Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, February 8, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:07 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. (Phone alarm rings.)
TJ has an alarm going off. He’s excited about the briefing. (Laughter.)
Hey, just a couple of things for you all at the top. The President and his entire administration are continuing to engage closely with leaders on Capitol Hill about the need to act quickly on the American Rescue Plan so we can finish the job of getting $2,000 checks out to Americans, so we can get more vaccines in the arms of Americans, so we can get economic relief to families facing eviction or food insecurity, and so we can help reopen schools safely.
We’re encouraged that both Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Schumer are in full agreement about the need to move swiftly on the President’s proposal, and the committee mark-ups we’ll see throughout this week are evidence of Congress acting on that expeditiously.
Our expectation is that this week’s House mark-ups will track closely with what the President has proposed, but there will, of course, be adjustments to strengthen the bill and tweaks as a result of the legislative process — which he’s quite familiar with, having served there for 36 years — which is exactly how the process is supposed to work.
We’re also going to continue to make the case directly to the American people about the urgency of getting this package across the finish line, including though national and local TV and radio interviews, engagement with hundreds of mayors and county elected officials, and consultations with stakeholders across the political spectrum, from labor and rural leaders to the faith community.
Here is a quick overview — a number of you have asked about this — of the sense of the scope of our efforts:
Over a dozen senior administration officials have conducted over 100 national TV, radio, and podcast interviews to discuss the American Rescue Plan. We’ve done over 30 local TV interviews in states ranging from Nevada to Louisiana to Pennsylvania. In the last week alone, our legislative affairs team had done more than 300 calls with members and staff on the Hill, including 40 calls with Republicans or bipartisan groups.
And you can expect that the President will engage throughout the course of this week with a range of stakeholders, including business leaders, mayors, and governors.
And as we’ve discussed before, this message is resonating. Poll after poll show a bipartisan majority of the American people in support of the President’s plan.
A couple of other quick updates for all of you:
Many folks likely noticed, if you all watched the Super Bowl, the President and the First Lady yesterday appeared in a PSA that aired during the pre-game show, thanking healthcare workers and addressing the importance of continuing to wear masks and getting vaccinations when it’s your turn. This is a good example of how you can expect the White House, in the coming months, to reach out with critical public health messaging as part of an education campaign, meeting Americans where they are — on their couches, watching the Super Bowl, for yesterday — and communicating about the important mitigation steps people can take.
As many of you also know, last night during the Super Bowl, President Biden called service members to thank them for their courage, dedication, and service to our nation. He first called troops with Resolute Support Mission in Kabul, and then the USS Nimitz. He then shared via ship broadcast a message to the nearly 5,000 sailors and Marines who comprise the USS Nimitz crew.
With that, let’s get your questions. Go ahead, Alex.
Q Thanks, Jen. I have two. The first is on your favorite topic: impeachment. Does the President have plans to watch any of the trial this week? And does the White House prefer a speedy impeachment trial, or would the President prefer a full airing of the violence of the Capitol and Trump’s role in inciting it through things like live witnesses?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, the President himself would tell you that we keep him pretty busy, and he has a full schedule this week, which we will continue to keep you abreast of and — as soon as we have more details. But we’ve already announced his plans to go visit the NIH, to go visit the Department of Defense. As I noted, he will be engaging with business leaders, mayors, and governors — and of course continuing to make the case and have conversations with Democrats and Republicans directly about his hopes and plans for the American Rescue Plan moving forward as quickly as possible.
So he — I think it’s clear from his schedule, and from his intention, he will not spend too much time watching the proceedings of — any time over the course of this week. He will remain closely in touch with Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, a range of officials on the Hill about his plan. And that’s exactly what they want him to do, is to remain focused on that.
And he will leave the pace and the process and the mechanics of the impeachment proceedings up to members of Congress.
Q And President Biden said there’s no need for Trump to receive intelligence briefings. Has Trump requested any? Has he received any? And is that the official decision? Or who was that decision left up to?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President said, when asked, that he — there was no need for him to receive them. And he referenced, of course, his erratic behavior, which I think many Americans would agree with him on. He was expressing his concern about former President Trump receiving access to sensitive intelligence.
But he also has deep trust in his intelligence — own intelligence team to make a determination about how to provide intelligence information if, at any point, the former president requests a briefing. So that’s not currently applicable. But if he should request a briefing, he leaves it to them to make a determination.
Oh sorry, I’ve been meaning to go to Reuters next, so we’ll go right to you next. Go ahead.
Q Thank you so much. So, you mentioned that there will be adjustments — or there could be adjustments —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — to the ARP. One component of that is — that was really important as far as campaign promise was the $15 minimum wage. The President has already signaled that that may not make it into the full package. How important is that measure still to the White House? And how will you get it done?
And then also, the other thing that came up this weekend is looking at tweaking the level of who gets the stimulus checks. And Janet Yellen mentioned $60,000. Can you explain who gets left out, right? You know, if you get the 60 — you know, who is between the $60,000 and the $75,000?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, on the first question, the President is — remains firmly committed to raising the minimum wage to $15. That’s why he put it in his first legislative proposal, and he doesn’t — he believes that any American who is working a full-time job trying to make ends meet should not be at the poverty level. And it’s important to him that the minimum wage is raised.
He was referring this weekend to, as you noted in your question, the parliamentary process. Obviously, it’s — the most likely path at this point is through a reconciliation process. There is a parliamentarian who will make decisions about what can end up in a final package. And that was certainly what he was referencing in his comments.
In terms of what the options are, we’ll see what the parliamentarian decides, and then we’ll see what additional options are. But we’re getting a little ahead of where we are at this point in the process. I’m sure we can continue to have a discussion about it in here.
And then say your second question one more time.
Q Sixty thousand.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, one of the pieces that the President has talked about is his openness to engaging and having a discussion about what is called, kind of, the — unofficially called, I guess — the “scale up,” right? So his proposal, as you know, had proposed $1,400 checks to make the $2,000 whole. He had proposed, kind of, a threshold. There’s a discussion right now about what that threshold will look like. A conclusion hasn’t been finalized; that will be worked through Congress.
But either way, his bottom line is that families making $275,000, $300,000 a year may not be the most in need of checks at this point in time. But whatever the threshold is, there will be a scale up. So his view is that a nurse, a teacher, or a firefighter who’s making $60,000, shouldn’t be left without any support or relief either. It’s just a question of, sort of, where the scale up looks like — what it looks like in a final package. But it’s still being negotiated at this point in time.
Q Jen, if I could just ask you on the $15 — you know, doesn’t it make it much harder to get it through if you don’t attach it to this COVID relief bill? I mean, does that really — and then, the CBO is saying that, in fact, if you did go through with it, that, you know, it would lead to a 0.9 percent reduction in the number of jobs.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I heard about the CBO score as I was walking out here, so I haven’t talked with our economic team about that specifically. And at this point in time, it’s still working its way through the process in Congress, and the parliamentarian still has to make a determination about what will be in the final package.
Oh, I promised I’d go to you first —
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: “Next,” I should say. Thank you. Go ahead.
Q Thank you. I have a couple of questions on COVID, but I wanted to start with Iran.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q President Biden said that the U.S. would not lift sanctions first and that Iran would have to stop enriching uranium before negotiations could resume. But since then, the Supreme Leader has said that the U.S. has to act first and roll back sanctions in order to reengage. Is this a non-negotiable point for President Biden? And if so, how do you get out of this stalemate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, just to be very clear, the President never said that exactly. It was stated by the interviewer, who — Norah O’Donnell, who did the interview — and he didn’t respond to the question.
So the President’s view — position is that if Iran comes back into full —
Q I believe he nodded when she asked that question.
MS. PSAKI: I think if we were announcing a major policy change, we would do it in a different way than a slight head nod. But, overall, his position has — it remains exactly what it has been, which is that if Iran comes into full compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA, the United States would do the same, and then use that as a platform to build a larger and stronger agreement that also addresses other areas of concern.
And that would, of course, be done with our P5+1 partners as it was done when we were putting together the JCPOA in the first place.
Q So what’s the response to Iran’s argument that it was actually the U.S. that violated the JCPOA by abandoning it, and therefore, it’s the U.S.’s burden to reengage?
S. PSAKI: Well, that — those were actions of the former administration, as you know. And President Biden, of course, was a part of an administration that MS. PSAKI: Well that — those were actions of the former administration, as you know. And President Biden, of course, were advocating for the plan to be put together to begin with.
But I think his position, the position of our national security team, and the position that he’s been in discussion with our partners about — or I should say, conveying to our partners — is that it’s really up to Iran to come back into full compliance and — with its obligations under the JCPOA. And at that point, we could move the discussion forward.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q And on COVID: Can you talk about the concrete steps the administration is doing to target and stop the spread of the variants we keep hearing about? Does that include surging vaccines to areas impacted like South Florida or California with the B117 strain?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know, for those of you — and I know we had a lot of briefings today — who had the opportunity to participate in the briefing with some of our medical and health experts, they talked about the importance of not only vaccination — getting the vaccine when you’re eligible — that that is a protective step, obviously — and also abiding by a number of the mitigation steps that our health experts have recommended. But beyond that, I don’t — I’m not going to go beyond the advice of our health and medical experts at this point in time.
Go ahead, Kaitlan.
Q Two questions for you, one on the minimum wage. You’re saying it’s up to the parliamentarian to make a decision about whether that can be included in here. Of course, we know Senator Sanders said they’re still waiting on that. But technically, the Vice President could overrule the parliamentarian on this. And it hasn’t happened in a long time, but is that an option the White House is considering? Would Vice President — or would President Biden want Vice President Harris to overrule the parliamentarian to include this in this package?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not aware of that being allowed; I’d certainly take you at your word. I think our view is that the parliamentarian is who is chosen typically to make a decision in a nonpartisan manner in terms of what can be included in a package that goes through reconciliation, is the proper process to — for this to journey through.
Q So, when President Biden told CBS that he did not think it was going to survive, what was — who had told him that he — it wasn’t going to make it through likely?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President was in Congress for — in the Senate for 36 years. Again, it still has not worked its way through the process, and that can take a bit of time, and we certainly defer to the parliamentarian and members of the House and — of the Senate, I should say — to give you a better assessment of what the timeline looks like.
Q Okay, I have another question on impeachment. But just to be clear, so —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — if the parliamentarian says no — no $15 minimum wage — that’s the decision the White House is going with?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let’s wait and see what they say. And the President remains committed to raising the minimum wage. It’s something he talked about on the campaign trail, something he firmly believes in as a — as a person and as a leader, but there hasn’t been a determination made at this point in time.
Q Okay. And on impeachment, the President and the White House has not said either way if he believes that former President Trump should be convicted by the Senate in this trial. But if he doesn’t believe that he should get access to intelligence briefings, why can’t he say whether or not he should be convicted by the Senate?
MS. PSAKI: He’s no longer in the Senate. He’s retired from the Senate and he’s President of the United States, and his focus is on getting relief to the American people. That’s exactly what he’s conveyed publicly, of course, and privately as well. And he’ll leave it to his former colleagues in the Senate or members of the Senate to determine the path forward.
Q But doesn’t he think that someone — if he believes his behavior is too erratic to get access to intelligence, then doesn’t he believe that he should be barred from holding office again?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he ran against him because he felt he was unfit for office and he defeated him, and that’s why he’s no longer President — Trump is no longer President of the United States. So I think his views of the former President are pretty clear. But he’s going to leave it to the Senate to see this impeachment proceedings forward — through.
Q Just to follow up on that question, will the President commit to giving his view once the — all the evidence is heard in the impeachment trial?
And then, secondly, a question on Myanmar. What is the U.S. doing to perhaps accelerate some of the action we’re seeing over the weekend with protests? And secondly, how concerned is the U.S. about China, which has not stepped in forcefully and is not calling it a “coup”?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. The — we have been — our national security team has been in touch with a number of our partners and allies. We’ve obviously — we were outspoken quite quickly in the days following the coup. And we named it — designated it a coup very quickly.
In terms of what actions we’re taking, there are considerations that are underway or policy processes that are underway on our national security team, as we speak. I don’t have an update on that today, but when we do, we will certainly make you all abreast of that. And certainly, we are concerned about China’s absence from the conversation and lack of a vocal role here.
On the first question, the President was asked about this this morning, and he made pretty clear he wasn’t planning to speak to it. So I — again, he’s no longer in the Senate. And we put out a statement at the conclusion of the House proceedings. I — certainly, we’d consider doing that at the conclusion of the Senate, but I don’t expect that he’s going to be, you know, posturing or commenting on this through the course of the week.
Q Thank you, Jen. I do have a question on COVID. But first, on energy: When is it that the Biden administration is going to let the thousands of fossil fuel industry workers, whether it’s pipeline workers or construction workers who are either out of work or will soon be out of work because of a Biden EO, when it is and where it is that they can go for their green job? And that is something the administration has promised. There is now a gap. So I’m just curious when that happens, when those people can count on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d certainly welcome you to present your data of all the thousands and thousands of people who won’t be getting a green job. Maybe next time you’re here, you can present that.
Q Well, no, but you said that they would be getting green jobs. So I’m just asking when that happens. Richard Trumka, who is a friend — longtime friend of —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q — Joe Biden, says, about that day one Keystone EO — he says, “I wish he…” — the President — “…had paired that more carefully with the thing that he did second by saying, ‘Here’s where we are creating the jobs.'” So, there’s partial evidence from Richard Trumka.
MS. PSAKI: Well, you didn’t include all of his interview.
Q Well, okay — how about — okay, so —
MS. PSAKI: Would you like to include the rest?
Q So how about this: The Laborers’ International Union of North America said the Keystone decision will “cost 1,000 existing union jobs and 10,000 projected construction” jobs.
MS. PSAKI: Well, what Mr. Trumka also indicated in the same interview was that President Biden has proposed a climate plan with transformative investments and infrastructure and laid out a plan that will not only create millions of good union jobs, but also help tackle the climate crisis.
And as the President has indicated when he gave his primetime address to talk about the American Rescue Plan, he talked about his plans to also put forward a jobs plan in the — in the weeks or months following. And he has every plan to do exactly that.
Q But there are people living paycheck to paycheck. There are now people out of job once the Keystone pipe — out of jobs once the Keystone pipeline stopped construction. It’s been 12 days since Gina McCarthy and John Kerry were here, and it’s been 19 days since that EO. So what are these people who need money now — when do they get their green job?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President and many Democrats and Republicans in Congress believe that investment in infrastructure — building infrastructure that’s in our national interests, that boosts the U.S. economy, creates good-paying union jobs here in America, and advances our climate and clean energy goals — are something that we can certainly work on doing together. And he has every plan to share more about his details of that plan in the weeks ahead.
Q And then just a quick one on the stimulus. There’s reporting that House Democrats are going to come out with a $3,000-per-child stimulus for some eligible families. Is that something that the White House supports making a permanent benefit?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President talked about this a bit on the campaign trail, and the importance of child tax credits to help working families ensure they can make ends meet. This proposal is emergency funding, as I understand it. It’s a central priority of his first legislative proposal to cut child poverty half — in half in the first — this year — sorry. And that’s why he included a Child Tax Credit in the American Rescue Plan. But that’s, again, emergency funding and something that will help people get through this period of time.
Okay, go ahead.
Q This is a follow-up to Peter’s question.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q What’s this White House’s stance on a universal basic income — this idea of the government giving out the regular checks on a routine basis to Americans who might need it?
MS. PSAKI: I know that’s been proposed by a number of people, including some on the presidential campaign trail. I don’t have anything more for you on it. I’m happy to check with our economic team if that’s something that they’re looking at, at all.
Q As a corollary to it, do you agree with the need that many on the Hill, and not just Democrats, are expressing that there ought to be these enormous — well, I won’t say “enormous” — but $3,000- or $4,000-per-child checks for families right now?
MS. PSAKI: I — as I tried to just indicate, I mean, the President supports the proposal that Representative Neal and others have put forward to ensure that there is money in the — in the package that helps bring relief to families in the form of a Child Tax Credit. That’s something he certainly would support.
Q Thanks. And I have two questions. One of the other things that Secretary Yellen said yesterday is that the President is open to a mandate on family leave and childcare. Is there a timetable on that?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details or a timetable for you. Certainly, as a father himself, this is an issue that he has spoken about in the past. But I don’t have any more details at this point in time.
Q And also, yesterday, did the President or did the White House have any concern about what we all saw on TV from Tampa, about the thousands of people out celebrating and without masks? Any concern there?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly. I mean, the President — I haven’t spoken with him specifically about the events of this weekend, but, you know, he did a PSA yesterday with Dr. Biden, making clear that social distancing, that mask wearing, that getting the vaccine when you have the opportunity to get the vaccine are vital steps to keeping more Americans safe and saving more lives.
And certainly, we know the Super Bowl looked not — like, different from what it has in the past, and he also conveyed that he’s hopeful that next year will be a moment where everybody can celebrate and party. But he is, of course, concerned when there are pictures and photos — we all are — that show many, many people without masks, in close distance with one another, at the height of a pandemic.
Q Jen, I have two questions. First, President Biden said in the CBS interview that he hadn’t spoken to President Xi yet because he hadn’t had an occasion to talk to him; there’s no reason not to call him. But has there been — is it actually part of the strategy to not call him yet and to hold off on that in hopes of, kind of, sending a message to China that, you know, President Biden is not going to, you know, try to work, you know, really hard to curry favor? Is there something happening there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, part of our strategy is to consult closely with our partners and allies. And you saw we did readouts of these calls over the past week or so, that he spoke — the President spoke with the Prime Minister of Japan, he spoke with the Prime Minister of South Korea, he spoke with the Prime Minister of Australia. And China was, of course, an important topic of conversation during those conversations.
He also discussed China with — in calls with his European allies thus far. So part of our strategy is certainly engaging with partners in the region and allies, and doing those calls and engagements first, and also having consultations with Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.
We’ve only — I know I can’t say this forever, but we’ve only been here two and a half weeks. He has not called every global leader yet. He’s not had engagements with all of them, and I’m sure he will do more of that in the weeks ahead.
Q But he has spoken to President Putin, who is somebody who is not quite an ally.
MS. PSAKI: Certainly not. Yes.
Q So — and that was more than a week ago at this point. So —
MS. PSAKI: Yes, but he had that conversation in part because there was a timeline for New START and the deadline that was approaching with New START. And during that conversation, he made very clear that there are significant concerns he has, the administration has, about the reported actions of the Russian government. But for the most part, his other calls have been with partners and allies in the region, in Asia and Europe as well, at this point in time.
Q And then, on something else. Ron Klain said on January 21st that the administration was going to try to build what he described as a “national clearinghouse” for information about the COVID vaccine. Is something like that being built in the administration? And if so, how long do you think that’s going to take? I think people are really struggling to find information about their state, their county, and, you know, there’s just so — there’s so much difficulty in the vaccination process.
MS. PSAKI: You’re right, there’s a great deal of confusion. And one of the focuses we have had is trying to alleviate that confusion, and part of that has been through working with governors and local elected officials.
One of their biggest requests has been to have more of a heads up on how much vaccine supply there would be, of course, to increase vaccine supply. We’ve worked to do both, to give — ensure that there’s (inaudible) planning time for vaccine allocation, increases in allotments as supply allows, and of course, deploying government resources to sites where they are needed.
We’re looking at a host of measures that could help us achieve our goal, of course, of getting 100 million vaccines in the arms of Americans in the first 100 days, and also ensuring that we’re reaching communities where there are higher levels of vaccine hesitancy.
But the President — and the President has directed his team to do — use whatever tools and resources necessary to get the job done.
So there are a range of options under consideration, but I don’t have any updates for you on that particular proposal. Certainly a lot of people would love that, but we’re looking to prioritize how we can be most impactful as quickly as possible in working with states and governors to make those determinations.
Go ahead, Anne.
Q Thank you. Back on impeachment. You mentioned that the President will be in close contact with Senator Schumer. Do you expect that to be daily? Have they — for example, have they spoken since he’s gotten back from Delaware? Do you — like, will that be a regular way that the President is briefed on the progress of the impeachment trial?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t expect that would be a primary topic. I actually expect it would be more about the American Rescue Plan and progress being made on that front.
There are, of course, markups happening this week — more on the House side. And the President has remained in close touch with Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer very regularly over the course of the last few weeks, and I expect that would continue.
Q Do you expect that they will have any strategy discussions at all as the trial is unfolding?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t expect that would be a primary point of discussion of their conversations.
Q And you said that he’s not — he’s busy and he’s not going to be spending moment-by-moment attention to it this week, but will he get a daily update, or perhaps more frequently than that, from White House staff?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t expect that will be a primary focus for him this week or of his senior staff either.
Q I’ve got a foreign policy question following on —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — Weijia’s question about Iran. When the President ruled out dropping U.S. sanctions immediately, he didn’t then go on and talk about some of the other strategies that are out there, including, for example, that the United States might drop its objections to Iran receiving an IMF loan — credit-related IMF loan. There are a couple other ideas that would allow Iran to get some economic benefit that would not be sanctions and maybe grease the wheel for negotiations. Does the President have a view on that — on those strategies? And were they part of the discussion at the principals meeting on Friday?
MS. PSAKI: I am not going to rule — read out a principals meeting, which was primarily focused on a range of issues in the Middle East. Of course, Iran was a topic of discussion, or was expected to be a topic of discussion.
I think during the interview, the President was asked about whether he would roll back sanctions, and he conveyed, no, that it’s — the ball is in Iran’s court. It wasn’t a more extensive conversation than that during the interview. And that’s long been his position, so that really is the next step in terms of engagement with Iran from here.
Q So that is not ruling it out necessarily? That there might be other ways to, sort of, help Iran get back to the table that would be short of dropping U.S. sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think his view is that the ball is in Iran’s court to come back into full compliance with the JCPOA, and that that would be the basis for the United States doing the same and then using that as a platform to build a longer and stronger agreement.
But that is really the next step, in his view, in the process.
Q I have one more very quickly on the Post Office, if I could. On-time First Class mail delivery dropped to 38 percent in December of this year from 92 percent the year before. Does the President have a view on whether the Postmaster General should keep his job? And if he would like to see the Postmaster General removed, would he move to change the makeup of the governing board that could make that happen?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I understand it, there are a number of openings right now on the governing board of the Post Office — or vacancies, I should say — that would, of course, work their way through a personnel process.
I don’t think I have anything more for it on this for you, but I can follow up with our team and see what more we can report out.
Q Back on the subject of the COVID checks. Bernie Sanders said it would be absurd to lower the threshold — the income threshold. And some other Democrats have raised the prospect that doing so could lead to a political backlash, given voters in Georgia were explicitly promised this aid by the President, and they didn’t really have any reason to believe that fewer people would qualify for that aid under the Democrats’ plan. So I’m wondering if that’s something you guys are concerned about and how you would address that criticism.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President proposed the $1,400 checks to make — to — plus $600 is, of course, $2,000 — because he was — felt it was important and vital to get that direct relief to as many Americans as possible and target that relief to the Americans who need help the most. And that’s how his original plan and proposal was designed.
He’s also said, and I’ve said many times from here, that the final plan will look different from what the plan he proposed in his joint session address. It’s still working its way through Congress, and I don’t think a conclusion has been made yet on the exact level of targeting. And when it does, we’re happy to have a conversation about that.
But part of this is, you know, an opportunity for members of both parties and members who are across the political spectrum — of course, even in the Democratic Party — to weigh in on what the path forward should look like.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you, Jen. A little bit of follow-up on a Iran and China question. What does President Biden consider the biggest threat to the U.S. national security?
MS. PSAKI: Overall in the world?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not sure I’m going to define that for you in this moment. There are a range of threats that he’s talked about in the past, and I’m sure he’ll have more to say on his national security approach and strategy in the weeks ahead.
Q And then, one question. Last week, a report made by NGOs and universities was sent to the White House, recommending that United States break negotiations on trade and others, with Brazil, over climate and human rights violation. And likewise, some Democrats on the Hill already had expressed the same opposition to expand economic partnership with Brazil. Is the White House paying attention to those reports and to what’s happening in Brazil?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly are paying close attention to what is happening in Brazil. Obviously, we share a vibrant partnership that spans two centuries of mutual interest and shared values. And we, you know, have even announced in recent days — you know, on February 5th — the United States government, through USAID, announced it has delivered an additional $1.5 million in emergency COVID response in Brazil.
And, we, of course, remain, you know, closely engaged in these — in what is a significant economic relationship. We are, by far, the largest investor in Brazil, including in many of Brazil’s most innovative and growth-focused companies, and we’ll continue to strengthen our economic ties and increase our large and growing trade relationship in the months ahead.
Q But, Jen, the policies of the Brazilian President and President Biden, on many issues — climate, gay rights, other ones — are very different. How can they work together?
MS. PSAKI: Well, just as is true in many of our relationships, we look for opportunities to work together on issues where there is joint national interest. And obviously there’s a significant economic relationship, and we will not hold back on areas where we disagree, whether it’s climate or human rights, or otherwise. And so that will be the path forward with our relationship with Brazil as well.
Go ahead, Yamiche.
Q Thanks so much. A few questions. The first is, what should Americans take away from the fact that President Biden campaigned on unity, talked about unity, got into office, about two weeks in has decided — all but decided, it seems, to go with a process where Democrats can pass a $1.9 trillion plan without the support of Republicans?
I know that there are Republicans across the country that the White House is pointing to saying, “They support this bill.” But there is this — there is the fact that Democrats don’t have to have Republican support in Congress for this bill, and the President is seemingly supporting that process. So I’m wondering what people should take away from that. And will that definition of bipartisanship be the one that is going forward with this White House?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President ran on unifying the country, not on creating one political party. But I will note that 16 of the last 21 reconciliation bills that have gone through Congress have been bipartisan. And certainly there’s opportunity for Republicans to not only offer amendments as it’s going through the House committee process, and then will go through the Senate committee process following that, but they will have the opportunity to, of course, vote for a package that will — that the vast majority of the American people support.
So, you know, the President is — his first priority is getting relief to the American people. But the vast majority of the public — Democrats, Republicans, independents — are with him in that effort. There’s a long history of bipartisan support for reconciliation bills, a parliamentary process again.
Again, I don’t think the American people are particularly worried about how the direct relief gets to their — into their hands. And, you know, that — if that’s the process that it moves forward through, which seems likely at this point, the President would certainly support that.
Q I have a question also on impeachment. I know the President, you say, isn’t going to be watching it, but there are going to be millions of Americans who will be watching it. I wonder what the President’s message is to Americans, especially the ones that are still mourning the loss of people who died in the Capitol, who are still wondering whether or not the President — former President Trump will be possibly acquitted in this trial.
Even if he — even if Biden doesn’t look — President Biden doesn’t want to say whether or not President Trump should be convicted, I just wonder if the White House has any message to Americans who are gearing up for what could be a tumultuous and dramatic two weeks.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President’s focus is on delivering what those millions and millions and millions of Americans care deeply about, which is getting the pandemic under control, putting 10 million Amer- — you know, putting millions of Americans back to work, getting vaccines in the arms of Americans, reopening schools. And he has been clear that he views the events of January 6th as a horrific attack on our democracy.
He put out a statement — we put out a statement from him, I should say, when the House voted. But he’s going to leave it to the Senate to determine the path forward here. That doesn’t change. You know, and his view is that he was elected to deliver on the promises he made on the campaign trail. So that’s what he’s going to keep his focus on in the weeks ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead, Yamiche.
Q Saying that the GOP can offer amendments, that doesn’t mean that they have to listen to them or accept them. So I wonder, then, if Republicans have to just accept what the Democrats have approved. I just wonder if you could talk a bit more about this definition of “bipartisanship,” because there is this — I know you’re saying that Democrats are giving Republicans the opportunity, but there’s still this — this idea that Democrats are in — two weeks in, are going it alone.
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, 16 of 21 reconciliation bills in the past have received bipartisan support. And the ideas in this package, the proposals in this package, have broad support from Democrats, Republicans, and independents across the country. So I would pose the question back to Republicans: Why aren’t you supporting what the vast majority of the public supports?
I’ll leave it at that. Go ahead.
Q And can I ask you about military and sexual assault?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sure. Go ahead.
Q It’s completely different, but —
MS. PSAKI: It’s okay. We can switch topics. That’s fine. Go ahead.
Q A completely different topic, which is, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin wrote his first memo on January 23rd that the President had ordered a 90-day commission to pursue solutions to sexual assault in the military. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about if that’s a White House commission, a Defense commission; who picks the commissioners — anything more you can say about that commission that’s supposed to be looking at sexual assault in the military.
MS. PSAKI: I believe it’s a commission at the Department of Defense. It’s certainly an initiative the President of the United States supports, but I would send you to the Department of Defense for more specifics about the timeline and membership.
Q With some of the crises that the nation has faced in recent months — you’ve got COVID, more than 400,000 Americans dead; January 6th, the attack on American democracy — there have been calls for a 9/11-style commission to write the official histories of those events. Is that something the President would support?
MS. PSAKI: Of the COVID commission?
Q Or 9/11. I’m sorry, or January 6th, rather.
MS. PSAKI: Well, you know, a determination of that kind would be made by Congress, as you all know. And his focus, at this point in time, is on addressing the crisis in this moment — right? — which is ensuring that more Americans get shots in their arms, that we are getting the pandemic under control.
There has been a report by HHS looking at the prior administration’s handling of the COVID crisis, and we’ve also not held back in areas where we felt that it was handled in a way that impacted the lives of millions.
So — but at this point in time, our focus is really on getting the pandemic under control, and we’ll leave that decision up to Congress.
Q Two quick ones. One, news of the day: Has President Biden reached out to anybody from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? And if not, is that something that’s going to happen today?
MS. PSAKI: It’s very exciting, the outcome of the Super Bowl, I guess, if you’re a fan of the Buccaneers. But we will be inviting — I don’t have an update for if it’s happened yet, but I do have an update though that we look forward to inviting the Buccaneers, as well as the 2020 NBA champions, the Lakers, to the White House, when it is COVID safe. But I don’t know when that will take place yet.
Q Thank you. And on immigration, there’s some new reporting that ICE is going to get some new guidance to no longer focus on deporting illegal immigrants who have been convicted of DUIs, simple assault, solicitation, drug-based crimes, among other things. And I’m curious how that is in the interest of public safety.
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, it’s guidelines that would be put out by the Department of Homeland Security, and I’d certainly send you to them. They have a confirmed Secretary now.
But the priority for the enforcement of immigration laws will be on those who are posing a national security threat; of course, a public safety threat; and on recent arrivals. Nobody is saying that DUIs or assault are acceptable behavior. And those arrested for such activities should be tried and sentenced as appropriate by local law enforcement. But we’re talking about the prioritization of who is going to be deported from the country.
Q And more broadly, would this be what Biden was talking about in the debate, where he said, in the Obama administration, they didn’t do enough to reform the immigration system, because he was just Vice President, but that if he was President, things would change? Is this the kind of change that he was talking about?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the kind of change he was talking about was putting forward an immigration bill, at a time where modernization of immigration is long overdue, that addresses not only a pathway to citizenship, but puts in place smart security measures and addresses the root causes of these issues in the countries in Central America.
So I think that’s primarily what he was referring to, but also prioritization, which, again, would be up to the Department of Homeland Security. To ensure our focus is on the individuals who pose the greatest national security threat is also something he’s long supported.
Go ahead, Kaitlan.
Q Sorry. You seem to be saying this, but I just want it to be clear.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q President — former President Trump has not requested any intelligencer briefings, right?
MS. PSAKI: Not — not that I’m aware of, but I would point you to the intelligence community and the ODNI for more specifics.
Q And a follow-up on that. Why — is there a reason Morgan Muir is no longer leading President Biden’s daily intelligence briefings?
MS. PSAKI: I believe he is overseeing the process of preparing materials —
Q Yeah, he’s still in the role, but —
MS. PSAKI: — but I don’t have any more details. I’d point you to ODNI on that as well.
Q Okay. So there’s no reason you know of that he’s not leading the in-person briefings? He’s assembling the daily briefings —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — not leading them in person, like he was.
MS. PSAKI: Which is a very important role to play, and very — very labor intensive. But I would point you to them for more specifics on the briefings and who will be providing the briefings.
Q Thanks, Jen. I have two questions. One is a quick follow on impeachment.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Aside from the particulars of this case, does President Biden think it’s constitutional to impeach and convict a former President who is no longer in office?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to have any more for you on weighing in on impeachment. I appreciate the — it’s a big story, but our focus is on the American Rescue Plan and delivering for the American people.
Q Got it. I do have a COVID —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — COVID-crisis-related question because —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q — the attacks in the Asian American community continue to rise, and over the weekend, there some videos that went viral because elderly Asian Americans were really attacked and in a way that is difficult to watch. And I wonder, other than the presidential memorandum, is President Biden going to take any further actions to address this problem or — and has he seen the videos?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware that he’s seen the videos, but he is concerned about the discrimination against, the actions against the Asian American community, which is why he signed the executive order and why he has been outspoken and making clear that, you know, attacks — verbal attacks, any attacks of any form are unacceptable, and we need to work together to address them.
But obviously, the executive order is something he did very early in his administration — it’s still early, but even earlier — because he felt it was so important to put a marker down.
Q Is there anything more that can be done, like offer DOJ or FBI assistance to local law enforcement authorities? I mean, what —
MS. PSAKI: I’d certainly defer to — you know, we would support, of course, additional action on a local level or a federal level, but I would send you to DOJ or FBI for any further specifics on that.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone. See you tomorrow.
12:50 P.M. EST