Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, February 11, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:43 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Good afternoon. I have quite a few things at the top, but then we will take plenty of questions.
I wanted to take a moment, at the top of our briefing today, to note that on this day, 21 years ago, President Clinton announced the naming of the White House Briefing Room for former Press Secretary, James Brady. Brady, as many of you are probably aware, was severely wounded in a 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan and later became a prominent gun violence prevention advocate.
During the campaign, President Biden laid out an ambitious plan to make our community safer. And that’s why in part, yesterday, senior members of his team — Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice, White House Public Engagement Director Cedric Richmond — hosted a virtual discussion with leaders of gun violence prevention groups to discuss our shared goals.
The very gun violence prevention organization named for James Brady was part of that discussion, along with Giffords, Everytown for Gun Safety, and Moms Demand Action. These organizations all have a critical role to play.
Gun violence may not be in the headlines today or right now, but gun violence continues to fracture American communities and American families every single day. Last year, we saw a historic spike in homicides across America. And we know gun violence in our cities disproportionately affects black and brown individuals. Last month, we also saw a near record increase in the number of gun sales.
We look forward to working with gun violence survivors and advocates and sharing more in the weeks and months ahead about our efforts to make our communities safer.
Also, as many of you are tracking, the President and Vice President met in the Oval Office earlier today with a bipartisan group of senators from the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg joined virtually to discuss the critical need for investing in modern and sustainable American infrastructure.
The President, Vice President, Secretary, and senators established the mutual understanding that America needs to build new infrastructure across urban and rural areas, and create millions of good-paying jobs in the process of supporting the country’s economic recovery in the months and years ahead.
The President, the Vice President, and the Secretary also shared the administration’s view for building sustainable infrastructure that will withstand the impacts of climate change and fuel an American clean energy revolution.
As the President has said — and let me just give you a little note on the trip to the NIH today. I told you there were a few things going on. As the President has said many times, this is an administration that will lead with science and the guidance of our health and medical team. He is visiting, later this afternoon, the NIH. It’s an opportunity to visit with and thank the men and women who are on the frontlines of the important research happening there.
He will also receive an update from Dr. Fauci and Dr. Collins, and he will deliver remarks and provide an update on the ongoing efforts to expand vaccine supply as quickly as possible.
Another scheduling note for all of you: We’re also pleased to announce that the President will speak on the importance of our transatlantic ties and the needs for — the need for the United States and Europe to take on global challenges together at a virtual event hosted by the Munich Security Conference on February 19th.
For more than 50 years, the Munich Security Conference has been a leading forum for discussing international security policy. Distinguished guests have included world leaders and personalities, international and non-governmental organizations, business, the media, academia, and civil society.
President Biden led the U.S. delegation to the conference three times as Vice President, and most recently participated in the 2019 forum. We’ll have more details in the days ahead.
Also, on Burma — (object falls to floor) — and you may have seen the ne- — everybody is okay here; don’t worry. You may have seen the news that went out right before the briefing and the President also talked about yesterday. But as we said immediately on reports of the coup: The United States opposes any attempts to alter the outcome of recent elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition.
Today, President Biden is taking significant steps in response to the military coup in Burma. The U.S. Department of Treasury designated 10 individuals and three entities for their association to the military apparatus responsible for the coup. Three entities, wholly owned subsidiaries of a conglomerate owned or controlled by the Burmese military, have also been designated.
Additionally, as the President announced, the U.S. government has also taken steps to prevent the generals from improperly accessing more than $1 billion in Burmese government funds held in the United States.
The Department of Commerce is also taking immediate action to limit exports of sensitive goods to the Burmese military and other entities associated with the recent coup.
In addition, we’re freezing U.S. assistance that benefits the Burmese government, while maintaining our support for healthcare, civil society groups, and other areas that benefit the Burmese people directly.
We will also continue our support for the Rohingya and other vulnerable populations.
As you know, we released a factsheet on this, so it just came out before the briefing, and I just wanted to highlight it briefly.
Last item, and then we’ll get to your questions. Someone in here — it may be that you were not — it was a person who was not here again today — asked a very good question yesterday about the shortage of semiconductor chips. So as we often like to do, we wanted to provide all of you an update on that.
The administration is currently identifying potential choke points in the supply chain and actively working alongside key stakeholders in industry and with our trading partners to do more now.
At the same time, we are looking down the road. The longstanding issue with short supply of semiconductors was — which was the question yesterday — is one of the central motivations for the executive order the President will sign in the coming weeks to undertake a comprehensive review of supply chains for critical goods. The review will be focused on identifying the immediate actions we can take, from improving the physical production of those items in the U.S., to working with allies to develop a coordinated response to the weaknesses and bottlenecks that are hurting American workers.
With that, go ahead, Jonathan.
Q Thank you very much.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q A couple other topics for you. First, the President earlier today said he spoke to President Xi of China for two hours last night. Even giving — setting aside time for translation, that’s an obviously robust phone call. But the readout that was issued by the White House does not mention any discussion of the situation in Burma or trade between the two countries. Were those topics, as well as the origin of COVID-19, discussed? And if so, what was said?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it was a lengthy call, as you noted and as the President noted this morning. And as — modern-day historians can certainly confirm that there are a few presidents who came into this job with more of a history on engaging with Chinese leadership.
The President’s — the readout we released last night was also quite robust and comprehensive about the range of issues that were covered during that call. I’m not going to have additional readouts to provide from here, but I can outline for you, kind of, where we are in our — the status of our relationship and our efforts as it relates to China.
The President wants to lead with a clear and compelling affirmative U.S. policy agenda, take steps to strengthen our own economy. That’s something that is a primary focus of his — that means getting the pandemic under control; that means taking steps here to get people back to work.
He wants to work with our partners and allies, as you’ve seen from the readouts we’ve done from the President’s engagement. He wants to take steps across government, as you saw from his visit to the Pentagon yesterday and the review he announced.
And he also is committed to being clear and candid in his engagements, as he was last night in his conversation with President — his lengthy conversation, as you alluded to — with President Xi, where he talked about the fundamental concerns he has — we have about Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices. That obviously covers a range of concern — a range of issues: the crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses across the country, increasingly assertive actions in the region, including toward Taiwan.
So that was the scope of the conversation. If there’s more to provide, I’m happy to check with our national security team. But I just wanted to outline for you, given you gave me the opportunity.
What was your second question?
Q On the domestic front — on schools: There’s been some confusion as to just what the administration’s goals are when it comes to reopening schools. Can you clear that up for us? And in particular, can you explain to American parents that just one day a week of in-person school — does that count as schools being open? Why should they be satisfied with that?
MS. PSAKI: They shouldn’t be. I wouldn’t be, as a parent. And I am a parent, I should say; I have two young kids. And I know many of you have kids as well.
The President wants schools to open safely and in accord with science, and we are going to listen to science and medical experts. The CDC guidelines, we expect them to come out tomorrow. And we are eager to hear more about the clear, science-based guidelines for opening schools and how we can do that safely and how we can keep them open.
The President will not rest until every school is open five days a week. That is our goal. That is what we want to achieve. But we are going to — we look forward to seeing and hearing the CDC guidelines to gain a better understanding of what steps that will entail or should entail.
The President’s role is, of course, to ensure that, across government, we are listening to those guidelines, we are leaning into science, we are letting the science and medical experts lead. And then his objective is to ensure there’s the funding to deliver on that. That’s in the American Rescue Plan.
So I can assure any parent listening that his objective, his commitment is to ensuring schools are open five days a week. That’s what he wants to achieve. And we are going to lead with science and the advice that they are giving us, and the first step is tomorrow — next step is tomorrow, I should say.
Lucy, go ahead.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: I’ll come back to you, Kristen.
Q I wanted to go back to the chip issue. I know you mentioned that there’s going to be an executive order about reviewing supply chains. Are there going to be specific measures to incentivize companies to set up chip-making plants in the U.S. or any effort to roll back some of the Trump-era regulations seen as responsible for the supply shortage?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, this has been a long-going issue, as you know, I think, from covering it long before President Biden took office and even before that. There’ll be more details when the executive order is actually signed, and obviously it’s a commitment that he has and the economic team have to addressing. But we’ll wait for them for more specific details.
Q And I just wanted to quickly ask about the WHO team that recently left China. I know there were some reports that the outbreak may have erupted — of coronavirus — in October 2019, prior to what we previously thought. Does the Biden administration believe China notified the WHO in a timely fashion about the COVID outbreak a year ago?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President, during his call, he certainly expressed a concern about the lack of transparency. That’s something he’s also talked about publicly. And as we’ve noted a couple of times, we are looking forward to receiving the data from the investigation and taking a look at that ourselves. But certainly there has been a concern about the lack of transparency, and there’s more information that we need to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Go ahead, Kristen.
Q Thank you, Jen. President Biden just said in the Oval Office that he thinks some minds may have been changed in the wake of that newly revealed footage. Does the President now think that conviction is a possibility of former President Trump?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say first, Kristen, that I think what he was referencing — and I think the question — I’m not — did you ask the question?
Q I did.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, there you go. So the question — that’s what I thought. The question that he was asked was about the video — that you asked him was about the video. And, you know, anyone who watched that video — many of us watched it when our days concluded, and we saw news clips, probably on NBC and other outlets — found it harrowing and deeply disturbing. And, you know, that’s certainly how the President felt when he watched it — when he watched some of the clips, as he — as he referenced. You know, and he was affected by that.
And I think what his — he was reflecting on was that, you know, it was just a reminder of — of what an unprecedented assault, as he said on January 6th, this was on our democracy. And the footage was just a reminder of how shocked and saddened he was on the day this occurred. It was kind of a reliving of that for many people who spend — has spent as much time as he has in Congress.
You know, I think he said “or they may not.” You know, he was — he was not intending to give a projection or a prediction, but was just giving a very human and emotional response to what many people did — what many people felt, I should say, when they watched the video.
Q Does the President now think that former President Trump should be convicted, having seen some of the video?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Kristen, you know, the President made clear, as he did again this morning when you asked him the question, about the fact that he felt that what happened was an assault on our democracy, that he was shocked and saddened. And again, watching that footage was a reminder of that.
But he also knows there’s a role for Congress to play and a role for him to play. And his role in this process is to be President of the United States and to govern for all of the American people.
Q Jen, I know he wants to keep the focus on his agenda, but does the President have an obligation to weigh in, given that the whole country is watching what’s happening on Capitol Hill?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he did weigh in, having — when you asked him the question this morning. And he weighed in yesterday when — when he was asked about — about the proceedings, as well.
Q But on the matter of conviction, he hasn’t weighed in yet.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Senate was — the President was in the Senate for 36 years, as you all well know, and he certainly is an institutionalist who values the role that the Senate plays. So the Senate is serving as a jury to consider the charges. The House — members of the House are certainly presenting that case, many of them very powerfully. He’s not on the jury. He’s not in the Senate. He’s — his role is to be President of the United States. And that’s not the role he currently plays.
Q If I could just ask one on masks.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q We know that there had been some discussion about sending out masks to the American people. Can you tell us where those discussions stand? Will there be a decision this week? And will it be targeted to vulnerable communities, to schools, to other communities?
Q Well, Kristen, we certainly continue to look for ways to keep the American people safe. And masking — encouraging people to mask up, as the President did during his time at — not at the Super Bowl, but in his PSA around the Super Bowl, is a priority. It’s one of the most effective mitigation steps. It could save 50,000 lives if people were all to mask up across the country. But I don’t have any update on the next steps on those reports — on that reported discussion.
Go ahead. We’ll come back to you. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q Jen, thank you. Just a quick follow-up on Kristen’s question.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q When the President said that he thought some minds could be changed, has he had any conversations with senators, particularly wavering Republicans, about where they stand on their vote?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not the role he’s playing. He certainly has had a number of discussions with Democrats and Republicans about the issues he feels it is his responsibility to focus on, which is the American Rescue Plan, putting people back to work, getting the pandemic under control, making sure American families don’t have to worry about putting food on the table. That’s what he feels his role is.
But I think, as I — as I was saying in response to Kristen, you know, it’s hard — it was hard not to watch that video — I think it was for all of us — and not have an emotional reaction. And the President has great value and respect for the institution of Congress, for the men and women serving there — not just the elected officials, but the staff. And I think that was what he was reflecting in his comments.
Q And on China: What did the President mean when he said, “They’re going to eat our lunch”? What exactly should Americans be worrying about right now with regard to China?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it was a reflection on the fact that the President is clear-eyed about the challenge that we’re facing, and that’s the strategic competition with China. And that in order to get on our best footing in that competition, we need to take steps here at home, including making our own workforce more competitive, ensuring we are taking steps to protect our own technology, ensuring that, you know, we are working with our partners and allies to do that.
And so it’s a reflection of our strategy, which is that we are going to get our house in order, in order to come into that competition from a stronger footing — the strongest footing possible, I should say.
Q And when will he outline his strategy to compete with China, including the trade policy that John was asking about? Will he retain at least some of the Trump administration’s trade policy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he has — of course, there’s a review of our tariffs and, I think, trade policies in place that is ongoing from the national security team.
But our strategy has played out over the last several weeks, which includes ensuring that we are strengthening our own approach at home, as we’ve been talking about — strengthening our economy, strengthening our workforce. That is how we can compete from a position of strength, working with our partners and allies. And in all of the conversations with Europeans, with allies in the region, China and the relationship with China has been a pivotal part of those conversations. So that’s also part of our strategy.
And then also, you saw some of it play out yesterday in the review he announced at the Pentagon.
So it is currently playing out, but we are not in a rush. And we are three weeks in. And, you know, our team is taking a very strategic approach to our relationship.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, I’m sorry. I said I would go to you first. I’ll go to you next. Go ahead.
Q Okay, thanks. I wanted to ask you about three topics, first being the Federal Reserve. Has President Biden spoken yet to Jay Powell? And how does he think the Federal Reserve Chair is doing his job?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any calls to read out. I’m happy to take the question and see if there’s any updates on it.
Q Okay, thanks. And then second is: I want to follow up on the semiconductor issue.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q Given the urgency of this situation, why did the White House decide to conduct this review, which could take months, rather than more — taking more immediate action? Can you explain the thinking there and why you decided to go with this longer path?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I said he’s going to sign an executive order soon, so he certainly is taking — we’re only three weeks in. He’s taking pretty quick action.
But as is true with many policies, we want to take a comprehensive look at the most effective steps that we can take as an administration, across agencies that will have a role to play, to address what has been a longstanding challenge, which is the shortage. So that’s what it’s a reflection of.
Q Some of the CEOs of semiconductor companies have asked for tax credits and other kind of stimulus-like items to be included in the Build Back Better plan. Can you tell us if those items are going to be included in that plan?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m sure — I mean, the President met with CEOs earlier this week; I’m not sure — none of them, I guess, were from that industry. But he will continue to consult with business leaders, as will members — senior members of our administration, about certainly their ideas of what they’d like to see in that agenda.
Part of the meeting today with — on infrastructure was a discussion about ideas and pieces that could be put forward in a Build Back Better agenda. So those discussions and engagements are ongoing.
Q And then, lastly, on — I want to ask you about foreign leader calls. One of the — one remaining one is the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. His U.N. Ambassador posted a tweet yesterday that expressed some frustration that the call hasn’t happened already. So can you tell us, from the White House perspective, you know, why hasn’t that call happened? And when do you expect it will happen?
MS. PSAKI: The President looks forward to speaking with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He’s obviously somebody that he has a longstanding relationship with. And obviously there’s a important relationship that the United States has with Israel on the security front and as a key partner in the region. But he’ll be talking with him soon. I don’t have a specific date or time for you on that call yet.
Q Yeah, I do want to go back to the allegations on Capitol Hill against former President Trump. I hear you — the President doesn’t want to — that it’s not his role to vote in this trial. So setting aside the vote, you know, the House managers laid out this big case. They said that those rioters were there on January 6th in the name of Trump. So is there any doubt in your mind, or in the mind of the White House, that Donald Trump is singularly responsible for the events that occurred on January 6th, as the managers allege?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would go back to what the President of the United States said the day of the assault on the Capitol, on January 6th; what he said on January 13th when the House voted, when he called it “an unprecedented assault” on our democracy; when he has expressed concerns many times repeatedly, even long before January 6th, about President Trump’s role in sparking hate, sparking anger, sparking violence in our country. He has certainly not been silent on that issue. And he’s — will continue to be outspoken about the need to take steps to address across the country the spreading of hate and hate speech as he sees fit.
But what I’m referencing is what his role isn’t in an ongoing Senate trial. He’s not a member of the jury. He is watching. He was impacted by the video, as we all were, of course. And, you know, he will speak out as he sees fit in the future.
Q Yeah, but when we talk about the future and those next steps, will the impact and the final result in the trial vote — you know, the vote of the trial — change how he approaches combatting extremists going forward — you know, working to build trust and build bridges? And will the — clearly, that vote will change some of his next steps when he tries to bring Americans together.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think he’s waiting for that vote to take action. And the President has asked his team to do a review of domestic violent extremism in the country. That’s a review that was announced the first week he took office. And he certainly has been outspoken about the role of hate speech on social media platforms. He’s been outspoken about that for certainly some time.
And again, he was impacted by the video as a human being, and he is confident in the role that the impeachment managers and others will play. And he will focus on his job, and he expects they will focus on doing theirs.
Q Can I ask a follow-up to the schools question?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q You know, we’re expecting these new guidelines tomorrow, but we know that a majority of schools are open in some form already, even if it’s just for a day or two. So is the President or the White House concerned that some of those schools right now are open but not safe?
MS. PSAKI: Well, one of the challenges we have is that the data is not great, as it relates to schools that are open or not open, how hybrid learning is impacting kids.
One of the things the President asked the Department of Education to do is to do a survey and get a better assessment of what that data looks like and how the learning of the last year has impacted kids.
But, again, these guidelines, Dr. Walensky and her team at the CDC will present that to the public tomorrow. We look forward to hearing their clear, science-based guidelines for opening schools safely and keeping them open. These guidelines are going to be the basis for how our health and medical experts, the incredible leadership at the CDC, our future Secretary of Education, Cardona, will work with school districts around the country to safely reopen. And that’s where our focus will be.
But the data and the lack of data, or effective data, is actually a part of the problem.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Hi. Jen, thanks. One follow-up on China and then also a question on behalf of a radio colleague of mine.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q First, on the President’s comments on China: In the past, he has said that a rising China is a “positive” thing. And then, talking about today, his concern that China could “eat our lunch.” Is there any middle ground there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think — are you referencing comments from — what — was there a specific date you were referencing a comment from?
Q Well, during the campaign, I think he mentioned a couple of times a positive — it would be positive to see a rising China.
MS. PSAKI: Well, look, I think that the President’s view is that we’re in a competition with China, and he’s clear-eyed about the depth of that challenge.
And so the conversation he had with President Xi was certainly a reflection of that. And there were issues raised that reflected our approach, including a passionate statement of the values of the United States and a defense of those values in that conversation as well. That’s his view, and it’s reflected in our administration’s policy.
Q And then, from a colleague, wondering if there’s any update on the President’s order to review the threat of domestic violent extremism. And also, on that topic, there have been bills proposed in Congress. Is there any particular measure or approach the White House supports already?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the review is 100-day review, so there’s not an update on that quite yet, but once we have a conclusion, I’m sure we will reveal the specifics to all of you.
And in terms of what the policy steps will be taken, we’ll wait for the review to conclude, and then we’ll have more to say or we’ll go through a policy process.
Q Thanks, Jen. Does the White House believe it can take executive action to address gun control, or is it going to take a legislative approach? And if it can — if you do believe it can take — you can take executive action, why haven’t you done so?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I will say that, you know, the President addressing gun violence in the country and putting in place additional safety measures is something that the President has a personal commitment to, and his history on this issue is evidence of that. You know, he’s obviously taken on the NRA twice and won, and he is happy and eager to do that in the future.
Part of our engagement is working with groups to determine what the steps are that can be taken. But I don’t have anything to preview for you at this point in terms of what the policy will look like or what form it will take.
Q And just one other one. How much does the President want to spend on an infrastructure package?
MS. PSAKI: How much?
Q How much?
MS. PSAKI: Wait — wait until — it’s a process of ongoing discussion. Obviously, part of our Build Back Better agenda that he talked about on the campaign trail is an investment in infrastructure. The meeting this morning was a reflection of how important it is to him to meet with bipartisan leaders and have a discussion about what’s required in states and communities. But I don’t have a number for you. We’re not at that stage in the process quite yet.
Q And just one other one. New York City is reopening indoor dining at 25 percent capacity starting tomorrow. Does the President think that’s a good idea?
MS. PSAKI: Again, we’ll leave it to our health and medical experts to comment on specific steps taken by states as it relates to COVID.
Q Hi, Jen. Thanks. Does Iran need to come into compliance before the U.S. will open up a channel of communication with them?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve spoken to that. I’m happy to repeat what our position is. What is our position with Iran and compliance?
Q Well, I mean, do they need to come into compliance before the U.S. will speak to them? And has — and also, has President Biden authorized the special envoy to begin talking to them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, if Iran comes back into full compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA, the United States would do the same. So that is certainly the first step that would be required.
Q Okay. So they need to return to compliance before any conversation will —
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are — of course, there are conversations that can happen with partners and allies through the P5+1. There’s plenty to do, and — but that would be the first — next step in the process.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thanks, Jen. I have questions on two topics for you.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q And one for a colleague who —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q — couldn’t be here today. You know, the President just started a task force, and part of its goal is to reunite the, I believe, 545 families that were separated under the prior zero-tolerance policy. I’m wondering if you have any update on a timeline there. How many families have been reunited? And if not, if you can commit to, you know, providing us continuous updates on that front.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, you’re talking about the reunification taskforce, I believe — just for everybody else’s clarity — that we announced last week or the week before. It will be overseen by the Secretary of Homeland Security.
As a part of that commitment, we committed to a report coming from the Department of Homeland Security at the 120-day mark, when they’ve had some time to get the work underway. And certainly we hope to have Secretary Mayorkas, now that he’s confirmed, come here to the briefing room and certainly talk about the work that they’re doing — the important work that they’re doing. But it’s a 100-day update, and then it’ll be 60 days after that. So we’re absolutely committed to providing you updates.
Q Thanks very much. And then, on the schools front, you talked about how a lack of data is a problem. And it’s my understanding that we don’t even have definitive data nationally on the numbers of teachers who’ve gotten sick or passed away as a result of the coronavirus. Has the Department of Education managed to get definitive data on this front? And if we don’t know that, how do we proceed with the reopening plan?
MS. PSAKI: I would have to ask — or I would defer you to the Department of Education. I’m also happy to check and see if that’s data that we have access to. But as I noted, in response to the good question up here, it is a challenge because it is hard to determine how students are being impacted, what steps need to be taken, how it’s impacted this next generation of kids learning without that data.
So there is an ongoing survey that the Department of Education is conducting now, but I can check for you or connect you directly with the right people over there to give you more of an overview of that.
Q Thank you. And then this one is from Brian O’Donovan, our colleague with RTÉ News in Ireland. And he asks —
MS. PSAKI: I have a special place in my heart for the Irish. (Laughter.)
Q Well, I think you’re going to like this question then.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q He says — the Taoiseach said today that he will visit the White House next month for the traditional St. Patrick’s Day celebrations if he’s invited by President Biden. Does the White House plan to issue such an invitation or will this event be cancelled because of the pandemic?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly have limited, as you can all see — and no public events — there has not been public events here. I’m happy to check with our team on that if there’s any change as it relates to a traditional event that happens in March.
MS. PSAKI: Great. Go ahead in the back.
Q Thank you, Jen. Yesterday, you said from the podium that the “vast majority of people” are being turned away at the border. But that doesn’t seem to square away with the reality of what we’re seeing — especially at the Texas border, where we at Univision have reported on hundreds of people being not only detained, but released into the interior of the country then. And they have been reporting on this for about two weeks now, on the hundreds of people being released right away. So where is the disconnect of your messaging versus what’s happening and what is actually happening across the border?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, you know, I would certainly refer you to DHS and CBP for specific numbers, which they would be more equipped to provide.
But what I was referring to was the data of how many people versus how many people are coming into the country. And as I mentioned yesterday or the day before, it is — the vast majority are turned away at the border. They can give you more specific numbers on that. And that is not, I guess, what you’re perhaps seeing if you’re looking at a portion of the border, but what they are tracking, in terms of numbers and data.
This is why we continue to convey that this is not the time to come. The President is committed to putting in place, in partnership with our Department of Homeland Security, a moral and a humane process for processing people at the border, but that capacity is limited right now. And it means we’re just not equipped to process people at the pa- — race [sic] — the pace that we would like to do.
Q Yeah, the President of Mexico, today, stated in his press conference that most of the migrants that cross the border that — you know, anecdotally, that they do believe that the border is open and they can just come to the U.S. So there seems to be a messaging problem at the border with people thinking that the border is open, as stated by the President of Mexico today. So how are you getting that message to those migrants at the border? And how will you make them understand that the border is not open, as you’re stating?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re looking for every opportunity we can, of course — from the President, to the Secretary of Homeland Security, to the Secretary of State — to communicate where we stand, which is that the President, our entire administration are committed to digging out of the immoral approach to immigration of the prior administration.
But it is going to take some time, and we need to put in place not only a comprehensive immigra- — approach to immigration, by passing a law that will help address the root causes that — in the countries that are leading people to come to the United — or try to come to the United States; that puts smart security — funds smart security at the border; that provides a pathway to citizenship. But we also need some time to review all of the detrimental steps that were put in place by the prior administration so that we can put a more humane system in place.
Q But are you concerned in any way that as people are seeing the images of migrants being released into the interior, they just get encouraged to come to the U.S., try and cross illegally so that they have this same luck of just being released?
MS. PSAKI: Well, of course, we’re concerned because we don’t want people to put themselves in danger at a time where it is not the right time to come, because we have not had time to put in place a humane and moral system and process. We want to treat people with care, of course. When they’re unaccompanied children, that is a different circumstance and certainly one that we handle carefully, and those individuals are transferred into HHS care.
But, you know, we use every opportunity to convey that while we have goals of what we want to put in place, we have not had the time or ability to do that quite yet.
I think I’m going to — I — I’m going to have to just move on just so I get to everybody. Okay?
Q The Miami Herald reported yesterday that the Biden administration is considering travel restrictions on states like Florida to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Can you rule that out? Or is that on — as they say, on the table?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ve seen those reports. We are always considering what steps are necessary to keep the American people safe. But we are not currently in the process of — no decisions have been made around additional public health measures that would delay — or would change, I should say, domestic travel considerations.
Q And regarding the domestic travel, also going back to the border: The President — does the President support leaving the southern border open to migrants even before he would even consider this idea of domestic travel restrictions?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the border is not open. We are —
Q Well, there are several reports of migrants crossing the border, and several local Texas Health officials have expressed concerns that there are migrants coming over the border who are not — who have not been tested by the — by the authorities.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me reiterate what I — what I’ve done in here. I know every — different people are in here different days, so I’m certainly happy to do it again. You know, first, the majority of people who come to the border are turned away. And we are enforcing our laws at the border, but we are also doing it — are attempting to do it in a humane way.
And so this is not, again, the time to come. We have — of course, I would refer you to DHS and CBP, who can outline more specifics.
But when long-term holding solutions are impossible due to COVID-19 capacity limitations or other reasons, some migrants are processed for removal, provided a notice to appear, and wait within the U.S. to await an immigration hearing. These have been incredibly narrow and limited circumstances in which they’ve happened recently.
And I’d certainly defer you — send you to the Department of Homeland Security for more specifics and numbers and data, which they’re just more equipped to provide.
Q Would you agree that it’s humane to sort of institute mandatory testing for these migrants that are being released?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I would send you to them to give more outlines of the numbers and the specifics of what actions are taken at the border. And I’m sure they’re happy to answer your questions.
Q And just a follow-up. The President spoke with the President of China’s Xi Jinping and said that he addressed the human rights abuses. Does the President support American companies doing business in China to express the same reservations about those abuses?
MS. PSAKI: Are you — I’m sorry, can you tell me a little bit more about your question? Are you —
Q So the President was happy to bring up the problems with China and human rights. And does the President support companies — American companies doing business in China? Does he support them doing the same thing, as they do business in China?
MS. PSAKI: Does he support them speaking out about human rights abuses? Or —
Q Yes. Human rights abuses in China.
MS. PSAKI: Well —
Q There’s been some reluctance by American companies to address this issue because they’re doing business in China.
MS. PSAKI: Well —
Q Does the President support them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President has been outspoken, as he was on his — in his conversation with the President of China, about American values. He also made a point of conveying to President Xi that overturning the Muslim ban was one of the first steps that he took as President. So he is leading by example. And I will leave it at that.
Q So, but would he —
MS. PSAKI: Okay —
Q Would he want to lead by example for American companies? Does he want to — should he start that same message for American companies?
MS. PSAKI: He’s — he’s the President of the United States; he’s conveying what he feels our values are. And he conveys that to anyone he has conversations with, whether it’s publicly or privately, to companies or to leaders of other countries.
Q I know you said that a vast majority of immigrants right now are being turned away. But do you have examples of who isn’t being turned away? I know you mentioned children. Are there any other, sort of, cases that you’re looking into?
MS. PSAKI: Of —
Q (Inaudible) not turning away.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I gave — I gave the example of children because there had been some questions certainly about that in the past, and I wanted to be clear about our policy and what our approach is. You know, I don’t think I have other specific examples for you, other than to suggest you talk to the Department of Homeland Security. I’m sure they could provide more for you if those are available.
But again, I think it’s important for us to convey that the majority — this is not the time to come and that the vast majority of people are turned away at the border. And we are committed to putting in place a moral and a humane system and process, but we are also digging out of four years of detrimental policies, as it relates to immigration, and that’s going to take some time.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you, Jen. I have two questions, maybe three, if you allow.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q So the first one is: Just a few days after you criticized from this podium Nord Stream 2, Russia resumed construction of the pipeline, and German government continues to defend the project. German president even called it “the last bridge” between Europe and Russia. Do you have an update on the President Biden’s position on Nord Stream 2?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t know — no, I don’t have an update. It’s — remains what we discussed last week or the week before.
Q Two weeks ago.
MS. PSAKI: Two weeks. Okay, two weeks ago. He has the same position. Yes.
Q Okay, so another one is on — the European Union report — reportedly is preparing sanctions in response jailing Alexei Navalny by Russia. Is the United States involved in those talks on sanctions? And what’s President Biden’s position punishing Russia for Navalny’s arrest?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there is an ongoing review that has been tasked to the national security team of the problematic actions of Russians, including the poisoning of Alexei Navalny. And the President of the United States reiterated that focus and his concerns about that, as well as the SolarWinds breach; you know, reports of engagement in the 2020 election; and, of course, of bounties on the heads of U.S. troops when he spoke with President Putin.
And in our engagements — his engagements and engagements at all levels — with our European partners, certainly the issue of coordination and working together, as it relates to the problematic actions of Russia, is a topic of conversation. But that review is ongoing as it relates to our U.S. policy, so we’ll wait for it to conclude before making any policy announcements.
Q But I’m talking about Navalny’s jailing, not poisoning. What do you want to know about this — what kind of review you need to know that he’s in jail?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have been outspoken about that; it’s been raised directly with the Russians. Of course, as we’ve read out from here, from the State Department, from many components of our government, what I was referring to or trying to answer was your question about sanctions, which is that we have an ongoing review and process about our policies, what steps will be taken. Of course, the President reserves the right to respond in any manner and any timeline of his choosing. But that review is ongoing and has not concluded yet.
Q And one more, if I can.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q President Biden called many world leaders, including leaders of Germany and France. How the President sees U.S. relations with Central and Eastern Europe, including Poland?
MS. PSAKI: How does he see the relationship?
Q Yeah. The future of this relations.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President has only made, of course, not an unlimited number of calls, as was noted earlier in the briefing, and there will be more calls ahead.
In terms of the specific priorities as it relates to our relationship with Poland, I’m happy to connect you with someone more directly to discuss that.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Yes, there’s been a lot of concerns about recent postal delays. And I know the President campaigned on improving the Postal Service. Does he want to see the removal of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy? And is he doing anything to make that happen?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I understand the process, it can only be done by the board members. And there are four openings — or four vacancies at this point in time, so those would need to be filled and addressed. But they’re the individuals who would have a role in determining the future of Mr. DeJoy.
Q Is that something that he would be interested in, you know, making a priority as the board is selecting —
MS. PSAKI: Naming the member of the boards?
Q Naming members who want to see a new Postmaster General.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any personnel announcements or specifics of the determinations of the — or, I should say, the factors that are playing into those decisions. But, you know, the President stands by his concerns about what happened last fall and improvements he’d like to see at the Post Office.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.
END 1:27 P.M. EST