Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Special Assistant to the President and Coordinator for the Southern Border Ambassador Roberta Jacobson, March 10, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:06 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.
MS. PSAKI: Hello. So joining us today is Ambassador Roberta Jacobson, Coordinator for the Southern Border. Ambassador Jacobson was the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico from 2016 to 2018. She previously served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Affairs — I had the pleasure of working with her at that time — and has focused on Latin America for more than 30 years as a career civil servant. She’s going to give some remarks, and then happy to take some questions. And as always, I will be the bad cop.
Thank you for joining us.
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: Thanks, Jen.
So thank you all. Good afternoon. President Biden has made clear from day one that he wants to change our immigration system. Doing so means truly building back better, because we can’t just undo four years of the previous administration’s actions overnight. Those actions didn’t just neglect our immigration system; they intentionally made it worse. When you add a pandemic to that, it’s clear it will take significant time to overcome.
We must build a better immigration system that reflects our values as Americans, enforces our laws, safeguards public health, and moves away from cycles of irregular migration.
Today I’m here to talk about what we’re doing with partners in Mexico and Central America to ensure that people don’t make this dangerous journey and instead have opportunities for economic advancement and safety at home.
The President has committed to seeking $4 billion over four years to address the root causes of migration, including corruption, violence, and economic devastation exacerbated by climate change.
As part of that plan, we will address the causes that compel individuals to migrate, including improving governance and providing a foundation for investment and economic opportunity, strengthening civilian security and the rule of law. Working across the whole of government, we will look at access to international protection and refugee resettlement, and rethinking asylum processing to ensure fair and faster consideration.
Only by addressing those root causes can we break the cycle of desperation and provide hope for families who clearly would prefer to stay in their countries and provide a better future for their children.
President Biden, when he was Vice President, visited the region many times and is clear-eyed about the challenge. He insists now, as he did then, that governments commit to being true partners in creating the conditions for growth and security.
But I want to emphasize that the funds we’re asking for from Congress don’t go to government leaders; they go to communities, to training, to climate mitigation, to violence prevention, to anti-gang programs. In other words, they go to the people who otherwise migrate in search of hope. And they will have to have the participation of the private sectors in those countries, who, for too long, have evaded taxes, underpaid workers, and failed to be part of the solution to creating safe, prosperous, and democratic countries.
We’ve already begun specific actions to both undo the previous administration’s policies and to advance a new vision of immigration. We have ended the so-called “Migrant Protection Protocols,” which sent people back to Mexico to wait, sometimes for years, for a chance to present their asylum claims.
Working with the government of Mexico, international organizations, and NGOs, we have safely admitted over 1,400 migrants and closed the most dangerous face of the MPP: the Matamoros migrant camp.
Today, we are announcing the restarting of the Central American Minors program for children to be reunited with a parent who is legally in the United States. This program was ended abruptly by the previous administration, leaving around 3,000 children, already approved for travel, stranded.
In phase two, we’ll be working to improve the CAM program to expand safe and legal avenues for — to the United States.
I want to be clear: Neither in this — neither this announcement nor any of the other measures suggest that anyone, especially children and families with young children, should make the dangerous trip to try and enter the U.S. in an irregular fashion. The border is not open.
Going forward, we will continue to look for ways to provide legal avenues in the region for people needing protection, while we continue to enforce our laws. This is a process. We have a great deal to do, but this administration has made significant progress, and we will continue to do so. It reflects who we are as Americans, putting our values at the center of our policy.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Go ahead.
Q Thank you for doing this, Roberta. This $4 billion that the administration is seeking, are you seeking this as part of a larger comprehensive immigration package or as a standalone bill?
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: Well, I think what you’ll see is, that $4 billion in a Central American, Northern Triangle strategy will be part of our foreign assistance request and will focus on the things we know that work.
Obviously, it’s not our first rodeo. The Vice President — the President, when he was Vice President, worked on these issues. We know how to get money to communities that are most likely to send migrants, but also that are suffering the greatest effect of two hurricanes this season, et cetera.
So, it will be part of our overall foreign assistance package. In the meantime, we are focused on getting humanitarian assistance to these countries after Hurricanes Eta and Iota. So, in that sense, it’s part of a larger plan, but obviously, there are parts of this that will be on the domestic side as well to fix the whole extent of our immigration processing.
Q And what else is the administration doing right now to work with these home countries to send a message to people: “Don’t come here. Don’t send your children here”?
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: Right. Well, I think, you know, one of the most important things is to make sure that we get communications right and the message right, and I’m happy to repeat that. But I think it’s also important that we work with the international organizations that have very credible voices and have very good networks among migrant-sending communities to dispel the myths and misinformation that smugglers are using. Right?
When we talk about the border not being open and, you know, the ways in which we’re trying to dissuade people from making that dangerous journey, the smugglers are conveying exactly the opposite to people. So we need to make sure we get that message out. We also need to be looking at things like the CAM program — the Central American Minors program — as I talked about, and how we can expand that, how we can make that el- — you know, eligibility greater.
But the next step is to look at solutions in the region. Right? What more can we do to process people legally who really do require protection so they don’t have to make that journey? And we’re looking at all of those things.
Q And, finally, you said that this isn’t your first rodeo. Should the administration have been better prepared to handle this influx of children before it changed the policy allowing them to stay in the country?
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: Well, I think there’s a couple of things. I think what we’re doing right now is making a difference in the home countries, beginning to work with governments. You know, that couldn’t start until January 20th; there is one government at a time. You can’t start changing processes of government, building facilities. All of this is part of the plan, as quickly as possible, to make sure that our domestic processes work more smoothly, more quickly, as I mentioned, but also to work with foreign governments, and you can’t do that, obviously, until January 20th when you take over.
But there have been multiple engagements with the government of Mexico at very high level, with the government of Guatemala, with the Honduran government and Salvadoran in the first, you know, six weeks of government. So I think we’ve gotten off to a big start, a fast start in that engagement.
MS. PSAKI: Jonathan.
Q Thank you, Jen and Madam Ambassador. On Honduras, how does the administration balance its need for cooperation from that government with ongoing concerns about corruption there, particularly federal prosecutors who say that the President Hernández was working on this plan to flood the United States with cocaine?
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: Well, I think one of the things that I made clear in the opening comments, which I want to reiterate, is that none of the money that we’re looking to get from Congress, from the taxpayers of the United States, goes to government leaders.
And so I — I don’t think that means that presidents are unimportant in these countries, but I do think that it’s important to understand that we will be working with civil society — with international organizations and international NGOs on the ground.
We will work with officials that we can work with, but we also think it’s really important that these countries make commitments — really explicit commitments to advancing on anti-corruption. And in some places, that will be hard to do if you’ve got officials for whom there is a cloud.
And I think we need to work with the organizations that we can in countries. In some places, we will work with religious organizations, NGOs, with — et cetera. It’s a challenge in countries that have confronted serious corruption risks.
Q Just one follow-up: Like what mechanism is in place — or how do you possibly safeguard that funding to make sure it stays out of the hands, perhaps, of corrupt politicians?
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: Well, I think one of the things that we’ve always done — always — and 31 years of the State Department has taught me this — is: We do end-use monitoring. Right? Our embassies and people that we work with are looked at before they’re recipients of funds, and we do checks, and we look at what’s being done with the funds. Right?
We also don’t deliver money, in most cases; we deliver training, we deliver new lighting facilities that reduce violence and crime. You know, so a lot of what you do, it’s not handing over blank checks, and I think that’s really important in this.
MS. PSAKI: Kaitlan.
Q Thank you very much. You were talking about restarting CAM, these other long-term goals for what immigration policy should look like. But right now, new CNN reporting shows that unaccompanied migrant children are being held in these Border Patrol facilities for, on average, 107 hours. That’s up from, I believe, 77 hours on average last week. So what is the Biden administration doing right now to fix that?
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: Well, I think, you know, my part of this focuses much more on what we’re doing at the end of this process in Central America and Mexico. I think all of us, at every stage of this process, are doing everything we can to make sure that children are well cared for and moved into facilities that are appropriate for them.
But I want to make a point again that it’s really important that people not make the dangerous journey in the first place; that we provide them with alternatives to making that journey because it’s not safe en route.
And so, you know, if I could just emphasize that, that it’s really important that that message get out, because the perception is not the same as the reality, in terms of the border not being open. But we want to provide — through CAM, through other mechanisms — ways for some of these young people to be reunited with family members in the United States.
(Speaks in Spanish.)
Q You’re telling them not to come — just to follow up quickly.
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: Yeah.
Q You’re telling them they should not come. Would you describe what’s happening on the border as a crisis, given how these numbers are spiking so much, week by week?
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: You know, I think the — I really — I’m not trying to be cute here, but I think the fact of the matter is: We have to do what we do regardless of what anybody calls the situation. And the fact is, we are all focused on improving the situation, on changing to a more humane and efficient system. And — and whatever you call it wouldn’t change what we’re doing because we have urgency, from the President on down, to fix our system and make sure that we are better at dealing with the hopes and the dreams of these migrants in their home country.
Q Madam Ambassador, do you think it’s a coincidence that as soon as Trump and his immigration policy were on the way out, and Biden and his stated policy were on the way in, this historic surge at the border started?
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: Well, first of all, one of the things I think is important is we’ve seen surges before. Surges tend to respond to hope, and there was a significant hope for a more humane policy after four years of, you know, pent-up demand. So I don’t know whether I would call that a coincidence, but I certainly think that the idea that a more humane policy would be in place may have driven people to make that decision.
But perhaps, more importantly, it definitely drove smugglers to express disinformation — to spread disinformation about what was now possible, and we know that.
Q And, in fact, if the change in administration has brought hope, then, from your perspective, is this surge good?
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: I don’t think that’s what I just said. I think it’s a reflection of how migrants feel at a particular time. I think what we are doing is making sure that we respond to that hope for people who need protection; we respond to that hope in a way that their cases can be adjudicated more quickly.
But I don’t think anybody would say that coming to the United States in an irregular fashion is a good thing. That’s why I’ve tried repeatedly to dissuade people from — from listening to those smugglers. But we’re going to try our best to do everything we can, at each end of this — in the United States, but especially in Central America and Mexico — to ensure we have safe, orderly, and legal migration.
MS. PSAKI: We can do a couple more. Jen, go ahead.
Q President Biden, when he was Vice President, was very active on working with the Northern Triangle countries. And I’m just wondering: Were there lessons that you or he or other administration officials, many of whom are in jobs in this administration, have learned about how to deal with those countries or how to deal with foreign aid to them that are informing how you’re approaching things now?
And just to, kind of, follow up a little bit on what Peter was asking: Are you concerned at all about, kind of, mixed messaging? That at the same time that you are telling people not to come, that the journey is dangerous, that because you are offering this — this talk about more humanitarian process, that people will not, you know, pay attention to the fact that they could apply from home — from their home country, that they will still come, that they are still, you know, so hopeful — that there really is, kind of, a conflicting message coming from Washington to Central America.
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: So, on the first question — the question of learning things from when the Vice President was leading a lot of our efforts in Central America previously — I think: Yes. That’s a resounding “yes.” Both the President and all of us who worked with him on that — for him on that — learned a great deal. And I think that it’s really important that we put that to use now.
One of the things he thinks is so important is being really explicit with leadership in the countries from which migrants are coming about commitments that they need to make, because overcoming the reasons people migrate is not going to be the United States’ job alone. Right?
If we realize that it’s lack of good governance, economic opportunity, and security issues or violence, then some of those require commitments by the governments on anti-corruption and transparency, on creating governments that function better to provide services for their country.
So he’s very clear on being sure that we get those commitments from leaders and holding them to it. Right? The money is not a tap that gets turned on all at once. You have to make sure that you’re continuing to follow those issues.
So, I think there’s a lot of things we learned, and a lot of things we learned about ensuring that funds get to the communities that are really in need, whether it’s post hurricane or coffee rust which was ravaging Guatemala and Honduras or, you know, historic drought.
I think when you look at the issue of mixed messages, it is difficult at times to convey both hope in the future and the danger that is now. And that is what we’re trying to do. And I — I will certainly agree that we are trying to walk and chew gum at the same time.
We are trying to convey to everybody in the region that we will have legal processes for people in the future and we’re standing those up as soon as we can. But at the same time, you cannot come through irregular means. It’s dangerous and, you know, the majority of people will be sent out of the United States. Because that is the truth of it. We want to be honest with people.
And so, we are trying to send both messages, and smugglers are only trying to send one message. So, we’re relying on every means we can to get that message out there. And that leads me to want to reiterate, as I did before: (Speaks in Spanish.)
MS. PSAKI: Andrea.
Q Ambassador, can you say a word more about what you were talking about, in terms of the private sector? Can you explain what you’re envisioning there?
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: Sure.
Q And like, what exactly do you need?
And then, just to — sort of as a second question — you know, you’re talking about being really explicit with these countries, but what sort of leverage does the United States actually have to effect change in those countries? Like what — what exactly can you do to —
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: Yeah. Let me take that second one first only because — look, in the end, I think the implication of your question, which is quite right, is: We can’t make the changes. We can encourage them, we can help support them with resources — both technical assistance and funding — but we can’t make those changes. The changes have to come in the Northern Triangle countries.
What I should say is — my own experience from traveling to those places — there are myriad people and organizations who are trying to make those changes. And part of what we want to do is empower them — whether that’s more effective, you know, economic support; whether it’s training for young people; whether it’s anti-gang programs; whether it’s mothers clubs and empowering local communities. All of that gets done through people on the ground, not by the United States. So we want to be able to empower those actors.
I also think that it’s really important when you say, “What leverage do you have?” Well, I do think that working as partners with these countries means sitting down and talking about what we can do together. But also if American taxpayers’ funds are going to be used, then that is a certain amount of leverage. The President really wants to move forward on this, but he won’t unless he feels he has those commitments on an ongoing basis. Is that leverage? You know, funds are sometimes important means of having that conversation.
Your first question was on — remind me.
Q Oh, well, let me just follow up on what you just —
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: No, no, no, you can’t follow up. You have to go back to the first one.
Q I can’t follow up on it? (Laughter.)
Will you — I mean, are you saying explicitly the U.S. could withhold funding, whether it’s State Department aid or USAID funding or whatever —
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: You know, I think — I think the really important thing to know is: We’re looking forward to getting this proposal before Congress and having Congress act on it. And what comes after that, you know, I just don’t know.
You know, an executive branch can always, you know, adjust things like that.
I also think it’s really important to understand — you asked about the private sector. The private sector in all of these countries — in Central America, in particular — is a really important player here. And I think, to be very honest, we have not seen them step up. One of the mechanisms that was really effective under the Obama-Biden administration was: For every dollar that the U.S. put into an assistance program, we asked for private-sector organizations, local chambers of commerce, or business organizations to either match us or exceed us. This gives the private sector skin in the game. It makes sure that they are part of the solution.
If the governments in these countries don’t always have enough resources to do what they should to improve the economic opportunity for people, there are private-sector organizations and members of the private sector, the business community, who need to be part of that solution. And so we just feel that that’s really an important element to this. We talked about international organizations, governments, NGOs. I don’t want to leave out the business community as a — as a participant.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Last two. Or last three, if you have time. Okay. Thank you.
Q So, Ambassador, just to follow up on Andrea’s question — I mean, I understand what you were saying. You want to empower these civil societies in these (inaudible) countries. But can you make the link between empowering those civil societies and actually eliminating the push factor there to stop them from coming to this country? So how much of it is an international aid policy versus an anti- — you know, an immigration policy? That’s my first question.
And then, the second one, if you could speak more specifically about the requirements that you’re making to these countries in terms of anti-corruption practices. What are the specific measures of success and how to ensure that they’re (inaudible)?
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: Yeah. Well, on the first question, I think this is both an international aid issue, as well as a policy issue — both for, you know, for us and the countries that we’re working with.
On the one hand, it is clearly a resource issue. You have to greater-than-Category-Four hurricanes, Eta and Iota, within a 15-day period. You’ve got reports that suggest that literally multiple millions of people in Guatemala and Honduras are food insecure now. That is clearly something you need to be looking at — humanitarian assistance and aid — to try and remedy.
Now, in the longer term — when you’re looking at increased pace of natural disasters because of climate change; or you’re looking at ways to ensure that agricultural policy, you know, changes in countries; or that training is given; or that students, including girls, remain in school — those are longer-term policy questions that need to be addressed with our partners in the region because they all have an impact on whether migration flows increase or not.
And so, when the President talks about “root causes,” some of this is immediate humanitarian aid, but a lot of it is policy and aid together, making sure that you tackle the root causes of migration. Otherwise, what you see is continued cycles. Right? To break that cycle of migration sustainably, you have to work both.
On the — on the specific commitments for governments, I think that’s something that we would want to discuss with the countries involved before we discuss it publicly. Thanks.
Q And then one more on the President’s executive powers. Do you think the President will consider using his executive powers to reunite families who have been separated under zero tolerance?
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: Well, that certainly —
Q Outside of the immigration task force.
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: Outside of the Family Reunification Task Force that was created, which is exactly to do that?
Q Yes, more — beyond that.
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: Are you talking about people who are not in the same country?
Q Yeah. The families that were — that was separated — would the President use any more executive power —
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: I’m sorry, but do you mean families who were separated when in the United States under —
Q Yeah. During zero tolerance in the past.
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: Well, that’s exactly what the Family Reunification Task Force is doing.
Q Right. So nothing beyond that?
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: It deals with the whole universe of people separated during that policy. So not that I know of.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Last two in the back. Go ahead.
Q A couple questions. Congress appropriated almost $1.4 billion for this fiscal year for the border wall that you all are not building. How much of that is left? Are you guys redirecting it at all, and to what along the border right now?
Secondly, you discussed messaging. Arguably, your predecessors’ entire theory of their immigration agenda was that they were trying to send this message: “Don’t come. America is closed to irregular migration.” So, obviously, you’re pursuing some different policies, but what can you actually do differently than they did to try to get that message if, you know, it wasn’t fixed already with that kind of aggressive messaging?
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: Well, on the first question regarding the border wall, the President has been very clear about ending the national emergency or the emergency at the border that — that was used to justify the wall and obviously not proceeding with it. The exact legal requirements and where that — those funds might go, I just — I just don’t know. I’m sorry.
Let me — let me talk about the message issue. I mean, I think — I think it’s really important to understand that you can’t and shouldn’t say, in this administration’s opinion, that the only way to message “Do not come in an irregular fashion” is to act as cruelly as you possibly can, separate children from their parents, return people to places that — like the camp — migrant camp in Matamoros, you know, for up to two-plus years at a time, and that’s the only way that you can get your message across.
This administration’s belief is that we can get our message across that it is a more humane policy by opening up avenues of legal migration, which will encourage people to take those legal options and go through the asylum process, if they are seeking that, and not take the irregular road.
I think you have to find different ways to message. But if messaging reflects your actions, that is why we are increasing the actions for legal migration, so that the message is, “You have another option.”
MS. PSAKI: Last one. In the back.
Q Thank you. If I may ask a question in Spanish for our audience. (Speaks in Spanish.)
MS. PSAKI: Of course.
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: (Speaks in Spanish.)
Q (Speaks in Spanish.)
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: (Speaks in Spanish.)
MS. PSAKI: Thank you so much, Ambassador Jacobson.
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: We appreciate your time.
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: Thank you. Make sure Jen has the right book here.
MS. PSAKI: Take your time.
AMBASSADOR JACOBSON: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. I can’t promise it will always be that rapid when I promise to bring someone to the briefing room, but we’ll try. We’ll do our best.
Q That was a quick turnaround.
MS. PSAKI: We’ll do our best.
A couple of other items for all of you at the top. With today’s expected passage of the Rescue Plan, I can announce that the President will sign the bill at the White House on Friday afternoon. We’ve spent a lot of time, of course, from the podium talking about the mechanics of how a bill becomes a law, and I know there’s lots of interest in what comes next.
So, once it’s passed, the bill text will be rechecked, printed, and signed by the appropriate leaders in the House and Senate. The House clerks will then deliver it to the White House for the President’s signature. We expect that delivery to happen sometime tomorrow, and then the President will sign it on Friday.
We, of course, are moving full speed ahead on the implementation of the bill because we know the American people need help, and need it as soon as possible.
We are also working on looking ahead to implementation. I wanted to make sure you all saw Secretary Yellen’s speech before the National League of Cities yesterday, promising to get aid out to state and local governments. Obviously, this is a key component of the package and one that will help keep cops, firefighters, local officials in their jobs.
And we are looking — they are looking for ways to maximize, of course, the impact of every dollar. That’s exactly what the President did when he served as the point person on the implementation of the Recovery Act in 2009, partnering with mayors, governors, and other officials to get help to them quickly and in a way that kept waste, fraud, and abuse to two tenths of 1 percent.
So he knows directly that the passage and signing of the bill is just the beginning, and he will — he plans to appoint somebody to run point on implementation. I don’t have any personnel announcements today, but that will certainly be part of our path, moving forward.
Also today, as you know, the President will join the CEOs of Johnson & Johnson and Merck to discuss their historic partnership that will produce more lifesaving vaccines for Americans and the world. President Biden will also announce that he is directing — he is planning to direct — he’s directing, I should say, Jeff Zients, our COVID Coordinator; and HHS — and the HHS team to procure an additional 100 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
He’s doing this because, in a wartime effort, which is what we consider this, we need maximum flexibility. We want to be oversupplied and over prepared. There’s also a chance that we’ll encounter an unexpected challenge on new need in our vaccination efforts, and we’re preparing for just that.
The President will also discuss the meeting today — the meeting he’s having today — during his remarks. And he’ll also address, of course, our — the passage of the Rescue Plan during those remarks as well.
Last item, I believe, here — lots going on here today. On March 18th through 19th, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Tony Blinken will meet with Director Yang Jiechi and State Councilor Wang Yi in Anchorage — of China, of course.
The meeting will follow the President’s convening of the Quad at the leader level, as well as his participation in the G7 leaders meeting just a few weeks ago; Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin’s trip to Japan and Korea — two of our closest regional allies; and National Security Advisor Sullivan’s multiple engagements with Japanese, Korean, Australian, Canadian, and European counterparts, including our European Quad meeting next week.
It was important to us that this administration’s first meeting with Chinese officials be held on American soil and occur after we have met and consulted closely with partners and allies in both Asia and Europe. And as you know, a number of those conversations have happened at the presidential level and, of course, at the Secretary of State and National Security Advisor level as well.
The meeting is an opportunity to address a wide range of issues, including ones where we have deep disagreements. We intend to discuss our expectations, and will be frank in explaining Beijing’s actions and behavior challenge to the security, prosperity — and our concerns about challenges they pose to the security and values of the United States and our allies and partners.
We will also talk about areas where we can cooperate — of mutual interests. And we are coming to these discussions, of course, clear-eyed.
The meeting also provides an opportunity to emphasize how the United States will stand up for the rules-based international system and a free and open Indo-Pacific. As the President has said, we approach our relationship with the Chinese from a position of strength and in lockstep with our allies and partners.
With that, go ahead, Jonathon.
Q Thank you so much. You said the President will be signing the bill on Friday. Can you walk us through what will happen next? The President himself has expressed regret that the 2009 recovery package was not sold well, as he put it. You yourself have acknowledged that other veterans of the Obama administration feel similarly. Can you explain to us what we’re going to see from the President, from surrogates? How is this message going to be delivered to the American people? How do you sell this bill?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, the President, the Vice President, the First Lady, the Second Gentleman, a number of members of our Cabinet will be communicating directly with the American people, engaging directly with the American people, and all sending a clear message: Help is on the way.
Over the next few weeks, we are going to swiftly put in place implementation plans — I’ve touched on a little bit of that — and plans to get aid to the people in places that need it the most, as quickly as possible.
This is, of course, a continuation of the work we’ve done over the last two months to build support for the Rescue Plan — communicating directly with the American people; building support among mayors, governors, labor leaders, the business community, and other stakeholders.
We’ll be emphasizing a number of components that are in the package and really having a conversation — this is important to the President, personally — having a conversation directly with people about how they can benefit, addressing questions they have, even taking their feedback on implementation and how to make it clear.
And we’ve talked a little bit about in here — people have questions, like: Well, do I need to do anything to get my check? How do I benefit from the health benefits? What about — you know, what funding will go to my school? He wants to ensure that people have access to this information.
So he will be hitting the road. The Vice President will be hitting the road. The First Lady will be hitting the road. We will have people out communicating directly in communities, but we’ll also use a range of tools at our disposal, including engaging in — communicating through digital means, doing local interviews, and also utilizing a number of members of our Cabinet who have key roles in the implementation. I referenced Secretary Yellen, of course, and her role. Obviously, the IRS has some key roles here. But he will be tapping into the Cabinet to also play a role in communicating and engaging with the public.
Q A follow on this, and then one other matter.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q On this: You know, the President obviously is addressing the nation tomorrow night in primetime. Is this part of it — the idea of what happens next because of the package — going to be part of that speech? Can you preview a little bit about what the message to the American people is going to be tomorrow night?
MS. PSAKI: I expect we’ll have more to say tomorrow about the speech. And I want to just give him a chance to go through the speech again and make sure I’m previewing it in a way that is consistent with where it will land.
But as I’ve talked about a little bit in here, this is — tomorrow marks the 50th day of the administration. It also marks one year since the country shut down. And the President believes it is important to take a look back of the journey the American people have been on, the sacrifices that have been made, the lives that have been lost, and also look ahead. And he will be talking more about how he will approach this war against the pandemic moving forward and lay out some more specifics of what the American people can expect.
Q And last one: A U.N. report out today says the U.S. is among the countries lagging behind on climate-friendly projects in COVID economic recovery spending throughout the globe. When is this administration going to start moving forward on the $2 trillion climate change package that was such a big part of then-candidate Biden’s campaign?
MS. PSAKI: It’s only day 49, Jonathan.
Q Well, the U.N. has offered criticism. I’m passing it along.
MS. PSAKI: We’re about to pass a historic — the most progressive bill in American history. It’s — it’s passing today.
Look, I would say that the President believes that — and he talked about this on the campaign trail. As you mentioned, it was certainly a promise of his that we can create — the United States and many other countries around the world — we’ll focus on here — can create good-paying union jobs that are also consistent with our objective of addressing the climate crisis. And certainly, that is central to how he’s thinking about his agenda, moving forward.
Those policy discussions are still ongoing, but I can assure you that he intends to deliver on the promises he made on the campaign trail and intends to deliver on the promises he made about creating good-paying union jobs that also are consistent with his goal of addressing the climate — crisis, I should say.
Q Hey, Jen. On the 100 million new doses, you said that the goal is to be oversupplied. What’s the goal for that oversupply? Is it to be held in reserve for kids? Is it to be donated to other countries? Is it to be held in reserve in case people need to get shots again next year? What’s the plan for that extra dosage?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, the President’s focus every day when he wakes up is ensuring every American — we can ensure that every American has access to a vaccine and that we are vaccinating the people in this country.
But here are a couple of the factors that we’re — we’re — have weighed in on our decision to purchase an additional 100 million doses: We still don’t know which vaccine will be most effective on kids. We still don’t know the impact of variants or the need for booster shots, and these doses can be used for booster shots as well, as needed. Obviously, that’s still being studied by the FDA, but again, we want to be over prepared, as I noted earlier.
We also need maximum flexibility. So Johnson & Johnson — the vaccine has unique benefits: It’s a one-shot vaccine. It can be stored in the fridge and not a freezer. It’s highly effective, as the others are as well, against hospitalization and death.
But we’re really looking for maximum flexibility here, as we are still considering a couple of those cri- — pieces I mentioned: which is most effective with children, the effectiveness on addressing variants, and, of course, boosters, as I noted.
Q And then, on the COVID relief bill, which is being voted on in the House right now, how quickly will school districts be able to access that money? And will they be able to implement it in time to make safety changes for this school year, which, in many parts of the country, is only going to last another three months?
MS. PSAKI: You’re absolutely right. And a fair amount of the funding is also — we expect will be likely used for forward planning. Right? So schools that need to plan for — “We need to hire temporary teachers right now, but we need to ensure we can keep them on the job in a year, in two years.” “We need to make facility upgrades.” It really depends, school to school.
In terms of the timeline for implementation, I know that’s something that our Department of Education is going to be looking at, and of course, the implementation team that will be focused on getting these dollars out the door. So we will certainly plan to give you an update as we have a better gui- — timeline on the calendar.
Q And then finally, on another front, Des Moines Register journalist Andrea Sahouri is currently on trial over her coverage of a racial justice protest last summer. She’s been charged with failure to disperse and interference with official acts. Does the Biden administration believe that these charges should be dropped? And will the President or anyone in the administration urge Polk County, Iowa, prosecutors to drop the charges?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to discuss this with our team. I’m not as familiar with the case, but I will look into it, and we’ll get you back an answer.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead, Kaitlan.
Q First off, has President Biden been briefed yet by his delegation that went to the border over the weekend? And does he now feel the need to go to the border, if he has been briefed by them?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I can confirm for you that the President did receive a briefing earlier today from members of his team that visited the border region this past weekend. I will note he receives regular briefings on immigration and the economy, on COVID, on a range of issues that the country and the administration is facing.
He heard from the delegation on what they observed during their visit to the border region and the facilities they toured. But they all — they spent the majority of their time discussing what steps can be taken to expedite processes to move more quickly — to move the process more quickly to meet the administration’s goal of getting these children placed with vetted and confirmed families — moving them quickly — as related to your question earlier — out of Border Patrol facilities and into the shelters, and then ultimately, into these homes.
I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of a trip. Obviously, a delegation going to the border and visiting these facilities is something that can be done with a much smaller footprint than the President of the United States traveling, but I don’t have anything to preview in terms of a trip.
Q And earlier, you said you’re going to — or the President is going to pick someone to, kind of, run the implementation of the coronavirus relief package. Does the White House anticipate that there could be delays in implementing that because it is such a big bill?
MS. PSAKI: No, I wouldn’t — I wouldn’t imply — or I was not trying to imply that; only that we know that this will not all be implemented in four days or a week or what have you. This will take some time, and we want to ensure that there is a person responsible and accountable to the implementation. That’s something the President felt worked when he was Vice President. And so it was an indication of that.
But there are a number of Cabinet members who will also play pivotal roles here. I referenced, of course, Secretary Yellen. Secretary Cardona will play a pivotal role, of course, in the reopening of schools. And so there are already officials within the administration, but this can be — it has been used in the past as a more of a coordinating mechanism.
Q And how long do you think that implementation will take?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t give you really a timeline of that. Obviously, there are things — there are different components, as you well know — right? Getting the checks out the door — our Treasury team and our economic team are crunching the numbers on that. We hope to have an update for all of you soon on that.
Obviously, reopening schools, as Nancy was asking about, — it really is school district to school district, in terms of what their needs will be, which schools need funding, which districts need funding. There are things like unemployment insurance, which obviously is applied through different mechanisms.
So I — there are pieces of this that are just going to be implemented over time, some that can be done more rapidly and quickly, but obviously this is our focus and our priority in the days ahead.
Q And my last question: On Johnson & Johnson, he is going to announce that they are trying to get another 100 million doses this afternoon. But the administration told governors yesterday, on their weekly call, that they should only expect to get 400,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine next week. That is far behind what the Johnson & Johnson contract with the federal government that they were supposed to have ready when it was authorized by the FDA. So is he going to confront the Johnson & Johnson executives he’s meeting with today about why they are so far behind on production?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Kaitlan, we — he invoked the Defense Production Act in part because he wanted to — and our team — Jeff Zients and others — have been working closely with Johnson & Johnson and Merck, of course, to expedite the production of vaccines to ensure that they can be available on the timeline they’ve committed to.
I will say that this 100 million that was announced — that’s being announced this afternoon — is more for the second half of this year and not for — it’s not — we’re not adding additional doses expected on that same timeline.
But I’m certain they will be discussing, of course, the need to ensure that the deadlines are met and that we have the vaccines and the doses needed to get them in the arms of the American people.
Go ahead, Andrea.
Q So, on the vaccine: The head of the WTO and others are calling for greater efforts to be made by advanced economies, develop- — big countries and rich countries to get more vaccine into developing countries.
You just announced that you want to be over prepared here in the U.S. What is the United States doing to ensure that these vaccines get out to other countries? And do you favor a waiver of intellectual property protections under the WTO to ensure that that moves more quickly? Or, you know, what’s your perspective on a kind of a third way that would be just increasing licensing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, the President is deeply focused on the issue of expanding global vaccinations and manufacturing and delivery, which will all be critical to end the pandemic. But as we’ve also said, he’s first and foremost focused on ensuring Americans have access to vaccines as soon as possible in the — in this period of time. And we’ve obviously made a great deal of progress on that front. I don’t have anything more to preview for you in terms of what that will look like.
We first need to focus on — right now we’re still in a circumstance where there isn’t enough supply for the Amer- — for the number of Americans who want to get the vaccination, so that’s really our focus at this point in time. But certainly, it’s a point of discussion with his counterparts and with the counterparts of other members of our national security team.
Q So you don’t want to say anything about the waiver?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more for you to predict.
Q Okay. And then, on that question of vaccinating children, you mentioned that you’re not sure which vaccine will be most effective. Fauci has talked about getting high school students vaccinated by the fall and elementary school kids in the spring.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Do you have a sense of when every American could be vaccinated? I mean, you know, do — you know, we’ve — you’ve talked about having enough on hand for adults to be vaccinated by the summer or by the end of May, actually.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we will have enough supply. Right? But the President is the first to say that we can’t do this alone and that, certainly, a component of this that is vitally important is ensuring that people understand, across the country, that these vaccines are safe and they are effective. And we are still going to focus on combating the issues of misinformation and, of course, of vaccine hesitancy in a range of communities.
The FDA, as you know, would be the ones running point on approval of vaccines for children. I can’t really predict when children will be vaccinated, and we don’t know when the FDA may approve a vaccine. But our role is ensuring there’s enough supply and that there is enough distribution. We’ve made a great deal of progress on that. More work to be done. But I can’t make any predictions beyond that.
Q A couple things. First, President Biden, when he was Vice President, kind of, was the person who ran point on the 2009 recovery bill. Would you expect that Vice President Harris might take on a similar role? He has, you know, done a lot — put her in a very similar position to the one that he had with President Obama.
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s true. I mean, the President has said that he wants the Vice President to be the first in the room and the last in the room when he has important briefings, when there are important policy decisions and discussions that are taking place, and that certainly is how he is operating — or they are operating as a team together.
In terms of what role she may play in the implementation, I don’t have anything to preview for you on that. She will certainly be traveling. She’s a key voice and asset for the administration, and she’ll be communicating about the impact of the — of the American Rescue Plan and how it’s going to help the American people over the course of the next few weeks.
Q Ron Klain said last night that the President’s speech to a joint session of Congress won’t be for a few weeks. And he was, kind of, suggesting that there was going to be this time period where the administration is focused on, you know, promoting the bill that just passed. Can you kind of confirm that and provide any more information on, sort of, how you’re thinking about, the rest of March into April, you know, promoting this ARP versus moving on to the Build Back Better?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I don’t have an exact breakdown of timeline, and I don’t think Ron was intending to give one either — only to convey, which is why I think you’re asking, that the President, the Vice President, and all of us in the administration believe it’s important to take a moment to — or a few moments, I should say — to communicate directly with the American people about the benefits of the package, to ensure they understand that help is on the way in a range of forms, and to do that in communities and directly with people who we are hoping understand the benefits of this package.
So, I expect that to mean a couple of trips for the President, the Vice President, and others, but I don’t have kind of an end date for that, and certainly part of the — part of the focus internally is on ongoing discussions about what is next and what components of the President’s Build Back Better agenda — what the order is, the format, the size. And those — just those decisions haven’t been finalized quite yet.
Q And then, one other thing that you, kind of, hinted you might have an answer for yesterday, which is another thing related to Ron: the clearing — national clearinghouse for vaccine information. You know, we here in the Bloomberg seat are very interested to know your answer on that.
MS. PSAKI: I know you are very excited about the website, which many people are.
You know, I would say, you know, as you know, the website is being implemented as a — “VaccineFinder,” I should say — is being implemented as a pilot program. We’ve always been open to expanding the pilot program, and we’re certainly looking into that. We’re also looking into — and others have asked this question — how we can better assist state and local governments who have their own websites where they are utilized by ma- — members of the local community — and effective — but sometimes they have technical issues.
So we’re looking at addressing it from a couple of different directions, but every option remains on the table. We’re also considering setting up call centers, organizing navigators, help — to help individuals schedule appointments, which sometimes can be the issue.
So I don’t have a major update, other than to convey that it’s a pilot program. We’ve always been open to expanding it, and certainly a range of options remain on the table. And sometimes, in some states, their local website is working quite well, and they just need some technical assistance.
Q Thank you, Jen. You’ve been telling migrants — from right there, for a month now, all the way back to February 10th — that “now is not the time to come,” but they are coming in bigger numbers every day. So, do you have a messaging problem?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that, in the last administration, we had a morality problem, and children were being pulled from the arms of their parents, and kids were being set — sent back on a treacherous journey. And that’s not the approach of this administration.
So, certainly, we understand that means there will be more kids who are crossing the border. We made a policy decision that that was the right, humane step to take. But I think it’s also important for people to understand that the vast majority of people who come to our border are turned away, are sent back to their countries.
What we’re talking about here is unaccompanied children. And what our focus is on is ensuring that there are safe places for these kids to go that have acc- — where they access to educational resources, health and medical attention, legal assistance, as needed, and that we can expedite the vetting so that they can get to families and sponsors where they can have their cases adjudicated.
Q But since the last administration is gone — tomorrow is 50 days of Biden — there are migrants showing up wearing T-shirts that say, “Biden, please let us in.” And candidate Biden is the one who said, “I would end this notion — for the first time in history — that people seeking asylum have to be in squalor on the other side of the river.” Why doesn’t he come out and just say, “Now is not the time”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he actually did an interview with Univision about a week or — a week and a half ago, where he conveyed a similar message.
And we’ve conveyed that at every opportunity that we have. I will say, we are, as you noted, almost 50 days in. We are digging — digging ourselves out of a broken and dismantled system. Roberta — Ambassador Jacobson referenced this in her opening as well: When it comes to engaging with countries, addressing the root causes, we couldn’t start doing that until January 20th.
There are programs like the relaunching of the Central American Minors Program, which was ended by the prior administration in 2017, and that meant that — that that program, which would have allowed for people to apply from the region — we had to restart that program. So, we’re working to fix the mess of the last couple of years. It’s going to take some time, but this is clearly a priority for the President.
We’re looking at a range of options, which include the opening of additional facilities. It includes steps we can take to expedite the processing. It includes application and implementation of these CDC guidelines that were — just came out that allow for more children to be housed safely in these facilities. So we’re looking at every option possible to help address the challenges we’re facing at the border.
Q And you mentioned those CDC guidelines. Does the White House think it’s a problem that when the CDC tells these migrant shelter facilities that they can be at full capacity if they are careful about COVID — many of them do — but when the CDC tells schools that they can open in person at full capacity many of them don’t?
MS. PSAKI: Is there a school in particular that you have as an example that didn’t do that?
Q Are most schools in this country at full capacity with in-person learning?
MS. PSAKI: Are — is this a specific school though that is not following the CDC guidelines of implementing the mitigation steps so they can reopen?
Q I mean the CDC is saying, “Schools, you can be at — every school can be at full capacity.” And as you know —
MS. PSAKI: The CDC guidelines —
Q You guys were talking the other —
MS. PSAKI: The CDC guidelines — just to be clear, because I think is very important to be very clear and specific on —
Q Yes, I have it here as well.
MS. PSAKI: They gave eight mitigation steps that schools can take to safely reopen. A number of schools have actually recently reopened. Schools in Washington, D.C. — some have. Schools in many districts across the country. But each school district needs to make the decision about whether they are able to take those mitigation steps.
The President has also been clear: Some of these school districts need additional funding. There’s $160 billion in this package that he’s going to sign into law later this week. The Secretary of Education will be quite focused on working with school districts to help them reopen. But more school districts are reopening; more kids are in classrooms every single day.
Q But since they are not all back, from an administration position or from your perspective, have the Border Patrol unions and the HHS unions been easier to work with than the teachers unions?
MS. PSAKI: I think that’s a little bit of mixing different circumstances. I would say that —
Q It’s — it’s children all in tight quarters. I mean, a classroom —
MS. PSAKI: I — (laughs).
Q It’s not funny.
MS. PSAKI: Not quite. Not quite. I would say that — let’s — let’s take a responsible approach to the two issues. Okay? One is schools reopening. There’s been eight mitigation steps that have been announced by the CDC to implement. Right?
MS. PSAKI: Every school district is going to work to implement those on a timeline that is — they can effectively do. Many school districts are reopening. Right? Many are reopening, every single week — and day and week, right?
That is a different circumstance than what we are seeing at the border. And HHS oversees the facilities — these facilities, right? They’re working with — they’re working on ensuring we can have more kids safely. They are working to implement CDC guidelines, but they are different circumstances.
And certainly we’re working with the school districts, and we’re also working with HHS to open these facil- — or to ensure that kids are treated with safety and care in these facilities.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q Thanks, Jen. Just a little bit more on the Quad. You mentioned yesterday that one of the issues that will be discussed is how leaders can work together to combat the pandemic. Might that discussion include a strategy to counter vaccine diplomacy from China and Russia?
MS. PSAKI: You know, I think there’ll be a range of topics discussed, and I know that it is a concern of a number of leaders around the world, including, of course, President Biden. And I’m sure we’ll have a readout of the Quad meeting tomorrow once it’s completed.
Q Just a little bit more on the announcement, if you can preview it. Can we expect anything in terms of how the Quad — what kind of commitment they would give in terms of helping other countries to access vaccines?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I know they’ll discuss a range of issues tomorrow. But I think it’s important to just take a quick — a little bit of a step back because this is a meeting that covers a range of topics. Of course, I’m sure COVID, which is a pandemic everyone in the world is dealing with, will be a topic of discussion. But there’ll be issues like climate that are addressed. Economic cooperation. I’m sure they’ll have a range of issues to bring up, and we will provide a readout when the meeting concludes tomorrow.
Q And just a little bit more on that — what about in terms of the military balance? I mean, we know that China just announced a huge defense spending — 6.8 percent, I believe, for this year. Is that also a top item in the agenda?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I have more to preview than what we’ve already offered. We will, of course, have a readout when the meeting concludes. There are a range of topics on the minds of all of these leaders. As I’ve noted in here before, we anticipate the meeting discussing a range of the crises we’re facing as a global community — from COVID, to climate, economic cooperation. I’m sure they all will bring up a number of issues, and we’ll have a robust readout when the meeting concludes.
Q A few questions, like everyone.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q So, in California, Republicans are seeking to nationalize the recall effort against Governor Gavin Newsom and really make it a referendum on COVID policies. You know, the other day, Bernie Sanders tweeted that it’s time for Democrats to unite and rally on Newsom’s behalf against the recall. Does the President have any plans to personally or otherwise support Newsom if this does make it on the ballot and, you know, becomes an off-year campaign?
MS. PSAKI: We’re not quite there yet. We’ve spoken out in support of Governor Newsom and against the recall, so that remains our position.
Q All right. Also, in California, you know, we, at the San Francisco Chronicle, are finding that school districts are saying even with this influx of money coming from the package, there’s still lots of reasons they’re not sure if they can reopen even, you know, by this fall, including building consensus around how to do it.
There’s been some criticism that the CDC guidance is actually too conservative and prohibitive, including the six-feet distance rule that schools either have to ignore or not open. You know, if there are still schools that aren’t open by this fall, would the administration consider it a failure? And what more could they possibly do to help those schools along?
MS. PSAKI: We have several months before the fall — six months? Five months? Okay. I will stop doing math now. This — our Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona — this is his number one priority — what he is focused on. The President has asked him to lead this effort, and he is holding a school summit. He will be working with school districts, including, I’m sure, in California and San Francisco and others, to work to address what they feel the challenges are to reopening — whether it’s funding that’s needed; whether it’s consensus-building that needs to happen.
The President wants schools to be open five days a week, wants kids to be learning in school, and we’re going to do everything we can to ensure that’s happening.
Q And lastly, on the subject of today’s briefing: You know, immigration and border policy, it covers so many different agencies. There’s Homeland Security; there’s HHS, as we’ve discussed; there’s State Department. Department of Justice, which we don’t talk about as much, is a huge piece of this. Is there someone in this administration who is coordinating all of these disparate pieces? Ultimately, you know, where does the buck stop? Who is making sure that all these different agencies are coordinating to the administration’s overall goals?
MS. PSAKI: Well, ultimately, the President is responsible for the policy on key issues and key challenges the country is facing, and immigration is certainly one of them.
You’re right: There are a number of agencies involved in this effort, but I will say — I would say they’re all playing a pivotal role. The Department of Homeland Security. The — we don’t have a Health and Human Services Secretary confirmed yet; when he is, he will play a pivotal role. But a whole team at HHS, as you know.
So, this is being coordinated in part from our national security team, but, ultimately, it’s the President who makes decisions about the policy. That’s why he asked the team to go to the border and why he asked to receive a briefing. And that’s something, as I noted, that happened this morning.
Q Thanks. I have a follow-up on implementation of the relief package, and then the question on the Equal Rights Amendment.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q On the relief package implementation: Were there specific lessons that President Biden — when he was in charge of doing this in 2009 — that he learned about that effort that will be applied this effort, particularly in terms of efficiency and reducing waste and fraud — that kinds of things? But, in general, any specific lessons that he learned, other than it’s good to have one person in charge?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. It is structured very differently. As you remember, and I’m sure many people remember, the — a big chunk of the Recovery Act was around shovel-ready projects.
This is, of course, a very different type of bill. I think some of the lessons we’re already implementing, including having a point person in charge, and including ensuring there’s a sustained campaign that is not just about the President of the United States or the Vice President of the United States speaking about the benefits, but that really engages our partners and allies, whether it’s governors or mayors, local community leaders to ensure there is effective implementation and communication about the package.
He also wants to lift up — and this is something that’s been important to him in general but is very applicable to this package — members of his Cabinet so that they can be front-facing and play a very public role in engaging with the public in ensuring they understand the components and pieces of a package like this.
There are pieces in this package that, of course, are related to helping veterans. There are pieces of this package that really — relate to helping rural communities. And he wants to ensure that members of his Cabinet are playing key roles there. That’s something that, of course, was done a little bit in 2009, but can — can definitely be built on, and I think we will venture to do that.
Q And then on the —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
Q — Equal Rights Amendment: The House is expected to vote soon — I think next week — on eliminating the now-expired deadline for ratification. And, of course, Virginia, last year, became the 38th state to ratify. But, last year, the Justice Department issued a memo saying that you can’t do that, that if you — the only way to add this ERA to the Constitution is to start the ratification process over. My question is whether the administration is going to rescind that memo, as some Democrats have asked them to do.
MS. PSAKI: That’s an excellent question. I will have to talk to our team about that and get an update on it, which we’ll venture to do for you after the briefing.
Q Thanks, Jen. A couple questions on behalf of the print pool for reporters who couldn’t be here, and then one of my own. Jessie Hellmann with Modern Healthcare wanted to know: In — when President Biden is with the executives today from Johnson & Johnson and Merck, does he plan — does he plan to press them on the increasing costs of prescription drugs? And does he plan to bring up his own agenda to lower drug prices?
MS. PSAKI: The primary focus of this meeting is on working together — the two companies who have long been competitors working together to ensure the efficient and effective manufacturing of vaccines.
Q Okay. And Tommy Christopher from Mediaite had a question on the filibuster — said that President Biden expressed some openness to filibuster reform during the campaign. I know you said, more recently, that it’s not his preference to change the rules. But he wants to know if the John Lewis Voting Rights Act represents a red line? If Republicans do not support that — if that does not move forward in the Senate, is that a red line that would prompt him to consider a filibuster reform (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President’s preference is not to make changes to the filibuster rules. He believes that voting rights and access to voting — ensuring it’s easier for the American people — is enough of a huge priority and should be for everyone. That’s why he’s signed some executive orders, used the power of the presidency to do that this weekend. And he is hopeful that Democrats and Republicans then can work together to get that done.
Q And then one last question on the overall agenda. You were saying earlier, you know, when you look at Build Back Better, you were sort of thinking through, kind of, what’s next. But broadly speaking, is infrastructure the next big legislative priority on Capitol Hill for this administration?
There’s also pressure for an immigration bill to go through. What’s next for you guys? What is the next big priority after the bill that you’re hoping to sign — the President is hoping to sign on Friday?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a very popular question, understandably, but our focus is on getting the American Rescue Plan implemented. We will have more to say — the President will have more to say on his Build Back Better agenda and what the components of that look like — what the size, the proposals, the order of events will be. But I don’t have anything to preview for you.
Q But does that come before an immigration bill on Capitol Hill or —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have a legislative order to preview for you either. I will say, given all of the conversations we’re having, understandably, about the border and questions about the border: In the President’s proposed immigration package, he has a — funding for — to address the root causes in the region, as we talked about a little bit earlier. He has a pathway to citizenship — or he proposes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. And he also proposes an investment in smart security.
So, given all of the concern by many in Congress about immigration and what’s happening at the border, it sure seems like a good time to move that initiative forward.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you, Jen. I understand you don’t want to call it a “crisis” from the podium, but what do you say to Border Patrol agents at the border, especially those within the union, who are calling it a crisis and who are saying that they’re overworked and there’s just too many encounters day in and day out?
MS. PSAKI: We are saying that we recognize that on — incumbent upon us and this administration is cont- — to continue to work day and night to expedite the process of ensuring there are the resources and processes in place to move children from the Border Patrol facilities to the shelters.
We are saying that it is incumbent upon our administration to look for additional facilities that can safely house children, and incumbent upon us to ensure that we are communicating effectively and efficiently to the region, as Ambassador Jacobson talked about at the top of this briefing. And those are all focuses of the President on down, you know, every single day.
Q The Mexican government, today, reports that over 4,000 unaccompanied minors were actually deported back to Mexico between January and March. Can you confirm that those were done under the previous administration? Were any of those unaccompanied minors deported under the Biden administration?
MS. PSAKI: I know that CBP provides numbers and data on a regular basis, and I think there’s more data coming soon from there, so I would certainly send you to them for any statistics and data. Our policy is that we don’t turn children, under 18, away at the border.
And, of course, as you know, though, even if — when they are in homes of family members or in sponsored homes that they still can go through processing and may need to return home.
Q And on the stimulus package, if I may one last question. I know — I think this came up yesterday, but I wanted to re-ask the question. Now that the stimulus package is passed and many undocumented immigrants, who are not benefited in any way by the money that’s going out, does the President plan any executive action or anything else to do — to help that population?
MS. PSAKI: Sorry, I missed part of the last sentence. I —
Q Sure. Now that the stimulus package has passed —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — and the undocumented population, many of the millions are not benefited in any way, does the President plan any executive actions or anything else to help that population?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, I think the President’s priority, given he proposed an immigration bill on the first day, is to create a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, of course, in this country.
He’s also been clear that ensuring that everybody in this country is vaccinated and receives access to the COVID — COVID-19 vaccine is a key priority.
And, of course, this is just the beginning of his agenda, but I don’t have anything more to preview for you.
Q Thank you, Jen. Given the current progress on vaccination around the world, would the President consider organizing his climate summit in person in D.C. here for it to have more impact?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we have any — I think, at this point, the intention is to do it remotely, I believe. And I don’t think there’s an intention to change that, but I’m happy to check on that for you.
Q And do you know roughly how many heads of state are expected to participate, and if the Chinese President would be one of them?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details on the summit. I know it’s coming up in about six weeks — five weeks?
MS. PSAKI: And I expect, as we get closer, we’ll have more to preview.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Hi. Yeah. Just to follow up on the filibuster.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q So you’ve said many times that President Biden’s preference is not to change the rules around filibuster. But if the next big pieces of his agenda are stymied in the Senate, are there changes to the filibuster that he can live with, such as the talking filibuster?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President believes that there are a range of issues where there’s historic — there’s historic precedent of Democrats and Republicans working together, whether it’s infrastructure, as we’ve been talking about, or modernizing the immigration system. He’s obviously had a number of bipartisan meetings in the Oval Office. So that’s where his energy and focus will be moving forward.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you. A Saudi court just upheld a travel ban concerning a dissident — a woman — released from prison weeks ago. Is it a sign that the White House message regarding the human rights abuses in the Kingdom is not strong enough?
MS. PSAKI: You were referring to a human rights — somebody — a human rights activist who was released from prison?
Q Who was released, but was not able to travel outside of the Kingdom.
MS. PSAKI: I would have to look into more specific details of that. I know we were pleased with the release, but I’d have to look into more specific details of the travel restrictions.
Q Do you have any sort of ETA for when the next Cabinet Secretaries will be approved and when you’re going to start nominating ambassadors?
MS. PSAKI: Go ask our friends in the Senate. (Laughter.)
We expect that some will move forward with — and we are hopeful, I should say, that we will get a couple of additional Cabinet members confirmed in the coming days, or over the course of the next week. The President is looking forward to that — or certainly looking forward to, at some point, having a full Cabinet meeting.
The President hasn’t made any decisions about ambassadorial nominees. So I don’t expect them to be confirmed anytime soon, given we have to nominate them first.
Q Are you talking about Becerra and Katherine Tai?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, it’s really up to the Senate on the timeline for that, but we are hopeful that they move forward with the remaining members of the Cabinet, given we are almost two months into an administration.
Q Thank you, Jen.
Q Um, just a follow-up —
MS. PSAKI: We have another — last one.
Q Just to follow — just to follow up on something that Ambassador Jacobson said.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q And I think you may have gotten a note about this, that she — the first time she said the — that the border is not closed, and she then — this is when she was speaking in Spanish. And then, you know, later on spoke in Spanish again and said the border is closed.
I mean, it seems like she, I guess, misspoke the first time, considering your overall message, but are you concerned that now that she has misspoken, that that is going to be, you know, picked up and disseminated across the Spanish-speaking world as the message from the administration?
MS. PSAKI: Well, given she also said that the border is closed, we’re hopeful that that is what will be picked up, and that has clearly and consistently been our message. So that is certainly our hope.
Q But still, at the time that you’re have a messaging difficulty around this issue, does that just make it a little bit harder?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly hope not. We have the power of the media here to make sure you’re communicating effectively what the message is. And, as we know, we all have moments where we — where we say something slightly differently than we would like to, and we quickly try to correct it to make it easier and effective for all of you who are just trying to communicate what the administration’s, you know, goals and policies are.
Q Okay. Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.
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