James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

10:02 AM

MS. PSAKI:  Early morning briefing.  We’ll see how this goes; you guys can give feedback on the time of day. 

Okay, I have several announcements for your today.  To begin, I know many of you and the American people are interested in the news coming from Johnson & Johnson’s trial data.  The President is encouraged by positive data on a potential new vaccine.  He also knows that this is just new data, and now is the time for the FDA to do its job of evaluating the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.  In the meantime, he continues to urge all Americans to mask up and follow public health guidelines until it’s their turn to get vaccinated.

Now, I know there may be a lot of questions you have for us about the trial data or Johnson & Johnson.  I’m here to tell you that I’m not going to get ahead of the experts, who you will all get to hear from in the next hour in our public health briefing from the COVID-response team.  They will discuss this more with you and what everything means then.

At Wednesday’s briefing, I also shared some of the engagement and outreach the White House is doing to move forward the American Rescue Plan, from the President and the Vice President on down.  That work has continued and accelerated.

Yesterday, senior staff spoke again to governors about the challenges they are facing and the importance of relief.  Today, National Economic Council Deputy Director David Kamin will meet with the Council of State Governments.  The Office of Public Engagement will also brief black civic groups, anti-hunger and nutrition advocates, and key progressive groups and invite their feedback.  These conversations are, of course, critical to building support and moving the President’s bill forward. 

According — but we also saw evidence this week that the American people overwhelmingly want their elected leaders to work with the President to confront this pandemic and put people back to work.  According to a Monmouth poll released Wednesday, 71 percent of the American people want Republicans in Congress to work with President Biden.  That number is up nearly 10 points from right after the election, meaning the trend of support for working in a bipartisan manner with the President is only growing.

Finally, the President is committed to getting relief to working families.  Hence, he is also meeting this morning with his economic — members of his economic team with Vice — the Vice President and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen for a briefing on the cost of inaction and the impact of a delay in moving forward with a relief package.  Millions of Americans don’t have enough food to eat, and millions more have lost their jobs, but interest rates are at historic lows, and that means it’s the right time to make smart investments.

Moody’s — a Wall Street firm — has said that we could end up with 4 million fewer jobs this year if we don’t act on the President’s plan.  That’s 4 million Americans who would — who could get back to work.  And I’m sure they will discuss all of that at their briefing later this morning.

Last thing: We are venturing to provide a “Week Ahead” to all of you — or return to providing a “Week Ahead” to all of you.  So, a quick preview:

Next Monday, the President will meet with the Secretary of State at the State Department.

On Tuesday, President Biden will deliver remarks and sign an executive order advancing his priority to modernize our immigration system.

And Friday is, of course, Jobs Day, and the President will deliver remarks about the economy.

We’ll have hopefully more over the next couple days, but we wanted to provide as many details as we could.

With that, Zeke, why don’t you kick us off?

Q    Thank you, Jen.  One foreign policy, just to get going: With violence surging in Afghanistan, is the President still committed to wind down operations there and bringing troops home this year?

MS. PSAKI:  The President — I have not spoken with our national security team about this in particular, but his commitment remains. 

Q    And then, at the top, you mentioned that Americans should follow public health guidance.  One of the challenges is it has been, over the course of last 10 months — is that public health guidance, from state to state, varies.  Some states have mask mandates, others have indoor dining open, and others have schools open; others don’t.  Should — what guidance should the American people follow: their governor’s guidance or should they follow the President’s?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, what we’re venturing to do is provide more concrete guidance from the federal government, from the CDC, from health and medical experts on the important steps all of the American people can take to keep themselves safe.  That includes the importance of mask wearing, of course, and how vital that is to keeping us safe. 

It also includes the importance of hand washing, of restricting travel.  These are all guidelines that have come in recent days and weeks, I should say, from the President of the United States and from our medical and health experts. 

But in addition, as we discussed yesterday, there are guidelines, including the safe — for the safe reopening of schools that he signed an executive order on, directing both the Department of Education and HHS — and the CDC, I should say — I’m sorry — to produce those guidelines to give more specific advice and markers to states and local school districts on what they should follow.

So it will ultimately be up to states, to governors, to local school districts, and others to make determinations.  But we do want to provide more clear guidance from the federal government, based on the expertise of health and medical experts, on what people should follow and what will help keep the American people safe. 

Q    I just want a quick follow-up on that one.  The CDC study that was discussed here a couple of days ago — one of its recommendations, as part of reopening schools immediately, was to close indoor dining, restaurants, and bars.  Is that a part of the federal guidance that we should be expecting to see from the CDC and the Department of Education soon?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the good news is you get to hear from our Director of the CDC — I believe, in about 45 minutes — and our medical and health experts, and you can certainly ask them if there’s going to be any updated guidance. 

Go ahead. 

Q    Dr. Fauci says the U.S. may not be able to meet that goal of reopening most K-8 schools in 100 days because of the trajectory of the pandemic.  Given that, is the President going to adjust his goal of trying to get all these schools reopened in 100 days?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, as we talked about a little bit yesterday, the President wants to not only reopen schools, he wants the schools to stay open.  And — but he does rely on the guidance of his health and medical experts, and obviously he’s not going to do anything that is not safe and doesn’t keep teachers, students, and our school districts safe.

But a key part of this is the guidelines, as we mentioned — the executive order he signed to ensure that school districts are getting the information they need and clarity they need on what steps that they should take to keep their students safe and teachers safe, of course. 

But it is also funding, and we’ve talked about this quite a bit in here.  And the American Rescue Plan is pivotal for a number of reasons, including ensuring that Americans have food on the table; including that we can get shots into the arms of people across the country; but also that school districts, especially public schools, have the funding they need to take steps on everything from ventilation, to PPE, to testing.  And the longer that’s delayed, the harder it’s going to be to meet that goal.

Q    Got it.  And has President Biden spoken to former President Trump since taking office?  And if so, can you give us any update on what President Trump said in his letter to President Biden?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any update.  I don’t have any calls to report on.  There are no calls to report on, I should say, and I don’t have any update on the letter.  And as I said when we talked about this about a week and a half ago — it seems longer than that, I’m going to acknowledge — the President of course thought the letter was gracious and generous, but he plans to keep it private. 

Go ahead. 

Q    Jen, I understand you don’t want to get too much into the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, given the data that’s out there, but this likely won’t be the only vaccine that is less effective than the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines.  And so I wonder: What is the President’s message to those Americans who would be less — who would be more reluctant to get one of those less effective vaccines?  And are you concerned about the impact that that would have, given how many doses have already been bought on the frontend? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, when the President announced his plan, earlier this week, to ensure we have enough vaccination — vaccines to give every American two shots by the end of the summer with the purchase of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, he was doing that without the need for additional vaccines approved.  Obviously, if additional vaccines — Johnson & Johnson or any others — go through the FDA approval process, that’s a positive step.  Right?  No doubt about that. 

But he purchased these — the large orders for vaccines that we’ll have by the end of the summer — to get into the arms of Americans to ensure that we would be able to do that even without any of those steps, moving forward. 

Q    And so he would encourage Americans to get any vaccine that is approved by the FDA for emergency use authorization?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, we’re — we’re not going to get ahead of the FDA — I’m not suggesting you’re asking that — but we’ll rely on our health and medical experts to advise if there are additional vaccines — “if and when,” I’ll be optimistic — that are approved by the FDA and how that will impact our vaccination — vaccine distribution plan.

Q    And secondly, on the coronavirus relief bill, in his first month in office, President Obama travelled to a number of key states to drum up support for the Recovery Act.  Does President Biden have and plans to do something similar to drum up support for his $1.8 trillion coronavirus relief bill?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Vice President Biden — then-Vice President Biden also traveled to a number of states to drum up support for the American Recovery Act at the time — and obviously we weren’t dealing with a pandemic, so the circumstances were quite different.  But he fully recognizes, as do we, the importance of speaking directly to the American people about the components of this package, whether it’s the importance of funding to get schools open or get vaccines in the arms of Americans, or just ensure that people know they can put food on the table. 

And so we’re having to take a number of creative steps to do that.  Whether that’s direct television or local media or from the President, the Vice President, and others, we’re doing that; whether it is engaging with governors and local elected officials to ensure that we’re answering all the questions they have and that they can convey to the public.  So we’re taking a number of creative steps, a little outside of the box.  Certainly, his preference would be to get on a plane and fly around the country, but that’s not the step we’re planning currently.

Q    But as a candidate, President Biden did travel a fair amount, especially in the final weeks of the campaign.  He’s now received both doses of the vaccine, and a number of safety precautions are in place and could be in place for his travel.  So why wouldn’t he be traveling?  Or is that something you —

MS. PSAKI:  Well, it’s also about keeping the public safe.  And, you know, we’re not going to do an event — a rally with 20,000 people; that wouldn’t be a recommendation made by our health and medical experts.

Q    Right, but there wouldn’t be any plans to travel without a crowd and to go out into the country for this bill? 

MS. PSAKI:  We may travel, certainly, but I have nothing to preview for you at this point in time.  What I’m conveying is that it is vital for the President and the Vice President and every member of our team to be speaking directly to the American people.  And so we’re looking for creative ways to do that.

Q    And could I ask you a foreign —

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    — policy question?  After Alexei Navalny was poisoned last summer, then-candidate Biden said there was “no doubt” that the Kremlin was responsible for his poisoning and he vowed to, quote, “hold the Putin regime accountable.”  This week you told us that the President conveyed his concerns to President Putin, but he hasn’t yet taken any action to hold Russia accountable. 

So, I wonder, does President Biden hold President Putin directly responsible for the poisoning of Alexei Navalny?  And if so, why hasn’t he yet taken sanctions action to punish Russia for its actions?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, the President spoke with President Putin earlier this week, as you know, and he did not hold back in his concerns about a number of the actions of the Kremlin and of the Russian government. 

But there is a review underway that we have spoken about a bit in here by our national security team, and we’ll let that review carry forward.  That includes the SolarWinds breach, it includes the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, it includes the — I’m kind of losing my thought here — but it includes a number of steps — a number of concerning actions they’ve taken.  We want that review to carry forward and to be completed.  And the President always reserves the right to respond in the manner of his choosing and at the time of his choosing.

Q    Does he hold President Putin responsible for the attempted assassination of Alexei Navalny?

MS. PSAKI:  We’re going to let the review carry forward, and then I’m sure we’ll have more to say about it at that point in time. 

Go ahead. 

Q    Thank you, Jen.  The New York Attorney General released a report yesterday saying that the state had undercounted the number of COVID deaths by as much as 50 percent in nursing homes.  Would President Biden support a federal investigation into what happened in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s role?

MS. PSAKI:  I’ve seen those reports.  I would say, any investigation, I would point into the Department of Justice.  They’re —

Q    But does the White House think that it should be looked into further?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, any investigation would be led by the Department of Justice.  We’re in a new age; they’re independent, and they will determine what paths they take moving forward.

Q    Okay.  On immigration: I know you said yesterday that it was never 100 percent that today was going to be immigration day, that it was just a — an early draft and things change, but can you help us understand what exactly changed and why it’s taking a little bit longer for these executive orders and actions on immigration to execute?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  You know, one, it’s, of course, been widely reported that the President is planning to announce his task force — or now plans to announce his launch of a task force on reunifying families and children, something that is — he’s personally committed to, his wife, Dr. Biden, is personally committed to and invested in.  And he will plan to do — to make that announcement next Tuesday. 

The task force will be led by Secretary of Homeland Security, once he’s confirmed, Ale Mayorkas.  And we had planned to sign that executive order today, or at the end of this week, I should say.  Early plans sometimes do change, and that was a draft plan, which those changed many times, I can assure you from sitting through many scheduling meetings. 

But we had planned to do it this week because we’d hoped that Ale Mayorkas would be confirmed by the end of this week.  But because of the filibuster of his nomination, we expect him to be confirmed on Monday evening, and therefore the President will sign it on Tuesday, and then Secretary Mayorkas will be overseeing that moving forward.

Q    Okay, and one more question — a foreign one.  Can you give us just a little bit more of a timeline in terms of how much longer you think it will take for the White House to engage with Iran on its nuclear program?  Because you had one of Iran’s top diplomats saying yesterday that it believes the window is closing.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I’m not going to give a timeline on it.  Obviously it requires Iran complying with the requirements of — of the nuclear deal.  We’ve said previously, but I will reiterate here, that the President also sees it as an opportunity to build on the plan from here — there.  And I apologize, I just want to make sure I give you the exact language.  He believes that through follow-on diplomacy, the U.S. should seek to lengthen and strengthen these nuclear constraints and address other issues of concern, including Iran’s ballistic missiles program and its regional activity. 

But, again, Iran must resume compliance with a significant — with the significant nuclear constraints under the deal.

Now, he’s also talked about — and, thematically, we’ve talked about — how working with our partners and allies, including the Europeans, members of the P5+1, is pivotal to any engagement moving forward, of course including on what the future of the Iran nuclear deal is.

Q    Okay.  Thank you.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  Just a follow-up on Iran.  Would the President consider meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, and, maybe following President Obama’s example for a starter, have a telephone conversation with him?

MS. PSAKI:  I think we’re getting a little bit ahead of where we are in the process.  Again, the first step here is to Iran — is for Iran to comply with the significant nuclear constraints under the deal, but I am certain we will continue to discuss this issue in here and at the State Department and other parts of government.

Go ahead.

Q    In the wake of —

MS. PSAKI:  Steve Holland!

Q    Oh, hi. 

MS. PSAKI:  I couldn’t — didn’t even recognize you with your mask for a second. 

Q    Just to follow up on Jeremy’s question —

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

Q    — did President Biden specifically call on President Putin to release Alexei Navalny?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, as we have — as we have publicly, as our team has repeatedly called for, through the course of the last several weeks.  In terms of the specifics of the conversation, I don’t have any more details for you on that.

Q    Okay, so we don’t know what Putin said, or did he make any promises?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have anything to read out on President Putin’s comments, no.

Q    And in the wake of the GameStop trading incident, is there a public role the White House can play in educating people about the dangers of this type of trading? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Steve, I know the SEC issued a new statement earlier this morning, or just before I came out here, and I’d certainly point you to that, and others to that.  And we, of course, respect the role of regulatory agencies.  They are closely monitoring the situation, but it’s under their purview at this point in time.  And I guess part of our education can be conveying to people that the SEC is the regulatory body that would oversee this and can speak to it further. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Two on Capitol security.  So the acting chief of police up there on Capitol Hill has recommended permanent fencing around the Capitol.  I was wondering if the Biden White House or President Biden himself has any thoughts on this, if permanent fencing is the right answer or does it project the wrong picture to the American public.

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not sure we’re going to have any comment on that specifically, but I’m happy to talk to our national security — homeland security team if we have anything further to add.

Q    Sure.  And a quick follow-up.  Speaker Pelosi said, I believe it was yesterday, that she feels that threats are coming from inside the House with other members being allowed to carry guns.  Of course, you have conspiracy theorists among the ranks of the GOP now.  Do you, and does the White House, agree with that assessment that there is security threats coming from inside the House?  Has Biden spoken to Pelosi?  And is he worried about the safety — the physical safety of both members of Congress. 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, he speaks with Speaker Pelosi on a regular basis and certainly has reiterated her — his support for her and members of the caucus.  And he has spoken publicly about his concerns about the rhetoric, of course, around the events of January 6th, but some of the rhetoric that has continued and the role of social media platforms. 

So, he is in close touch with her about events on the Capitol, about the safety of members, but I don’t think I have anything more for you to read out beyond that.

Go ahead, in the back.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  Two quick foreign and one domestic, if that’s okay.  Can you confirm officially that Robert Malley has been appointed Special Envoy for Iran?  Is that —

MS. PSAKI:  I can.  I believe it was announced this morning.  Yes?  Or I guess I can confirm it here too for you.

Q    That would be great.  And then the — as you know, settlements have been a major obstacle to getting the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.  Would President Biden consider it — does he believes settlements are — should be halted in the West Bank so that the Palestinians will come back?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any new comments from President Biden on this or the current circumstance.  He’s obviously spoken to this particular issue in the past and conveyed that he doesn’t believe security assistance should be tied.  But I don’t have anything more for you on the path forward toward a two-state solution.

Q    And just following up on the Capitol Hill fence: You know there a fence outside here, a temporary one, around the White House.  It’s been up since last summer.  President Trump took a lot of criticism for it.  Would President Biden consider bringing that fence down so people can take photos in front of the White House again?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think we’d all like that, including members of my family and people in Washington.  But I will talk to our security team and see if there’s any further — anything further to convey to all of you. 

Go ahead. 

Q    As you guys are thinking about the task force to reunite the parents and the separated children, what are you sort of learning about the scope of that challenge?  It’s something that groups have tried to do in the past and failed.  How many people do you think would need to be tasked to that to actually make it effective?

MS. PSAKI:  Those are excellent questions, and I expect that when we announce — when the President signs the executive order next week; when we put the task force together; when Ali Mayorkas is confirmed as the Secretary of Homeland Security — maybe we’ll have him come to this briefing room, or I’m officially inviting him here today to come to this briefing room. 

But, you know, there’s no question that we recognize this is going to be incredibly challenging, that there will be a lot of work to be done, that that is why this will be a priority.  It’s not only a priority for the President, but will be a priority for Secretary Mayorkas.  But I will leave it to him and to others at the Department of Homeland Security to outline and preview for you the path forward.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  I know that President Biden and the First Lady are acutely aware of the sacrifices that military families make.  That being said, we had an incident in the — with the garage with the National Guard that was kind of embarrassing.  And now I’m hearing from spouses of Guards members that they had a COVID outbreak and were not tested or vaccinated before they arrived in D.C.  And I’m wondering if there’s any concern by the President about how these Guardsmen are being treated; whether he can do anything specifically to safeguard their health before they arrived, while they’re here.  Can he get vaccinating — vaccinations to — and testing to governors, specifically for the purpose of providing some health safeguards to these soldiers?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, as you noted at the beginning of your question but I would just reiterate, the role of the National Guard — and I’ve spoken to the President about this directly — and the incredible sacrifices they make is something that is personal to him, given his family connection to the National Guard.  He had called the head of the National Guard just last week when the reports came out about the treatment of the National Guard and the fact that they had been — many had been sleeping in garages and, of course, conveyed his dismay of the photos he had seen and their treatment, and also offered his personal — personally, any help that he could provide, whether — even if it was boosting morale.  And certainly that line of communication remains open should there be something that he can do from his end. 

In terms of specific prioritization of the vaccine, I would point you to the Department of Defense and leaders over there to speak to that more specifically.

Q    Okay.  One follow-up to that.  Do you — on the question of Nancy Pelosi — Speaker Pelosi’s concern about the “enemy within,” has the President been briefed on such a threat?  And does he agree that the National Guard should be here until mid-March, during the impeachment trial?

MS. PSAKI:  I’ll speak to Liz Sherwood-Randall and our Department of Homeland Security — our Homeland Security colleagues here to see if there’s more specifics we have from our end.  But I would point you to the Department of Defense and the National Guard team otherwise.

Q    We have one question, because I’m print pooler —

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Go ahead.

Q    — from another reporter from WUSA.  The reporter asks: I’ve learned that the IRS employees nationwide are having telework suspended.  They’re all being called back into the office, this despite an OMB directive issued Tuesday ordering federal agencies to only allow 25 percent capacity in federal buildings.  If IRS employees have been doing telework successfully, why is now the time to bring them all back into the office?  Is that safe?

Q    I would point you to the Department of Treasury, where the IRS is located, for any further comment on that.

Go ahead.  Oh, sorry, I’ll come to you next too.

Q    Just — Jen, just on the Defense Production Act: You’ve been asked a few times in your briefings about any specific instances of the Defense Production Act being used.  Yesterday, the Chief of Staff, Ron Klain, suggested that it was being used as it relates to the production of N95 masks.

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

Q    Is there anything specific you can tell us on that or any other companies or products where the Defense Production Act is being used now?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’re not going to get into specific companies.  Obviously there are procurement processes here, but also — that take place at federal agencies, but also, we’re still early in the process.  It was invoked just last week, but I can give you more specific detail in terms of how we plan to use it on vaccine supply.  I think one of the — also, the products that Ron Klain spoke about was low dead space syringes, which allow — are the key to getting the sixth dose out of the Pfizer vial — pivotal on getting more vaccines out into the public;  N95 masks, isolation gowns, nitrile gloves — again, safety and keeping people safe from infection; pipette tips and high-absorbency foam swabs for testing; and then lipid nanoparticles, which are key to the MRNA vaccine; and bioreactor bags, which is what the vaccine is mass produced in.

So, as you can tell, a lot of this is materials that will help ensure that the vaccine can be used by vaccinators and transported, in some cases, to vaccine locations.  So, there are several components of it and very specific materials that we’re focused on.

Q    And the — at the National Security Agency, Michael Ellis, a Trump political appointee, was installed as the General Counsel, which is a career position, as you know.  Is there — are you guys considering reviewing that decision or attempting to remove Michael Ellis from his position as General Counsel of the NSA?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have anything new for you on that, other than — I don’t have any personnel announcements.  Certainly, we’re reviewing personnel across government, including political appointees, most of whom have left.  But I don’t have anything new on any decisions there. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.

MS. PSAKI:   Oh, wait.  I promised — I’m sorry, I promised you.  Go ahead. 

Q    Thanks, Jen.  FEMA has requested active-duty troops be used at vaccination centers when they get stood up across the country.  Does the White House support that request?

MS. PSAKI:  I did ask our team about this.  You or someone else may have asked about this the other day, and I think I have something on it here.  One moment.  Thanks for your patience.  Lots to say about COVID, no doubt about it. 

So, let’s see.  Let me — let me talk to our team about it.  You know, I know I’ve seen that request from FEMA.  Obviously, part of our objective is ensuring that we have vaccinators on the ground — I know that’s not what you’re asking about — but also the ability to move materials and move vaccines.  So we are tapping into any resource we can, but it’s more predominantly focused on, kind of, a health and medical core and that — the ability to get those people into communities.  But I will — I will check with our team and get you something more specific.

Q    And just one on double masking.  There’s been some increased discussion about that publicly.  We’ve seen pictures of the President double masking and those around him.  Is that a personal preference or has he been advised by medical — his medical advisors to do that?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, you’re going to talk to the medical advisors in just the next 15, 30 minutes — whatever the time is — and you can ask them more specifically.  There hasn’t been specific CDC guidance.  As you have probably seen, Dr. Fauci spoke to this, I believe, the la- — in the last couple days and said it was common sense or made sense — I can’t remember exactly how he phrased it.  But there hasn’t been additional medical guidance given. 

I’ve been around the President where he’s been wearing one mask.  I think, obviously, he abides by the health and medical advice.  Sometimes — not to get too detailed — but it looks like two masks sometimes because we put the N95 one on, and it’s a little bit more comfortable to have this one on top of it.  But I would encourage you to ask the health and medical team during the call that’s coming up.

Go ahead.

MS. PSAKI:   Jen, did the White House have advanced notice of the Johnson & Johnson results?  And did that affect the White House’s decision to go ahead and purchase 200 million doses from Pfizer and Moderna?

MS. PSAKI:   No, the decision was made to purchase the Pfizer and Moderna doses to ensure that we had enough doses to give two shots to Americans by the end of the summer.  And we did our planning without the need for an additional vaccine to go through approval. 

Now, remember: Even though we saw the news this morning, it hasn’t gone through FDA approval yet.  We don’t have a timeline of when that will happen; we leave that to the FDA.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  A couple questions on the economy, starting with China.  Former President Trump signed a phase one trade deal with Beijing.  Does President Biden consider that deal still to be in effect, and does he expect China to meet its commitments under that deal?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the national security team, the newly confirmed Secretary of State, President Biden are all reviewing all aspects of our national security approach, including certainly our relationship with China.  You know, we are focused on approaching that relationship from a position of strength, and that means coordinating and communicating with our allies and partners about how we’re going to work with China.  It means strengthening our ec- — economy at home.  And that me- — it means, you know, determining the best path forward to address a range of issues — not just economic, but strategic and also security. 

So, again, everything’s under review, but I don’t have anything for you on the — more on the China relationship.

Q    Sorry, to clarify: So it is still in effect as the past administration left it off?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, everything that the past administration has put in place is under review, as it relates to our national security approach.  So I would not assume things are moving forward.  We are just reviewing what the path forward looks like and doing that, again, from a position of strength, which means coordinating with our allies, members of Congress, and making a determination before we engage further.

Go ahead.

Q    Sorry, Jen, can you confirm the Politico story about the President warning his family members to avoid any conflict of interest with his presidency and their business ties?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, while I’m not going to get into private conversations between the President and his family members — we all have lots of conversations with different family members, I’m sure — the President is committed to ensuring we have the most ethically vigorous administration in history, and that includes restrictions on what — how his image can be used, and that is something that he’s conveyed publicly and privately as well. 

So let me just reiterate the policy for all of you, which is, I think, maybe your next question, or I’ll just reiterate it proactively: It’s the White House’s policy that the President’s name should not be used in connection with any commercial activities to suggest or in any way — in any way they could reasonably be understood to imply his endorsement or support.  He’s issued the farthest-reaching executive order with respect to the ethical commitments required of his appointees ever and is very proud of it.  And, you know, that’s something that he is committed to conveying to anyone it applies to.

Let me just get to a few more in the back.  Go ahead, all the way in the back.

Q    Okay.  Thank you very much.  Does President Biden endorse the characterization of genocide concerning the Chinese treatment of the Uyghur minority?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, Pres- — Secretary Blinken — I almost called him President Blinken; I’m giving him a bit of promotion.  You never know.  He spoke about that during his confirmation hearing, so I would certainly point you to those comments. 

Q    I’m talking about President Biden.  Does he —

MS. PSAKI:  He was speaking on behalf of the U.S. government. 

Q    Thank you.

MS. PSAKI:  Did you have a question, right there?  Go ahead.

Q    Yeah, the Governor of Puerto Rico said last week he was in touch with the White House about releasing remaining disaster relief funds held up by the previous administration.  Do you have an update on that?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t, but I will venture to talk to our team about where the — what the status of relief funds is for Puerto Rico.

Q    And just one other question.  Is the White House tracking the confirmed cases of the South African strain that have been found in South Carolina?  Have you been in touch with local officials there?

MS. PSAKI:  Certainly our health and medical team have been.  And again, they’ll speak to it at their briefing that’s coming up at 11:00 a.m.  I encourage you to join that. 

But as we see reports, our team has been monitoring variants as there have been developments around the world, and the potential for them to travel here.  It reiterates — or reemphasizes, I should say, the importance of getting vaccines into the arms of Americans, something that our health team has said will make people safer.  And it also reiterates the need for getting the American Rescue Plan passed so that we can ensure we can expedite that effort. 

Go ahead

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Just two quick questions.  Just one following up on the Politico question: To that degree is the White House going to make a commitment one way or the other that members of Biden’s family is not going to serve in the administration?

MS. PSAKI:  We’ve made that commitment, so that continues to be the commitment.

Q    Sorry, so that nothing for Valerie Biden or anybody else?

MS. PSAKI:  Nope.  Reports that there was an office in the West Wing are — were not accurate. 

Q    Gotcha.  And then one on Marjorie Taylor Greene.  I know you said earlier that you would not like to be commenting on her, but it’s been a major story.  Does the White House have any concerns about a QAnon supporter, someone with a history of racist — now we’re seeing anti-Semitic — comments, harassing school-shooting survivor families, serving on House committees?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think the reason I conveyed that is because we don’t want to elevate conspiracy theories further in the briefing room.  So I’m going to speak to — I’m going to leave it at that.  And I’ll — we’ll leave —

Q    Sure.  But (inaudible) —

MS. PSAKI:  We’ll leave dec- — we’ll leave decisions about committees to members of Congress.  And we’ve certainly seen Speaker Pelosi speak to that. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  Twenty-four Republican members of –Republican senators sent a letter to President Biden yesterday requesting a meeting after some of the executive orders and actions targeting the domestic energy sector.  Is that a meeting that President Biden will take?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, President Biden is committed to — and this is — you can see this through his actions — working and engaging with Democrats and Republicans to address the crises we’re facing, including climate, which is one of the crises that he’s identified.  I don’t — we don’t have no plans for a meeting of that kind that I can read out for you at this point in time.  Sounds like a lot of people to be in a meeting during COVID too. 

But he is certainly engaged on an individual basis with leaders in the Senate, members of — Democratic and Republican senators, and they can certainly raise any concerns they have through that means.

Q    And one more question.  Apologies if you answered this in response to Steve’s question, but I just want to be clear here: Is — do you anticipate President Biden to address the GameStop controversy when he meets with his economic team a little bit later this morning?

MS. PSAKI:  No.  Do we — do I anticipate him addressing it publicly, you mean?

Q    No, just talking about it with his economic team.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the focus of the meeting is about the recovery plan, about the status of the economic recovery, about obviously the data that we saw yesterday.  I’m sure they’ll cover a range of topics during that meeting, but that’s not the focus.

Q    It’s just a big story.  Okay.

MS. PSAKI:  I know it’s a big story, but it doesn’t — you know, obviously, the — our focus and our big story is getting the American people back to work. 

Go ahead.

Q    I know a lot — hundreds of White House staffers now have been vaccinated for —

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

Q    — the coronavirus.  Any specific updates in terms of who (inaudible) that — who is being covered by that?  And then also more broadly, because of that, does that give the White House, sort of, you know — is that a model for the rest of the country?  Schools, for instance — should every teacher be vaccinated in the next 90 days so that the President can meet his commitments to opening up schools?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Well, on the first, we — I think we announced a couple of weeks ago that about three dozen members of the senior White House staff, including members of the Cabinet, national security officials had received their first dose, which means, right around now, a number of people will be receiving their second dose. 

We are also — as you noted, had released a couple of days ago that the objective and the plan of the White House medical unit was to vaccinate hundreds of additional staffers to create a COVID-safe environment here. 

As you know, there has been — the President has — and our team, I should say — has spoken about the prioritization, of course, of teachers and educators and childcare providers.  We’d certainly defer to CDC on what that should look like.  And they may speak to that on this 11:00 a.m. call as well, but I’m not going to get ahead of their outlines or prioritization or specifics.

Q    And just one more on GameStop, not to be labor the point, but —

MS. PSAKI:  I love the effort.  You guys are trying so hard on this.  (Laughter.)

Q    What is the broader message to the American public and people about the world that, you know, in large cases, individual investors acting collectively against large financial institutions are shut down pretty much overnight, while the big banks and financial institutions responsible for the 2008 housing crisis got a — got a “get out of jail free” card?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the message is that the U.S. government is starting to work how it should.  The SEC is a regulatory agency that oversees and monitors developments along these lines.  It is currently in their purview.  They’ve put out several statements this week.  We will certainly defer to them on that.  And I point you to them for further questions.

Go ahead, in the back.

Q    Thank you.  Jen, can we expect to see the President in this briefing room anytime soon?

MS. PSAKI:  Are you eager to see him?  Is that what you’re saying?

You know, the President took questions earlier this week when he did an event, and we certainly are going to look for opportunities to continue to do that.  The location of where the questions will take place, I don’t think I have anything further.  But we’ll look for additional opportunities to — for him to take additional questions from all of you.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  What does President Biden make of reports that Senate Democrats, including Bernie Sanders, who will chair the Budget Committee — he’s chairing the Budget Committee — are planning to expand the use of the budget reconciliation process for legislation that’s not revenue, does not directly impact federal revenue, like the $15.00 minimum wage?  Is that something that President Biden is okay with?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President is going to leave it to Congress to determine their parliamentary process for moving legislation forward, as should be the case. 

You know, I think it’s obviously been broadly reported that there is consideration on the American Rescue Plan of what the path forward will look like and how to expedite moving that forward.  And there’s an urgency, and we certainly feel that. 

But our view is that this bill should be bipartisan; 74 percent of the public support it.  And we want Republican — to work with Republicans on fighting COVID and putting the American people back to work. 

But as we work on this bill, if, you know, we are going to — our priority is on getting it through and not on the focus on what the parliamentary process is.

Q    And just a follow-up: What is his message to progressives who are arguing that the $1.9 trillion relief package should be the floor and not the ceiling?  And would President Biden consider pushing a relief bill that is more than $2 million?  What about the idea of reoccurring stimulus checks that some progressives are advocating for?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’ve seen those reports, and obviously he’s had conversations, as our team has, with members of the Progressive Caucus and other progressive members of Congress. 

And as I’ve said in here many times before — I mean, part of this process is that the President laid out his vision; he is getting feedback.  Some — a lot of the focus in here has been members who have said it’s too big, but some are saying it’s too small.  And as a part of the discussion, we have those engagements and determine how to improve the bill and what opportunities there are to do exactly that. 

So he welcomes their engagement, he welcomes their ideas, but he’s put forward his plan.  And his main bottom line is that we’re not going to break it apart, and the three components of it are pivotal in moving it forward.

But the size and the scope of the package — this is the legislative process.  This is democracy at work now.

Q    But certainly he has an opinion, and that’s very influential in the process.  So would he think it’s realistic to go above $2 trillion?

MS. PSAKI:   Well, again, I think the best place to look for what’s realistic is to members of Congress and their whip counts, and I’m sure that the leadership can give you an assessment of that.

Go ahead.

Q    Is there any chance that the Summit for Democracy, which was mentioned during the campaign, could happen before summer?

MS. PSAKI:  Before summer?

Q    Yeah. 

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any — I know it was a campaign promise and something that was mentioned during the campaign, but I don’t have any more details on plans at this point in time.

Go ahead.

Q    Yesterday we saw Vice President Harris do local media interviews in the states of West Virginia and Arizona.  You know, obviously there’s been a lot of focus on your efforts to get Republicans on board.  Are you concerned that budget reconciliation, even — you know, may not be realistic, or that you may lose some Democrats?  Is that why Vice President Harris was making those calls, to shore up Democratic support?

MS. PSAKI:  Vice President Harris was making those calls because we want to make the case to the American people across the country.  And obviously she’s not traveling to those states and holding big events or even events with, you know, not big crowds, but some crowd.  And so this was a way to do exactly that. 

Q    Why those states specifically?

MS. PSAKI:  I think she’ll do a number of additi- — of more regional calls and regional interviews, as will other members of the team, and including on national networks, of course, and that will continue in the days ahead.

Go ahead.

Q    One more on your favorite topic: reconciliation.  I know it’s wonky, but —

MS. PSAKI:  That’s okay.  That’s what we’re here for.  Policy is back.  (Laughter.)

Q    The President, as you said multiple times, is reaching out to Republicans in an effort to get a bipartisan bill.  At the same time, Majority Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi seem to be aggressively moving towards reconciliation.  Do you think — does the President think that the Democratic leader’s push for reconciliation at this time is hurting his chances to get Republicans on board?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President’s focus is on the end goal of delivering relief to the American people, not the parliamentary procedures, as we’ve said.  And we can imagine that the one in seven families who are hungry, or the thousands who have lost a loved one to COVID care much about the procedure either.

So, I would — I would flip it the other way to you.  I think a fair question you might ask our GOP or Republican colleagues is why they oppose proposals that have the support of 71 percent — 74 percent, sorry — of the American public.  And even if this bill moves forward through the reconciliation process — again, a parliamentary procedure — it doesn’t mean they can’t vote for it. 

And the President’s objective and focus is to continue to have those conversations and pursue a path forward where he can gain bipartisan support.  But again, the public — 74 percent of the public is with him in that endeavor — and their constituents.

Go ahead, Steve.

Q    The President spoke with the NATO Secretary General the other day.

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

Q    Is the President satisfied with the level of defense spending by NATO allies?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we did —

Q    Did this come up in their conversation?

MS. PSAKI:  I know we put out a readout of that and a fun video, if I may note, of his conversation with the U.N. Secretary General.  You know, he had spoken about the importance of NATO allies and partners, you know, making their — playing — playing the role and contributing their fair share when he was Vice President.  That remains his commitment.  But I don’t have any more detail of the call than what has already been read out. 

Q    Thank you, Jen.

MS. PSAKI:  Thank you, guys.  Have a great day.

Oh, let me do one more thing.  So it’s important to me, but also to the President, that everybody know everybody on the press team.  So I’m just going to embarrass TJ, who you guys all know, and Karine, who are two deputies in the press office — Principal Deputy Karine, Deputy TJ — who you all should know, the public should know.  They’re going to be pivotal faces, and they play an important role. 

So, thank you, everyone.  Have a great Friday.

10:48 AM

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