evaluating the best delivery mechanisms, and if something is not the most effective one, we will make changes.
Q Thank you. Does the administration want or does it already have some plans being formulated to allow in foreign visitors this summer, in the same way the EU has pretty clearly said, "That's when we're going to open the doors, too"?
MS. PSAKI: They have, but we — again, this is a case, which I know is endlessly frustrating to people — and I will acknowledge that — where we will rely on the advice and the recommendations by our health and medical experts on what is safe for the American public. And they are constantly evaluating that, but I can't get ahead of their process and what I anticipate in terms of any changes to travel restrictions.
Q Okay. Thank you. And another one, against the background of fighting, which is going on now in Helmand, in Afghanistan. After the U.S. troops left, the Taliban and government forces started in. What is — what is going to be the President's message if this specter of a Taliban takeover, which is obviously quite possible, happens after September?
What's going to be his message to the Afghan people, you know, including the many who probably don't support the Taliban? Is it going to be, essentially, "Look, we're sorry; this is now your affair, we're out of here"? I mean, is there going to be anything more than that that he can say to them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I will say that when the President gave his speech on our decision to pull troops out of Afghanistan, he talked about the fact that we will continuing — we will continue, of course, to have an over-the-horizon presence, that we will continue to provide a range of humanitarian and other direct assistance. We will still have an embassy, at this point, in Afghanistan and a presence there at a diplomatic level.
So what — the announcement we made was about removing troops because it is in the best interests of our own national security. But he believes in diplomacy, believes that is the right path forward. And we'll — we will continue to support that and work with our international partners around the world to move forward.
Q Could he foresee a day when — when the U.S. and the U.S. Embassy — United States — deals with a Taliban government which is ruling Afghanistan?
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we watch closely and work closely with our partners in the region on what the future looks like, but I'm not going to get ahead of the status in Afghanistan.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Yeah, a couple questions. The White House has said the President wants to see progress on the American Jobs Plan by the end of this month and passage by the summer. Does that same timeframe apply to the Families Plan that he released last week?
MS. PSAKI: It's a great question. I mean, we obviously just introduced it. It's — introduced it some period of time after we introduced the American Jobs Plan. I expect we'll have discussions with members of Congress about components of each. Different members have — support or are more excited about different components of different parts of the plan. But I don't have a new timeline to set for the American Families Plan.
Q Well, with those negotiations and the meeting that you referenced —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — coming up with Republican senators, you mentioned he'll — he'll talk infrastructure. Is he also going to talk the Families Plan with those senators when he holds that meeting?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this particular meeting — I mean, there's — there's dozens and dozens of meetings, engagements, phone calls, conversations that are happening on a regular basis and a couple of — you know, Secretary Pete Buttigieg is going to be briefing the Congressional Progressive Caucus this week on the package, as well as speaking at Leader Hoyer's committee chair weekly brief — meeting.
Our Jobs Cabinet continues to make one-on-one calls to members on both sides of the aisle, and some of them are also in districts this week amplifying with members. Our leg af- — legislative affairs team is doing briefings and having dozens of calls and engagements as well.
This one particular meeting is related to a counterproposal that Senator Capito made, which is focused on the American Jobs Plan, so I would expect that to be a primary focus of the meeting. But there will be a range of meetings about the proposals — the American Families Plan as well and different proposals that the President has put on the table.
Q At this point, when you think about getting these plans passed through Congress, are you envisioning both plans being combined into one bill? I mean, is that what the White House favors — or separately? What's the position right now?
MS. PSAKI: We're open to a range of mechanisms for the President's ideas moving forward, but exactly what you're talking about is part of the discussion we're going to have with members of Congress. And there's an openness to smaller package, to different components moving forward together.
We will leave those mechanics to leaders in Congress, but what we're discussing with them is where we can find agreements on many of the proposals and ideas the President has put forward.
Q So, one more question on the — on the Families Plan: During the campaign, President Biden proposed free tuition to four-year colleges and universities for students whose families earn $125,000 or less. His Families Plan, released last week, as you know, only offers free tuition to students to attend two-year community colleges. Why did he not go through with that larger plan for free schooling at universities and college, and why was limited to just community colleges?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say: While the American Families Plan is a historic investment in education and childcare; free universal pre-K for three- and four-year-olds across the country, which we know would have a huge impact — 58 — you're 58 percent more likely to graduate from high school if you go to preschool as opposed to daycare; and two years of community college.
But this is not the totality of what the President hopes to do on education. This is a significant investment, a historic investment that he's proposing, but we're less than, I know, 100 — less than 107 days, I know we are, into the administration.
Q Thanks, Jen. Does the President and (inaudible) education believe that public schools should require that students get vaccinated once folks under 16 (inaudible) available to get (inaudible) Pfizer and Moderna (inaudible) next couple of months?
MS. PSAKI: I don't — it's not my understanding that we're putting in new requirements here from the federal government. I would expect the Department of Education will work with local schools and school districts on implementation and how to keep students and — and teachers safe.
Q Would the White House come out in support of teachers unions who are already pretty public about the fact that they would want students under 16 to get vaccinated if they can get vaccinated and are eligible to get vaccinated?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have any anticipation of requirements from the federal government at this point in time. But obviously, we'll look to our health and medical experts on any additional guidance to provide.
Q What are you (inaudible) on social media? I know the President is very pro-union, but (inaudible) all the time. Would he at least invite them here to have conversations? So do you anticipate that President Biden would at least come out on the side of the unions for this specific issue?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn't. I would say that the President is going to abide by the advice and guidance of health and medical experts. And certainly we put out public health information and we've put out mitigation steps that schools can take in order to protect their school population, but I don't have anything else to predict for you at this point in time.
Q Just one more.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q I just want to give the White House the opportunity to respond to the backlash Liz Cheney has been getting recently for coming out and saying that, you know, obviously Biden won the election fair and square. In fact, the Republicans are saying that that's not true — it's a bit of hogwash and, obviously, taking artistic liberties there.
But is — does the White House have a response to the Republicans kind of ganging up on her or having negative reaction to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say first that, you know, the Republican Party seems to be spending a lot of blood, sweat, and tears trying to figure out where they stand and what they stand for, and that's their prerogative.
But our focus is on — and how we're spending our time is on defeating the pandemic, growing our economy, building on that for the long run. And it's no secret that the President doesn't see eye to eye on many policies with Congresswoman Cheney, but his view is that the American people elected him, and also many people representing Congress — representing them in Congress to solve problems for them. And he's going to continue to seek civility even when he disagrees.
Go — oh, let me go — let me just get around, and then I'll come back to you two, if that's okay.
Go ahead, Jonathan.
Q Thanks. President Biden just recently named — nominated somebody to run the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. First — will be its first Senate-confirmed administrator in years.
It's an agency that has been criticized for years by tra- — by traffic safety advocates for not doing anything, especially for truck safety. It's supposed to regulate, for example, but since 2016, they have a proposed rule to limit the speed of trucks, which hasn't been acted on, now, in five years.
Did the President discuss safety when he nominated her to take over the agency?
MS. PSAKI: I'm not sure there's been a discussion with her directly. Obviously, she was selected or nominated to serve in this particular role. But it's my understanding that the Department of Educa- — of Transportation, I should say — sorry — is examining available tools to address exactly the problems that you've outlined, which could include awareness training and supporting healthy practices, preventive medical intervention, and regulation. But we'd really defer to them on their processes.
Q The President also recently named three people to the Chemical Safety Board, which had been down to one of five board members for the last year.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q Why didn't he make that some of his early — earliest appointments or nominations?
MS PSAKI: Well, as you touch on, Jonathan, the — the Chemical Safety Board has a significant bac- — backlog of cases pending. Currently, it only has one board member out of five. The President wanted to fill the vacancies — or hopes to fill the vacancies quickly to make sure the board is able to fulfill its responsibilities and review these cases in a timely manner — and certainly the impact to communities across the country.
Q And one last question is — a bunch of lawmaker, including one I cover, who would love to still see another round of stimulus checks — direct payments — even every month until the pandemic ends.
Is that something that — it hadn't been in either of the President's new proposals, but that's something that could be on the table.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I mean, first, I would say that, in the President's new proposal, he does call for an extension of the historic — a historic expansion, I should say — extension of the Child Tax Credit. And if passed, the families of tens of millions of children will continue to get regular payments — the total up to $3,000 per year for kids age six and over, and $3,600 for kids under six.
Obviously, we're continuing to evaluate what their needs are to continue to get the pandemic under control, put people back to work, but we think that's also a proposal that will have a long-term benefit.
Q Do you think that there could be another round of direct payments in one of these bills?
MS. PSAKI: We'll see what members of Congress propose, but those are not free.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Jen, my first question is on ambassadorships.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q Many key picks have not been made for these roles, which serve as a representation of American diversity overseas. The United States has never had a lesbian woman or transgender person as an ambassador. Is the President missing an opportunity to name those firsts?
MS. PSAKI: Well, given we haven't named many ambassadors quite yet — and we hope to soon; stay tuned — certainly, the President looks to ensuring that the people representing him — not just in the United States, but around the world — represent the diversity of the country, and that certainly includes people who are LGBTQ, members of the transgender community.
I don't know — I don't have any predictions for you on that front, but I will say that he's — soon, I'm sure, will be evaluating some recommended nominees coming from our personnel office and our national security team to fill some important posts. And he, of course, always looks at diversity.
Q Could you define "soon" a little bit further? What it that — like days, months, weeks?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it depends on when the President makes some decisions. And he'll continue to consider a range of options for a lot of the positions that are out there and still remain vacant.
I will say, having served at the State Department for a couple of years, there are incredible career service employees who are serving in these embassies around the world who are representing the United States and our values. That continues to be the case, but, of course, we're eager to have ambassadors in place and confirmed to represent the President and the Vice President and the United States.
Q My second —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thank you. My second inquiry is on the President's speech to Congress last week. He told transgender youth he has their backs. And the President made these remarks in the context of states enacting laws against transgender youth, including a measure the Tennessee governor signed just today, requiring parental notification on LGBT- — LGBTQ-inclusive school curriculum. The President's inclusion of transgender people in his speech to Congress is significant in and of itself, but what will the President "having their backs" look like going forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly the President has put in place — has signed executive orders. He's also used the power of the bully pulpit in his presidency to convey that transgender rights are human rights. And that is his belief and the view of his administration, and how he expects policies to be implemented. That includes ensur- — ensuring that transgender youth have the opportunity to play sports, and to be treated equally in states across the country. So he will look to members of his administration to implement what his view is and what he — what his value is as President.
Q Would you rule out legal action against these laws going forward as part of it?
MS. PSAKI: I will leave you — that to the Department of Justice.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you, Jen, very much. A couple of questions, and then another one from a colleague.
Will President Biden give an update on sharing vaccines with the world today? And, like, for example, is there any consideration to let go the unordered vaccine supply that will be redistributed here also to other countries? Is there consideration for that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our focus right now is on allowing the available — the AstraZeneca vaccine supply that we have –expected — over the next couple of months, going through a process to determine where we can get — provide those vaccines.
So, right now, we have zero doses available. We hope to have about 10 million in the coming weeks, and about an additional 50 million in the coming months. And there's a process internally that's determining where those doses will go, but that's really where our focus is at this moment, but we will continue to evaluate ways to increase and expand global vaccine supply around the world beyond that.
Q So, does the White House believe they could be doing more, or faster, to help close the gap between vaccination in rich countries and the rest of the world? Or do you believe the 60 million dollar — doses of AstraZeneca are enough?
MS. PSAKI: I don't think I said it was enough. I think I said that that is where our focus is at this moment, but we will continue to look for ways to — our objective is to be a contributing — a big contributing component of providing as much global supply in as cost-effective manner as possible. And that's what we're evaluating now. So the 60 million is what we know we will have available in the coming months.
Q Jen, you just went through a list of help that the administration is giving to India, and there is a great coordination to help India. Why are not — we are not seeing the same response or engagement from this White House with Brazil? A lot of experts around the world are saying Brazil is living a "humanitarian catastrophe," and there are more death in Brazil than in India. So why such a difference? And we know that Brazil also asked for oxygen, sedatives. Is the White House or is the administration considering sending additional help to Brazil?
MS. PSAKI: Well, recognizing that the fight against COVID-19 is a global struggle, we are in partner — working to partner with the government of Brazil and the Pan American Health Organization to finalize access to twenty million dollars' worth of critical intubation medications needed to save Brazilian lives. These medications will come from the U.S. government — a facilitated purchase — and from the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile. This support is being offered to offset global supply shortages and will enable Brazil to receive sufficient medication to meet their immediate hospital needs.
So, that is an effort that's underway. It has not yet been finalized, but we are working in partnership with the government of Brazil on that.
Q Would Brazil be on the list to receive the AstraZeneca doses?
MS. PSAKI: There are a range of requests we've had from around the world. We're evaluating those needs now, but I can't get ahead of that process.
Q Can I just ask one more from a colleague —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q — from Bricio Segovia, MVS Radio from Mexico. He's asking — he's saying that least 20 people have been killed in protests that have been going on in Colombia for a week now. Nearly 1,000 cases of police brutality have been reported. Is the President being briefed about the situation in Colombia, and what is the White House response?
MS. PSAKI: I'll have to ask our national security team on the latest engagement we've had with the Colombian government and others on that, and I will get back to you with a comment.
Q Quickly, one — last one, sorry. Does the White House believe the former President — President Trump should be allowed to return to Facebook and Instagram?
MS. PSAKI: It's a decision made — being made by an independent oversight board. Beyond that, we don't have any further comment.
Q Thanks, Jen. I want to ask you a few about taxes, real quick.
MS. PSAKI: Fun.
Q Yeah, fun. (Laughter.) Taxes goes for the last one in the back, right?
MS. PSAKI: That's right. That's right.
Q On the SALT cap, some congressional Democrats are saying, "No SALT cap repeal, no deal with the President," as it goes forward with this tax plan — Democrats up on the Hill.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q We know the position that the White House has had for several weeks now, so I'm wondering: What's more likely at this point — for the White House to move towards these congressional Democrats, or do — or congressional Democrats, in this case, to back off their position eventually?
MS. PSAKI: We don't know yet. This is democracy in action. This is what's fun about this. We are having discussions. We are certainly aware of the members who have conveyed a strong view about the SALT deduction, and we'll have that discussion with them. We're eager to hear their proposals. Some of them have put some proposals forward.
I think what we're factoring in here in the discussion is that, I think, as you and I have talked about before, this is not a revenue raiser. So, it would be additional cost. That's okay, but then you have to determine either how to pay for it, what other things are cut out, and certainly that would be a part of the discussion.
Q We heard from the President yesterday about the step-up in basis. He sort of laid out the argument as to why that should be eliminated. For wealthy individuals upon inheritance, it essentially lowers the capital gains burden.
The Tax Foundation gave the — gave an example: On $100 million in gains, they say that the tax on that would be 61 percent. We know the White House's position that the wealthiest need to pay their fair share. I think anyone would agree that $100 million in gains is a lot of money. But, I guess, the question is whether or not a 61 percent tax bill is reasonable. Does the White House believe that's reasonable?
MS. PSAKI: I'd have to talk to our number crunchers about the specific example you gave. I don't know what percentage of people have $100 million in capital gains. Maybe you know. That sounds like quite a lot to me.
But the fundamental value here the President is conveying is that his proposals are about making a historic investment in education, in childcare. That's going to make us more competitive to compete with China, to bring more women back into the workforce. He's proposed a way to pay for it that's going to impact — as a relates to capital gains — 0.3 percent of the population. And the example you gave, I don't even know, that's probably point-oh-oh- — I don't know what percentage of the population.
That's his proposal. There are other proposals that can be put forward, but I have to look at the specific statistics to –with our team to give an evaluation on that.
Q And lastly, in the Americans Family — American Families Plan — it calls for financial banks and financial institutions to report account flows. The Treasury Department said it would add, quote, "information about aggregate account outflows and inflows." Basically, money coming in and out of one's bank account. And the question is — there's a concern that maybe that's the federal government having too big of an insight into what's going into your bank account and what's coming out of your bank account, along with that it would just make filing your taxes a whole lot tougher.
MS. PSAKI: It's alre- — it's already a pain.
Q It's already a pain. Is that too much for the federal government to know what's coming in and what's coming out of your bank account?
MS. PSAKI: So what this proposal is — as you know, but just to explain to others — is cracking down more on ensuring people are paying the tax — the taxes they should be paying on their income, at the rates they should be paying them at. There's a lot of imple- — there is a number of implementation mechanisms for that, and obviously the IRS can outline that more specifically than I can.
But, again, this is a proposal about how to pay for historic investments in childcare and education. If people have alternative proposals that don't raise taxes on people making less than $400,000 a year that will help pay for this, we're quite open to them.
Q And one last one, Mitch McConnell put forth, or basically said, that Republicans would be willing to go forward with the $600 billion infrastructure plan. "No, do not touch the corporate tax structure that is currently in place." The White House's response to that is what?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, there's a counterproposal that we're happy — that we're going to have a discussion about with Senator Capito next week. There's lots of discussions at a staff level. I think the question there is: Is he suggesting we don't need to pay for the proposal? It sounds like it, unless there's an alternative.
Q He's talking about user fees. Essentially, people who use —
MS. PSAKI: Which, again, as we've — as we've talked about, user fees would put the burden on the backs of the American people, would ensure — would make it so that people driving a car — it depends on what use the user fees are, right? If it's the — basically a tax for the number of miles you drive, as an example, or other user fees. That means people making $50,000, $100,000, $150,000 a year are going to have to pay for these proposals.
We have a difference of view on the payfors. Our view is that the 1 percent of people who are making over $400,000 a year can afford to pay a little bit more. But we can have a discussion about that.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.
1:46 P.M. EDT
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