Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, Co-Chair of the Gender Policy Council and Chief of Staff to the First Lady Julissa Reynoso, and Co-Chair and Executive Director of the Gender Policy Council Jennifer Klein, March 8, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:31 A.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi everyone. Happy Monday and International Women’s Day. We have some special guests.
Today, on International Women’s Day, the President signed two executive orders. The first establishes the White House Gender Policy Council to ensure that the Biden administration advances gender equity and equal rights and opportunity for women and girls. The second directs the Department of Education to review all of its existing regulations, orders, guidance, and policies for consistency with the administration’s policy to guarantee education free from sexual violence.
To talk about these executive orders, we’re thrilled to have two newly named co-chairs of the Gender Policy Council, Julissa Reynoso and Jennifer Klein.
Julissa is the Chief of Staff to the First Lady. She was the Ambassador of the United States to Uruguay from 2012 to 2014, and served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central American, Caribbean, and Cuban Affairs.
In addition to being a co-chair, Jen is Executive Director of the Gender Policy Council. She was previously Chief Strategy and Policy Officer at TIME’S UP and a board member of the International Center for Research on Women.
Both of our guests have very busy days and a hard stop, so I will be the bad cop, but they’re happy to take some questions. So, with that, come on up.
MS. REYNOSO: Good morning, everyone. Again, my name is Julissa Reynoso. I’m Chief of Staff to Dr. Biden and, with Jen Klein, co-chair of the newly established Gender Policy Council. It’s a real privilege and honor for me to be able to lead this effort with Jen, who is a — really a legend in this field.
Today, on International Women’s Day, President Biden signed two — the two executive orders to ensure gender equality and equity throughout the federal government, which is a high priority of the Biden-Harris administration. (Speaks in Spanish.)
The first executive order will formally establish the Gender Policy Council within the Executive Office of the President with an explicit role in both domestic and foreign policy development. We know that the full participation of all people, including women and girls, across all aspects of our society is essential to the economic wellbeing, health, and security of our nation and of the world. This is matter of human rights, justice, and fairness. (Speaks in Spanish.)
It is also critically important to reducing poverty and promoting economic growth, increasing access to education, improving health outcomes, advancing political stability, and fostering democracy.
The White House Gender Policy Council will be an essential part of the Biden-Harris administration’s plan to ensure we build a more equal and just democracy by aggressively protecting the rights and unique needs of those who experience multiple forms of discrimination, including people of color and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people.
A year into COVID-19, it is clear that women have been disproportionately impacted by the combined public health crisis, ensuring economic crisis — ensuing economic crisis, and caregiving crisis. The pandemic has exacerbated barriers that have historically impacted women and girls.
As the country continues to grapple with the pandemic and reckons with the scourge of systemic racism and discrimination, President Biden knows that we need a government-wide focus on uplifting the rights of all women and girls.
The Gender Policy Council will tackle a number of issues. We will work to combat systemic bias and discrimination, including sexual harassment. We will focus on increasing economic security and opportunity by addressing the structural barriers of women’s participation in the labor force, decreasing wage and wealth gaps, and addressing the caregiving needs of American families and supporting care workers. We will ensure access to comprehensive healthcare. We will strengthen efforts to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, and develop a National Action Plan that establishes a government-wide approach both domestically and globally. We will promote equity and opportunity in education, leadership, and we’ll work to advance gender equality globally through diplomacy, development, trade, and defense. (Speaks in Spanish.)
With this, I pass the podium to my colleague, Jen Klein. Thank you.
MS. KLEIN: Thanks, Julissa. This will be a whole-of-government approach that Julissa and I are thrilled to lead. And I’m going to talk today a little bit more about the details and operation of the Council.
The executive order requires the Council to submit to the President a government-wide strategy for advancing gender equity and equality in the United States, and an annual report to measure progress on implementing that strategy. The strategy will guide the administration’s work to advance domestic and global gender equity and equality, and rights and opportunity for women and girls. And the strategy will evaluate and make recommendations to improve policies and programs, budgets, and data collection across agencies and across the White House, all with a gender lens.
We’ll also be involved in policy-making on a range of issues, including those that Julissa just outlined. We’re excited about the expertise that we have that our dedicated staff brings to improve our nation’s commitment to preventing and responding to gender-based violence, which, as many of you know, has long been a priority and a commitment of President Biden.
The executive order designates a Special Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor on Gender-Based Violence on the Council staff. And in addition, we’ll have at least two additional Special Assistants to the President for Gender Policy who will work on a number of issues, including the ones that Julissa outlined.
One of the Special Assistants will focus specifically on policies to advance equity for black, indigenous, Latina, and women and girls of color.
In all of our work, every step of the way, we’ll be aligned and fully integrated with the racial equity work headed up by the Domestic Policy Council.
We’ll also work closely with the Cabinet, most of whom are named as members of the Council, and each of whom will name a senior-level designate to the Council; and with staff on all policy councils in the White House; and with the Office of Public Engagement.
And in addition to those within the government, we’ll work with partners outside government: nonprofit and community-based organizations, state and local and tribal organizations, the private sector, foreign governments, and multilateral organizations.
The second executive order the President signed this morning focuses on policies — advancing policies to guarantee education free from sexual violence. The Title IX EO directs the Department of Education to review all of its existing regulations, orders, guidance, and policies to ensure consistency with the Biden-Harris administration’s policy that all students be guaranteed education free from sexual violence.
The Secretary of Education will consider suspending, revising, or rescinding, or publishing for notice and comment proposed rules suspending, revising, or rescinding those agency actions that are inconsistent with the policies of the administration.
It’s the policy of the Biden-Harris administration that all students should be guaranteed an educational environment free from discrimination on the basis of sex, including in the form of sexual harassment, which encompasses sexual violence; and including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The order also recognizes that students sometimes experience discrimination based on race, disability, and national origin; and that LGBTQ+ students experience significant amounts.
Finally, the administration also takes seriously the responsibility to ensure that procedures are fair and equitable for all involved.
These two executive order together are a statement of the commitment of the Biden-Harris administration to advancing gender equality and equity. We are — will be working urgently to ensure that, both here in the United States and globally, gender and gender identity do not predetermine opportunity and outcomes, and that all people, including women and girls and those who face other forms of discrimination, can thrive.
And we’re happy to take a few questions.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Aamer, go ahead.
Q Thanks. I had a question on the DO- — the Department of Education order. So, in the interim, will this administration continue to enforce the DeVos-Trump era rules? And how quickly will the review take place? And when can we expect implementation of any changes?
MS. KLEIN: The executive order asks the Secretary of Education to consider whether to rescind or revoke anything immediately. And it also makes clear that the Secretary should work as quickly as practicable to take action.
Q Thanks. A question for Jennifer, and then I have one for Julissa also. Mississippi’s legislature recently passed a law that basically banned transgender athletes from participating in girls’ or women’s sports teams. Does the Council do anything to address what’s happening on local levels like this? This is just one of many states that seems to be going this route right now.
MS. KLEIN: We have the tools that we have — which are federal laws, and the bully pulpit, and clarity about our policy and values — and we will be working really closely across the White House, as I said, with the Domestic Policy Council in particular on — and the National Security Council, by the way — on a series of equity issues. So definitely considering that.
Q And, Julissa, if you don’t mind, since you’re in the room — you were on that trip to the border this weekend.
MS. REYNOSO: Yes.
Q Could you tell us the sites that you visited, please? Could you tell us if you spoke with any of the migrant children who are being held in these detention centers; what they told you, if you did; and what’s your assessment of the condition that they’re being held in?
MS. REYNOSO: We were asked by the President to take a trip to evaluate and understand the situation on the ground. As you all know, we inherited a broken system, and we have — there are many challenges involved currently. We did speak to many of the folks involved, including children. So it is — we’re trying to manage this in an orderly fashion, but obviously being very mindful of the human costs here, in light of the fact that we do — we are talking about kids.
So that is something we are — we are managing, and we look — we do plan to brief the President this week on it. We have not done so yet. So we’ll — we’ll — you’ll hopefully learn more during the course of the week, but our first order of business is to really have that conversation with the President.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q One of the Title IX regulations that is targeted for review in the executive order says that a person who is accused of sexual misconduct on campus must be afforded due process. What’s wrong with that formulation?
MS. KLEIN: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the notion that everybody involved — accused or accuser — should be — should have a fair and full process. And that’s exactly what the policy of this administration is. And the Secretary of Education will look at the regulations with that in mind.
Q So you don’t think that that particular regulation will change?
MS. KLEIN: I — the President has asked the Secretary of Education to look at the — each piece of the regulations of all policies and make that decision — make a recommendation about what needs to be revoked or rescinded. What is clear is that the policy of this administration is that every individual, every student is entitled to a free — a fair education, free of sexual violence, and that people — all involved — have access to a fair process.
MS. PSAKI: Geoff. Then Katie. And then we have to wrap it up because these ladies have to go. But they’ll come back. They’ll come back.
Q Great. Can you speak about more about the plan — or maybe it’s an intended plan to boost the declining number of women in the workforce, specifically black and Latino women who have been disproportionately hard hit by the pandemic?
MS. REYNOSO: So, obviously, the ARP will do quite a bit to advance the economic interests of all Americans, but as you know, women of color, Latinas, African Americans, black, and Asian Americans, and indigenous women have been disproportionately impacted by the last — the incredible year we’ve had to manage, right?
So given that this location of the impact on specific sectors that are predominately occupied by women, and the fact that, historically, women have been disadvantaged in terms of pay, in terms of access to certain jobs, and just pure old discrimination, we are looking at addressing those — the accumulation of all those factors. The ARP is one way to begin.
There are — we are looking at — obviously the President is looking at additional paths and legislation coming down over the next couple of months to also build the incentives to generate jobs for Americans and, obviously, women being a major part of that.
But our goal, Jen and I, is to really look at long-term structural changes that can advance the full integration of women — women of color, women all over — so that issues of discrimination and equity and equality in the labor force and in pay can be addressed in a systemic manner, long term. So in the short term, we have taken steps, but we’re really looking at long-term, structural changes.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Katie.
Q I guess just to clarify what — you know, similar to Geoff’s question — so this council wouldn’t actually be doing anything or making recommendations to help women who are dropping out now and are suffering now from this pandemic?
MS. REYNOSO: I’ll start and then Jen. We are, right? So we were — we’re working closely with — we have the Gender Policy Council, but there’s also the Domestic Policy Council, the National Economic Council, and obviously the National Security Council. We work closely and we’ve already started this fluid collaboration with our colleagues in the other councils to make sure we are deliberately integrating gender equity and equality in terms of the economic plans in their work.
Obviously, our colleagues are very mindful of this, but we are reinforcing it in our own, kind of, daily routine and that is part of our job. In fact, one of our colleagues who will be working — working with us, that is her task. So it’s within the White House, but also obviously through the entire government. But it’s short order, but also long term.
Do you want to add something?
MS. KLEIN: I would just add that, you know, what we’ve experienced — what women have experienced, but all of us have experienced over the course of the last literal year is a public health crisis, an economic crisis, and really, on top of that, a caregiving crisis.
So, I would just note that the American Rescue Plan has a number of provisions in it that will bring immediate relief to women and help women get back to work, and those range from those individual payments that will go to individuals and to families. You know, child poverty will be reduced by half. There’s a child tax credit, which is of, you know, significant value to parents, and women in particular. Unemployment insurance. You know, helping schools reopen safely so that kids can back into school. Help stabilizing the childcare industry and helping parents be able to afford childcare. There’s so much in there that will provide immediate relief to women and help them get back to work.
And then, as Julissa says, you know, there are longer-term structural changes that also need to be addressed. You know, I referenced the caregiving crisis. I mean, one of the reasons that women are leaving work is, you know, first, because they’re in industries that are really under stress, like hospitality, retail. But also because they have caregiving needs that they can’t meet.
And so, you know, thinking about and — there are — again, there are pieces of this already in the American Rescue Plan, but thinking about paid family and medical leave, and building and making childcare more affordable, and helping with long-term care for sick or ageing relatives. And, by the way, helping address the issues of the paid caregivers who we are all depending on, who, you know, need additional — adequate wages and additional dignity in the work that they do.
So, as Julissa said, there is a long-term plan, but I also don’t want to underestimate that there is so much that’s important immediately to getting women back to work and to get kids back to school and to crush this pandemic.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you both. Do you want to do one more? One more. One more. Go ahead.
Q Speaking of executive orders on gender equity, the President and the Vice President campaigned during the election on giving a third gender option on federal government IDs to individuals who want them. Does the President see value in signing an executive order to make that happen?
MS. KLEIN: I haven’t looked yet to see whether that requires an executive order. I mean, I would note that we are very inclusive in our definition of gender, and we intend to address all sorts of discrimination and, you know, fight for equal rights for people, whether that’s LGBTQ+ people, women, girls —
MS. REYNOSO: Men.
MS. KLEIN: — men. So, you know, that’s certainly something that we will look at. But I honestly don’t know whether that requires an executive order.
Q Because the American Civil Liberties Union is pushing for an executive order for this action. I was wondering if anything like that was under consideration at this time.
MS. PSAKI: It sounds like we’ll have to just look into it a little bit more and see what’s required, but it’s a good question.
Thank you, ladies. I know Dr. Biden is waiting for Julissa so we have to let her go. But thank you both for coming. We really appreciate it.
Okay. I’ll just note that Karine and I are wearing purple in honor of International Women’s Day. And as part of his indoctrination into the women-dominated team, Chris is wearing a purple tie. So, there you go. (Laughter.)
I just have a couple of items at the top. Obviously, our focus continues to be on the American Rescue Plan and getting it across the finish line. The President is taking nothing for granted. I will note that the plan that the Senate passed this weekend puts us one huge step closer to passing one of the most consequential and most progressive pieces of legislation in American history.
As Senator Sanders described it, the Rescue Plan is, quote, “the most significant piece of legislation to benefit working families in the modern history of this country.” The bill will also help us reopen schools safely; keep teachers, cops, firefighters, and other essential workers on the job; and it will give us the tools and resources we need to crush this virus.
Some attention, of course, has been paid on the process. We understand that, but we can’t lose sight of what the bill actually means for the American people: $1,400 checks to — for 180 — 158.5 million Americans. A typical family of four making $100,000 will get $5,600 in direct checks. Lifting 11 million people out of poverty and cutting child poverty in half this year, including through a historic expansion of the Child Tax Credit that will benefit 66 million kids across the country. Extending unemployment insurance for around 11 million Americans. As you all know, that would — we would have hit a point where people would be losing it later this week, if we were not headed toward the passage of this bill. Tens of billions of dollars in rental and homeowners assistance that will benefit lower income, disproportionately black and brown communities, renters, and homeowners. And also the most significant investment in American childcare since World War Two. Expanding the earned income tax credit to 17 million low-income workers. And significantly reducing — and this is a piece of it that hasn’t received a lot of attention — health insurance premiums for millions of Americans. So, a family of four making $90,000 could see their monthly premiums go down by $200 a month, and that’s in addition to direct checks they’ll be receiving, the child tax credit they’ll be receiving, and other components.
We mentioned this on Friday: the plan for the President to deliver remarks on Thursday. I just wanted to give a little bit — put a little more meat on the bones. The President will deliver his first primetime address to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 shutdown on Thursday. He will discuss the many sacrifices of the — the American people have made over the last year and the grave loss communities and families across the country have suffered. The President will look forward, highlighting the role of Americans — that Americans will play in beating the virus and moving the country toward getting back to normal.
With that, Aamer, kick us off.
Q Great. I’m sorry I didn’t wear a purple tie today.
MS. PSAKI: Oh. (Laughter.) You can do it tomorrow. We can extend it —
Q I appreciate it.
MS. PSAKI: — just for you. Go ahead.
Q Thank you. Will the President’s name or signature appear anywhere on the stimulus — upcoming stimulus checks that many Americans will be receiving?
MS. PSAKI: This is a very popular question. I will tell you that our focus right now is on getting this bill across the finish line, getting relief out to the American people, which we expect will happen by the end of the month, in terms of getting the relief out. In terms of what the checks will look like, I just don’t have an update on that for you today.
Q And yesterday Senator Manchin said that, like President Biden, he believes that filibusters should continue, but there should be “more pain” in it if you want to utilize it.
MS. PSAKI: More pa- —
Q Does President Biden agree that there needs to be tweaks in how the filibuster is utilized?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ll first say, the President’s preference is not to get rid of the filibuster. Look at what we’ve been able to accomplish in the last six weeks. We’re about to — he’s on the verge of passing a historic relief bill that’s going to cut child poverty in half and create 7 million jobs. We’ll have enough vaccines for all Americans by May. Thirteen Cabinet nominees have been confirmed. We rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement. We ended the discriminatory Muslim ban. He’s met with members on both sides of the aisle in the Oval and he wants to continue to work on a bipartisan basis, and we believe there are opportunities to do exactly that.
And infrastructure — I believe that’s an area I think Senator Manchin touched on yesterday during one of his interviews. It’s a — it’s a policy area that’s close to the President’s heart — one he’s had a lot of interest in and commitment to even to when he was Vice President and before. There’s been historic bipartisan support for that.
Immigration — modernizing our immigration system. Historic bipartisan support for efforts moving forward. The President is an optimist by nature, otherwise he probably wouldn’t be in this job, and he believes that there is opportunity to work with Democrats and Republicans to get work done for the American people.
Q Just one last small question.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q I know the President and First Lady had struck up a friendship with Harry. I was wondering if they caught any of the interview yesterday, and if they had any reaction to what the couple has gone through, in regards particularly with what they felt in terms of the racism that they felt?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that — obviously, many of us caught the interview. I don’t have — I don’t — as many Americans did and many people around the world. You know, Meghan Markle is a private citizen and so is Harry at this point. For anyone to come forward and speak about their own struggles with mental health and tell their own personal story — that takes courage, and that’s certainly something the President believes. And he’s talked the importance of, you know, investing in a lot of these areas that they’re committed to in the future as well.
We aren’t going to provide additional commentary from here on behalf of the President or others, given these are private citizens, sharing their own story and their own struggles. And let me just reiterate that we have a strong and abiding relationship with the British people and a special partnership with the government of the United Kingdom on a range of issues, and that will continue.
Q Thanks, Jen. A couple questions —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, I’ll go to you — to Steve, next. Go
Q A couple questions. On the timeline — the President hit on this over the weekend, but I’m wondering if you could clarify —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q He said that Americans will start to see these stimulus checks this month. That is the question on so many minds right now.
MS. PSAKI: I know.
Q Given that this is tax season, there are concerns about whether the IRS can process these quickly. Do you have a timeline? Will it be a matter of days that Americans will see these checks?
MS. PSAKI: This is certainly a very popular question for understandable reasons. The Treasury Department is working on what this looks like and what the processing looks like. As the President said on Friday, we expect a large number of Americans to receive relief by the end of the month. But in terms of the mechanics of it, Treasury just has to work through that. And an update will likely come from them, but we’ll keep you all abreast of it.
Q You sort of hit on, kind of a little bit, you didn’t get a single Republican vote. Does this concern the President about the ability to pass his agenda going forward? What are the implications long-term right now given that he doesn’t have any Republican support for this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, the door of the Oval Office remains open to bipartisan work, and I expect he will continue to work with and reach out to Democrats, of course, but also Republicans about ways to work together. And he’s had a number of bipartisan meetings, even in the last few weeks — a couple on infrastructure, on cancer. He feels there is a — certainly is a path forward. But we’re also not going to allow bipartisanship to be defined by one ZIP Code.
In fact, many of the Republicans who voted against this are outliers and are against the grain of what the people in their own districts supported. So they may be getting questions about that once relief goes out, once schools are able to upgrade facilities and, you know, benefit from these checks. But he remains open and remains hopeful about the opportunity for bipartisan work moving forward.
Q I want to follow up with you on a question I was asking Julissa. Why has the White House not said where this delegation went this weekend?
MS. PSAKI: I can confirm for you that — that the delegation went to, of course, a CBP facility, as was confirmed in their readout, but also to the Carrizo Springs facility — shelter in Texas.
Q And why so few details on this release? This — this doesn’t seem to be in the transparency of — in the spirit of transparency that Secretary Mayorkas promised here at this platform. There were no cameras. There were no press. Julissa answered very few details about what they saw on that visit.
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, the President, as she conveyed, asked them to go because he really wanted to get a full assessment from senior members of his policy team about what they were seeing on the ground — based on meetings, based on conversations with officials from HHS, officials who are running these facilities about what their challenges are — what improvements could be made. And as she noted, they also spoke with children.
They’ll have — as is a normal part of any internal policy process, they’ll have a briefing with him in the coming days. We do look forward to — he’s committed to, we are all committed to allowing cameras into these facilities, but we want to figure out the best way to do that, protecting the privacy of the kids in a way that’s secure and safe. And certainly that’s something we look to do in the future.
Go ahead. Go ahead, Steve.
Q The readout of the visit to the border said that they discussed capacity needs for unaccompanied children. Will they be making recommendations to the President? Is there a need for more capacity?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we know just purely by the number, Steve, that there is going to be a need. Right? Because we have a large number of kids, unaccompanied children, who are coming across the border. We’ve made a policy decision, as an administration, that the humane and moral approach is to keep these kids safe and get them into facilities that are safe.
There are some limitations, which I know many of you are familiar with because of COVID restrictions and protocols, that reduce the capacity at a number of these sites. CDC also put out some guidelines many of you may have seen — I believe it was on Thursday or Friday — that will allow for increased capacity at some of these sites.
But it is an area — it is an area of policy discussion: how will we continue to accommodate, in a safe and humane way, these kids. And our objective remains moving them as quickly as possible out of the Border Patrol facilities. In order to do that, we need to have shelter facilities that are safe; that have access to educational resources, legal resources, health and medical resources; and we need to ensure we have capacity to do that.
Q Separately, the U.S. has identified three online publications directed by Russia’s intelligence services aimed at undermining the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Are you aware of it? What can you do about this to counteract?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, we can reiterate that we will fight, with every tool we have, disinformation. We are certainly not new to — or we certainly are familiar with, I should say, the approach and tactics of Russian disinformation efforts. And we will reiterate that, at every opportunity, these vaccines are safe. They’ve been approved by the FDA. We will have, of course, health and medical experts conveying that at every turn, and we will look for ways to combat disinformation. But we are aware of it, we are monitoring it, and we are taking steps to address.
Q You mentioned the historical bipartisan nature of infrastructure. Has the administration made a determination about its next legislative priority, whether it will be a targeted, focused infrastructure bill that could potentially pick up Republican support or whether it’s going to be a bigger, Build Back Better, more sweeping, potentially more expensive effort?
MS. PSAKI: Not yet, Geoff. It’s a great question. I mean, our focus — I know we say this publicly, but it is also our focus internally is on — is on the American Rescue Plan and getting it across the finish line, and we take nothing for granted.
There are — the President’s priorities are not a secret. He talked about them. You touched on a number of them. It was a part of his Build Back Better agenda during the campaign. Infrastructure is one of them — investing in caregiving, doing more to improve access and expand access to healthcare, adjusting our tax systems. But the structure, the size, the format — that has not yet been determined.
Q On the ARP, should we expect a signing ceremony tomorrow or sometime after the House passes it?
MS. PSAKI: I expect once — once — we believe it’s on the path to the President, of course, signing it, and I certainly would expect we’d take a moment to do that once it’s done.
Q And what’s the administration’s plan to make sure that low-income people who didn’t file a tax return because they make — they don’t make enough income make sure that they get the money? Because I think in the last go-around in the previous administration, there was some 8 million people who were eligible but didn’t get the money.
MS. PSAKI: For the tax — for the tax benefits?
Q Well, for the $1,400 payments.
MS. PSAKI: For $1,400 payments. It’s a great question. I probably would have to talk to Treasury about their implementation mechanisms here and how they’ll — they’re able to reach those individuals. It certainly is something that, when we came in and did reviews of processes that could work better, we also noted during the transition. But I’ll have to talk to them about what systems they’ll be able to be — put in place to ensure more people receive these checks.
Q Thank, Jen. What are the President and other White House officials doing today to ensure that there are no Democratic defections in the vote tomorrow?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I will tell you, having worked all weekend, as I think many of us did, you know, their — our legislative team, led by Steve Ricchetti and Louisa Terrell, are certainly not taking anything for granted. They’re picking up the phone, checking in with offices, making sure they have their questions answered. They’re asking the President, the Vice President, Ron Klain, other senior members of the administration to make calls as needed.
I would say we feel it’s on a path to passing the House, and certainly Speaker Pelosi has spoken to that. But we are at the ready. Everybody is on call whenever they’re needed and that certainly applies to the President.
Q And then, back on the filibuster, Senator Manchin suggested over the weekend that the filibuster be not removed, but reformed. As someone who spent decades in the Senate, is that something that President Biden would be supportive of?
MS. PSAKI: Well, his preference is not to make changes to the filibuster rules, but — and he believes that, with the current structure, that he can work with Democrats and Republicans to get work and business done. He’s also happy to hear from Senator Manchin and others who have ideas about how to get the business done for the American people. But that’s not his preference.
Q Senator Manchin was also asked about infrastructure, and he said that he felt that any big infrastructure package should be paid for, and he suggested that corporate tax hikes might be one way to pay for a massive infrastructure bill. Is — does the President believe that the bill should be paid for? And does he support corporate tax hikes as one way to do that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he spoke the campaign trail, and one of the items that he spoke about in his Build Back Better agenda was making sure that people paid their fair share, whether it’s highest income or rolling back some of the corporate tax cuts. So certainly that’s in — those are policies that he supports. We don’t have a bill or a package yet, so we can have that conversation once we get there.
Q Got it. And then one last question on schools. Dr. Fauci said over the weekend that he thinks that high schoolers are going to be vaccinated by the fall. We know what President Biden’s goals are when it comes to K-through-5 kids. Have you made any progress in devising goals for high schoolers?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are thrilled to have Secretary Cardona confirmed. And he is, as you know, going to be hosting an education summit to talk about the reopening of schools and look ahead to what needs to be done to get that done. And that applies, of course, not just to K-through-5 or K-through-8, but also high schools.
We also are on track to sign into — for the President to sign into law the American Rescue Plan, which has $160 billion in it to ensure that schools who don’t have the resources needed can make these facility upgrades, as well — get testing in place; hire teachers, bus drivers. But I will leave it to the Secretary of Education to determine the timeline or the path forward for high schools.
Q Can I briefly ask on a couple of COVID things? Can you confirm the President will host the Merck and J&J executives at the White House on Wednesday?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Why did he do away with the trip to Baltimore?
MS. PSAKI: We just felt it was a more appropriate place to have the meeting. But he will look forward to discussing with them ways to work forward to continue to expedite vaccine supply and distribution to the American people.
Q And is there any risk with the — the event was supposed to happen at Emergent. There was, of course, a report on the weekend over Emergent’s history with the U.S. government. Is there any risk that the, I guess, vaccine production could be slowed if the U.S. has some, I guess, problem with Emergent being a supplier to J&J, as perhaps implied by the President declining to go to the facility?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I will say first that: The administration is going to undertake a comprehensive review and audit of the National Stockpile. But — and obviously, some of that was covered in the story I believe you’re referencing.
MS. PSAKI: But I have not — our health and — our COVID team has not conveyed to me any concern about the timeline or pace of vaccine production.
Q And your team also just announced the new CDC recommendations around vaccinated people. There’s no change to travel guidance. I want to ask whether the White House had any involvement procedurally in preparing those — or is that entirely with the CDC? But broadly, what do you say to Americans who wonder, “If I’ve been vaccinated, why can’t I get on a plane?”
MS. PSAKI: I would encourage them to ask the CDC the questions. They are the ones who put together those guidelines. We do not — we were not involved in the sense of developing them or signing off on them. Of course, we receive regular briefings, but, you know, I would direct those questions to the CDC.
Q And, finally, there was a report out of Europe, in the FT, that the European Commission will ask the U.S. government to authorize export of U.S.-produced AstraZeneca vaccines, in particular. Do you have any response to that, or can you say whether there have been any calls? Have you been asked that yet by the Commission?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on that, Josh. It’s a good question, but I’ll have to talk to our National Security team and our COVID team about what that approval process would look like. I’m not aware if that ask has actually been initiated yet.
Q Okay. Thanks.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Yes, Jen, thank you. The Chinese Foreign Minister is demanding that the Biden administration reverse what he calls former President Trump’s “dangerous practice” of showing support for Taiwan. What’s your response to those words from the Chinese Foreign Minister?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our position on Taiwan remains clear: We will stand with friends and allies to advance our shared prosperity, security, and values in the Indo-Pacific region. We maintain our longstanding commitments, as outlined in the Three Communiqués, the Taiwan Relations Act, and the Six Assurances. And we will continue to assist Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability. So our position remains the same.
Q Are you worried at all about this increasing rhetoric and the actions by Taiwan towards China?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I have anything more for you on it.
Go ahead, Katie.
Q Yeah, I have a couple questions. The first is about Secretary Cardona being ordered to revisit the Title IX rules, as they relate to sexual misconduct on campus. So the Trump-era rules were controversial because critics said they “bolstered the rights of the accused, perhaps over the rights of victims.” The Obama-era rules were met by legal challenges that said those rules “infringed on due process for the accused.” Where does the President want these rules to go? Does he believe a balance can be struck, or what has he communicated about what he wants?
MS. PSAKI: I mean, I think the President wants a recommendation from the Secretary of Education, who we look forward to having in this briefing room and it sounds like there’s a lot of questions people would love to ask him. But I don’t think he’s going to get ahead of a policy process or recommendations by his Secretary of Education.
Q And then I have just a question on: What is the President’s relationship with Senator Manchin like these days? How often do they talk?
MS. PSAKI: They speak regularly. He speaks with a range of senators and members of Congress and members of the House regularly, as well — obviously, they have meetings here. But he, perhaps because he served for 36 years, certainly doesn’t hesitate to pick up the phone and have a conversation, whether it’s something he agrees with, disagrees with. And that’s something he’s prone to do, even when it’s not on his schedule for that day — just when it comes up and it’s an ask somebody makes on the team.
You know, he has worked with Senator Manchin over the course, of course, of years, and he certainly appreciates the support for the $1.9 trillion package that will help bring relief to the American people. He looks forward to working with him on a range of items on his agenda moving forward.
Q The President has said there’ll be enough vaccine supply to vaccinate every American adult by the middle of May. What does that mean for the White House’s plans to develop a proposal to export vaccines to other areas of the world?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as the President has said — and we’ve said, I guess, the — our priority is ensuring that the American people are vaccinated. And we, of course, remain committed to being vital partners in the global community. There are a couple of factors that we are — certainly our health team considers. We don’t know which vaccine is most effective for children; of course, that testing is ongoing. There — we still don’t know yet the impact of all of the variants.
So I don’t have anything to predict for you in terms of what additional supply will be shared and when and the process for that, but certainly it’s something we’re open to. Our first priority though is ensuring the American people are vaccinated.
Q And I have a question on this week’s schedule. Every day has a COVID-related event for the President. Obviously, he has been focused on it any given week, but this week seems notable. I was kind of curious what you could say about what the plan is this week and why this is kind of a special week to kind of increase that focus on the response to the pandemic.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that there’s no issue that’s on the minds of Americans more than getting the pandemic under control. The American people know that the reason why we have a recession, the reason why so many families are concerned about putting food on the table, the reason why parents around the country are worried about the impact of closed schools on their kids’ mental health and their learning is because of the pandemic. And it is the number one issue and priority on the mind of the President, the Vice President, and our entire team.
Of course, this week marks one year since the country was essentially shut down as a result of the pandemic. And we — and it’s important to note, of course, what — what steps have been taken and what progress has been made, but, of course, also the road ahead. And so we’re taking an opportunity to do that.
Q Jen, as today’s print pooler, I’m going to ask a question for myself and on behalf of the print pool.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q And my first question for me could be a follow-up to the Manchin question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q The Senate, after — before approving the ARP on Saturday, defeated an amendment that would have funded schools and universities under Title II if they allow transgender kids in athletics. However that amendment got support from senators on both sides of the aisle, including Susan Collins and Joe Manchin. As head of the Democratic Party, did the President express any regret that that measure got bipartisan support?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first let me say the President’s position on the rights of transgender kids to play sports is clear: He signs an executive order, and he believes transgender rights are human rights and wants to see kids have the opportunity to play sports and participate in a range of activities.
I would say we expected — as there often is with vote-a-ramas — there to be a range of amendments that he would oppose. And this certainly would have been one of them, but I don’t have anything more to read out for you in terms of his specific concerns.
Q And now for my colleague, who asks: Given that multiple members of President Biden’s staff going to the U.S.-Mexico border on Saturday went there, why didn’t the President make the trip to see the situation himself? And can we expect a visit to the border for him in the coming weeks ahead?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything — anything on his schedule to read out. I will, though, confirm for you — having traveled on smaller delegations, but also on trips with the President — a trip with the President, as many of you know, includes Air Force One; includes an extensive security; includes all of you, of course; includes a large swath of people and human beings.
This was a trip with a small delegation meant to be able to have a small footprint on the ground to really have conversations with people who are working in these facilities, who are leading the efforts underway, and even some children. And it felt — he felt it was most appropriate for members of his policy staff to have those conversations and do the first trip.
Q Not to belabor Joe Manchin —
MS. PSAKI: That’s okay.
Q — but what we saw last week was — you guys do have a numbers problem — potentially, a big one. What does that mean going forward, given Joe Manchin’s comments in the past and then, more recently, talking about he wants Republicans more involved; he will not support an infrastructure bill that goes through reconciliation. And more specifically, the minimum wage — I mean, this is something progressives have pushed for. They want $15. How can you possibly get to $15 when you have Joe Manchin saying what he’s saying and Republicans drawing a pretty hard line?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first I would say: Senator Manchin and Senator Sanders and a range of Democrats in between just voted to support a $1.9 trillion package that is the most progressive piece of legislation in history. So, I would say we feel pretty good about that, and the fact that that package was not broken up. It still contained the key components that the President advocated for: $1,400 checks; you know, assistance to schools. And yes, there were some changes on the margins, but it is the core of what he had originally proposed.
The President believes that there is a path forward on a range of issues where there’s been a history of bipartisan support, including infrastructure. Infrastructure improvements are not a Democratic issue. They’re not a moderate issue, a progressive issue, a conservative issue. The American people want their roads, rails, and bridges to be reformed. He feels there’s a path forward. There’s no bill that’s being considered. He’s having discussions to hear ideas — hear good ideas from members of both parties.
And once we have a bill, we’re happy to have the discussion on how we move it forward.
Q But do you — does that mean you do think that you will have to work with Republicans? Do you think you’ll have enough Republicans to get to $15 specifically?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sorry, the minimum wage you asked about.
MS. PSAKI: Sorry, you asked a few things in there, so I was trying to unpack them.
MS. PSAKI: No, it’s totally fine. The President remains committed to raising the minimum wage to $15. There are no negotiations right now with the President or anyone from the administration on lowering that threshold. He’s going to work with leaders in both — in the Democratic Party and anyone who’s interested in having this conversation about how to move it forward in the best — the best vehicle moving forward.
But that’s the status of it. Right now we’re focused on the American Rescue Plan.
Q And just a quick follow-up on a different subject. You mentioned last week that the President is expected to give a formal press briefing —
MS. PSAKI: Press conference, yeah.
Q Yes. Before the end of the month.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q So, you’re — so that is a commitment: Before — in the next few weeks, we will see him and, you know, take questions and follow-ups and so forth.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, he has done about — about 40 Q&As since he took office. But in terms of a formal press conference, which I understand there’s a big focus on: Yes, we will have one before the end of the month.
Q And what does it mean going forward? Will we see more of President Biden? Specifically —
MS. PSAKI: More than 40 Q&As in the last month or —
Q Where he will be submitted to more extensive questions, follow-ups, the kind of things we’re doing today. Will we see him regularly?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t know that you’ll see him more than 40 times a month, but I’ll have to tell — I’m happy to ask him that question.
Go ahead, Yamiche.
Q Hi, thanks so much. A couple of questions. The first, on direct aid: I know that March 14th was the deadline because of the unemployment that was running out. Is the White House basically ensuring people that their unemployment — that enhanced unemployment — that they’ll be able to still get that and that there will be no lapse there? And also, is there a concern about what happened last time, where there was a backlog at the IRS and there was a backlog in checks going out to people? Is that a concern, and has that been worked out?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I can assure you, having been on a call with her this morning, that Secretary Yellen is focused like a laser on ensuring that there’s a clear process and system for ensuring this assistance gets out as quickly as possible.
I certainly understand the questions. My friends, neighbors — everybody is asking me the same thing about when they will get assistance, when this will go out the door, but it is really up to them on the mechanics of it. And as I noted a little bit earlier — and, Yamiche, I think we’ve talked about this, I think — there was concern about the gap of people in the last — with the December package that were left out and didn’t receive the assistance. And that’s certainly something that’s being factored into the administration and the process here, but I really leave it to Treasury to provide an update on the mechanics of it.
Q And I know you said the President’s preference is to not do away with the filibuster. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, he said that if Democrats want to keep enjoying the majority that they have to find some workaround around the filibuster. He’d said maybe it would be a “Sinema-Manchin rule.” I wonder if the President would be behind some sort of rule for specific legislation; Jim Clyburn was talking about civil rights and voting rights legislation. Would the President back any sort of filibuster workaround for specific legislation?
MS. PSAKI: Again, it’s not his preference, and he believes, with an issue as important as voting rights, there should be a path forward to work with Democrats and Republicans to get it done. So nothing has changed on his policy on the filibuster.
Q I guess what I’m wondering, without asking specifically about the filibuster, more about a rule that would get around the filibuster for specific legislation like voting rights and civil rights. Would he possibly get behind that? Not doing away with the entire filibuster rule, but —
MS. PSAKI: No, I understand. I just don’t have — you know, he’s not — his preference is not to make different changes to the — to the rules — to the filibuster rules.
Q And on a separate issue on the border, I understand that the delegation is going to brief the President. I wonder: Can you talk a little bit more about what was seen there, what was most concerning? Especially, I know this administration has said over and over again, “It’s not the right time to come.” They’ve — they talked to children; they talked to officials. Has that message been reached to the immigrants who are coming across our borders?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you know, I think, first, I’m — I’m going to allow the President to receive the briefing first before we talk about it more publicly. But I will also say, just to the expectations set, that this is a normal part of an internal policy process, and I don’t anticipate that we’re going to give extensive briefings about internal policy processes or internal discussions that the policy team will have with the President.
They went there because the President asked them to go because he wanted to hear and understand tangibly what’s happening on the ground. And, you know, having sat in on briefings with him about this issue, the questions he asks are: “How many teachers are there? What specific steps can be done to improve the processes of the timeline of how quickly kids get from — from shelter facilities into homes? What’s the logjam in the process?”
These are the kinds of things that he’s looking for more detailed information on, and I think he wanted to hear tangibly from people who had recently visited the facilities on the ground, hence they went. But, you know, any policy discussion will be private as any policy meeting would be in an administration.
Q You could imagine though that there is real interest, especially among people in this country, to know more about what’s going on at the border, especially when you have unaccompanied minors.
I wonder how — I understand that there has to be private conversations, but why not say more? And why not at least say, “Yes, our message is being received,” or “No, we need to work more on getting the message out”?
MS. PSAKI: I would say it’s clear we need to work more on getting the message out and being very clear now is not the time to come. There is — the majority of people who come to the border are turned away. Yes, we are — we have changed the policies of the last administration as it relates to unaccompanied children, but the majority of families, adults — the vast, vast majority — are turned away at the border. And that is a message that, clearly, we need to continue to look for means and ways of getting out — you know, more and more, out to the region.
Q Is there a time for the primetime address — completely housekeeping — but is there a time specifically for —
MS. PSAKI: It’s a great question. I will follow up. I think I know it, but let me — let me double check and make sure it’s 100 percent landed on the time. I think it’s going to be — well, can I come back? Because I just —
MS. PSAKI: Let me — go ahead, to the back.
Q Thank you, Jen. Foreign policy question. As you know, it has been constant attack by the Houthi rebels on targeting Saudi Arabia. The Wall Street Journal just quoted a senior Saudi official, saying that, actually, the attack yesterday on the port of Ras Tanura was originated from Iraq or Iran. Is it — does the White House believe that this is a game changer since it’s not from Yemen? And will you hold Iran accountable?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, we continue to be alarmed by the frequency of Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia. Escalating attacks like these are not the actions of a group that is serious about peace. The attacks are unacceptable and dangerous and put the lives of innocent civilians at work, including Americans.
We, of course, continue to work in close cooperation with the Saudis, given the threat, as you referenced, that they are facing on a frequent basis from these attacks. And we understand that they face genuine security threats from Yemen and others in the region.
As a part of our interagency process, we’ll look for ways to improve support for Saudi Arabia’s ability to defend its territory against threats. But I don’t have anything from that to predict for you at this point in time.
Q Can you update us on the negotiation with the Iranians? Where are we now? I mean, is it stalled? Is it — you’re offering them something new? Where are we?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s an ongoing discussion about — you know, based on the reaction of the Iranians to the EU invitation. We see this as a part of the diplomatic process. But we don’t have any update in terms of a date or timeline for that discussion.
Go ahead, Isaac.
Q Thanks, Jen. Given what the President said yesterday with the executive order that he signed and what’s in that executive order, I wonder if you can explain why pushing for voting rights isn’t — a legislative move on voting rights isn’t higher up on the agenda for the President as you’re sequencing these things, especially given all of the changes that are being pushed in a lot of states to voting rights.
MS. PSAKI: It is — it is a priority. Right now, our focus is on the American Rescue Plan — getting it through, getting it passed — because the number one and number two issues for the American people are the pandemic and the economic recession.
But, of course, making it easier and more accessible for the American people to vote is something the President talked about on the campaign trail and he will remain committed to through the course of his presidency. He signed executive orders, as you referenced, into place just over the weekend. He obviously has — supports the passage in the House of this piece of legislation. And we will continue to look for ways to make voting more accessible for the American people.
Q But he’s not leaning into it as something for Congress to move on soon. Is there a concern that, as these state voting rights laws get into place — and, of course, there are elections in the fall; they’re going to be elections next year — that it will be, sort of — those restrictions that are being put in place will be in place by the time that it comes to voting and Congress won’t have moved?
MS. PSAKI: I mean, he is supportive of the legislation. Right? He talked about — he put out a supportive statement. We had a supportive statement of administration policy on the passage through the House. It’s something that he conveyed in that. He would look to see — he would support that moving through the Senate. Obviously, there’s are — there are a range of means of working with states on their own approaches, working with Congress on a range of ways to help increase voting rights and access, and he and his team are eager to continue to do that.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone. Oh, sorry, one more. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q I just want to follow up because I want to clarify. You said that the policy discussion behind the scenes with the President and this delegation is private. I just want to clarify, and following up on what Yamiche was asking: I’m not asking for a detailed readout on a private conversation that’s happening in the Oval Office between the President and this delegation. Journalists have not been allowed to see what’s happening inside places like Carrizo Springs.
MS. PSAKI: I understand, and I said — so all I was conveying on that particular piece, just for clarity, is we’re probably not — just to — for expectation setting, we’re probably not going to do a readout of their private conversation. I know you weren’t asking for that.
Q But will we get a readout on what these children, whom we’ve not been able to speak to ourselves, are saying to the delegation of 14 members that went on the conditions that they’re being held in? Or if not a readout on this conversation — on what these kids told people like Julissa, can we get it ourselves?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, we — as I said when you asked the question earlier, we are very open to and support — and the President does — providing access to these facilities. We need to do that in a way that is — protects the privacy of these kids, who are under 18; is safe, given CO- — COVID protocols. And we are committed to doing that.
So we’re not expecting you to take our word for it. I was just conveying that any private policy conversation — I just didn’t want there to be an expectation every day that we’d be reading that out. This will be an ongoing discussion. And, of course, we want to bring more people in here to shed more light on our thinking, on how challenging this issue is, on what contemplations we have to ensure that children are in facilities that are safe, that hel- — and that we take steps to expedite the process to get them to homes that are either family members or homes of people who are sponsoring them.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.
12:29 P.M. EST