The White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday addressed many issues, including the arrest of Russian opposition figure, the coup in Burma as well as COVID-19, immigration and Trump’s impeachment.
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, February 2, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:48 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: We have a few updates for you all at the top this morning.
First, today, the President is signing three executive orders to rebuild and strengthen our immigration system. These actions are centered on the basic premise that our country is safer, stronger, and more prosperous, with a fair, safe, and orderly immigration system.
Today’s actions do a number of things:
The first executive order creates a task force, chaired by the Secretary of Homeland Security, to reunify families, which will work across government to find parents and children separated by the prior administration.
The second executive order develops a strategy to address the root causes of migration across our borders, and creates a humane asylum system, including directing DHS to take steps to end the Migrant Protection Protocols program, which had led to a humanitarian crisis in northern Mexico.
And the third executive order promotes immigrant integration and inclusion, and ensures that our legal immigration system operates fairly and efficiently by instructing agencies to review the public charge rule and related policies.
As many of you also may have been on the briefing call that we had a little bit earlier today, but for those of you who were not: We have announced — or Jeff Zients announced — our COVID coordinator, I should say — that starting on February 11th, the federal government will deliver to select pharmacies across the country additional vaccine that’s coming online next week. This will provide more sites for people to get vaccinated in their communities and is an important component to delivering vaccines equitably.
More than 90 percent of Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy. And I don’t know about you — my mother-in-law, my family calls me all the time, figuring out how they can call the CVS and find out when they can get their vaccine. This is a limited launch of the program, but supply will ultimately go up to 40,000 pharmacies nationwide.
Second, we continue to work to ensure states, tribes, and territories have the resources they need to turn vaccines into vaccinations. President Biden has already directed FEMA to fully reimburse states for the cost of National Guard personnel and other emergency costs.
And today we go further: by fully reimbursing states for the eligible services they provided back to the beginning of the pandemic in January of 2020. That means that states will be fully repaid for things like masks, gloves, mobilization of the National Guard, and they can use the additional resources for vaccination efforts and emergency supplies moving forward.
This reimbursement effort is estimated to total three to five billion dollars and is only a small share of the resources that states need to fight this pandemic, which, as we’ve talked about a bit in here before, includes testing, genomic sequencing, and mass vaccination centers.
Last, we announced that we would increase weekly vaccine allocation to the states for the next three weeks by an additional 5 percent following last week’s 16 percent increase. So we have increased supply by more than 20 percent since the President took office just about two weeks ago.
These actions speak to the daily work we are doing to mount the coordinated, federal pandemic response Americans need and reserve — and deserve, I should say.
As you also know, last night, the President had a meeting with 10 Republican senators. He’s meeting right now with the Senate Democratic Caucus, over video, to further discuss the American Rescue Plan. And we’ll have a readout on that later this afternoon that we will send out.
He — last night, during the meeting, he welcomed the opportunity to have a constructive exchange of ideas over how we can improve the American Rescue Plan. He pledged that he would bring people together when he ran for President. And last night was an example of doing exactly that.
A new poll yesterday by Yahoo and YouGov showed that this plan has already garnered bipartisan support among the American people.
He also reiterated — or we would like to reiterate, I should say, the urgency of acting quickly on the package. You all asked yesterday about the CBO report’s new analysis that came out by the CBO that, without action — that report showed also that, without action, our economy won’t reach pre-pandemic levels until 2025. That’s too long. So our goal with moving this package forward is making it faster.
I have a couple of additional readouts — or follow-ups, I should say, from some questions that have been asked in here over the last several days.
Somebody asked earlier — I think it was last week — about Puerto Rico. Today — there’s an update I have — the administration is releasing $1.3 billion in aid allocated by Congress that — to Puerto Rico that can be deployed to protect against future climate disasters. In partnership with the Puerto Rico Department of Housing, the administration is also working to remove onerous restrictions put in place by the last administration on nearly $5 billion in additional funds.
Someone also asked yesterday about how President Biden keeps in touch. There’s a number of ways, but he receives correspondence letters in his briefing book every night, as past presidents have done. He also regularly connects with Americans on the phone. We’ve put out some videos of that, and we’ll continue to do that moving forward.
And as you also know, he attends — he has a routine of attending — typical routine, I should say — of attending public mass every weekend, which is something he did as President-elect and something he will do — clearly respecting COVID protocols — moving forward.
There was also a question — sorry, a couple of follow-ups here — about the President’s engagement with the Capitol Police officer who lost — I think, Ed, you asked this question, perhaps — about the Capitol Police officer, Officer Sicknick, who had lost his life in the events of January 6th.
As you know — or many of you may know, the President spoke with members of his family shortly after his passing to express his condolences and sympathies to their tragic loss. I don’t have anything to update in terms of his schedule tomorrow, but I expect we will have more of an update on that in the next 24 hours, certainly.
Finally — I think finally — I know this is a lot at the top — we can confirm that the President will visit the State Department now on Thursday — that was originally planned earlier this week; we had to move things around because of snow — where he will thank the men and women of the national security workforce for their service to our country and deliver remarks about reclaiming America’s role in the world.
Sorry, I did actually have one more item.
And as you all have seen reports this morning of the FBI confirmation that two FBI agents are deceased and three are wounded in a shooting in Florida. The two wounded agents were transported to a hospital and are in stable condition, as some, I think, have reported.
President Biden was briefed this morning by Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall.
This is obviously a terrible tragedy. I expect you’ll hear from the President later this afternoon when he speaks to all of you.
I know that was a lot. With that, let’s kick us off.
Q Wonderful. Thank you, Jen. Two questions. Congressional Democrats are moving forward with COVID relief, with legislation set to hit the House Budget Committee by February 16th. What kind of timeline does that create for you with regard to talks with Republicans?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as many of you who have covered Capitol Hill know, there is a process. The budget reconciliation process is a lengthy one. And because I suspected that people would want to talk about the meeting last night, today, I just wanted to take the opportunity to talk a little bit about that process and where we see there being opportunity.
So, first, as you know, once a budget — well, maybe you know, but a lot of people watching do not know — that once a budget resolution is passed, the House and Senate negotiators will work to develop a reconciliation bill that can pass through the House and Senate. At several points in this process, as we look to the weeks ahead, Republicans can engage and see their ideas adopted. At any point in the process, a bipartisan bill can pass on the floor. So just creating the option for reconciliation with a budget resolution does not foreclose other legislative options.
This is my “when a bill becomes a law” moment of the briefing today.
Second, Republican ideas can be adopted during the reconciliation negotiations, and it is likely that several bipartisan ideas may be — or we are certainly hopeful of that.
And, third, Republicans have the ability to offer amendments, both during the budget resolution and instruction phase of the process, and then later during the reconciliation phase, and in that way can ensure their ideas are heard.
And I did all of that because I think it’s important — there’s been some misunderstanding about how this process works. And I think there was some view that the vote — the final vote was this week. You all know that’s not the case. There is some time. That’s why the President is engaging — why he did with Republicans last night and Democrats today — and why he’s conveyed that he would like to continue doing that in the days ahead.
Q Secondly, a Moscow court sends Alexei Navalny to prison for two and a half years for violating his probation for going to Germany to recuperate from being poisoned. Does the White House plan any additional steps in response?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Josh, you may not have seen this because I think it just came out, but Secretary of State Tony Blinken put out a statement in response to the sentencing. I will — just let me reiterate some of the pieces from here:
We are “deeply concerned by Russian authorities’” efforts — “decision,” I should say — “to sentence opposition figure Aleksey Navalny…Like every Russian citizen, Mr. Navalny is entitled to the rights provided in the Russian constitution, and Russia has international obligations to respect the equality before the law and the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
We reiterate our call for the Russian government to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Navalny, as well as the hundreds of other Russian citizens wrongfully detained in recent weeks for exercising their rights…”
I will say so — to your specific question, there is an ongoing review we announced — I think it was early last week — of a number of the, you know, reported — or concerning actions, I should say, by the Russian government, which includes the treatment of Alexei Navalny. It includes a full assessment of the SolarWinds hacks — hack. It includes a review of the reports around bounties on troops. It also includes reports of — an assessment of engagement in the 2020 Election.
That’s an ongoing review by the national security team. When they conclude that, that will launch, you know, whatever pol- — a policy process to determine what steps we will take from here.
Q On the relief bill, Democrats are obviously moving ahead with this process. You all are still hopeful that you can get bipartisan support. But you’ve also made it clear that you’re not going to slim down this bill significantly. So, where right now is the greatest potential for compromise to try and achieve that bipartisanship?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you’re right, Mary, that I think — and this was evident in the discussion last night. It was — as we said in our readout, and I think as Senator Collins also said, it was civil, it was constructive. This is how democracy should work. We should be engaging. Democrats and Republicans should be engaging with each other. But there certainly is a gap between where we are and where the proposal — the Republican proposal that was discussed last night was.
There are some, you know, bottom lines I think the President has — which he has conveyed in the meeting last night and reiterated to us this morning — which is, you know, to put it simply or accessibly for people: You know, he believes a married couple — let’s say they’re in Scranton, just for the sake of argument; one is working as a nurse, the other as a teacher — making $120,000 a year should get a check. That’s in his plan. In the plan presented by Republicans, they would not get a check.
And his view is that at this point in our country, when one in seven American families don’t have enough food to eat, we need to make sure people get the relief they need and are not left behind.
As was also part of our readout last night, there was a discussion. There’s some technical follow-up where there’s opportunity to discuss issues like small business, issues like COVID relief. Not — I’m not suggesting a reduction; I’m suggesting how to do it effectively. And those technical discussions at a staff level will be part of what’s ongoing over the next couple of days.
But his bottom — the President’s bottom line is that this is a package. The risk here, as he has said many times, is not going too big; it is going to small. That continues to be his belief, and that’s why he supports the efforts by Senator Schumer — Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi to move this package forward.
Q Can I ask a question on impeachment? The impeachment managers have now laid out their case. Trump’s team is leaving open the door, it seems, to arguing election fraud in the trial, to repeating the false claims that somehow Trump won the election — those same false claims that fueled the riot. Is this administration concerned that the former President’s defense could incite further violence?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly watching reactions in the country, watching the potential for violence is something that we will do closely from the White House across the country, no matter what prompts it. And that’s something we will certainly keep an eye on.
But, you know, I think, in this case, as you know, there have been dozens and dozens of court cases that have been debunked. The President of the United States is sitting in the Oval Office engaging and governing the country, and obviously we have moved forward even more than we were prior to the inauguration in proceeding — in delivering on what the American people decided on in November.
Q And just one quick one on immigration. You know, some reform advocates have criticized these actions for being “reviews” of certain programs, like the Remain in Mexico program, rather than cancellations. Why “review” and not “reverse” some of these programs?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, part of our effort, Mary, is to assess the damage that has been done by the policies that were put in place by the prior administration. We want to act swiftly. We want to act promptly. But we also need to make sure we are doing that through a strategic policy process.
And the President’s commitment to immigration is indicative in the fact that he announced an immigration bill his first day in office and that he has signed and — after this afternoon — a number of bills to overturn the immoral actions of the prior administration.
But we want to ensure that our team, led by the new — hopefully newly confirmed soon — maybe right now — Secretary of Homeland Security — has the ability to review the process and policies and make sure he’s putting the right ones in place.
Q And do you have a sense of timing for these reviews — when the task force reunification, for instance, may actually put out their first finding?
MS. PSAKI: We do. And it’s important to us that there are markers to give updates to the American people on this and many other issues. So there will be a report issued within 120 days and then every 60 days thereafter on the progress being made.
As I think you all know from covering this issue, this is very difficult. It’s emotional for a lot of people, for understandable reasons. And we need to find out first where all these kids are and figure out where their parents are. And so we are starting at, you know, square one here, but our team wants to ensure that we’re providing an update on what progress were being made, how it’s going to be approached, and what the task force will be able to get done.
Q On the same subject — and this is going to be really big news across Latin America, especially in those countries where people have come from: What is the Biden administration’s message to people who may see this in the news in the next few days and think, “Oh, they’re changing the policy. Now might be a good time to go north”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the message continues to be what it has been. And I appreciate you asking the questions because it is confusing as we take a lot of these steps forward.
One is that this is not the time. We want to put in place an immigration process here that can — that is humane, that is moral, that considers applications for refugees, applications for people to come to — into this country, at the border, in a way that treats people as human beings. That’s going to take some time. It’s not going to happen overnight. Obviously, we have a bill that we are hoping we’ll be able to move through Congress.
But we also feel — I don’t think any parent can look at what’s happened to those kids over the last couple of years and not feel that we should do everything in our power to get those kids back with their parents. So we are trying to repair the damage and the horrific actions of the prior administration by trying to do everything we can to reunite these kids with their families.
But it remains a dangerous trip. It remains a time — this is not the time to come to the United States. We need the time to put in place an immigration process so people can be treated humanely.
Q One of the other things that immigration groups have been talking about — some Democrats as well — is the idea of potentially some kind of executive action that would shield immigrant workers who are considered essential workers from the threat of deportation. Is that being considered? Is that being worked on?
MS. PSAKI: This will not be the end of our immigration actions — or our actions, our efforts to work on these issues. I don’t have anything on that policy consideration for you though.
Q Well, and that was my next question. This is still being worked on? Can you give us a sense of what else may still be coming?
MS. PSAKI: Well, then I would be getting ahead of a policy process, which I can’t do from here, Ed.
But this is a priority to the President to do everything he can, obviously putting forward the bill, but also taking the executive actions he had in his power to take to overturn the immoral steps of the last administration. So that’s why he’s doing all of these — taking all of these steps within the first two weeks of being inaugurated.
Q I suspect the answer to this one might be similar but I want to ask it anyway.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q One of the things that was not addressed by these was the so-called “Title 42” — the CDC thing — expelling migrants and asylum seekers with little or no due process during the pandemic — the idea that they could be sent back right away because of the pandemic. Is that up for review? And why was that not perhaps addressed right away since it’s been a concern for a lot of advocates of immigrants who were trying to come across?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, I know it has been. I would just say that continuing to take policy steps to address the plight of immigrant — of migrant families, to do so in a humane and moral way, is a priority of this administration.
We obviously are going to continue to work on the immigration bill that we have proposed to Congress. These executive actions are just part of our strategy. And if there’s more to report to you on that, I’m happy to get to you directly.
Q Can I follow up on the immigration question?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q The executive orders that have been described so far don’t actually change or raise the refugee cap, which, as you know, President Trump reduced substantially. It doesn’t also order the immediate release of children from ICE detention. The President has said that that’s something that should be done immediately. Why didn’t he do it today?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’re going to have more again soon — in the coming days and weeks — on more steps and actions that the President is interested in taking. So I’m just not going to get ahead of that right now.
Q So you’re saying he might still do it but just isn’t doing it immediately?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I was saying that there are additional steps the President will take, our policy teams will take, our experts will take to address immigration in a humane and moral way.
There are also a number of steps that are under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security and Secretary Mayorkas, who, of course, as you know, his confirmation was a bit delayed. Some of those are going to be under his purview, and so I point you to them to also engage with on some of those questions. But there is more the President will have to share on refugees and other issues soon.
Q And may I finally ask whether the President has made a decision on keeping, or keeping the scope of, Space Force?
MS. PSAKI: Wow. Space Force. It’s the plane of today!
Q It’s not. It’s an entire branch.
MS. PSAKI: It is an interesting question. I am happy to check with our Space Force point of contact. I’m not sure who that is. I will find out, and see if we have any update on that.
Q Jen, a couple. I’ll start with COVID relief. Senator Manchin today put out a statement saying he was going to vote for the budget proposal, but made clear that his final vote needs to be on a proposal that’s very targeted. He is opposed to the $15 minimum wage. Is the $15 minimum wage a must-have for this White House in any final package?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Phil, I should’ve also brought you up here to just talk about how a bill becomes a law, because I think you know.
Q Well, I have 17-part reconciliation instructions question, but that’s (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Oh, good. I can’t wait. We’ll all tune in for it.
You know, Phil, I think there are a lot of points of view, as should not be a surprise to anyone, of different members of Congress. We respect all of them. We’re happy to hear them, hence the President met with 10 Republican senators last night. But we’re not going to negotiate from here or, frankly, in public about what is going to be in and out of the package. We want that to work through the legislative practice — practice — process, sorry, that is that is ongoing now.
Q And then, on the meeting with the Republican senators, you said the word “reiterate.” I think in the statement last night, it had the word “reiterate” three separate times. Like, it’s very clear where you guys —
MS. PSAKI: We like that word. It’s a good word.
MS. PSAKI: It’s a solid word.
Q But it underscores scores that we’re — your guys’ position is firm.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q And so, I guess, my question is — you’re talking about staff talks on technical details — is that basically the ballgame right now in terms of the bipartisan talks? Like, they include things on the technical side; there are pieces if they want amendments. But broadly, this is what it is, and it’s moving?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the President’s commitment is to urgently deliver relief to the American people, and that is what he has conveyed in every meeting he’s had or engagement he’s had with Democrats and Republicans.
And as we just talked about, there’s a process that’s just in the early stages, that’s beginning on Capitol Hill, to do exactly that. But there are also steps that can be taken, or changes that can be made through negotiations, that also, through the legislative process, have to happen between the House and Senate. There are amendments that can be proposed and voted on. And we’re going to see that process through, or allow that process to go through.
As that’s happening, the President will be — continue to be engaged. He’ll continue to have more discussions with a variety of members of Congress from both parties to see if there is places to come to consensus and agreement on how to approach some of the issues and challenges the American people are facing.
Q Last one on COVID relief. You guys have made very clear the $130 billion for K-through-12 is crucial to reopening schools.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q I think there is something along the lines of 60 to 65 billion in past proposals that has been obligated, but is mostly unspent right now on the public school front. What are you guys doing to ensure that gets out the door, given the priority it is in your next package?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, my understanding from talking to our economic team is that the funding that was in the $900 billion package, I think is — if that’s what you’re referring to — will be spent in the next couple of weeks.
And so what we’re trying to look ahead to is what are the needs as we’re looking to public schools across the country — that many of them need funding, many of them need PPE, many of them need testing, many of them need, you know, better ventilation in their schools — to ensure we have adequate funding needed to open the majority of schools within 100 days, which remains the President’s goal.
Q Yeah, today there was new data on the Sputnik V vaccine showing that it’s quite effective, and I’m wondering if the administration is concerned at all that Russia could use this vaccine to exert geopolitical power with nations in need, perhaps in Latin America?
MS. PSAKI: That is not a concern I’ve discussed with our national security team. Obviously, our focus is on our own FDA approval process here and ensuring that we make as much of the vaccine available to the American public.
And we just rejoined, as you know, the World Health Organization because we believe that the more people who are vaccinated around the world, the safer we all are.
But I’m happy to speak with them about it and see if that’s a concern they have.
Q One other question on the COVID travel ban that is in place. Is that a temporary thing while the CDC and the Biden administration figure out a safe way for international travel to occur? Or is that seen as more long term, especially given that variants are already here?
MS. PSAKI: Well, these were steps taken, as you know, by our team, in order to increase the safety of the American public. And certainly we don’t want them to be forever because we want to get the pandemic under control. But they will be in place as long as our health and medical experts believe they’re necessary or essential in order to keep the public safe.
So, the impact of variants, which is a very good question, is something, you know, they assess, and I would certainly encourage you to ask them that question on our next COVID call.
Q There have been calls for some kind of boycott of the — China’s 2022 Olympics. Given the administration’s recent support of the genocide designation there, does President Biden support those calls to perhaps find a new host country? And have they engaged with other allies on that topic?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ve seen some reports of that, and I don’t have any update for you or preview for you, or change of our approach to the Beijing Olympics. No.
Q President Biden has promised to make these visitor logs public, and bring that back — that tradition. Obviously, you guys are not having a lot of visitors due to the pandemic. To the extent that these calls are taking on virtually, is there any talk about a virtual visitor log or some kind of transparency on how those virtual meetings are being disclosed to the public?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our pledge is to be — venture to be, hope to be the most ethical — ethically stringent government in history. And we’ve put in place — he’s put in place a number of steps and policies to deliver on exactly that.
You’re right that there are not — are not currently many visitors. At some point, hopefully, there will be, and we will be returning to the release of those visitor logs. That was not the case during the prior administration. At this point, there’s not a discussion of making virtual meetings a part of what’s released.
Go ahead, Jeff.
Q Hey, Jen. I actually have more visitor logs questions.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay.
Q The first one is: Has anybody in the administration looked at the logs from the weeks before or leading up to the January 6th riot to see if anyone connected with the riot has been in the building?
MS. PSAKI: You are not the first person to ask this question. It’s a very interesting one, or newsworthy one, I guess I should say. I have not had a chance to talk to our team on whether we even have access to those logs. I mean, we obviously know what information is put in from visits — people who come to visit, and we have the ability to release that over the coming months. I’m not aware of an assessment of that, but I will also ask our team if we have access to them or if there’s a plan to look at them.
Q Well, when you get back to releasing — I know under Obama they came out on, like, a monthly basis — a few months after the date of effect.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q If it’s possible, would you release them for the prior administration? Because there were a lot of people coming in and out of here where the public would only learn through a random media report or if a camera got a picture.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not even sure if it’s technically possible. That feels like the first question, so let me talk to our technical gurus and see what I can find out.
Q And just one more technical thing, if you don’t mind. The first impeachment, there was a lot to deal with a foreign leader call by the President to Ukraine. Is that system still intact, where there’s notes and records of foreign leader calls? And is anybody on NSC, or anybody else, looking at those?
MS. PSAKI: From the prior administration?
Q Yes. Like, the past foreign leader calls by the predecessor and the President.
MS. PSAKI: I am not aware of an assessment of those, Jeff. I think our focus is on our foreign leader calls the President — the current President of the United States is making to global leaders in an effort to rebuild our place in the world and work on some diplomacy.
Q Hi. I just have another question on immigration. On the family reunification task force, can you talk — I know you said you’re at square one, but can you talk a little bit more about the work ahead in finding some of these kids? I think the current number might be higher. You can correct me. It’s 600 or some.
And I’m also wondering if you can talk a little bit about how officials are going to evaluate cases to determine whether the families will be reunited in their home countries or if they will be allowed to stay here.
MS. PSAKI: It’s a great question, Katie, and some of that is what Secretary Mayorkas — newly confirmed Secretary Mayorkas — and the task force will have to assess is. And it will be case by case. There are estimates of between six and seven hundred kids, but part of what we need to do in the early stages — or I should say, what the task force needs to do is determine what the accurate number is and where these kids are, and then determine, case by case, what the best process and approach is for reuniting them with their family members.
So this is — there’s a great deal of work ahead. There is a team that is very committed to that work. And part of what I’m sure will be in the report around 120 days is what progress they’ve made on that effort.
Go ahead. Anita.
Q Does the President think cutting off aid to Myanmar’s government goes far enough, or are you all looking at additional steps? And what might those be?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the State Department may have put a statement out, if I’m correct here, on the assessment made in the legal review that is calling the events in Burma a coup.
So — and as you also know, and we talked about a little bit here yesterday, but there was a releasing of some — there were some sanctions relief over the last several years because of steps that the government had taken toward democracy. There are — there has been a rollback of those. And obviously, looking at sanctions is a big tool that would certainly be assessed. And I think that would be the one I would focus on at this point in time.
Q And also, we haven’t heard the President — we haven’t seen a readout of the President talking to President Xi. And I was wondering if there’s something scheduled or when that might be. It’s been a couple weeks.
MS. PSAKI: Less than two weeks, actually. May seem longer to you.
You know, the — our approach to China and our approach to our relationship in China — with China, you know, is strategic, obviously. And we are working to ensure that we are approaching that relationship from a position of strength, and that includes engagement with our allies and partners.
A lot of those calls have happened over the last 10 weeks — 10 weeks — 10 days. Maybe that was a little Freudian there, the 10 weeks. Ten days. They will continue, and also engagements with Democrats and Republicans in Congress about the path forward. I don’t have any call to predict for you at this point in time.
Obviously, with Secretary of State Tony Blinken now confirmed, there are additional layers to engage with the Chinese, but we’ll let you know when a call is happening and certainly have a readout for all of you as well.
Q Jen, it sounds a lot like the strategy is not to talk to him at this time because you’re talking about speaking to allies and making other calls first. Is — have they requested a call?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more for you. I think — I don’t appreciate the, like, putting words in my mouth. That wasn’t what my effort was. What I was conveying is what our strategy is here from the United States, which is to work with our partners and allies and determine what the right time is.
Of course, the relationship with China is going to be multi-layered. We’ll deal with climate. We’ll deal with the economy. We’ll deal with security. And that is, of course, a priority to President Biden. He’s spoken about it during the transition. He’s spoken about it. Obviously, he’s had engagements with his national security team about a range of issues, including China. We’ve been here less than two weeks, and when we have a call to read out, I’ll make sure you know.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thanks, Jen. I want to ask you a few on the Rescue Plan talks. And I want to follow up on a question that Phil had asked you. You had acknowledged that the gap between the administration and Republicans is wide, but the talks last night was constructive.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q So after the discussion in the Oval Office last night, is the number from the White House still $1.9 trillion?
MS. PSAKI: It is.
Q On the issue of the minimum wage, you had said that the President believes that a nurse and a teacher, a couple who makes $120,000 should get a check. So that’s clearly a quote-unquote “red line.” I don’t know if you want to describe it as that, but something that the President wants.
MS. PSAKI: “Red line” is an old term. We’re not going to use it again. (Laughs.)
Q Okay. That’s fair.
But when you were asked about the minimum wage, you said you’re not going to negotiate from here and you want to work through that. So it seems as if the President might be open to dropping the minimum wage from the bill. Is that a fair assessment?
MS. PSAKI: I know there’s a lot of appetite for what is going to be negotiated in and out of the bill. I totally get it. This is a big topic of interest. But what I was just conveying as an example is that ensuring those checks are in the hands of Americans is a top priority for the President.
I wasn’t taking in and out things in the bill. That will be a negotiation that will happen through Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Obviously, the reconciliation process has just started. There are many opportunities for Republicans to offer amendments. There’s a whole negotiation that’s going to take place. And we’ll — the President will continue to be engaged with members of both parties through that process.
Q And on the issue of Senator Manchin and his statement today, talked about how he would like to see something targeted. He said, “Let me be clear — and those are the words I shared with President Biden — our focus must be targeted on the COVID-19 crisis and Americans who have been most impacted by the pandemic.” His quote. Does the White House believe that $1.9 trillion is a targeted package?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the size of the package was determined not for shock value, but to address the dual crises that we’re facing. And that includes ensuring that millions of Americans can put food on the table. One in seven Americans — American families don’t — are concerned about food security right now.
It ensures that we have funding, that we can reopen schools so that kids can go back to school, mothers and fathers can not worry about their kids, and insurance that — that people can apply for unemployment insurance.
These — the size of the package was determined, of course, in consultation with members on the Hill but also based on the recommendations of economists, on health experts, and that’s how we came up with that number.
Q And lastly, there’s going to be a jobs report on Friday. Depending on how that jobs report looks, might that change how the White House views what needs to be in the package, or not? Or you kind of believe that this is the best framework now, and that’s what you’re going with?
MS. PSAKI: I mean, if there is a jobs report that there were 10 million jobs created, that would be great news. I don’t suspect that will be what the outcome of the jobs numbers will be. So, no, it will not change.
As we saw from the CBO numbers, where there — which predict — projected, I should say, that there would be growth this year, that’s obviously positive. But we’re digging out of a massive hole, and the challenge right now is that it’s going to take years to return to the pace of job growth — of economic growth that the country needs to be at. So, no, I wouldn’t suspect it would change things.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you, Jen. A couple of follow-ups.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q First, to Tamara’s question, Governor Hogan said that there has been two new — two more cases of the South African variant in Montgomery County, and is in Maryland, and people were coming back from abroad. I mean, is it — is it not an opportunity to — are you worried? Is that an opportunity to eventually widen the travel restrictions?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what our team — our health and medical teams do — so the CDC and others who are actual doctors — is make assessments about what steps need to be taken, whether it’s masking that, as you know, is now required on planes, or travel restrictions from certain countries, in order to keep the American people safe.
And certainly the —
Q But it hasn’t worked in Maryland, obviously.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t know that it hasn’t worked because we also have prevented a number of people from coming into the country and tried to take steps to reduce the spread of COVID and also the spread of some of these variants. But they will assess steps that need to be taken based on variants. Obviously, that’s something that they review on a daily basis.
Q A follow-up to Anita’s question. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the President hasn’t spoken yet with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He’s an ally. Isn’t that surprising?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t know that it’s surprising less than two weeks into an administration. He hasn’t called every foreign leader yet. He certainly would love to spend more time talking to foreign leaders. That’s — well, you know, his first love is foreign policy, but I expect he’ll continue to have additional engagements in the weeks ahead. And obviously we have a long and abiding relationship with Israel — an important security relationship. I’m sure they’ll discuss that and a range of issues when they do connect.
Q Last question, Jen. Since Bill Clinton — President Clinton and President Obama made Canada the destination of their first trip, can we expect the same thing from the President?
MS. PSAKI: (Laughs.) That was a very creative way of asking the first foreign trip question. I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of which — where the President will travel on his first foreign trip.
I’m as eager as you all are. I’m as eager as you all are. I love foreign travel.
I will remind you that, you know, his first call was, of course, to the Prime Minister of Canada, so that is certainly affirmation of the importance of the relationship.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Yeah, thanks, Jen. One on immigration and then one on jobs, if that’s okay.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q So the President’s third executive order, as I’m reading it — “Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration System and Promoting Integration of New Americans” — should visa applicants in the K1, the student E2 visa programs, should they take this as a sign that they’ll be granted travel waivers to return the United States? I know you were asked about that last week.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, I was, and it is still under review. Obviously, as we talked about a little bit last week — or I don’t remember if you were here that day. But —
Q I wasn’t.
MS. PSAKI: But it was a question someone else asked. And married couples, as you know, are able to travel. There was a review of students and of couples who were not married; that review hasn’t concluded yet.
Q And then, on jobs, given that mayor, I guess now Secretary, Buttigieg has been confirmed, when can we expect to see a detailed infrastructure plan, given the potential for new job creation there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re — we’re going to officially invite Secretary Buttigieg to come to this briefing room and talk to you all about it, whenever he has that to discuss — or even before then.
He has been, obviously, working on getting confirmed, but I know he’s eager to get to work, and we’ll see when he has more specifics to lay out.
Q On the announcement today with respect to the vaccine, equity is a big part of that.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q And you’ve been rolling out that previously.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q To what extent is international equity factoring in? Right now, the orders you have add up — if they all come through, which is admittedly a big “if” — to quite a bit more than the U.S. would need. What would you do with all that? And are you concerned that you might be boxing out less wealthy countries from getting earlier access to the vaccine?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s certainly not our objective. The President’s objective is to have as many vaccines. As you said, there’s a lot of factors that could happen here that would — could prevent this from happening exactly as we’ve planned it. Freezers can break. Trucks can break. Snowstorms, as we’ve seen this week. We’re fully aware of that.
May our problem be that we have too many vaccines to put in the arms of the American people — that is not the current problem we’re tracking, so that’s what our first focus is going to be at this point in time.
Q So if that happens, will you distribute them to allies first on a needs basis?
MS. PSAKI: I certainly hope that’s our challenge and our problem, and I’m sure we will be happy to discuss that if that is our issue. But, as you know, we’ve also rejoined the World Health Organization. We want to have a seat at the table. It’s important that our global community is healthy, not just our community in the United States. But we’re going to focus first on ensuring the American people are vaccinated.
Q Just another vaccine question. You guys have — you mentioned you ramped up 16 percent distribution last week —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — another 5 percent. You also have the million doses going out to the pharmacies as well. Jeff was talking about how this is a ramp-up of Moderna and Pfizer.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q What kind of visibility are you getting into what’s coming? Like, did you know the 15 percent was — or 16 percent last week was coming? Did you know the five — like, how long in advance do you know? Did you —
MS. PSAKI: Did we know we could plan to announce the new —
Q So you can actually announce things and kick them into gear?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, well, we’re working on trying to be able to have that ability and that assessment. As governors I’m sure will tell you, or have told many of you, that’s also what they’re looking on. Right? Looking at. So we’re trying to get to a place where we know what’s coming, so governors and local officials know what’s coming to them and they can assess where to distribute it in their states.
You know, the process is at the early stages, but our goal is certainly to have an understanding of when we’ll be able to ramp up distribution to states.
Q So, like on something like today, how many days ago did you know, “Okay, on Tuesday we can announce that on February 11th we’ve got a million doses going out to pharmacies”? What’s the turnaround on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that particular announcement has a couple of components. Right? It’s, of course, engagement with states and governors, and engaging with them is pivotal, but also with pharmacies and ensuring that they’re able to do it. I mean, if you log on to CVS to do an appointment to get a flu shot, you want to know that the system is going to work.
So there are a lot of steps in the process. I’m not sure how many days in advance we knew that it was full to go. Not many. But, you know, it takes a great deal of coordination to make sure governors are — feel comfortable with the announcements being made, that we’re fully coordinating with them, that they can explain to their public that, of course, pharmacies are just a part of what we’re doing. Right? It’s not — you know, a million doses is a lot; it is not going to vaccinate the entire country. We’re going to ramp that up. So that leaves some onus on them to be able to communicate where other people — where people can also get their vaccine.
So that coordination is key as a part of it — several components in this one — but we don’t usually sit on these announcements, so I don’t think that long.
Q Jen, Senator Schumer just came out and said that he had a, quote, “really good” lunch with the President and Secretary Yellen. He also said that the President told Republicans last night that the $600 billion was way too small. Does that track with what he — with your understanding of what he actually said to them last night?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. I mean, the President has been clear that our risk is not having a package that’s too big, it’s having a package that’s too small. And there have been public proposals, of course, by these senators and by others to split the package, to do a smaller package.
And his view is that there are key components and funding that would be needed in order to ensure that millions of millions of people have checks, you know, in their hands, that we make — ensure people are getting those $1,400 checks, that we ensure that we are properly funding schools to reopen, that people can — that we’re getting — we have the funding needed to get shots in the arms of the American people.
So that is not a cheap endeavor and one that — but those key components are all a priority to the President.
Go ahead, Anita.
Q I just wanted to follow up on the meeting last night. In the readout, and all that we’ve heard, is about the relief bill. Did any other issue come up? It was quite a lengthy meeting, a couple hours. I wondered if the President brought up anything or if the senators brought up executive orders or other policy issues, or was it solely focused.
MS. PSAKI: It was focused on the American Rescue Plan, and they had a robust discussion about it. I don’t have any more of a readout for you than what we provided last night.
Q And how about the lunch? I know that — I think it was happening as we came out here.
MS. PSAKI: I know it’s happening right now, so I don’t actually know. But we will — we will put a readout of it afterwards.
Q And the goal was just to discuss the same — the bill —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — but nothing else?
MS. PSAKI: Exactly. That was the — and obviously people can raise what they want to raise. I’m sure Democratic senators will share with all of you what they raised. But the focus of it was to discuss the American Rescue Plan, the path forward, and the imperative of moving it ahead.
Go ahead in the back. Oh, go ahead. Oh, sorry, go ahead.
Q Okay. Is there any plan or date set for the President to address a joint session of Congress? And are you guys already working on his address? And is selling the American Rescue package part of that, and in what way?
MS. PSAKI: Not yet and not yet, to the first two questions. And it really depends on the timing. Of course, we have — there’s urgency, as you’ve heard the President say and all of us say, in moving this package forward.
I think as he also said in his primetime address when he rolled — and he announced the American Rescue Plan, he also has plans to announce a Build Back Better agenda. And our plans would be to do that once we are at a point where it’s — that can be the next priority.
So it really didn’t — we don’t have a date yet. It depends on when that date is and what the focus will be. And not working on it quite yet.
Q Yeah, so on the UAE aluminum tariff announcement, I know the President had insinuated that he wants to do a full review of former President Trump’s tariffs before acting on any of those. And he — you know, the President — the former President signed that out on December 31st. Should we take this announcement as an indication that that review is completed, or is this just a one-off instance, specifically pertaining to UAE?
MS. PSAKI: So, as you said — and for people who are not totally as familiar with this issue as you are; I know there’s a lot going on in the news — you know, shortly before the inauguration of President Biden, the United States lifted a 10 percent existing tariff under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act on aluminum imports for the UAE. His campaign promise included a commitment to carefully evaluating all steps taken by the previous administration on trade, as you also said, including the private deals and assurances that may have been made.
As part of his campaign commitment we are commit- — conducting an immediate review. So the review is underway of the previous administration’s trade policy to determine what steps need to be taken. So that includes, you know, decisions on tariffs.
And, you know, the previous administration’s decision to lift the existing tariff on the UAE, under Section 230, at the last hour was made clearly, in our view, on the basis of foreign policy issues unrelated to trade.
So it’s all a part of the ongoing review.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Great. Thanks, everyone. See you tomorrow.
END 2:36 P.M. EST