James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:31 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone.  Hello.
Q    Hello. 
MS. PSAKI:  Joining us today is Bharat Ramamurti, the Deputy Director of the National Economic Council for Financial Reform and Consumer Protection. 
Bharat was formerly the Managing Director of the Corporate Power Program at the Roosevelt Institute.  He also served on the Congressional Oversight Commission for the CARES Act, a position he was appointed to by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer last year.  Previously, Bharat was the top economic adviser to Senator Elizabeth Warren during her 2020 presidential campaign and Senior Counsel for Banking and Economic Policy in her Senate office.
He will give you some brief — deliver some brief remarks, take a few questions.  And thank you so much for joining us. 
MR. RAMAMURTI:  Good afternoon.  Earlier today, the President had the chance to visit a couple of small businesses here in town.  One is a locally owned hardware store that’s been around for 150 years.  The other, which leases part of the same space, is an urban farm that was founded just eight years ago.
Like other small businesses across the country, these companies help serve their communities.  The hardware store sponsors Little League teams and holds events with the Cub Scouts.  The urban farm serves hundreds of local households and supplies food for local farmers markets. 
Unfortunately, a lot of companies like this, with fewer than 20 employees, were left out of previous rounds of small-business relief.  Too many mom-and-pop businesses and too many minority-owned businesses were left behind, while larger, well-connected businesses got funds quickly.
The President and the Vice President have made it a top priority to ensure that this round of small business relief is distributed more equitably and that the companies that may not have gotten relief before have a shot at getting relief now.  So, today we want to share some early results of how this administration is already making good on that commitment. 
On Monday, February 22nd, the President announced important changes to the Paycheck Protection Program, which is the primary small-business relief program that the federal government offers.  These changes were intended to ensure that mom-and-pop businesses, minority-owned businesses, businesses in rural areas, and other underserved categories of businesses got the help that they needed.
These changes included instituting a 14-day period — starting on Wednesday, February 24th — during which only businesses with fewer than 20 employees could apply for relief.  The idea behind the exclusivity period was to give lenders time to focus on reaching out to smaller businesses, including businesses that may not have — that they may not have worked with before, and to make sure that these smaller mom-and-pop shops had their — had time to get their applications in and approved.
And at the same time as the President’s announcement, the administration launched a whole-of-government effort to let small-business owners and lenders know about this opportunity; the Small Business Administration launched a series of conversations, reaching thousands of community leaders through webinars every day; White House officials held calls with — that ended up reaching thousands of small-business owners directly; and the administration partnered with Congress to help members spread the word about the changes and conduct outreach with their constituents.
So now we’re reaching the end of the two-week exclusivity period and the results are pretty striking.  When comparing the data from the exclusivity period with the 10 days preceding the exclusivity period, we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of loans to the smallest firms, to minority-owned and women-owned firms, and to first-time PPP participants. 
Specifically, we’ve approved more than 300,000 loans for businesses with fewer than five employees, and that’s a 15 percent increase compared to the pre-exclusivity period.  We’ve approved nearly 200,000 loans to first-time PPP borrowers, which represents a 25 percent increase. 
There’s been a 20 percent increase in loans to minority-owned businesses, and that translates to an additional 1,000 minority-owned businesses accessing relie- — relief every single day of the exclusivity period.
There’s been a 14 percent increase in loans approved to women-owned businesses, which translates to an additional 600 women-owned businesses accessing relief every day.
And there’s been a 12 percent increase in loans approved to businesses in rural areas.
But that’s not all.  On February 22nd, the President also announced several other changes to expand access to PPP.  And as of last Friday, the SBA had implemented all of these changes.  And we’re already starting to see some early momentum from those changes as well.  
For example, nearly 30,000 loan applications had previously been flagged because the small-business owners were delinquent on their federal student loans.  We removed that restriction and can now advance those applications.  And tens of thousands of new applications have already come in after we increased the amount of relief available to sole proprietors and the self-employed.
So I want to take this opportunity to say to the small-business owners out there: There’s still plenty of time left in this program.  There’s still plenty of money available to you.  Go to SBA.gov, contact your lenders, and see if you qualify for relief. 
The administration is going to continue to conduct outreach and spread the world — the word about these relief efforts and what’s available to small businesses.  But, of course, our view is that that’s not enough, and that’s why the American Rescue Plan includes more than $50 billion in additional aid for small businesses.  It provides more than $28 billion in grants to support the hard-hit small restaurants through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which was a bipartisan proposal in Congress.  It provides $15 billion in grants to help the smallest, most severely affected businesses, especially those that serve lower-income areas.  It provides $10 billion to restore the successful State Small Business Credit Initiative, which leverages private dollars to provide working capital to small businesses.  And it creates a Community Navigator program so that small-business owners can get help figuring out how to actually get the relief that they’re entitled to, even if they don’t have a team of lawyers and accountants on call.
So, with that, I’m happy to take some questions. 
MS. PSAKI:  Okay, go ahead. 
Q    This is related to something that we’re seeing on the Hill.  And there is, sort of, an increasing movement amongst Senate Democrats to get extended unemployment insurance and stimulus checks added to the next Build Back Better legislation.  As you’re aware, Senator Durbin has signed onto it.  And they argue that this is needed to sort of keep — both of these things are needed to keep people out of poverty.  I’m wondering if you agree with that assertion from an economic standpoint, and what your thoughts are.
MR. RAMAMURTI:  Well, number one, the American Rescue Plan has been documented by several independent experts as providing a tremendous amount of relief all by itself to lower-income and middle-class families.  Between the economic impact payments, the checks, the changes to the Child Tax Credit, this — there’s going to be an enormous infusion of relief for lower-income and middle-income families.
As you know and as the President has said, this is only step one.  Step two is the Build Back Better agenda.  And I think we’re still trying to think through what the aspects of that program are going to be.  We actually — we have received the letter from the senators who’ve talked about potentially including recurring relief payments in it.  We’re looking at the idea, but we’re still thinking through the contours of what’s going to be in that next package.
MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead. 
Q    Thank you.  Thank you.  So, earlier today at the event, President Biden said that “a lot of [PPP] money went to people who shouldn’t have…” got it.  I was hoping you could elaborate on that.
And also I was wondering if you had any thoughts on concerns about inflation with the new stimulus bill that’s about to be passed.
MR. RAMAMURTI:  Sure, so on — on one — on the President’s statements, I believe he was referring to the fact that in the previous round of PPP, in the previous administration, there was documented problems from the Inspector General of the Small Business Administration that tens of thousands of companies that were not eligible for PPP ended up receiving it.  In part, that was because the previous administration did not put any checks in place on the front end — in other words, when the application was received — to make sure that these were eligible companies. 
We’ve changed that.  There is now significant upfront checks to make sure that any application that’s submitted meets the criteria for the program.  And at the same time that we’ve instituted those, we still are processing nearly 100 percent of applications within 48 hours.  So we’ve tried to find the right balance between making sure that folks who are not eligible don’t get the — don’t get the relief, but the folks who are eligible get it as quickly as possible.  And we think that’s a significant change from the previous administration.
On inflation: It’s something that, as the President has said, as Secretary Yellen has said, we are monitoring carefully.  You know, our belief has been, from the beginning, that the risk of doing too little to help American families outweighed the risk of doing too much.  That said, we will always be carefully monitoring inflation, and we will continue to do so going forward.
MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.
Q    Thank you.  Given the President is on the verge of signing the relief bill overseeing vaccines rolling out at a quicker pace, could you give us just a broad sense of where you think we will be with the economy at the end of this year?  Secretary Yellen has addressed employment for 2022, but what about the forecast for right now — the end of year, I should say?
MR. RAMAMURTI:  So, Moody’s, which is an independent Wall Street firm, projected that the American Rescue Plan would bring back roughly 7 million additional jobs by the end of the year.  You know, we — we think that that’s a pretty reasonable forecast. 
There are — as we said, there’s a significant amount of relief that is going out to lower-income, middle-income families through this bill.  As you said, the vaccine rollout is accelerating.  Obviously, that, in many ways, is the key to accelerating the economic recovery, so we’re optimistic about that.  And there’s good, credible, independent experts that suggest that we will be making a big, big step towards getting these 10 million jobs that we’re short back by the end of the year.
MS. PSAKI:  Aamer. 
Q    Low interest rates have made it possible to finance many of these initiatives.  How much debt is too much debt?
MR. RAMAMURTI:  Well, look, I think the way to look at it is not in terms of, necessarily, the sheer amount of debt, but what are the payments that you have to make on the debt.  And then that — that’s why the interest rates are relevant to this. 
We are in an extended period of historically low interest rates.  And not to get too wonky, but there are some structural factors that would suggest that interest rates are going to remain permanently or — or — there’s pressure keeping them down over the long term. 
We are carefully monitoring this.  The President has made clear that being fiscally responsible is a priority of his.  He’s also made clear that, right now, one of the best things that we can do is deficit finance these investments because that’s what gets the economy moving more quickly.  And in the long term, growth helps bring down the debt and deficit levels as well.
MS. PSAKI:  Okay, the last one to Bloomberg.  I promise he’ll come back, but we promised we’d let him go soon.
Q    Thank you.  As the administration considers what elements are going into the Build Back Better plan, some economists have written the White House to ask that a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants, including essential workers, be included in that.  So, can you describe the White House’s current thinking on whether to include that provision in the plan?
MR. RAMAMURTI:  That is a priority of the President’s.  I think we have not made a decision yet on whether to include or not include that.  Honestly, in the short term, we are focused on trying to get the American Rescue Plan into law, and then going out and telling the American people what was in the American Rescue Plan and how it’s helping them. 
You know, we will continue to work on putting together the next step of this — the recovery part of this that the President has previewed — but we’re not quite there yet. 
MS. PSAKI:  Thank you so much.  Thanks for joining us. 
MR. RAMAMURTI:  Thank you.  Thanks, everyone. 
MS. PSAKI:  And we’ll look forward to having you back in the future.
MR. RAMAMURTI:  Thanks. 
MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  As the President said last week, once the Rescue Plan is signed, we’ll be able to start getting payments out this month.  Treasury and IRS are working tirelessly to make that happen.  The IRS and Bureau of the Fiscal Service are building on lessons learned from previous rounds to increase the number of households that will get electronic payments, which are substantially faster than checks. 
And a number of you, and obviously the American people, have asked a lot of good questions about how this process works, so we thought we’d try to answer some of them.
For households who’ve already filed their tax — their income tax return for 2020, the IRS will use that information to determine eligibility and size of payments. 
For households that haven’t yet filed for 2020, the IRS will review records from 2019 to determine eligibility and the size of payment.  That includes those who used the “non-filer por-” — “non-filer portal” for previous rounds of payments — which is a question I think somebody asked, sort of, about, yesterday.
For tax returns with direct deposit or bank account information, the IRS will be able to send money electronically.  And for those households for which Treasury cannot determine a bank account, paper checks or debit cards will be sent. 
Of course, we’re not taking anything for granted.  We’re pushing through the finish line here, but you all have asked some really good questions about the implementation that we wanted to get ahead of.
So here’s what this all means for a typical family of four with parents making under $150,000 a year combined, and with kids in school age eight and five:
Because of the President’s Rescue Plan, that family of four will soon be getting $5,600 in direct payments.  And because of the expanded Child Tax Credit, they’ll get $2,600 in addition to that.  So that’s $8,200 more in the pockets of this family as they try to weather this storm, on top of additional money in this bill to reopen schools safely, get shots in arms, and help those who’ve lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
Another scheduling announcement for all of you: On Friday morning, President Biden will meet virtually with his counterparts in the Quad: Prime Minister Suga of Japan, Prime Minister Modi of India, and Prime Minister Morrison of Australia.
Formed in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami and formalized in 2007, the Quad has met regularly at the working and foreign minister level.  However, Friday will be the first time that the Quad is meeting at the leader level. 
That President Biden has made this one of his earliest multilateral engagements speaks to the importance we place on close cooperation with our allies and partners in the Indo- Pacific.  A range of issues, of course, will be discussed — we expect to be discussed, I should say — facing the global community from the threat of COVID, to economic cooperation, and of course, to the climate crisis.
Earlier today — final piece here — our COVID Coordinator, Jeff Zients, had a weekly governor — call with governors from across the country.  He announced Pfizer and Moderna supply will get increased to 15.8 million doses going out to states, tribes, and territories, along with 2.7 million first doses going to pharmacies.  He also highlighted the progress we’ve made as a nation on vaccinations.
On January 20th, there was a seven-day average of 890,000 shots per day.  Today we’re averaging 2.17 million shots per day.  So that’s obviously a significant increase.
Finally, of course, he reiterated our commitment to working and collaborating with governors from both parties and continued — and encouraged continued focus on masking, social distancing while our vaccination program continues to ramp up. 
Why don’t you kick us off?
Q    Thanks.  Question on what the influx of young people and just migrants in general to the southern border.  Is there any sense — and I ask this question with the pers- — obviously, you’re only two months into the administration, but early on, you and Secretary Mayorkas very much stressed humanity in trying to move away from the last administration. 
Do you — does the message need to be tweaked at all?  Do you need to say that it’s not just about humanity, but also “You might not get in,” or “You probably aren’t going to be able to stay”?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, humanity will always be a value from the President on down.  But you are right that we are continuing to work to convey to people in the region that this is not the time to come, that the majority of people who come to the border will be turned away, which is factually accurate. 
And what we’re really talking about, in terms of the people who are being let in, are unaccompanied children — that is a policy decision which we made because we felt it was the most humane approach to addressing what are very difficult circumstances in the region.  And that means there are more children — kids under the age of 18, of course — coming across the border.
Q    At this point, is this a crisis at the border?
MS. PSAKI:  Look, I don’t think we need to sit here and put new labels on what we have already conveyed is challenging, what we have conveyed is a top priority for the President, what our policy teams are working on every single day. 
They, obviously — there was a trip to the border this weekend.  They are working over the course of every day since then on putting in place policies that can help address what we’re seeing and help ensure that we are keeping these kids safe and moving them as quickly as possible from Border Patrol facilities to shelters where they can have access to educational resources, health resources, mental health resources, legal aid, et cetera.
Go ahead.
Q    On — follow-up on that, Jen.  Thanks.  There are reports out there that the number of unaccompanied migrants detained at the border has tripled in the last two weeks to 3,200-plus.  Is that number accurate? 
MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to confirm numbers from here.  Obviously, the Department of Homeland Security and others are — oversee the programs and the engagements that happen at the border. 
I will say that there are a couple of reasons.  I know Aamer asked about our, kind of, change in policy, but there are a couple of reasons why we think people are coming to the border.  Of course, individuals are fleeing countries where individuals and families are — you know, they’re fleeing prosecution, fleeing violence, fleeing economic hardships, and other things. 
The region has also experienced two hurricanes in the fall, putting further stress on the conditions in these countries and the circumstances that are facing individuals.  And all of this is taking place during a global pandemic that has impacted other countries’ economies, placing undue hardships on its people, just as it did in the United States.  So there are also a range of factors that are leading individuals to come to the border.
Q    But, Jen, why won’t you confirm that number?  That’s a very important number. 
MS. PSAKI:  I — we’ve been very clear that there is an increase, that there are more children coming across the border than we have facilities for at this point in time.  Those numbers are tracked by the Department of Homeland Security, so I’m certainly — I’m just suggesting that you talk to them about specifics.
Q    But we’ve talked to them, Jen.  They won’t confirm the numbers. 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would encourage you to go back to them and ask them again.  We’re not going to confirm them from the White House.  It’s not our program; it’s the Department of Homeland Security’s —
Q    Are you encouraging the Department — is the White House encouraging the Department to release those numbers then, in the spirit of transparency that the Secretary promised here at this podium?
MS. PSAKI:  We certainly encourage transparency, but what I also think is important is to talk about what the root causes are here and what we’re doing from a policy standpoint to try to address the challenges that we’re facing and that these kids are facing as they come across the border.
Q    And on COVID relief, do — should we expect to see the President travel to — perhaps after he signs this bill — to highlight the benefits of — to the American —
MS. PSAKI:  After the American Rescue Plan is signed?
Q    Yes.  Yes. 
MS. PSAKI:  We certainly recognize that we can’t just sign a bill again.  We’re not taking anything for granted.  We’re getting across the finish line, but — that we will need to do some work and use our best voices — including the President, the Vice President, and others — to communicate to the American people the benefits of this package; how they can benefit from the package; how they can have access to checks — part of the reason I wanted to do that at the top; how it will help schools reopen. 
And so I think you can certainly expect the President to be doing some travel, and we’ll have more details on that in the coming days.  Absolutely. 
Go ahead.
Q    Thanks, Jen.  You talked about the need of getting these 3,000 or so — potentially — children out of the Border Patrol facilities and into HHS facilities that are meant to house children.  How quickly can that be done, and what is being done right now to make sure it happens?
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Let me walk you through a little bit of what the considerations are and what our team is working on now.
So, first, the reason why these kids are being let in — I’ve talked about that a bit — but the majority of people come to the border are still turned away or expelled under Title 42 — so families, adults, et cetera.  We’re talking about children; I’m just level-setting here.
When children are apprehended at the border, they are initially processed, as you’ve noted, through Customs and Border Patrol facilities, where they are held until they can be sent to HHS shelters where the children have access to education services, medical and mental health services. 
We’ve talked about this a little bit, but just to reiterate the reason why: One of the challenges we’ve had is that COVID-19, the pandemic, had initially severely limited the amount of children that could be taken into HHS facilities and the pace at which that could happen. 
So one of our focuses is on working on seeing how we can address that.  That includes looking at additional facilities.  It includes — there were some CDC guidelines that was — that were released on Friday, and those guidelines for HHS facilities will allow capacities to be returned to pre-COVID numbers, all while taking other steps like increased ventilation, additional masking, and other member — measures to continue to keep these children safe. 
So one of the things we’re doing is implementing — working to implement these recommendations so that we can ensure there are more kids who can be safely in these facilities.  We are also, as I noted, working to expedite — we’re looking at additional facilities where we can safely house children and ensure they have access to all of the resources that I noted. 
And finally, we’re also looking for ways that we can expedite the way that we vet and process families and sponsor host families where these kids can go.  Because, of course, once they go from CBP facilities, which we are working to expedite that — we don’t want them to be in the CBP facilities.  We want them to be in shelters as quickly as possible.  And then ultimately, we want them to be in families and homes where their applications can be — can be processed.  But we are looking to expedite the way that we consider — the way that we vet families and sponsor homes as well.
Q    And last week, you weren’t ready to confirm that new facilities might be brought online, including perhaps Fort Lee in Virginia or Homestead, Florida.  Can you give us any new details about how many new facilities might be repurposed and how quickly?
MS. PSAKI:  It’s a good question.  I don’t have anything to confirm for you in terms of new facilities.  We are looking at facilities; a lot of consideration is underway.  And certainly, part of the reason is we’re — we want to have more kids able to transfer from CBP facilities to HHS facilities.  So the CDC guidelines helped us ensure there are more kids able to have safely in a lot of these facilities.  But also, we’re looking at facilities, but no decisions have been made at this point.
Q    And can you tell us anything about any diplomatic efforts that are taking place between the Biden administration and these Central American countries to find ways to deter some of these children from coming to the border?
MS. PSAKI:  It’s a great question, and it’s a key part of our strategy.  I’ve actually asked Roberta Jacobson if she could come join us in the briefing room.  So we hope to do that sooner rather than later because those are great questions that, I think, she would be an excellent person to address.
Q    But in the meantime, no information about any conversations that are taking place between the U.S. and the —
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.
Q    — Honduras government, or —
MS. PSAKI:  Well, all I was conveying is a commitment to get you an even — an expert —
Q    Right. 
MS. PSAKI:  — that can — that is involved in these discussions who can help answer your questions. 
But — and I also conveyed that it is a key priority for us and that there are conversations going on at a number of levels — obviously through our National Security team, through the State Department — about the importance of conveying clearly this is not the time to come; working with countries on how we can address the root causes. 
As you know but everyone may not know, one of the key proposals in the President’s immigration bill is additional funding to address the root causes, and that’s something we’re certainly communicating about. 
So — but I think what I heard from you is specific questions about engagements.  A lot of those would be read out from the State Department, but I’ve invited Roberta to come, and we’ll look forward to having her here soon.  
Go ahead.
Q    Thanks, Jen.  So airlines have been urging the administration to develop the guidelines for a travel passport so Americans can begin traveling the country again.  Is that something the administration is considering doing?  And do you think it’s a good idea for the government to make those kind of guidelines?
MS. PSAKI:  “Vaccine passports,” I believe they’re calling it.  Right?
Q    Yes.
MS. PSAKI:  Well, we recognize that as many Americans get vaccinated, questions will come up, and they’re already starting to come up, as to how people will be able to demonstrate they are vaccinated.  I think it’s important to remember only about 10 percent of the American population is vaccinated at this point.  We’ve obviously made progress, but we have more work to do. 
And right now, our focus, as the U.S. government, is on getting more people vaccinated.  And we’ll think about how people can demonstrate they are vaccinated as we get more people vaccinated.  But that’s where we’re putting our energy and resources toward.
We also know that the private sector, as you noted in your question, is concerned and has raised this.  And we believe they and not-for-profits will be driving this initiative, in all likelihood, moving forward.
Q    So it sounds like the administration doesn’t want to get involved in setting the standards for what would qualify someone for a vaccine passport.
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think a vaccine passport is something that’s been designated by the — or an idea coming from the airlines.  What I’m conveying is there are lots of ideas that will come from the private sector and nonprofits.  We welcome those.  But our focus from the federal government is on getting more people vaccinated, and that’s where we feel we can use our resources best.
Q    And on another subject, there’s a report today out in the South China Morning Post that the U.S. and China are trying to set up some sort of high-level diplomatic meeting in Alaska to try and reset relations.  Is that — any kind of meeting like that — under — is that being planned or is that under consideration right now?
MS. PSAKI:  I have heard — or seen those reports.  I don’t have anything to report out to you.  Obviously, the President spoke with President Xi back — February 10.  And we will look forward to seeking opportunities for engagement, but we don’t have any details finalized or confirmed at this point.
Q    And then, lastly, is there any further updates on when the President —
MS. PSAKI:  The website?  Are you going to ask about the website?
Q    Not the website.  Not today.
MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  You can.  You can.  I was ready.
Q    I’ll save that one for next week.
MS. PSAKI:  Okay.
Q    But on — for possibly next week, has the President chosen a date yet or working with Congress on a joint address to Congress?  And what’s that going to look like, as far as being virtual or in person?
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any update on that for you.  And, certainly, as soon as we have a date confirmed — we are looking forward to doing a joint address.  We’re working through that with Congress.  Our focus now is on the address the President will be delivering on Thursday night during his first primetime address.  He’ll talk about COVID, what we’ve been through as a country, and what the path forward looks like.  And we’ll focus on the next address once we get through that.
Go ahead, Kaitlan.
Q    A few questions for you, but one on the stimulus checks.  You were talking about who is getting them.  You and the President have both said that they’re going to be going out this month.  But the last round, they went out pretty quickly — I think within a few days.  So do you know any more specific timing on when people should expect them?
MS. PSAKI:  It’s something our Treasury team is working on and working to expedite, of course.  And that’s a priority to the President.
One of the steps they’re taking is working to ensure more people can get them electronically because that, of course, speeds it up.  So let me actually just give you — because I have a little bit more detail here, Kaitlan, in terms of how it will work.
So, the first batch of payments will go to all taxpayers who provided direct deposit in their 2019 or 2020 returns, followed by taxpayers who didn’t provide that information, but for whom the IRS has payment information from other programs.
And, of course, as the President said: Once the bill is passed, we’ll be able to start getting these payments out this month.  But in terms of more specifics, we’re waiting for them to get all their systems in place, and then we’ll hope to have an update.
Q    And any update on whether or not he wants his signature on there like former President Trump demanded?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, we are — we are doing everything in our power to expedite the payments and not delay them, which is why the President’s name will not appear on the memo line of this round of stimulus checks.  The checks will be signed by a career official at the Bureau of Fiscal Service.
This is not about him; this is about the American people getting relief — almost 160 million of them.
Q    So did — he did not want his name to appear on the checks?
MS. PSAKI:  He didn’t think that was a priority or a necessary step.  His focus was on getting them out as quickly as possible.
Q    Okay, thank you.
And on immigration: You said you wanted to stay away from labels.  I know the DHS Secretary has not wanted to call it a “crisis,” but instead refer to it as a “challenge.”  But right now, since it is 3,200 unaccompanied migrant children, according to documents from Monday — that’s higher than the peak of the 2019 border crisis when it was around 2,600 then.  And at that period, there were kids sleeping on floors.  There were overcrowded facilities.  So when his delegation traveled there, did they see that: people sleeping on floors and overcrowded facilities?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, one of the reasons is because there — we have a different policy than the last administration.  We’re not turning kids away at the border — unaccompanied children.  We’re also, of course, not ripping them from the arms of their parents.
And so, we know and — that we knew — we know there is going to be an increased number of kids coming across the border.  There are several steps, as we’ve talked about a little bit, that we’re working to address that.
The team, of course — we put out a readout of their meeting.  They are going to do a meeting, of course, and give the President a full rundown of what they saw on the ground — a trip they — that he asked them to take.  And I’ll let them do that before we have more specifics. 
And we, of course, are committed to ensuring there’s transparency and access for cameras to the facility as well.
Q    So do we have a timeline on that: on when reporters will actually be able to go in and see?  Because that was kind of — that was what was so helpful last time —
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
Q    — in showing people what it looked like inside there.  So is that going to happen within the next week, or is it going to be pushed further down the road than that?  When can cameras actually get inside those facilities?
MS. PSAKI:  We’re committed to doing that.  I don’t have a timeline for you at this point in time.  We want to do it with respect for the privacy of the people staying there, people who are being housed there — but also abiding by COVID protocols.  And so we’re working through some of those steps.
Q    Okay.  My last question is: Did President Biden agree that the travel restrictions should not be changed for people who are fully vaccinated like the CDC said yesterday?
MS. PSAKI:  The CDC guidelines?  That that was a determination made by the CDC.  It wasn’t driven by or directed by the White House.  And as — as Rochelle — Dr. Walensky has said, it’s just a first step.  And as more people are vaccinated, they’ll look at ways to ease additional restrictions. 
But there were some reasons, as she outlined, that travel was not a part of this, according to what the health and medical experts who are working at the CDC determined, which includes the impact of travel.  You know, 10 percent of the population is vaccinated; 90 percent is not. 
It still remains, of course — it still is a concerning — a concerning — there’s still a concerning impact of travel on people who are not vaccinated, and also because we are still tracking and looking at the impact of variants.
So they will look at all these factors.  This, again, was just a first step on guidelines, as she has said, and I’m sure they’ll look at a range of factors, as they’ve committed to, as more people in the country are vaccinated.
Go ahead.
Q    Thanks, Jen.  A couple questions.  To follow up on the border, why has this administration been so reluctant to call it a “crisis” with the huge uptick in the number of migrants being detained, including thousands of children?  If that doesn’t qualify as a crisis, what does?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, because we think that it’s most important to explain the substantive policy of what’s happening, what the root causes are of why these kids are coming, and why — what we’re doing to try to solve what is a very challenging circumstance at the border.  And that’s the information the American people are looking for, so that’s what we’re working to provide.
Q    On a different note, can you clarify for us what happened with the President’s dogs?  There’s some reports that one of them was involved in a biting incident.  Can you clarify exactly what happened?
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Champ and Major, the President and First Lady’s dogs — members of the family — are still getting acclimated and accustomed to their new surroundings and new people.  And, on Monday, the First Family’s younger dog, Major, was surprised by an unfamiliar person and reacted in a way that resulted in a minor injury to the individual, which was handled by the White House Medical Unit with no further treatment needed.
It had been previously planned already for the dogs to be cared for by family friends in Delaware during Dr. Biden’s travels to military bases this week — she has a three-day trip this week — and the dogs will return to the White House soon.
Go ahead, Sabrina.
Q    Thank you, Jen.  Two questions for you.  First off, House Democrats are preparing to bring back earmarks as part of an effort to build support for infrastructure legislation.  Does President Biden support the return of earmarks?  And are there specific restrictions that he would seek to prevent the kind of abuse that has occurred in the past?
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Well, we don’t have an infrastructure bill yet.  Don’t even know that it will be an infrastructure bill.  And in terms of what it will look like and what the negotiations will require, we are happy to have that conversation when it’s — when it’s appropriate. 
But right now, we’re focused on the American Rescue Plan, so we’re not going to get ahead of the legislative strategy for a future bill.
Q    (Inaudible) about President Biden’s position on earmarks more broadly? 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t think anything has changed about his position.  He obviously was in Congress for 36 years.  But in terms of what it will look like or what restrictions would be on a new package, I’m sure he’ll hear from and will be eager to listen to members of both parties and — about their views on this issue.  And we’ll certainly factor it in as we put together a new — his next step in the Build Back Better agenda.
Q    Thank you.  And the second question: The Indian government has threatened to jail employees at Facebook and Twitter if they do not comply with the government’s data requests or requests that they take down accounts associated with these farmers’ protests that have been ongoing for months now.  What is the administration’s view of a foreign government threatening to jail employees at U.S. companies?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, certainly we believe in freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of expression.  And it is a concern that the President and others at the highest level raise at every opportunity, even — with allies, with adversaries.
And — but in terms of specific conversations about this, I expect the State Department would be closest to those engagements.
Go ahead, Karen.
Q    Thanks, Jen.  So my question is on the CDC guidelines yesterday.  It’s obviously very big news for families.
MS. PSAKI:  Yes.
Q    But the message that we heard from officials was all about families.  We didn’t hear anything about school reopening tied to these guidelines.  If vaccinated grandparents can be with their unvaccinated children without masks, how do you apply that same standard to schools?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, these guidelines were — I don’t want to get over my skis here, as a non- — I am not a doctor.  But these guidelines were very specific to the — to what — recommendations made for people’s homes, right?  So, Karen, you and your husband and your kids can, you know, engage with and have dinner with your neighbors when everybody is vaccinated.  That is certainly a positive step forward for many, many, many Americans.
These were not guidelines for a workplace, whether it is the White House or a business or a school.  There were guidelines provided, of course, for schools.  And I think the CDC is — sees it as imperative that they take different circumstances with different — looking at the — the very specific engagements, the number of people, the risks as a factor in what guidelines they’re going to put forward.
Q    When can we see guidelines as more people get vaccinated, then, applied to schools or applied to workplaces, or with these same standards?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, they will continue to review, as Dr. Walensky has said.  As more people are vaccinated, there’s a greater opportunity to make recommendations that will allow people to spend time together; to hug grandparents, cousins, teachers — and certainly that’s all of our hope.  
But they look at all the factors, including the impact of variants, as she’s talked — as she talked about when she rolled this out — and make recommendations based on how to keep the public safe.
And, you know, there is a concern that has been raised by all of our medical experts about not taking our foot off the gas here.  We are — we are close, relatively so, given the last year we’ve been through.  And they put out these guidelines because they feel comfortable that — you know, about the data they have, as it relates to vaccinated individuals.
But, of course, they need to continue to analyze data, look at health and medical advice, talk to the doctors at the CDC before they make additional recommendations.
Q    The President is vaccinated.  How will he change his behavior based on these guidelines?  Will he see grandkids more?  Will he see family in a different way than he was doing before these guidelines came out?
MS. PSAKI:  You know, of course, the President abides by the CDC guidelines, as no one would — would be expected to hear, but he also believes he needs to be a model for the American people and all citizens.  I haven’t — this is a great question.  I haven’t talked to him about how it will impact him personally in that way.  I’m happy to venture to do that, or all of you could ask him next time you have the opportunity. 
But I noted that — and this was a good question someone asked, I think, over the last 24 hours, about how it impacts us here.  And, you know, the White House is a place of work, right?  It is not a private home.  And so we will continue to wear masks, we will continue to be tested, we will continue to socially distance until our health and medical experts tell us otherwise.
Go ahead in the back.
Q    Thank you, Jen.  So two follow-ups and then a couple of questions.  First, the follow-ups about the Quad virtual meeting.  Can we see this as a prelude to reengaging the TPP?
MS. PSAKI:  I wouldn’t see it as a direct connection to that, no.  This is an opportunity to engage —
(A staff member’s chair makes a squeaking sound.)
MS. PSAKI:    — at a — engage at a —
Newbie.  (Laughter.)
— engage at a high level — at an even higher level than has been done in the past with key partners to the United States.  Japan, Australia — they’re –- they’re key partners to the United — and India, sorry — they’re key partners to the United States. 
There’s a range of issues to discuss and work together on — whether it’s addressing the climate crisis, whether it’s working together to address the global pandemic, or, of course, economic cooperation.  But I wouldn’t see it through those prisms.  The President has been clear about his commitment to rebuilding the middle class and looking at any engagement — trade engagement through that prism.
Q    Okay.  Thank you.  As for Jordan’s story — question about the South China Morning Post eventual discussion in Anchorage, I have a — my colleague from Kyodo News, the Japanese news agency, is asking: How will the Biden — more broadly, how will the Biden administration plan to engage with the Chinese?  Are direct talks under consideration?
MS. PSAKI:  Direct talks with the Chinese?
Q    That’s correct.
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I mean, the President has spoken with President Xi already.  So, of course, we remain engaged directly through — at a range of levels, and that will continue.
Q    Like summit — like a summit type of event?
MS. PSAKI:  I’m not here to predict a summit.  Of course, there’ll be a range of engagements that the President and his National Security team will have with China and other countries in the region in the months and years ahead, but we are directly engaged.  There are a range of issues we, of course, have talked with the Chinese about through those engagements.  We don’t hold back about our concerns, but we also look for opportunities to work together.
Q    Jen, just a week — actually, eight days, precisely, before the President entered the White House, the previous administration put Cuba back on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.  Does the President share this view?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’ve talked about this a little bit in here before and nothing has really changed, but I’m happy to reiterate our policy.
Our policy, as it relates to Cuba, will be governed by two principles: First, support for democracy and human rights will be at the core of our efforts through empowering the Cuban people to determine their own futures.  Second, Americans, especially Cuban Americans, are the best ambassadors for freedom and prosperity in Cuba. 
A Cuba policy shift is not currently among President Biden’s top priorities, but we are committed to making human rights a core pillar of our U.S. policy, and we’re committed to carefully reviewing policy decisions made in the prior administration, including the decision to designate Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.
Q    Very, very last question.  I promise.
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Go ahead.
Q    Okay?  It’s about the border.
MS. PSAKI:  Okay.
Q    You keep repeating, “This is not the time to come.”  Will there be a — isn’t that sending the signal that there will be a time to come?  “Just wait.”
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first to be clear, even these unaccompanied children who come across the border — who we’ve talked about; we want to keep safe; we want to ensure they are in shelters where there is access to education services, legal services, health services; we want to ensure that they are then quickly moved to vetted families or sponsor homes — many of them don’t stay because they go through the process of having their applications reviewed.  We just want to keep them safe because they are kids under the age of 18. 
And when we say, “It’s not the time to come now,” the reason is: This is a — we are still digging our way out of a dismantled, immoral, and ineffective immigration policy that was being implemented by the last administration that was largely based around funding for a border wall. 
It’s going to take us some time.  And we do want to put in place — modernize the immigration system, which means investing in smart security, which means creating a pathway to citizenship, which means funding and supporting efforts to address the root causes in the region.  And we — as a part of that, we want to ensure that there is effective processing at the border. 
We’re not trying to close our borders.  We are trying to keep — create an effective, moral, humane system.  It’s going to take some time to do that.
Go ahead.
Q    Thank you, Jen.  I’d like to ask about three things, if that’s okay.
MS. PSAKI:  Of course.
Q    The dogs, immigration, and then Governor Cuomo.
MS. PSAKI:  Another dogs question? 
Q    Right.
MS. PSAKI:  Okay, go ahead.
Q    I’d like to follow — just a quick clarification on the dogs. 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Okay.
Q    Can you confirm that it was a Secret Service member who was bitten?  And can you also reassure the public that Major Biden will not be euthanized as a result of this?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, certainly, Major Biden is a member of the family, so I can assure you that.  I don’t have details on the individual.  I would encourage you to ask the Secret Service, but I’m not going to have any more individ- — details, other than that.
Q    Then, on immigration, you’ve said repeatedly, “Now is not the time to come,” but you’ve also noted there is a distinction for unaccompanied minors that they’ll be allowed in.
MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.
Q    I want to revisit something that Secretary Mayorkas said last week.
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.
Q    He said that, quote, “loving parents,” end quote, were sending nine-year-old children alone.  Of course, there are frequent — there’s frequently physical and sexual abuse for migrants on — in transit and also in U.S. custody.  So I was hoping to drill down on the messaging there.  Do you think it’s important to send the message to children — unaccompanied children that “now is not the time to come”; and to their parents that it’s not a, quote, “loving act,” to send them?
MS. PSAKI:  I think it’s imperative that we send the message that this is a dangerous journey.  Children don’t make it.  They experience very difficult circumstances on the journey.
Now, the circumstances in a lot of these countries is such that the parents feel that taking that risk is better than the circumstances they’re living through.
But we are very clear about this message in the region: that this is not the time to come; that this is a dangerous journey; that we, of course, are focused on modernizing our immigration system and making it a system that can better process people at the border — make it more humane.  We are going to abide by our laws and continue to implement those laws.  But I can assure you that messages being sent clearly in the region.
Q    So now is not the time to go for children as well?
MS. PSAKI:  Correct. 
Q    Okay.  And for the Governor Cuomo question: You’ve been asked this many times about his — the sexual harassment allegations against him.  I just wanted to confirm that you have spoken with both President Biden and Vice President Harris about the allegations.
MS. PSAKI:  Yes.  And I’ve reiterated on their behalf that they believe all women should be heard, that they should be treated with respect.  They — there’s an independent investigation, as all of you know, that is being led by the attorney general, who named, I believe, some individual lawyers who will be in charge of that today, if I’m — if I’m reading reports correctly.  And certainly, they respect that and believe that should move forward. 
Q    Will either of them be speaking themselves about this — these allegations?
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have anything to predict for you on that front.  I’m here to speak on their behalf, so that’s what I venture to do on a daily basis. 
Go ahead.
Q    First off, my actual question is: We’ve heard a lot about dogs; we were promised a White House cat.  What happened to that?
MS. PSAKI:  Where is the cat?  Today is a good day for the cat.  I don’t have any update on the cat.  We know the cat will break the Internet, but I don’t have any update on its status.
Q    Okay.  And has the President now ruled out nominating Shalanda Young for OMD Director?  Is she deputy for keeps? 
And he said Neera Tanden would have a job in the administration.  Where are we on that? 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, Neera only pulled herself out of consideration six days ago, if I’m doing my math — seven days ago, sorry — if I’m doing my math correctly here.  The President is committed to her serving in a role in the administration because he values her perspective and her experience.
In terms of Shalanda Young: No, we are — we have not made it — the President has not made a decision about who he will nominate.  He thinks so highly of her that he nominated her to serve as Deputy Director of OMB — which is an enormous job in the administration.  And once she’s confirmed, she will serve as Acting Director of OMB.  But I don’t have any updates on the timeline or decision-making for the nominee.
Q    And people in the running for some of the ambassadorships have been told that Bob Igor has got the gig in London.  Are you able to make an announcement today?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, they would be incorrect, given the President hasn’t made any decisions about any ambassadorial roles. 
Go ahead.
Q    On climate, John Kerry is on his first overseas trip in Brussels right now.  What is President Biden hoping he’s going to accomplish there?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President asked John — former Secretary of State, my former boss — to serve in this role because he knows about his — he’s very familiar with his personal commitment to addressing the climate crisis not just domestically, but, of course, internationally, which is the role that former Secretary Kerry is playing. 
This is an opportunity for him to engage directly, now that we’ve officially regained — rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, and to have discussions with counterparts, with officials that the former Secretary knows well from his experience as Secretary of State and working on these issues for many decades. 
And I’m sure that he will be reporting back to the President when he returns.
Q    And Kerry mentioned in his remarks that he wants to raise the ambition of the initial Paris Agreement.  How much more ambitious than — than that agreement is the administration is willing to go?  And is there a timeline for when you guys are going to announce the 2030 emissions targets?
MS. PSAKI:  That’s a great question.  I think we’ll wait for the Secretary to return from his trip, and I’m sure he’ll have a conversation with, of course, both Gina McCarthy, the President, the Vice President, and others about what his recommendations are and what there’s an appetite for out there in the global community.  But I don’t have any predictions for you at this point in time. 
Great.  Go ahead, in the back.
Q    Thank you, Jen.  Joe Khalil with NewsNation.
MS. PSAKI:  Yes, hi.  First time here.  Right?
Q    Yes.  Yes.
MS. PSAKI:  Welcome.
Q    I’m a newbie as well. 
MS. PSAKI:  Good.  There you go.  (Laughs.)
Q    So, on the American Rescue Plan, there are two far-reaching measures — the Child Tax Credit, which you’ve mentioned, and the Affordable Care Act subsidies — that are both now temporary measures.  There are some calls on the Hill to make them more permanent.  Is President Biden interested in working with Congress to make them more permanent?
And if you could, please address some of the criticism that those two measures specifically have been getting — that they are not in any way related to COVID relief or stimulus directly.
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say: If you’re a family with kids, then the notion that the Child Tax Credit is unrelated to the economy is an absurd notion.  So I don’t know who the critics are, but I would be surprised if they had small children. 
I would say the President had talked about making the Child Tax Credit permanent during the campaign.  He certainly is open to continuing to look for avenues to do exactly that.  He believes that benefits, like the $3,000 Child Tax Credit that is included in this package, are benefits that help address what he and the Vice President feel is a crisis, which is the large number of women who are leaving the workforce and have left the workforce since the pandemic started.  So he will certainly continue to look for avenues on that.
What was the other piece — I’m sorry — you asked about — the other one?
Q    The Affordable Care Act subsidies.
MS. PSAKI:  Oh, of course.  Look, I think one of the things the President is committed to, what — has talked about — talked about on the campaign, I should say, when he ran, was strengthening access to affordable and accessible healthcare. 
So one of the things we did was we reopened the period of time where people could apply to — on the — to get access to the benefits from the Affordable Care Act.  We’ve seen a huge — a huge influx of people who were not previously covered with health insurance do that. 
And he will certainly continue to look for ways to reduce the cost of health insurance, to look for ways to expand it, to make it more accessible.  And certainly, having lived — all lived through a pandemic, the need for greater access to affordable healthcare is pretty front and center for him and others in the administration. 
Q    Just a quick clarification on infrastructure —
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Go ahead.
Q    — because President Biden has spoken often about the need for a two-step rescue and recovery approach to the economy.  He’s held many meetings on infrastructure and said the recovery plan would focus on infrastructure, manufacturing, and other issues.  Were you saying that you’re not sure there’s going to be an infrastructure bill, when I asked about earmarks?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, the — no decision has been made yet internally about — look, the President has not made a secret about what he — what is in his Build Back Better agenda; he talked about it on the campaign trail.  Infrastructure is a part of that, and it’s something he’s had a long commitment to.  He’s also had a long commitment to investing in caregiving; to doing — investing in our manufacturing sector; to doing something about our tax system. 
So there are a lot of components of his Build Back Better agenda.  What I’m conveying is we’re still in a policy process, internally, about what the next part of his agenda will look like and what the format, the size, the order will look like.  So that’s all I was conveying. 
But certainly infrastructure is one of the areas where he feels there’s opportunity for bipartisan support and for Democrats and Republicans to work together. 
Go ahead.
Q    If I could follow up on that too.  The President made overtures to Republicans when it came to COVID relief, inviting many of them to the White House.  And, at this point, you have zero Republicans in the House or Senate voting for this package.  Is there going to be a similar effort to try to get Republicans on board if the next agenda item is an infrastructure package?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, he’s already had two bipartisan meetings on infrastructure to date as he’s looking to gather ideas and hear from Democrats and Republicans about how they feel we can continue to work together and rebuild the economy.
I would say that while we don’t expect — or did not receive, I should say — to date, Republican votes for the American Rescue Plan, the individual — the Republicans in D.C. are in — living in this ZIP Code, are — seem to be outliers in the country, given the majority of people in the country.  The majority of Republicans support this package.  So maybe it’s a moment of self-reflection. 
But the President will continue to leave the door open to work with Republicans on his agenda moving forward. 
Go ahead.
Q    Another process question on Build Back Better —
MS. PSAKI:  Okay.
Q    — which is:  I know it’s early days, but is the White House committed to getting bipartisan support for an infrastructure package?  Or — and would you rule out, at this stage, moving that through reconciliation, like you guys did the American Rescue Plan?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President’s preference is certainly to work together in a bipartisan manner.  That’s part of why he’s had two bipartisan meetings on infrastructure in the Oval Office.  But we haven’t made a determination about what’s next in his agenda, and certainly we’re not going to take that off the table in terms of paths forward that Congress may choose.
Go ahead.
Q    Is there enough money to deal with the surge into the border?  And has there been any discussions of invoking emergency de- — an emergency declaration?
MS. PSAKI:  You mean in terms of opening additional facilities?
Q    Right.  Right. 
MS. PSAKI:  It’s a good question.  I’m happy to talk to our immigration team and see if that’s part of the structural issue.  It may — as I understand it, part of the issue is finding appropriate facilities and determining what process steps can be taken to expedite the processing, but I’m happy to talk to them about that —
Q    Thank you.
MS. PSAKI:  — and get an answer back to you.
Go ahead.
Q    On the infrastructure bill package: There was a bipartisan push last year to knock down the payment of the top-paid federal employee: the CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority, who reportedly earned $15 million last year in compensation.  There are Democrats in Congress who support this.  The former President supported this.  Some conservatives do. 
Does the Biden administration believe that an infrastructure bill should slash this $15 million compensation for a federal employee?
MS. PSAKI:  I appreciate the opportunity.  The President believes everyone should pay their fair share, but we don’t have a bill that actually exists, so we’re not going to talk about what components would be a part of it or not at this point in time.  Go ahead.
Q    Well, at the risk of asking you what is one of the components in this hypothetical bill, a question from somebody who can’t be here today, Andrew Feinberg: President Biden has repeatedly spoken of both the need to upgrade the nation’s transport infrastructure and his desire for the U.S. to become a leader in zero-emission vehicles. 
So since the federal Highway Trust Fund is funded by taxes on gas and diesel fuel, which obviously wouldn’t be collected from zero-emission vehicles, does that mean the President will insist that any infrastructure bill will include a new funding source for it?
MS. PSAKI:  I just am not going to get ahead of a bill that has not been designed, formalized, finalized, packaged in terms of size, scope, or timeline at this point in time.
Q    Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI:  Okay, thank you, everyone.
Q    Thank you.
MS. PSAKI:  Have a great afternoon.
2:26 P.M. EST

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