White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki discussed the Boulder shooting, healthcare, filibuster and Biden during a press gaggle aboard Air Force One while on her way to Columbus, Ohio, with President Biden.
Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jen Psaki Aboard Air Force One
En Route Columbus, Ohio
1:59 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Welcome to our trip to Ohio. Today, on the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act being signed into law by President Obama, we’re traveling to Columbus as part of the “Help Is Here” tour to highlight how the American Rescue Plan will lower healthcare costs for many families — a big deal, as my boss might put it.
In Ohio, the President — he added another word, but for the children. (Laughter.) In Ohio, the President will talk about how the Affordable Care Act has changed the lives of millions of Americans, enabling millions of families to have the peace of mind that comes with access to quality, affordable healthcare. He’s always thought that this was — the Affordable Care Act was something that would be built upon. And the American Rescue Plan is an opportunity to do exactly that.
In Ohio alone, the ACA has cut the state’s uninsured rate by half, dropping from 12 percent to 6 percent. This also provided protections for millions of Ohioans with pre-existing conditions.
And the American Rescue Plan makes coverage under the ACA even more affordable for Ohio families. Over 90,000 currently uninsured Ohioans can get a better deal on health insurance because of the Rescue Plan, and premiums for people who have coverage under the ACA will fall by an average of $50 per person per month.
He will also remind Americans to sign up for insurance at HealthCare.gov during the special enrollment period, and he’ll have an update on that, as well, today.
I also just wanted to note that our Health and Human Services Secretary, Xavier Becerra, is also traveling to Carson City, Nevada, to visit a health center today.
Update from the governors call — the weekly governors call that Jeff Zients did this morning: Today, in our weekly governors call, he announced that we will have 27 million doses allocated across all channels this week. Of those 27 million doses, 4 million will be Johnson & Johnson. Two-thirds of the 27 million doses will be going to states and jurisdictions, and the rest will go to other channels, primarily the pharmacy program, which has been very successful and we’ve been increasing supply to.
This means that in 62 days since taking office, we’ve more than tripled vaccine output from 8.6 million doses to 27 million doses.
And then, the last update is: The President spoke with the governor — Governor Polis of California — sorry, of Colorado, this morning to, of course, offer his condolences and support as the state and Boulder deals with the tragedy of last evening.
With that, who wants to kick it off?
Q A couple of questions. First, with respect to the Colorado shooting, what can you tell us about the shooter’s motive? There’s been some speculation that there were ISIS ties. Can you confirm or deny that?
And then, the President talked today about the need for new gun control measures. Has there been talk about attaching any of those to a future infrastructure bill? And if not, has this incident changed his thinking about the filibuster?
MS. PSAKI: On the first question, we’d obviously defer to law enforcement authorities who gave — or provided an update this morning. But they will be in the lead on any determination about motive, reasoning, et cetera. So we’ll look for updates from them. The President will get updated as there is additional information to be provided, and if there’s more to provide to all of you, we will certainly do that.
As it relates to gun safety measures, let me first say that putting in place commonsense gun safety measures has been a passion of the President’s since he was in the Senate. He helped lead the fight to get the Brady Bill passed. He helped pass the assault weapons ban. He was in the lead in the Obama-Biden administration, putting in place more than a dozen executive actions on gun safety. And this will continue to be an issue that he’s focused on day in and day out in this administration.
He talked this morning about two bills that have passed the House that would increase background checks, improve background checks — something that’s supported by the vast majority of the American public. That’s something he’ll continue to advocate for. Also putting in place an assault weapons ban — there is legislation that’s been introduced by Senator Feinstein, Congressman Cicilline. So there are different mechanisms for that to move forward, and it is certainly something he will continue to advocate for.
In terms of the filibuster, his position remains; it has not changed. He is — of course, believes that we should work with Democrats and Republicans to get work done for the American people, including commonsense gun safety measures. He’s also open to hearing ideas. He does — is not going to allow for obstruction to get work done for the American people, but his preference and priority is working with members of both parties.
Q I have a question about —
Q (Inaudible) on executive action. Jen, sorry.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sure.
Q Will there be new executive action on gun violence?
MS. PSAKI: We are certainly considering a range of levers, including working through legislation, including executive actions to address, obviously, you know, not just gun safety measures but violence in communities. So that is — has been under discussion and will continue to be under discussion.
Q I have a question about Iraq. We’re reporting that Iraq has asked for the start of talks about withdrawing the remaining U.S. troops. Can you confirm that you’ve received that request? And do you know when those talks will be starting?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check with our national security team on an update on that, and DOD as well. I can venture to do that when I — when we finish our gaggle.
Q When the President was departing his remarks earlier, he answered a quick question, saying, “I’ll have more for you later,” when he was asked about new legislation. So can you talk about any new legislative proposals that may be in the works?
MS. PSAKI: I think he was — he was referring to his commitment to continuing to work on gun safety measures. There’s, again, a range of levers, right? There is legislation he advocated for that is currently moving through Congress. There is legislation that Dianne — Senator Feinstein and Congressman Cicilline have proposed on the assault weapons ban.
There’s, of course, as I referenced earlier, executive actions that are under discussion and in our administration. As we know, this tragedy just happened last night, so I would not expect a new proposal put forward under 24 hours. But we are going to continue to work with Congress and work on what executive actions and levers he can take as President.
Q And during the presidential campaign, he said on day one that he would send legislation repealing the liability protection for gun manufacturers. Is that still part of his legislative agenda for guns since he hasn’t done that yet?
MS. PSAKI: There remain a range of options under consideration. And obviously, tragedies like last night and the shootings in Atlanta are just reminders of how vital it is to move forward on gun safety measures in a range of formats. But I don’t have an update on when those executive actions or what steps might be next at this point.
Q Did he give consideration to not doing this Ohio trip given the scale of the loss of life in Colorado? And does he feel that there is anything different in the political landscape now that would be more amenable to these ideas that have stymied lots of administrations? Is he — is there anything different now that would make this a bigger priority for the President?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s always been a priority for the
President. He is personally committed to continuing to push for gun safety measures — something that he has been committed to since he was in the Senate — and was a big advocate for the Brady Bill, for the assault weapons ban, for executive actions and legislation that, as you — as you, kind of, alluded to, we tried to move through the Obama-Biden administration.
He’s also a believer that just because you can’t get something through the first time, it doesn’t mean you keep try- — you don’t keep trying, and that he is somebody who is committed to pushing through, working with people from both parties, you know, continuing to advocate to move policy forward.
So I don’t think he has an assessment on the political landscape less than 24 hours after these tragic events happened, but it is an issue that is on his mind and has long been throughout the course of his time in public life.
Q Did he consider not doing this trip?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, I’m sorry. I did — I did — I meant to answer that question, too.
You know, we always look at making adjustments as needed. We felt it was still important to have the President travel to Ohio and to speak to the importance of healthcare, and access, and affordability, and improving that access — something that is impacting millions of Americans across the country.
Obviously, he addressed the tragedy of last night and felt that it was important — he felt, personally, it was important to do that. And he also received an update, I think, as all of you know, during the PDB this morning from his team as well.
Q And, Jen, there has been — there have been several Democrats who have now urged him to appoint a national director for gun violence prevention. I know you’re saying that there are several steps under consideration. Is that something that you’re, you know, actively considering? Is that being seriously looked at?
MS. PSAKI: I would just say that, ultimately, it’s a priority to the President of the United States and, as you saw earlier today, the Vice President of the United States and senior members of our policy team who have been considering and discussing a range of actions — executive actions on addressing gun violence and community violence. And I think that speaks to his commitment to the issue.
Q And I did have a question on the Postmaster General.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q As you know, yesterday, he kind of came out with his 10-year plan, and he’s planning the largest rollback in consumer mail services in a generation. Obviously, you know, several Democrats, again, have asked the President to fire the board with cause and let new Biden nominees, kind of, judge if the Postmaster General is fit for office. Have you been, kind of, discussing that? I know there has been some action, but is there anything new that you can tell us?
MS. PSAKI: It doesn’t work exactly that way. He has nominated a number of members of the board. The board — the board is responsible for determining who the future leadership is. Obviously, he has expressed concerns about the decision making in the past and the performance, at times, of the Postal Service — not to speak to the men and women who are serving, but the leadership at the top. And those concerns remain.
Q Are you contemplating travel to Boulder?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to report on that at this point. As you know, obviously, the families are grieving; the community is grieving. We saw that from the press conference this morning. And certainly, you know, he will — we will, and he will, you know, discuss that at the appropriate time. But it’s less than 24 hours.
Q Jen, can you just quickly update — Zolan, from the Times.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, yeah. I know who you (inaudible). It’s good to see you. (Laughter.)
Q Can you provide an update on Ambassador Jacobson’s trip to Mexico City, and then Juan Gonzalez also going to Guatemala?
MS. PSAKI: Yep.
Q And is it possible that we could see an Asylum Cooperative Agreement come out of that trip — something that diverts asylum seekers at the border to Central America to seek protection?
MS. PSAKI: Well, they’re only on, really, the first full day of their trip right now, and they’re not returning for a couple of days. I do expect we’ll have a fulsome readout at the end of their trip.
They did go down there because, as you know, it’s important and vital that we work through diplomatic channels with governments in the region to help figure out how to address root causes and improve cooperation after years of it being not at the — at the status it should be. So that’s the purpose of their trip. But I don’t want to get ahead of what they may discuss or what they may conclude coming out of it.
Q And then, just a quick follow. I know you said the President is still committed to working with members of both parties —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — even after these events. But two mass shootings in the last, what, 10 days?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q I mean, does that increase the sense of urgency to move forward with executive action before any kind of legislation makes its way to the Senate?
MS. PSAKI: The way he sees it is that there are a number of levers that any President of the United States can use. And he, as Vice President, was leading the effort on determining executive actions that could be taken on gun safety measures. It’s something that he has worked on, he’s passionate about, he has feels personally connected to. But there’s an ongoing process, and I think we feel we have to work on multiple channels at the same time.
Q Jen, NATO is making an effort for a virus-free summit for world leaders in June. What does the President think about that possibility of him traveling and being there in that environment?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly are aware of the timing of the upcoming NATO Summit. And certainly the President, I know, would love to go overseas and travel overseas and have discussions about global issues and how to work together on a range of issues, including the pandemic, economic recovery, et cetera. But we’re going to rely on the advice of our health and medical experts, and I don’t have anything to preview on the likelihood of the trip at this point in time.
Q Can you confirm that the President is attending the European Council meeting on Thursday?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q That’s virtual, obviously —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q — about the future of the U.S.-EU relationship or anything else you can give us there?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. I know he’s attending. Let me venture to get you a little bit more on the agenda, which I will do, hopefully, before the end of the flight.
Q You said that’s Thursday?
MS. PSAKI: That is Thursday. It’s a virtual meeting with the European Council.
MS. PSAKI: Exactly.
Q And then, one other one, on guns. Why hasn’t the President nominated someone to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives? And do you have any update for us on that nomination?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on the nomination. Obviously, it’s an important position and role, but — and one that we are eager to have nominated and confirmed. But we are also focused on the steps we can take — working with members of Congress, working with policy leads in the administration — to move forward and see what progress can be made on gun safety measures.
Q Is there any consideration to changing the policy related to unaccompanied minors at the border — given the numbers that are now in U.S. custody and how this situation has evolved — to try to change the messaging about those children being received and kept in the United States?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the messaging will continue to be that: It is not the time to come; it is not a safe journey to make; that we are turning away people at the border. A majority of people are turned away at the border. And — but at the same time, we believe that it is the humane and moral step to — to ensure we are treating these children — that they are in safe places when they come across the border.
So, I’m not sure if you’re asking about —
Q But do you acknowledge that — that by making that point about the humane treatment of children, that there is, perhaps to the ears of a desperate parent, a motivation? Because the child would be received and kept across the border.
So does that require a change?
MS. PSAKI: I think our view is that there are a number of factors here that are pushing families to put their children on buses or to make the journey, including the economic conditions, including crime and corruption, including the two hurricanes that struck the region. Those are factors that our experts feel are the driving factors to children making that journey.
And the step we can take and that we can — we have the, you know, control over taking, of course, is ensuring that we are expediting processing at the border; we’re opening new facilities. We just opened another one in Texas — there will be additional facilities that are opened in the coming days and weeks; and ensuring that we can get these kids moved as quickly as possible from Border Patrol facilities.
Q Jen, the pandemic emergency rule is actually — is still in place for single adults and families.
MS. PSAKI: Yep. Title 42.
Q Recent data has actually shown that, despite Title 42, there are — there is an increase in families being accepted into the U.S.
MS. PSAKI: Yep.
Q Is that just due to, you know, a breakdown in coordination with Mexican authorities who are supposed to receive those families? Or is the U.S. leaning towards accepting more families at this time?
MS. PSAKI: It is — it is largely an issue of Mexico not having the capacity to accept some of these families. These circumstances are limited. When they come, they are tested, they’re quarantined as needed. But it’s not a reflection or prediction of a change of policy.
Q And then, the pandemic emergency rule is, in its essence, temporary. I mean, it’s rooted in the coronavirus pandemic.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q So what’s the plan for when the administration needs to lift that? And when is the administration going to lift it?
MS. PSAKI: I expect that decision will be made with our health team in the lead and in coordination between the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security.
Q Gotcha. Gotcha. But is there — is there any consideration of another restriction, another rule that could be implemented for when Title 42 is lifted?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’re at that point. Obviously we’re still in the middle of a pandemic; 1,400 people are still dying in our country every day. So I don’t think we’re at that point in the process.
Q Jen, is there a readout from last night’s meeting with the Senate Democratic Caucus? We didn’t see one.
MS. PSAKI: I can give you one. You know, the purpose of the meeting was to ha- — to thank them for their support and efforts in passing the American Rescue Plan and to reiterate the bipartisan support across the country and his commitment to communicating with the American people, as he is doing today, about the benefits of the package.
He also took some questions from members during that call, as a part of the conversation, but that was the purpose of the call.
Q One more on cyber. The Russian and Chinese media have been building a narrative that the U.S. is threatening to disconnect them from the international payment system as punishment for the recent hacks. Is that something the White House is at all considering seriously?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any predictions to make in terms of costs that will be paid for recent hacks. Obviously, the review is ongoing as it relates to Russia and certainly China, too, separately. And I expect we’ll have more on that soon.
Q No update on weeks, days?
MS. PSAKI: I would say weeks, not months, but I don’t have an update on the timeline.
Q There are concerns about delays in distributing some of the $1,400 checks to those who don’t have to file taxes. Is the administration aware of what the issue is? And are you taking any steps to alleviate those delays?
MS. PSAKI: You know, if somebody is a non-filer — which I think is what you’re referring to — but they benefit from any U.S. tax program, then they would be getting payments via direct payment. So that shouldn’t be an issue.
But as any issues arise, the IRS and the Treasury Department certainly look into them as they arise. As I understand, it’s been limited, but I can certainly check if there’s more specifics about it.
Q Any update on the border access for journalists that
we talked about yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: I expect you’ll know — you’ll have more details soon. But our plan is to make access available, likely through a pool, and we’re working to finalize those details.
Q And any details on the press conference Thursday?
MS. PSAKI: What are you looking to know?
Q Well —
MS. PSAKI: Do you want to tell me your questions? I’ll take those down. (Laughter.)
Q No, are we still looking — is there an on-record time that we can announce yet? Or is it still FPPO?
MS. PSAKI: I expect it to be in the afternoon, but we’re finalizing the details based around some other specifics in his schedule.
Q How is the President preparing for the presser?
MS. PSAKI: How is he preparing for it? Looking at your Twitters — (laughter) — and seeing what’s on your mind.
You know, I think he is, you know, thinking about it. It’s an opportunity for him to speak to the American people, obviously directly through the coverage, directly through all of you. And so I think he’s thinking about what he wants to say, what he wants to convey, where he can provide updates, and, you know, looking forward to the opportunity to engage with a free press.
Q Can I ask one more on nominations?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Just, if you have an update. There’s no one in place that ICE and CBP. And obviously, with those situation at the border, do you expect those nominations to be announced anytime soon?
MS. PSAKI: I just — we are — our personnel team is obviously working on all of these important and vital positions. We want to find the right individuals for a lot of these — for all of these roles, of course. I just don’t have an update on when we’ll have announcements on them.
Q And, Jen, do you have any update on the permanent nominee for OMB? I think Shalanda is going to get confirmed as we land. But —
MS. PSAKI: It looks like it — as we’re landing. I don’t have an update on that. Obviously, she will be — serve in the acting role once she’s confirmed, as we have anticipated.
Q A quick — a quick follow.
Q Okay. And no update on Neera and where she’s (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Not yet. Not yet.
Q So, Secretary Mayorkas was the first, you know, immigrant to lead DHS.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Do you think — does the President feel that an immigrant should be leading ICE or CBP to rebuild trust with those communities?
MS. PSAKI: That’s such a great question. I haven’t had that discussion with him. I know that when he selected and asked Secretary Mayorkas to serve, that his experience, his background, his personal — his personal perspective he would bring to the role was — were all appealing to the President, but I’d have to ask him that question.
Q Okay. Appreciate a follow-up.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.
2:21 P.M. EDT