Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, NIAID Director and Chief Medical Advisor to the President Dr. Anthony Fauci, and COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients, April 13, 2021
April 13, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:47 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Good afternoon, everyone. Well, today I'm joined by, of course, Jeff Zients, our COVID Coordinator, and Dr. Fauci to talk about the news from the FDA this morning. They're also going to be able to take some questions. I will keep an eye on the clock.
And, with that, I will turn it over to Jeff.
MR. ZIENTS: Well, first, thank you, Jen, and thank you to all of you. Good afternoon.
As you all know, the FDA and CDC announced earlier today that, out of abundance of caution, they've recommended a pause in the use of Johnson & Johnson vaccine as they review data involving six reported U.S. cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Let me start by saying that this announcement will not have a significant impact on our vaccination program. The J&J vaccine makes up less than 5 percent of the more than 190 million recorded shots in arms in the United States to date.
The President has always said that this is a wartime effort. We're at war against the virus. And as such, we've mobilized a wartime effort so that we're prepared for a wide range of scenarios. And that's why the President took action earlier this year, before the J&J vaccine was even authorized, to secure enough Pfizer and Moderna doses for 300 million Americans by the end of July.
Over the last few weeks, we have made available more than 25 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna each and every week. In fact, this week, we will make available 28 million doses of these two vaccines. And as we've done since we took office, we will continue to get the supply out the door as soon as it's available.
So we have more than enough supply of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to continue the current pace of about 3 million shots per day. And that puts us well on pace to meet the President's goal of 200 million shots by his 100th day in office and continue to reach every adult who wants to get vaccinated.
We're now working with our state and federal partners to get anyone scheduled for a J&J vaccine quickly rescheduled for a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. And we're actually already seeing this happen today at sites across the country where J&J appointments are being adjusted, that were for today, to actually get Moderna and Pfizer today. So that's happening in many places across the country.
The President has committed to the American people that his administration will always lead with science, tell the truth, and give Americans the facts as we know them. CDC and FDA will continue to do just that and provide regular updates to the public, and they will do so as they continue their investigation.
With that, let me hand it over to Dr. Fauci, and then we'll take questions.
DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Jeff. Just to follow up a bit and maybe fill in a couple of points from what Jeff said and what our colleagues in the FDA and the CDC said earlier this morning at the press conference.
A couple of issues come up of the importance of β of calling this pause, because people say, "What does a pause mean?" It really allows both the FDA and the CDC to further investigate these cases to try and understand some of the mechanisms of what it is, some more details about the history of the individuals who were involved that might shed some light on, looking forward, what will happen and what we will do. That's the first thing.
The other thing is to make physicians out there aware of this. And there are some clinical implications of that that I believe are important.
For example, if someone comes in with this really rather rare syndrome of thrombotic thrombocytopenia, where you get thrombosis β and when you have thrombosis, the most common way to treat that is with heparin. That would be a mistake in this situation because it could be dangerous and make the situation much worse. So there's a clinically relevant reason why you want to make this known to people.
Also, when individuals, particularly younger women, who might come into a physician with a particular thrombotic phenomenon β which is things that happen for other reasons all the time β that we want to alert physicians to take a history of a recent vaccination. That would be important.
So the pause not only allows us to take a look at the cases and learn more, but it is also a signal out there to help the physicians.
A common question β and I'm sure we'll have a number of questions which Jeff and I will be happy to answer to you. But one of the questions that comes up, already, rather frequently: Does this have anything to do with the efficacy of the vaccine?
So we know that there have been 6.85 million doses of J&J distributed in the United States thus far. So someone who maybe had it a month or two ago would say, "What does this mean for me?" It really doesn't mean anything; you're okay. Because if you look at the frame β the timeframe when this occurs, it's pretty tight from a few days β 6 to 13 days from the time of the vaccination.
The next question is one that we're all, obviously, aware of: "What impact is this going to have about people's attitudes about vaccines in general?"
So you might know that there have been now 120 million people that have received at least one dose of a vaccine. Most of that β subtract the 6.85 million β is in the messenger RNA from Pfizer and from Moderna. There have been no red-flag signals from those. So you're talking about tens and tens and tens of millions of people who've received vaccine with no adverse effect.
This is a really rare event. If you look at what we know so far, there have been 6 out of the 6.85 million doses, which is less than one in a million. So, remember, this is something that we always β out of a β really, out of an abundance of caution, as Jeff said, to give us the time to take a good look at it and see if we can get further information.
So I'll stop there. Jeff and β we could obviously take some questions.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Mary, do you want to kick us off?
Q You have described this as a "really rare event," but this does seem like a pretty drastic step. Do you believe that the scientists sufficiently weighed the benefits of this pause against the damage or risk that this could do to the broader effort and the impact it could have on vaccine hesitancy?
MR. ZIENTS: Well, Dr. Fauci, maybe you'll go after me. But I want to say that we have plenty of supply. So, I'd mentioned that we, for the last several weeks, have been sending 25 million doses out. And while we're averaging 3 million shots in arms per day, the 25 million supports actually that level and even accelerating. And we just sent out 28 million doses today β or announced 28 million doses will be sent this week to states, Tribes, and territories and through our federal channels. So we have plenty of supply to continue our vaccination program and to hit our goals.
But over to Dr. Fauci.
DR. FAUCI: Yeah. I believe your question is: Did we pull the trigger too soon on this because it was such a rare event? Well, you know, the β our FDA is internationally known for their capability of making sure that we have the safest products out there. And that's what I meant when I said "an abundance of caution." You want to make sure that safety is the important issue here.
We are totally aware that this is a very rare event. We want to get this worked out as quickly as we possibly can. And that's why you see the word "pause." In other words, you want to hold off for a bit, and it very well may go back to that, maybe with some conditions or maybe not. But we want to leave that up to the FDA and the CDC to investigate this carefully. So I don't think it was pulling the trigger too quickly.
Q And just a logistical question more so than anything: The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is meeting tomorrow β
DR. FAUCI: Right.
Q β to discuss this. Why not try to meet today? I mean, is this not a moment to sort of drop everything and focus on this?
DR. FAUCI: You know, I think you have to get people pulled together. I think tomorrow is not such a long wait. I mean, I'm sure they want to get everybody. There may be people who are not available β they want to get the full component of it.
MS. PSAKI: Alex.
Q Can you talk a little bit about the process in both deciding for this pause and, sort of, what comes next? First off, did the White House have any advance notice of the issues with the J&J vaccine, and was there involvement from the White House in deciding this? And how do you evaluate when to pause vaccines? Are we going to see more of these pauses in the future if more issues pop up?
MR. ZIENTS: Why don't you do the first part and I'll do the second part.
DR. FAUCI: This decision was made by the CDC and the FDA. And that's one of the things that's, I think, such a good thing about our system here, is that we're ruled by the science, not by any other consideration. So the decision was really thoroughly made by the CDC and the FDA.
MR. ZIENTS: And staying consistent with following the science, we were notified last night that there would be an announcement this morning, and therefore had no other involvement other than knowing last night that there would be an announcement this morning from the FDA and the CDC.
Q And, in this review, what β what's going to happen? What are they looking for? What are they evaluating? When should we expect to be a conclusion?
DR. FAUCI: Well, they want to see if there's any clues of other things going on. Were there any underlying β for example, if they're going to β just a hypothetical β if they're going to make a decision to go forward and say, "You know, we looked at this."
If they find some common denominators among the women who were involved that might be synergizing and, essentially, enabling this type of an adverse event, they may know that for those who don't have that it may be much safer. There may be clues when you go down and really get granular about every single case.
In addition, they want to look at what some of the mechanisms are. The mechanisms may give some insight as to what is going on.
Q And should we expect to potentially see further pauses in the future? I mean, could this keep happening with the vaccines because they're so new?
DR. FAUCI: Well, you know, if you look at the history of β take a look at what has gone on with the Moderna and the Pfizer, where you have, you know, literally tens and tens and tens of millions that's watched as carefully β there have been no red flags.
When you have a red flag of something that is as serious as thrombotic thrombocytopenia β particularly when you have an individual, one of whom died β you take that seriously. So I don't think that minimal things β that very likely have nothing at all to do with the vaccine β that we're going to pull the trigger so quickly as to keep stopping and stopping and stopping.
I think this is an unusual occurrence of a serious, adverse event that you want to make sure, before you go forward, you investigate it thoroughly. And that's exactly what they're doing. They're pausing so that they can look at it more carefully.
MS. PSAKI: Weijia.
Q Thank you. A couple for Dr. Fauci, first. It's great to see you back at the podium, Dr. Fauci. Given that the impacted patients were all women between the ages of 18 and 48, should women under 50 be excluded from getting the J&J vaccine?
DR. FAUCI: The question you're asking gets back to the several of the questions here. That's the reason why the CDC and the FDA want to take a look at this and say: "Is there β are there some categories now where people outside of that categories don't have any of the factors, so it'll be okay to go on."
It is entirely conceivable β making no predictions β that there may be some restriction in an age group or not. We don't know that now. That's the reason why they're working very hard to answer the question you're asking.
Q And what's your medical advice for people who have recently received the J&J vaccine and may be concerned about blood clots?
DR. FAUCI: Well, I mean, if someone recently β within days β I would tell them to just β first of all, don't get an anxiety reaction because, remember, it's less than one in a million.
However, having said that, pay attention: Do you have symptoms, headache? Do you have shortness of breath, chest discomfort? Do you have anything that resembles a neurological syndrome? And, obviously, if you have something as serious as a seizure, I mean, you know, that's pretty clear.
But the manifestations of this are that headache is the very common component of it, because the sinus thrombosis that they have is the draining of the blood in the brain, and it will cause enough symptomatology to make you notice it. Just tell people to just watch out for not feeling very well.
Q Thanks. And one for Jeff. Officials from different states told us, this morning, that they were really caught off guard by this announcement. They were ready to put shots into people's arms and had to scramble. Can you explain that chain
of communication? When and how did you notify states that they might have to pause?
MR. ZIENTS: Right. Well as I said, we didn't know about anything, in terms of the announcement, until last night. And we didn't even know the content of the announcement until this morning when everyone else read it. As soon as we got that, we β our team farmed out and started contacting folks to make sure that everyone knew that that was now announced by the FDA and CDC.
Tuesday is the day that I have my regular governors call. So that was fortunate that that was at 11:00 a.m. So we had all the governors already lined up with their teams, and we had Dr. Fauci and Dr. Walensky join that call. And the teams will continue to support the statewide efforts, the federal channels, the community health centers to make the adjustments.
So I think the message got out very clearly and quickly. The β there was no heads up here. The announcement was made this morning.
Q Thank you.
Q Thanks, guys. Just two quick ones. First one β and you might not have the answer to this: Do we have a timeline in terms of how long this is going β are we talking days before it might get flipped back on or a week?
And second one for Jeff, if you don't mind. I understand what you're saying on the macro level related to supply, but when you talk to local officials, the J&J shot β because of storage, because it was one shot β it was considered a crucial component in rural areas and, kind of, underserved communities. How does that not affect the timeline that you guys are on, in terms of actually getting shots in arms?
DR. FAUCI: During one of the questions which was asked, I believe, of the CDC, the β the question was just yours. And I don't know what they're going to be doing. What I heard from the previous press discussion was it's going to be more like days to weeks, rather than weeks to months.
MR. ZIENTS: We have plenty of supply and we have plenty of vehicles for delivering that supply β whether it's through the federal pharmacy channel, whether it's mobile units, community health centers β and all of those are equipped to deliver the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine. So we'll make sure that those units continue to grow in number. Because you're right, we need to reach people where they are. And the mobile units and the community health centers are particularly essential for those. And they have been receiving Moderna and Pfizer doses since we began both those programs.
Q So you β it's no different β you just swap out the vaccine if it was a mass vaccination center or if it was a mobile unit going to a rural area to (inaudible).
MR. ZIENTS: Yeah, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, as you know, are two-dose vaccines.
MR. ZIENTS: So it's important that people come back for their second dose three weeks post their first dose of Pfizer and four weeks post their first dose of Moderna.
But all β all of our units, all of our delivery channels are equipped to deliver both Pfizer and Moderna.
Q And just real quick, how does this not contribute to β those of the very areas where hesitancy, I think, is most predominant at this point in time, based on what you guys have seen. Do you have to change your message? Do you have to do something different to address hesitancy in the wake of something like β
MR. ZIENTS: No, I think you need to continue to be transparent about what the science is telling us. This is what brings us here today. There's β as Dr. Fauci said, there's been tens of millions of doses of Pfizer and Moderna administered over the last several months, and millions of people, both in the U.S. and around the world, have been safely vaccinated.
I think it's important that β you know, we have here the FDA, and the FDA is the gold standard for ensuring the safety and the effectiveness of the vaccines. And today's action, I think, is clear evidence that they're taking every step necessary to ensure the American people have clear and transparent information about the safety and effectiveness of these vaccines.
So, the bottom line is the vaccines β Moderna and Pfizer β that are now being administered are clearly safe and are saving lives, and every American should get vaccinated when it's their turn.
MS. PSAKI: Jordan.
Q Thanks. Jeff, is the β is J&J production going to continue during this pause? And secondly, is the Biden administration considering ordering more doses of Pfizer/Moderna given β just in case this problem with J&J becomes prolonged?
MR. ZIENTS: So, the J&J production issues in Baltimore β obviously, a completely separate set of issues, and those are being worked out through the FDA process with the company. And production of those vaccines can begin if and when the FDA authorizes that facility.
Your second question was β you know, we really have thought of this as a wartime effort from the beginning, which is why we purchased excess supply so that we'd be ready for any contingency. And we'll continue to look at every possibility, in terms of making sure that we always have enough supply for the American people.
Q But just to clarify, on the J&J production β not related to the Baltimore plant, but just overall J&J production β is that going to pause while this pause on administering doses occurs or is the production going to continue?
MR. ZIENTS: Well, the production is really centered around that Baltimore facility. The vast majority of the production is that Baltimore facility.
MS. PSAKI: Andrea.
Q I just want to β Jeff or Dr. Fauci β I want to just ask you very directly: Are you ruling out the possibility that the vaccine could be removed from the market? I mean, are you ruling out that β are you expecting it to be reallowed?
MR. ZIENTS: Dr. Fauci.
DR. FAUCI: You know, I think it would be premature to comment on that. And that's the reason why the pause was done, so that they can take a good look at it very carefully, look at every different factor.
I wouldn't want to speculate as to what β what would happen. Often, when you see things like this β that you pause and come back. Whether or not that happens now, I can't guarantee it, but I can tell you that's exactly what the CDC and FDA people are going to be deciding on and looking at very carefully.
Q And then if I could just ask you on this outreach question. So, you know, this is the problem that you've been struggling with β the, sort of, vaccine hesitancy. This obviously is a setback. How β what β do you have to, sort of, ramp up into an additional war-type effort to really ensure that this message gets out there? Do you personally go to place β states like Mississippi, where the vaccine vaccination rate is really low?
MR. ZIENTS: Well, let me answer your first question, and then I'll β you know, we β consistent with it being a wartime effort, we've planned for different scenarios and different contingencies.
So, we have enough supply of Moderna and Pfizer to hit the targets that we've set: the 200 million shots in 100 days and to head toward the Fourth of July that we've talked about as a country β a more normal Fourth of July.
Clearly, part of that is making sure that when it's an American's turn to get vaccinated, they get vaccinated, and we do need to continue to build confidence. And that's done at the community level. People are trusting of their local doctors, their faith leaders, their neighbors. The why β which is why it's important when people do get vaccinated, they not only get themselves vaccinated, but they spread the word about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines.
MS. PSAKI: Steven.
Q Just to nail it down, Jeff, one of the goals that you haven't mentioned today is the hope that there'll be enough supply on hand for the country by the end of May. Is that still operative now, in the wake of this pause?
And the second question is, it's a bit surprising to learn that you only, yourself, learned about this this morning. Do you wish you had heard sooner?
MR. ZIENTS: I learned about it last night that there would be an announcement, not the specifics of the announcement. No, because that's to the science, and we want the science agencies to lead with science, and there's no reason for us to be involved in any of the scientific decisions. We bring nothing to the table. That is the FDA's role; that is the CDC's roll. And they're led by terrific leaders with great teams to do the science, and this administration will be led by science.
And as to your first question, we believe there's enough vaccination β there's vaccine in the system, Moderna and Pfizer β for all Americans who want to get vaccinated by May 31st to do so.
MS. PSAKI: Hans.
Q Jeff, I feel like we're kind of dancing around the hesitancy question here, and so I just ask you directly: Do you think the announcement of this pause will increase or decrease vaccine hesitancy?
MR. ZIENTS: Look, hesitancy amongst a group of people is a challenge, and we need to be addressing it β and we are, as I talked about β by going to meet people where they are, to follow all that we've learned about who people trust: doctor β their local doctor, their nurse, their faith leader.
And I think that, you know, there's tremendous track record, as Dr. Fauci has talked about, with tens of millions of doses of Pfizer and Moderna. The FDA, acting the way they did today, shows that they are indeed the gold standard. And I think that should reassure the American public that they will be very diligent and conservative in how they approach the vaccines.
Q So the argument is that because the FDA β this tripwire was triggered, that should give Americans more confidence in the overall vaccination plan?
MR. ZIENTS: Certainly about β around how safety and efficacy are being monitored by the gold-standard folks at the FDA.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, let's do these three more, and then we'll let them go back. Go ahead.
Q Jeff, you said the FDA is the gold standard for ensuring the safety and efficacy of vaccines. To what extent does today's news add urgency to the effort of getting a permanent nominee confirmed to head the FDA? You know, clearly, it's always an important post, but how much of a spotlight does this news now (inaudible)?
MR. ZIENTS: I have no personnel announcement to make today. The FDA has an extraordinary group of scientists and experts that lead these types of efforts.
Q How helpful would a permanent director be in those efforts though?
MR. ZIENTS: I think that the FDA does an extraordinary job, and the teams that are β that are addressing these issues are experienced teams. In fact, the acting director is a very experienced leader. So I would β I think the experience at the FDA and the expertise at the FDA is indeed the gold standard.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Are there any immediate plans to accommodate the states because of this pause? And can you guarantee that every person who had a reservation cancelled will get rescheduled in a matter of days?
MR. ZIENTS: Yeah, as I said, there's β I think there's already, in certain locations, people who are scheduled for today are already rescheduled. So we'll do anything we can to support the states on the logistics of rescheduling.
And, you know, at the same time, the most important thing is that the supply exists to continue to vaccinate 3 million Americans a day. And there's enough supply to actually accelerate that. There's tens of millions of doses in the system. And as I said, today we announced 28 million more Moderna and Pfizer doses are available to be ordered this week.
MS. PSAKI: Last question.
Q Dr. Fauci, you said that there was no red flags with the other two vaccines. This might β this question might be asking you to state the obvious, but can you verify that means that there were no developments of blood clots β symptoms in the recipients of those vaccines?
DR. FAUCI: There have been no serious events to call attention to anything that would relate to a pause.
Q And why would it be in β why would (inaudible) one vaccine, but not the other two? And how does that speak to the safety of the other two vaccines?
DR. FAUCI: I think, you know, when you examine everything in general, the fact that you've β have, you know, 120 million doses β individuals have received at least one dose, and as you subtract, out of that 121 million, 6.85 [million], you're talking about, you know, 114-or-so million individuals have received at least one dose and no negative red fails [sic] β red flag signals, that tells you you're dealing with a really safe vaccine.
And I think, you know, apropos of several of the questions that people asked about hesitancy, you know, when you want to talk about safety, this is an extraordinary safety record that the others have. And the fact that a pause was done I think just is a testimony to how seriously we take safety and why we have an FDA and a CDC that looks at this very carefully.
And hopefully, we'll resolve it pretty soon β within days to weeks apropos of your question. So I think it's a very strong argument for safety, actually.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Dr. Fauci. Thank you, Jeff. Really appreciate you taking the time.
MR. ZIENTS: Thank you. Thank you, everybody.
Q Thanks, guys.
Q Thank you.
MR. ZIENTS: Thank you.
Q Come back again soon.
MS. PSAKI: (Laughs.) They're always welcome. Always welcome.
Okay, I know there's a lot going on today and you also have a call time, so we will try to get through as much as we possibly can. But I did want to give you all a couple of updates.
Obviously, the President met yesterday with a bipartisan group of members who are β work on committees of jurisdiction; I can talk a little bit more about that. But I also wanted to give you an update on the work of our Jobs Cabinet, which will be very β which will be central to our efforts, and especially in this period of time.
We're now β a lot of these members are going to go back, they're going to work with their staffs, they're going to work with each other to see what the path forward is. So, so far, Cabinet secretaries β from our Jobs Cabinet, I should say β have made 27 calls to members, including seven Republicans; those are when they connected, of course. Our legislative affairs team has made 139 calls to members, their chiefs of staff, and staff directors; 35 of those 99 calls to the House were to Republicans, along with 15 of the 40 calls into the Senate.
This is obviously ongoing, and we will venture to provide you regular updates so you have a sense of what's happening.
We've held 26 House and Senate staff briefings and 9 member-level briefings, including with Republican leadership and five bipartisan groups. And this is clearly picking up.
Senior administration officials have also engaged with rural leaders, faith communities, and the private sector. They've held briefings with bipartisan groups of over a thousand mayors and county elected officials, and have had one-on-one conversations with governors from both parties.
I also wanted to highlight that this week is Black Maternal Health Week, and in its honor, today the Vice President and Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice are hosting a roundtable with women who will share their experiences with complications from pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum β the impact of postpartum β post β post-childbirth, as well as their work in advocacy and research highlighting the disparities that Black women face in maternal health.
This β I think this actually started around 12:30, so I should say they've β they're β they're β the event is ongoing.
We also announced initial actions we are taking to address the maternal health crisis in the United States, including significant funding to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity rates; improve health equity and end race-based disparities nationwide; the approval of the first Medicaid Section 1115 waiver in Illinois to broadly extend postpartum coverage. This approval will help ensure access to vital health care services, promote better health outcomes, and reduce the rate of maternal morbidity and mortality. And obviously, this is an issue we will continue to work hard on.
I also just wanted to highlight that we're also hosting, today, a virtual Small Business briefing on the American Jobs Plan. Small Business Administrator β newly confirmed β Isabel Guzman will join the event with thousands of small-business owners to highlight how the American Jobs Plan support small business.
The plan the President has proposed provides direct support to small businesses by increasing access to federal contracts and investing more than $110 billion in financing and techtical [sic]β technical assistance programs.
As you know, the President also attended a congressional tribute for U.S. Capitol Officer William Evans this morning. He paid his respects, for those of you who didn't see, to Officer Evans, and met with his family. The President β following his remarks, I should say. The President offered his support to the Capitol Police who have weathered great stress and responsibilities since January's insurrection, in addition to sustaining the loss of another fellow officer.
Finally, the President will deliver remarks tomorrow at the White House on the way forward in Afghanistan, including his plans and timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops in close coordination with our partners and allies and the government of Afghanistan, and his commitment to focusing on the threats and opportunities we face around the world today.
We will have an advisory with more details out later today. We, of course, are doing a series of briefings throughout the day with all of you and others. I'm going to be limited in what I'm going to share from here because I don't want to get ahead of the President, but I will look forward to having conversation with all of you in the coming days about the details of his speech.
With that, go ahead, Alex.
Q Thanks. Let's start with Russia. Can you share any details on the proposed summit with President Putin: Where would it be? What would the topics be? And what was his response?
And also, Putin himself suggested public talks with Biden in mid-March, and he was brushed off by the White House. So what's β what's the change β what's behind the change in posture?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that, as you note, the President had a call with President Putin this morning. We put out a readout of that, but let me reiterate a couple of the highlights for those of you who were following other pieces of news.
During this call, they discussed a number of regional and global issues, including the aten- β intent of the United States and Russia to pursue a Strategic Stability Dialogue on a range of arms control and emerging security issues, building on the extension of the New START Treaty.
President Biden also made clear that the United States will act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to Russia's actions, such as cyber intrusions and election interference. And he also emphasized the United States' unwavering commitment to Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The President voiced our concerns over the sudden β the aggre- β Russian military buildup and increasing aggression on the border of Ukraine, and called on Russia to deescalate tensions.
So, as it relates to your question, I will say that, you know, our approach to our relationship with Russia is one where we certainly expect the relationship to remain a challenge. We expect there will be continued difficult conversations, and we are prepared to confront those. But our goal is to have a relationship with Russia that is predictable and stable.
And having a conversation or a dialogue β which the plans will need to be developed on; this was the first conversation about it at that level, of course β the purpose of that is to, of course, be honest and candid where there are areas where we disagree and have concerns, but also work together on areas where there is mutual interest. And that may relate to arms control, as we did with the extension of New START shortly after the President was inaugurated, or even working together on pursuing an Iran nuclear deal.
So there'll be a range of topics discussed. As we get closer and details are finalized, we'll share those with you, but we are just at the early stages of the discussions.
Q And then, with respect to Russia's military buildup at the Ukrainian border, what is on the table to respond if Russia doesn't back down? I mean, are military options being considered?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin are both in Brussels now. They are having discussions with their counterparts about a range of topics, including the military buildup on the border, so I won't get ahead of those discussions. I expect they will do a readout when those discussions conclude.
Any approach or engagement with Russia or actions would be done in coordination.
Q And then, one more on Afghanistan. Republicans are already talking as though the announcement has happened of the withdrawal of all troops by September 11th. And so I wanted to get your reaction to something Mitch McConnell just said. He suggested that it would put our "NATO partners in a shared fightβ¦ that we have not yet won." It would "abandon the women of Afghanistan, whoseβ¦freedoms and human rights will be imperiled." He said that the administration "plans to turn tail and abandon the fight in Afghanistan."
So what is your response to this criticism and criticism from other Republicans that it's too soon without any plans to sort of maintain stability there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I will leave it to the President to lay out his specific plans for withdrawing troops, the reasoning, and his commitment to focusing on the threats and opportunities we face around the world today.
But I will say that the President has been consistent in his view that there's not a military solution to Afghanistan; that we have been there for far too long. That has been his view for some time β well documented, well reported on.
He believes that β and he remains committed to supporting negotiations between the parties, which, many of you may be following, are resuming next week. And he also believes we need to focus our resources on fighting the threats we face today, 20 years β almost 20 years after the war began. And so that's his approach on how he looks at this decision, but he will lay out more specifics tomorrow.
Okay, go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. You mentioned President Biden has been consistent. As a candidate, he told CBS that he thought a smaller footprint of troops should remain in Afghanistan in the case that terrorists re-amass their capacity. But now he's committing to withdrawing troops to a number that is zero. Can you explain that change?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I know we're doing a number of briefings with all of you where you will have all of these questions answered. I will say that the President's approach and his decision that he made was done through close consultation with military leaders, with his national security team, with partners and allies around the world, and with his objective of mind β in mind of ensuring we are focusing on the threats we're facing.
We're doing that in close coordination with our partners and allies, and I will leave it to the briefings that you will be receiving and his speech tomorrow to outline more β in more further detail.
Q So can I ask you one β
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
Q β on Russia. The U.S. has repeatedly called on Russia to deescalate tensions at the Ukrainian border. Does the President have any reason to believe Putin will actually listen this time?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, when it comes to diplomacy, you don't stop calling for what it β what are the right actions and the appropriate actions and the actions the global community believes are right just because you see a hesitation in taking those actions. And there is β what is different now is that there is coordination on the international front, with the Europeans, with our partners.
As I mentioned, Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin are in Brussels now having a discussion about a range of issues, including the aggression at the border. And that pressure is different. Russia is an outlier in many ways, in that regard.
So we will continue to work in our β in partnership with our allies and partners and continue to put the pressure on and call for what's right.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q A couple different topics. Just one quick follow-up on Russia. In reading the readout that you guys sent out, does the President currently characterize the relationship with Russia as "honest" and "stable," or is that something he wants to work toward?
MS. PSAKI: I think what we're working toward is "predictable" and "stable." We're not β we're not looking for an establishment of trust as much as a predictability and stability because there are a range of threats, there are a range of opportunities in the world. And the President wants to have the bandwidth to focus on them, not on an adversarial relationship with Russia.
Q On β you guys have had a little bit of a back-and-forth β the White House and the Michigan Governor's Office. Is the President right now, because she's an ally, kind of disappointed with how the governor has managed COVID in her state, at least of late?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me say, Phil β as you know, you've been covering it quite closely β we've been at war with this virus for over a year now, and Governor Whitmer has been in charge of a state that has been incredibly hard hit by COVID for that period of time. And she's done a tremendous job, in our view, while facing an enormous set of challenges.
She has been steadfast in her commitment to keeping the people of the state of Michigan safe, and a tremendous partner in the fight against COVID. And if you go back more than a year ago, she led that fight to make sure first responders in the state had PPE they needed when cases took off, and she pushed for more testing when the federal government told governors that they were, frankly, on their own and to figure it out on their own.
She's had to endure not just a public health crisis and a hostile state legislator β -slature, but friends who have passed from the virus, armed aggression in the state capitol, and threats against her life.
She's also had to coordinate a disaster response to a faulty dam burst, all while doing all of this, and a devastated the Michigan community.
So we feel she's shown some serious grit, fight, and resolve. We're going to continue to work with her on how we can help address the uptick in her state and help deploy the resources we have available.
Q And just one more quick one.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Running the full gamut today. The President has repeatedly said that he wants the infrastructure proposal he's put on the table to be paid for. He's obviously put proposals to pay for it. Is that a red line? Is he open to not paying for some of that proposal if that's the direction Congress wants to go?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I'm not going to β his only red line is inaction. And he is happy to hear from, as he did yesterday, proposals that members have, whether it is to have a lower increase, or β yes, a lower increase of the β of the rate on corporations; whether there are proposals to pay for this plan in a different way. He's open to hearing it.
His starting place is that we should pay for it. But we're at the beginning of the discussions here, and ultimately, his only red line is investing in our infrastructure, making sure we are putting Americans back to work over the long term.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Sorry, Mary, I'll come back to you next.
Q On Russia: The President proposing a summit with
Vladimir Putin would suggest that he's looking to deescalate some tensions there. So does that mean it's unlikely the U.S. is going to enact harsher sanctions on Russia, like sanctioning their sovereign debt?
MS. PSAKI: Well β well, I'm not going to get ahead of any announcements we have on the consequences that we will invoke on the Russian leaders for the actions they've already taken.
No, it does not change the calculations, the process, the review that has been ongoing. I expect we'll have more to say soon. And certainly, the President was clear that there will be consequences, as he has said publicly. Some will be seen and some will be unseen, as we often say, and hopefully we'll have more to share with all of you soon.
Q And then, one on nominations. We noticed that the director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement was not included in the tranche that was announced yesterday that included CBP and USCIS. So why wasn't that person included in that tranche? And when should we expect to see a nominee for that position?
MS. PSAKI: It's a great question. I don't have any personnel announcements or previews for you. Sometimes we announce things because they're through the vetting process and a decision has been made. And while it might be cleaner to do it in a group, we want to get these names out, nominated through the process as quickly as possible. So hopefully we'll have a nominee soon.
Q I know you're leaving the details of this to the President tomorrow, but I do want to try on just one part of this. The administration obviously is committed to supporting Afghan women and minorities. What do you say to people who are concerned that this could put them and their lives at risk by withdrawing?
MS. PSAKI: I will say that, broadly speaking, the President and this administration supports women and girls around the world. We support it through a range of actions, through a range of initiatives, through a range of programs that we support. We will absolutely continue to do that.
The President has been consistent in his view that there β the β there is no viable end to the war β military viable end to the war in Afghanistan. He's had that view for some time now.
And he has to make decisions through the prism of what's in the interest of the national security of the United States, and that includes keeping our focus on where the threats are emerging around the world, whether those are emerging threats from al Qaeda in parts of North Africa, or other threats or opportunities we see in other regions. And hence, those are big motivating factors in his decision.
Q And on police reforms and racial justice, you know, it doesn't appear the Democrats have the votes needed to pass the George Floyd Policing Act, as the administration hopes. Is the White House open to negotiations on this, possibly even giving maybe another look at Tim Scott's JUSTICE Act the Democrats blocked last year?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we will leave that β I know Senator Scott, Senator Booker, and others are in close discussion and coordination about what a path forward may look like. We certainly understand that there could be changes to proposals that have been forward β put forward to date. We believe that the George Floyd Act has a lot of the components that will help rebuild the trust, help address β put in place many of the reforms that are, frankly, long overdue.
So, we β but we also recognize that democracy in action means changes take place. So we'll have to see what the discussions look like and whether the President could support any changes that would be made through that process.
Q And if I could, I just want to get your reaction to some comments from Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib that are getting a fair amount of attention. Responding to Daunte Wright's shooting, she says, "I am done with those who condone government-funded murder. No more policing, incarceration, and militarization. It can't be reformed." What do you make of those comments? Do you disavow her calls for no more policing?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I β what I can state from here is that that's not the President's view. The President's view is that there are necessary, outdated reforms that should be put in place; that there is accountability that needs to happen; that the loss of life is far too high; that these families are suffering around the country; and that the Black community is exhausted from the ongoing threats they feel.
But he also believes that there is a forum for putting in place legislation, the George Floyd Act, that can help put many of these necessary reforms in place, and that part of what needs to happen is rebuilding trust in communities in order to get to a better place.
Go ahead, Steve.
Q Just a follow-up to that. There are people all across the country who are demonstrating and actively calling for reform. What expectations should they have for change in the Biden era? What β what is this President going to bring to bear if, for example, qualified immunity isn't removed from the law β if you can't get that in a bipartisan agreement?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, we're not going to get ahead of what the discussions are about a bipartisan agreement. I think what Americans β who are exhausted, who have suffered, who are worried about their kids and their family members β should know is that the President sees racial equity as a central focus of his presidency, and his actions bear that out.
He has, obviously, signed a number of executive actions. He is a strong supporter of putting in place β working through legislation that can put in place permanent reforms. And he will continue to elevate and talk about the need to address these issues across the country at a range of opportunities. And hopefully that gives some reassurance to the public about his commitment.
Q Quick question about yesterday's infrastructure meeting.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q There were some rumblings on the Hill that one of the things that was mentioned in the discussion was an increase in the gasoline tax. Can you explain the context and what was actually discussed?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, I think that was a little bit of a garble β unintentional. But in yesterday's meeting with members of Congress, the President mentioned the gas tax, only to make a point that even a significant increase in the gas tax β which some people have proposed β would pay for only a fraction of the investment the country needs.
Now, fundamentally, he does not believe that paying for this historic investment in rebuilding our nation's infrastructure and creating millions of jobs should be on the backs of Americans. So he doesn't believe that anyway; he's proposed his own means of paying for it. But he was using it as an example of how it wouldn't even make a sizable dent in paying for the package.
Q So it is not under consideration here?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. Correct.
Go ahead, Andrea.
Q So, on the international front: You have tensions, obviously, with Russia over Ukraine and Crimea; there are a lot of concerns about what's happening in China and the South China Sea and also in Taiwan. Are you confident β is the President confident that the U.S. military is postured correctly and prepared to deal with multiple crises occurring almost simultaneously at a time when you're withdrawing troops from Afghanistan?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. The President has utmost confidence in General Austin and his leadership. "Secretary" Austin, I guess I should say β switching β switching titles. And he believes we have the best military men and women serving in the world, and so he has absolute confidence.
He also believes that we should lead with diplomacy, and his actions, his leadership, his approach certainly bear that out.
Q And just on China, with the climate summit coming up: I mean, do you see opportunities to sort of rebuild the relationship or to sort of address the tensions in the β longstanding tensions in the relationship with China β over the climate summit β to sort of use that as an opportunity to move forward?
MS. PSAKI: I β we obviously have not made a determination about bilateral proportions or meetings that would take place as a part of the summit. We've invited over 40 leaders.
But I would say that we are engaged, as you know, at a range of levels. We are approaching our relationship as one not of conflict but of competition.
We believe that the most important steps we can take is to rebuild and support our own economy here at home, and to also be candid about areas where we have concerns, whether it's human rights abuses or technological abuses. And that is certainly how we approach our relationship.
So while the summit is still coming together, I'm not sure I would go that far, given there are over 40 leaders we have invited and we're still finalizing the details of the β of the events.
Q On the domestic front, in terms of the George Floyd Policing Act, do you anticipate major protests and riots if β depending on the verdict in the Chauvin case? And what are you doing to prepare for that? We had a lot of controversy during the Trump administration about the use of National Guard troops. Are you preparing to put in National Guard troops, if needed, if the β depending on what happens in that verdict?
I know it's a hypothetical question, but you're β you have to prepare for all eventualities. And last night, the β or two days ago, the President was, you know, appealing for calm. Can you just tell us β walk us through your strategy and approach, given how volatile the tensions β the situation is?
MS. PSAKI: Well, while we are not going to prejudge the outcome β which I realize you're not asking me to do, but just to state it clearly β we are working with state and local leaders to advance our shared goal of ensuring public safety and citizens' rights to peaceful protest.
The President β we all β will continue to monitor the developments. And our team will remain in contact with these officials on the ground, as well as with civil rights leaders and community stakeholders. But I don't think I'm going to read out more than that.
Q Do you rule out sending in the National Guard?
MS. PSAKI: I would just leave it at what I conveyed.
Q On the President's tax plans, he has said that individuals, households under $400,000 per year aren't going to see their taxes go up. Does that also apply to indirect effects from the corporate tax changes that might not technically be tax increases? Look, if an average family of four, making under that amount, sees their heating bill go up because utility companies increased their rates to accommodate the 28 percent corporate tax rate, is that okay or acceptable to the President, you know, because it's not technically a tax increase?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that there's no reason that that is what needs to happen. We saw β we have evidence of what happens. Back in 2017, when Republicans prioritized tax cuts for big corporations over investing in working people, there were many arguments made about what the impact would be: the benefits would be passed on to consumers, they would invest in R&D, there would be jobs created.
None of that happened. There were stock β stock buybacks, more incentives to offshore, record compensation for executives. We have seen countless studies where the biggest impacts to these corporations would likely be on capital.
So I would say that's not a concern we have at this moment in time.
Q But even though β I mean, utility companies did β maybe it's, arguably, partially for show, but they did announce, you know, rate decreases after the 27  tax law passed, and attributed it to the tax law passing. You know β
MS. PSAKI: Is there some data that you're expecting from economists, suggesting that will be the case? Or are you just getting ahead of what might happen when the bill passes?
Q I mean, I'm just getting ahead of that. Like, there were those announcements. You said, like, they didn't have the intended effects, but utility companies did say, "Hey, our β you know, we can pass on this lower rate to consumers through their utility bills." And it's β
MS. PSAKI: And have utility companies said β I have not seen it if they have β that they would raise the cost, if this bill passed, to invest in infrastructure and get lead out of the pipes to make sure there's clean drinking water and create millions of jobs?
Q I'm not aware of any specific announcements like that. But I'm just saying that was the β one of the results that occurred after the 2017 law passed.
MS. PSAKI: Well, then I don't think we have to anticipate it as an issue quite yet.
Go ahead, Hans.
Q Just, on Iran. They've announced they're going to go to 60 percent uranium enrichment. What does that do to the ongoing indirect talks? Does it complicate them? Are those talks still on?
And then I'll β I'll have a couple of follow-ups.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let me say that, first, we take seriously Iran's provocative announcement of its intention to begin enriching uranium to 60 percent, which the P5+1 should be unified in rejecting. This step both calls into question Iran's seriousness with regard to the nuclear talks and underscores the imperative of returning to mutual compliance with the JCPOA.
We share and β a common-stated objective of returning to mutual compliance with the JCPOA with Iran. And we have been engaged constructively in what we felt was constructive dialogue last week, even as it was indirect in Vienna. And we β while they were difficult and while we expect this to be long, we expect and β we have not been alerted of any change in planned attendance in the meetings that will resume later this week.
So we are certainly concerned about these provocative announcements. But our goal remains seeing through a diplomatic process which we expect to resume in Vienna later this week.
Q Okay. Just to be very clear, you expect to β you expect the indirect negotiations to continue, even though you're questioning their seriousness to those negotiations.
MS. PSAKI: Well, look, I think, Hans, we are β we believe that the diplomatic path is the only path forward here, and that having a discussion, even indirect, is the best way to come to resolution. It doesn't mean that we hold back on concerns we have and don't encourage our P5+1 partners to expressing those same concerns and having that as part of the discussion.
Q Also on a diplomatic front: Was the U.S. given any heads-up about the attack from, potentially, Israel on the power facility in Natanz?
MS. PSAKI: I have nothing further to read out about our understanding of the origin or the intention of the attack.
Q Was the U.S. at all, in any way, involved in the attack on the power facility in Natanz?
MS. PSAKI: As I said yesterday, we were not.
Q If I could just do β we'll switch gears to Russia, real quick.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q The statement said "in the coming months" for this potential summit. Is that going to be this summer?
MS. PSAKI: We'll see. "In the coming months" would be the summer.
Q Does the President have any preference on where the location should be?
MS. PSAKI: It's a great question. I know Alex was asking a similar one. We're still just at the early part of this process. And so, as we have more details, we will share them with all of you.
Q Can we narrow it down β northern hemisphere? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: I don't think we're quite there yet. You're sounding like there's a place you'd like to summer with President Biden and President Putin. I can pass that along, certainly, but β okay, go ahead.
Hard to follow, but I'm sure you have a very serious and good question. Go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q Thanks for that, I suppose. My question is on LGBTQ rights. You told me, weeks ago, President Biden stands by his campaign promise to sign the legislation within 100 days. We are now on day 83 of the presidency, and it looks like that bill isn't close to making it by that deadline and the President is facing cris- β multiple crises, as evidenced by the questions in this briefing. Does the President continue to stand by that campaign promise?
MS. PSAKI: He does. He continues to work toward it. And as you know, in order to sign legislation, it needs to come to his desk. And while he has certainly been a vocal advocate in his support for the Equality Act, he β and, obviously, as you know and noted, it passed the House; it needs to work its way through the Senate. He β it requires the Senate passing it in order for him to sign it.
Q But what are the President's efforts like in getting the Senate to pass the legislation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, he's put out a statement of administration policy. He has talked about his view that this is legislation that should pass. And he has a range of conversations about a range of topics, but also so does our legislative team who work to move forward his agenda every single day.
Q And then one thing that's related to this is the Supreme Court's upcoming decision in the case of Fulton vs. the City of Philadelphia, which will determine whether there's a First Amendment right to reject child placement in the homes of same-sex couples. Is the administration doing any contingency planning for that decision in terms of the Equality Act or anything else?
MS. PSAKI: Tell me a little bit more β contingency planning β as if what if there's a different outcome than we would like from the Supreme Court ruling?
Q Yeah, it is β (inaudible) based on the outcome of this decision and how that squares with the passage of this legislation. And, I think, some observers say that one decision or another might let the air out and allow β and change β (inaudible) change the landscape for the passage of the Equality Act?
MS. PSAKI: That's an interesting question. I'd probably have to talk to our legislative team. We typically, as you know, don't get ahead of Supreme Court rulings. But I will talk to them and see if there's anything we can convey directly to you.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead. I'm just going to keep track so I get to everybody, but go ahead.
Q Yeah, no β I have a question on immigration. So, you know, with Guatemala and Honduras and Mexico deploying their troops at their borders, what are β what is the White House or the Biden administration's next plans to kind of help mitigate migration at the U.S.-Mexico border?
MS. PSAKI: At our own border?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that part of our effort here in working with these countries is the recognition that irregular migration is a hemispheric issue that requires all countries in the region to play their part. So part of our effort here was to work with Mexico and Northern Triangle governments to implement collaborative migration measures.
Of course, if these are effective, then there will be fewer people who are coming to our own borders. So there is an impact, even of that announcement that we just made that en- β that ensures that countries have deployed, security personnel, migration officials, and other officials at the different border to β at their borders to address migration.
Q And, you know, last month, we saw some really large numbers at the border of migrant apprehensions. How is the Biden administration working with local officials, with local governments and local nonprofits along the border who some are picking up some β some of the costs like, you know, COVID testing and hotel bookings?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q And so, kind of, how is the government working with these local officials?
MS. PSAKI: Well, they play a tremendously important role in helping ensure, as you noted β in some cases, it is working with NGOs and local authorities and officials on testing. In other cases, there are β covering the cost of hotels and others for quarantining. So they play a really tremendous role in helping ensure we are working in a humane way with those who are coming to our border in a range of ways.
Now, we continue to convey, which is our policy, that the border is not open; that we are turning away the majority of people, of adults who come to the border. But we still have children, we still have some migrant families who Mexico cannot accept for a variety of reasons, and these NGOs play an incredibly important role.
I know we're at the end of our time here, so let me just β because there's a gather, that's why. But let's see if we can just get to you two quickly. Go ahead.
Q Just a few about the vaccine and one on Iran, if I can. Several times from the podium, you've acknowledged that the Biden administration may not be the best messenger for certain groups on the vaccines, such as white evangelicals, conservative white folks. Can you take us inside the process as to how you're determining who the best messengers are for those communities? Are you reaching out specifically to targeted people? Are you relying on volunteers? What does that process look like?
MS. PSAKI: Well, a big part of our effort β and I appreciate you asking this question β is to create, in part, a Community Corps, which is a program that gets fact-based messages into the hands of local messengers. And what we've seen through our data is that local messengers β whether that is elected officials, mayors, doctors, sometimes clergy, civic leaders β are the most effective messengers of anyone.
And that's why a large part of our $3 billion funding that we have β are focused on getting out into the country β is on working with community-based organizations to strengthen vaccine confidence in the highest-risk and hardest-hit communities.
So it really depends community to community, but we work with faith-based organizations, we work with community health workers, we work with disability organizations, we work with organizations across the board of all different backgrounds and affiliations so that they can get the message clearly out to communities.
Q So, I guess, how are you determining which organizations know who these influential people are who are going to reach these certain groups that you feel like perhaps you're not going to reach?
MS. PSAKI: Are β how we determine who community leaders are in communities? And like β
Q Reach these groups that you're trying to, you know β
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as I'm conveying here, a lot of this is based on local β taking a local role β approach. And it's β a lot of it's driven through HHS, so they may be best able to answer your question.
I just want to get to our last person here. Go ahead.
Q (Inaudible) a question from my colleague. Do you have a comment on Japan's plans to release wastewater from Fukushima into Pacific Ocean β into the Pacific Ocean?
MS. PSAKI: Let me get you a comment from our national security team after the briefing. I'm happy to do that, or directly to your colleague, I should say.
Q Could you clarify who initiated the phone call with President Putin? Was it President Biden?
MS. PSAKI: I'm not β I don't think I'm going to have more detail on that. I'll check if I do.
Q The last thing β the last one: Does President Biden want to restore travel with β between the United States and Europe, as well as with the United Kingdom, before summer?
MS. PSAKI: You mean as it relates to COVID restrictions?
MS. PSAKI: Look, our focus β of course, we'd love to have travel return, just like everybody would like to return to normalcy. But we rely on the advice and the guidelines done by our health and medical experts, and so we'll defer to them on the timeline for that.
Q Do you see a chance for restoring travel between Europe and the United States for the summer? Many people need to plan in advance.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, we β and we understand that. But also, we will rely on the guidance and the timeline of our health and medical teams.
1:50 P.M. EDT
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|