Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers Cecilia Rouse, and Member of the Council of Economic Advisers Heather Boushey, March 24, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:33 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Okay. As you may know and now you will know, today is Equal Pay Day. And we have two special guests from the Council of Economic Advisers: Chair Cecilia Rouse and member Heather Boushey.
Chair Cecilia Rouse recently served as the dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. She is a renowned labor economist with expertise centered in the economics of education and equality. Cecilia previously served as a member of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Obama-Biden administration and on the National Economic Council in the Clinton administration. She is the first African American and just the fourth woman to lead the CEA in the last 74 years of its existence.
Heather is a longtime economic counselor to President Biden and previously served as president and CEO of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. An expert on the impact of structural inequities on economic growth, she served as the chief economist for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential transition team, and as an economist for a range of think tanks and the Congressional Joint Economic Committee.
They both have quite some resumes. I’m going to turn it over to them. They will each make some brief remarks, and we’ll be able to take a couple of questions. And they actually have a meeting with the Vice President they’ll have to get to shortly thereafter.
So, with that, I will turn it over.
CHAIR ROUSE: Good afternoon. It’s actually — it’s a — it’s a pleasure to be here today. So today is Equal Pay Day — a day that is sym- — is a symbolic representation of how far into this year women must wor- — work to catch up to what men made in the previous year.
Women working fulltime, year round, are typically paid just 82 cents for every dollar paid to men. It’s a reminder of the work that remains to be done to advance equity and ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to reach their full potential.
Because of this gender gap, women lose thousands of dollars each year and hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. The disparities are greater for Black and Hispanic women who earn 63 cents and 55 cents for every dollar that a white man earns.
What does this mean? So a Black woman must work around 19 months to earn what a white man would earn in one year. For a Hispanic woman, that is almost 22 months.
So what does this really mean? It means I shouldn’t be standing here today in front of you, and, really, I should be here sometime in August.
So what are we doing about it? President Biden and Vice President Harris believe we must begin by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act. This bill would be an important step towards ending pay discrimination through transparency and accountability for employers.
They believe we must provide paid family and medical leave, make childcare more affordable, and build pipelines for training that enable women to access higher-paying jobs.
They’re also committed to raising pay for childcare workers, preschool teachers, home health aides, and others in the care economy; and taking additional steps to increase wages for American workers, such as raising the minimum wage and empowering workers to organize and collectively bargain, both of which are important to reducing the wage gap for women.
We have made progress. My daughter is here today; she’s downstairs. And when I was her age, the gender wage gap was about 60 percent, compared to 80 percent — 82 percent today. That said, there’s still a lot of work to do. The Biden-Harris administration is working to make sure our daughters have the same opportunities that our sons do, and to make sure that every American is given a fair shot to get ahead in this country.
These aren’t simply women’s issues. They affect all families, the ability of our economy to recover, and our nation’s competitiveness.
With that, I’ll turn it over to Heather.
DR. BOUSHEY: Thank you. Thank you, Cecilia. So the pandemic and the economic crisis have undermined the health and wellbeing of women and children in the United States. There are now 4.2 million fewer women working than there were in February of 2020, in large part because of the pandemic. Millions more women have had to reduce their hours, often because taking care of the children is a responsibility that continues to fall disproportionately on women.
Our economic recovery depends on us addressing the barriers that have hampered women from fully participating in the labor force.
So here’s the good news: The American Rescue Plan will change the course of the pandemic and deliver immediate relief and support to women, families, and their communities critical to building a more equitable economy.
The plan will increase the Child Tax Credit from $2,000 per child to about $3,000 per child, and even more for a child under the age of six. This means a typical family of four with two young children will receive an additional $3,200 in assistance to cover the costs associated with raising children. This will benefit 66 million children.
The plan will also increase the Earned Income Tax Credit for 17 million workers by as much as $1,000, benefiting many cashiers, food preparers and servers, and home health aides — those frontline workers who have helped their communities get through this crisis, many of them are women, many of whom are women of color.
The plan also expands childcare assistance, helping hard- — hard-hit childcare providers, who are disproportionately women of color, cover their costs. And it will give families an additional tax credit to help them cut their childcare costs. Families will get back, as a refundable tax credit, as much as half — half — of their spending on childcare for children under age 13. So they can receive a total of up to $4,000 for one child or up to $8,000 for two or more children.
If we add it all up, these are historic actions that will not only help rescue our economy, they will help support our country’s women and their families. But we know, as Cecilia pointed out, we have to do more to close the wage gap and to take steps to ensure that all women, especially women of color, have their shot to get ahead.
And so, with that, we will take some questions.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Jennifer, kick us off.
Q All right, thanks. A question for you both — this is on racial economic gaps. During the campaign, President Biden talked about wanting the Federal Reserve to close income gaps and he wanted to measure the progress they make in closing those racial economic gaps. Would you be willing to say if any steps have been taken so far towards requiring that sort of thing? Is the White House still interested in talking to Congress about amending the Fed Act to require some sort of measures?
CHAIR ROUSE: Sure, I’m happy to take that. So, I can’t speak to that exactly at this time. What I can say is that we are — this administration, across the administration — we are committed to addressing racial — the racial wage gaps and racial inequity gaps.
I can say, at the CEA, for example, we are using data to understand the impact of all of our policies when we study what’s happening in the economy. We want to look at how it’s not just affecting the average, but looking at all groups.
And I would also mention that when Chairman Powell testified last — yesterday — I think it was just yesterday — and last week, he pointed to the fact that, as the Federal Reserve is doing its monetary policy, it is looking not just for the average unemployment rate to change; he is looking to see that the economy is doing well for everybody.
So, you know, we are — we are very aligned on that.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thanks for doing this. Josh Boak with AP. Lots of Americans thought educational attainment would close the gender wage gap and racial inequality. But, in fact, if you look at college grads, the gap widens between men and women. Some of that is due to age, but what are the factors driving here? Why hasn’t educational attainment delivered more?
DR. BOUSHEY: Go ahead.
CHAIR ROUSE: I’m happy to. Yeah, so, you know, educational attainment was actually very instrumental in making some of the gains between my daughter — for, you know, the wage gap when I was coming up and my daughter.
So we know that women getting hired — years of schooling was very important in the early years. But now we know that women, on average, are getting more schooling than men. So that is why it is not contributing as much. And what we see then is that there are other factors.
So we see that the wage gap among young adults is actually fairly small. And it opens up particularly when women start families, which is why the care economy and the efforts we’re making to ensure that workers — not just women, but all workers — can balance work and family is going to be so important.
We also know that flexible workplaces is very important for helping workers to balance work/life — you know, the work responsibilities and job responsibilities. Claudia Goldin at Harvard, for example, has found that the wage gap is smaller in occupations such as pharmacists where there’s just more flexibility baked into the occupation.
So there’s still more work to be done. And I think it really goes to helping women in particular, but all workers balance responsibilities of family and work.
MS. PSAKI: Karen.
Q Heather, you had cited the statistics on 4.2 million fewer women now in the workforce than before COVID. The President has said that women dropping out of the workforce during the pandemic is a “national emergency.” Are there new measures under discussion now, specifically on that issue, to reintroduce women back into the workforce — part of the Build Back Better plan? And what can be done to bring them back in?
DR. BOUSHEY: It’s a great question. You know, I mean, the most important thing that we need to do is wrap our heads around this pandemic. Right?
So the steps that were taken as a part of the American Rescue Plan to, you know, deal with the health crisis, make sure that the vaccine gets out — all of those things — that is certainly going to be an important step forward so that schools can reopen safely.
And then, of course, there are funds, as a part of the American Rescue Plan — historic investment in childcare centers to help them reopen safely. So part of what we see in this decline in women’s employment is because of their — the fact that they’re responsible for children; the fact that childcare centers have closed, schools aren’t open, families are trying to telecommute, or they’re trying to go out to their job and cope with children not having adequate care or the right care. That is really, I think, going to play an important role in getting folks back into the labor force.
And I want to stress that’s on both sides, right? In those caring economy parts of our economy, these are jobs that are disproportionately held by women. So, in making sure that schools are open and childcare centers are open, we’re helping those women as workers and also as parents and caregivers. So I think that is — those are some of the first steps that we need to see.
But, you know, over time, making sure that, as — you know, as Cecilia said, making sure that we have that strong foundation in the care economy on issues around childcare, also issues around, you know, how we help families that have someone who needs some extra care or, sort of, later-in-life issues — the aging and the disabled — along with making sure that we have workplace flexibility and we have paid leave. These are all things that help make it possible for people who have care responsibilities to be full members of our economy and our society.
MS. PSAKI: Andrea and Weijia, and then we got to — we got to wrap it up. Sorry. It’s Equal Pay Day. (Laughter.)
Q Just real quickly, in terms of the infrastructure package that’s coming next — right? — so that we’re talking about quite a lot of money: two to three trillion dollars. What specific things do you think essentially have to be part of that? And what role in all of this does the — sort of, your push for the federal minimum wage increase play? And how do you convince Congress that that’s an essential part?
DR. BOUSHEY: Well, I can take a stab at that.
CHAIR ROUSE: Do you want to — yeah.
DR. BOUSHEY: So, you know, we know that the President has been so clear throughout the campaign and into governing on what his values are and where he wants to guide this economy. Right? That we’re focused on how we can deepen, strengthen, broaden the middle class.
That’s why we’re so focused on Equal Pay Day because we know that women are a key part of — you know, make up the workers that make up the middle class. And he’s been very clear in his support of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. That these are the kinds of focus that we need to have in — as the agenda is built out, this is what he’s asked us to focus on.
Alongside this, we need to make sure that we are making sure that the economy is directed at enhancing, supporting, building American competitiveness so that we’re creating those good jobs and they’re available for all people — not just some people, but people all across these United States.
CHAIR ROUSE: Yeah, I guess what I was just going to add to that is that — right? — this next package is really about investing in our future and in making the kinds of smart investments that we know will increase growth. And we want that growth to be widely shared. So the idea is not just to increase the size of the pie, but to ensure that everybody gets their slice, unlike many policies that had been followed in the past.
Q Do you need to — I’m sorry, do you need to like include some kind of private-sector initiatives to nudge those companies that aren’t moving along as quickly?
CHAIR ROUSE: Look, I — we really can’t speak to the specifics. I think you’re used to Jen saying she likes to keep her job. I’d kind of like to keep mine, too. (Laughter.)
So we are — you know, we are looking at the most effective ways in order to meet these kinds of investments that we know are just so important to work on.
Q Thank you so much. I think, just to follow up on Karen’s question: You know, making sure that there is support for the women is one thing, but will there be any concrete measures in the Build Back Better plan to make sure the 4.2 million women have jobs to return to?
CHAIR ROUSE: Right. That is the exact purpose of the American Rescue Plan, right? The whole purpose is to get us through this pandemic with — and to help our businesses that are viable stay in business, to help the workers who need help paying their rent and getting food on the table to stay engaged and not just imagine that they’re going to drop out and drop out forever.
We know that the longer that we have the economic crisis and the longer that workers are out of the workforce, the harder it is for them to come back. So that is the entire focus of the American Rescue Plan — is to get us back on track so that by next year we are back to essentially full employment.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Thank you both so much for coming.
CHAIR ROUSE: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: We’d love to have you back.
CHAIR ROUSE: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, I just have a couple of other items for you all at the top.
As you know, this afternoon, the President and First Lady will be joined by Megan Rapinoe and Margaret Purce at the White House for a virtual event with other members of the U.S. Women’s National Team where the President will sign a proclamation marking Equal Pay Day.
Additionally, the Second Gentleman is in St. Louis, Missouri, for a listening session on gender equity in the workforce.
As Cecilia and Heather just detailed, the pandemic and economic crisis have undermined the health and wellbeing of women and children. The American Rescue Plan provides help for women and families by increasing the Child Tax Credit, expanding childcare assistance, and providing women and families the relief they need. It also provides $130 billion to help schools serve all students and reopen.
Yesterday, on the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act being signed into law, the President, of course, traveled to Ohio — it was a great trip — where he announced that the administration would expand access to healthcare coverage by extending the Special Enrollment Period until August 15th. I know a number of you noted that, but I just wanted to reiterate it since it was late in the day.
This morning, the President was proud to sign into law the Save Lives Act. The bipartisan piece of legislation will give the VA the ability to provide vaccines to all veterans and boost vaccine efforts for veteran’s families and caregivers. It’s truly a testament to what government can do when we work together. He’s grateful for the leadership of both the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committee: both Chairs Mark Takano and Jon Tester, and ranking members Mike Bost and Jerry Moran.
As we announced this morning — but to give you a little bit more detail — the President will travel to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, next week on Wednesday, March 31st, where he will deliver a speech laying out more details of his plan to build the economy back better.
Over the next several days — and this is probably why they were hesitant to give more detail — he will continue meeting with his economic team to finalize details of his proposal, including the scale, scope, and final policy components. His focus, of course, will be on investing in America’s workers, making sure the tax code rewards worth not wealth, delivering on the promises he made to the American people when he was running for President.
With that, go ahead, Josh.
Q Thanks, Jen. On the shooting in Colorado, the President said, “Congress must act.” Senator — Senate Majority Leader Schumer has also said the Senate is poised to act. But Vice President Harris said today, on CBS, that she thought the change would have occurred after the Sandy Hook shootings.
And I’m curious: What does the President think is different this time? And how has he changed his approach so that this administration can pass these changes, when, in the past, it failed?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, the President shares that sentiment, as I think many Americans do, that when we saw 20 children murdered, when we saw 6 adults murdered, that that would turn the tide of Congress.
We have seen data and statistics still — across the country — still broadly support background checks. I think it’s about 80 percent of the American public support background checks, including a good percentage of gun owners support background checks.
We’ve seen states take action. Since that time, a number of states across the country have put in place a number of laws. Sometimes states are the leaders, as we know and we’ve seen in other areas of policymaking.
But I think the President, who has been in public life and public office for 50 years — more than 50 years — would be the first to tell you, if he were standing here, that just because you don’t get the policymaking and the legislation done the first time, it doesn’t mean you quit trying.
And certainly, tragedies like we saw earlier this week, like we saw last week — mass shootings that are killing innocent lives, leaving family members without their loved ones — is a reminder of how important and vital that is.
He has talked about, as he did yesterday, the importance of working with Congress. I know the Vice President touched on the fact that if we want something to be permanent, if we want it to be lasting, we need it to be legislation. He certainly believes that, but there are also executive actions under consideration that we will continue working through internally. And there’s lots of levers you can take, obviously, as President and Vice President.
Q And then, secondly, today is the first chance for many in the media to see the situation on the southern border at government facilities.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q This is the first step of transparency. What else can we expect with regard to that so we can evaluate the situation and present it to the public?
MS. PSAKI: Well first, as you noted — I know all of you have covered this, but just to kind of reiterate where we are here: So there’s a delegation of members of Congress and White House officials who are traveling to the Office of Refugee Resettlement at Carrizo Springs in the — at the Influx Care Facility there. There is a network pool camera that will be a part of this journey, which will be — which will ensure that there’s network pool coverage — or network pool footage, I should say, that is provided to all of the networks so that you can all see, as the media, for yourselves and be able to provide analysis on that B-roll footage.
And we are also — remain committed to transparency and will continue to work with agencies on creating avenues for media access to — and visibility into these facilities.
So I think our balance is, of course, privacy; as you all know, it is also that we are in the middle of a pandemic; and that, you know, these facilities, of course, can’t become forums for media access all day long every day. I think we all agree on that balance. But we will continue to look for ways to increase transparency and provide additional access and fulfill requests.
Q Thank you, Jen. A couple questions on guns and —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — then AAPI representation. And at what point would President Biden consider taking executive action instead of waiting for Congress to wait? In other words, how many measures would have to fail before he stepped in?
MS. PSAKI: I think he sees it as vital to take steps on two tracks because congressional legislation, as the Vice President conveyed this morning, obviously has a more permanent, lasting impact. Executive actions are, of course, an important lever that every President has at their disposal.
There’s current discussions and analysis internally of what steps can be taken — and that — that has been ongoing for several weeks, even before these two recent tragedies — that, you know, he looks forward to getting an update on and seeing what can be moved forward on that front as well.
So he’s not waiting for anything to fail is really the answer to your question.
Q What executive actions do you think he’s most likely to take?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a great question. I have it, myself, as well. But it’s an ongoing policy process internally. I will say that his view, the Vice President’s view, and our policy team’s view is that it’s not just about addressing gun access. That’s important and obviously there’s legislation that’s under consideration on background checks that they both strongly support, they want to see move forward. It’s also about addressing community violence and, you know, a range of issues that are root causes and kind of lead to the — the deaths and the impact that we’re seeing that’s so troubling.
Q Got it. Thank you. And then, on the other issue: You know, the White House had conversations with Senators Duckworth and Hirono. I think one concern that they have brought is the question of who is advising President Biden from the AAPI community as we see this surge of violence. I know Ambassador Rice and Cedric Richmond are leading the engagement efforts. Who in the AAPI community is having direct conversations with the President about what’s unfolding?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you mentioned Cedric and Susan Rice, who have been doing listening sessions for some time, and obviously those will continue to pick up. Obviously, the Vice President, who is the first in the meeting and the last in a meeting on every issue, including the impact of the violence and the threats and the — that we’ve seen increase over the past several months against the AAPI community — as a member herself of the AAPI community, is certainly playing an important role on that.
And as we noted in a statement we released last night, we are also adding a senior-level Asian American/Pacific Islander liaison who will ensure the community’s voice is further represented and heard — not just around crises, not just around an increase in violence, but in general, and, you know, playing an important role with a seat at the table.
Q And, to be clear, this is a new position in addition to the one over in public engagement?
MS. PSAKI: This is the one that we announced last night.
Q Okay. So it’s going to be a new senior-level position?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, (inaudible). Yep.
Q Will this this person also have a policy portfolio, or will it just be mainly outreach?
MS. PSAKI: I can get you more specifics. I mean, I think that when they’re — all the roles that are in our liaison — playing liaison roles typically have a seat at the table on a range of issues, so whether it is healthcare or climate or community violence. So, typically, it’s having a seat at the table on a range of topics, but I can see if there’s more specifics. Obviously, we have not hired yet because we just announced this last night.
Q To follow up on the discussion: The President — you were talking yesterday about executive action on gun reform. The President also was making it clear he wanted to see Congress act.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q He said that several times.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Would he propose his own gun reform plan that he would present to Congress, as we’ve seen them do with the COVID relief plan and what we anticipate coming on the economic plan? Would this be something that could originate here and not wait for Congress to move?
MS. PSAKI: You know, Karen, I think it’s a great question. There’s obviously a lot of pieces of legislation that have been proposed. There’s these two background check bills that are — have moved their way through the House. There’s also legislation that’s been proposed by Senator Feinstein, Congressman Cicilline that addresses some banning — an assault weapons ban, which is something the President worked to pass in the ‘90s when he was in the Senate.
So there’s a range of steps that can be taken to increase gun safety measures. What our team is looking at now is: What is the legislation that’s out there? Are there any gaps that need to be filled; policies or proposals that have been introduced in the past that could be reintroduced?
So I don’t have anything to predict for you on whether there’d be something independent. I think we’re looking at what a number of passionate gun safety advocates on the Hill have already introduced to see where we can help push the boulder on that.
Q Has the President spoken with any of the families of the Colorado shooting — any of the victims’ families?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any calls to read out for you. You know, he is somebody who obviously has a deep connection to loss, and we don’t always read out those calls. I can check and see if there’s anything that has — that he has done that he’d be comfortable conveying to all of you.
Q And can I just do one more on the border?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.
Q Could you give us an update on progress from the Family Reunification Task Force? Have there been families, children reunited back with their parents? Where does that stand right now?
MS. PSAKI: There have been. And a lot of that has happened through lawyers and outside groups and the NGO community that plays an incredible role here.
There will be an update provided at day 120 that will be more of an official report and update out of the Department of Homeland Security. So, in advance of that, I’m not sure we’ll have incremental updates, but there have been some progress made, thanks in large part to the work of legal experts and NGOs on the outside.
Q And the task force is working with those NGOs?
MS. PSAKI: They’re in touch with them as well, but we’ll have our first formal update at day 120 and then, I believe, every 60 days thereafter.
Go ahead, Jeff.
Q Jen, why did the President wait until there was another shooting until he addressed gun violence in America?
MS. PSAKI: He actually addressed it. We put out a statement in his name on the anniversary of — in early February, the anniversary of the shooting in Florida. So he has addressed it before and certainly has stressed it even as President and will continue to address it as President.
And as you know, Geoff, from covering him in Congress for a long time, this has been a passion of his — putting in place gun safety measures — throughout his career. That’s why he fought to get the Brady Bill passed, why he fought to ban assault weapons, why he was the lead in the Obama-Biden administration in putting in place more than a dozen executive actions to make it safer for our communities. And it’s something that he will continue to work on as President.
Q Of course, he knows, though, that the President’s bully pulpit is unparalleled, and yet it took him until more than 60 days into his presidency to talk about gun violence, on camera, in America. What does that say about his commitment or how much political capital he’s willing to spend on this issue?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I first would say that anybody who has been following the tragedies and the shootings that have happened in our country over the past several years, if not decades, knows that this is an issue the President is deeply committed to, and his career is evidence of that.
And I don’t think anyone who’s an advocate is looking at how many words he’s spoken; they’re looking at what his background has been, where he has fought the fights. And he has fought the fights on the Brady Bill, on the assault weapons ban, on getting legislation passed. It wasn’t successful, as was alluded to earlier in a question. We know that. But this is something he’s going to put his shoulder into; he’s going to work with members of both parties; he’s going to certainly advocate for it.
And I think for those who have survived gun violence, for those who’ve lost family members, they’re really looking for action, and they’re really looking at the record that he has or — he has over the course of the decades of his career.
Q If I could follow up on the question on the border: The access being granted today for the pool is of a facility that is aspirational of where you want to move these children. What about access to the facilities where there is overcrowding and there is an actual problem? Why was this one chosen over those?
MS. PSAKI: We’re also open to providing access there, and this is just the first step in the process of providing greater access to the media.
Q And when would that decision to be made? You said earlier this week that you would be working on access. Is this the only access, or will that be coming in the coming days like the —
MS. PSAKI: No, I would — I would consider it — it’s ongoing, and we wanted to provide pool coverage, as you all know who are in the television — field of television that allows for video — a video camera to provide access to all the networks. We felt that would be a good first step, and we’re looking forward to continuing to engage about how to provide increased access.
Q Would you agree, though, that you’ve chosen the facility that is the aspirational facility, as opposed to the problem at this moment?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say we all agree that the Border Patrol facilities are not places where children should be. They are — children should be moving more quickly through those facilities. That is what our policy’s central focus is right now, as you know, Jeff. And there are also — it’s also becoming a public health concern because of the number of kids who are moving through those facilities and the fact —
Q But why not show those? Why not show those to the American people?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we will, and we are working with the Border Patrol and with DHS to determine how we can do that.
Go ahead, Jennifer.
Q On Iraq and withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, could you please give us an update on Iraq’s request for the start of talks on that withdrawal, please?
MS. PSAKI: That’s something we are looking forward to convening next month. And I’m not sure if I have an update, other than to convey that we look forward to our strategic dialogue with the government of Iraq over the month of April. The meetings will further clarify that coalition forces are in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government and solely for the purpose of training and advising Iraqi forces to ensure that ISIS cannot reconstitute.
And we are committed, first and foremost, to Iraq sovereignty. We look forward to these important discussions with Iraqi leaders on the future of our partnership that will convene next month.
Q I got a couple of quick ones for you. So, on Nord Stream 2 — that is an issue that keeps coming up in the relationship with Germany — how soon do you think those sanctions will be implemented? And has the President had a chance to discuss this issue, at his level, with the Chancellor of Germany?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any calls, although we do read out the calls that he does. So you would certainly know if he had a call with the Chancellor of Germany, I can assure you. So not a new one that I’m aware of that you are not aware of.
We continue to believe it’s a bad deal. I don’t think we have an update on the po- — our policy position beyond that.
Q Okay. And then, 14 states have now sued the administration over the oil and gas — over the pause in oil and gas leasing. What do you say to that? And how do you move beyond that? I mean, how do you — how do you — you know, I realize there’s a legal process, but how do you address — how you get your point across in this legal environment?
Q Well, I would say, first, oil and gas jobs aren’t going anywhere. The outgoing administration flooded the oil markets with cheap federal leases. This will not affect oil and gas production or jobs for years to come.
And what President Biden has pledged to do is invest to create jobs and ensure America leads the clean energy revolution, which is where the industry is largely going anyway, where there is the greatest opportunity for job creation. He wants to create good-paying union jobs. And that’s something he believes and he’s committed to doing.
I think there’s a lot of — there is some misinformation out there about what this means, which is why it’s — not — and I’m not saying from the media; I’m just saying in general. And again, there are oil and gas jobs that are out there. The existing leases will continue. He’s really talking about future leases.
Q Okay. And then just one more on the gun issue. I know this is kind of a crazy question, but —
MS. PSAKI: It’s always a good lead-in when it’s a crazy question. (Laughter.) It’s quite a lead-in.
Q You know, given the history of people trying to enact gun control legislation in this country —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — is there some consideration to taking a look at the Second Amendment and just addressing it from a, sort of, this — the underlying constitutional right to bear arms? Does that — is that something that the President feels needs to be called into question so many years after the Revolution?
MS. PSAKI: No one is talking about overturning or changing the Second Amendment. What our focus is on is putting in place commonsense measures that will make our communities safer, make families safer, make kids safer. The majority of the American public supports background checks. The majority of the American public does not believe that anyone needs to have an assault weapon. So that’s really what our focus is on at this point in time.
Q And, Jen —
MS. PSAKI: Oh.
Q — Joe Manchin is not in support of this. Once again, you have a Democrat, a member of the President’s own party, who is already signaling that he will not support that. You have a very slim majority. Can you convince Republicans to support this legislation so that you can work around a Democrat that’s not supporting it?
MS. PSAKI: As the President said yesterday, we don’t know yet; he hasn’t done the vote count.
But it is certainly an issue he will talk to members about and convey why he feels it’s so important; that it’s not a — shouldn’t be a political issue; that keeping our community safe, family safe, looking at the track record as what has worked in states — which is very informative, and actually, to Josh’s earlier question, something that we know more about now than we may have 10 years ago. So he will be conveying that to members he’s communicating with.
Q Two questions. Following up on Weijia’s question about representation: The Biden administration is the first in 20 years to not have an Asian American lead one of the 15 executive departments in the Cabinet. So how does the White House square that fact with the President’s pledges to make this the most representative, most diverse in history?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I will just say the President remains committed to making sure this is the most diverse administration in history. That has always been — remains our goal. We’ve made a lot of progress. We have the most diverse Cabinet in history. We will continue to make progress. We have AAPI staff at senior levels and at all levels of the administration, and we will continue to work to find ways to elevate AAPI voices at the highest level of government.
There are a number of Cabinet level — I know it’s not 15 members, so — but just to note, obviously, Katherine Tai, who received overwhelming support in the Senate in her approval to be confirmed for USTR; Julie Su at the Department of Labor; Kiran Ahuja — I’m going to butcher that name, and I apologize to Kiran — at OPM; Todd Kim, the Assistant Attorney General at DOJ. So we will continue — and obviously there are more positions and roles that we need to fill.
And I will say, first and foremost, the President’s view is that we need to listen, and that is an important component of how we’re communicating with members of Congress as concerns arise. Also with leaders in the community, as he and the Vice President did last Friday — why it’s so important, as we look to policymaking, to have senior members of our administration do listening sessions in the community to determine how we can best address needs.
Is it — there’s personnel, of course, and we will continue to work toward that. There’s policies. And that’s part of our objective and our focus at this point in time.
Q And also, a quick one on guns. The President also talked several times about a federal assault weapons ban, and I’m wondering how he plans to build a coalition around that when — even when that policy is something that is opposed by many moderate Democrats in Congress.
MS. PSAKI: Well, though, it is supported by the majority of the American people, and that is an important fact. And he will — it’s something that he has long had a view and a belief: that no one needs an assault weapon, that it is not something that should be a part of what people have access to in this country. And he will continue to —
So are you asking, kind of, who will he talk to? Or who will he —
Q How does he plan to build the coalition in Congress to build that support?
MS. PSAKI: Well, part of it is certainly communicating with the advocates; it’s communicating with outside groups, with gun owners, many of whom will tell you that they don’t believe they would support an assault weapons ban; communicating with leaders in states where laws have been put in place that have been impactful; and, obviously, having conversations with members he’s known for some time — having them at the staff level and determining if we can find a path forward.
Q Thank you, Jen. I’d like to ask you two questions — the first about marijuana and the second about a bit of a historical mystery I’m hoping you could help us solve.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. (Laughter.) There’s a lot of setups for these questions today. I like it.
Q Sure. So Vice President Kamala Harris says that she is a past marijuana smoker. She said, quote, “It gives…people joy. And we need more joy in this world.” She is with a clear majority of the U.S. population in supporting marijuana legalization. According to polls, two thirds of people do, including about half of Republicans.
Yet, last week, The Daily Beast reported that there were dozens of White House staffers who were either disciplined or terminated from their jobs for past marijuana use. You seem to confirm five terminations on Twitter.
And my question is: Why would President Biden allow this to happen, especially considering the White House staff were led to believe that pot use would not be disqualifying, especially considering the Vice President is herself a former marijuana user?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that what we tried to do as an administration was work with the security service who actually makes these determinations about suitability for serving in government. In the past — and I served in the Obama-Biden administration — the rules were actually far more stringent. So that isn’t about anyone’s personal point of view; it’s about working through the process, the history, and modernizing it and taking steps to address the fact that marijuana is legal in a number of states across the country. It is still illegal federally. Right? We know that.
There were — as I noted, I think, in our comment last week — five individuals who are no longer employed at the White House. A number of them — there were other security issues that were raised, and, you know, that’s an unfortunate conclusion, of course.
But what we try to do is enable additional members of the team, who would not have been able to continue serving in past administrations, to continue serving by updating our policy in coordination with the security service.
Q Just to follow up on that, surely President Biden could, you know, implement changes here unilaterally and just say that these people can come to work for him. Why —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think if marijuana was federally legal, that might be a different circumstance. But I don’t — I don’t think I have any more for this on you — on this for you.
Q Do you have any more data on the number of people impacted other than the five people who were terminated?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more data for you, other than to convey that there were a number of people who would not have been able to serve in past administrations. And because of our efforts to modernize and work with the security service, they’re able to serve.
Did you have another question?
Q Yes, I do.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q So this is a, as I set it up, a bit of a mystery. And I’m sure that you’ve inquired about this yourself and —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay. Where’s the cat? (Laughter.)
Q No, no, it’s not that.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q So there was a report last year from the Senate Finance and Homeland Security Committees. It claimed that the wife of Moscow’s former mayor paid a company associated with the President’s son $3.5 million. There was no explanation for this alleged payments, and I’m wondering if you could tell us if that claim is accurate, and if so, what the $3.5 million was paid for.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not familiar with that claim. It doesn’t sound like it’s backed up by a lot of evidence. If you have evidence or specifics, I’m happy to discuss it further.
Q (Inaudible) the Senate Committee’s report. So you haven’t asked about this? Or —
MS. PSAKI: I’m not familiar with the report at all. Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen. With the May 1st deadline looming, when can we expect to hear from the President about the timing on withdrawal from Afghanistan?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a good question. As you may know, Secretary Blinken is currently in Brussels and talking with our NATO European partners. He did a press avail — I believe it was yesterday.
But let me reiterate a couple of the points he made, and then I’ll get to your question: that our focus right now is to — is, for him, to share some of our thinking with our vital NATO partners, consult with them, hear from them on where they see things going, where they want things to go; that, as the President had said last week, it’s tough meeting that May 1st timeline, and the Secretary of State reiterated that in his remarks as well.
Whatever we do will be informed by our allies and partners. But the President is currently discussing, of course, with policy team members on what is possible. And hopefully he’ll have an update soon, but I don’t have a timeline on that for you.
Q Do you expect any announcement this week?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t give you a timeline. It’s really up to his own decision making and when he’s prepared to talk about that publicly.
Q Thank you, Jen. I have a couple of foreign policy questions. I understand the administration has already supported COVAX, is working with the Quad to ramp up production, working out details with Mexico and Canada. But where is the President’s position on the request by more than 55 countries, as well as some Democratic lawmakers, on making vaccine patent through the WHO — giving a waiver to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the top priority of the President’s and of the United States is saving lives and ending the pandemic in the United States and, of course, around the world. That includes investing in COVAX; working with partners, as we announced with the Quad, to produce a billion vaccine doses to surge vaccine production and delivery. As part of rebuilding our alliances, we’re exploring every avenue to coordinate with our global partners and are evaluating the efficacy of any measure by its true potential to save lives.
So that’s how we’re looking at it through the prism. There are probably — there are a number of steps, a number of ways we are engaged in addressing the global pandemic through the global international community, and we’ll look at a range of options. But I don’t have any update for you on the patent question.
Q But just as a general principle, do you believe that protecting American innovation and intellectual property of pharmaceutical companies outweighs the benefit of moving faster towards a COVID-free world?
MS. PSAKI: Sure — I absolutely understand your question. What I’m conveying is we look at every option through the prism of whether it will save lives and how many lives it will save, and try to put our resources and efforts into those that we think will be most effective.
You know, obviously, part of that is through engagement with the WHO. I mentioned our Quad partnership, our meaningful contribution to COVAX. And, of course, when we can, we will share vaccines — as we have already, as we are already doing with Canada and Mexico. But we’re looking at a range of options.
Right now, our focus is on continuing to address the pandemic that is ongoing in the United States, given a thousand people are still dying every single day.
Q Another foreign policy question, please. So can you comment on media reports on whether the administration is considering joining a group of South American nations to push back against Chinese illegal fishing? How big of a problem does the administration see this kind of Chinese practice of distant-water fishing? And would this be something that you would consider with other regions, including Southeast Asia and Africa?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. It is a challenge and a problem, and one that we’re watching closely. And for others who have not been following this issue as closely, it is an issue of overfishing in certain parts of the world. It is something our national security team is certainly watching and following closely. I can see if there’s more specifics on their engagements to update you on.
Q Okay. And one domestic question.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Just a question on vaccination for federal government employees. I mean, so far, it’s been pretty much where they live, right? I mean, if you’re in D.C., you follow D.C. rules — Maryland, and so forth. Is there any other kind of consideration from the White House to just expand access to vaccines for federal government employees?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a great question. I’ll have to check with our COVID team. Obviously, everyone will be eligible in just over a month, including our government employees. And D.C. and Virginia have already made that commitment — maybe Maryland, too. I don’t want to leave them out. So that is good news for every federal government employee. But I can check and see if there’s more specifics across the administration about our approach.
Go ahead, in the back. And then, we’ll go back.
Q A couple of questions. First, I wanted to ask about voting rights. The Senate right now is debating its own version of the For the People Act.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q It’s — there are a few hang-ups with it in the chamber. I was curious how much emphasis the President plans to put on this — if he will be reaching out directly, or if there’s a team from the White House that’s working on this issue.
MS. PSAKI: Yes, I would say we’re very engaged — closely engaged on S1 that is being negotiated, as you said. And there are changes being made — which we fully expected that there would be, as a number of senators, I believe, have alluded to that being a possibility and things they’d like to see changed. So it’s working its way through the process. We get regular updates — our legislative team does. And we remain very closely engaged.
Q And I wanted to ask: Leader McConnell has said that he hasn’t been invited to the White House and he hasn’t had a direct conversation with the President since the inauguration.
MS. PSAKI: I think he corrected that statement.
Q Okay. I was curious because I know, previously, Leader McCarthy had said that he had tried to reach out to the White House to get an invitation here. Does the President plan to have some sort of big, you know, meeting with leaders from across the aisle where we would see photos of them together and things like that?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sure he will. We obviously have been limited on COVID to any events in the East Wing. And at this point, we’d be very much in the East- — the Easter Egg Roll preparations, which, of course, we will not be — but obviously more important, substantive, vital meetings than that.
He’s had a number of meetings — bipartisan meetings in the Oval Office. He will continue to do those. Those have often been constructed with committee chairs or members with specific jurisdiction. He has — he has a long friendship with Leader McConnell. He has spoken with him. He speaks with him regularly. We’re obviously not going to read out all of those calls. And I expect that will continue.
Q And I wanted to ask: We’ve been seeing a lot of images of spring breakers, especially in Florida, and I was curious how aware of that the President — if he is being updated on that regularly and if he plans to make any sort of address or public appeal to people on the issue.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we do watch that closely. The President is briefed regularly by his COVID team, and, of course, he has seen the news coverage — thanks to all of you — of spring breakers who have been gathering in far too many numbers. There, of course, were steps taken locally in response to this. We also watch that closely.
You know, I’m not sure I’d — I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of him addressing spring breakers publicly.
I will say that his message, broadly speaking, is that we are still at war with the virus. This is still a threat to the lives of the American people. We need to be vigilant. We need to wear masks. We need to hand wash. And that is a message, of course, directly to anybody who is not abiding by the recommendations of public health officials.
Q And if I could just — one more. Do you have any update on the President’s plans? Will he be traveling to Boulder?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any updates on that. As you all know, this tragedy only happened just about 36 hours ago. And obviously that would be done in consultation with local officials, who I’m — who I know are still digesting the events and — in their community, working on healing in their community.
I can note, since you reminded me, he did speak with the mayor this morning, as well, and he had spoken with the governor yesterday, and will remain in close touch.
Let me just go to the back, and then we’ll come back. Go ahead, in the back, Lalit.
Q Thank you. Thank you, Jen. Last week, Secretary Blinken and NSA Jake Sullivan had a meeting in Anchorage with Chinese counterparts. Have they — have they given the briefing to the President on the China policy? Had — has it changed any Chinese policy on the Biden administration?
MS. PSAKI: All the — I know that the President has spoken with Secretary Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan since their return. I don’t have any — obviously, they talked about a range of national security issues, ongoing policy processes that are ongoing.
We’re currently taking stock of where we are, which includes close consultation with allies and partners — as I noted, Secretary of State is in Brussels currently — on the way forward, and we’ll continue to work with China going forward when it’s in the interest of the American people.
So we’re in — consulting internally, consulting with our partners and allies, and that’s really the stage we’re in at this time.
Q I have a question related to legal immigration. When Vice President was a senator, she supported the cause of EAD — Employment Authorization cards — for H4 and L2 visa holders. Now these guys are saying — well, most of them are women, basically. They’re saying there is a very long delay in issuing EAD cards for H4 and L2 visa holders. Some of them have also went to the court. What is your — why these delays there?
MS. PSAKI: I think part of the reason we want to push for action on immigration on the Hill is to move forward with expediting the processing and doing that on several levels, including a number of the visas that you just — just introduced or just conveyed. So that’s part of the reason why we think that’s such an important piece to move forward on.
Q A final one: A number of Indian American doctors whose job is to treat patients during this COVID — COVID era, they are on the Hill protesting against and demanding elimination of country quota for green cards. I know the White House has sent a legislation to the Hill and — that talks about that. But they’re still protesting against — and faster implementation of that passage of that bill. What is President’s message to those doctors?
MS. PSAKI: I think the President is — would reiterate that he believes that there should be faster processing, that our immigration system is broken at many levels, and — of the system, and that he is eager to — for Congress to move forward with action there.
Okay, two in back. Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. On — back on guns, you mentioned bipartisan meetings. I’m wondering if you give a little bit more of a sense of the President’s engagement with Congress on gun legislation specifically. Does he plan to have a bipartisan meeting on that at the White House? And has he spoken to Senator Manchin at all about his opposition to that background check bill?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any meetings to predict. Obviously, you know, this is an issue that is — there are a number of passionate gun safety advocates on the Hill, as you well know, who have strong views about what the path forward should look like. So I have no doubt that he has discussed this issue with them over the course of the last two months of his presidency.
As it relates to the tragedy of Tuesday night, he was, of course in Ohio all day yesterday with a very full schedule. So I don’t — he didn’t have any calls yesterday. But, you know, it’s something that he will continue to look for ways to engage, to discuss, to advocate for action moving forward.
Q And is there an update on his joint session to Congress?
MS. PSAKI: No update yet. We have a speech coming up next week. And we — certainly, he remains interested in and committed to doing a joint session. We remain engaged with them, but I don’t have an update on the specific timing.
Q And if I can just ask one more from one of the reporters in the pool who couldn’t be here.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q There was an Axios report today that he met with historians to discuss how aggressive he could be on his economic agenda, among other topics. I’m wondering if you can confirm the meeting, and maybe tell us who was involved and why he felt the need to meet with historians on this.
MS. PSAKI: I will tell you: Presidents love historians. I know this from — this is my second President working for. And, you know, I think it’s important to learn from what worked and didn’t work in the past and gain perspective from people who study that.
So he did meet with historians a couple of weeks ago. I don’t have the list of names in front of me. I can see if there’s more details we can provide. And really, it’s meant to have an open conversation about the challenges we’re country — our country is facing and looking back at history. And it’s a moment to step back and reflect and use it as lessons moving forward.
Q Thanks, Jen. A few on spending and one on taxes as well. I know you can’t get into specifics at this point, but what the President is being briefed on by his economic team in the upcoming days, is this an infrastructure package? Is it the President’s Build Back Better plan? A combination of both? Give us an overview of what it is.
MS. PSAKI: Well, our Build Back Better agenda — his Build Back Better agenda includes a number of components that he talked about on the campaign trail. Infrastructure is part of it. Making the tax code fair and one that rewards work, and not wealth, is part of it. Doing better by our caregivers is part of that. Increasing access to healthcare is part of it. Investing in our clean energy economy is part of it.
There are several components he talked about on the campaign trail. And right now, what he’s talking with his economic team and advisors about are — is what the scale, the scope, and the components will look like in what he’s going to move forward and propose next week.
Q The $3 trillion number has been put out there. I know the White House hasn’t confirmed that, but is it possible that it goes above $3 trillion? Like, is $3 trillion viewed as the cap, or it’s certainly possible it could go even higher?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think what we’re looking at is all of those components, as I just laid out, all of which may not — will not be in a speech next week. Right? This is a big — big components of his agenda that he talked about on the campaign trail.
So — and right now, he’s having a conversation about the scale and the scope of what proposals look like. There’s lots of ways to frame it, to shape it, to size it, so I don’t have any more to predict for you.
Q Last one on this, before taxes. Speaking of size and scope, it’s possible, if it gets broken up, that infrastructure could be won. So what does the President, what does the White House view as infrastructure? What falls under that umbrella?
MS. PSAKI: Under infrastructure? There’s a lot of ways to look at infrastructure. I can’t preview for you — I know you’re not exactly asking this — what will be in the package that he’s still discussing. But obviously, roads, rails, and bridges are part of what everybody historically thinks about. But there’s also components like our cyber infrastructure. There’s lots of ways to look at infrastructure. But how — what is in a package that he proposes in the coming months, I don’t have anything more to detail for you.
Q And then, on taxes: The White House says now that families who make up to $400,000 won’t pay a penny more under the President’s potential plan —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q — to the federal government in taxes. So —
MS. PSAKI: Which is 98 percent of families.
Q So what about individuals? If you’re an individual and you make up to “blank,” you won’t pay more to Uncle Sam. What is that number?
MS. PSAKI: $400,000.
Q So the individual number is going to be same as the joint filer number?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the — no more — nobody — no individual making less than a hundred — four hundred thousand dollars will pay more in taxes.
Q So if you’re an individual and you make $300,000, let’s just say, and you —
MS. PSAKI: That’s less than 400, right?
Q — and you’re a married couple that makes 300 and 150, that’s more than 450. The 300 isn’t going to — traditionally, taxes — the joint filers pay about — it’s doubled. But you’re saying now it will be the same rate?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ll have more to say when we actually roll out a tax proposal, which we have not done yet. So this is a commitment he made on the campaign trail, which he has committed to abiding by. But once we propose a tax proposal, we’ll have more to discuss on it.
Q So just to be clear: Individual filers, if you make up to $400,000 — you’re an individual — you will not pay a penny more, just like families won’t pay a penny more?
MS. PSAKI: That’s right.
Q Thanks, Jen.
Q Jen, quick one —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — as the pooler, from a TV colleague who can’t be here today.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Can you give us an update on Major and Champ, and whether they are at the White House?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, I was waiting for this to come up. (Laughter.)
Q We can end it on this one. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Of course. (Laughs.) Champ and Major are here at the White House. They joined the First Family at Camp David last weekend and returned with them on Sunday. The dogs will come and go, and it will not be uncommon for them to head back to Delaware on occasion, as the President and First Lady often do as well.
Q On —
MS. PSAKI: Is it about the dogs? (Laughter.)
Q On Colin Kahl — he’s one of the President’s nominees —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q — for a top Pentagon post. He barely just made it out of committee right now. Can you say — is the White House still behind his nomination? It’s been controversial from the beginning. Any thoughts on that?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. Colin is qualified. He’s experienced. And he would bring an incredible reservoir of perspective to the job at the Department of Defense. So we look forward to his confirmation.
Q So no consideration whatsoever of withdrawing his nomination?
MS. PSAKI: Nope.
Q If I could close the loop on, kind of, the Leader McConnell question. You said they speak regularly. He says that they’ve only spoken one time. He corrected his statement saying they spoke one time on Burma.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q Have they spoken beyond that one time?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more calls, I don’t think, to read out for you, which we — we will not make a case of doing, as you know. So I don’t have more to read out for you.
Q Has the President’s definition of bipartisanship change since he arrived in office on January 20th?
MS. PSAKI: No. His definition of bipartisanship has always been working on behalf of the American people and governing for all people — whether it’s Democrats, Republicans, independents — and moving forward on proposals and policies that will make their lives better.
Q With or without Republican votes?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he doesn’t believe that bipartisanship is defined by the zip code here. He believes it’s on how we can deliver relief to the American people.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, thanks, everyone.
Q On OMB, do you have any timing on when you might announce a replacement for Neera Tanden? Now that —
MS. PSAKI: I do not. But Shalanda Young is confirmed; she will be the Acting. And so — but I don’t have a personnel preview for you on that particular role.
Q Jen, can I have one more question on China vaccine diplomacy? Is the administration doing anything specific to push back against requirements by China for countries to cut back or reduce ties to Taiwan? Is the —
MS. PSAKI: I will check with our national security team if there’s anything for that on your — on that for you.
1:32 P.M. EDT