Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, April 14, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:37 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Happy Wednesday. It feels like it should be later than Wednesday in the week. I may be the only one who feels that way.
Okay, a couple of items for you all at the top. Today, the Department of the Treasury announced the establishment of a new department, the Office of Recovery Programs, to lead the Treasury Department’s implementation of economic relief and recovery programs, including nearly $420 billion in programs from the American Rescue Plan.
This new office, which will be led by the inaugural Chief Recovery Officer, Jacob Leibenluft, will be focused on efficiently establishing and administering Treasury’s programs to support an equitable and swift recovery from the economic challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jacob will also serve as the — will serve as the lead administrator of recovery programs and a principal advisor on recovery program implementation. And he, of course, will work closely with Gene Sperling.
Another piece of good news: Today, the IRS, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and the Bureau of Fiscal Service announced they are disbursing nearly 2 million dollar [sic] — million payments from the American Rescue Plan, which brings the total disbursed so far to approximately 159 million payments, with a total value of more than $376 billion, since these payments began rolling out to Americans just last month.
Over 320,000 payments, worth $450 million, went to Veterans Affairs beneficiaries who receive VA benefits but don’t normally file a tax return and didn’t use the Non-Filers tool last year. Hence, it took a little bit longer. These payments also include Social Security beneficiaries who didn’t file a 2020 or 2019 tax return. And the latest batch of payments has a total value of more than $3.4 billion.
Finally, yesterday, Microsoft issued new patches for additional vulnerabilities found in its Exchange servers. You all remember the hacking that we talked about just a few weeks ago. The White House urges all systems operators to apply these patches as soon as possible to ensure the security of systems.
The federal government takes this vulnerability very seriously. We are leading by example and requiring all federal agencies to apply these patches and report to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
With that, Alex.
Q Thanks, Jen. Can you talk a little bit about the April 28th address to Congress — what we should expect to hear from the President? And also, logistically, we know that the attendance will be reduced. So how are you deciding who gets to attend? And then, are you working with Capitol Police on security, or are you monitoring any potential threats at this point?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, on the second and third question, we, of course, are working very closely with the Speaker’s Office, with the offices of leaders in Congress. The President was — is looking forward to — is excited to have accepted their invitation to address a joint session, something that he has been eager to do since he was inaugurated.
In terms of a preview of what the speech will look like, we’re just — we’re a couple of weeks out for that, so I expect we’ll have more to say as we get closer. But, certainly, you can expect that he will talk about all of the priorities and his commitment to building the economy back better, getting the pandemic under control, addressing the challenges we face around the world.
But as we get closer and the speech is written, we’ll have more of a preview.
In terms of invitations, that certainly would be handled by the Speaker’s Office, and so I’d point you to them.
Q Sure. And then, Afghanistan. The intelligence community’s annual report this year said, and I’m quoting, “The Afghan government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay” if the coalition withdraws its support. So what plans does the administration have to prevent this from happening and to maintain stability in the region with that withdrawal?
And then, is there a potential for President Biden to change his mind or extend the deadline if there is a decline in the situation in Afghanistan in the coming months?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say that as a part of this process, the President asked for a review from his national security team. He asked them not to sugarcoat it. He welcomed ideas, welcomed differences of points of view, and he was provided with a clear-eyed assessment about the best path forward.
So as a part of his assessment and decision making, you know, part of the discussion was around the fact that the terrorist threat has evolved. And we certainly saw the threat assessment and saw our colleagues testify yesterday.
But part of what we have seen from the intelligence community also is that the threat has become more dispersed, it’s metastasized around the world: al-Shabaab in Somalia, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Nusra in Syria. It’s changed. We’re not looking at the 2001 mindset. We can’t look at things through the 2001 mindset; we have to look at things through the 2021 world.
So we will be monitoring — our administration, our national security teams, in partnership with our NATO Allies and partners in the region. We will be monitoring, of course, and disrupting — and focused on disrupting terrorist networks and operations that have spread far beyond Afghanistan, but also continuing to monitor things in the region.
We’re not going to take our threat off of — the terrorist threat — take our eyes off, sorry, the terrorist threat or any sign of al Qaeda’s resurgence. And we will reposition our counterterrorism capabilities in that regard. And the President will talk more about that in his speech in about an hour and a half.
Q And could his deadline extend, or could he change his mind if you do see the situation in Afghanistan decline?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I will say that the President made this decision after close consultations and close discussion with — and taking under — into account all of the — all of the difficult decisions — all the difficult factors, I should say, around that decision. So, no, he remains committed to the timeline that he intends to set out in the speech.
Q And then one quick one on immigration. Vice President Harris just said that her first trip abroad, it looks like it’s going to be to Mexico and Guatemala. But she suggested she won’t be visiting the border. And so I’m wondering, first off, if the President is considering a trip to the border, and second, why it’s not important for one of, you know, the President’s main, sort of, people that he’s tasked with dealing with this to visit the border.
MS. PSAKI: Well, what the President has asked the Vice President to do is run point on the Northern Triangle and be a high-level conduit in having discussions with leaders in the region. That’s exactly what she is doing and will do when she goes and visits countries in the region. And obviously, she’s had discussions, that have been read out, as well, with some leaders in the region.
Secretary of Homeland Security has visited the border. Our Secretary — other secretaries who run point on these issues will and, we expect, will in the future.
I don’t have any visits to preview for you of the President’s. But his focus is on solutions, is on opening up additional facilities, which we have done a great deal of in the last couple of weeks; on moving kids out of the Border Patrol facilities as quickly as possible into these shelters, which we’ve seen some progress on in the numbers that have been released by the Department of Homeland Security. That’s where his focus is on.
I expect other senior officials, Cabinet members who are running point, will continue to do visits and come back and report back to the President.
Go ahead, Steve.
Q Yeah, was there a unanimous view among the President’s national security advisors that now is the time to leave Afghanistan?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Steve, I will leave it to them to speak to their viewpoints.
But I will, again, reassert that the President asked for a review. He asked for that review not to be sugarcoated. He wanted to hear different points of views. He welcomed debate. And, ultimately, he made the decision that because the terrorist threat has evolved; because we have done exactly what we said we would do when we went to Afghanistan to deliver justice to those who attacked us on September 11th; because he believes that the more — that if — that more time does not — does — would not result in a military solution, that now is the time to leave.
Q You saw where the CIA director said the U.S. government’s ability to collect and act on threats will diminish when the time comes for the U.S. military to withdraw. Does that give you pause at all?
MS. PSAKI: Does the — does it give us pause that the threat — look, obviously, the CIA Director, Bill Burns, is somebody who the President takes advice from, takes counsel from, and certainly listens to when he shares his point of view. And he’s known him for quite some time.
But I will again reiterate that he would say — and many of our intelligence officials have said publicly and in these hearings — that the threats have evolved, that we need to approach how we look at counterterrorism through the prism of what the threats are in 2021.
And even if you look at al Qaeda, it is not — it is not being harbored in a safe haven in Afghanistan how it was 20 years ago. We have to have resources, we have to have assets to address the threat where we see it growing, and that is in places like Northern Africa, in the Arabian Peninsula. And even if you just look at the counterterrorism component of it, we need to make decisions through the 2021 prism.
Q And lastly, just separately, the Kremlin is saying the summit — the proposed summit that the President proposed — would be contingent on U.S. behavior. What is your response to that? And I know you have some sanctions in the works here.
MS. PSAKI: Well, you’ll have to ask them what they meant by that. I know they are verbose in their thoughts on the United States. So they may have an answer to your question.
I will say that the President — President Biden, I should say — had a constructive call yesterday, as is the case in his relationships with countries where we have had difficult discussions — where we need to have difficult discussions. He did not hold back on his concerns, including reiterating that there will be consequences to the actions that were taken. I expect you will know more about that soon.
At the same time, our objective as the United States is to have a predictable relationship with Russia, to stabilize that relationship. And certainly, having a discussion, having a summit would be an opportunity to discuss areas where we agree and can work together, whether it’s a continuation of nonproliferation efforts. Obviously, they’re a partner in the P5+1, and those could be part of the forum for a discussion.
Q Following up a little bit on Alex with the ODNI global threats report. If this wasn’t sugarcoated to the President, then, clearly, he’s aware of the possibility that Kabul could fall at some point in the next couple of years without U.S. and coalition support. Should we read into this decision that — that he decided that through the scope of the global threats he’s facing — he’s looking at right now — that is an acceptable consequence if the U.S. is to pursue his priorities or the changing threat landscape?
MS. PSAKI: I think you should look at it through the prism of the President assessing what’s in the national interests of the United States. And from his vantage point, we did exactly what we intended to do. We delivered the justice to those who attacked us on September 11th. We disrupted terrorists seeking to use Afghanistan as a safe haven to attack the United States.
But he also believes there is not a military solution; this will require a diplomatic solution. And even as we are withdrawing our troops, we will continue to support diplomatic and humanitarian work. We will ask other countries to step up, whether that’s Pakistan, Russia, China, India, Turkey — countries in the region that certainly have a stake in stability. We will continue to provide significant humanitarian resources.
So we are — we will continue to be engaged. This is the President’s assessment about whether having troops on the ground, a military presence in the same way — in a version of the same way it has been over the last two decades — is in our national interest. And he has made the decision it is not.
Q One more on Afghanistan, and then another quick one — and apologies if I missed this on the briefing calls. With the removal of combat troops by September 11th at the latest, does that include special operators — Special Forces, any of those types of troops on the ground?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m obviously not going to get into operational specifics from the podium. I will say that we may — we will have what is needed to secure a diplomatic presence. And those assessments will be made over the coming months and obviously led by the Defense Department and State Department in coordination.
Q Okay. And then just one more on immigration. The outgoing Ambassador Jacobson said on Friday that — to Reuters in an interview — that there was consideration of conditional cash payments related to the Northern Triangle. Is that something that’s currently under consideration? And if so, what are kind of the parameters of what would be looked at there?
MS. PSAKI: That’s interesting. I’d have to look more at her context — the context of her comments, and I’m happy to do that. I think what we are focused on is working directly with these countries to determine how we can deter travel, deter migrants from making the journey.
And we made an announcement, of course, over the last couple of days about stepped-up personnel at the border that these countries are putting in place to — a number of these countries, I should say, in the region are putting in place — in order to deter the journey, in order to reduce the number of migrants who are making it to our border.
And certainly, we’re having discussions about assistance, and how that can be disseminated in the most effectful [sic] — effective, I should say, and impactful way. But I’d have to check on the context and see where that’s headed.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. Republican senators have criticized attaching the withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan to September 11th. They say it’s politically driven. Do you have a response to that? And also, do you have anything to share on who came up with that deadline and why?
MS. PSAKI: I think it was the President wanting to send a clear message that this is not going to be an open-ended timeline to withdrawing troops. We have had that policy for some time in the past, and he disagrees with it. So he was giving a timeline on when operationally, we could move troops out.
We also are going to do that in close coordination with our NATO partners and other countries in the region. If it’s ahead of that timeline, then that’s a positive step. But we wanted to give the military and our diplomatic partners on the ground plenty of time.
Q So did he choose 9/11 as the final day?
MS. PSAKI: I think I just explained why he chose that timeline.
Q Thanks. And on — I have a couple more. On Iran: In a new statement, President Rouhani said that the decision to increase uranium enrichment was in direct response to the cyberattack from Israel. Has President Biden or any other U.S. officials had a conversation with Israel about refraining from further attacks as he tries to broker a nuclear deal?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would just reiterate that we don’t have any additional speculation to add to the cause or the origin of the attacks over the weekend.
What our focus is on is on the diplomatic path forward. And we belie- [sic] — and the diplomatic conversations, though they will be indirect, will reconvene tomorrow in Vienna. We know this will be a long process, but we certainly see that as a positive sign.
Q And one more on AAPI.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead. Go. Go ahead.
Q Has the President selected somebody to fill that senior AAPI role? And will that person attend his meeting with CAPAC tomorrow?
MS. PSAKI: We are getting much closer to having news to share on that high-level personnel announcement. I don’t expect that person will be attending tomorrow. But, hopefully, we’ll have more to share soon.
Go ahead, Kristin.
Q Thank you, Jen. Can you explain the rationale for why President Biden went against the advice of military commanders who recommended leaving 2,500 troops on the ground in Afghanistan?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that’s an over-characterization of every military leader, and I don’t think they’ve all provided their point of view on what their advice is, and we’ll keep that private. So you can certainly speak to individuals, if you’d like, of course.
I will say, again, the President welcomed the advice; welcomed, at times, disagreement about what the appropriate path forward should be. But his view, based on the assessments of where our terrorist threat exists today — the fact that it has metastasized, that it has spread into many other regions of the world, that we can still — we still do have the ability to have a presence in the region where we can keep our eye on the terrorist threat that it led him to make — to conclude that now is the time for troops to leave.
I think it’s important also to note that we have — that his view is that we can’t continue the cycle of exp- — standing or expanding our military footprint, hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal. No one will tell you — unless someone has told you, and then tell me that, of course — that we should stay forever.
No military commander wants to stay forever. They insist that this is not — some insist this is not in time — the time to leave — some opponents of his decision.
But his view is that we’ve been having that argument, that argument has been made for 10 years, and it has not changed the outcome, has not made a military solution more appealing or more effective.
Q So our Pentagon team reports that most military commanders in the region — and I don’t want to give any names because I don’t want to, you know, violate any on-background agreements — but you know, they say that most military commanders in the region recommended that 2,500-troop level.
And if you look at then-candidate Biden’s own comments from about a year ago, he said that he wanted to leave several thousand troops in Afghanistan. So what changed between now and then?
MS. PSAKI: He asked his team for a clear assessment, he — to make a determination about the best path forward.
I will remind everyone that he has been someone who has long viewed our — the — he opposed the surge in Afghanistan. He has long viewed the — the presence, the military presence in Afghanistan, as something that was not a constructive, long-term solution. That has been his consistent view.
At the same time, because we have the ability to have a pre- — work with our partners in the region to have a presence where we can prevent — in the region to prevent — to allow ourselves to keep an eye on the terrorist threat, he feels this is something that is in our interest as a country and now is the time to do it.
Q And one question about Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans who, you know, really just risked their lives helping the U.S. government and the U.S. military: Will the President commit to more visas and expedited processing for those combat translators before pulling out? Because, you know, the Taliban have already threatened their lives.
MS. PSAKI: Well, he will talk more about this in his speech and more about his commitment to helping exactly those brave individuals who have served and helped our troops and our military presence on the ground.
Q Jen, on the Russia call: You said that the President did not hold back in addressing his concerns, but the Kremlin said that the President did not bring up Aleksey Navalny on the call. And — is that accurate? And if so, why didn’t he bring up a very, kind of, key human rights issue on the call?
MS. PSAKI: Well — well, I don’t have more specifics of the President’s comments to read out from the call. I will just say that the — the status, the health, the wellbeing of Aleksey Navalny is something that we raise frequently and through many channels with the Russians. And we have repeatedly called for an improvement in his treatment, for his release through –through many of those channels.
The purpose of this call was to discuss, in part, the fact that there will be consequences to the actions of Russian leaders over the past several months, back into last year. And also to emphasize that — and to also raise, I should say, the — our unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and concerns about what we see as aggressive behavior on the border, and also to lay out — to lay out the possibility of a meeting in order to move toward a more predictable and stable relationship.
So that was the — part of the robust agenda discussed. And I can assure you that the health, the safety of Aleksey Navalny is raised frequently and through many channels.
Q Thank you. A few questions. The officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright resigned. Does President Biden believe that officer should face charges?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to weigh in on legal or law enforcement actions. We’ll leave that to the courts and law enforcement authorities on the ground.
Q A state trooper also fatally shot a 16-year-old in Maryland. This is on top of the shooting of Daunte Wright. Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department had ramped up investigations of local police departments. Does President Biden plan to reinstate similar pattern-and-practice investigations to identify civil rights and other abuses in training?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me say first that all of these incidents that we’re seeing — you’ve mentioned some of them — are just a reminder that, too often in this country, law enforcement uses unnecessary force and too often that results in the death of Black Americans.
And the President has repeatedly said that he believes we need police reform, and that’s why he’s calling on Congress to deliver that to his desk.
In terms of actions of the Justice Department or investigations, you’d have to ask the Attorney General.
Q Why has President Biden not issued an executive order to recall military equipment from local police departments? That was an expectation that many civil rights advocates had in the earlier weeks of his presidency.
MS. PSAKI: And we’ve been in very close touch with many civil rights leaders about their — the issues; the ideas they have; concerns they have, in some cases; and what they’d like to see happen. We’re working very closely with them on moving and pushing for the passage of the George Floyd Act. I know that does not solve all of the issues; we’re not suggesting that.
I would say this is an issue that is — will be a cause of President Biden’s time in office. And we are less than 100 days in; there’s more to come. Right now, our focus is on working toward getting that legislation passed.
Q Okay. And just, on a separate matter, the Biden administration has issued a proposal to rescind some of the Trump-era abortion rules. Why is the administration not immediately suspending those rules?
MS. PSAKI: I can check on — are you talking about the Title 10 rules?
MS. PSAKI: There can be a process sometimes, and if it’s an agency action, sometimes that’s the reasoning. I can check on the specifics of the timeline. But our point of view is certainly they should be rescinded. So —
Go — go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen. Back on Afghanistan: Diplomatically — since that seems to be the solution that the President is going to lay out — what role does the United States intend to play after the withdrawal in talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban?
MS. PSAKI: You mean in direct engagement?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would leave that, in part, to the State Department, who would be leading on any diplomatic talks and conversations. We certainly believe that a diplomatic path is the only path forward. There are conversations that are convening, I think, later this week. And there is — we do have an envoy who often participates in those talks and conversations, and I expect that would be the case moving forward.
Q And, secondly, was there any discussion, as the President was talking about this, to make any sort of call to Congress to revisit an AUMF once American troops are out of Afghanistan?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President certainly supports revisiting, revising, taking a look at the AUMF. We put out a statement several weeks ago about that. That remains the case. That remains his point of view. And we look forward to working with leaders in Congress to do exactly that.
Q But he’s not, like, tying the troop withdrawal to a new AUMF (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: No, he’s not tying the troop withdrawal, but he is something — that is something he would like to see move forward. Yeah.
Go ahead, David.
Q Thanks. A couple of questions. One, just closing the loop on something you said on Afghanistan. When you were State Department spokeswoman, you frequently talked about the importance of conditions-based withdrawals —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q — because, otherwise, a message to the Taliban would be, “Wait us out,” and once we’re gone, they have free rein over the country. I don’t think I’ve heard in the answers, so far, what the Taliban is supposed to think about this.
I mean, if I was them, I think I’d want to take the summer off and wait until September 11th. And why go ahead and negotiate an agreement that would limit them if the U.S. is going to leave anyway?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that we have an expectation that the Taliban is going to abide by their commitments and that they are not going to allow Afghanistan to become a pariah state. That’s our view. That’s also in their interests, in our view.
In terms of conditions-based withdrawal, we’ve been — as you know, David; you’ve covered this for 20 years, I would say — not to age you; you are you are young at heart. (Laughter.) But, you know, the President has also been involved in discussions and debates about what to do about Afghanistan for that period of time, as you well know. And his view is that, you know, when you talk about a conditions-based withdrawal, it punts it down the road — we will never leave. What conditions would we be required to leave? By how long? What is it — what would — does that mean? What’s the additional cost? These are all the factors in his mind.
And as you look back at recent history — you know, back in 2014, which seems recent — back when I was at the State Department, I should say — NATO Allies issued a declaration affirming that Afghan Security Forces, which you well remember, would have full responsibility of their country’s security by the end of the year. That was seven years ago. And the President just believes that we can’t have American troops as bargaining chips. Now is the time to get out.
So in terms of the Taliban’s role, again, we believe diplomacy is the right path forward. We believe that it is not in their interest for Afghanistan to become a pariah state; that they should hold to their commitments of preventing al Qaeda — of not allowing al Qaeda, I should say, to gain a stronghold or a safe haven in Afghanistan; to remain committed to some of the progress that we have seen. And we will have to see if that happens.
Q So you’ve narrowed the American objective to keeping a terrorist group from being able to launch. And you made the good point they could launch an attack from many other places.
Back in 2011, President Obama still was using a broader set. He said we have to “build Afghan capacity, protect population centers, blunt and degrade the Taliban capacity.” Those are no longer American objectives, it sounds like.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important to go back to what our objectives were when we went into Afghanistan 20 years — almost 20 years ago.
And those were to disrupt terrorists seeking to use Afghanistan as a safe haven. We feel we have done that. It was to deliver justice to those who attacked us. We feel we have done that.
And there has certainly been — and that’s why I’ve referenced the declaration by NATO Allies — a desire to transfer over control and leadership to the Afghan Security Forces.
We’ve also seen, over the last seven years, that that has not gone as would have been predicted in 2014.
So I would say the way the President views it — and you know his own history on this, and it has been well publicized and published that he opposed the surge back 10 years ago. And he was vocal about that in the appropriate manner at that time.
Now he is President. Now we are 10 years later. Now we are looking at the circumstances on the ground. We are looking at what’s in our national interest. We are looking at where we actually see threats around the world but also opportunity. And part of his assessment as Commander-in-Chief is that having a presence there is not in our interest.
Q One Iran question for you. You’ve repeatedly said in the past couple of days you’re not going to engage in speculation about what happened last weekend and so forth. I can’t recall a recent time when the U.S. has had such an absence of public curiosity about what led to a major explosion in a major foreign site. What’s behind your reluctance to discuss what happened, who did it, what its implications could be for American policy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, public curiosity should not be mistaken for curiosity in general, David, as you know.
But I will say, you know, we’re just not going to speculate on the origin. Our focus is on looking for a diplomatic path forward with Iran. That’s where we feel we can have a role and where we feel we can constructively move things forward, even though those are indirect negotiations.
Q Have you gotten any indication from the Iranians that they are going to pull back from those negotiations (inaudible)? Or do you think they’re moving ahead?
MS. PSAKI: We have not heard — been given an indication that they don’t plan to attend — or, I should say, let me make it more positive: We — our understanding is they plan to attend.
MS. PSAKI: Tomorrow. We are — we are also very open-eyed about how this will be a long process. It’s happening through indirect discussions, but we still feel that it is a step forward.
Okay, go ahead. Brittany, go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. On the campaign trail, then-candidate Biden — this is a follow-up on Sabrina’s question about policing reform —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — promised to invest — I think it’s $300 million into local police departments and municipalities, trying to see if they would either their precincts or whatever they could do to make — reduce police brutality in their localities. Given over what’s been happening over the last year, but even just this last couple of weeks, does the White House and this President still maintain that that is the best use of that $300 million: investments — giving money, essentially, to his departments to self-regulate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I will say — I know this didn’t receive a lot of attention, but in our discretionary guidance, it was consistent with this. And maybe this is what you’re asking about, but we could get to you the — more details, too, or for others who are interested.
You know, he has been clear and he continues to believe, to answer your question, that giving police departments the resources they need to implement meaningful reforms and conditioning federal dottars [sic] — dollars on completing those reforms is the appropriate and effective step.
And the discretionary guidance does exactly that; it provides funds with specific requirements, like ensuring law enforcement agencies mirror the diversity of the communities they serve. It also invests in federal programs that hold police accountable through pattern-and-practice investigations and the enforcement of consent decrees.
Now, that’s just a funding component. Right? There are also reforms that the President feels need to be put in place. And the George Floyd Act certainly has a number of those reforms and steps that he supports and he is eager for Congress to move forward on.
Q And I know there’s lots on your legislative plate — you know, infrastructure and many, many other things. Are there folks in the back making calls to Congress just on George Floyd — on this George Floyd bill, kind of working all the levers in order to get that through? Obviously, it’s going to face an uphill battle in the locked Senate beyond the House.
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, we are very engaged and having discussions with a range of members on the George Floyd bill and moving it forward. And we are certainly encouraged by discussions that are ongoing by members of Congress. And ultimately, it will be up to them to determine how they can negotiate and come to conclusion on a package that there can be enough support to move forward and send to the President’s desk.
Q Just one other on the Vice President. Will she be giving a press conference either right before or right after her trip to Mexico and Guatemala?
MS. PSAKI: That’s a good question. I don’t know that the — the final format of this trip has been scheduled quite yet, but I can see if they have any more details on the planning.
Q And two of those three Northern Triangle countries actually do not have a U.S. ambassador to them. They have chargé d’affaires, but they do not have ambassadors. Is there any more guidance you can give us on when those critical roles will be filled or at least a list of names who could be filling those roles?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, we probably won’t put out lists of names. We’ll probably put out the nominees once the decision — because that would be a form of torture for the people who are on those lists, in some way.
But we are moving forward, starting to make the President — starting to make some decisions on career ambassadors to a range of posts. I hopefully will have some more on that soon. But I’m not sure if they’re in those re- — in that region. But he’s — he’s starting to consider a range of qualified individuals. So hopefully, we’ll have more soon.
Q Two tax questions for you. Seventeen House Democrats said earlier this week that they won’t support any tax legislation or the component of the infrastructure plan that the President proposed unless it does away with the $10,000 SALT cap. I wanted to see if that’s something the administration would consider?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, we welcome ideas. We welcome proposals from a range of members. And many of them have been quite vocal about their views on the SALT deduction as well, so we’re familiar with them.
There’s a meeting later this afternoon with Ron Klain and Steve Ricchetti, I think, with some of these members, and others. There’s a range of topics they’ll discuss that are of interest to them. And I’m sure they will — I would guess they would raise this.
We’re also interested in proposals on how to pay for a package on — as you know, the SALT deduction would not be a revenue raiser, so they may come with proposals and ideas on that as well. But we’re certainly happy to hear more from them on the impact and why they think this is so important to their states and communities.
Q And I wanted to ask about the global minimum tax that the President has proposed at 21 percent. In the global negotiations, we’re already seeing some pushback from lawmakers in Europe saying that number is too high. And I wanted to see what the administration plans to do to negotiate to get countries around the world on board with a number — with the number he’s proposed or a higher number than it already is.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, I certainly think those negotiations will happen out of the Treasury Department. The reason the global minimum tax was proposed was because the administration — Secretary Yellen and others — felt it was important to end the race to the bottom on tax rates in countries, and this would be a way to do that in her view and their view. But in terms of a discussion about alternate rates, I would certainly send you to them for more of a bottom line of where they’re willing to go.
Q And the other question is about the Bureau of Land Management. We have reporting that President Biden is considering Tracy Stone-Manning as Senior Advisor for Conservation Policy at the National Wildlife Federation to lead the Bureau. Could you confirm that?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any personnel announcements to make. We — I don’t expect we will have any to make on this, but I will check and see if there’s more to report to you.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Hi, Isaac.
Q Hi. So, just to follow up a little bit more on the Vice President’s meeting about the Northern Triangle: Can you just help us figure out how that fits in the sequencing of the role that she is playing — what the purpose of today’s meeting was and then, sort of, what the next steps forward from it would be —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — coming out of it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, you know, a couple of things. One, we’ve seen the Vice President has obviously also had a number of internal meetings on these issues with internal leaders and team members. We don’t always read those meetings out, but those are part of the discussion as well.
Certainly, she — she also spoke directly with the Presidents of Mexico and Guatemala recently. And I believe we read out those calls and we made an announcement about steps we were taking or steps these countries were taking, through discussions with us, to increase staffing and personnel and monitoring at the borders to reduce the number of migrants who are coming to our border.
So, in terms of the sequencing, part of the sequencing is internal discussions with experts — whether that is the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, others who are working at the NSC — to determine what the right path forward is with the Northern Triangle.
She leads a number of those conversations; gets feedback from our special envoy, Ricardo Zúñiga, and others who have been working on these issues for some time. She’s also had a number of calls directly with Presidents in the region. I expect she’ll have more of those to discuss — negotiations and diplomatic conversations — even — even in advance of traveling.
And then she will make a trip, as she announced this morning. And while, I don’t think she announced the timing of it, that would certainly be another step in the sequence.
Q But — so this is all just still sorting out what the right path forward is, rather than making determination, “Okay, this is what we’re going to do” and —
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are — we announced just two days ago, I believe — two days, three days ago — some steps that were being taken in coordination and through discussion with these countries to ensure that immigration — migration, I should say — irregular migration was being addressed as more of a hemispheric issue. And that meant, you know, working with these countries to put in place measures to discourage migration. That’s a step. But it will be discussions internally, policy decisions — that’s typically how it works — calls with these leaders, announcements about progress made. It will be ongoing.
I wouldn’t expect it will be a process and nothing happens until the end. This is an ongoing process, and we’ll make announcements — I’m sure she will — as the developments are concluded.
Q And has the President given her any directives from what’s come back so far to guide where the next conversations that she would be having, or the next steps she should be taking in leading this effort?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President and the Vice President see each other quite regularly. She’s in many of the meetings, when she’s in town — almost all of them — that the President is in as well. So I would say it’s more of a discussion with others who are leading and running point on these issues.
Q Can I just say, on one other thing, that —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — there’s a markup today about D.C. statehood. Given the political realities around what would need to happen for a D.C. statehood bill to get through the Senate — a filibuster would almost certainly need to be done — is this something that President Biden is going to be pursuing at this point — D.C. statehood? Or is he just, sort of, leaving it as a thing that he supports but is not going to be on his priority list?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he supports it. And in his conversations, of which there are many, as is evidenced by the last few days, a range of topics and issues come up, and he certainly expresses his support. And ultimately, it’s up to Congress to pass legislation and send it to his desk.
Q So he’s not going to prioritize it and say, “I want this bill on my desk”?
MS. PSAKI: I would say he supports it, so he’d be happy to sign it. But in terms of the rank priorities, I’m not going to get into a situation of doing that. But it’s something he supports. He’s conveyed that to Congress. And he certainly supports efforts to move it forward.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Hi, Jen, thank you very much. A follow-up on Afghanistan, and then I have another one on the climate summit.
You were talking about the diplomatic presence in Afghanistan after the withdrawal. Do you expect the United States will have an ambassador in Afghanistan before the troops leave?
MS. PSAKI: Do you mean, do — just so I understand your question: Do we expect we will maintain —
Q There is no ambassador.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, we will nominate an ambassador to Afghanistan?
Q And how — exactly. Have ambassador there before the troops —
MS. PSAKI: Well, our intention is to maintain a presence — to secure a diplomatic presence there, and — which was, kind of, a different question. But — so I don’t have a timeline on that, but certainly given we will have a diplomatic presence, I expect we would have an ambassador at some point, or nominate.
Q And about the climate summit, how are the discussions with Brazil going? Is President Biden prepared to sign a bilateral climate deal with Brazil next week during the summit? Or would he like to see more commitment from Brazil on forestation before making a deal?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t know that I would see the climate summit as a bilateral, deal-making venue. It is — we’ve invited about 40 global leaders.
The — in terms of the format and the details, I think they’ll — they will — many will be presenting their own plans for reaching the goals as set out by global glimate [sic] — climate, I should say — objectives. I think that’s a big part of the format. There are not going to be bilateral meetings as a part of this summit, so I wouldn’t see it through that prism.
It’s an incredibly important forum to bring global leaders, including Brazil, the United States, many others together to discuss what the President feels is one of the biggest crises we face.
But our position on Brazil has been clear since the beginning. We believe Brazil is a key partner in confronting climate issues, climate solutions. We’ll, of course, need Brazil’s action and leadership. We fully respect Brazil’s sovereignty and appreciate the chance to participate in constructive conversations on how we can work together.
We do want to see a clear commitment to ending illegal deforestation, tangible steps to increase effective enforcement of illegal deforestation, and a political signal that illegal deforestation and encroachment will not be tolerated. And we believe it’s realistic for Brazil to achieve a real decrease in deforestation by the end of the 2021 fire season.
So we continue to recognize that conservation and sustainable economic growth can go hand in hand, and certainly that’s our expectation for Brazil.
Q What will be a clear commitment? And also, will President Biden pressure the Brazilian President, Bolsonaro, personally during this summit?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, it’s not a — there’s not bilateral meetings, so I —
Q Will he mention Brazil (inaudible) deforestation?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t — I can’t — I don’t have any outline of what the President’s remarks will look like, but I would expect that he will talk more broadly about the need for the global community to address the threat of the climate crisis.
Q Can I just ask one last question about the pandemic?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q Because the White House COVID team had a conversation with the Brazilian health minister. Brazil, as you know, now is the epicenter of this pandemic. And Dr. Fauci said, a couple of weeks ago, that he was waiting for this conversation to see other ways that the United States could be more helpful. So is the United States providing additional help to Brazil, like sending oxygen or sedatives for intubation, for example? There are a lack of all these things in Brazil right now.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I would have to check. I would say that we, of course, as you know, are contributing a significant amount of funding through COVAX. I know there are requests from around the world for a range of tools and resources. I can check if there’s anything that’s going to Brazil more specifically.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, yes.
Q Two more quick ones on Afghanistan.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, yeah — can I do Owen first, and then I’ll come right back to you?
Okay, go ahead, Owen.
Q Jen, thank you. Back to Title 10, if I may. So today, as you well know, the Biden administration and HHS started the reversal of the Trump administration’s ban on abortion referrals at Title 10 family planning clinics.
So my first question: Why does the Biden administration insist that pro-life Americans pay for abortions and violate their conscience?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, that’s not an accurate depiction of what happened, so let me — and I know we want to be accurate around here. “None of the funds appropriated under this title shall be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning.” That is written into the Public Health Service Act, and it specifically states that.
Q But we know there’s indirect subsidies, money that’s fungible, that can’t be traced. We know that. Come on.
MS. PSAKI: That is not how it works. That is the law. So I’m stating what the law is and how it is implemented legally by these organizations.
And the reason I, though — since you gave me the opportunity — the reason why the President took these steps is because he believes that advancing equity for all — including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality — can be helped by these actions. And by focusing on advancing equity in the Title 10 program, we can create opportunities for the improvement of communities that have been historically underserved, which benefits everyone. That’s how these fundings are used in communities.
Q You talk about equity — if I may interrupt. How is it equity, how is it fighting systemic racism when abortion, we well know, disproportionately affects minority children?
MS. PSAKI: Again, funding cannot be used from this for abortion, but access to healthcare — access to healthcare in communities — in communities that have been marginalized, underserved, adversely affected by persistent poverty — is always going to be something the President fights for.
Q So you’re telling me one —
MS. PSAKI: Okay. I think I’ve answered your question.
Alex, go ahead.
Q On Afghanistan, did President Biden consult any of his predecessors on his decision to withdraw?
MS. PSAKI: He did talk to some of his predecessors. Let me see if I can get you more of a readout of that. He will talk a bit about that in his speech, as well, that starts in fo- — in 39 minutes.
Q All right. And then one more. I don’t know if you saw this, but the Afghan President tweeted that he spoke with President Biden.
MS. PSAKI: He did. And that was still going on when I came out here, so we will get you a readout of that. Let me just also — because you, kind of — you prompted me — that we have done a lot of outreach, which I think would be interesting to you and your reporting.
In the last 36 hours, to inform members of Congress, allies, partners, and regional countries — that includes calls — not all with the President, although he has made a number of calls — but from senior officials to nearly 50 members of Congress, 44 countries, NATO, the EU, and the U.N.
These consultations and conversations are continuing, but just to give you a sense of how much engagement and outreach we’ve done to date.
Okay. Thanks, everyone.
1:23 P.M. EDT