Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, April 2, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:33 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Okay. A special guest. A member of our Jobs Cabinet. Today, I am thrilled to have Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh with us. As you all know, Secretary Walsh was mayor of the City of Boston for the last seven years.
While mayor, he led the creation of close to 140,000 jobs, helped secure a statewide $15-an-hour minimum wage, paid sick leave, and paid parental leave. He established universal, high-quality pre-kindergarten for all children and free community college for low-income students.
After following his father into Laborers Local 223 in Boston, Secretary Walsh rose to head the Building and Construction Trades Council from 2011 to 2013.
Before serving as mayor, he was a state representative for one of the most diverse districts in Massachusetts. There, he focused on creating jobs, protecting workers’ rights, expanding mental health treatment, and investing in public transit.
As always, he’s happy to take a couple questions. I’ll be the bad cop. But, with that, we’ll turn it over to you.
SECRETARY WALSH: Thanks, Jen. Thank you very much, Jen. And it’s an honor to be here today. I want to also thank President Biden and the Vice President Harris for inviting me to share an update on the economic recovery at this important moment in time.
The news today: Under the President’s leadership, through the American Rescue Plan, the — America’s workforce is climbing out of the deep hole that COVID has put us in. Our recovery is building momentum, and many more Americans are certainly returning to work, as we can see. But we still have a long way to go, and there’s a lot of work to do.
Today’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the American economy added 916,000 jobs in the month of March. The unemployment rate edged down to 6 percent, from 6.2 percent in February. That’s certainly good news for over 900,000 working men and fam- — men and women and families in this country. We saw significant job growth in most sectors of our economy. And it’s clear that the National Vaccine Program is not only saving lives, but it’s enabling more people to get back to work.
Relief checks and expanded unemployment benefits are not only putting food on the table, they’re also stimulating our local economy. Their support — the supports that are being put in place for rent, mortgages, childcare, schools, small businesses, and emergency paid leave are giving workers the security they need to hold on and start planning for a better future.
The American Rescue Plan certainly has had positive effects across our economy, laying down the foundation for continued recovery. At the same time, over 8 million jobs that existed a year ago today are yet to return. Millions of people in this country are still hurting, and disparities within the workforce continues to be a major concern. The African American unemployment rate in March was 9.6 percent, the Hispanic rate was 7.9 percent, compared to the 5.4 percent for whites.
In addition, barriers to the labor force participation for women continue to be a problem that has been exposed and exasperated during this pandemic. We must continue to address the fact that working people and communities already suffering the most from inequality were hit the hardest during the COVID illness and job loss.
That’s why the American Jobs Plan proposed by President Biden this week is so vital to our future. It tackles each of these issues head on and with bold action. The plan offers a necessary path forward towards sustainable economic growth that is robust, competitive, and inclusive.
As a former mayor, as Jen mentioned — as a former mayor, I know all about infrastructure needs. This plan would move us into the 21st century and to the forefront of the world in transportation, in clean energy, in high-speed Internet, and would create millions of good jobs all across the United States.
A report issued by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce found that the American Job Plan would create over 8 million jobs for people with just a high school diploma alone. It would increase the share of infrastructure jobs from 11 percent to 14 percent of the jobs in this country, reviving the blue-collar, middle-class economy and all across our country.
As Labor Secretary, I’m thrilled by the investment it would make for American workers in their skills, in their opportunities, and in their right to organize and advocate for better-paying working conditions and jobs. Those investments will create and open up access to good manufacturing and construction jobs.
It will also — there’s also a major investment in our caring professionals, in an industry where one in six workers — who are disproportionately women of color — live in poverty.
We’ve seen how much our families depend on childcare and seniors care over the last year. Those skilled, compassionate workers need and deserve a better deal.
The American Jobs Plan would also double the number of registered apprentices — apprenticeships to over 1 million while ensuring these programs reach those who have been left out in the past.
I’ve personally seen the benefits of union apprenticeships up close. As mayor, I launched an apprentice program. As mayor and as a labor leader, I’ve seen them change the lives of women and people of color in low-income communities in the city of Boston.
For those reasons and many other, this plan that fuels — is the fuel to a true engine of our economy. The working people certainly can — will work — run off that.
It’s not only the numbers that tell the story of the economy; this is about the conversations Americans are having at kitchen tables all across our country. Over the last two weeks, I’ve talked to parents; I’ve talked to childcare providers; I’ve talked to small-business owners, members of labor unions, frontline public employees, and federal and local employees; mayors all across America, cities both large and small. I’ve talked to senators. I’ve talked to a couple governors. They continue to be concerned about the situation and what they’re seeing in their communities, but everyone seems to be optimistic and hopeful. They all see a pathway forward.
Today’s data shows, while jobs are coming back, unemployment remains a necessary lifeline for too many people, for millions of Americans. But a new opportunity — a good job, providing for your family, building up your community — those are the things that will allow us to dream again. And that’s exactly what we’re working for in this administration and all across America.
With that, I’ll take some questions.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Andrea.
Q Secretary Walsh, we’ve got some factory owners in the Midwest telling us that they’re really struggling to get people to take their jobs. So if we’re going to add 19 million jobs, where are the people who take those jobs going to come from? And how would — do you need to do extra training?
SECRETARY WALSH: Well, first of all, in this bill, there is job training money and there’s workforce development money. And I also think — I think the biggest thing that a lot of — what I’ve heard — a lot of workers are concerned about is COVID-19. People are still afraid of the impacts of COVID-19. Still too many deaths, too much loss of life.
And I think that — I know this — that the President’s plan is a competent plan, a vaccine plan, to get more and more shots out. And the President, I think, doubled down on his efforts the other day about the vaccine. He reaches his vaccine goal of 100 million vaccine shots, and now he’s shooting towards 200 million. That’s going to make a difference.
And I think what we’ve seen a little bit in some of the economy today, in the numbers, is people feeling comfortable coming back into the workforce. People need to feel safe. The President stressed today: Wear a mask. Wash your hands with soap and warm water. Physical distance. Be careful. You know, stay — stay separate. All of those things are still very much — you have to do — any state, any city in this country.
Q But there is — I mean, there are gaps in — and even now, even — you know, sort of, even before COVID, there were gaps between what was available in terms of jobs and people who were willing to take them for, you know, sort of, manufacturing positions and things like that.
SECRETARY WALSH: I mean, I think that the numbers right now, when you look at the numbers, we still have eight-point — I think it’s 8.4 million people out of work. The people — and there’s another nearly 2 million people that are not in the workforce.
Again, I think it comes down to safety. I think it comes down to fear. Even in within the Department of Labor, a lot of conversations I’ve had with the employees at the Department of Labor asking us, you know, “When do we come back? You know, how — what are the safety precautions that are going to be put in place?”
You know, we’re not bringing people back right now. I think that — as mayor of the City of Boston, I heard it every day. People want — companies and — people want people to come back into work, but people are still fearful.
I think as we get through the next couple of weeks, or — I think — I think that that will shift and change. I think as people get vaccinated, as more and more people continue to get vaccinated, I think you’ll see more and more people want to come back into the workforce.
MS. PSAKI: Kelly.
Q What will the impact on these travel changes that are taking place — the CDC is saying those who are fully vaccinated can travel. Obviously, hospitality, travel, entertainment have been big sectors that have suffered a great deal. What do you see as the, sort of, comeback arc, time wise, for those areas of the economy to have employment coming back?
SECRETARY WALSH: You know, again, that’s a great question. I think that, again, it comes back to people feeling safe and comfortable. I don’t mean to keep going back to “being the mayor of Boston,” but one of our major industries is tourism. We haven’t held a convention at the Convention Center in Boston for over a year. My office overlooked Faneuil Hall; that would — a day like today, there’d be thousands of people shopping at Faneuil Hall. If I were in my old office today looking out the window, I’d probably see half a dozen.
Again, I think the more that we can get the vaccine out to people, the more we can get shots in people’s arms, the more that we can control the virus and eliminate the virus. That is going to be key.
I mean, I can’t stress it — and I know President Biden said it today — I can’t stress the fact enough of wearing a mask. There are people that won’t wear a mask. Well, wear a mask for the people around you, making sure that you’re being safe and getting testing — tested. All of those things are so important to moving us forward.
The hospitality industry had a pretty good day today, when you look at the numbers. The numbers show that a lot of our restaurants had — are starting to reopen and open across the country. But they’re not there yet. So we need to do everything we can, within our power, to combat this virus and beat this virus back if we truly want a full recovery.
And it’s great to see more and more people traveling, but we also — there’s many more people that just won’t get on a plane right now. They’re — even with the vaccine, they’re worried.
So we just have to continue to educate and continue to fight this virus back.
MS. PSAKI: Nancy.
Q Thank you, Mr. Secretary. As you know, the $15-an- hour minimum wage fell out of the COVID relief bill. Is it your expectation that that will be part of phase two of the infrastructure and jobs plan?
SECRETARY WALSH: Well, I think, you know, the President has been very clear he is very supportive, as I am, of raising the minimum wage. And I think that we will continue to work until we get a vehicle that we can — can have a debate and a vote on the minimum wage.
I think that the minimum wage is really — you know, when you look at the aspects of today’s plan, one of the areas that we saw a lot of growth was in low-skilled, mostly — a lot of high school dropouts that came into the workforce — low-wage earners. Minimum wage changes that dynamic.
Those same workers coming back, having a minimum wage, raises their wages, which can actually put more money back into the economy. So that’s something that I know the President is focused on, I’m focused on as Secretary of Labor, and I know there’s other members of administration that are going to be focused on that as well.
Q But you haven’t decided whether that’ll be part of phase two?
SECRETARY WALSH: That’s a conversation I’ll have to have with the President.
Q And then on today’s job numbers, one of the things we noticed was that the unemployment rate for Asian Americans went up almost a full percentage point, even though those numbers dropped for almost every other demographic group or at least stayed the same. Do you know why that would be?
SECRETARY WALSH: No. That came up in the conversation — in my briefing this morning. So they’re still diving in to try and figure out what that’s all about. So we’ll get some information on you. We didn’t have the information today. They’re trying to — because it seems a little –everyone brought that — that number kind of jumped out. Everyone is saying, “There’s something not right here.”
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Jen.
Q On the infrastructure plan: To what extent should union jobs be prioritized in that infrastructure plan?
SECRETARY WALSH: I think in a lot of ways — I mean, a lot of those jobs will be union jobs. I think that it’s important though that — to make sure that those jobs that the — that are inside this bill — whether it’s roads and bridges, whether it’s water upgrading, whether it’s VA, all of those construction jobs, if you will — I think it’s really important that there’s good wages with those jobs.
The President and — I believe in collective bargaining; the President believes in collective bargaining. So, certainly support having higher wages there.
Again, I mean, we’ll have to see where this bill ends up and what’s actually in the bill, but we believe in those areas. The Building Trades actually support this piece of — this part of the legislation, because it’s about infrastructure. It’s about building roads and bridges and all the other things that are going to be here.
So, you know, I think it’s important to have, obviously, good — make this — this part of the bill is certainly one of those that creates entry points into the middle class for people.
Q And then, on addressing income inequality, is the Labor Department going to do anything different, as far as gauging numbers? Are you planning to change the way you count in terms data for people?
SECRETARY WALSH: So today was my first jobs today. And I had my first briefing at eight o’clock this morning, and it was — I had a quick briefing yesterday, but not about the numbers today. And one of the things that I — that I did bring up in the conversation was about women who have been pushed out of the workforce. Two million women have been pushed out of the workforce during COVID. So we talked about that.
As mayor, dealing with inequality and — women’s inequality, when it comes to getting paid what a man makes, and then looking what a white woman compared to a person of — a woman of color, to a Latino. So I brought that up today.
So what I want to do is do deeper dives with these stats, because you can’t fix a problem — well, the stats are there, but you can’t address a problem correctly if you don’t have the stats. So I have a whole different group of people now — economists — that are going to help me with this. And I intend on using that to help close these gaps — and people of color as well, close these gaps. This is important.
And part of the American Jobs Plan — you know, when we think about — as it goes through its process through Congress, we think about what the numbers say and how do we create and draw up programs through workforce development, registered — or union apprenticeships and other places. How can we make sure that those investments are targeted? So those are all things that we can collectively do.
And also work with Commerce, work with Transportation — all of my colleagues, the other secretaries — because this issue of inequality is not just a labor issue; it’s all across the board.
MS. PSAKI: Darlene.
Q Thank you. 916,000 jobs — do you think that pace of hiring is sustainable?
SECRETARY WALSH: I hope so. I was asked a question like that earlier today. You know, again, there’s too many variables with the virus to say that next month could be better. You know, when we think about this summer — you know, if you go back to a year ago, the virus was at its — surging. And in the months of May, June, July, August, September, we started to get back, we started to look good, and people started to come back out and go to work. And then the holidays came, and we saw a spike after Thanksgiving, and we saw another spike after Christmas. And I think that — you know, the virus is unpredictable.
That’s why I think there’s a couple of different components here. The American Jobs Plan — pushing to get that passed is key, number one.
Number two, making sure we continue to have — when the CDC is up here talking about wearing a mask and the need to be careful, we have to pay attention to that.
And then all of the other questions I’ve gotten today, whether it’s women in the workforce or factory workers not wanting to come back, all of that’s connected. So I just think we have to continue a plan.
And, you know, I’m confident that — you know, when President Biden got sworn in, he came up with a COVID plan right off the bat. He had a direction where he wanted to go. He — he’s been talking about the — the vaccinations: 100 days, 100 million — doubling that number up.
So what he’s laid out is working. Now, we just need to continue to work with our partners in state and local governments. We need to work with our governors. We need to work with our mayors, our town managers, our city councilors, our town council. We have to continue to work collectively with all those groups.
MS. PSAKI: Last one.
Q Thanks, I appreciate it. Mr. Secretary, the President just spoke about his concern for people that had been long-term unemployed — you know, over 27 to 30 weeks. We know that, right now, that’s such a big proportion of people that are out of work. Is there anything you can do — any specific efforts underway to help people who are experiencing long-term unemployment?
SECRETARY WALSH: Yeah, I think, you know, the American Rescue Plan addresses some of that. And right now — again, I’m — this is my second week here. I’ve had some conversations with our workforce development folks to think about how can we make some targeted investments in some places.
Some of those folks — for example, like you have restaurants around the country that people worked in them and they’ve gone out of business because of COVID, because they lost their business. Some of those folks might not want to go back into that industry. So how do we — and some of those folks are probably the people the President was talking about today. How do we find those folks, get them trained into other opportunities and other skills that they can take advantage of, of jobs that are here today? I think that that’s one of the things I would — we have to do.
Q And do you support the push by Amazon workers in Alabama to unionize?
SECRETARY WALSH: You know, I support everyone’s right to collectively bargain. I think we’re all kind of waiting to see what the result of that election is. But I certainly believe everyone, as the President does — everyone should have the right to join a union if they choose.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Secretary.
SECRETARY WALSH: Thank you, everyone.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
Q Wicked (inaudible). (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: You’ve been waiting to say that. (Laughter.)
I did tell him, next time he comes back, he won’t get as nice of an introduction. (Laughter.) So he’s prepared for that.
Just a couple of items for all of you at the top. Three new reports over the last 24 hours underscore the critical importance of passing the American Jobs Plan: the jobs it will create, the type of workers who will benefit from it, and why we can pay for it by asking big corporations to pay their fair share.
First are the jobs: A report from Moody’s Analytics that came out yesterday afternoon projects that the economy will create 19 million jobs over the next decade if Congress passes the American Jobs Plan.
Moody’s also projects that the plan will help reduce the unemployment rate and drive up labor force participation on a sustained basis over the decade. A lot of the benefits will continue once the American Rescue Plan is played through.
Second are the blue-collar workers who are going to benefit from this plan. According to another report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, an investment like the Jobs Plan would, quote, “reverse a long-term decline in jobs and earnings for those with high school diplomas or less” — which Secretary Walsh already touched on — “creating 8 million jobs for this population.” “Would create jobs at every education level,” but the majority of infrastructure jobs will be for people with “no more than a high school diploma.”
Finally, is why we can pay for this once-in-a-century investment in jobs and growth by asking corporations to pay their fair share. Another new report — people were busy reporting yesterday — by the Institution on Taxation and Economic Policy revealed that 55 big corporations paid zero dollars in federal taxes on 2020 profits. In fact, these companies actually received billions of dollars in tax refunds.
So we believe they can pay more of their fair share so that we can help fund this — in — this once-in-a-generation investment.
A couple other scheduling announcements. President Biden looks forward to welcoming Prime Minister Shug- — Suga to the White House on — the Japanese Prime Minister, in case you all were not following — to the White House on — on Friday, April 16th.
This will be our first in-person visit from a foreign leader in the Biden-Harris administration, reflecting the importance we place on our bilateral relationship with Japan, and our friendship and partnership with the Japanese people. We look forward to sharing more details, of course, in the days to come.
Finally, on the week ahead: On Monday, the President, while there will be no Easter Egg Roll — next year, we’ll do a big one — but he will deliver remarks on the tradition of Easter at the White House. On Tuesday, he will participate in an event on the state of vaccinations. And on Wednesday, he will parcipita- — the President will participate in an event on the historic investments in the American Jobs Plan.
And with that, Darlene.
Q Thank you, Jen. I wanted to ask you — I have a COVID question —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — and just a little while ago, we heard the President appeal again to people to take the coronavirus seriously, saying that, you know, too many people are acting as if this fight is over, and it’s not.
So I’m wondering: Why does the President think — or are you or the White House or the COVID team — why do you think this message isn’t breaking through for some people? What — why does he have to keep saying it again and again and again?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have always anticipated that there would be ups and downs. And that’s why the President, the Vice President, and all of us have continued to reiterate that we are at war with the virus, that we need to be vigilant. And that’s a message you have heard from him and members of our health team throughout the past several months, even when people were feeling more and more confident out in the American public.
We don’t view the observation of public health guidelines as a political step; we view it as a step that helps save lives. Some people view it otherwise. But what our focus is on is on ensuring that we are expediting the — getting vaccinations out to pharmacies; doubling the number of pharmacies that have them — more than doubling; expediting, increasing the amount of vaccines that are going out to states, which we saw a dramatic increase in that. And we’re also working with local mayors, business owners, and at the individual level to continue to reiterate what has long been our consistent message.
Q Is that message that it’s too early to celebrate? I mean, how much — how often or how much of that is part of the public education, messaging — there are some PSAs that the administration is doing. How much of that message is part of that campaign?
MS. PSAKI: The big focus of the public campaign is: We can do this, and that it’s important to take the vaccine. And, obviously, increasing partnering that public messaging with our efforts to expedite and getting more vaccines out; increasing the number of vaccination sites; the number of vaccinators — we’re doing those in partnership.
And, also, working — investing, I should say, a significant amount of our public education efforts in local partners, which we’ve seen to be the most effective efforts. So that’s one of the reasons why that is where the majority of our funding through the — for that public campaign is going.
Q And one other quick question regarding the call the President had today with the President of Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Are you able to say if Donald Trump and the investigation that he sought into the Bidens, from the Ukrainian government — did that come up at all during the conversation?
MS. PSAKI: I know we’ve put out a readout of the call. I’m not aware of that coming up on the call.
Q Yeah, that was not in the readout. Okay, thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.
Q So, just to back up on Ukraine: Are you concerned about Russian disinformation about the activities at the border? You know, this has been a continuing theme. And then I have another one after that.
MS. PSAKI: You’re abso- —
Q (Inaudible) come up. (Laughs.)
MS. PSAKI: You are absolutely right, Andrea — it has been a continuing theme. We’ve sern [sic] this — seen this movie before of the disinformation campaign that Russia has implemented in the past as it relates to their aggressions at the border of Ukraine.
So that is certainly something we’re watching, we are concerned about, and we will continue to communicate from here but also with our partners in Europe about.
Q Okay. And then just on the, sort of, jobs and infrastructure package: Reuters’ polls, sort of, show wide support for the infrastructure package and even for corporate tax increases. But when we — when Reuters asks — poll, you know, Republicans, they are — the support is very partisan. So the — you know, and there’s the sense that Republicans will not support anything that has basically a Democratic president’s name on it. How do you — how do you change that dynamic? The President talked about it just before and, you know, said he thinks that Republican voters will speak. But our polling shows that they’re going to follow the leader.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I haven’t looked at your particular polling, but consistently in polling we’ve seen about 80 percent of the public believes we need to invest in our infrastructure across the country and that that is long outdated.
And the President doesn’t believe that’s a political issue. Whether it’s roads, railways, bridges, access to broadband — access to broadband is an issue that is certainly the case — a challenge, I should say, in inner cities and lower-income communities, but is also an issue across rural America — many parts of the country that are redder, in the political sense, and have more predominantly Republican populations. I think what our focus is going to be on is continuing to communicate the different components of these — this package and how it’s going to specifically help the American people.
We don’t see it as a politically charged package or as a partisan package. And most polls you look at, when you look at the components of it, as you alluded to, agree — are consistent with that. So that’s what our focus will be on. We just announced it two days ago, so —
Q Just real quick, on another foreign policy one. So in Geneva — I’m sorry, in Vienna, now there’s this discussion about having — or U.S. and Iranian negotiators are to be in Vienna at the same time but not meeting directly.
MS. PSAKI: Right.
Q Can you say a word about what you expect to come out of that shuttle diplomacy and how soon you think you could actually sit down at the table together with the Iranians?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, for everyone — for people who haven’t been following it as closely as you, let me catch you up. We’ve agreed to participate in talks with our European, Russian, and Chinese partners to identify the issues involved in a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA with Iran.
This is a welcome and potentially constructive early step, even if the diplomatic road ahead may be long, as it was during the first negotiations around the JCPOA. We are very clear-eyed about the hurdles that remain.
These talks will be structured around working groups that the EU is going to form with the remaining partners in the JCPOA, including Iran. And the primary issues that will be discussed are the nuclear steps that Iran would need to take in order to return to compliance with the JCPOA, and the sanctions relief steps the United States would need to take in order to return to compliance as well.
We don’t anticipate presently that there will be direct talks between the United States and Iran through the process, though we certainly remain open to them.
Go ahead, Kelly.
Q On the southern border of the United States, Customs and Border Protection has some new preliminary numbers about unaccompanied minors crossing in March, and they are way, way up — 18,500. Again, preliminary number, but a big jump, suggesting it’s more than seasonal, suggesting it’s more than just the conditions on the ground.
Is there a sense now that the administration needs to do something different in terms of the message of “this is not the time to come, but children who are unaccompanied will be protected and cared for and be able to stay”? Is there any movement on that as the message?
MS. PSAKI: That continues to be our message, and we continue to look for ways to project it more broadly and more effectively in the region. But that is a sliver of what our efforts are. And we don’t feel that simply telling people, with more PSAs, not to come, that that is going to be the only way to reduce the number of people who are taking the journey.
So in addition to that, we, of course, have these conversations that started last week that are — that will be ongoing and will continue with our envoy and our officials who will be working within — with governments and officials in the Northern Triangle to talk about addressing conditions and talk about reducing the temptation to travel.
Some of that will, of course, be aid and assistance and a discussion of that. The President has proposed $4 billion in his own plan. But some of it will be, of course, continuing to communicate directly with the region. And we also will continue to reiterate that our policy remains in place in terms of implementing Title 42 authority and that the vast majority of adults are turned away.
These numbers are certainly, you know — we are not naive about the challenge, but what our focus is on is solutions and actions to help address the unaccompanied minors who are coming across the border and making it less of an incentive to come, including also continuing to implement the Central American Minors program so kids can apply and people under 18 can apply from in-country.
Q Does the President see the Vice President’s role in stewardship of this issue dealing with more than diplomacy and dealing with some of the operational issues that are being dealt with along the border with the Bureau and Border Patrol and HHS?
MS. PSAKI: That’s a role that, of course, the Department of Homeland Security is playing — Ali Mayorkas, the Secretary, who has a great deal of experience dealing with challenges at the border and implementing it. Now we also have a Secretary of Health and Human Services who is in place, who can work in partnership. And they have oversight, as you know, over a number of the shelters, and that’s a key part of the partnership.
But the Vice President’s role is really focused on the Northern Triangle.
Q Following up there, if it’s such a pressing issue — I know you’ve been asked this in the room before — but if it’s such a pressing issue, why hasn’t the administration named a CBP Commissioner or an ICE Director yet?
MS. PSAKI: Those are certainly important roles and ones that we are eager to fill. I don’t have an update on the personnel there. But we also have a number of experienced leaders, including the Secretary of Homeland Security — who had served as Deputy Secretary in the past — and others throughout the agencies who are implementing our work on a daily basis.
Q Just last week, you were asked if there was a consideration for an immigrant in particular to be in either of those spots. You said you’d talk to the President about that. Have you had that conversation with him? Does he think that’s important?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more about what characteristics will go into the personnel, other — other than somebody who’s qualified and, of course, prepared to implement as quickly as possible.
But we don’t have a shortage of talented, experienced, qualified personnel addressing these issues. That’s not the biggest challenge we’re focusing on right now.
The biggest challenge is expediting processing, ensuring we have more shelters available. We’ve made some progress in those areas, but there’s still certainly more work to be done.
Q Could I ask you too, quickly, just on the Georgia law? I had a conversation with the lawyer for Representative Cannon, who was arrested there outside Governor Kemp’s office. And he said, over and over, he thought the Justice Department needed to get involved in what was going on in Georgia.
The President, last week, said that the Justice Department was looking into its options, that he was looking into options. Can you update us on whether there’s — if there’s anything to update us on, just as far as looking into options to get involved?
MS. PSAKI: There just wouldn’t be from here. It’s an independent Justice Department, so I would certainly refer to them on any plans they have.
Q And any response from the White House to get involved? I mean, any update on whether the White House, in any way, will respond to the Georgia law?
MS. PSAKI: Well, in what — beyond —
Q Well, the President was asked —
MS. PSAKI: Beyond the Department of Justice?
Q I mean, so is that — it will only come from the Justice Department?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry, I don’t really understand your question.
Q I guess, he’s — the President said he was looking into his options.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q So are there any other options beyond what we would see from the Justice Department?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there’s one category — right? — of legal action. We’d leave that in the Department of Justice’s hands. They’re an independent agency — right? — in that sense. They’ll make independent decisions, I should say.
The President, I think, was referring broadly to the importance of continuing to advocate for the expansion of voter access and the expansion of making it easier for people to use their civic duty to elect officials.
So there are obviously pieces of legislation that are working their way through Congress. That’s a way he’ll continue to be involved. He will continue to communicate with and work with leaders like Stacey Abrams and others, who are, you know, implementing grassroots activism across the country.
So there are a lot of roles the President can play. I would just put it in a different category than whether there’s a Department of Justice legal step, because that would be up to the Attorney General.
Q Thanks, Jen. On the issue of voting rights, the President said that he would support Major League Baseball moving the All-Star Game out of Atlanta. Now a similar bill has passed the state senate in Texas. So does the President believe that Texas businesses should move out of the state or boycott the state if this bill is signed into law?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, he was — he didn’t call for businesses to boycott; businesses have made that decision themselves, of course.
He also was di- — not dictating that Major League Baseball move their game out of Georgia. He was conveying that if that was a decision that was made, that he would certainly support that. And that’s true in the context of the remarks he made in that interview.
Q What does the President believe the responsibility of businesses is in this debate?
MS. PSAKI: They’re — in terms of activism or taking —
Q Yeah, when it comes to voting rights bills in the states where they reside and where they call home, what does the President believe the responsibility is of businesses when it comes to this issue of voting rights?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President has made his view clear that he believes — that he has major concerns about the bill passed in Georgia. He has consistently argued it should be easier and not harder to vote. And he believes that making it a criminal act to deliver water to people waiting in line is not making it easier. We’re also not calling from here for specific actions from businesses.
Q Can you tell us a little bit more — the President has said this morning that his infrastructure plan would create 19 million jobs. Can you explain a little bit more about how the White House came up with that figure?
MS. PSAKI: It’s not our figure. It’s actually a figure by Moody’s.
Q Okay. And then, on another subject: Is the President aware of the reporting and the investigation into Congressman Matt Gaetz? And does he believe that the Congressman should resign?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we have any further comment. I’d refer you to the legal authorities on that.
Q Can I ask you about the funding in the Rescue Plan for Medicaid expansion, specifically whether the administration is reaching out to the dozen states that have not expanded, to encourage them to take that funding, and how flexible you’re likely to be on any waiver requests for things like adding health savings accounts or work incentives? Some states say that that would have to be included in order for them to expand.
MS. PSAKI: It’s a great question. Obviously, the President is certainly supportive of and an advocate for states expanding Medicaid — access to Medicaid, and thinks it’s a way to ensure more people are covered in states and have access to affordable healthcare.
But in terms of flexibility, I’ll have to talk to Gene — who I want to get in here and talk to you guys soon, too — about any specifics there about those discussions with states.
Q But so — but are you doing anything in terms of reaching out to them? Any outreach campaigns in general, aside from whether you’re talking specifics about waivers yet —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q — but just doing anything? You’re doing a lot of outreach on the other components of the ACA and the Rescue Plan in terms of educational campaigns. Is there anything going on specifically on Medicaid expansion?
MS. PSAKI: We’re in — we’re in touch with leaders and governors about all components of the implementation, and that’s something — and I just referenced Gene because he’s overseeing that effort.
Q Thanks, Jen. On Russia, again, and the international payment system: Is the White House still seriously considering disconnecting them from that payment system — that SWIFT system? Is that still a live (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Let me see, Jen, if I have anything on –specifically on this. I know we’ve talked about this a little bit in the past.
I don’t know if I have anything new on this. I’m happy to talk to our national security team and see if we have a specific.
Q Okay, great. And then, is there any update on the budget preview document that the White House was talking about putting out?
MS. PSAKI: We expect it to be soon, but not today or this weekend. So the rest easy.
Q Okay, thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. I have a couple quick questions. I wanted to ask about the President’s Easter plans because he said on his phone call with faith and family community leaders that he would probably get together with family for Easter because they’ve all been vaccinated.
So what kind of message is that sending if he’s asking Americans not to have small gatherings until the Fourth of July, but he’s saying he’ll be with family for Easter? So can you clarify how big “family”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have a specific number of family members, but I can assure you that the President is — strives to be a role model in every aspect of how he’s living in this difficult time we’re all going through.
He obviously has a wife he’s been married to for some time. He has a couple of grandkids who he sees when he goes to Delaware. But it’s a limited group, and certainly not the big Irish Biden clan that many of you have seen throughout the course of his time in public office.
Q So all his immediate family have been vaccinated?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more updates on his immediate family.
Did you have another question?
Q I did. I did want to ask about — one question about Congressman Matt Gaetz. Is the White House concerned that since he sits on the Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Justice Department which is investigating him, should he at least step down from that committee? Is that (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Those are decisions that we’ll let leaders in Congress make.
Q Thank you, ma’am. A couple quick questions. During the pandemic, we’ve seen deaths of despair increase. And there’s concern with regards to the designation of fentanyl analogues as Schedule I. I’m hearing from folks on Capitol Hill that because the substance [sic] expires on May 1st, they’re worried that if that Scheduling I of fentanyl analogues doesn’t get renewed by May 1st, that more of that drug could come across the southern border.
I know Manchin and Portman have a bill on this.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Does the President support making analogues permanently Schedule I?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a really good question. I know that, in terms of addressing the flow at the border, that would certainly be the State Department to address. I’ll have to talk to our legislative team about, kind of, our role in this legislation.
Q Thank you. I’ll follow up. And then, you know, the President had voiced his support for MLB making a decision about the All-Star Game in Georgia. I’m wondering, when can we expect a final determination from the President about the United States participating in the Beijing Olympics, given that he said the Chinese President doesn’t have a democratic bone in his body?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the U.S. Olympic Committee would play a big role in —
Q But he’s weighed in on Major League Baseball here in United States.
MS. PSAKI: He actually didn’t — I think — I don’t know if you heard the —
MS. PSAKI: — the answer — the question and the answer that happened a few minutes ago where we addressed this, and I answered the question. So — and I gave you a little more context, but maybe you weren’t paying attention to that part.
Let’s go to the last — go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you, Jen. I have a question, and one from a colleague who cannot be with us. The first one is: We’ve seen a surge of cases in Canada — in Quebec and Ontario, in particular. We repeat that the best way to break surges are vaccinate fast and as much as possible. I’m trying to understand why the U.S. wouldn’t loan more doses to Canada.
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you all know, and I think everybody in here knows, we are loaning approximately 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca to Canada, allowing them to receive doses sooner than they would through the normal procurement process. And we agree that the vaccine — the virus, I should say, knows no borders, and it’s important to be — play a role in our global effort to get the pandemic under control.
But the President, as the President of the United States, his focus is on ensuring adult Americans and the American people are vaccinated. As we’ve seen, as we’ve been talking about a little bit in this briefing, we know there are going to be ups and downs in that, and we’ve seen some areas where the vaccinate- — where the virus numbers have gone up from where they have been before. We know this is going to be an up-and-down war against this virus.
So that’s where our focus needs to remain, but we remain open to the requests that are coming in from Canada, to other countries around the world. We’ll continue to discuss them.
Q Because you were talking about the virus, of course, not respecting borders. And so I have a — like, side questions on this, because the fastest Canadians will be vaccinated, the earliest we could open the border. And has it been — do you know if it’s been evaluated how much it would help the U.S. economy and the growth of new jobs if the restrictions at the border were quickly loosened?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any numbers on that. I will say that we certainly are eager to continue the constructive, productive relationship we have with the government of Canada, with the people of Canada, but our first priority right now is defeating the virus and ensuring the American people are vaccinated.
Q And last —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q My last question is from Lalit Jha, our colleague from the Press Trust of India.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q Can you tell a little more about (inaudible) — because India and South Africa have made a formal request of the WTO about lifting intellectual property protections for COVID vaccine and treatment. Are they — is the U.S. ready to consider this (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I know we’ve been asked about this before, but I don’t have any update on it.
Q Okay. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.
Q Just to follow up on the budget: Is there a reason why it was delayed? We heard it was coming this week. So is there any reason why it was delayed?
MS. PSAKI: I expect it to be very soon. And I don’t have an exact date for you, but I expect it to be quite soon. I wouldn’t read into more than that.
Q Okay. And then on the infrastructure package: We saw that the President, during the campaign, released a much larger package that would address climate change needs in a much bigger way than this package does. Should we expect the White House to release more proposals for spending in a way that would address climate change and infrastructure that’s in line with what he proposed during the campaign?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first let me say that, you know, this package recognizes the profound urgency and existential threat of the climate crisis, and it recognizes the opportunity before us to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, power our nation with clean energy, and right the wrongs of past environmental justice. There is a significant amount in this package on climate, green jobs. It will position the U.S. to meet President Biden’s goals of creating a carbon-neutral power sector by 2035 and a clean energy economy by 2050.
So it has a lot of good work in there by rebuild- — building modern sustainable and resilient infrastructure; ensuring clean, safe drinking water is a right and available to all communities; revolutiona- — revolutionizing electric vehicle manufacturing; mobilizing the next generation of conservation and resilience workers.
But climate and the crisis is a priority. It’s one of the four crises the President has talked about being a priority for him as president. And certainly this is not the end of our work in addressing the climate crisis.
Q So there could be a round two or — you know, perhaps in terms of addressing some of this with more spending?
MS. PSAKI: I expect we’ll continue to work on solutions and options for addressing the climate crisis. But this package — this — that’s been proposed — this two-trillion-dollar package is a climate bill, in many ways, and there is a lot of work in there that is going to help revolutionize the clean energy jobs market.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Jen, you talked about the new CDC guidelines earlier for travel.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q And if you’re fully vaccinated, you don’t need to have a COVID test if you’re traveling abroad. How do you police that?
MS. PSAKI: How do we release it?
Q Police that.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, police that.
Q I mean, do you have vaccine passports?
MS. PSAKI: That’s a private sector initiative and one that we expect that they would be the drivers of to determine. It’s just — these are public health guidelines, in terms of what is safe, and that’s why the CDC updated them.
Q But when you heard Marty Walsh talking about how, you know, people are wary about coming back to work because of these things —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — do you think there might come a time where you need to have vaccine passports, which will, kind of, be your way — gateway to carrying on normal life?
MS. PSAKI: Again, this was a proposal made. And a lot of private sector industries and companies — whether it’s the airlines, or even venues where they’re looking forward to having big ticket events, or soccer games — they’re looking for ways to figure out how they can bring people back to normal and make things normal again.
So this is really driven by the private sector. But — and we’ll see what they come up with.
Q No longer government (inaudible)?
AIDE: Last question, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay. Yes.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q There’s a security situation at the U.S. Capitol that I know you’re not aware of right now.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Can you just remind us, with the President not on campus here, who’s with him to brief him on issues? There’s a lockdown going on right now. There are reports of gunfire. That’s all I know from sitting here. But you — can you just remind us of, when the President is not here, how he’s informed of these things?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. I’m obviously not aware, as Kelly acknowledged, of the circ- — of the situation at the Capitol. The President of the United States always travels with a national security rep; of course, with a — somebody who serves as, essentially, an Acting Chief of Staff; typically, a member of the press team who travels regularly to, kind of, reconstruct the team that’s around him in the White House.
Q And there have been some changes to the perimeter outside here with the Vice President no longer in residence at the Blair House. Anyone aware if there’s any change in posture to the security here at the White House?
MS. PSAKI: For currently —
Q Right now, yeah.
MS. PSAKI: — in response to the events right now? I don’t have any update, but we will venture to get one for you should there be an impact.
Q Jen, would you come back out if — to brief us later if there is (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, absolutely.
Q We’d appreciate that.
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely.
Q Can you let us know specifically who is with him, if possible?
MS. PSAKI: I can. Yeah, I certainly can.
Q Thank you.
Q Appreciate it.
1:19 P.M. EDT