Aboard Air Force One
En Route Chester, Pennsylvania

2:17 P.M. EDT

MS. PSAKI:  All right, welcome to our trip to Pennsylvania.  Today we’re traveling to Chester, Pennsylvania, to visit Smith Flooring, a black-owned union shop that supplies and installs flooring.  Smith Flooring received Paycheck Protection Program loans and qualifies for additional programs under the American Rescue Plan, including the Community Navigator service and the Employee Retention Tax Credit.

Smith Flooring received its second PPP loan during the Biden-Harris administration’s two-week exclusive period for small businesses with 20 or fewer employers [employees].

And just another update before we get to your questions: Today, our COVID-19 Response Coordinator, Jeff Zients, held his weekly governor call.  He announced an increase of vaccine allotments to jurisdictions to over 16 million, including allotments from all three authorized vaccines.  When you add that to the doses going out through federal channels, including directly to pharmacies and community health centers, we have over 22 million doses going out the door just this week.

     With that, I am happy to take your questions.  What is on your minds?

Q    So, when North Korea yesterday said they don’t want the U.S. to “cause a stink,” how do you respond to that?  What do you think — what’s — what do you think they’re up to?

MS. PSAKI:  We don’t have a direct comment or response to the comments made from North Korea.  I will say and note, since you gave me the opportunity, that obviously our Secretary of State and our Secretary of Defense are currently on their way, or they’re traveling to South Korea, where they’ll be meeting with their Japanese and South Korean counterparts.  Certainly, the security in the region will be a topic of discussion.

Obviously, also our Secretary of State and our National Security Advisor are headed to Anchorage later this week to meet with their Chinese counterparts where, of course, security in the region will be part of the discussion.  So our focus right now is on working with and coordinating with our partners, allies on a range of issues, including security in the Korean Peninsula.

Q    Are you trying to tone things down with North Korea to keep from provoking them into doing something?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, our objective is always going to be focused on diplomacy and denuclearization in North Korea. 

Q    Two questions from incidents in the Senate.  The first one is on a hot mic.  Senator Cardin was recorded as suggesting that infrastructure would have to be done with reconciliation.  And then, secondly, Leader McConnell said that getting rid of the filibuster would lead to a scorched earth in the Senate.  And I was wondering, first, what priorities does the President consider worthy enough to pursue reconciliation, if necessary?  And then, secondly, why does he want to preserve the tradition of the filibuster?  What’s his argument for why this is a good thing to keep?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, I would say the President’s preference, as you alluded to, is not to make changes.  He is also open to hearing ideas.  And those discussions will happen in Congress.  This is, of course, a Senate rule.  It’s not a law that he would change or sign into law.  It’s a Senate rule.

As it relates to infrastructure, the President has long been a proponent of investing in infrastructure, rebuilding our roads, railways, and bridges.  And he also is — he was in the Senate for 36 years and believes this is a policy where there can be and should be bipartisan support.  And as conversations continue, he is certainly hopeful there is an opportunity for that.

Q    Since you’re going to a small business today, there are some efforts to try and extend the deadline for a PPP loan.  Is that something that you guys support?  Are you actively working with anyone or doing anything on it?

MS. PSAKI:  We certainly note that this is a program where there is an interest in an extension.  I don’t have anything to preview for you on that.  Obviously, the implementation of the PPP loans and ensuring that we are getting those loans to mom-and-pop businesses, to smaller businesses, to addressing some of the challenges that happened the first time around is our current focus. 

But I don’t have anything to preview on an extension.  I know May 31st is the deadline — or March 31st, sorry, is the deadline.

Q    Can I follow up on the Congress stuff?  So, a fourth of GOP House members and at least three Republican senators have said they don’t want to be vaccinated.  How is that affecting your guys’ effort to get shots in the arms?

MS. PSAKI:  To get shots in arms?

Q    Yeah.  Well, Republicans are saying they don’t want to get a vaccine — Republican lawmakers.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  We have certainly seen that.  I would say our focus is on using every resource at our disposal to communicate directly with the American people.  What we’ve seen in our data is that the most trusted sources of information are doctors, clergy, local civic leaders.  And we are working through our efforts at HHS and through programs in the administration to empower, support, and ensure that they can get information out to communities, that they have the funding they need to get it out, and they have the vaccine supply.  And that’s what we feel is one of the most effective means of getting vaccines and shots in arms.

Q    So you’re not talking to Republican leadership in Congress about this or anything like that?

MS. PSAKI:  Look, I think that we certainly would welcome support from and engagement from any Republican-elected officials and leaders who want to advocate for the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.  But I think it’s important to note that the biggest issues that we see from our COVID team with getting more vaccines in arms is supply, which we’ve done a lot of work to address.

Obviously, we’ll have enough vaccines to ensure every American who can get — every adult American, I should say, can get vaccinated.  We’ll have enough by the end of May.

But also, we’ve worked to increase access.  That is, at this point in time, the biggest challenge and one of the biggest obstructions to people getting vaccinated: making sure that it’s accessible in communities.  We’ve increased the number of community health centers, mass vaccination sites, mobile units.

And, again, we are working to empower and engage local medical experts, doctors, civic leaders, even clergy to get out into local communities.

Q    Jen, aside from the Texas emergency response trip, if you all at the early trip from the President, there’s kind of a trend popping up: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia — all really important states for the President’s victory.  Is that part of the calculation of what places to visit: looking at states that put President Biden in the White House?

MS. PSAKI:  I would say, “Stay tuned.”  We’ll be certainly going to some redder states, states he didn’t win, or very blue states and states he didn’t campaign in.  So I wouldn’t over-read into it in that way. 

Obviously, Pennsylvania is a state and this — helping the small businesses in a state that’s close to his heart — especially the Philly suburbs, one of the reasons we’re going there today.

And on Friday, when he goes to Georgia, that’s a state where he campaigned with the two newest members of the Senate, on a — in part on a commitment to deliver on these $1,400 direct checks, which is part of what was signed into law last week.

Q    And you mentioned some of the diplomatic efforts happening this week.  There is a beginning to in-person diplomacy.  Any sense yet on whether the climate summit next month can happen in person?

MS. PSAKI:  Our expectation is that it will be remote.

Q    Okay.

Q    And then, Kevin McCarthy said he reached out to the White House about the immigration issue and what’s happening on the border.  Are you guys getting back to him?  Or —

MS. PSAKI:  We certainly welcome anyone who comes forward and has solutions and wants to be a part of working to address what we all know is a challenging situation at the border.

Q    But no one is talking to him directly?

MS. PSAKI:  I can certainly check, but I’m not sure who he’s reached to.  But if he wants to come to the table and have a conversation about the immigration bill, or whether he is — what ideas he has, whether it’s ideas for opening up more safe places for kids to be in shelters or alternative ideas he has, or ideas where he can work together with us, we’re certainly open to hearing them.

Q    Jen, the President said early in his presidency that he would raise the refugee cap, but he hasn’t actually signed that yet, and there are some 700 refugees who are waiting to come to the United States.  Their flights have been booked and actually postponed a few times.  Why hasn’t he signed that yet?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we are — certainly want to — he’s talked about this — this issue.  Our team has talked about this issue, increasing the refugee cap.  We want to do it in an effective manner.  So I don’t have an update on the timeline, but it’s something that we’re continuing to work on.

Q    Is she worried that letting more refugees in now would signal to people in Central America that the U.S. is open to more immigration?

MS. PSAKI:  I wouldn’t make a direct connection there.  I would say it’s just something where we want to make sure that our system is prepared for — to manage the process effectively and smoothly, you know, as we’re working through when we can move forward on it.

Q    You mentioned the China meeting in Alaska.  What are you all hoping to get out of that meeting?

MS. PSAKI:  So, you know, one, it was important to us that the meeting happened on U.S. soil, which, of course, it is going to happen on U.S. soil in Alaska.  We, you know, believe it’s an opportunity to talk about the relationship as one that is through competition, not conflict.  Certainly there will be issues raised.  We expect there are parts of the conversation that could be difficult.  There are issues that the President has not held back on voicing concerns about, whether it’s human rights, whether it’s economic or technology issues.  And we certainly expect that many of those topics could be discussed during this meeting.  But there are also areas where there could be opportunity to work together, whether it’s climate or, you know, nuclear nonproliferation. 

So there a range of topics to be discussed.  I will just note that, you know, I wouldn’t see this as one in a series.  This is a meeting that — our National Security Advisor and our Secretary of State are attending, and I wouldn’t build it out beyond there at this point in time.

Q    Jen, do you have any update on the naming of a National Cyber Director and if there’s any update on the plans to potentially punish Russia over the SolarWinds hack?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  On the first, we’re currently in the middle of a 60-day review on how the director — the National Cyber Director role — I don’t want to butcher the title — National Cyber Director role should be approached.  Clearly, addressing cyber, ensuring there’s an across-government approach is a priority for the President and something that he feels there’s a role for many components of the federal government to play.  So we’re going to pursue that role and ensure that we’re approaching it in the right way, given — in a way that will address the threats we’re facing. 

I will say that Deputy National Security Advisor Anne Neuberger, A, is one of the most impressive people I’ve ever met, but, as a side note, has a great deal of experience at the NSA, is helping to lead a lot of the coordination efforts as it relates to response to the Microsoft breach and SolarWinds as well.

In terms of when we will res- — I think your second question was when we will respond.

Q    SolarWinds, yeah.

MS. PSAKI:  So we are — the review is continuing on SolarWinds, of course, but also on the bounties on the heads of troops; of course, on the 2020 Election interference as well.  We will see that review through.  And then, of course, the President reserves the right to decide to respond in a manner and time of his choosing, seen and unseen.

Q    And also, on personnel, do you have any update on what role Neera will be taking at the White House?

MS. PSAKI:  Not quite yet, but I’m happy to check on that and see if there’s any update on that.  And it could be in the administration.  So —

Q    And any update on when the President will hold a press conference?

MS. PSAKI:  Soon.  Maybe I’ll have an update for you by the end of the day.  We’ll see.  By the end of the month.  By the end of the month.  I will see if we have landed a full date yet.

Q    There’s two weeks left.

MS. PSAKI:  I know.

Q    We’re there.  We’re getting there.

MS. PSAKI:  You can pla- — you could all place bets and see.  Put some money in the pot.

Q    Do you think it will be this week?  I mean, you’re going to update us today.  Do you think the press conference —

MS. PSAKI:  This week?  No, I don’t think it will be before the end of this week. 

Q    Okay.  Okay.  That’s good to know.

MS. PSAKI:  We have a full schedule for the end of the week, but we’re working on —

Q    Are we going to get more details later today?  Is that —

MS. PSAKI:  We’re working on finalizing a date, so I — if I have an update for you, I will certainly give it to you as soon as I have it.

Q    Any guidance on when to expect soundbites from this interview today with ABC, when we can first start seeing bullets from that?

MS. PSAKI:  I can certainly check with them.  I expect there’ll be a clip on the “World News Tonight,” and then the majority of the interview will air tomorrow morning.  So that’s what would be my expectation. 

Q    Jen, some — the Post said this morning that the President might go to Ohio next week.  Is that on the card — in the cards for next week?

MS. PSAKI:  It is certainly one of the many states — many wonderful states in this country that he could travel to that might be considered a red state, just to go back to an earlier question. 

Q    It could be, yeah.

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have an update.  Again, I’ll check and see.  We’re working to finalize where he’s going to go next week, and he certainly will be traveling.

Q    Do you have any more clarity on making the Child Tax Credit permanent?  That was part of the initial bill, but it seems like there’s a little shakiness about whether or not you guys want to push it going forward as part of the next —

MS. PSAKI:  You should not see it as shakiness.  The President wants to make the Child Tax Credit permanent.  He believes there’s a lot of proposals out there, including from Senator Romney, to work to ensure there’s longer-term assistance through the Child Tax Credit.  And he believes it’s also one of the ways that we can help address the number of women — working women — who have moved out of the workforce.  But we just have to find a vehicle, and we’re having those discussions with Congress. 

Q    Jen, any goals for the meeting tomorrow with the Taoiseach?

MS. PSAKI:  Oh, let me — let me get back to you on this because I want to make sure I talk to our national security team about what they want to accomplish out of the meeting.  And I know that there will be some traditional, you know, exchanges of gifts and —

Q    Shamrocks?

MS. PSAKI:  — such things around St. Patrick’s Day that will be a part of the meeting.  We’re expecting to have a preview call later this evening, but let me check and see with them if there’s more I can give you before then.

Q    Is he going to mass tomorrow?  Is that why we’re going to Wilmington?

MS. PSAKI:  Let me check with him, and I will get back to you on what details we can share on his plans tomorrow morning.

Q    Great.

MS. PSAKI:  Good.  Thanks, everyone.

Q    Thank you so much.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Thanks, guys.

2:31 P.M. EDT

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