James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:39 P.M. EST

     MS. PSAKI:  Good afternoon.  As part of our administration’s efforts to increase transparency and introduce all of you to the policy experts who are leading the President’s initiatives, we’re joined today by Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice, who will be talking about the racial equity executive order that the President will be signing this afternoon.

She’s kindly offered to stick around and take some questions.  I will, as usual, play the role of bad cop when it’s time for her to go.

So, with that, I’ll turn it over to Susan.

AMBASSADOR RICE:  Good afternoon, everyone.  It’s good to be back.  Jen, thanks.  

The President has committed the whole of our government to advancing racial justice and equity for all Americans.  I’m leading this effort out of the Domestic Policy Council.  I have assembled a first-rate team to drive this agenda forward.  We will hold the federal government accountable for advancing equity for families across America.

I have the support of every White House office and every agency in this work, because as President Biden has made clear, advancing equity is everybody’s job.

Tackling these challenges, though, is personal for me.  I’m the descendant of immigrants from Jamaica and enslaved Americans.  My grandparents and my parents are beneficiaries of the American Dream — and so am I.  My family’s story is a remarkable one of the march towards greater equality and opportunity.

But for too many American families, systemic racism and inequality in our economy, laws, and institutions still put the American Dream far out of reach.

Today, the average black family has just one tenth the wealth of the average white family, while the gap between the white and black — between white and black in homeownership is now larger than it was in 1960.

These longstanding inequities are compounded by the converging crises we face as a nation.  Americans of color are being infected by and dying from COVID-19 at higher rates.

One in ten black Americans and one in eleven Latino workers are currently unemployed.  By some estimates, 40 percent of black-owned businesses have been forced to close for good during the COVID crisis.

Black and Latino families with children are twice as likely to be experiencing food insecurity during the pandemic as white families.  And black and Latino Americans are 2.8 times more likely to die of COVID-19.

And for Native communities across the country, the overlapping economic and health crises have devastated tribal economies and healthcare systems.

These are desperate times for so many Americans, and all Americans need urgent federal action to meet this moment.

Today, President Biden will deliver a national address on his plans to advance racial justice and equity, starting with an equitable and inclusive recovery.  President Biden will renew the federal government’s commitment to making the American Dream real for families across the nation by taking ambitious steps to redress inequality in our economy and expand opportunity for communities that have been left behind, including communities of color.

His economic plans make historic investments in underserved communities and put equity at the heart of our recovery.  His ambitious agenda builds on a legacy of Americans forging opportunity out of crisis.

These aren’t feel-good policies.  The evidence is clear: Investing in equity is good for economic growth, and it creates jobs for all Americans.  Economists have estimated that the U.S. economy has lost a staggering $16 trillion over the last 20 years because of discrimination against families of color.  If we closed racial gaps in income and opportunity, these same economists have estimated we could add $5 trillion to the U.S. economy over the next five years and add over 6 million new jobs for all Americans.

So building a more equitable economy is essential if Americans are going to compete and thrive in the 21st century.

We have hit the ground running to embed equity throughout the administration.  On day one, the President signed an executive order directing an unprecedented whole-of-government initiative to embed racial equity across federal policies, programs, and institutions.  That starts with a review of policies and institutions to redress systemic racism where it exists and to advance equity where we aren’t doing enough.

Every agency will place equity at the core of their public engagement, their policy design, and program delivery to ensure that government resources are reaching Americans of color and all marginalized communities — rural, urban, disabled, LGBTQ+, religious minorities, and so many others.

The President has put equity at the center of his response to the COVID-19 and economic crises.  His executive orders signed last week deliver rent relief, student debt reprieve, and emergency food assistance to families across the country, helping all Americans, including black and brown families who we know are being hit hardest by this crisis.

And he took steps to make our broken immigration system more humane and secure.  He restored the integrity of the census so that our constitutionally mandated accounting of every person in the United States is fair and inclusive.

And even before taking office, President Biden released his American Rescue Plan that will make historic investments in advancing equity.  Independent economists estimate that his plan will cut child poverty in half — cut child poverty in half for all Americans — and reduce overall poverty in America by 30 percent.

Black families this year will face a poverty rate of 20 percent if Congress does not act on the American Rescue Plan.  But if enacted, the poverty rate would fall by over one third, and it’d fall by 40 percent for Latino families and by one fifth for American — for Asian American and Pacific Islander families.

The American Rescue Plan also provides critical relief to Native American communities and tribes.  These investments will lift over 8 million black, Latino, and Asian Americans out of poverty and provide relief across sectors where families of color are most disproportionately impacted by this crisis: in food and financial security, healthcare access, and education and childcare. 

Today, President Biden is continuing his commitment to embedding equity at the center of his agenda by signing an additional package of executive actions.  The President will sign a memorandum directing the Department of Housing and Urban Development to mitigate racial bias in housing and affirmatively advance our nation’s fair housing laws.  

He will also sign an executive order directing the Department of Justice not to renew any contracts with private prisons.  Private prisons profiteer off of federal prisoners and are proven to be — or found to be by the Department of Justice Inspector General to be less safe for correctional officers and for prisoners.  President Biden is committed to reducing mass incarceration while making our communities safer.  That starts with ending the federal government’s reliance on private prisons.

The President will also sign an executive order reinvigorating the commitment of all federal agencies to engage in regular, robust, and meaningful consultation with tribal governments. 

And the President will sign a memorandum directing all federal agencies to take steps to combat xenophobia and acts of violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have been targeted by political leaders in our nation’s response to COVID-19.

Again, these are a continuation of our initial steps to advance racial justice and equity through early executive action.

Beyond this, the President is committed to working with Congress to advance equity in our economy, our criminal justice systems, our healthcare systems, and in our schools. 

As I’ve said many times in my personal capacity, and I say again, I believe we all rise or fall together.  Advancing equity is a critical part of healing and of restoring unity in our nation.  The President will have more to say about all of this later this afternoon.

And I’m happy to take a few of your questions.

MS. PSAKI:  Peter.

Q    Ambassador Rice, thank you.  You speak about communities of color, right now, that are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.  Of course, they’re also less inclined to have faith in the federal government response to the vaccination process.  So what specifically — and I’ll follow up with others — but what specifically is being done right now for communities of color to convince them it’s okay to get this vaccine?

AMBASSADOR RICE:  Well, Peter, I will leave much of this to my colleague, Jeff Zients, who’s leading our COVID response.  But I think two important points: One, we have established within our COVID task force an effort on equity — and that includes, obviously, racial equity — that will focus on health disparities but also on the reality that there are Americans who — and particularly Americans of color — who, for very valid historical reasons, are skeptical and reluctant. 

And a large part of what our colleagues on the COVID task force are doing — this is the second part — is reaching out directly, through targeted campaigns, to get to those very communities where the skepticism is highest. 

And that’s vitally important because as we — as communities of color are suffering disproportionately and may have less access to information about the vaccine and the ability to easily go online, in some instances, and get an appointment, we have to take those additional steps to ensure that they are aware of its availability, they can get appointments, and that they understand that the vaccine is safe.

Q    Let me ask you — I have a couple things: One is news of the day, but another one — there’s a lot of day-one promises right now.

AMBASSADOR RICE:  Jen — Jen does news of the day.

Q    Okay, fine.  Let me ask you, on — 

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah, we’ll do a whole thing after this. 

Q    — on February 20th of last year, President Biden said, “My first day of office, I’m going to send a bill to the Congress repealing the liability protection for gun manufacturers, closing the background check loopholes and waiting period.”  So what happened to that day-one promise? 

AMBASSADOR RICE:  Well, I think you’ve seen that we have rolled out an unprecedented number of early executive actions.   And as you’ve heard Jen say and many of my colleagues say: This is just the beginning.  We have 1,454 more days left in President Biden’s first term, and so give us a little something to do over the next few days.

MS. PSAKI:  Cecilia. 

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Thank you, Ambassador.  A housekeeping question if I may, and then a follow-up.  Can you speak specifically to what this does, as it relates to immigration and immigrants?  Does this cover particularly the prisons and private prisons housing immigrants — undocumented immigrants, tens of thousands of whom are facing deportation in privately run prisons right now?

AMBASSADOR RICE:  This order today applies to the Department of Justice-run prisons.  It is not, in this instance, applicable to those run by other agencies.

Q    So not ICE, not anything like that.  Okay. 

And then — and then, going back to January 6th and what we saw just a few weeks ago at the Capitol, when we saw people roaming that building, carrying Confederate flags, wearing anti-Semitic shirts — we saw lawmakers in that group; we saw firefighters in that group; we saw military veterans in that group — what are you doing to address this issue of white nationalism?  And how concerned are you about the threat from some of these groups leading into this impeachment trial in two weeks?

AMBASSADOR RICE:  Well, I think we have seen — and it’s been plain for all Americans on their television sets — just how serious a problem we face from nationalists and white supremacists who have demonstrated a willingness to resort to violence in some instances. 

And that is why the President has ordered the intelligence community to compile a comprehensive assessment of the nature of this threat and challenge, and its origins and roots, and thus provide policymakers with inputs that will be very important to address this challenge. 

The National Security Council has set up a capacity within the NSC to focus on domestic violent extremism and to ensure that we are, within the White House and within the interagency, coordinating efforts to craft and implement policies that will address this.  So we’re taking it quite seriously.

Q    And why doesn’t this address the ICE private detentions? 

AMBASSADOR RICE:  It addresses the Department of Justice prisons in the first instance.  It’s not — it’s silent on what may or may not transpire with ICE facilities.  There was a Department of Justice Inspector General report in 2016 that underscored that private prisons funded by DOJ were less safe, less secure, and arguably less humane. 

This was — the Obama-Biden administration took steps to end renewing of contracts for private prisons, the Trump administration reversed that, and we’re reestablishing it.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.  And I know we met this morning, but tell us your name again. 

Q    Mario Parker, Bloomberg News.

MS. PSAKI:  Thank you.

Q    Thank you, Ambassador Rice.  Two questions.  The first: What will the administration do to address the relationship between communities of color and police, particularly as part of the mass incarceration component?

And then the second question: Republican legislators have signaled that they’re going to look to roll back some of the voting procedures from the last election.  We know that that’s centered in some of those swing states in largely black and brown communities.  What’s the administration going to do about that as well?

AMBASSADOR RICE:  Well, with respect to prisons, policing, the entire basket of very important criminal justice reform issues: This is something that we are committed to addressing and we will have more to say on criminal justice in the coming weeks, including on matters related to policing.  So please stay tuned for that.

With respect to efforts to roll back the access to the ballot: This is something that I expect that the President will address in his remarks today.  It’s a matter of real concern because we ought to be in the business of encouraging and enabling all Americans who are eligible to vote to be able to vote. 

And that’s why, you know, we will continue to work with Congress on its various efforts to advance democratic reforms.  There’s legislation on the Hill that would move us in that direction, including restoring and revitalizing the Voting Rights Act.

MS. PSAKI:  Jonathan, you’ll have to be the last one.  But Susan will come back, I’m sure. 

AMBASSADOR RICE:  You’re going to let me come back?

MS. PSAKI:  We’ll welcome you back.  Go ahead. 

Q    Thank you, Jen.  Thank you, Ambassador.  These measures here are executive actions, which of course could be overturned and reversed by a future President.  Can you talk about what steps could be taken to codify these, to make them permanent, whether it’s private prisons or other measures, so they could not be undone by a future President?

AMBASSADOR RICE:  Okay, well, Jonathan, as you know, to codify something and make it lasting in law requires that Congress — both houses of Congress pass it and that the President sign it.  And for this, as well as many other things, there will be areas where legislative actions are the best and most durable approach.  There’ll be some instances where, in advance of legislation or efforts to achieve legislation, it’s wise to take executive action. 

So I don’t think we should assume that by doing something by executive action, where it may also be appropriate to seek legislation, that we wouldn’t do it.  We have a very full legislative agenda.  The President’s first priority is enacting the American Rescue Plan, as well as getting our nominees confirmed.  And we’ll be focused in the next few weeks on that. 

MS. PSAKI:  Thank you, Ambassador Rice.

AMBASSADOR RICE:  Thank you, Jen.  Thank you, everybody.

Q    Thank you, Ambassador Rice.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  Just a couple more things at the top, and then I’d be happy to take your questions.

The President and his team have been working around the clock over the past six days to make meaningful progress on vaccinating as many people as possible.  As we’ve talked about in this room before, increasing the vaccine supply and building increased cooperation between the federal government and state and local leaders on the ground is key to getting that done.

The President will speak later today on those efforts and provide an update on his team’s work to bolster the vaccine supply available so that we can, in turn, get more shots into Americans’ arms as quickly as possible. 

And I’ll also add, as many of you have reported, there are some calls this afternoon with governors to brief them on these plans and give them an update on how we will continue to work together even more efficiently.

A couple other things.  Earlier today, the first female Vice President swore in the first female Secretary of the Treasury — what’s that for history? — Dr. Janet Yellen.  Today, of course, is pretty historic day. 

And this afternoon, the Vice President will make her first visit to a federal agency, the National Institutes of Health, where she will — she and the secol- — Second Gentleman, excuse me, will receive their second dose of the Moderna vaccine.  The Vice President will thank Director Collins, Dr. Fauci, and the staff of the NIH for their work to develop the vaccine and efforts to keep Americans safe. 

She will also make the case that Congress needs to immediately pass the American Rescue Plan, which includes $20 billion to invest in local community vaccine distribution centers in the hardest-hit areas.  Her remarks on the vaccination at NIH will be livestreamed on the White House YouTube channel, so you can all turn in — tune in for all of that. 

Okay, Jonathan, kick us off.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  First, on the response to the pandemic — two matters there.  First, could you give us or provide a little more detail as to how much more of the vaccine is going to be distributed and how quickly to these states?  We’ve heard governors sound the alarm that they are desperately low on what they need.  And then, can you talk about — has CDC considered, with White House support, a measure for testing for all passengers on U.S. domestic flights?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Jonathan, on — the first part of our effort is certainly to ensure we are more effectively and efficiently working with governors and local officials who have expressed some frustration in recent weeks about the lack of information and the lack of a federal plan. 

We’ve only been here six days, but we want to take steps as quickly as possible to address that.  And part of that will be what the President updates us all on this afternoon.  And I would be a very short-lived press secretary if I got ahead of the President.  And we’re having so much fun in here, so you don’t want that to happen. 

On the second question on testing: We’re constantly evaluating — of course, our medical and health experts — steps that need to be taken to keep the American people safe.  We announced some travel restrictions, as you know, yesterday.  I don’t have any additional restrictions to preview or announce for all of you. 

I will remind you that tomorrow is the first day of our briefings that will be happening approximately three times a week — that you can all tune in and learn more from our health experts on our plans.

Q    And on another matter — on impeachment: The President yesterday, in an interview, said that he did not believe that former President Trump would be convicted and therefore removed from office, but said he felt like it had to go — the trial had to go on anyway.  Could you please explain what he meant by that?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Well, let’s put this in context of last night.  So last night, the House impeachment managers delivered the articles of impeachment to the Senate with a dramatic walk over, as we — you all carried on television.  And, you know, the President was referencing a fact that he referenced in his statement of just a couple of weeks ago, when the House passed the impeach- — the articles of impeachment themselves, which is that now it, of course, will move on to the Senate.

As he also said at the time, he hopes — and I’ll quote him here — “the Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of the nation.”  He still continues to feel that way. 

So, last night, they delivered the articles.  The next step, as you all have reported and people watching at home know, is for the Senate to proceed with their trial.  He’s going to allow them to move forward at the pace and manner that the leaders in the Senate determine.  And I can promise you that we will leave the vote counting to leaders in the Senate from now on.

Q    Last follow-up, and then I’ll hand it off.  On this, though, why is the President so reluctant to express his personal opinion as to what happens here?  We understand he’s not in the Senate anymore —

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

Q    — but he is the leader of the Democratic Party.  Why won’t he say what he believes should happen?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President believes that the Senate has the constitutional duty to proceed as they see fit on holding the former President accountable.  He spent 36 years in the Senate; he’s no longer there.  As the President of the United States, he feels his role is to deliver on what he promised for the American people.  So that’s what he’s trying to do every day.

Go ahead, Peter.

Q    Just a little housekeeping as it relates to what’s going on in the Senate right now.  When is the last time that President Biden spoke to Leader McConnell?

MS. PSAKI:  He has spoken with Leader McConnell.  As he said, he’s spoken with him a couple of times.  But I’m not going to —

Q    Since — since inauguration?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to read out specific calls to all of you on the pace or number of their phone calls.

Q    I guess the question is: This is someone who has always said — the President — that his strong suit is the ability to work with both sides of the aisle, and he criticized the previous administration for not bringing lawmakers here on COVID relief to sit down in the Oval Office.  So why not say to Democrats and Republicans, “Come to the White House right now.  Let’s hash this out, and let’s get it done”?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I know that would make for excellent television and quite a dramatic moment here at the White House.  But he is in close touch, as our team is — members of our senior team — as you know, Brian Deese, a number of senior officials here at the White House — speaking with different caucuses in Congress — Republicans, Democrats, people from different wings of different parties — about our plans and our commitment to getting the COVID package passed.  But our view is that a lot of those conversations should happen one-on-one, should happen in small groups, and that’s the most productive way to move this bill forward.

Q    Let me ask you, if I can: There seemed to be a little bit of disagreement in terms of the way both Dr. Fauci and President Biden viewed herd immunity and when we get out of this pandemic right now.  We heard the President yesterday say, “I feel confident that by summer we’re going to be well on our way towards herd immunity.”  Dr. Fauci said that he thought this would likely occur — where we were closer to being back to normal — by this fall.  Just so it’s clear for Americans what the administration is promising or telling them, when should we expect that takes place?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President is certainly pushing his team every day to deliver results as quickly as possible.  So as part of his comments yesterday, he also talked about his desire to ensure there’s greater availability in the spring, and certainly his hope that every American will — that more Americans will have access as quickly as possible.

But he has also said many times it will take months and months for a broad swath of the population to be vaccinated.  And, as always, he’s guided, as we all are, by scientists and medical experts and certainly Dr. Fauci’s guidelines of when we can expect for a broad swath of the population to be vaccinated.

Q    And for specificity on the vaccine stockpile, yesterday you didn’t have a specific number; CDC director Rochelle Walensky didn’t as well.  What is the stockpile right now?  Where do we stand at this moment?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President is going to have more of an update later this afternoon, as I — as I previewed earlier. 

Q    Do you know the answer, I guess?  Do we now — do we have our hands around that, though?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, certainly.  There is — we monitor updates on a daily basis through Tiberius and multiple systems that have available information on vaccine numbers that are distributed to states — what states have received, what they have distributed.  And we have been connecting all the dots to ensure we have our best understanding of where the holdups are.

And we, of course, have that assessment, but we’re continuing to dig in every day on where the — what the issues are: Why aren’t — why isn’t the vaccine getting out to states?  What is the holdup with vaccinators?  Why aren’t there more vaccine sites that are getting the supply they need?

But later this afternoon, he’ll have more of an update on our additional vaccine supply that we’ll make available to states.

Go ahead, Peter.  It’s a “Peter row” over here. 

Q    “Pete and Pete.”  Or Pete and “re-Pete,” I guess.

MS. PSAKI:  So, the jokes could go on.  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  Yeah, let’s do that. 

So there are some reports that FEMA is now planning to reroute up to $10 billion in money that could be used to combat COVID-19 right now to preemptively combat climate change by building sea walls and elevating flood-prone homes.  And I’m curious if there has been any thought given to waiting until COVID is behind us to do that. 

Q    Peter, I had not actually seen that report before we came out here.  As you know, and I’ll just repeat, the President’s first priority is getting the pandemic under control and doing everything needed, putting all of the necessary resources behind that.  But I’m happy to circle back with our team on that specific report. 

Q    And another question.  The President says that he hopes that the Senate leadership can continue — can do a Senate impeachment trial while working on the people’s business.  What if they can’t?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, as President, you always have to be hopeful, of course.  That’s your role as a leader: to push and push leaders, push Democrats and Republicans to make more progress.

But, you know, I think what the President will continue to do privately in his conversations with members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans — and publicly is make the case for the cost of inaction.  And I think he doesn’t feel that there — the Democrats and Republicans in Congress have the space and the time to wait; that there’s an urgency that the American people are going to continue to push members who are representing them on.  And so I don’t think he feels there’s an alternative, other than to — them to move forward with urgency. 

Q    And then just one more.  The riots in Portland and the violence in Portland recently — there was some discussion earlier about the January 6th rioters being reviewed by the DNI as domestic violent extremists.  Are the rioters in Portland also being viewed through the same lens, or is that something different, as the White House sees it?

MS. PSAKI:  I think we — you and I talked about this yesterday and conveyed that all violence happening around the country will be reviewed as a part of the tasking that was done by that national security team.  But I don’t have anything to preview on it.

Cecilia, go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  On COVID relief, we’ve heard Republicans come out in opposition in broad brushstrokes at this point.  But in terms of the conversations that Brian Deese is having, or the President for that matter, or anyone on your team, has any Republican come forward to give you an alternative?  What is happening with these negotiations?  What are they telling you that they want?  To go?  To stay?  What’s the non- — without you negotiating from here, but what alternatives are they giving you?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Cecilia, you have the benefit of having covered Congress for quite some time, and you know none of them are quiet about what they like and don’t like, and they often say it publicly. 

So, the President and members of our team are hearing many of the same, you know, expressions of support and sometimes expressions of questions about whether packages need — the package needs to be the same size, whether it’s targeted, whether it should be targeted in this way.  Those are the same questions that they are hearing privately. 

And — but what they all — what the President is also hearing privately and what members of our team are also hearing privately is that they expect him to be focused on this package, and they will be as well, and they hear and understand the urgency. 

And as you know from covering this quite — for quite some time yourself, oftentimes things come together right before there’s a vote, right?  The President kind of alluded to this yesterday, but we feel democracy is working how it should: He laid out his big package, his big vision of what it should look like, and people are giving their feedback, and he’s happy to have those discussions and fully expects it’s not going to look exactly the same on the other end.

Q    And on the stockpile assessment, I want to flip the answer that you’ve been giving, saying that “it’s five days or six days; give us some time to catch up with this.”  I understand that. 

On the inverse, it’s been six days.  Why don’t we know exactly what is in this stockpile?  How — what have been the hurdles, the biggest hurdles in getting that answer?

Slaoui — you probably heard this — yesterday defended the program, Operation Warp Speed, saying that this is — the results were “exceptional.”  So why has it taken so long — 

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not —

Q    — six days in?

MS. PSAKI:  (Laughs.)  Six days in.  Well, six days in, the President is also giving an update on steps we’re going to take to provide more vaccine supply to states across the country in response to their concern there has not been a federal plan in place and that they haven’t received the coordination, cooperation, and information they desired.  So, in my view, that’s a pretty rapid response to states’ concerns. 

We do have an assessment — as I referenced, Tiberius, which is quite a name for this website, I will say.  It sounds like a magical creature a little bit, to me.  But it provides vaccine information — publicly available information on vaccine supply that’s gone to states and what’s been used.  It doesn’t mean it’s perfect.  Oftentimes it isn’t. 

But our concerns and our focus is not just on the supply; that’s part of the issue.  It is also about ensuring that states have the number of vaccinators they need, so that means people who are literally taking the shots and qualified to put them in the arms of Americans.  And some states and some communities don’t have people who are able to do that and vaccine centers and places where people can go and receive the vaccine.

So there’s multiple steps in this process, and our focus is on ensuring not just the supply is at the rate it needs to be and that states have more advance notice — this is one of the things governors will tell you and have told us, that it is very difficult for them when they find out a day before or a couple days before that they’re going to run out of supply or when a next supply shipment is coming.  They want more time.  That’s something we’re also working on. 

So those are all pieces that are a part of this herculean operational task that our team has undertaken. 

Go ahead, Mario.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Senator Schumer, last night, said that he wants President Biden to consider declaring climate change a national emergency, to give him power similar to what his predecessor, President Trump, did with the wall.  Is that something that the President is considering?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President has long said it is one of the four crises that he believes are central to the presidency and central to his time as the Commander-in-Chief and the President of the United States: addressing the threat of climate. 

     So he has not only taken actions — executive orders — taken actions that fall under the purview of the President, but also he has pushed to find ways to work with Congress on taking additional steps moving forward too. 

There will be more we have to share on our efforts on climate in the days ahead, but I don’t think Leader Schumer has any doubt about the President’s commitment to this, and certainly the fact that he has called it a crisis.  It is — he said it is central to the issues he wants to take on, and his presidency speaks to his commitment to the issue.

Go ahead.

Q    So two more questions to bring it back just to COVID response for a second.  So, first, one of the questions that’s come up is, how much money is needed, exactly, to respond to the emergency that we’re in?  Is it $1.9 trillion?  Is it some other figure? 

Do you have an assessment just of how much money is left from Congress’s last allocation towards these issues?  How much is left to spend? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, as Brian Deese — the NSC Director Brian Deese said last week, the problem with focusing on the $900 billion package as the answer to our current problem now is that it was catching up for what had not been done for the prior six months.  So what we’re really focused on now is what is needed for immediately, now, of course, but also in the months ahead. 

And as I was alluding to a little bit earlier, the way the President thinks about this is what the cost of inaction is.  So, if you look ahead, it’s critical — and I talked about this a little bit yesterday — that we don’t get anywhere near the March cliff, which would mean the end of eviction and foreclosure moratoriums; the end of $300 additional UI assistance; the end of PPP loan applications for small businesses.  And, as you all know from covering what’s happening in the country, you know, people need security, and what we’re trying to do now is provide that.

So this package was designed not with a number in mind — we weren’t trying to get a shock-value sticker value.  The President relied on the advice of economists, of health experts, and others who recommended: This is the size and the components that are needed now, not just to distribute the vaccine, but to provide certainty and a bridge to the American people to get to the other side. 

So —

Q    But do you have a number right now for how much is — for vaccine distribution alone, how much you have to spend as compared to what you’ve asked for?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m happy to check with our team on that, but I will say that what we’re looking ahead to is where are we in a couple of weeks and where are we in two months?  And no one wants to be having a conversation in May about why our schools aren’t open and why millions of people have been kicked off of unemployment insurance.  So, part of our role here is to look ahead, and that’s what — exactly what we’re trying to do with this package.

Q    Okay.  And to one other issue: The — President Trump signed an executive order restricting exports of vaccines that are manufactured within the United States.  That order is still in effect.  First of all, what is your assessment of exactly whether drug manufacturers are able to send these vaccines overseas?  Can they do that under current law?  And, two, will you take any action to reverse that executive order? 

MS. PSAKI:  That’s a great question, and we’ve talked about, obviously, joining — rejoining the World Health Organization.  And ensuring we are a partner to the global community on this effort only makes us safer and the American people safer.  But I’d have to check on a specific export question for you.

Go ahead.

Q    Jen, the National COVID strategy of the administration, released just a couple of day ago, says that, quote, “The United States will accelerate the pace of vaccinations by encouraging states and localities to move through priority groups more quickly.”  What is “more quickly”?  How should governors interpret that?  And, you know, will you provide more detailed guidance to state and public health officials on how they should be going through these priority groups?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the answer is yes.  And part of our effort — as I mentioned, there was a call with governors this afternoon to provide an update on vaccine supply and steps we’re taking, from the federal government, to ensure they have not just the information they need but also the access to supply they need. 

And in terms of the pace, the guidelines will, of course, be publicized by the CDC.  They have their first briefing tomorrow.  We’ll see if they have an update on that.  But really, what they’re trying to — what we’re all trying to endeavor to do is ensure that we have not just more supply, but more vaccinators — as I noted, more people in communities who can vaccinate — more centers and locations that can provide these vaccinations. 

So all of those components will lead to expediting.  We’re not asking states to do this on their own.  In fact, we’re asking — we are trying to reset and be partners here in a more effective way than we’ve seen over the last 10 months.

Q    And health officials seem to be recommending now double masking.  Is that something that the White House would like to see? 

MS. PSAKI:  I’ve seen some of those reports.  I haven’t seen that come officially from the CDC.  But again, I’d encourage you to ask them that question tomorrow, and I’d refer to them for any new guidance on that front.

Go ahead.

Q    Hi.  Regarding the Defense Production Act, what is the timeline for ramping up production of supplies, specifically the specialized syringes?  And has the administration been in talks with any specific companies or manufacturers?

MS. PSAKI:  It’s already been invoked and underway, so those discussions and efforts to ramp up production are already underway.  They started as of 24 — less than 24 hours after the President signed that executive order and made that announcement last week.  I don’t have any specific companies, I don’t think, to kind of preview or read out for you, but I’m sure we can follow up and see if there’s more specifics to provide on the specific companies.

Q    And is the Department of Defense considering plans to deploy military — National Guard to help with the vaccinations, be those vaccinators in communities that are underserved?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, certainly, the government — across the government, everyone is going to play a role in COVID, and addressing COVID and getting the pandemic under control.  But in terms of their specific plans, I would send you to the Department of Defense.

Q    Can I ask one more on behalf of the radio pool?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure. 

Q    The administration — this is for a reporter who can’t be in the room: What are the administration’s plans for Guantanamo and restarting military trials for detainees?  One case announced last week.

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have anything new on that.  I’m happy to follow up on that for you as well. 

Go ahead.

Q    I just wanted to circle back to Peter’s question.  So Dr. Fauci, on Fox today, went back to quoting that “100 million doses in 100 days” number.  So did the President misspeak when he said the new goal was 150 million shots in a hundred days, yesterday?  Or was he operating under some new update that he got?

MS. PSAKI:  The President didn’t actually say, “The new goal is…”  The President said, “I hope we can do even more than that.”  And that is certainly, of course, his hope.  He is continuing to push our team to get as many Americans vaccinated as quickly as possible.  That’s why we set the bold goal of 100 million shots in the arms of Americans in a hundred days, to begin with. 

I would just remind everyone this has literally never been done before.  And what he has asked the team to do, and what the team is focused on doing, is also planning for contingencies.  I mean, we’re at war with the virus.  So, in a wartime theme here, there are a lot of things you plan for, including trucks breaking down; freezers breaking; you know, needing to plan for that; you know, not having vaccinators in a location to be able to put the syringes in people’s arms.

Q    So the 100 million number, though, would be a more accurate number to be citing?

MS. PSAKI:  That’s the number we set, based on the recommendations of health and medical experts; it continues to be our goal.  But does he want to do — beat that goal?  Of course, he does.  Of course, he does. 

But, again, it is a goal that was set with contingencies we need to plan for in mind, and he’s going to continue to push the team to meet that goal and go beyond it.

Q    And I had one other question —

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead. 

Q    — that I wanted to ask the Ambassador, but I didn’t get a chance to, which is: In terms of the racial equity goals, does the White House support overturning the Small Business Administration language that prohibits people with records from accessing PPP relief?  It’s something that on the Hill has the support of Portman and Cardin.

MS. PSAKI:  I know I had talked a little bit with our econ — economic team about this issue earlier, but I’ll have to circle back with you on it.  It’s a good question.  We’ll bring Ambassador Rice back, but we’ll circle back with you on this today. 

Yamiche, go ahead in the back. 

Q    Hi, I have a couple of questions.  The first is: David Kessler said that most Americans would not be vaccinated until the third or fourth quarter of this year.  He said that last week.  President Biden spoke and said that he — we could possibly have herd immunity as early as this summer.  That’s the difference of a couple months.  I’m wondering if you could reconcile the difference there and talk a little bit more about when herd immunity and most Americans will be able to vaccinated. 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, it’s sort of similar to what Peter asked a little bit earlier.  But, you know, what the President — but the President is, of course, pushing his team to deliver results.  And his goal is to ensure there is a greater availability in the spring and that it continues to improve in the summer.

Everybody won’t be — won’t be eligible this spring, as you all know, even with — even as CDC — the CDC continues to provide updated guidance.  But he would certainly defer to medical health and medical experts, and obviously the guidance of Dr. Fauci, on when we may be at the pace of reaching herd immunity.  But, you know, we will continue to update, as more progress is made, what the goals look like.

Q    And following up on that, in terms of data collection, it’s my understanding that something like 50 percent of the vaccinations are coming in without racial data.  Is that accurate, or is there something else there?  I’m wondering how you’ll measure success in vaccinating people of color in vulnerable communities if you don’t have the data on who’s getting vaccinated. 

And will we see — be seeing, kind of, mobile outlooks, mobile, kind of — mobile — just mobile outreach to those communities, in terms of vaccines?  When might we see that?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, absolutely.  That will be part of it.  But also part of it will be working with pharmacies and working with health centers in communities so that communities across the country — rural communities, communities of color — have easier access to know where they can go and get a vaccine. 

But this is going to be hard, and we are not trying to sugarcoat that.  And it will be very challenging.  This is why everybody who comes and speaks about COVID talks about our — the challenge of vaccine hesitancy and how we’re going to overcome that.  And it won’t just be just about having centers; it will also be about overcoming a lot of these contingencies I’ve mentioned that we have to plan for — about more effectively communicating with people, about the safety of the vaccine, and really being thoughtful about who we’re using to communicate. 

So it is — it is going to take a multi-faceted approach, and we are open-eyed about the challenge.

Q    On the data part of that question: Is it accurate that there’s very little racial data, or at least less than 50 percent of racial data coming in on vaccinations?

MS. PSAKI:  I would — I would defer — I would refer you to the CDC.  And I know they’ll have their first briefing tomorrow, and that sounds like a great question to ask them.

Q    And I know Ambassador Susan Rice, she didn’t take all the questions, so maybe I’ll ask you the same —

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    — the question that I was going to ask her, which is: We’ve seen that, after January 6th, there is obviously this issue of white supremacy and racism coursing through our country.  What’s the biggest challenge when you think of equity in this country?  And how do you measure success for something like that, especially when we think of all of the different ways that our country is dealing with it? 

I know this — these EOs are about housing and about criminal justice, but can you talk a little bit about how you’re going to measure success and what the federal government’s role is on something so big as inequality and racism?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think what Ambassador Rice was conveying to all of you, and obviously what the President will sign later this afternoon, is an executive order that makes racial equity and addressing racial equity a priority across the government.  And what the Pres- — how the President talks about this is that far too often, when you think of racial — issues that are in the racial equity bucket, shall we say, are only related to a couple of categories, and that’s just not accurate.

We need to address racial equity in terms of health disparity.  We need to address it in terms of access to lending and to loans.  We need to address it in terms of biases and discrimination as it relates to housing.

And so what this executive order will do — it will make it a priority and infuse expertise and personnel to ensure we are addressing issues that impact communities of color across the country every day, and not just every few months when it’s an issue that comes up and prompts questioning.

Go ahead, in the back.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  And thank you for making sure that everybody gets the opportunity to ask questions.  I really appreciate that.  I’ve got one on housekeeping, real quick, and then I’ve got a domestic and a foreign policy question. 

So you got some beautiful screens behind you.  Your predecessors have rejected multiple requests to bring back the Skype seat to the daily briefings for the benefit of reporters who are trying to stay safe during the pandemic while working remotely.  Would you consider bringing back the Skype seat?

MS. PSAKI:  We would.  I will say — people don’t usually realize this, but there’s normally about 60 people in this room; I think that’s the right number.  That’s certainly something we would be happy to have in this room, and I think all of you would too because you’re asking questions on behalf of your colleagues. 

But we also — we rely on the advice of our health and medical experts on what’s safe — not just for us, but for all of you.  And having everybody sit seat-by-seat wouldn’t be safe.  I know that’s not what you’re asking, but we’d certainly be open to taking questions via Skype. 

I took some questions on Twitter the other day.  We’re going to try to take some questions from the American people that they ask on YouTube.  And so we’ll continue to look for ways to not just bring back the daily briefing, but to take questions from more reporters and people.

Q    Okay.  During the campaign — this is the foreign policy question.  During the campaign, Mr. Biden had said that he would give benefits to the Palestinians, but he didn’t specify anything that he would ask — any concessions.  So the question is: Is it the belief of this administration that the Palestinians don’t have to make concessions to get funding for a consulate?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think I’ve talked about this particular issue enough in my old days at the State Department to know I’m going to defer to our national security team and the State Department and Jake Sullivan on any more specifics.  Obviously, the President’s view continues to be that a two-state solution is the only path forward and that — you know, that that continues to be the position of his White House and administration.

Q    And finally — finally, this is on behalf of a colleague who was not able to be here today due to social distancing: Does the President believe he can attain unity with the 74 million Trump voters while urging his allies in the Senate to hold an impeachment trial after his predecessor has already left office?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President’s belief is that he was elected by 81 million Americans, in part because they believed that he was somebody who could help bring the country together, unify the country around addressing the crisis that we face.  And when he talks every day, nearly, about getting the pandemic under control, putting people back to work, he’s not just speaking to people who voted for him; he’s speaking to all of the American people, including the 74 million who didn’t vote for him.  

And certainly addressing the pandemic, making — ensuring that people don’t worry about the health and safety of their grandparents, of their sisters and brothers, getting kids back to school — that’s not a partisan position; that’s a position — that’s a leadership position and one he’s taking because he wants to make sure he’s delivering for all the American people. 

Go ahead, all the way in the back.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  I’m Marek Wałkuski from Polish Radio.  The President spoke with Chancellor Merkel yesterday.

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

Q    But the readout from the phone call doesn’t mention
Nord Stream 2 — the pipeline from Russia to Germany.  Have they discussed this particular project?  And what’s President Biden’s position on Nord Stream 2?  Is he determined to use all the tools he has, like sanctions, to stop the project?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I don’t have any more for you on the particular read out.  But I can convey that we continue to believe — the President continues to believe that Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal for Europe.  We’re aware that the previous administration imposed new restrictions on activities related to the pipeline under the National Defense Authorization Act, and we will be reviewing those measures. 

And so he looks forward to continuing to consult with our European partners on this issue.  And if there’s more to share on his conversation with Chancellor Merkel on it, we will certainly circle back with you more directly. 

Let me just get to everybody.  Go ahead. 

Q    Thank you, Jen.  This is just following on from Yamiche’s question earlier.  We heard the President, yesterday, say that anyone who wanted to get a shot would be able to get one by spring and that we would be well on our way to herd immunity by summer.  I’m wondering how we can make those projections — and we don’t know what the National Stockpile is — when the CDC director says that supply won’t increase until March and when we’re still having these enormous distribution problems in the different states?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, let me first start by saying, as I started the briefing conveying, the President will have more to say on our vaccine supply and also — and also assistance and cooperation that we will be doing with the states later this afternoon.  So we’ll have an update on that. 

And as I also noted, we do have a sense.  There is Tiberius — my favorite word of the day — a website that has available information on not just the vaccine that is available in states, but what has been distributed. 

So what I was conveying, and I think what a number of our medical and health experts have been conveying, is that we’ve been here for now six days — I’ll at a certain point stop saying that.  But less than a week is not that long period of time.  We are assessing every day where the holes are, where the gaps are, what the holdups are.  It’s not just supply; it is beyond that.  It’s also having the number of vaccinators we need, the number of vaccine distribution sites we need.  Those are all issues, if you talk to any governor, that they will say are challenges to getting the vaccine in the arms of the American people.

And what the President’s goal is, is ensuring that there is greater availability in the spring.  He will push his team.  He pushes his team on COVID and updates on it, even when it’s a meeting about other issues.  This is his focus every single day. And — but the fact is, every American is not going to be eligible this spring.  We’re going to continue to increase supply; that’s part of it.  And he has said many, many times, it’s going to take months and months for a broad swath of the population to be vaccinated. 

But he would, if he were standing here today — one, he’d be a lot taller than me, but he would say there are — he will defer to health and medical experts to get their assessments on when we can reach the point of herd immunity.

Peter, go ahead.

Q    There is a report now that the Chief Financial Officer of Florida has sent a letter to the International Olympic Committee that Florida would like to host the Olympics if Japan, next year, is uncomfortable because of the pandemic.  Is a Florida Olympics in 2021 something you can see the White House supporting?

MS. PSAKI:  Wow.  Well, that’s a lot of steps that need to take place, and I don’t know the entire process of the Olympics, but I would certainly think — send you to the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee, first, on what their assessment of that offer is, and certainly, of course, what their assessment is of Japan’s preparedness for the Olympics.

Go ahead, right here.

Q    Jen, on contingencies: If these COVID vaccines need to be tweaked or changed because of these emerging variants, how is that going to complicate your rollout effort?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Dr. Fauci spoke to this a little bit last week, and I expect this will be one of the lines of questioning with our health and medical experts when they have their first briefing tomorrow.  And they have spoken to both assessments that have been made about the efficacy of the vaccine, even with the new variants, and how they are evaluating, you know, what the efficacy will be moving forward.  This is something that they will continue to look at through a medical and health lens.

So I don’t think I’m going to have a new update or assessment for you from here, but it’s something they’re looking closely at, and the President will continue to encourage them to be as honest and straightforward with the American people as possible.

Q    Just one unrelated question.  One of President Trump’s last acts was to grant protective status to Venezuelans who are in the United States.

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

Q    I believe that still stands.  Can you give us an update on your position on that?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Let me see.  Let’s see. 

While the overriding goal of the United States is to support a peaceful democratic transition in Venezuela through free and fair elections, he has long been clear — the President, that is — that his administration’s approach to Venezuela will focus on addressing the humanitarian situation, providing support to the Venezuelan people, and reinvigorating multilateral diplomacy to press for a democratic outcome and pursue individuals involved in corruption, human rights abuses, and pursue individuals involved with that. 

I don’t have anything more for you on the status of temporary protected status.  That was a mouthful.  I will — of course, our national security team is doing a review of all of the positions put in place by the Trump administration and will provide an update when we have one.

Go ahead.

Q    One more question.  Ambassador Rice outlined all of these disparities when it comes to Americans of color being infected and dying from COVID at higher rates.  Do you — does the White House fault the policies of the previous administration for creating those disparities that we’re seeing?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, health disparities in communities of color existed long before the Trump administration took office, and I think that’s a statement of fact.  But what did not happen was actions put in place to ensure greater accessibility to communicat- — communities of color for healthcare, greater communications on public campaign about how communities of color could gain access to healthcare and treatments.  And certainly the actions taken by the prior administration to, for all intents of [sic] purposes, destroy the Affordable Care Act didn’t help any American and certainly didn’t help communities of color. 

So, the vaccine, as you all know, has only — we did not have the scientific and medical breakthrough until late last year.  And now it’s incumbent upon this administration, the Biden-Harris administration, to ensure that we are taking secs — steps to increase access, but also to communicate more effectively with communities of color about the vaccine and the efficacy of it.  And that certainly is a primary focus.  That’s one of the reasons why Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith is leading a COVID task force and is a pivotal part of the COVID team.

And I will say, from being on the transition, she wasn’t a person who was, aside from by reputation, but she wasn’t known by President — then President-elect Biden previously, but he was so impressed with her as a member of the COVID Advisory Task Force that he felt, personally, it was important to have her as a pivotal member of the team to address exactly this issue.

Okay, go ahead.  Last — last one, says Jonathan. 

Q    Thank you very much.  If I can ask a follow-up, I’d appreciate it.  The Trump administration granted waivers to Arkansas and other states to require work for some Medicaid recipients.  That was challenged in the court.  The court struck it down.  The Trump administration pushed it to the Supreme Court.  It’s ending there.  Does the Biden administration support these waivers, oppose them?  Are they going to argue for it, against it?  What’s the position of the administration?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would certainly send you to our Department of Justice, my Department of Justice colleagues, to speak to anything related to a legal case.  I will say that President Biden does not believe, as a principle, it should be difficult to — for people to gain access to healthcare.  And he’s not — he’s not been supportive in the past, and is not today, of putting additional restrictions in place.  And he’s spoken about that publicly, too.

Q    And then, if I could follow up.  Yesterday, former President Trump endorsed Sarah Huckabee Sanders for Governor of Arkansas in 2022.  Where does President Biden stand on that particular race, and how high is this on his list of priorities?

MS. PSAKI:  Wow.  How high is the Arkansas Republican gubernatorial primary on the President’s list of priorities?  Not high.  I can confirm for you I’m not running for Governor of Connecticut in the future.  So I’m here to confirm that for you, as well.  I don’t expect he will get involved in this race, but also politics is not front and center for his mind, in general, at this point in time.  He’s focused on getting the pandemic under control.


Q    Jen, who leads the governors’ call today, just for clarity?

MS. PSAKI:  What did you say?

Q    Who is leading the governors’ call today?

MS. PSAKI:  Who is making — leading the governors’ call?

Q    Who is leading it?  The President won’t be on it, so who is leading it?

MS. PSAKI:  Jeff Zients will be one of the — one of the health officials, or one of the, I should say, policy officials, who is on the call today.  There may be others, but he’s one of the primary leaders of the call.

Q    And bipartisan governors, obviously, participating?

MS. PSAKI:  I believe so, yes.  Exactly. 

Okay, last one.  I’m breaking Jonathan’s rule, but —

Q    Hey, Jen.  We just saw that President Biden has spoken to President Putin.  Can you give us an update on the nature of their call?  What came up?

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.  Well, I beli- — the call — I can confirm for you the call was scheduled.  The call has happened, I believe, since I have come out here.  So, we will, of course, be putting a readout of the call out.  But since you gave me the opportunity, I will just convey to you that he called him — called President Putin this afternoon with the intention of discussing our willingness to extend New START for five years, and also to reaffirm our strong support for Ukraine sovereignty in the face of Russians’ ongoing — Russia’s ongoing aggression, and also to raise matters of concern, including the SolarWinds hack, reports of Russia placing bounties on United States soldiers in Afghanistan, interference in the 2020 Election, the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, and treatment of peaceful protestors by Russian security forces.

His intention was also to make clear that the United States will act firmly in defense of our national interests in response to malign actions by Russia.  But we’ll have a readout for you, I assume, sometime early this afternoon.

Thanks, everyone.

                        END                1:39 P.M. EST

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