Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas
12:07 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Today, we have a very special guest, Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas. Secretary Mayorkas is the first Latino and immigrant confirmed to serve as Secretary of Homeland Security. He has led a distinguished 30-year career as a law enforcement official and a nationally recognized lawyer in the private sector. He served as the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from 2013 to 2016 and as the Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services from 2009 to 2013.
During his tenure at DHS, he led the development and implementation of DACA, negotiated cybersecurity and homeland security agreements with foreign governments, led the Department’s response to Ebola and Zika, helped build and administer the Blue Campaign to combat human trafficking, and developed an emergency relief program for orphaned youth following the tragic January 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
He’s been kind enough to offer to take some of your questions. As always, I will be the bad cop. With that, I will turn it over to you.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Thank you very much, Jen. And good morning, everyone. I’d like to spend a few minutes to provide you with an overview of what we have done and are continuing to do and what we are dedicated to achieving. We are dedicated to achieving and, quite frankly, are working around the clock to replace the cruelty of the past administration with an orderly, humane, and safe immigration process. It is hard, and it will take time. But rest assured, we are going to get it done.
Let me explain to you why it is hard and why it is going to take time. I think it is important to understand what we have inherited, because it defines the situation as it currently stands. Entire systems are not rebuilt in a day or in a few weeks. To put it succinctly, the prior administration dismantled our nation’s immigration system in its entirety.
When I started 27 days ago, I learned that we did not have the facilities available or equipped to administer the humanitarian laws that our Congress passed years ago. We did not have the personnel, policies, procedures, or training to administer those laws. Quite frankly, the entire system was gutted.
In addition, they tore down the Central American Minors program that allowed children to access laws of protection without having to take the perilous journey north. They cut off funding to the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. No planning had been done to protect the frontline personnel of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and other frontline personnel that address the needs of individuals coming to our border. Contracts had been entered that were unlawful or against the interests of the United States Department of Justice. And that’s just the tip of it.
And I must tell you that it pains me profoundly to say this today, on March 1st, the 18th anniversary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
It takes time to rebuild an entire system and to process individuals at the border in a safe and just way. That is especially true when we’re in the midst of the pandemic and are obligated, of course, to adhere to the restrictions and procedures that have been promulgated by the CDC to ensure public safety, including the safety of the individuals who arrive at our border. It takes time to build out of the depths of cruelty that the administration before us established.
What we are seeing now at the border is the immediate result of the dismantlement of the system and the time that it takes to rebuild it virtually from scratch. We have, though, already begun to design — and, in fact, have begun to implement — a new, innovative way to address the needs of the population that was forced to remain in Mexico during the prior administration. That rebuilding — that innovative solution is but one part of a multi-part strategy to execute on the President’s vision. For example, we’ve also begun to rebuild a process for young people to be able to access avenues of protection without having to take the perilous journey. We have begun to develop and rebuild the program to reunify individuals with their families here in the United States, as was once the case.
The President set forth his bold vision in his executive orders at the outset of his administration, and we are driven to implement them successfully.
Let me, if I can, take a couple minutes to explain that innovative system to which I referred with respect to how we are addressing the individuals who were forced into the “Remain in Mexico” program under the prior administration.
Working very closely with the Mexican government and international organizations in Mexico, we have developed a virtual platform that enables individuals with active cases in the “Remain in Mexico” program to actually register for relief using their phones. The international organizations then work with those individuals to test them, process their cases, and transport them safely and, according to a defined schedule, to the port of entry where we are awaiting them and can process them through the port of entry successfully.
We started with one port and 25 individuals a day. We are now at three ports, and we have enhanced our processes at one of those three ports to reach 100 individuals a day in processing to address the acute need in the camp at Matamoros, which we have all heard so much about.
This is all, by the way, at a time when we are also addressing the needs of our frontline personnel. Soon after I took office on February 2nd, we launched Operation VOW, Vaccinate Our Workforce, where we have really surged resources and capabilities, according to the paradigm that has been established by the COVID-19 task force, to address the needs of frontline personnel throughout the federal government.
In February alone, we have vaccin- — we started at 2 percent of that frontline personnel workforce vaccinated. At the end of February, we were — we were able to reach 20 percent of the frontline personnel.
I have to take this opportunity, at the same time, to reiterate a message that we have communicated repeatedly throughout, which is a message to those individuals who are thinking of coming to our border: They need — they need to wait.
It takes time to rebuild the system from scratch. If they come — if families come, if single adults come to the border, we are obligated to, in the service of public health — including the health of the very people who are thinking of coming — to impose the travel restrictions under the CDC’s Title 42 authorities and return them to Mexico. And we have done that.
We need individuals to wait. And I will say that they will wait with a goal in mind, and that is our ability to rebuild, as quickly as possible, a system so that they don’t have to take the dangerous journey and we can enable them to access humanitarian relief from their countries of origin. The fact of the matter is that families and single adults are indeed being returned under the COVID-19 restrictions.
Let me then turn to the issue and the challenge of unaccompanied children, because I know that much has been reported about the handling of unaccompanied children. And let me just explain the process, if I may.
When an unaccompanied child reaches the border and comes in between the ports of entry, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel, specifically the United States Border Patrol, brings that child to a Border Patrol station for processing. The Border Patrol is only a pass-through. We are obligated to turn that child over to the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours. We are a pass-through. And then, Health and Human Services — or HHS, of course, that is commonly referred to — addresses the needs of that child as HHS is identifying and vetting sponsors in — whose trust the child can be placed while the child is in immigration proceedings.
And so we have the child for a maximum of 72 hours. And, of course, given the pandemic and its restrictions, given the extreme weather conditions in Texas, a critical part of that 72- hour timeframe was certainly under stress, as we all know and as we can all understand. And then, children are in HHS custody for an average of about 31 or 32 days.
Finally, let me turn to, I think, the most powerful and heartbreaking example of the cruelty that preceded this administration, and that is the intentional separation of children from their parents. I am the chairman. I have the privilege of serving at the President’s designation as the chairman of the Family Reunification Task Force.
The First Lady has driven us to action through her personal commitment to this moral imperative. And that moral imperative is to reunite the families and restore them to the fullest capacity that we, as the United States government, can do. And I should say that we are not doing it alone.
We are working closely with counsel for the separated family members. We are doing it along with the countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. I spoke with the foreign minister of each of those countries this past Friday. We are doing it with non-governmental organizations, and we intend to and will shortly harness the capabilities, resources, and desire of the private sector. This is not only an all-of-government, but all-of-society effort to do what is right.
We are hoping to reunite the families, either here or in the country of origin. We hope to be in a position to give them the election. And if, in fact, they seek to reunite here in the United States, we will explore lawful pathways for them to remain in the United States and to address the family needs. So we are acting as restoratively as possible.
I am very proud and excited to announce that we have hired Michelle Brané as the Executive Director of the Family Reunification Task Force. She began late last week. Most recently she served as the senior director of the Migrant Rights and Justice program of the Women’s Refugee Commission. She has dedicated her entire career to human rights, and she is an extraordinary talent that will bring justice and results to this effort, along with the resources of the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, and every other member of the federal government that has resources to bring to bear.
It is because of the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security and across the federal enterprise that we will dig out of the cruelty of the past administration, and we will rebuild our nation’s asylum system and all of our humanitarian programs, of which we have been, historically, so proud as a leader in the world.
And with that, Jen. I’m pleased to take questions.
MS. PSAKI: Great. Zeke, want to kick it off?
Q Thank you, Secretary. You mentioned that it will take some time to rebuild the department. How long — I mean, obviously you’re asking the American people to be patient, these migrants to be patient. How long will it take to rebuild these systems and processes and staffing that you say you inherited — that were not there when you inherited the agency?
And then also, on Family Reunification Task Force, how big is this population of separated families right now, of separated children? And how many have you already been able to reunify? And what’s the timeline for getting them all reunified?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, in but a few weeks, we already have designed an innovative program to bring people in through the ports of entry — those that are most acutely in need by reason of the fact that they have been remaining in Mexico for so long — and we have already begun to implement it.
We are progressing every single day. I don’t have a particular timeline. But all I can do is communicate, both to the American public and to the individuals seeking protection, that we are working around the clock, seven days a week, to make that timeframe as short as possible, but they need to wait. But they need to wait with a particular goal in mind.
We are not saying, “Don’t come.” We are saying, “Don’t come now because we will be able to deliver a safe and orderly process to them as quickly as possible.”
There have been, I understand, approximately 105 families reunited in — in the recent past. That is through the extraordinary efforts of counsel and others in the community. We are joining with counsel, with members of the community to work on this, and Michelle will be full time. And we are dedicating resources full time across the government, and the Department of Homeland Security specifically, to this effort. The urgency of it cannot be overstated.
Q Secretary Mayorkas, a question about how unaccompanied migrant children are handled. The process that you articulated is the same as it was under former President Trump. It’s the same as it was under former President Biden [sic].
The difference, as I understand it, with the Trump administration was that they held children for a longer period of time. How can that process be sped up? There are immigration advocates who say most kids who come here unaccompanied have the name or a phone number of a relative here in the U.S. and that they should be matched with them promptly.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So let me — let me, if I may, correct one of the premises of your — of your question. I mean, you said that we’re handling them in the same way that the Trump administration did, and that is — that is absolutely inaccurate.
Q But the process that you articulated is roughly the same.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Well, actually, the Trump administration expelled children to Mexico, and we are not expelling young children. We are not apprehending a nine-year-old child who’s come alone, who has traversed Mexico, whose parents — whose loving parents had sent that child alone. We are not expelling that nine-year-old child to Mexico when that child’s origin — country of origin was Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador.
We are actually bringing that child into a Border Patrol station as a stepping point to get that child in the hands of HHS, that has the capacity and the unique talents to care for the child — healthcare workers, mental health counseling, and the like — and moving that child to a sponsor as quickly as possible.
So we have taken a look at the process that is in place, and we are reengineering it to see, for example, whether we could have HHS personnel collated [sic] — co-located in a Border Patrol station, start to identify the needs of the child to see if that child does indeed have a relative in the United States, identify the sponsor more quickly, and unite that child with a sponsor more quickly — more quickly.
So, a reengineering. We are taking a look at where efficiencies can be achieved in the best interest of the child. It is the best interest of the child that really define our actions.
Q And then, on family reunifications, if I may, just quickly. Looking at the principles that you laid out to guide the work of the Family Reunification Task Force, I didn’t see in there “accountability” — making sure that it never happens again, but also holding the Trump administration responsible for that policy, holding them accountable. The Justice Department Inspector General put out basically a roadmap that says that Jeff Sessions and DOJ leadership at the time was responsible for that — enforcing that zero-tolerance policy.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So — so it’s a — very important. First of all, those principles are our guide. We are going to be discussing what can we do under the law. Because remember, we must address the needs of each family member in an individualized way, each family unit in an individualized way, in accordance with the law. So these are our goals. Our overarching goal is, of course, to be as humane as the law provides, to be as restorative as the law enables us to be to bring justice to these families.
One of the tasks of the Reunification Task Force will be, of course, in addition to reuniting those families — which, of course, is the most acute urgency — to also take a look at the system and ensure — to your very important question, to ensure that it does not happen again.
As the President has so powerfully said, “This is not who we are.”
MS. PSAKI: Jeff.
Q Mr. Secretary, in South Texas, several city officials are requesting COVID tests from the state of Texas for migrants. What plan is DHS putting in place to do COVID testing for migrants?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, if I can level-set on that: The extraordinary weather that Texas suffered, and to which the President responded with such urgency, created an unexpected stress on our system. As a matter of process, individuals of family units are brought into ICE custody. They are tested. ICE has the capability to test them; to isolate and quarantine them, as the results so dictate; and then to address their needs as the immigration process provides.
Q So it is happening right now?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Yes, it is.
Q Okay. And if I could also ask — you said, “Please don’t come.” You sent the message, “Now is not the time.” What specifically and how is this administration conveying that message to these desperate families and, you know, people who, respectfully, probably will not heed your warning to “please don’t come now”? What are you doing to convey the message to them?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So a multi-part answer, if I may.
Number one, of course, with respect to our resources, we are flooding the space with that critical message. I cannot overstate its criticality for the wellbeing of those very individuals who are thinking of coming, not to mention the wellbeing and stability of the border as we seek to rebuild it from its dismantled state.
We are not communicating alone. We are communicating in partnership with non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations that do have the ear of these very communities. And we are doing it in tandem with the governments of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. It is —
Q Any sign that it’s working, sir?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: It’s very difficult to know those whom we have successfully deterred, but our understanding is that it does work to a degree, certainly with certain aspects of the population. And it is a message that we need to continue to communicate. It is our obligation as a nation to do so.
MS. PSAKI: Kristin.
Q Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Do you believe that right now there is a crisis at the border?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: I think that the — the answer is no. I think there is a challenge at the border that we are managing, and we have our resources dedicated to managing it.
Q And so a lot of the things that you are talking about you admit take some time to implement. But right now you’ve got about 200 migrant children crossing the border every single day. CBP projected a peak of 13,000 unaccompanied children in the month of May, according to a report in Axios. What is being done between now and then, when you are able to implement all the things that you’re talking about that you say will take time?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Let me — let me answer that question with tremendous pride. The men and women of the Department of Homeland Security are working around the clock, seven days a week, to ensure that we do not have a crisis at the border, that we manage the challenge as acute as the challenge is, and they are not doing it alone.
This is a challenge that the border communities, the non-governmental organizations, the people who care for individuals seeking humanitarian relief all understand it is an imperative. Everyone understands what occurred before us, what we need to do now. And we are getting it done.
Q Respectfully, sir, though, one of your predecessors, Jeh Johnson, he said that 1,000 illegal border crossings a day constitutes a crisis, that it overwhelms the system. We’re at between three and four thousand now, according to CBP officials. So how is this not a crisis?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: I have explained that quite clearly. We are challenged at the border. The men and women of the Department of Homeland Security are meeting that challenge. It is a stressful challenge, and we are — that is why, quite frankly, we are working as hard as we are not only in addressing the urgency of the challenge, but also in building the capacity to manage it and to meet our humanitarian aspirations in execution of the President’s vision.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Ashley.
Q Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Does the administration support using budget reconciliation to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants this year, as Senator Warren and 100 other Democratic lawmakers have called for?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: The President, on day one, sent a bill to Congress. The President recently spoke of that bill. That bill addresses what there is unanimity about, which is we are operating under a broken immigration system, and we need to fix it.
Q But specifically, would you consider using the budget reconciliation process for that?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: It is not for me to decide the legislative strategy that the administration employs. The administration is committed to passing immigration legislation, and the administration is pursuing a path that everyone understands is direly needed.
MS. PSAKI: Steve. We’ll do two more. Go ahead, Steve.
Q You said that the previous administration had entered into some contracts that were unlawful. Could you give us some examples of that? What do you mean?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Let me — let me give you an example that already has been in the public domain, quite frankly, and that is the agreement on January 19th — one day before the new administration was to commence — an agreement with the union of Immigration and Customs Enforcement that the union must approve any policy changes in the immigration arena.
I’ve been in government for almost 20 years now; I’ve never seen a contract like that. And I certainly haven’t seen a contract like that on the last day of an administration.
MS. PSAKI: Karen?
Q Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I’m with ABC News, and we’ve reached out to HHS and Border Patrol — after the suggestion from Jen last week — to try and gain access to the tent facilities in Texas. We’ve been told —
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: I’m sorry, I didn’t — I didn’t quite hear.
Q Sorry —
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: But let me, if I can —
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: — say one thing about — to that question, if I may, because there can be honest disagreements about policy, but there has to be an overriding credo, and that is loyalty to our institutions and what they stand for, and the fundamental rule of law. And I find an agreement like that in dereliction of that duty.
Q I’ll project this time. Sorry about that.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Sorry. My apologies.
Q I’m with ABC, and we reached out to HHS and the Border Patrol about gaining access to the tent facilities in Texas. We were told we can’t because of COVID restrictions. If there is a safe way to do this, to get reporters down there to show the American people the conditions there, where these unaccompanied children are being held, would you allow that?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: I’m happy to take a look at that. I owe it to my people to understand the situation and the reasons why access was denied.
I will share with you something — another principle to which I intend to adhere throughout my tenure, and that’s openness and transparency, and that includes the Fourth Estate. I actually grew up as a journalism student, but apparently I wasn’t a good enough writer to make it the whole way. (Laughter.)
Let me — let me share with you what I — what I communicate to the workforce, and we’ll leave it at that, because it’s in the service of openness and transparency: Don’t shrink from criticism; just work very hard not to deserve it.
Thank you very much.
MS. PSAKI: All right.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Oh, I’m happy to take another one.
MS. PSAKI: We’re going to do one more. I said one more. One more.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Yeah, I’m sorry.
Q What is the status of the review of the Trump-era visa bans for H-1B visas? And has the White House decided to lift those bans before they expire at the end of the month?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: You know, I don’t really — I hate to end the questioning on a question, the answer to which I am not certain.
But, look, this goes to what preceded us. We have so much work to do to repair and to restore and to rebuild that we have a prioritization matrix. And, of course, the acute needs of individuals fleeing persecution is a high priority, which brings me to this meeting this morning.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone. Secretary, we’d love to have you back again. There’s clearly lots of questions.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Thank you so much, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you for joining us.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, I just have a few more things. I think only one more thing at the top.
Obviously, the President’s focus this week and the coming weeks, until it’s passed, is on the American Rescue Plan. And I wanted just to take the opportunity to reiterate that, in two weeks, on March 14th, around 11 million Americans will start losing their unemployment benefits if Congress doesn’t act on the President’s Rescue Plan.
There are 11 million Americans who are unemployed through no fault of their own, but who will struggle to put food on the table, struggle to make ends meet, and struggle to live with the dignity they deserve.
I’d also note that nearly 1 million households on unemployment insurance report that their children aren’t eating enough; more than 1.5 million more are behind on their rent or mortgage.
For almost a full year now, new unemployment claims have exceeded the pre-pandemic all-time high. And the economic data shows a K-shaped recovery with millions of workers at risk of being left behind. That’s why it’s absolutely critical Congress act, and we certainly hope they do that as quickly as possible.
One last note: Today, as many of you know — all of you know, the President will meet with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the President of Mexico. Building on their January 22nd conversation, the meeting will reaffirm the enduring partnership between both countries, based on mutual respect and the extraordinary bond of family and friendship.
The President will be joined for the meeting by Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas — spending a lot of time here today, clearly — and other White House officials to discuss a new phase of the U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship with their counterparts. The discussion, we expect, will focus on migration, recovery from COVID-19, climate change, and security.
With that, Zeke, kick it off.
Q Thank you, Jen. What’s the White House’s response to Iran’s refusal to sit down for negotiations on its nuclear program? And is there a sense of urgency on the part of the White House to get Iran to the table, given the developments and the progression of its program?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first let me say we’re disappointed in Iran’s response. We remain ready to re-engage in meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to compliance with JCPOA commitments. And we will be consulting at every level with our P5+1 partners on the best way forward.
We do view this, though, as a part of a diplomatic process to determine the way forward, and that’s what we’ll be engaging through the prism of.
Q And then another on foreign policy. The President has not taken any direct action against the Saudi Crown Prince in response to his involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Why not? And what message is the President sending to autocrats around the world that they can kill a journalist or their own citizens with impunity and not suffer personal sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that — you know, that this was a horrific crime. The President has been consistent in reiterating that and his belief of that.
The report that was released on Friday through ODNI did not contain new information. It was important to the President that it was released and it abided by our legal obligations, and it wasn’t something that was done by the prior administration.
We also took a series of strong steps to impose on individuals directly involved in the operation that led to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, including adding a senior Saudi intelligence official, Ahmad al Asiri, to the list of those facing Global Magnitsky des- — Global Magnitsky designation. I don’t know why that’s a mouthful. We also sanctioned, under the Global Magnitsky rule, the entire Rapid Intervention Force, a unit of the Saudi Royal Guard that has engaged in counter- dissident operations, including the operation that resulted in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
This is a crucial step because it structurally addresses an unacceptable pattern of targeting, monitoring, harassment, and threats to dissidents and journalists. And we believe our team — our national security team believes that going after the network responsible for these actions is the best way to prevent a crime like this from ever happening again. That is our objective.
Q But going after the network responsible but not the man responsible for it, why not?
MS. PSAKI: Again, you know, I would say we took a number of steps that our team determined were the right steps to prevent this from ever happening again. That is our objective.
We also, from day one, even prior to the release of this report, have recalibrated the relationship, have made clear that it is going to be a shift from how it was approached over the last four years. That means counterpart-to-counterpart conversations. That means not holding back, and voicing concern and pushing for action as it relates to dissidents or journalists or others being held. And it means making clear that we are not going to support the ongoing war in Yemen; we want to find a conclusion of that war.
So our objective is to recalibrate the relationship, prevent this from ever happening again, and find ways, as there are still, to work together with Saudi leadership while still making clear where we feel action is unacceptable.
Q And, sorry, one more domestic one. You spoke yesterday about the sexual harassment allegations against Governor Cuomo in New York. Has anyone from the White House reached out directly to anyone — to him or anyone on his staff?
And then, is the President concerned that this could serve as a distraction from Governor Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic? And should he potentially step aside while this investigation is underway so that there are no distractions handling the pandemic?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I stated yesterday, the President’s view has been consistent and clear: that every woman coming forward should be treated with dignity and respect. That applies to Charlotte; that applies to Lindsey and any woman coming forward.
And since yesterday, of course — overnight — the attorney general — it has been made clear that the attorney general — the New York attorney general will oversee an independent investigation with subpoena power. And the Governor’s office said he will fully cooperate.
We certainly support that process, and we’ll wait to see that through.
Q Just to follow up — you reserve the right to sanction the Crown Prince in the future if deemed necessary, right?
MS. PSAKI: Of course, we reserve the right to take any action at a time and manner of our choosing. I will note, Steve, that, historically, the United States, through Democratic and Republican presidents, has not typically sanctioned government leaders of countries where we have diplomatic relations.
Q Okay. And a separate question: We saw the statement last night about Alabama and Amazon. Is the President endorsing Amazon workers forming a union there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President broadly — and I think it was a video, just so people know the context of what you’re referring to — the President believes that workers should have the right to organize. That is a fundamental value he has and one that he has been consistent on for decades.
We don’t comment on specific cases where it is before the NLRB or could be before the NLRB, so we aren’t going to weigh in specifically on Amazon. But we — broadly, he believes that workers should have the right to organize, and hence he conveyed that in the video.
Q And lastly, on Burma — Myanmar — have you been forceful enough in your sanctions on Myanmar? Because we keep seeing these bloody crackdowns. And are you coordinating with allies to look at more actions?
MS. PSAKI: We are, absolutely. We put out a statement yesterday from National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, so let me just reiterate a couple of the pieces from that:
That we remain alarmed by the Burmese security forces’ violent — violence against peaceful protesters. The killings represent an escalation of the ongoing crackdown on pro-democracy protesters since the February 1st coup. We are preparing the additional actions to impose further costs on those responsible for this latest outbreak of violence and the recent coup. We expect to have more to share in that in the coming days.
Go ahead, Jeff.
Q Jen, on — back on Saudi Arabia. During the campaign, obviously former Vice President Joe Biden was very well aware of the history of the U.S. government in terms of who they sanction and who they haven’t. But yet he said we’re going to “make them pay the price” and make them “the pariah that they are.” How does this come anywhere close to his pledge to Americans in November of 2019 at that debate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, the President has been clear to his team, and he has been clear publicly, that the relationship is not going to look like what it’s looked like in the past. And even before the release of the report on Friday, we had taken actions as an administration to make that clear, through diplomatic conversations, to our partners and allies in the region and through our actions. And that includes a change in how we are communicating with the Saudis, counterpart to counterpart — going back to that appropriate line of communication.
It includes not holding back in raising concerns about human rights abuses. We did see last month that Saudi Arabia did release two dual national prisoners and women’s rights activists. It includes pulling back from our support from the war in Yemen. But it’s important to also note that there are areas where we have an important relationship with Saudi Arabia: intelligence sharing; also helping defend against the threats and the rocket attacks that they are getting — you know, getting from bad actors, right at their doorstep.
And, you know, global diplomacy requires holding countries accountable when needed, but also acting in the national interest of the United States, and that’s exactly what the President is trying to do.
Q And does he feel he’s done a good-enough job explaining his position — his new position now as President of the American people? And how is he reacting to the criticism he’s received over the weekend that Nick Kristof — the New York Times — accused him of choking? I know there were a variety of pretty tough words against him. How does he respond to that? And does he need to address it more?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think anyone runs for President or is elected if they have a thin skin. And, certainly, any action you take on an issue like global diplomacy or an issue where there’s a complicated relationship — I think he fully expected there might be some criticism.
But his objective, his role as President of the United States and as Commander-in-Chief of the country is to act in the national interest of the United States, and that’s exactly what he’s doing in this relati- — in this case — that he’s acting on the advice of his national security team. And he believes this is the right approach for our long-term interests.
Q If I could ask a domestic one really quickly. You said there were 14 days — obviously, a very critical 14 days to getting the COVID relief bill passed. What specifically will he be doing directly with Democratic senators and Republican senators perhaps? Will he reach out to Susan Collins, for example, or other Republicans to try and get them on board? Obviously, Republicans were not on board in the House.
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. I think we’re going to be evaluating day by day what the needs are. So, as you know, he’ll be meeting with — or via Zoom, a number of Democrats — Democratic senators this afternoon. We’ve reserved time in his schedule to ensure that he can be engaged, roll up his sleeves, and be personally involved in making phone calls, having more Zoom meetings, potentially having people here to the Oval Office to get this across the finish line. And I expect him to be very involved personally.
Q On the parliamentarian decision, you said that he respects that decision, but progressives don’t understand this. In some respect, they’re like, “Why not fight for this?” So why is the White House not more aggressively challenging that and sending the Vice President to try and, you know, potentially overrule that with a vote?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the decision for — of the Vice President to vote to overrule or to take a step to overrule is not a simple decision. It would also require 50 votes. As you know, it’s not a one-step decision. And the President and the Vice President both respect the history of the Senate. They are — both formally served in the Senate, and that’s not an action we intend to take.
But I — the President is committed to raising the minimum wage, to working to determine the best vehicle forward to doing that. That’s why he put it in the package. He wants it to be raised to $15 an hour, and he will be in touch with leaders from all wings of the party in determining the best path forward for that.
Go ahead, Jeff.
Q A follow-up to Jeff’s question, which it much strikes me. The White House doesn’t have 50 votes to confirm Neera Tanden as OMB Director, and yet we’ve heard from the White House Chief of Staff say that the White House is — they’re going to fight their guts out — “Fight our guts out” was the phrase he used — to get her confirmed. So why push for that and not push as hard, one could say, for raising the minimum wage? You could make the argument that the American people stand to benefit more from the higher wage than they would from a chosen OMB Director.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that’s mixing a few things, kind of, irresponsibly, if I’m just being totally honest. I would say, on the minimum wage, the President included a raise of the minimum wage in his package because he felt strongly that it’s long overdue that men and women working hard trying to make ends meet shouldn’t be living at the poverty level. That’s why he put it in his package.
There is a process that it goes through, a parliamentary process, when it’s a reconciliation bill, as you know — but for people who haven’t been following all the nitty gritty of this — because it’s a budgetary bill. That’s why it went through the process.
And, you know, again, I would send you to talk to leaders in Congress to see if they have the 50 votes necessary. But regardless, the President, the Vice President have made the decision they’re not going to move forward with that step. But also, it’s not a simple process; it requires two steps.
As it relates to Neera Tanden, she is somebody who has decades of experience. She is qualified. She is prepared to lead the budget team. And we’re continuing, of course, to fight for the confirmation of every nominee that the President puts forward. We’ll see if we have 50 votes. That’s part of the journey. That’s part of democracy in action.
Q Another (inaudible) —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
Q On voting rights, the Supreme Court is set to hear a major voting rights case this week. You have, by some estimates, some 43 states — Republican-led states — that are set to — or at least envision a change to election laws and want to make it harder — put in place more restrictions on voting. The House is set to vote on the John Lewis Voting Rights Act that is running headlong into a Senate filibuster. Does the President support nixing the filibuster as a means of passing voting rights? And if not, how is he going to leverage his political capital to make sure that this Democratic priority becomes law?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, the President is committed to protecting the fundamental right to vote and making easier for all eligible Americans to vote. His campaign was about fighting for democracy, and we’re going to continue to fight for democracy in the White House. And that’s why we need to pass reforms like H.R. 1, the For the People Act, and restore the Voting Rights Act. And he’s happy to see the House take up H.R. 1 this week.
We’re not going to get ahead of the process. The President’s view on the filibuster is well known. He’s — has not changed that point of view, but certainly any step to protect voting rights, to ensure that it’s easier and not harder for people to vote in the country, we feel is a positive step.
Q So we’ll circle back on that.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Ashley, go ahead.
Q Thank you. I want to follow up on Governor Cuomo, and then I have a question about schools.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q So, on Governor Cuomo, I believe you said President Biden supports an independent review of the sexual harassment allegations against him. But one of those aides, 25-year-old Charlotte Bennefitt [sic] — Bennett, rather — detailed specific language and questions that she said the Governor asked her about her personal life that made her feel uncomfortable. And the Governor himself has not denied asking these personal questions.
So my question for you is, in general, when it comes to sexual misconduct, where is the red line for this President and the administration? Is it only unwanted physical overtures, or is it at unwelcomed language between a boss and a subordinate with a power differential?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Ashley, as I said yesterday, that story was incredibly uncomfortable to read as a woman. And we certainly believe that every woman coming forward — Charlotte, Lindsey — have — should be treated with respect and dignity and be able to tell their story and treated with respect.
There is a process of reviewing — as you noted, an independent investigation. We will leave it to that process through the attorney general to make a determination on the path forward.
Q But just in general on that — not about this specific case — but can you just explain — I mean, your White House accepted the resignation of someone who used, simply, language that was inappropriate and abusive. Is there a red line when it comes just to language? Or is President Biden’s red line — does it have to be something (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure — a red line for whom? I’m not sure what you mean. In what cap- — like, with what outcome?
Q For — if the review shows that Governor Cuomo asked her questions — that it’s not — you know, it has also been alleged, in other instances, a forcible kiss or an unwelcomed physical overture. But just mere questions about someone’s personal life or sex life or romantic life, or anything that makes someone feel uncomfortable, especially in a subordinate relationship with someone in power — is that something where someone should have to resign, or should there be other consequences? That’s what I mean by the red line.
MS. PSAKI: Look, the language, the — you know, the President has a bar for what is expected in his administration, which you referenced — treating people with civility, treating people with respect — and that’s what bar he holds in his administration.
In terms of the path forward and the outcome of the investigation, we will leave it to the attorney general and others to conclude that.
Q Okay. And then, on schools: First, I want to make sure I understand President Biden’s 100-day pledge to reopen schools. Is that getting 51 percent of K-through-8 schools open five days a week? Am I correct on that?
MS. PSAKI: The majority of schools open five days a week; that is certainly our objective, and we’d like to meet that within 100 days. And we hope our Secretary of Education is confirmed soon. He’ll be overseeing that process moving forward.
Q And by “five days a week,” is that, every single kid who wants to be in school, that individual kid is going five days a week? Or is that the building open five days a week, but kids perhaps doing that hybrid model — half the class on Mondays and Wednesday, the other half on —
MS. PSAKI: We’d like kids to be able to be able to be in school five days a week.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Kristin.
Q Thank you, Jen. So when the President of Mexico meets with President Biden a little bit later today, he is expected to ask if President Biden would consider sharing part of the U.S. coronavirus vaccine supply with his country. Is this something that President Biden is considering?
MS. PSAKI: No. The President has made clear that he is focused on ensuring that vaccines are accessible to every American. That is our focus. The next step is economic recovery, and that is ensuring that our neighbors, Mexico and Canada, have similarly managed the pandemic so that we can open borders — open our borders and “build back better.” But our focus is on — his focus, the administration’s focus is on ensuring that every American is vaccinated. And once we accomplish that objective, we’re happy to discuss further steps beyond that.
Q One other thing that the President of Mexico is expected to propose is an idea to bring an immigrant labor program to the U.S. that could bring 600- to 800,000 immigrants a year to work legally in the United States. Is that something President Biden would consider?
MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen reports of that. I believe that’s a step that would require Congress. I’m sure we’ll have a readout after the bilateral meeting this afternoon. And they both will be speaking after it as well.
Q Okay. And one more question about the strike in Syria. The Democratic senator, Mark Warner, he said, over the weekend, that he really wished that the Biden administration had given Congress more of a heads up. He said, “I wish the Biden team would have given Congress greater knowledge and greater warning.” So, given the criticism that you and other administration officials had leveled at the Trump administration when they striked Syria back in 2017, why not go more out of the way to loop in Congress?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there were notifications made to the appropriate committee chairs. And there has also been an offer of classified briefings to anyone who would like a classified briefing. And we concluded a range of notifications on Friday.
In terms of the strike in 2017, that was a strike of — that — excuse me, that was a — that was a — an attack on Syrian militant — military installations, in response to a chemical weapons attack. This was in response to a threat and attacks that threaten the lives of American men and women serving overseas. They’re both different in policy and legal justification.
Q And one more question from — former President Trump, over the weekend, speaking at CPAC.
MS. PSAKI: I heard that. I heard he spoke.
Q He had a quote. He said President Joe Biden “sold out America’s children to the teachers union.” How does the White House respond to that?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’re going to spend more of our time focused on communicating about our agenda for the American people than responding to criticism from the former President.
Q Thanks, Jen. To go back to Saudi and the Crown Prince, and the quote that Jeff brought up from then-candidate Joe Biden in 2019: You mentioned holding countries accountable. You mentioned, today, acting in the national interest. But he said in 2019, “We’re going to…make them pay the price” — Saudi leaders. How is the administration making the Crown Prince pay a price? And are you saying that the national interest and holding them accountable can’t square with paying a price?
MS. PSAKI: No, I’m certainly not saying that. I was outlining a number of the steps that were announced on Friday that were taken, that specifically address — sanctioned the deputy head of intelligence; that specifically sanctioned, under the Magnitsky Act, the entire Rapid Intervention Force, which is a force that is close to the Crown Prince. And I was referring to specifically our goal of recalibrating the entire relationship, which is something that we started to do from day one of the administration. We did not wait for the release of the report.
But I was also noting that this is a country where we have diplomatic relations. We are going to hold them accountable. We are going to take steps. We are not going to hold back on making clear where actions are unacceptable, where there needs to be a change and reforms put in place, while also recognizing that there are areas we need to continue to work together on because they’re in the interest of the United States and our own security.
Q And you mentioned the, historically, not sanctioning leaders of foreign governments that we have diplomatic relations with.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q You said it then; you said it yesterday. Is it the policy, though, of the Biden administration to not sanction a foreign leader if there are diplomatic relations — more than just precedent, but actual policy?
MS. PSAKI: It’s considerations — considerations are done on a case-by-case basis, but I think that’s an important precedent because, obviously, taking that step is something that there is not a great deal of historic precedent for, and that was why I noted it.
Q And the intelligence community’s conclusion that the Crown Prince approved the murder operation — murder of Jamal Khashoggi — if that’s not something that would change the precedent, what would?
MS. PSAKI: Again, we took a number of steps that were considered and determined by our national security team to have the intended impact of preventing this from ever happening again, and not just in Saudi Arabia, but around the world, including the implementation of the Khashoggi rule, allowing the State Department to restrict or revoke visas to any individual believed to be targeting perceived dissidents or journalists; including the sanctions that I’ve just outlined against the Saudi Rapid Intervention Force, against the Deputy Head of General Intelligence for his role in the operation.
We have also conveyed very clearly and candidly, through diplomatic channels, that this absolutely can never happen again, that our relationship will be different from what it has been in the past, and that we are going to be — of course, hold the option of holding — of holding, you know, Saudi Arabia to their commitment to take — put reforms in place and make progress moving forward.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you. I’ve got a couple questions, just like my front-row colleagues here.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Given that the White House promised to release visitor logs, why hasn’t the administration divulged who the President is meeting with virtually? I mean, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Isn’t that kind of transparency really important? And also, wouldn’t that be really easy to do?
MS. PSAKI: He’s meeting with members of the Senate virtually today. There, I’ve released it for you. What else would you like to know?
Q Well, I mean, names?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, I think we did release the names. If we haven’t, we certainly have every intention of doing that this afternoon.
Q Very good.
We’ve been talking a lot about Congress and, sort of, the log jam that that has been. I’m wondering, is the President looking at the proposal that was released by House Appropriations Chair, Rosa DeLauro, when it comes to bringing earmarks back? Is that something that — I know that he’s a legislator himself, but is that something that he’s interested in? Maybe that could hurry along some of the agenda. Or does he not have an opinion on earmarks?
MS. PSAKI: I have not discussed that with our legislative team. Obviously, as you noted, he was in the Senate for 36 years. We are — our focus right now is on the American Rescue Plan. You’re familiar with all of the components of that bill because we talk about it constantly from here. But I don’t have any new position or a position on that particular piece of legislation. I will check and see if there’s anything more we would like to convey.
Q Senator —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sorry. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Senator Warren proposed a wealth tax on households that are worth at least $50 million, saying, quote, “This is money that should be invested in childcare and early education…infrastructure, all of which are priorities of President Biden and Democrats in Congress.” Does this President have any appetite for a wealth tax?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President strongly believes that the ultra-wealthy and corporations need to finally start paying their fair share, and that our economy and tax system need to reward work not wealth. That’s why he proposed making sure the very richest Americans pay the same rate on the income from their wealth that a worker pays, as well as closing loopholes that allow them to entirely escape tax.
Obviously, our focus is on the American Rescue Plan. Addressing the inequities in the tax code is something he talked about as part of his Build Back Better agenda, and it’s something he remains committed to. He has a lot of respect for Senator Warren and is aligned on the goal of ensuring the ultra-wealthy and big corporations finally pay their fair share.
He’s laid out a lot of ideas, and when we get to that point in our agenda, he’ll look forward to working with her and others in Congress.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen, very much. So, yesterday, former President Trump suggested he might run again, meaning he will be back in 2024. You said the White House is not paying attention to President Trump — former President Trump, but how do you think foreign leaders are looking at this? Because this is one of the reasons foreign allies still have doubts, and many — if they can trust the U.S. again. So how do you also think President Biden can convince global allies that they can trust the United States and reclaim U.S. leadership?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President — President Biden just decisively beat Donald Trump a few months ago. That’s why we’re all here having so much fun together in here. And — but his focus, and I think one of the ways that he convinces foreign allies and partners that America is back and we want a seat at the table, is by keeping his focus on his commitments he made on the campaign trail, which is: building the economy back better, bringing an end to the pandemic, rebuilding our relationships around the world, and not focusing time and energy and effort on a political campaign. There’s plenty of time for that, but his focus is on his objectives of getting the pandemic under control and working with our partners around the world to do that, as well.
Q And do you think taking into consideration that foreign allies are worried about the return of Donald Trump?
MS. PSAKI: I am not a spokesperson for our foreign partners, so you’d have to ask them and see what they have to say.
Q Can I have one more question about Brazil?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead. Sure.
Q So the WHO said there is a tragedy happening in Brazil right now because of the pandemic. What is the White House evaluation of the situation in Brazil and how Brazil is responding to this crisis?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me note that on — just about a month ago, the United States, through USAID, announced it has delivered an addit- — $1.5 million for emergency COVID-19 response in Brazil. We did that, of course, because we want to be a collaborative and cooperative partner in addressing the pandemic.
Our focus is on — here — is on getting the American people vaccinated. That needs to be our focus now. But, of course, we believe that the more people in our global community who are vaccinated, the safer we all are. It’s just what our current focus is at this point in time.
Q Is it in conversation with the Brazilian government about the situation there? Do you think also there is a tragedy going on in Brazil right now — happening in Brazil?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly the loss of life, the number of people who have been impacted in Brazil and many places in the world, including the United States, is an incredible tragedy. But in terms of specific conversations, I’d refer to you to the State Department. They would have more specifics and more updated conversations to read out for you.
Q Can I ask —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q — just one more question about South America? There was some hope in South America that President Biden would be an ally because he was — he has experience leading issues in the region during the Obama administration. But, so far, in more than a month, President Biden has not spoken with any leader in South America. So I wonder what would be his priority in the region, and also who might be his best partner in the region. Who would be the first one he would call in South America?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll see. I promise you that the President would love to spend even more time calling foreign leaders. And there’s just a lot, of course, on his schedule. I expect he will do many more foreign leader calls in the coming weeks, and certainly would have discussions with many leaders in South America, but I don’t have any prediction for you about who or when.
Q During the COVID briefing earlier today, Jeff Zients acknowledged that people were having a lot of frustration getting vaccine appointments and a lot of problems with the state portals. Is there any discussion at this point, given those problems, with setting up some sort of nationwide portal for people to access those vaccine appointments?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there was an announcement we made last week about Vaccine Finder. And it’s just available, of course, in about a half a dozen states at this point in time. But what we’re working to do is take a number of steps to ensure people have access to more easily figure out when they can get a vaccine and when they’re eligible — in part because, as you know, everybody doesn’t have access to the Internet, everybody doesn’t know how to figure that out online.
So, certainly that’s one tool. It’s in a pilot stage at this point in time; certainly could be expanded. But we’re also looking for — to add additional steps — call centers; you know, proactive outreach, other ways to reach people who are having trouble figuring out how to gain access to a vaccine and when they’ll be eligible.
Q Okay. And just one more question, if you don’t mind. Senators Wyden and Sanders dropped their plan today for taxing companies that did not pay a higher minimum wage.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q I’m wondering, what is the “plan C,” at this point, for getting some sort of minimum wage increase through Congress over the next several months?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it is an issue that the President remains committed to. He wants the minimum wage to be raised; that’s why he put it in his package. And he is going to be in conversations and we will be at a number of levels with members of Congress, with their staffs about the best vehicle moving forward. But we don’t have a clear answer on what that looks like at this point. It’s just — remains a commitment and something he will use his political capital to get done.
Go ahead, Jeff.
Q Jen, the White House has given —
MS. PSAKI: I’ll go to you next.
Q — as you’ve been standing up here, the office has released the senators who will be meeting virtually with —
MS. PSAKI: Good.
Q — the President this afternoon. There are nine senators.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q Would you consider opening the top of that up so we can hear from the President directly on this 14-day critical push? And if not, why is that meeting not open?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s a — it’s a video call. I’m happy to check with our team and see. He doesn’t — he has spoken about his commitment to getting the American Rescue Plan passed, and the reasons why, nearly on a daily basis. So I don’t think you’ve had a shortage of that. He’ll also be speaking after the bilateral meeting with Mexico. But I’ll check and see if there’s more that can be done.
Q Great. Thanks.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Yeah. Donald Trump, last night, said “everybody” should get their COVID-19 shot. Is that something you would welcome his intervention? And given that Republicans, as a group, seem rather more reluctant to get the coronavirus vaccination, is there more you could be doing with Republican leaders to bring on that (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s a good question. I mean, our objective, of course, is to ensure as many Americans as possible are vaccinated as quickly as possible. And we will have enough vaccines to vaccinate — ensure every American has a vaccine by the end of July, if not sooner — likely sooner.
So our — at a certain point, we’re going to reach — we will have more vaccines than there are people who want to take them. That doesn’t seem like where we’re going to be at this point, but we will reach that point in time. And we certainly welcome the encouragement from anyone to take a vaccine.
Q And, if I could, Anne Sacoolas is still wanted in the UK on charges of causing death by dangerous driving. Now, the original rationale for her leaving the country with diplomatic immunity was that she was the spouse of somebody who was working at RAF Croughton, which, under the terms of the agreement there, meant she would have diplomatic immunity.
It since seems to have emerged, from her lawyer in court here, that she was actually employed by the State Department or the U.S. intelligence services. I wonder if you can clarify whether she was working in the UK for the United States government, and whether she does actually, as far as you’re concerned, have diplomatic immunity.
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the State Department. They, of course, engage in any questions about diplomacy, diplomatic immunity, of course the status of somebody who served during the prior administration. I don’t have anything more for you from it — on it from here.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Hi. Thanks. Can I ask you about the G7 in June?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Can you lay out some of what the President wants to focus on there? And also, is it expected to be his first overseas trip?
MS. PSAKI: We’re not quite there yet in terms of laying out his exact agenda. Obviously there are global objectives — getting the pandemic under control; working together to get our economy up and going again, which is something that the United States is obviously grappling with, but many countries around the world are grappling with. I’m certain those will be part of the agenda, but we’re not quite at the point of previewing a summit that’s happening in a few months. A lot can happen in the world between now and then.
In terms of whether or not he will travel, we haven’t made a determination on that at this point either. It will be related to COVID restrictions and the advice of our health and medical team. And I expect, as we get closer, we’ll have more of an update.
Q So is there a possibility that he won’t attend in person?
MS. PSAKI: Again, we’ll evaluate as we get closer. There’s certainly a possibility, but we are — we are several months away.
Q I have a couple questions from myself and then some from my colleagues who aren’t here.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.
Q With three vaccines available, the administration has said it will distribute all three proportionately and then tell states to distribute them equitably.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q My question is: If the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is just the one dose, why not prioritize that for communities that are harder to reach and may be harder to convince to come back and get that second dose?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the determination is made by the FDA on, kind of, how these vaccines should be distributed and where. I will say that the advice and guidance we’ve been — we’ve — we’ve received from our health and medical team is that every American should take whatever vaccine is available when it’s their turn.
And in terms of distribution of those vaccines, generally speaking, if we’re distributing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — or we will distribute, I should say, just like we distribute Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccine: proportional to a state’s population and through our federal channels. So if a state makes up 5 percent of the population, it will get 5 percent of the Pfizer allocation, 5 percent of the Moderna allocation, and 5 percent of the Johnson & Johnson allocation.
All three vaccines are highly effective. All three — and this is certainly an incredible step forward and a new tool that we have now in our — in our quiver to address the crisis. But the guidance we are providing, based on the advice from our health and medical team, is that any American should take whatever vaccine that is available to them.
Q And how does the administration counteract any messaging that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is, I don’t know, inferior to the other two that have greater efficacy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the clear message we’re sending is that all of these vaccines are safe. They are effective. They’ve been approved by the FDA. They will be distributed — all of them will be — around the country through governors, and then also directly to pharmacies and other mass vaccination sites.
And we will be continuing to convey that, you know, any vaccine you have access to, you should take that vaccine. And we are not — there’s no — we will be certainly also tracking if vaccines are only going to certain communities, and we’ll be addressing those issues as they come up.
Q And a couple for my colleagues who aren’t here. Now that the COVID bill has passed the House, has the President had any more contact with Speaker Pelosi about scheduling his joint address to Congress?
MS. PSAKI: That’s such a popular question. I don’t expect that — we don’t have any update on it. I don’t expect that the President will be laying out the next stage of his agenda until after we get the American Rescue Plan passed. And we’re certainly hopeful that we do that in the coming weeks.
Q Any update on his first press conference?
MS. PSAKI: Not yet, but we will definitely have one. We will schedule it, and you’ll be the first to know because you’re pivotal participants in that.
Q And last question here: When does President Biden plan to begin submitting nominations for judicial vacancies?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a great question. It certainly is something on his mind and a priority for him, given his long history, obviously, as former Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. I don’t have an update for you on the timing, but it’s something that he has focused on personally.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
Q Jen, can I just ask very quickly —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
Q — in these conversations with foreign leaders — phone calls and now meetings — is President Biden discussing at all the track of the white — white supremacy?
MS. PSAKI: Domestic violent extremism?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly it’s a — it’s a —
Q Not just in the U.S., but in our —
MS. PSAKI: Around the world?
Q Yes. Is this something that you’re discussing here in the U.S. and around the world?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s an ongoing review, as you know, and we’re allowing that policy process to see itself through.
He does receive regular updates from his homeland security team and others on incidents happening around the world. Whether it comes up in meetings, I don’t think I have anything more specifically to read out for you, other than to convey that it is a priority for him on the national security front in addressing that. That’s why he asked his team to conduct a full review and why we’ll look at that before we put new policies in place.
Q Does he believe white supremacy is a threat to the national security and maybe farther — trans- — transna- –transnational track?
MS. PSAKI: He certainly wouldn’t have asked the national security team to conduct a full review of domestic violent extremism, including, of course, activities of white supremacist, if he did not think it was a threat.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.
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