Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, February 3, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:44 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Good afternoon. I just have a couple of items for you all at the top. I was a little worried about getting that mask off with the earrings. Okay, successful. Good start.
Today, President Biden joined the House Democratic Caucus meeting by phone to discuss the American Rescue Plan. The President made clear that the American Rescue Plan was designed to meet the stakes of the public health and economic crisis. And the President and caucus agreed that a final package must address the crises facing working families, including housing and food insecurity and reopening schools.
President Biden said the cost of inaction and doing too little is greater than the cost of doing too much.
The President also had the opportunity to meet in the Oval Office just a few minutes ago with Leader Schumer and the Democratic chairs of the Senate committees with jurisdiction over the American Rescue Plan as part of his ongoing engagement with lawmakers with — from both sides of the aisle.
During the meeting, they had a productive conversation on the status of legislative proceedings on the package. They were in agreement over the need to move swiftly to ensure that we get $1,400 direct payments to middle- and working-class Americans as soon as possible; that we need to take steps to get immediate relief to the Americans who are struggling with food insecurity or facing eviction; and that we need to provide more resources to get shots into arms faster.
The President and the senators were also in agreement over the need to go big and to meet the challenges we face with a response that will get the job done: in beating this virus and in protecting our economy from long-term damage.
During the conversation, the President and Democratic leaders also agreed to continue working to find areas of bipartisan agreement in an effort to integrate ideas and make the process as bipartisan as possible.
There have been lots of questions from some of you and others about the differences between the President’s plan — the Democratic plan — and the plan that has been proposed by 10 Republican senators. So I wanted to outline some of those specifics here for you.
The President’s plan would fulfill his pledge to finish getting $2,000 checks to hard-hit Americans, and ensure that, for example, a kindergarten teacher making $60,000 a year isn’t left without additional support. Their plan wouldn’t provide that teacher with direct relief.
The President’s plan would give Americans who are out of work, through no fault of their own, a $400 weekly supplement and the certainty that it would last through the worst of the pandemic. Their plan would give unemployed Americans less money and, therefore, less certainty.
The President’s plan would keep hundreds of thousands of teachers, cops, firefighters, paramedics, and other public servants on the job. Their plan offers no money to state and local governments to keep people on the frontlines of this fight employed.
The President’s plan would assist the millions of families who are faced — who are behind on their rent and facing potentional — potential eviction. Their plan wouldn’t offer any support to these families.
The President’s plan would provide targeted, immediate relief to families with children and essential workers through an emergency expansion of the Child Tax Credit and the EITC. Their plan would deny relief to 15 million lower-income essential workers.
The President’s plan together would reduce the number of kids living in poverty by 5 million this year and cut child poverty in half. Their plan would likely leave millions of additional kids out.
Just as importantly, the President’s plan would make sure we have every resource we need to defeat this virus and get life back to normal, including $130 billion to help ensure our kids can go back to school safely; $20 billion to mount a nationwide vaccination campaign; $50 billion for more and better testing; and critical funding to improve our ability to track and defeat emerging COVID-19 strains.
I know that was a lot, but there’s a lot of interest in this issue.
Go ahead, Josh.
Q Thanks so much, Jen. Two questions. President Biden told House Democrats today that he considered the $1,400 direct payment a promise that he can’t break. At the same time, a new analysis from the Penn Wharton Budget Model suggests that 73 percent of those payments would go into savings instead of be spent in ways that could boost growth. I’m wondering, what’s more important: to keep the promise, or to ensure that the package does all it can to maximize growth?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, on the Penn Wharton analysis, we’ve seen that analysis, and I’ve talked to our economic team about it, and frankly feel it’s way out of step with the majority of studies on this plan, including independent analysis from the Wall Street firm, Moody’s; JPMorgan Chase; and the Brookings Institution. And the analysis concludes that our economy is near capacity, which would be news to the millions of Americans who are out of work or facing reduced hours and reduced paychecks. So this starting place means their model is way off.
So our view is we’re going to listen to governors; we’re going to listen to a broad range of economists; we’re going to listen to health experts on what is needed, what the American people need at this point in time. And when one in seven American families don’t have enough food to eat, it’s clear that there is a great deal of need for assistance.
Q Secondly, the President is set to speak to the State Department tomorrow. How does he expect to change the tone with regard to refugees, China, and Russia, relative to his predecessor?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say the President’s visit tomorrow, which we rescheduled because of snow, is largely focused on his desire to thank the men and women who are us — who are Foreign Service officers, civil servants, who are the heart and soul of that institution and, frankly, our government. And I worked there for two and a half years; it’s an incredible place. And they’ve had — many of them have had a challenging couple of years.
But he will also, of course, talk broadly about foreign policy — how could he not? — if he is there. This will not be a laydown of his vision for every issue and every foreign policy issue. He will have plenty of time to do that. So I just want to, kind of, expectation-set on what to expect for tomorrow.
But you were also asking about the difference between his approach on Russia and China. You know, I think, on Russia, you know, his call to President Putin is — a couple of weeks ago — two weeks ago? — is clear evidence of exactly that. When he called President Putin, he did not hold back. He made clear that while there are areas where we can work together — say, New START, which is in the interest of the security of the United States — he has concerns about a number of areas of their reported interference, whether it’s in elections; in the hacking of the United States — the SolarWinds hacking, I should say; reports of bounties on American troops. There’s an ongoing review that’s happening, which he also stated in that — in that conversation.
So his engagement, even directly with President Putin, tells you a bit about the difference alone.
And on China, you know, the President’s view and the administration’s view is that we need to work with our allies, we need to work with our partners to align on how we’re going to approach our relationship with China. And we need to approach that relationship from a position of strength. There are obviously key components of that relationship; there are economic, there are strategic.
And — but we are going to work closely with our allies — he’s having those engagements now; we’ve done a lot of call readouts, of course — and also with partners on the Hill, Democrats and Republicans, on the best path forward.
Q Thanks, Jen. The Republican plan matches you guys up on the national vaccine top line and also the testing top line, but you ticked through some pretty significant differences between the two proposals. And I know we ask this seemingly daily at this point, but where is the —
MS. PSAKI: It’s okay. It’s your job.
Q Where is the space for bipartisan agreement when the differences are that significant across major components of what the President wants?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you know, an area where there’s agreement to work together on is funding for small business, and that’s something, of course, Democrats and Republicans want to do.
Our view is that this bill itself is bipartisan; 74 percent of the public support it — Republicans and Democrats, independents across the country. And there is agreement that it’s important to work with many Republicans and Democrats who fall in different — different parts of the political spectrum to put their ideas forward and consider them. And that’s part of the conversation and part of the process now happening on the Hill. We will see. We will see what proposals that improve the bill, that make it better. And there’s certainly an openness to that.
Q Just one more on COVID relief. Several Republican senators have said publicly that they believe the President is in a different place than his staff on this issue in particular, and he’s more willing to deal perhaps than his staff. Is there daylight between the President and his staff on the $1.9 trillion proposal?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely not. I’ve seen some of those reports. Some — many of them are ludicrous. I’ve sat in a lot of meetings with the President of the United States in the last few weeks and even before then. There is no one who’s going to tell him what to do or hold him back from his commitment to delivering relief to the American people.
And I would point you to the fact that he talked about the importance of going big on a package, back to the campaign. He talked about the importance of meeting this moment, back to the campaign. So that is certainly his commitment, and that’s exactly what he’s working to deliver on.
Q And then, just one quick one on vaccines, and circling back to something you guys talked about last week, I believe: Defense Production Act. I know you’ve said all options are on the table, you guys are working through, and that it has been launched in at least a couple of areas.
On vaccine supply, is the Defense Production Act being utilized on that front? And if not, is there a timeline? Is that something that remains on the table right now to bolster, I think, one of the issues that you guys have identified as being the biggest problem right now?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely, it’s on the table. And, you know, the reason the President invoked the Defense Production Act was because he wanted to have a range of options for any moment where there was a reduction in supply on — on, you know, materials on PPE, on syringes. And at the appropriate time, we can certainly use it for that.
But, right now, our focus is working with Pfizer and Moderna. We have confidence in their ability to produce the number of vaccines that the government has ordered on the timeline that we have committed to. And so — and that means that we would have enough vaccines here to be able to vaccinate every American by the summer.
So our focus is really more on evaluating our team, evaluating where there are needs for supplies and materials that would help deliver the vaccines into the arms of Americans.
Go ahead, Ed.
Q You saw the President say earlier he’s still confident he can get some Republican support. Mitt Romney was asked about that a little while ago, and he said, “Well, if they’re not going to budge off the $1.9 trillion number, it’s not going to happen.” He was then asked, “Well, is there — can you give us a specific example of something that demonstrates the differences?” You didn’t mention it. He says the $360 billion or so for states and localities. Is that something that is considered negotiable by the White House?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d be interested, because I didn’t see — so now I guess I’m asking you a question — what Senator Romney said about whether they would propose any funding for state and local.
Q He said that the most recent reports show that the average state in America only lasts about a tenth — the 1 percent — of their revenue, so it should perhaps be adjusted.
MS. PSAKI: Well, they are not proposing any. So I would suggest, given that they also supported $160- or $180 billion in a package that moved forward under the Trump administration, that that’s a place where we would certainly welcome an offer from their end on what state and local funding they’d support.
Q And one other on economic relief related to the pandemic. There was a full-page ad in the New York Times last week, put there by several prominent women, calling on the Biden administration to implement what they call a “Marshall Plan for Moms” in the first 100 days. Has the President seen the ad? And would he support the idea of monthly payments to mothers who are saddled by this pandemic?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as a mom myself, I can confirm for you that the conversation I have most frequently with friends on Zoom calls is about the impact of the pandemic on working moms across the country.
And what the President has — certainly concerned about, as we all are, is the fact that this has a disproportionate impact on communities of color, on women of color, who are working — many of them working on jobs as frontline workers and vital — playing vital roles in industries across the country. And it’s certainly an issue that Secretary Yellen, his economic team are focused on and will be looking for ways to help appease.
Q Two other quick ones. The President said yesterday he hadn’t yet had a chance to contact the families of the FBI agents killed in South Florida. Has he been able to do that yet?
MS. PSAKI: We will follow up with you after the briefing. I did not have a chance to ask about that before I came out here today.
Q And then, earlier today, Canada designated the Proud Boys as a terrorist organization, putting them alongside al-Qaeda, ISIS, and al-Shabaab. Does the U.S. plan to do the same?
MS. PSAKI: I had seen that, Ed, before we came out here, and had asked, certainly, our team to make sure we had a little bit of guidance on that for all of you.
We, of course, have a review underway — a domestic violence extremist — extremism, I should say, review that’s underway by our national security team to take a look at violence and this type of concerning group activity across the country. I expect we will wait to — for that review to conclude before we make any determinations.
Q So no final decision on that?
MS. PSAKI: It’s an ongoing review, and when it’s concluded, I’m sure we’ll have more to say about our view.
Q Thank you, Jen. The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee is asking you to apologize for some of the comments that you made yesterday in the briefing room about the Space Force. Will you apologize?
MS. PSAKI: I did send a tweet last night. You may not all be on Twitter. Maybe they’re not on Twitter. That said, we invite the members of Space Force here to provide an update to all of you on all of the important work they’re doing, and we certainly look forward to seeing continued updates from their team.
Q But big picture here: I mean, does the Space Force have the full support of the Biden administration, or is the President at some point perhaps going to try to get rid of it or in some way diminish it?
MS. PSAKI: They absolutely have the full support of the Biden administration, and we are not revisiting the decision to establish the Space Force.
The desire for the Department of Defense to focus greater attention and resources on the growing security challenges in space has long been a bipartisan issue informed by numerous independent commissions and studies conducted across multiple administrations. And thousands of men and women proudly serve in the Space Force. As you know, it was established by Congress, and any other steps would actually have to be taken by Congress, not by the administration.
Q One more space question. NASA’s Artemis program, which was the Trump-era program to return American astronauts to the Moon by 2024, what is the President’s plan? What is he going to do with that program? Is he going to keep it intact?
MS. PSAKI: I am personally interested in space; I think it’s a fascinating area of study. But I have not spoken with our team about this particular program so let me see if we can get you a more informed overview of that.
Q Okay. And one more — one more question, if I could — sorry — about the President’s comments last night as he was paying his respects to the FBI agents that lost their lives or were injured. He said, “By and large, the vast…majority of these men and women are decent, honorable people.” What did he mean by that — the “vast majority” part?
MS. PSAKI: That’s exactly what he meant.
Go ahead, Kristen.
Q Thank you, Jen. President Biden has been very clear that one of his core promises to the American people is to try to unify this country. How can he take steps to unify the country while the impeachment trial is going on next week?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he can focus his efforts, which is exactly what he’s doing, on delivering necessary relief to the American public and using his forum to talk about how he’s going to reopen schools; how he’s going to get shots in the arms of Americans; how he’s going to ensure that the one in seven American families, who are concerned they can’t put food on the table, can do exactly that. That’s how he’s spending his time as we started this briefing and how he will continue to spend it moving forward.
Q What’s his message to Republicans who say that the very trial itself undercuts any efforts at unity?
MS. PSAKI: He invites Republicans to work with him on bringing relief to the American public, and that’s why he invited them here — many of them here on Monday and why he will continue to engage with them moving forward.
Q And you talk about his agenda. President Biden has been signing executive orders, speaking to the American people almost on a daily basis. Obviously, the focus is going to shift to the Senate next week. How concerned is he that the Senate trial will undercut his momentum?
MS. PSAKI: I think the President has been clear there is an urgency to delivering relief to the American people. And it’s important and vital that the House and Senate work quickly to get this bill packet passed.
Q Do you see it wrapped up within a week, when you say (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not giving a deadline; I’m just conveying what he has stated many times publicly. And we are confident they have the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time.
Q And finally, one more question. There’s discussion on the Hill about stripping Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments. Does President Biden believe that she should be stripped of those assignments?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve resisted speaking of her in this briefing room, and I’m not going to do that today.
Q Why not weigh in on her assignments though, Jen?
MS. PSAKI: Because it’s up to the Hill to make that determination.
Q Thank you, Jen. I’m Nandita with Reuters. President Biden has always expressed support for unions and, in fact, has distributed a plan to, kind of, strengthen worker organizing around the country. There are thousands of workers at an Amazon facility in Alabama that are currently gearing up to cast a vote and potentially form a union inside the company. This will be the first of its kind inside Amazon. Does the White House and President Biden support their efforts to organize and form a union?
MS. PSAKI: As you’ve noted, the President is a strong, longtime believer and supporter of the efforts of labor unions and workers. I have not spoken with him or our economic team about this particular report, nor had I seen it before I came out here. If there’s anything more to provide you, we’re happy to follow up with you directly.
Q And I did have another question on —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — Secretary Yellen calling for a meeting with top financial regulators on GameStop. And we understand the meeting is likely to happen this week. Will the meeting be held on Thursday? And will the focus really be on whether Robinhood treated retail investors unfairly over large institutional investors?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would send you to the Treasury Department for any specifics on the timing of the meeting or the focus of the meeting. For any of you who have not seen this report, Secretary Yellen has called a meeting with the SEC, FRB, FRBNY, and CFTC. She believes the integrity of markets is important and has asked for a discussion of recent volatility in financial markets and whether recent activities are consistent with investor protection, and fair and efficient markets.
That will be the focus of the meeting, but for more details, I would certainly send you to the Treasury team.
Go ahead, Jennifer.
Q Any update on the release of the White House visitor logs? Either — were you able to figure out if you can technically access the Trump administration visitor logs?
MS. PSAKI: I was. We cannot. That is under the purview of the National Archives. So I’d certainly point you to there.
And in terms of the — our plans to release the visitor logs, we do plan to do that on a quarterly basis, just as the Obama-Biden administration did as well.
Q And then one other thing, also on unions. Mitch McConnell was critical today of giving generous funding to school districts where the unions are not allowing the schools to open. Do you have any reaction to that?
MS. PSAKI: I would say that the purpose of giving funding, or supporting funding and getting it to school districts is to ensure that teachers are safe, that kids are safe, that there is necessary PPE, that there is ventilation in the school, that there is the environment that allows for children to return safely. And that is the President’s focus. That’s why he also wants to reopen schools and wants them not just to reopen but wants them to stay open, which, as a mom, that is pivotal. And that’s — that’s — but he knows it’s essential that it’s done in a safe way.
Q But anything on the unions not allowing some school districts to reopen?
MS. PSAKI: There’s discussions in different districts, as you well know, between school districts or — and elected officials and the unions. And we certainly hope and encourage progress on that front. But the President’s focus is on the schools reopening safely and them staying open.
Q I have a couple questions. Thanks, Jen. So during the Georgia runoffs, President Biden campaigned specifically on $2,000 stimulus checks. And obviously, as we’ve discussed, the payment is $1,400. There doesn’t seem to be an active discussion on actually raising that amount. So is that a broken promise to voters who may have been expecting $2,000 checks if Democrats won? And would the administration be open to raising that amount?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you’re right that the President is very focused on ensuring millions of Americans receive those checks and that pivotal relief at this point in time. There were $600 payments, as you know, in the $900 billion package that passed in December; this is $1,400. Together, that’s $2,000. So it would be delivering on the promise he made, and it’s something that he is firmly sticking by.
Q And I had another question on immigration. The Biden administration has extended temporary protected status for Syrian nationals. Obviously, the Trump administration cut off TPS protections for many other countries such as El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Haiti. So does the administration plan to reinstate those TPS protections for those countries?
MS. PSAKI: It is all under review at this point in time, and obviously, the President has talked about his own commitment to reinstating TPS in certain cases. But it has not — the review has not been completed at this point in time.
Q Thanks, Jen. Earlier today, on the call with House Democrats, the President talked about better targeting in the stimulus checks. I’m wondering if you could just explain what he meant by that and what might be under consideration.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, as we’ve said in here a few times but — but I know this is an ongoing process — you know, the President, having served in the Senate for 36 years, fully recognizes that the bill he proposed, that he did a primetime address on two weeks ago, that may not look exactly like the bill that comes out. And he knows that. That’s part of the legislative process.
So further targeting means not the size of the check, it means the income level of people who receive the check, and that’s something that has been under discussion. There hasn’t been a conclusion, but certainly he’s open to having that discussion.
Q And I also wanted to ask: In the previous administration, often when coronavirus cases came up in the White House — people tested positive — it came out in the news media. I was wondering if the — if this White House has a policy on releasing information about people who test positive in the White House and in the administration who have contact with White House officials?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, if — for anybody who covered the campaign — and I was not on the campaign — but what they tried to do was be very transparent about anyone who had any contact with — would have been in close proximity to the President or Vice President, and release if they had a COVID-positive test.
And so we will certainly model that transparency if and — if and when that occurs here, and venture to provide accurate and up-to-date information as quickly as possible to all of you, not through the media, but directly. I mean, you are the media, but you know what I mean.
Q Hi. Thanks, Jen. I have one question, and I have one from a colleague who can’t be here due to —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — social distancing. The CDC Director is saying that the vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools. Does the White House agree with this? And should states be prioritizing teachers over other essential workers in the vaccine line?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I saw the comments of Dr. Walensky, but I will say that even she would say, if she were standing here — she’s welcome to come anytime, but she’s in Atlanta — that they have not released their official guidance yet from the CDC on the vaccination of teachers and what would be needed to ensure the safe reopening of schools. And so we’d certainly defer to that, which we hope to see soon.
The President himself has talked about the importance and the priority of vaccinating teachers, and in most states they’re in the 1b category of vaccination. And — but it is up to states to determine prioritization. Obviously, there’s federal guidelines, but — and we work closely with governors, but we leave it to them. But certainly, ensuring teachers are vaccinated, prioritizing teachers is important to the President.
Q And this is from a colleague.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sorry. Go ahead.
Q Yeah. Following the 2020 Election, 28 states have brought forward 106 different bills related to voting access, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Is President Biden keeping track of those efforts? And will he talk with states to ensure Americans aren’t restricted from voting in future elections?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President’s priority is certainly ensuring, and the Vice President’s priority, is certainly ensuring more people, not fewer people, have access to voting and that it is easier, not harder, to do that.
We saw some examples of voting by mail or early voting, given COVID, that could be models for the future. It’s certainly an issue he’s following and his team keeps him abreast on. I don’t think there’s been an update in — since he was inaugurated to him, but it’s certainly an issue he cares personally about, as does the Vice President.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Good afternoon. Owen Jensen with EWTN Global Catholic Network. President Biden has stated he wants to unite the country. In the first two weeks he’s been in office, however — and much to the great disappointment of pro-life Americans — he has revoked the Mexico City Policy, he has ordered a review of Title 10, and issued a statement strongly supporting Roe v. Wade. Is the President going to make any effort to reach out to pro-life Americans in his administration?
MS. PSAKI: Well, those have long been the President’s positions, and he certainly was just restating them and delivering on promises he made on the campaign trail. But the President will reach out to all Americans. And that is how he’s going to govern — what he talked about in his inaugural address — and he has every intention of delivering on that promise.
Q If I could follow up on that: Will he — you describe him as a “devout Catholic.” Will he use his faith to guide him in any policy decision-making?
MS. PSAKI: He does attend church nearly every weekend, and that’s something that’s important to him personally and to his family. And he’s talked about the impact of his faith on healing and everything he’s been through as a human being. So certainly it’s a guide to him as a human being.
Q Thanks. Earlier, you mentioned a number of topics that Presidents Biden and Putin had discussed. One that you didn’t mention is the two Marines who are imprisoned, Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan. Trevor Reed from Texas had an appeal today in Moscow. The U.S. ambassador called his conviction “a mockery of justice.” What is the U.S. doing to secure their release? And do you consider these two Marines to be hostages?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Ambassador Sullivan, who I think you were referring to, today called Trevor Reed’s trial “a mockery of justice,” and we certainly agree. And, as you know, we have a range of means of communications with the Russians at several levels. We have a Secretary of State who is now confirmed. We have a national security advisor and we have a number of officials in the State Department.
But I’ll use this as an opportunity to once again call on Russia to swiftly release both Mr. Reed and Paul Whelan. And doing so on the heels of extending New START would demonstrate that Russia is ready to move past intractable issues within the bipartisan — the bilateral, excuse me — lots of bipartisan talk in here today — bilateral relationship. But that’s our view, and we certainly raise this at every opportunity.
Q Are sanctions or any other consequences under consideration?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s also a review — we’ve announced here, of course, and I talked about a little bit at the beginning of our relationship — and certainly a number of issues that are being looked into by the national security team. And once that review is concluded, we’ll have more to say on our policies moving forward.
Q Does the administration consider them to be hostages?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I’m going to add a new category or categorization from here today.
Q Jen, I want to follow up on ventilation in the schools, in terms of reopening them safely. How exactly does the White House see that playing out? Is the President saying that no school should be reopened unless they get a brand-new or renovated ventilation system?
MS. PSAKI: I think the President is saying that — and the CDC, I should say, more importantly, and our health and medical experts are saying that ventilation and proper ventilation in schools, and especially schools — public schools that have — don’t have often the benefit of tuition and things along those lines — need to have proper ventilation.
We’ve seen from health and medical experts that that is something that contributes to ensuring the safety of people indoors, which is part of what school is. So they’re just conveying that that’s an important component of looking at school safety and how we can reopen schools.
Q So it’s not a prerequisite then?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there haven’t been prerequisites set. There have been — there have been, you know, broad objectives that have been set by the CDC and others. They have also not put out their specific detailed guidelines yet. And we’ll look forward to seeing those and abiding by them, and communicating about them from here.
Go ahead, Josh.
Q The President has said he really wants to protect the middle class. And I’m wondering, when it comes to things like direct payments, what’s the income range by which you define the middle class? Like, how much does someone who is middle class — how much do they earn? What’s the range?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are ranges in the bill, as you know, that are what the President proposed and what he outlined during his primetime address. I don’t know that he looked at the bill as his own personal definition of the middle class, as much as a definition of the people who need help the most.
Q So that’s the — that bill is the rough range in how you’re thinking about it? Or —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t — I think I just said it’s not the definition; he wasn’t looking to answer the question for economists around the world on how to define the middle class. He was defining who needs help the most now, and that’s how the bill is defined and why he’s so focused on ensuring those checks get out to the American people.
Q Two quick follow-ups. One on the voting question — the Voting Rights Act update — or the John Lewis Voting Rights bill. You guys have majorities in the House and the Senate. I know you talked about it on the campaign trail, but given Shelby v. Holder and the change of preclearance, is that a priority? And if it’s a priority, when — I understand you’ve only been here two weeks, but with the majorities, when do you push forward on that priority?
MS. PSAKI: It remains a priority, of course. The President’s number-one focus though remains getting the American Rescue Plan through. He’s also going to talk more about a Build Back Better plan, as we get into the early spring or late winter, I guess, and that will be another priority. There’s an immigration package that he has proposed to the Hill as well.
So, ensuring that it is easier to vote, that more people have access to voting, that we are making it, you know, a part of the right of being an American is a priority to the President. But I don’t have a timeline or a date for you on when we would push for that bill to move forward.
Q And then, one other quick one on Burma. Leader McConnell, after he spoke with the President yesterday, said he expects quickly — expects the administration to quickly censure the military leaders. I know we’ve talked about the changes in foreign aid. What is the timeline on sanctions? Is Leader McConnell right that sanctions will be coming quickly?
MS. PSAKI: Well, one, I will note that the State Department very rapidly completed their review designating or naming the military coup in Burma in a very short period of time, which I think is something — this is bipartisanship in action — that Senator McConnell agreed on.
And, obviously, the detention continued — detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, other civilian officials, and the declaration of national state of emergency are a direct assault on Burma’s transition to democracy and the rule of law.
We’re continuing to review sanction — our sanctions authorities and other options. It is certainly a priority to this administration. I can tell you Jake Sullivan called me on Sunday night to tell me we had to put a statement out because it was so important we had our vos- — voi- — voice out there. And we obviously put out a statement from the President, acted quickly.
I don’t have an exact timeline for you, but it is a — it is a priority. And certain — certainly reviewing our sanctions authorities, and seeing where there’s action to take there, is something the team is focused on.
Go ahead, Jennifer.
Q Have you guys been talking at all about the Iowa Caucuses or the lineup for the next presidential —
MS. PSAKI: Too soon, Jennifer. Too soon.
Q So no discussion about Nevada wanting to go first? The (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: I don’t — we are certainly not focused on — on the next political campaign here quite yet, and we don’t have any — any point of view to share on the order of the presidential nominating contests — though Nevada is a little warmer, but, you know, all great states.
Q Jen, you had said that you would be checking with the NSC and the President about the Summer Olympics, I believe.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q Can you tell us, does he think at this point that it is safe for the U.S. team to go to Tokyo?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know there’s been some reporting on this. We’re not currently talking about changing our posture or our plans as it relates to the Beijing Olympics. We consult, of course, closely with allies and partners at all levels to define our common concerns and establish a shared approach. But this is — there’s no discussion underway of a change in our plans from the United States at this point in time.
Go ahead, Todd.
Q Thanks. One of the law enforcement gaps that was identified after the riot on January 6th was that President Trump had insisted on this focus on Antifa. And I’m wondering what President Biden has done to redirect an emphasis on right-wing extremism.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve launched an entire review on domestic violent extremism that would cover that across the board — activity across the board — concerning activity across the board. It’s not a political review; it’s a review of domestic violent extremism. And our plan is to look at that — have our team look at that — again, not through a political lens, but through the lens of national security experts and teams who have expertise in this area. And when that review has concluded, we will have more to say on it.
Q Sorry, Jen, can I just follow up very quickly on the Olympics?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q You said “Beijing.” I’m asking about Tokyo.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sorry. There’s a lot of Olympics questions going on.
Q I just want to — does the President think that it is safe for U.S. athletes this year?
MS. PSAKI: Again, nothing has changed about our plans, and I would send you to the USOC to discuss anything further on plans for athletes.
Kristen, go ahead. Thank you for that clarification, too. Lots of Olympics.
Q Jen, can I follow up with a previous question and just circle back to President Biden’s comments yesterday in the Oval Office —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q — when he said the “vast, vast majority” of U.S. law enforcement officers were “decent, honorable people”? Why did he want to — why did he think it was important to stress that the “vast majority” are?
MS. PSAKI: Because I think he believes that the men and women who have been serving our country in a variety of capacities have, you know, been criticized, been — some have been threatened; the roles they’re playing have been questioned over the last several years. And he wanted to reiterate his support for the important work they do. It’s also why he’s visiting the State Department tomorrow.
Q But not to say that all of them are. I mean, he made that delineation.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the point he’s making is that despite reports of, you know, individuals in different areas who may have done things that are problematic, that the vast majority of men and women serving in our law enforcement roles, serving in civil service roles, serving in roles across government do vital and essential work for the American people.
Q Thanks. Sebastian Smith, AFP.
MS. PSAKI: I know. I remember your mask. It stands out. It has flamingos on it, in case anyone is wondering.
Q But I don’t want to be known as the “flamingo guy.” (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Uh-oh. Sorry about that. I’m going to — I’m going to owe you a drink later.
Q Sebastian Smith, Flamingo Guy. There you go.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. (Laughs.)
Q On — again, on sanctions — this time on Russia — is there any discussion of targeting people close to Putin over what’s happening with Navalny and the opposition there? And has the President talked to EU allies about this?
MS. PSAKI: The President has certainly spoken with a number of European allies about a range of issues of mutual interest, of course, including Russia.
In terms of what sanctions options may exist or what options, in terms of a response, may exist, the President, of course, reserves the right to respond in the manner and course of his choosing at any point in time. But we’re going to let this review complete, and then our policy teams will make decisions about any specific steps they’ll take in response.
Q Okay. Another one related, but not exactly the same. Does the President have any position on the activity, the presence of outlets like Russia Today and Sputnik? Which I believe maybe come here sometimes; I don’t know. Does he have a position on that? Because in some countries, they’re seen as out-and-out propaganda tools of the Kremlin. Given that things are fairly frosty with Putin right now, what’s the position on that?
MS. PSAKI: I think it’s — I have not spoken with the President about RT or Sputnik. I think it’s pretty factual to say they are tools of propaganda who work on behalf of the Russian government. I don’t know that anyone would question that. Or raise your hand; I’m happy to discuss. But I have not discussed that with him specifically.
I do know that when I was at the State Department, they attended the briefing. I had a little fun with them from time to time, but they attended the briefing, they asked questions. But I think there’s no question, as we’re trying to decipher information that’s accurate and inaccurate, it’s important for the American people to know that there are outlets working on behalf of foreign governments who have an agenda, and they’re not playing the role of free press and free media as you all are.
Q Are you okay with them working in the White House, for example?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen them around here. I’m not sure if they’re in the White House Correspondents’ Association. You’d have to ask them that question. But all I’m conveying is it’s important for people to understand and know that there’s an agenda and that they are not the same as AP, ABC — other outlets — BBC — around the world.
Go ahead, Todd.
Q Can you clarify what President Biden’s goal is for the number of vaccines? I thought he had raised it to 150, but Zients, on today’s call, said that it was 100 million.
MS. PSAKI: The President is always going to push his team to go as big on vaccine distribution as possible, but our goal remains 100 million shots in the arms of Americans in 100 days. And that was a goal that was set in the fall, before a single vaccine had been put in the arm of an American, and it was seen as bold and ambitious at the time.
But we’re not going to stop at 100 million. We’re not declaring victory. That’s — we wanted to set markers for ourselves, so that’s the marker we set, and we’re working to achieve it.
Q Senators Coons and Carper earlier today said that Cabinet confirmations came up during their meeting. I was wondering if the President has been frustrated by the pace on the Senate side and whether he had raised that, or what his message is to senators.
MS. PSAKI: Well, presidents always want it to move faster; that’s what I can confirm having been here twice. But, you know, there certainly was a delay in the confirmation of a number of our Cabinet nominees over the course of weeks. Some of them were slower paced than they should have been early on, and there are people we would like to see in place.
Obviously, Ali Mayorkas was fortunately confirmed yesterday to Secretary of Homeland Security. We’d, of course, love for the Senate to move forward with the confirmation of Attorney General Merrick Garland — future Attorney General, I guess I should say, Merrick Garland in order to deliver on the President’s promise of an independent Justice Department that’s not influenced by politics. That would certainly be a break in the past.
So there are still key positions that have not moved through the confirmation process that we are eager to see move forward. We have seen, though, some progress in the last week or so and a number of who have moved forward. Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, of course, yesterday, just confirmed as the first LGBTQ secretary in a Cabinet. He’s going to play a pivotal role on our economic planning.
But there’s more to be done. It’s something that the President and his team will continue to push on to get his full team in place.
Q Do you know, on the cloud contract for the — that the Pentagon awarded to Microsoft — do you know if the Biden White House is going to review that at all? Because, I mean, you know that during the Trump administration, it was awarded to Microsoft instead of Amazon, and President Trump had some feelings about Amazon. And — do you think —
MS. PSAKI: I heard that — saw that.
Q Do you think (inaudible) purview?
MS. PSAKI: I would certainly send you to the Pentagon on that, Jennifer. And I — if there’s more to report from here, I will let you know, but I would certainly send you to the Pentagon.
Go ahead, all the way in the back.
Q Yeah. Would President Biden be open to having mandatory, year-round schooling to get kids caught up? So many kids who are falling behind. Would he be open to something like that, or having full-time summer school, whatever it takes?
MS. PSAKI: I have not discussed full-time or year-round schooling with the President. Of course, as you know, that requires often state funding, and that often is up to governors to know if they can provide that funding. But I don’t think I have anything further for you on that.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: All right, did anyone not get a question? Okay. Thank you, everyone.
END 2:27 P.M. EST