Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, February 4, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:41 A.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. We have a very special guest today.
Since his inauguration, President Biden has put diplomacy at the center of the United States’ foreign policy, grounding our international engagement in American values, rebuilding our alliances, and reengaging with international institutions to help strengthen them. Obviously, part of his visit to the State Department is an emphasis on that.
But to talk about the President’s visit to the State Department today, as well as the executive actions he will sign on reengaging the world with diplomacy, we’re excited to welcome National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to the briefing room. And he’s kind enough to take a few questions. I will be the bad cop as per usual over here.
MR. SULLIVAN: Hi, everybody. It’s great to have the opportunity to be here. As Jen just mentioned, President Biden is going to be going over to the State Department to give remarks on foreign policy and national security today. It’s not an
action [accident] that he’s chosen the State Department as the venue for these first remarks that he will make on this subject. He wants to send a clear message that our national security strategy will lead with diplomacy.
And before he actually gives his speech, he’ll meet with career professionals from the State Department’s Foreign Service and Civil Service, who are the tip of the diplomatic spear.
This is going to be the first in a series of visits he makes to the national security workforce at the Pentagon, at the intelligence community, and across the U.S. government.
His remarks are not going to be the totality of his foreign policy; they’re going to be focused on his early decisions and actions. And those early moves, the core strategic thrust of them, is to establish a position of strength for the United States to be able to deal with both great power competition and the transnational threats that the American people face.
So establishing this position of strength involves five major lines of effort.
One, investments at home to shore up our country’s foundations and the American recovery plan. And that regard is not just a matter of economic policy; it’s a matter of national security strategy as well.
Two, revitalizing America’s alliances. The President has spoken with key allies in both Europe and Asia. Just last night, he had the opportunity to speak with both the President of the Republic of Korea and the Prime Minister of Australia. And the national security team is working now with those allies to build out an ambitious agenda.
Three, reengaging key institutions and agreements as part of a new commitment to multilateralism and service of America’s national interests. We’ve rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, and President Biden will be hosting a climate leaders’ summit in April. We’ve reversed the decision to leave the World Health Organization. We’ve, just yesterday, extended the New START Treaty to maintain strategic nuclear stability with Russia for the next five years.
Four, reasserting our values. The President, in the first two weeks, has reversed the Muslim ban, the ban on transgender service members serving in our military. And today, he will announce an end to American support for offensive operations in Yemen.
And five, getting our global force posture right — making sure that our global force posture is consistent with our national security and diplomatic priorities.
Today he will announce that Secretary Austin will lead a global force posture review and, during the pendency of that review, will freeze any troop redeployments from Germany.
Now, of course, establishing a position of strength also means building a national security team that’s fit for purpose. And here at the National Security Council, not only have we reinforced and reinvigorated every element of our regional and functional work, we’ve added a new deputy for cyber and emerging technology; we’ve elevated democracy as a key part of the National Security Council’s work; we’ve added a coordinator for the Indo-Pacific; and we’ve begun an intensive review of our strategies and resources towards the threat posed by domestic violent extremism.
Now, our view is that once we have established this position of strength, we will be able to compete more effectively with our competitors across the board and especially with China, in every domain — economic, diplomatic, technological, security, you name it. We’ll be able to counter Russia more effectively. And we’ll be better equipped to address threats from climate change to pandemics to nuclear proliferation.
We will also be able to more effectively pursue a foreign policy for the middle class. This is not just a tagline; it’s an organizing principle for the work that we will do.
So what does that mean? What is a foreign policy for the middle class? Well, it starts with how we set priorities. Everything we do in our foreign policy and national security will be measured by a basic metric: Is it going to make life better, safer, and easier for working families?
So, of course, that means a different approach to trade policy. We’re not about trying to make the world safe for multinational investment; we’re about creating jobs and raising wages here in the United States. So our priority is not to get access for Goldman Sachs in China; our priority is to make sure that we are dealing with China’s trade abuses that are harming American jobs and American workers in the United States.
So whether it’s dumping or subsidies or intellectual property theft, or the countries across the world who have engaged in problematic currency practices, our priorities in the trade space will be about the American worker.
But it’s about much more than that. It’s about thinking about national security as national competitiveness, making investments in our own industrial and innovation base so that the good-paying jobs and industries of the future are here in the United States. So Build Back Better isn’t just about economics; it’s about national security as well.
And then it’s about the set of issues that working families in this country are facing every day that are challenging their lives and livelihoods: the pandemic, climate change, the threat of domestic violent extremism.
And so, from our perspective, putting the middle class and working people at the center of our foreign policy isn’t just good from a strategic perspective, it’s just good common sense and good, decent values as well.
So, these are some of the things you’ll hear from President Biden today. And we will also have the opportunity to put out a set of executive orders that establish regular order in our national security decision making; that revitalize our workforce, both in terms of the skills they have and to reflect the diversity, equity, and inclusion priorities of this administration; and to build up a more robust capacity for the United States to accept refugees from around the world.
So let me stop there, and I’d be happy to take a few questions before turning the podium back over to Jen.
Q Jake, thanks for being in the room. We appreciate it. First, I want to ask you: You speak about the President’s position of strength as it relates to Russia. What does it say about President Biden’s position of strength that after his conversation with President Putin on issues like the hack, on Alexei Navalny and others, days after it, Vladimir Putin basically ignored it and sentenced Navalny to two and a half years in prison?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, first of all, unlike the previous administration, we will be taking steps to hold Russia accountable for the range of malign activities that it has undertaken. That includes interfering in America’s democracy. It includes the poisoning of citizens on European soil with chemical weapons. It includes the types of hacks and breaches that you just referred to, and many other things as well. We will do that at a time and in a manner of our choosing. And we believe that imposing those costs and consequences will have an effect on Russia’s behavior going forward.
Now, is it going to stop Vladimir Putin from doing everything we don’t like? Of course not. But do we believe that we will be able to take a firmer, more effective line when it comes to Russian aggression and Russian bad behavior? Yes, we do.
At the same time, I would just like to reiterate that that doesn’t rule out being able to work with Russia where it’s in our interest to do so. We can walk and chew gum at the same time. And the New START Treaty and that extension — keeping a lid on nuclear proliferation — is, in fact, very much in America’s national security interests.
Q Let me follow up with another topline issue obviously on your plate right now as it relates to Kim Jong Un and North Korea. You said that the President spoke now to the president of Korea — of course, not to the head of the DPRK there. Does this White House — does President Biden have any intention to continue the diplomacy as it relates to Kim Jong Un? Will he meet with Kim Jong Un?
MR. SULLIVAN: We are conducting a review of our policy towards North Korea as we speak. President Biden told President Moon last night that that review is underway and that we will consult closely with our allies, particularly the ROK and Japan, in doing that. And I’m not going to get ahead of that review.
Q Thanks, Jake. Question on immigration. When the President signed his executive order directing DOJ not to contract with private federal prisons, he did not extend that to DHS and ICE, which houses many undocumented immigrants. So is that something that he plans to do? And if so, why didn’t he do it in that executive order?
MR. SULLIVAN: I would refer you to DHS and to Secretary Mayorkas for that.
Q Mr. Sullivan, the President campaigned on issuing a presidential memorandum making LGBTQ human rights a priority in U.S. foreign policy within one week of his administration. Do you expect that to be rolled into the announcement today? And if so, how will that initiative compare to the initiative by the previous administration, led by former Ambassador Grenell?
MR. SULLIVAN: I appreciate you raising the question. I didn’t want to steal the President’s thunder, but since you asked it directly, he will be announcing a presidential memorandum on protecting the rights of LGBTQ individuals worldwide today. That will be part of his remarks at the State Department, and it reflects his deep commitment to these issues, both here in the United States and everywhere around the world. And the United States will speak out and act on behalf of these rights as we go.
Q Thank you so much. Just picking up on Peter’s question on speaking from a position of strength, I want to talk about sanctions on Myanmar. Does the fact that we have Republican lawmakers who support the claim that the election was stolen, some potentially having ties to extremist groups who stormed the Capitol — does it make the job of the administration’s foreign policy team more difficult to punish countries like Myanmar on the grounds of violations of democracy and of rule of law?
MR. SULLIVAN: On the one hand, pulling our country together, revitalizing our own democratic foundation, building more unity, as President Biden has talked about — that will be an important part of us operating effectively in the world.
But when it comes to Burma specifically, this is an area where there is genuine bipartisan agreement. President Biden, in his remarks today, will talk about some of the outreach he has done to Republicans on the issue. And we believe we can work with the Congress on a package of sanctions to impose consequences in — in response to this coup. We will also be working with allies and partners around the world.
Q I just wanted to follow up quickly on Burma. The top generals there have already been sanctioned under the Magnitsky Act, and the State Department has said that the administration wants to avoid any action that could, you know, negatively impact the Burmese people. So what options specifically, in terms of sanctions, is the administration considering? And does it include declaring, like, a new national emergency via an executive order to impose sanctions on more generals or the military or government as a whole?
MR. SULLIVAN: Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, we are reviewing the possibility of a new executive order, and we are also looking at specific targeted sanctions both on individuals and on entities controlled by the military — that enrich the military. So we believe we have plenty of space to be able to find the types of sanctions targets necessary to sharpen the choice for the Burmese military.
Q On Monday, Iran proposed allowing the European Union to negotiate a simultaneous return to the Iran nuclear deal, the idea of being, you know, the U.S. drops some sanctions in exchange for Iran coming into compliance. Is that proposal at all being considered?
MR. SULLIVAN: We are actively engaged with the European Union right now, particularly the three members of the P5+1: Germany, the UK, and France. We are talking to them at various levels of our government. Those consultations, I think, will produce a unified front when it comes to our strategy towards Iran and towards dealing with diplomacy around the nuclear file. And I just don’t want to get ahead of where that’s going to end up.
MS. PSAKI: You can take one or two more here.
MR. SULLIVAN: Yeah.
Q Hi. Will the President announce that he’s naming a new envoy for Yemen when he’s at the State Department this afternoon?
MR. SULLIVAN: Yes, he will. You know, as I said in my remarks today, he is going to announce an end to American support for offensive operations in Yemen. That is a promise that he made in the campaign that he will be following through on. But he will go further than that: He will talk about the United States playing a more active and engaged role in the diplomacy to bring an end to the conflict in Yemen, and that will include the naming of a special envoy, which will happen today.
Last question. Yeah.
Q Jake, could you first — just real quick on Yemen, a follow-up: Could you first explain a little bit more in detail what an end to American support for offensive operations entails? And does that extend to actions against AQAP in that region? And has President Biden informed the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the UAE already?
MR. SULLIVAN: So it does not extend to actions against AQAP, which are actions that we undertake in service of protecting the homeland and protecting American interests in the region and our allies and partners. It extends to the types of offensive operations that have perpetuated a civil war in Yemen that has led to a humanitarian crisis.
The types of examples of that include two arms sales of precision-guided munitions that the President has halted, that were moving forward at the end of the last administration. We have spoken with both senior officials in the UAE and senior officials in Saudi Arabia. We have consulted with them. We are pursuing a policy of “no surprises” when it comes to these types of actions so they understand that this is happening, and they understand our reasoning and rationale for it.
Q And just more broadly — a more thematic question: You guys have announced that you’re reviewing a number of malign actions carried out by other countries, whether it’s Russia or China or other countries. Does President Biden feel a responsibility to impose consequences for actions undertaken by other countries in the last several years, where President Trump gave those countries a pass? And if so, how far back does that extend?
MR. SULLIVAN: I think the way that President Biden looks at this is it doesn’t matter who the occupant of the Oval Office is if this country gets attacked — if our elections get attacked, if our critical infrastructure gets attacked, if our troops are threatened by foreign actors. He’s going to respond to establish deterrence and to impose consequences.
So he doesn’t have a particular time or date from when that starts. And he certainly will look at actions undertaken during the Trump administration as attacks not on President Trump but as attacks on the United States of America.
Thank you, guys.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Jake.
Okay. Just a couple of other things I just wanted to go through. President Biden delivered an address about faith and unity at the National Prayer Breakfast this morning. I should say it was via video. This event was entirely virtual this year because of COVID, with all speakers delivering taped remarks. Alongside President Biden, four living former presidents sent messages to the breakfast. President Biden is committed to the Prayer Breakfast tradition of reflection and fellowship, especially at this difficult time in our nation’s history.
And a little piece of history for all of you: Every President has attended the breakfast since Dwight D. Eisenhower made his first appearance in 1954. A little trivia for your dinner table.
Okay, a couple of other updates:
The President and his administration, all of us, are continuing their close engagement today on the American Rescue Plan, a top priority for him and all of us at this moment, including outreach to lawmakers and stakeholders, as well as our continuing work to make the case directly to the American people. We’re heartened that Congress is moving quickly on this.
Over the next several days, committees will have a chance to review the legislation. As you know, that’s, kind of, the next step in the process next week. Oh, actually, after the “vote-a-rama” tonight — it’s a very Washington term, but that is literally what it’s called. And Republicans will have additional opportunities to provide input and help improve the final product. That’s how the process is supposed to work, and we’re encouraged that there is agreement on the need to move swiftly and the goal of making this bipartisan bill and package.
There’s a couple of questions that many of you have asked us and others have asked us over the course of our effort on the American Rescue Plan, so I just wanted to address some of those here. First, why do we need a package of this size? Or will we be fine with the status quo? Obviously, this is a good question that’s asked as economic data comes out. So I just wanted to highlight a couple of pieces for all of you.
A CBO report found that without any additional stimulus, our economy wouldn’t reach pre-pandemic levels until 2025, and it would take just as long to get back to full employment. This week was the 46th consecutive week that jobless claims have exceeded the pre-pandemic record high. Kevin Hassett, President Trump’s top economic adviser, said, quote, “We need to be risk averse” and that without a major stimulus, we could have a, quote, “negative spiral for the economy.” This is a grim picture, but analysis after analysis shows us that the Rescue Plan would make a huge difference.
Moody’s Analytics found it would get us to full employment a year faster. Brookings predicts it would get us back to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year. And over 90 percent of economists surveyed by Reuters found it would drive substantial growth.
The second question we often get — another good question — is: When we will see bipartisan support for this bill? The reality is, we see it every single day. A sur- — a new survey from Navigator Research out this morning shows 72 percent of Americans support the Rescue Plan, including 53 percent of Republicans. A Quinnipiac Poll, yesterday, found that 68 percent of Americans back the Rescue Plan. A Yahoo/YouGov survey on Monday showed that over two thirds support the package.
So I just wanted to highlight a couple of those pieces. Those are excellent questions we get in here. But we did a little thinking about your questions.
Last thing I just wanted to do at the top. Kristen, who’s back today again, asked a great question about the Artemis program, which I dug into, and I’m very excited about it now to tell my daughter all about it.
So, for those of you who have not been following it as closely: Through the Artemis program, the United States government will work with industry and international partners to send astronauts to the surface of the Moon — another man and a woman to the Moon, which is very exciting; conduct new and exciting science; prepare for future missions to Mars; and demonstrate America’s values.
To date, only 12 humans have walked on the Moon; that was half a century ago. The Artemis program, a waypoint to Mars, provides exactly the opportunity to add numbers to that, of course. Lunar exploration has broad and bicameral support in Congress, most recently detailed in the FY2021 omnibus spending bill. And certainly we support this effort and endeavor.
Why don’t we go to you first, Darlene?
Q Thank you. Can you update us on the President’s thinking on the issue of forgiving student loan debt? There are some groups that are pushing anew for the President to forgive all student loan debt. And where does he stand on that?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. The President has and continues to support canceling $10,000 of federal student loan debt per person, as a response to the COVID crisis. He’s calling on Congress to draft the proposal. And if it is — if it is passed and sent to his desk, he will look forward to signing it.
Debt relief is, of course, an important priority for the President. On day one, the first day of his administration, he directed the Department of Education to extend the existing pause on student loan payments and interest for millions of Americans with federal student loans.
That was a step he took through executive action, but he certainly supports efforts by members in Congress to take additional steps, and he would look forward to signing it.
Q So he would do that through legislation and not an EO — not an executive order?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think he took the step — already took a step through an executive action on his first day, and he would look to Congress to take the next steps.
Q A second question. There’s been some discrepancies in the numbers of these FEMA-supported vaccination centers that the President wanted created. He called for 100. Do you have an update on how many have actually been set up as of today? And were any of them set up before the President took office?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this is a priority to the President, and setting up those vaccination sites through the — and through partnership with FEMA is something that he feels, and our health and econ- — our health and medical experts feel is a way to get more vaccines in the arms of Americans.
In terms of the specific numbers that have been set up to date, there’s new updates every single day. I know that I’m sure the team can provide an update on how many have been set up when they do their briefing tomorrow.
I will say that there were some really interesting updates that I received this morning about efforts to set up large-scale sites in Texas; obviously there are some that are being set up in California. They’re looking for a space where they can have great capacity to bring people in and vaccinate as many people as possible, but it’s ongoing, and I’m sure the health and — health team will be able to provide an update on the specific numbers.
Q Thank you. I just wanted to ask if President Biden will sign the refugee executive order today. And then a follow-up on that.
MS. PSAKI: He — the President is certainly committed to looking for ways to ensure more refugees are welcomed into the United States; it’s a priority to him personally. But I don’t expect him to make — sign a specific executive order today.
Q Do you expect him to announce his intent to raise the cap for the fiscal year for refugees to, like, a pro-rated annual 125,000, which would be around, I guess, 80,000 for the year? I think New York Times reported that.
MS. PSAKI: I expect him to talk about his commitment to refugees, but I’m not going to get ahead of any other specific announcements he’ll make in his speech.
You guessed a lot of — there’s been good reporting, as Jake confirmed a lot of pieces.
Go ahead, Mario.
Q Thanks, Jen. Has the President been briefed yet from Secretary Yellen’s meeting this morning with financial regulators over market volatility like GameStop? And is he expecting her to deliver potential options to address that?
MS. PSAKI: I would send you to the Department of Treasury. Obviously, they oversaw the meeting. I’m not even sure what time it took place. I would defer to them on that and any specific details they want to read out from it.
Go ahead, Jeremy.
Q Jen, one of the biggest criticisms of President Trump’s approach to handling the coronavirus was that the administration didn’t provide clear guidance to states about when they should shut down, when they should reopen.
Dr. Vivek Murthy, back in November, talked about a national alert system that would be needed. Is that something that the administration is planning to implement — some kind of color-coded system to tell states, you know, when — you know, by which criteria they should reopen or shut down? Is that something you guys are considering or planning to implement?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to talk to our health team, and you’ll have another briefing with them tomorrow. Obviously, a number of options are under consideration to both make sure Americans are safer and that we’re doing everything necessary to communicate with them accurately how to keep themselves and their families safe, but also how to better communicate with governors and mayors.
Some of that is reopening the line of communication, which was somewhat shut at times, according to governors, during the last administration; and ensuring — which is one of the things that governors have requested — they have a better heads up on how many vaccines they will have access to so they can do better planning. Also working with them and tapping into FEMA — a question that came up earlier — utilizing their resources to be able to, kind of, mass vaccinate people in larger locations.
So those are a lot of the ways that we’re implementing it to date. There are a range of options on the table, but I don’t have any updates on an alert system.
Q No plan for a national alert system as of now?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on it. But again, you’ll have an opportunity to talk to our health team tomorrow, and it’s a good question to ask them.
Q And, secondly, American Airlines and United Airlines are planning to furlough about 27,000 employees by the end of next month as their federal payroll aid runs out. Does President Biden support giving those airlines more financial aid? And does he support including that in this coronavirus relief package?
MS. PSAKI: I think the President’s priorities are already in the package, and they are focused on ensuring there’s funding to get vaccines in the arms of Americans, funding to reopen schools; ensuring that the one in seven Americans who — families who can’t put food on the table, who’s worried about that, is able to do that.
As you know, there’s a process that will be ongoing on Capitol Hill over the course of the next days and through the course of next week, where there will be amendments put forward, work on committees. But I think the priorities of the President are already in the bill.
Q And just a foreign policy question. Avril Haines made clear that she would absolutely comply with a law requiring the intelligence community to provide Congress with a declassified report on who was responsible for the death of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. When can we expect to see that? And is President Biden considering sanctioning Saudi Arabia for that murder of Jamal Khashoggi?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you noted, that review would come out of the intelligence community, and it will be released on the timeline of when it’s completed, and we certainly would never take a step to expedite or change the timeline that works best for them.
And then, as Jake also noted, there’s an ongoing review of a range of our foreign policy — or national security policies, certainly including in terms of our relationship with Saudi Arabia. But I don’t have anything to preview for you at this point in time.
Go ahead, Peter.
Q Jen, as it relates to COVID relief, you said the President wants to take care of people that need the help the most. Obviously, a lot of Americans right now say that they need help. So how do you determine who needs help and who doesn’t? Where do you draw that line?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Peter, I think what we’re hoping to do through the package is provide assistance to Americans who are struggling to make ends meet at this moment in time. And, you’re right, there are — there’s a large swath of Americans who are struggling through this moment in time because they fear about their health, the health of their grandparents, of their cousins, of their parents, and also people who worry about their kids going back to school and, you know, their desire to get their kids back in school and continue learning.
The package itself, again, is of course a priority of the President. It is not the end of our work or the end of his efforts to help bring relief to the American public. It is a first step, as you noted — as you — as he noted, I should say. He’s also going to talk about his Build Back Better agenda in the coming months, and that’s something that will certainly build on this as well.
Q So then, I guess, how soon — for the Americans who are listening to every word that’s here — how soon should they expect that relief to come? And can you guarantee that it’s going to be there before the March 14 deadline when unemployment insurance, for example, expires?
MS. PSAKI: You’re right. And that’s something that we’re very mindful of here, the President is mindful of, the Vice President is mindful of, our economic team is certainly mindful of, Peter. And that’s one of the reasons why the President has been so firm in his insistence that the $1,400 checks remain intact and that they go out to the American people.
There’s a process underway in Congress. Next week, the committees will be doing the work that they should be doing, that they do through the recon- — the budget reconciliation process. We have been very clear about our own view of the urgency here, and we’re hopeful that, and we’re confident that Congress shares our view of that.
Q The President talks about bipartisanship. He’s met with Senate Republicans, then Senate Democrats, then spoke to House Democrats. When is he going to meet with or speak to House Republicans?
MS. PSAKI: He’s — every single day, he seems to be — he is meeting with members of both parties, engaging with members of both parties. That work is not done, but I don’t have a meeting to announce for you here today.
Q So to be clear, though, has he spoken or has he met with Kevin McCarthy yet, the leader of the —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any calls to read out for you. Our team remains in touch, again, with Democrats and Republicans, members of our economic team, members of our political teams. We are certainly engaged with all offices that have an interest in engaging with us.
Q And last question, if I can. Hunter Biden has a memoir to be published in April. I guess my question is: Is that book subject to the clearance process — to a clearance review?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there — for those of you who had not seen the news — it was announced, I believe, by Simon & Schuster this morning — I do have a statement from Joe and Jill Biden in their personal capacity as his parents: “We admire our son Hunter’s strength and courage to talk openly about his addiction so that others might see themselves in his journey and find hope.”
This is a personal book about his own personal journey, and I will leave it at that.
Q Thank you, Jen. Can you give us a sense of the scope and scale of U.S. commitment to COVAX beyond the $4 billion that had been approved by Congress for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance in December, I believe? Will there be additional funding for COVAX?
MS. PSAKI: We have reiterated our commitment to COVAX. I don’t have any additional funding, though, to announce today.
Q Okay. So can you also just comment on the administration’s position on the vaccine diplomacy that’s being employed by China as well as India?
MS. PSAKI: In what — tell me a little bit more about what you’re looking for.
Q So what’s the administration’s position on countries like China and India, who is essentially using vaccine to buy influence to improve diplomatic ties with other countries? What’s the administration’s position on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our position is that we’re focused on ensuring that the American people are vaccinated, that we are getting as many shots in the arms of Americans as possible. We rejoined the World Health Organization so that the United States can have a seat at the global table in order to play a constructive role in getting safe and effective vaccines in the arms of Americans. I’ll leave it at that.
Q And I have one other question on Myanmar, please, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Uh-huh.
Q Can you — do you have a comment on the Burmese diplomat, Maung Maung Latt, who is seeking asylum because, and I quote, “I cannot accept the illegitimate takeover of power by the military”?
MS. PSAKI: I’ll have to talk to our national security team about that.
Q Thanks, Jen. Republican — some Republicans and some centrist Democrats have said that a minimum wage increase does not belong in a COVID relief bill. So is President Biden willing to drop the $15 minimum wage in order to get bipartisan support for that package?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President feels strongly that we need to raise the minimum wage — and many economists agree with him — and looks forward to working with Congress to do it. Whether it can be done through the reconciliation process will be determined according to the House and Senate, but I’m not going to negotiate further from here.
Q Does he believe though that the $15 minimum wage needs to be in this package, in this deal?
MS. PSAKI: I heard your question. I think what I’m saying is he’s committed to raising the minimum wage. He thinks it’s an important step for American workers and for American families. There’s obviously a process that’s ongoing — the reconciliation process — that will make some determinations about what can and cannot be in the bill based on rules.
Q If I could follow up really quickly —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q — on the question about DHS before. My question is about whether or not President Biden believes or plans to in any way make sure that detention centers for undocumented immigrants, that those are no longer contracted with private companies. It’s not a question about DHS; it’s a question about what President Biden’s beliefs are and what he plans to do.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what the President did was sign an executive order to put the power in the hands of the Department of Homeland Security and Secretary Mayorkas to conduct a review and determine what the path forward is. He has spoken about his concern about these facilities in the past; that remains the case. But it is under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security to make recommendations to the President of the United States. So that was what Jake was conveying.
Q Well, he had used the previous executive order though to direct the Department of Justice not to renew contracts (inaudible) with private prisons. So what I’m asking is why he did not also direct the Department of Homeland Security to do the same.
MS. PSAKI: There’s a new Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. I will — hopefully he’ll come to this briefing room and talk more about these very important issues, but we’re not going to get ahead of his decision-making process.
The President himself has personally spoken about this issue, as you’ve noted and others have noted. But we’ll have more — we’ll defer to the Secretary of Homeland Security for more specifics about the path forward.
Go ahead, Kristen.
Q Thank you, Jen. And thank you for getting back to me about Artemis.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q I know the folks at NASA appreciate it as well.
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely.
Q Yesterday, the head of the CDC, as you know, said that it was safe to reopen schools without vaccinating teachers. You said that the White House was still waiting to — waiting for the official guidance before making a final determination. Why isn’t what the director of the CDC says — why isn’t that enough?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, the director of the CDC also has said they haven’t issued their final guidance. And we, of course, wait for that process to complete and see its way through, as she would say as well. I believe she did an interview last night where she spoke to this issue again.
The President — let me be crystal clear — wants schools to open. He wants them to stay open. And that is — and he wants to do that safely. And he wants health and medical experts to be the guides for how we should do exactly that.
So we’re just not — she — the — Dr. Walensky spoke to this in her personal capacity. Obviously, she’s the head of the CDC, but we’re going to wait for the final guidance to come out so we can use that as a guide for schools around the country.
Q And so, if this final guidance comes out and it says that it is fine for schools to reopen without vaccinating teachers, can you say now that that is what President Biden will support?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m happy — I hope you’ll come back whenever it — whenever the guidance comes out. The President has prioritized — believes it’s a — should be a priority for teachers to be vaccinated.
He also, though, believes that even with vaccinations for teachers or for any American, that there are a number of other mitigation steps that are important to take — masks — and I’m sure this will be in the guidance when it comes out, or they’ll speak to it, I should say. Ma- — the wearing of masks, social distancing, ventilation — these are all factors that are important for Americans and also for the reopening of schools. That’s one of the reasons that we need funding — in order to be able to effectively ensure that public schools across the country are able to do that.
Q One more questions on this point. Michael Bloomberg said yesterday that it’s time for President Biden to stand up and say that the kids are the most important thing and stand up to the teachers’ unions.
If it comes down to a binary choice, and there’s no indication that, you know, the teachers’ union in Chicago or San Francisco are willing to budge at this point — if it comes down to a binary choice, who would the President choose: the kids or the teachers?
MS. PSAKI: I think that’s a little bit unfair how you pose that question. But I will say the President believes schools should be open. Teachers want schools to be open. Families want schools to be open. But we want to do it safely. And I’m not sure that any parent in this country would disagree with wanting their kids to go to school in a safe environment, where there’s ventilation, where proper precautions are taken — whether it’s masks or social distancing. And that’s his priority.
But there should be no confusion: The President of the United States wants schools to open; he wants them to stay open. And that is key too. He doesn’t want them to be open for a month. That’s disruptive for teachers, for students, for families. So he wants the proper steps to be taken so that they can reopen and stay open.
Q One quick one on China. A State Department spokesman said on Wednesday that the United States was “deeply disturbed” by reports of systematic rape and sexual abuse against women in internment camps for ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region, and that there must be “serious consequences” for atrocities committed there. And I wondered if you could say anything about what “serious consequences” are currently under consideration.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I can get ahead of the President or, frankly, the Secretary of State. We certainly, of course, agree with that — those comments and statements from the State Department, but I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of specific actions.
MS. PSAKI: Has the President used the Defense Production Act to boost production of vaccines or vaccine equipment? And if not yet, why not?
Q So we talked about this a little bit yesterday, but I know it’s a popular and good question. So DPA ratings — which you’re probably familiar with, but everybody may not be — which kind of gives an assessment of what stock and supply is available, is something that we use as a guide, and they’re in place to give us a sense of relevant items available.
The President invoked the Defense Production Act because he wanted to have the capacity — or wanted his team to have the capacity to address shortfalls when needed. And we are constantly monitoring that.
So all options are on the table in terms of how we would use the Defense Production Act and what we would use it to help produce, you know, in terms of relevant equipment or resources. I expect we’ll have more of an update, maybe even as soon as tomorrow, on how specifically we’re planning to use it.
Q So, I mean, obviously you’re tracking where the shortfalls are. You have not seen any to formally push forward with it yet at this point?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I would say that, one, there are ongoing conversations with companies and manufacturers about capacity and what steps could be taken. And as — I mentioned the ratings because we assess when there are needs. Right? We assess when there needs to produce syringes or masks or things along those lines, and then we can act very quickly. But again, there’s an update from our — there’s a briefing from our COVID team tomorrow, and hopefully they’ll have more to say on exactly this topic.
Go ahead in the back.
Q Hi, Jen. Thanks. I just wanted to clarify a question — some questions on energy sector —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — in light of the cancellation of the Keystone pipeline. Just wondering what the fate are of other proposed projects, including if the President supports Governor Whitmer’s calls to scrap a pipeline that cuts through Michigan, powers up the Great Lakes, and into Ontario. Does he support her calls to cancel that?
MS. PSAKI: I have not talked to our climate team about specifically that pipeline. Of course, I think we’ve noted that a number are under review, but I will see if there’s an update on that particular pipeline.
Q President Trump also approved permits that would carry oil from Canadian territories into Alaska. Is that under review? Or —
MS. PSAKI: You know, I think, again, all of these pipelines are a part of what our climate team is looking at and assessing. I haven’t seen another update from them on an additional step, but I will see if there any updates to report back.
Q And finally, on his call with the President, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau requested Canada be exempt from Buy America provisions. Has the President made a decision on whether Canada would be exempted?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we have any update on that particular question.
Q Jen, as today’s print pooler, I’m going to ask you a question for —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — on behalf of myself and behalf of my colleague who can’t be here because —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q — of COVID restrictions. Clearly, on LGBTQ issues, the President is ready to make good on his promises over the course of the campaign, with the two executive orders he signed in the first days of office relating to nondiscrimination and the transgender military ban. And just moments ago, we had Jake Sullivan say he’s — the President is going to sign a memorandum for LGBTQ human rights worldwide. However, the cornerstone of the President’s promise to the LGBTQ community was the Equality Act, which will be legislation to expand the prohibition on anti-LGBTQ discrimination. The President said he would sign that legislation within 100 days in office. Does he stand by that?
MS. PSAKI: He stands by it. I would say that there’s some actions that need to be taken by Congress, of course, as you know, and we’re only on day — what are we on now? Fifteen? Okay, so 16, 17?
Q Sounds about right. Yeah.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Right around there. So we have 85 days to go.
Q But when will we hear the President himself speak out on this legislation?
MS. PSAKI: You know, I think the President has been out speaking out about a range of issues he’s committed to, including many on LGBTQ rights, over the course of the last two weeks of his presidency, and he will continue to be. But I don’t have any scheduling updates for you at this point in time.
And now for my colleague.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Texas is expected to cut Planned Parenthood out of its Medicaid program imminently after a federal appeals court ruled it could do so. Does the Biden administration plan to step in and take action, as was done under the Obama administration, to prevent states from cutting Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers from Medicaid programs?
MS. PSAKI: Well the President’s views are clear and consistent on this issue. Just last week, in an executive order, he reissued guidance specifying that states cannot refuse Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood and other providers. HHS would certainly have more specific details, but they have stated they’re committed to protecting and strengthening the Medicaid program, as is the President, consistent with the executive order we released last week.
Go ahead, Katie.
Q Thanks, Jen. I know you said that you will not talk about Marjorie Taylor Greene in the briefing room, but I want to try this question another way.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q What is the President’s stance on a majority party potentially establishing a precedent that would result in the stripping of committee assignments, as Republicans have said?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I would say that it’s not the role of the President or the role of the White House Press Secretary to do analysis on the, you know, fissures in the Republican Party and the actions that may be taken in Congress as a result.
Q And another one. What is the President’s view on the bill that Senator Romney is expected to introduce today? It could include up to $4,200 per child to families but would eliminate existing welfare programs and tax credits. Is that compromise, or would that be a non-starter?
MS. PSAKI: I know that reporting just came out, I believe, right before I came out here, so I haven’t spoken to the economic team about it. Certainly, efforts to provide additional funding for, I believe you said, the Child Tax Credit — Child Tax Credit?
Q It would actually eliminate existing welfare programs and some existing tax credits.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let — again, the reporting just came out right as I was walking out here, so I haven’t talked to our economic team about it. We certainly welcome efforts or offers from the — our Republican friends for discussion and how we can improve the American recovery plan, but we — I haven’t done any — they haven’t done any analysis, I think, quite yet on Senator Romney’s proposal.
Go ahead, Peter.
Q Jen, we saw some new figures today: More than 2 million guns were sold in January. That was an 80 percent jump and the second highest monthly total on record. A lot of this, of course, had to do amid all the coverage related to the Capitol riots then.
The President promised to act on day one on this issue. Of course, we know there’s only so much he can do by executive action on it. Where does this fall on his list of legislative priorities? There’s only so much capital that you have in these first 100 and first few days.
MS. PSAKI: You’re right. And he has an ambitious plan in a lot of areas and on a lot of issues.
I will say, as Vice President, and even before that, the President took on the NRA twice and won. This is an issue he is personally committed to; we are — many in this building are personally committed to. And, you know, I think he would love to see action on additional gun safety measures to protect families and children, and knows that there is support across the American public for that.
Q But, of course, I guess that’s up to him though for there to be action. So when would he take action and put some proposal before Congress?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we have a couple of proposals currently before Congress. But, again, this is an issue he is personally committed to. He has a personal — you know, has worked on it many times in the past. But I don’t have a date for you on when there would be a proposal.
Q If I could — I want to ask you — there’s a — there’s an NBC news video that went viral of a grocery store in Naples, Florida. You may or may not have seen this. If you haven’t, I’ll describe it to you.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Give us a play by play.
Q When you pan the grocery store, you see that almost everybody in there is not wearing a mask, even though it’s in a county, I believe, where masks are mandated. The question is: Beyond urging Americans to wear masks, what specifically is this White House doing to combat that resistance, especially given the concerns about the coronavirus mutations, and others, right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, one, we are trying to communicate about it as frequently as possible. Obviously, as you see, I wear a mask out here. I take it off when I come to the podium, based on the recommendations and advice of our health and medical experts. You all are wearing masks right now. And the President has taken steps that is — that are possible through his federal authorities, including mandating them on public lands, on airplanes.
But part of what we’re also trying to do is make our health and medical experts available to ensure people understand — and I’ll reiterate it here today: It’s not just a vaccine; it’s obviously an incredible medical breakthrough, and we want every American to have one. But even if you’re vaccinated, social distancing, wearing masks are going to be essential, and we’ll need to continue communicating about that through health and medical experts.
Q So what do you say to those folks? What do you say to the folks, like those that we saw in this video — I believe one of the folks who owns or runs that store, who said he doesn’t believe that 450,000 Americans have died in the coronavirus? At the end of the day, we need everybody on board to beat this virus. What do you tell them?
MS. PSAKI: We try to fight the misinformation with facts, Peter, and fight it with health and medical experts, including at a national level, at a local level, to convey to people that wearing a mask is something that not only can save the lives of their neighbors but of their family members. It’s quite — and it’s steps they’re taking to protect themselves.
I mean, we know statistically — or from our health experts, I should say — that if Americans wear a mask for 100 days, 50,000 lives would be saved. We know it’s not going to be overnight, but we’re going to continue to communicate about it in a nonpolitical way, in a factual way, so that Americans can take steps to save themselves.
Q Where does the White House proposal on sending a mask to every American stand? And how much would that cost if you followed through?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of options on the table to help protect more Americans from the coronavirus and encourage people to mask up. And as I said, that’s vital to us because it’s not just about the vaccine; it’s also about social distancing, ventilation, and certainly wearing masks. But no decision has been made to do that, so I don’t have a cost assessment. Obviously, it would depend on how many people would be sent a mask.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.
END 12:28 P.M. EST