Transcript: Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, February 9, 2021

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Updated: March 1, 2021

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:47 P.M. EST

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    MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Tuesday. A couple of things to just update you on, on the top. As we’ve discussed previously in this room, the President and the administration are making the case directly to the country about the need to pass the Rescue Plan so we can finish the job and get $2,000 into the pockets of working families, so we can reopen schools safely, and so we can get economic relief to struggling Americans and communities.

As part of that work, the President, the Vice President, and Treasury Secretary Yellen will meet this afternoon with business leaders to discuss the vital role that the American Rescue Plan will play in saving our economy and getting Americans back to work. Private sector leaders understand how important it is, and we’ve seen calls from across the political spectrum — from leading business groups, to labor, and progressive lawmakers — for Congress to act quickly in getting additional economic relief out the door.

These calls have been echoed by leading experts and economists who have praised the plan, including top economic advisors to the last four Presidents, both Democrat and Republican. And analysis after analysis has shown that the economic cost of inaction would be incredibly painful for the American people — something we saw last Friday with the latest month of weak job numbers.

But they also know that we have a way to help workers and get our economy back by passing the Rescue Plan. So a couple of pieces of economic data you all may have seen: A CBO projection last week found that it would take the economy four years to bounce back and return to full employment without the Rescue Plan. Studies by the Brookings Institution and Moody’s Analytics found that the economy could recover from the pandemic and return to full employment by the beginning of next year if the Rescue Plan is enacted. Moody’s also found that passing the Rescue Plan would double economic growth, returning the economy to full employment a full year faster.

A couple of other updates from our COVID team. You may have also seen this. Jeff Zients, the COVID coordinator, made a few announcements earlier this afternoon.

Today, we announced the launch of our Federal Quality [Qualified] Health Centers — “FQHC” — vaccination program. Community health centers provide primary care services in underserved areas, reaching almost 30 million people. Under this new program, we will begin directly sending vaccine supply to community health centers, enabling them to vaccinate more of the people they serve. Alongside other efforts like mobile health units and community vaccination centers, this announcement is another tool we are providing to state and local leaders in their work to reach underserved and hardest-hit populations.

Importantly, this program grew, in part, out of a suggestion from House committee chairs that the President had — of course, had a meeting with them on Friday, but even discussions prior to that. And he informed them during a call this morning that this program would be rolled out.

Let’s see. Last few pieces: We also announced another increase in weekly vaccine allocations to states, tribes, and territories, bringing us up to 11 million doses. So, overall, this — after weekly increases the past two weeks, and it’s a net 28 percent increase to states since we entered government. These announcements convey our steady drumbeat of progress and action by the federal government in our whole-of-government pandemic response.

The President also will meet with members of the COVID response team in the Oval Office today to discuss their work and the next steps in shutting down the virus and getting American life back to normal.

Last thing: I’ve noted a number of times, and some of you have asked, about our progress and efforts on confirmations. We were pleased to see Denis McDonough confirmed last night with 87 “yes” votes as the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs. And he, of course, is being sworn in today.

We also would just like to reiterate the importance of getting our nominee — the President’s nominee to lead the Department of Education, Miguel Cardona, confirmed. Obviously, at a time when the American people are focused on the reopening of schools, focused on doing that safely, this is a step that Congress could take. He’s obviously a pivotal and key partner in ensuring we can get that done swiftly and safely.

With that, Alex, let’s kick it off.

Q   Thanks, Jen. I wanted to ask you at the top about the attempted hacking and poisoning of the Oldsmar, Florida, water supply. Does the White House have any details on who committed the hacking? And is there any plan for a review of water supply stations across the nation or an effort to shore up the cybersecurity measures at those stations?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as was announced earlier today, the FBI and Secret Service, of course, are undergoing an investigation. That’s something we’d certainly defer to them on any specific details of their findings of that investigation.

I will say, broadly speaking, that the President, the Vice President, and members of our national security team are focused on elevating cybersecurity as a threat. That has only increased over the past several years. That’s why they’ve made it an across-government focus and why he has elevated positions in the White House and other parts of our government.

Q   And then, can you share any details on the President’s visit to the Department of Defense? What will he be discussing with Secretary Austin?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Sure. The President will visit the Pentagon tomorrow, where he will thank the men and women serving our country and keeping the American people safe. As the first President in 40 years with a child who served in the military, he has a personal connection to the important role of mil- — work of the military, the men and women who serve.

He will also discuss the vital role of the Department of Defense and our national security, talk about the significance of having the first African American Secretary of Defense in history leading the department. 

The visit has special resonance coming during Black History Month. Over 40 percent of active-duty forces are men and women of color, and you will hear President Biden pay special tribute to the rich history of black service members tomorrow.

Q   Any new policy rollouts tomorrow? Or is it just —

MS. PSAKI: He will certainly, as I noted, talk about the important role of the Defense Department and our national security. But we will have more to share about that as we get closer to his visit.

Go ahead. Oh, let’s go — Jeff, Reuters, I promised you. Go ahead.

Q   Oh, thanks, Jen. Can you tell us how the CEOs were chosen for today’s meeting with President Biden? I see some diversity in that group, which isn’t always common at the top echelons of corporate America. Was that one of the factors —

MS. PSAKI: Far too uncommon, yes.

Q   Is that one of the factors? And how did you go about choosing them?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first I would expect that this is the first of many engagements the President will have directly with leaders from the business community. And this was an opportunity to speak directly with some who are major employers in the country, some who are leading the Business Roundtable or other organizational, kind of, business groups, where they speak to many business leaders across the country.

So, this is an opportunity to have a smaller meeting — it’s only about half a dozen, as you know — and discussion about the American Rescue Plan — how it will impact workers and American families, and how they can work together to get people back on their feet.

Q   Specifically Walmart and J.P. Morgan — what is the President’s ask of those types of companies for this? 

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t look at it through that prism, Jeff; I would look at it as a conversation with leaders who have — you know, Walmart is, of course, one of the biggest employers in the country and states across the country. Obviously, Jamie Dimon is somebody who has been in the business sector for many, many years. So it’s more of a discussion about the country and the economic downturn that we’ve gone through. The President wants to lay out all of the specifics of his plan, hear feedback from them, as he has with many different groups over the past couple of weeks.

Q   Just one other econ-related question. Did the White House ask OMB Director nominee, Neera Tanden, to apologize to Republicans in her testimony this morning? And how confident are you about that nomination now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the President wouldn’t nominate anyone he wasn’t confident could get confirmed and didn’t deserve the consideration and confirmation of his — of Senate Democrats and Republicans. We certainly did not ask her to make any specific comments in her testimony today. 

Go ahead, Kristen.

Q   Thank you, Jen. A couple of questions on the impeachment and the COVID package that President Biden is proposing. 

First, on impeachment: Today there’s going to be a debate over the constitutionality of the process — whether it’s constitutional to try and — try to remove from office a former President. Does President Biden have any concerns that this trial could set a dangerous precedent for the institution of the presidency?

MS. PSAKI: Well, President Biden — we put out a statement following the conclusion of the House vote just a couple of weeks ago, and he made clear in that statement that he felt the process should proceed as history — you know, and many laws predetermine. And he is going to wait for the Senate to determine the outcome of this. 

But, you know, his view is that his role is — should be currently focused on addressing the needs of the American people, putting people back to work, addressing the pandemic.

Q   But does he see it as constitutional?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s for me or us to opine on. Obviously, he said that the process should proceed, and it’s doing exactly that.

Q   And let me ask you: As millions of people tune in to watch this trial presumably throughout the week, they’re going to see the former President’s lawyers argue, based on the briefs that they have filed, that some Democrats have used incendiary rhetoric. They are going to point to Representative Maxine Waters, for example, who in 2018 called on supporters at a rally to confront, and at one point harass, Trump officials over their support of the child separation policy — the zero tolerance policy. That’s something that Cedric Richmond said she had a constitutional right to express those views. So how does the White House view that as any different?

MS. PSAKI: Look, the President is — Joe Biden is the President; he’s not a pundit. He’s not going to opine on the back-and-forth arguments, nor is he watching them, that are taking place in the Senate. 

Q   Okay. Let me ask you about the COVID relief package. Yesterday, the Ways and Means Committee Democrats proposed limiting the $1,400 direct payments to those making $75,000 or less. Is that something that President Biden supports? And does he have any concerns that progressives might not be on board with that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the President has conveyed from the beginning of this discussion that he’s open to having a discussion about the thresholds. He has been firm in his resolve that Americans should be made whole on the $2,000 checks, which of course would mean — be maintaining his firmness on the $1,400 checks. Right? 

But there’s been a discussion about the thresholds and what those should look like, and he doesn’t feel that families making over $250,000 a year should be the target of this relief. But there is a scale up. Right? And even in the recent negotiations from the 75 and from the 150, it’s just — it will reach certain top thresholds where people would not receive relief. 

Q   So — but has he determined whether he would support that? Does he support $75,000 as being the threshold? 

MS. PSAKI: It’s not the threshold. That’s, kind of, who would receive the maximum amount. 

Q   (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: There has been a scale up beyond that. These negotiations are ongoing. We supportingly — certainly support the discussions as they’re happening. And certainly his view is that these should be — he’s open to the discussion about making them more targeted and ensuring that people who need relief the most, receive the relief. 

Go ahead.

Q   I had a couple, but I wanted to follow up on something Jeff asked, which is —

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

Q   — Jamie Dimon is among those participants, and there’s been complaints both that big banks, like J.P. Morgan, have made it difficult for small businesses and minority businesses to access PPP loans, and lots of data that shows recently big banks have been scaling back consumer lending and instead buying government securities. 

And so, I know that this is, kind of, a cheerleading event for the President’s legislative package, but is he going to raise either of those issues with Jamie Dimon when he has the opportunity?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the President does not have a litmus test that he sug- — that he gives people before he meets with them in the Oval Office; otherwise he would not have met with 10 Republicans last week. 

So they don’t agree with him on everything — I’m sure the business leaders would convey that to you — and he doesn’t agree with them on everything. But this is really a discussion about the American Rescue Plan, a plan that will help spark economic growth, help put people back to work, help get our economy on a path to recovery, and hopefully that’s something they can all agree on.

Q   And I know that you guys have put together a task force to look at domestic extremism —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

Q   — following what happened in January. But there’s been a lot of reporting about the breakdowns that have happened in the government ahead of that — coordination between DHS and the FBI and Capitol Police. So I’m wondering, especially as there’s chatter indicating that there might be further, sort of, demonstrations surrounding the election. What, if anything, the administration is doing to —

MS. PSAKI: Surrounding which election? Sorry, I’m just trying to follow you.

Q   The past one.

MS. PSAKI: The past one?

Q   Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

Q   There’s — there have been — there’s been online chatter that there’s going to be another demonstration in March here in Washington. My point is, is the administration doing anything to look at the kind of breakdown that happened within law enforcement and the federal government ahead of January 6th to make sure that it’s not replicated in the future?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think one of the steps we took was the President named a head of homeland security in the White House, a role that did not exist in the prior administration, who can serve in a coordinating role to ensure that we are in touch with state and local authorities and officials — something that wasn’t happening at pace and with a level of coordination that should have happened in the last administration. 

We obviously came into office — or the President came into office, and our entire national security team did, at a time of heightened alert, even on the day of the inauguration and following. So I would say we certainly are not looking to the past administration as a model, and we are charting our own path to make sure we do things differently.

Q   And lastly, the World Health Organization said today that it was “extremely unlikely” that the coronavirus escaped the lab in Wuhan. And I’m just wondering, especially now that we’ve sort of resumed our participation in WHO, if the administration agrees with that assessment. 

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, we have obviously seen those reports — as, I mean, the public reporting on it. We’re looking forward to receiving the report and the data from the WHO investigation. We haven’t looked at the data specifically ourselves, so we’d like to do that. We’ve expressed our concerns regarding the need for full transparency and access from China and the WHO to all information regarding the earliest days of the pandemic. But we weren’t involved directly in the implementation of this investigation. And again, we’ll just look forward to reviewing the findings in detail. 

Go ahead. 

Q   Hi. 

MS. PSAKI: Oh, I’ll come back to you Kaitlan. Sorry.

Go ahead. 

Q   Two questions on schools. You opened up talking about reopening schools as being a priority for the administration. Are there any discussions within the administration of providing these kind of rapid tests that are being produced by Ellume and other companies to help that move quicker to get those tests to local — to the local school systems within the states?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our focus really, at this point in time, is waiting for the CDC guidelines to come out and give schools across the country, school districts across the country the first medical and scientific recommendations and guidelines that have been given from the federal level. 

And obviously, once those are put out publicly and concluded, we will look for ways to work with states to ensure that schools are getting the resources they need. That’s part of why we proposed funding in the American Rescue Plan. But we want to wait to see what the health and medical experts have in those guidelines to ensure we’re directing those resources in the right way or working with states to do exactly that. 

Q   Okay. Secondly, on President Biden’s transgender rights executive action, specifically when it applies to high school sports, what message would the White House have for trans girls and cis girls, who may end up competing against each other, in sparking some lawsuits and some concern among parents? So does the administration have guidance for schools on dealing with disputes arising over trans girls competing against and with cis girls?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what your question is.

Q   The President’s executive order has —

MS. PSAKI: I’m familiar with the order, but what was your question about it?

Q   My question is, do the President have a message for local school officials on dealing with these kind of disputes that are already starting to arise between, you know, trans girls who are competing and cis girls, and a level playing field? Because particularly in high school sports, when it leads to college scholarships, is there any kind of messaging or clarification that the White House wants to give on the executive order?

MS. PSAKI: I would just say that the President’s belief is that trans rights are human rights, and that’s why he signed that executive order. 

And in terms of the determinations by universities and colleges, I’d certainly defer to them. 

Go ahead in the back — oh, sorry, Kaitlan. Go ahead. Go ahead, and then we go to the back. Go ahead.

Q   It’s okay, I don’t mind when you call me. 

I have three quick questions. One, on what Democrats have put forward with the stimulus checks, it’s not changing the income cap. So instead of limiting it from the $75,000 to get the full $1,400, that’s staying where it is.  Biden had said he — President Biden said he was open to targeting that. So is —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

Q   Did he sign off on what the Democrats have now put forward?

MS. PSAKI: You mean where the cap stops or where the threshold stops at the top?

Q   Where the cap — where the cap stops for the full $1,400. Right now, it’s $75,000, as opposed to $50,000 or what others, like Joe Manchin, had proposed. So did he sign off on the latest proposal from them yesterday?

MS. PSAKI: Well, his proposal was originally 75 — right? — and 150.

Q   Right. And then he said he was open to targeting.

MS. PSAKI: And he’s open to targeting, which it — which it still will be targeted because it’s about the question of what the threshold goes up to. Right? Because prior — in earlier proposals, it had a higher threshold, where it went up to a higher income level for families, where they would get some version of a check. Not the $1,400 — right? — but a smaller version. So —

Q   So he’s fine with not bringing down that cap at the $75,000 to a $50,000, like others had proposed?

MS. PSAKI: He sup- — he supports that, where the status of the negotiations is at this point — yes — of the $75,000. 

Q   Okay. My second question is: We had the acting Attorney General ask all of the Trump-appointed U.S. Attorneys to resign from their post, with the exception of two: the one overseeing the beginnings of the Russia probe and the one overseeing Hunter Biden’s tax probe. Can you comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: As you know, this has been commonplace among previous administrations, and we look forward to working with the Senate to swiftly fill these openings in the coming weeks. 

The President has also made clear that he wants to restore the independence of the Department of Justice and to ensure it remains free of any undue political influence. That will be helped when our Attorney General is, of course, confirmed. But the decision to leave two U.S. Attorneys in their roles is a reflection of that commitment.

Q   Okay, so he had no conversations with the acting Attorney General about the two who remained in their post?

MS. PSAKI: In what way? I mean, who — like who would leave?

Q   President Biden didn’t have any convers- — did he have any conversations with the acting Attorney General about leaving the U.S. Attorney in Delaware and Connecticut in their posts?

MS. PSAKI: These were decisions that were made in order to fulfill his promise of maintaining independence and ensuring that he could — he sent that message in every action that was taken.

Q   Okay. And my last question: I know you said the President is “not a pundit.” I think we all under- — agree with that, understand that. But he is the first President to be in office and have a former President, his predecessor, go and face an impeachment trial just down the street. So how can he not weigh in on whether or not it’s constitutional, given he is the current office holder and, you know, the questions of what precedent this sets, and whether or not he agrees that it’s constitutional?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, this is obviously a big story in the country; no one is denying that here. And there’s certainly going to be a lot of attention and focus on it, but our focus and the President’s focus is on putting people back to work, getting the pandemic under control. And that means we’re not going to weigh in on every question about the impeachment trial, and we don’t feel it’s necessary or our role to do that.

Go ahead.

Q   A couple topics. I’ll get through them quick. The CBO projected that raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour would lift 900,000 people out of poverty, but it would cost 1.4 million jobs; that is a difference of a half a million people. What happens to them?

MS. PSAKI: Of the — well, I would also say that in the CBO — “CBO findings,” I should say — that they’ve also concluded that 27 million American workers would — millions of low-wage workers — I should say 27 million American workers would — would be able to get — it would help get them out of poverty [a raise].

So, there’s a huge impact of raising the minimum wage. It’s — that’s why the President supports it. There are also many other economic studies that show that raising the minimum wage has minimal impact on employment. A study of U.S. state-level minimum wage changes over four decades found that the number of jobs remained essentially unchanged over the five years following the increase.

So, the President supports it because he believes that the — raising the minimum wage is something that American workers, American families deserve, and that lifting 27 million American workers out of poverty, reducing inequality would be a very positive step for our country.

Q   And once there is an agreement, does President Biden support sending stimulus benefits to undocumented immigrants?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t — if somebody has a Social Security number, like a child or a spouse, then they would be eligible, but he supports sending benefits to people who are eligible as a part of his proposal.

Q   Okay. And then on transparency, I have a very specific question about —

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

Q   — executive order 13891. One of the President’s executive orders on the first day revoked a policy that required federal agencies to post their guidance on a searchable database. There are questions now on Capitol Hill from some Republican senators about why that was revoked. And so, now the question to you.

MS. PSAKI: Well, agencies have definitely not been told to take down databases or other public information. That would be inconsistent — which is, I think — is why you’re asking the question — with what the President has talked about, what the Vice President talked about. We want agencies to use all the tools available to them to make public policies transparent and accessible.

However, this executive order was revoked because it created unnecessary hurdles and cumbersome processes for agencies that wanted to get guidance out to the public. In some cases, it was resulting in the delay of information going out more publicly by a couple of weeks or even a couple of months. That’s obviously not acceptable, and we want it to be more efficient than that.

Q   And one quick one on conflicts of interest and some reporting that’s been done by our colleagues at other networks. The President’s son-in-law, Dr. Howard Krein, was advising candidate Biden on COVID-19 response while he was investing in companies involved with the COVID-19 response through his company, StartUp Health. Dr. Krein has been at the White House since the inauguration. Is he still advising the President on COVID-19 response?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Dr. Krein is his son-in-law. The President —

Q   Do you deny there are questions about a potential conflict of interest?

MS. PSAKI: Well — and I think he was here because the President was inaugurated recently, which is understandable. The President has made clear that there will be an absolute wall between him and any businesses connected with his family members. And as he reiterated just last week, no family member is going to have an office in the White House or be involved in any government policymaking. That applies to his son-in-law and applies to every single member of his family.

Q   And just from a broad perspective though that — like the 30,000-foot view of this —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

Q   — candidate Biden was very concerned about the last President’s potential conflicts of interest. At one point, in 2019, he tweeted, “Hosting the G7 at Trump’s hotel? A president should never be able to use the office for personal gain.” So how is the White House going to guarantee to members of the public that nobody in the family is using the office for personal gain?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve put in place stringent policies in order to ensure that it is not being used for personal gain. There is not a single member of the family who is employed at the White House, will have an office in the White House, or will benefit financially. And those are strict ethics requirements that have been put in place and the President has approved.

Go ahead.

Q   Thank you. Two questions, if I might. One, on the President’s stimulus package: You’ve been arguing consistently that his goal of unity doesn’t mean creating a one-party — one party, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

Q   And you also point out that there are polls supporting what he’s trying to get out there. But what is his bottom line for showing that he has really tried unity? Would there be one Republican senator would be enough? Would zero be enough? Like, would he be happy if no Republican senators support his bill? I guess that’s what it boils down to.

MS. PSAKI: Well, he — the President is certainly hopeful that the process that’s underway now, the markups that are happening in the House, the markups where that will then proceed in the Senate will provide an opportunity for Republicans, Democrats of all different political stripes to put their ideas forward and have those ideas considered.

At the end of the day, his view is that urgency is his first priority here, and that the American people — people who are concerned about getting food on the table, one in seven American families; people who are worried about reopening schools and getting their kids back in the classroom; people worried about whether their grandmother and their cousin are going to get vaccines — that’s where his priority is. 

So the question really is: If 70, 74 percent, depending on the poll, of Americans, including the majority of Republicans in some polls, support this proposal — support the components of this proposal, then why aren’t more Republicans supporting it? We certainly hope they will and welcome them to the table. 

Go ahead, in the back.

Q   So I did have one other small one —

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q  — if you don’t mind. This is literally a housekeeping question.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

Q   People keep saying —

MS. PSAKI: Literally housekeeping. 

Q   Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

Q   This is actually housekeeping. 

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

Q   You’re probably going to say it’s the airplane —

MS. PSAKI: I’m very interested to hear what this is, but go ahead.

Q   You’re probably going to say it’s the airplane question of today, but —

MS. PSAKI: I certainly am not. I’ve learned my lesson on that one. 

Q   It’s not the airplane, I promise you, but it’s closer to the ground. President Trump — former President Trump, he broke tradition by not having his predecessor have a portrait hanged up here.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

Q   That — as far as I understand, that was something that was considered totally the normal thing to do. Will President Biden be inviting his predecessor to hang up a portrait somewhere? And will he get the Obamas back in to finally get their — you know, their ceremony? 

MS. PSAKI: I have no portrait revealings or portrait plans or portrait events to preview for you. But I have not been given any indication that we would break with tradition in that regard. 

Go ahead.

Q   Thank you, ma’am. 

Q   This is distinctly not an impeachment question, but —

MS. PSAKI: Okay. It can be an impeachment question. You can ask whatever you want. Go ahead. 

Q   Thank you. Does the President believe that former President Trump engaged in insurrection as described in Section 3 of the 14th Amendment? 

MS. PSAKI: The President has put out multiple statements conveying that what the President did and his words and his actions were — and of course, the events of January 6th — were a threat to our democracy. But he ran against him because he was concerned that former President Trump was unfit for office, in part because of his past history of invoking violence around the country. So he’s — President Trump is not here because — former President Trump is not here because President Biden defeated him. The — more of the American people voted for him, and now his focus is on delivering on his promises to the American people.

Q   On a related note, where does the President stand on an effort in California to recall Gavin Newsom?

MS. PSAKI: I have not — I have not spoken with the President about the reported – “the recall,” I should say, or the efforts to recall former Governor Newsom. Obviously, he is somebody who he has been engaged with in the past. They have a range of issues they have common agreement on — from the need to address climate change, to put people back to work, to address the COVID crisis. And, you know, we remain closely engaged with him and his office.

Go ahead.

Q   Thank you, ma’am. I’ve got a quick personnel question and then two follow-ups. About a year ago in March, President Biden said that Beto O’Rourke would be helping him when it came to his push for gun control. Does Mr. O’Rourke have any official role here at the White House, or has the President discussed anyone with him? 

MS. PSAKI: He doesn’t have any official role. Obviously, the President spoke back then during the campaign and, I know, still has admiration for the role that Beto O’Rourke played in elevating the issue of gun violence and the need for gun safety measures, but I don’t have any personnel announcements to make. 

Q   And then you talked about hopes for transparency from China, and you talked about the need to get that data from the World Health Organization. Earlier in the pandemic — you know, April and May — there was a lot of criticism that the World Health Organization was praising China for its transparency at a moment when China certainly wasn’t. Are there any type of reforms, now that the United States has rejoined, that President Biden would like to see from the World Health Organization?

MS. PSAKI: Well, you know, one of the reasons, of course, that we want to take a look at the data ourselves is because we were not involved in the planning and implementation of the investigation.

We also feel — of course, we support — we rejoined the World Health Organization — but that it’s imperative that we have our own team of experts on the ground in our embassy in Beijing and otherwise to make sure we have eyes and ears on the ground.

But I don’t have any more reforms or anything to announce for you at this point in time.

Q   And then back to the CBO report that Peter was asking a second ago: Is there a specific plan for anyone who would lose their job if the minimum wage is increased? Or is it just a hope that CBO is wrong about those numbers?

MS. PSAKI: Well, remember that the plan — the American Rescue Plan — why there was a score of any component of it would put millions of people to work, and that is also something that outside economists and many studies have shown. And so our whole objective here is to make sure — I should say, make sure we are getting people the assistance they need, make sure we are putting vaccines in the arms of Americans, and make sure we are, you know, reopening schools.

And let me just remedy something I just said: The President is going to roll out a “Build Back Better” agenda, a jobs package in the coming weeks. Part of his objective is combined with this package to make sure we are not only addressing the pandemic, but we are also reinvigorating the economy.

So his goal with all of these plans is to work with Congress to put people back to work. And the minimum wage — increasing the minimum wage is a way to ensure that workers are pulled out of poverty, that millions of workers who are, you know, doing honest work and making a — you know, making an honest living are not living on the poverty line. He thinks that’s right and that’s something that should happen.

But he has had no shortage of proposals to put people back to work, and part of the reason this was scored is because he’s starting to put proposals for it.

Go ahead, Hans.

Q   Just two questions. One — the first one, the pool question from a colleague in Canada, and that is that Canada has announced that it will require COVID-negative tests for anyone crossing the land border into the United States. Does the U.S. plan to reciprocate?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any additional travel restrictions to read out for you. Obviously, our COVID team and our health and medical experts make recommendations based on what is necessary to keep people safe, and they’ve put in place some travel restrictions. But I don’t have anything to preview for you or predict on the Canada land-crossing front.

Q   Okay. And then, you mentioned the, sort of, goal is opening up schools swiftly and safely. Could you help us understand what the White House’s or what the President’s definition of “open schools” is? Does it mean teachers in classroom teaching students in classroom? Or does it just mean kids in classroom with a remote screen? Help us understand.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. His goal that he set is to have the majority of schools — so, more than 50 percent — open by day 100 of his presidency. And that means some teaching in classrooms. So, at least one day a week. Hopefully, it’s more. And obviously, it is as much as is safe in each school and local district.

Q   So when you say “some teaching,” that’s — you didn’t use the same majority qualifier there. You just have to have some teaching in school, some teachers in school — not the majority of teachers in school in the majority of classrooms.

MS. PSAKI: Well, teaching at least one day a week in the majority of schools, by day 100.

Q   Okay. And that’s in-person teaching.

MS. PSAKI: In-person teaching, yes.

Q   Okay. Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Go ahead. Oh, go ahead.

Q   Thank you. Another CBO question. The report that came out yesterday said that in the first four months of fiscal year 2021, the federal deficit rose 90 percent to $738 billion. Obviously, we’ve seen economists saying that it’s better to do too much than nothing at all, but Republicans are expected — expressing sticker shock. So I was curious what the President’s plan was to decrease the deficit once the pandemic has abated and the economy is stabilized.

MS. PSAKI: Well, one thing that could happen is that the tax cuts for the highest income could be rolled back. And there’s, kind of, a newfound concern about deficit reduction among some who supported those tax cuts. So, you know, that’s one suggestion.

But the reason that the President and members of his economic team feel that a package of this size is so essential at this moment is because we are dealing with a pandemic, we are dealing with an economic downturn, people are suffering, the American people need assistance. And this emergency relief is something that — the cost of doing nothing or the cost of doing too little is the greater risk, in his view and the view of many economists, including his Secretary of Treasury.

Q   Thank you, Jen.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, thank you, everyone. I know you have to go. We’ll do this again tomorrow.

                                     END               1:22 P.M. EST

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Today News Africahttps://todaynewsafrica.com
Today News Africa is a US-based international news organization focused on US-Africa policy and breaking news. Our goal is to provide truthful and exclusive stories to a diverse audience across North America and the African Continent. Subscribe to our news page at https://todaynewsafrica.com/ and Follow us on Twitter @todaynewsafrica

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