Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, April 20, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:08 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.
Q Good afternoon.
MS. PSAKI: Good afternoon. All right, Secretary Fudge would have been impressed with that response this morning. (Laughter.) We’re all awake.
A couple of items for all of you before we get started. This afternoon, the President will take a virtual tour of a Proterra electric bus and battery manufacturing plant in Greenville, South Carolina. He’ll be joined by the Republican Mayor of Greenville, Knox White — of Greenville. Knox White is his name. Sorry. Undersca- — underscoring the bipartisan support for the clean energy infrastructure investments in the American Jobs Plan.
During the visit today, the President will make three stops around the manufacturing plant and speak to employees about different aspects of the company’s work, including battery installation, body assembly, and final inspection of the buses.
The American Jobs Plan includes a total of $45 billion to accelerate the adoption of zero-emission transit buses and school buses to achieve the President’s goal for all U.S.-made buses to be zero-emissions by 2030. This includes $25 billion for zero-emissions transit vehicles and $20 billion for electric school buses.
There are currently 475,000 yellow school buses — that sounded like a lot to me — that serve 25 million children, and 95 percent of them are powered by diesel. And there are addition- — are nearly 85,000 transit vehicles, including buses, that still run on diesel or gas, which are linked to asthma and other health problems that hurt our communities.
So replacing these buses with clean technologies will create good jobs, support domestic manufacturing, tackle a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, and improve the health for many around the country.
Also, this morning, the — our COVID Coordinator, Jeff Zients, had his weekly call with governors. He announced that this week, 28 million doses will go out across channels, with the vast majority going to jurisdictions. This is consistent with last week’s allocation.
He also reminded the governors that there is a significant amount of vaccine supply in the system and the federal government stands ready to help states put shots into arms as quickly as possible.
With that, Jonathan, why don’t you get us started.
Q Thank you, Jen. Just a few minutes ago in the Oval Office, the President spoke about the trial of the Minneapolis Police officer, Derek Chauvin. And he says, quote, “I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict.” And then he says, “I think it’s,” quote, “overwhelming, in my view.” So, I have a couple questions on this if we could start there.
What precisely did the President mean? What is “overwhelming”? And does this mean the President thinks the police officer should be convicted on all counts?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President has clearly been watching the trial closely, as many Americans have been. He was also moved by — he is moved — he was moved by his conversations with the family yesterday. He knows the family. And as somebody who has been impacted by grief himself, that was a large part of their conversation — the conversation he had just yesterday.
As he also noted, the jury is sequestered, which is why he spoke to this. But I will — would expect that he will weigh in more — further once there is a verdict. And I’m not going to provide additional analysis on what he meant.
Q You’re not able to clarify what is “overwhelming” — the evidence, the case presented by the prosecution?
MS. PSAKI: We’re not going to get ahead of the outcome. I expect when there is a verdict, he will have more to say.
Q And will you — as you say, the President made note that he only spoke out today because the jury was sequestered. But, of course, everyone else in Minneapolis and around the country could hear what he said; they’d be in a position to hear what he said today. We know there are worries about unrest. Is there now concern that the President’s words could add to that if the, quote, “right verdict” is not reached?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that, regardless of the outcome, the President has consistently called for peace. And our focus, as we’re working with state and local authorities, is on providing the space for peaceful protest. And that will be consistent regardless of what the outcome of this verdict — of the verdict is.
Q Okay. And then one more on this. The judge overseeing the case was pretty — in pretty harsh language, yesterday, sort of asked politicians to not weigh in on the matter. Is there concerns now that this — the President’s comments — could be grounds for an appeal or even causing a mistrial?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I wouldn’t — I think those were comments the judge made yesterday. Again, the jury is sequestered, which the President also noted in his comments. He certainly is not looking to influence, but he has been touched by the impact on the family. Hence, he called the family yesterday and had that discussion. And again, I expect he will weigh in further once there is a verdict.
Go ahead, Kristen.
Q Thank you, Jen. Just to follow up, the President has talked about the importance of an independent judiciary. Why is it appropriate for him to weigh in on the verdict even though the jury is secluded?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t think — I don’t think he would see it as weighing in on the verdict. He was conveying what many people are feeling across the country, which is compassion for the family, what a difficult time this is — what a difficult time this is for many Americans across the country who have been watching this trial very closely.
The jury is sequestered. That is different from where things stood just yesterday, and he noted that in his comments as well.
Q He did call for the “right verdict,” though. Why is it ever appropriate to have any type of characterization before the jury has a say, especially for the President of the United States?
MS. PSAKI: Again, we’re going to wait for the jury to come to their conclusion, and that is when he will have more extensive remarks about the outcome.
Q This administration, this President has been very clear in condemning rhetoric that it sees as adding to a climate of discord. Is it a double standard to not condemn or speak out against the comments by Maxine Waters, even if she didn’t mean to imply violence?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that the congresswoman has provided further clarification of her own remarks, and I would certainly point you to that.
And if we’re looking — in this scenario, we’re looking at a family who has lost someone. They’ve just watched a trial. They’ve seen the video play over and over and over again. Families across the country have watched the trial, watched the video played over and over again.
Clearly, the impact of trauma and the exhaustion is on communities of color around the country more than it is on others. And the President recognizes this is an extremely painful issue and, of course, you know, sympathizes with everyone who feels the grief of George Floyd’s passing as well as the killings of so many other people of color at the hands of law enforcement.
And, you know, I think having a conversation with his family yesterday — you know, as someone who has been through trauma himself — that was a big part of their conversation, as I — I believe, George Floyd’s brother also conveyed. You know, you feel it — you feel it deeply in your heart, and I think that his comments were a reflection of that.
Q And, very quickly, I know there was a lot of focus on trying to get the George Floyd legislation passed in the Senate.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q It’s passed through the House. Where does that stand? And will the President move that effort up in terms of his list of priorities, particularly as he approaches his 100th day in office?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that addressing policing across the country, addressing what he feel — racial injustice — what he feels is one of the four major crises we’re facing as a country continues to be a top priority for the President. And certainly, moving the George Floyd bill forward
through the Senate — the President would be eager to have that happen and eager to sign that bill into law. And he is not only kept abreast of it, he remains engaged in it with his team here and also directly.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Josh.
Q May I ask you about —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, I’ll come back to you, Kristin.
Go ahead. Go ahead, Josh.
Q May I ask for an update on the President’s goal to reopen schools? Is his goal still, by the end of this month, to have a majority of K-to-8 schools open at least one day a week? And if so, does he think he’ll hit that goal? And to what extent is the administration worried by some of the more recent outbreaks we’ve seen among older-age students tied to these new variants of the virus?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, our goal remains to have the majority of schools open five days a week. And that is certainly something that is being led — that effort — by our Secretary of Education, and they’ve been providing regular updates. There’s numbers that we look at on a month-to-month basis. We remain confident we can reach that goal.
There are also, because of the CDC steps that they put out publicly — it seems like months ago; maybe weeks ago is more accurate to say — we know that those measures are effective and they can help mitigate risk in schools.
And our Department of Education and also, of course — is looking — is working very closely with schools on implementing those and ensuring kids can be safe. But we remain confident about our path to reaching that goal.
Q You’re pleased with the progress so far? To what extent are you concerned that rolling closures are going drag into the fall? This is a core promise of the President to get schools open where he can.
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. And it remains a core promise. It remains something that his Secretary of Education is leading the effort on.
I think the last data we’ve seen was from February, I believe — because of the reporting requirements — which showed that there was an increased number of schools that had — were open, and also an increased number of schools that were open five days a week. And so we feel we’re on the right track.
And these mitigation measures — including wearing masks, including taking steps to provide social distancing opportunities, the money that’s going out the door to schools and school districts that need that assistance — are going to help us continue to make progress.
Q Okay. And with regards to your comment around the call with governors today: As you know, of course, the production of J&J has been relying on that one plant in Baltimore coming up. J&J is now no longer citing its goal of delivering 100 million doses by the end of June. They’re saying they’ll deliver 100 million, but they’re not saying when.
How does this impact the President’s goal? Of course, it was the availability of those shots that led him to say that every American who — there would be enough shots for every American by the end of May. What is his current goal? And do you think that that plant will be online soon, given the FDA’s involvement?
MS. PSAKI: Well, of course, that’s going to — the second part of your question, of course — it’s going to require FDA approval. As you know, there’s a meeting on Friday to determine what’s next as it relates to J&J. And, hopefully, we’ll learn more then. We’ll see.
But our goal — we remain confident in our ability to meet the needs that we feel will be out there in the public by the end of May and we will have enough vaccine for every American by the end of July without J&J. That is based on the supply that we’ve ordered from Moderna and Pfizer.
And Pfizer, as I know you’ve probably seen, has also announced that they are going to work on expediting their own manufacturing and delivery of their vaccine. So we are confident we’ll be able to meet the demand in the public.
Now every American over 16 is eligible to receive the vaccine. And our focus is on encouraging — continuing to encourage people to get shots in their arms.
Q And, sort of, one other quick one. There was a report yesterday in the Journal that the administration is considering reducing the amount of nicotine that could be in cigarettes and also restricting or banning menthol cigarettes altogether. Is that something you can update us on, about whether the administration favors either of these positions?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t — I have seen the report, of course. I don’t have any policy previews — proposals to preview today. We will review a range of policy options in line with the President’s public health goals. But to reiterate, there are no policy proposals or decisions to review today.
Q Thank you, Jen. One more question about the comments for Congresswoman Waters.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q The House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is accusing her of inciting violence. And then you had the judge, yesterday, calling her words “abhorrent” and saying that she was being disrespectful of the rule of law. I just want to be very clear here: Does the White House condone the Congresswoman’s comments?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say, again, that the Congresswoman clarified her own comments. And what I can do is speak for the President’s view, which is that it’s important to provide a space and an opportunity for peaceful protest. But protesting should be peaceful; that’s something he has consistently advocated for, and he will regardless of the outcome of the trial.
Q But she was calling on some protesters to perhaps get more confrontational on the streets.
MS. PSAKI: And she’s had additional comments since then, right?
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q She has.
MS. PSAKI: Which provided additional clarification.
Q But I guess my question is: Does the White House believe that those kinds of comments are helpful in the middle of this trial that everybody knows could lead to more violence and unrest?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I can speak to what the President’s point of view is, which is that it’s important to provide an opportunity for peaceful protest. That’s what he’s continued to advocate for, what he has consistently advocated for.
But I would also say that when somebody provides a clarification for their comments, that’s an important context to include in anybody’s reporting.
Q I’d also like to ask a question about — since this is 4/20 and —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q — Senator Chuck Schumer said from the Senate floor — he called it the “unofficial American marijuana holiday.” And he said that he now supports legalizing marijuana on a national level. Is this something that President Biden would support?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President supports leaving decisions regarding legalization for recreational use up to the states; rescheduling cannabis as a Schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts; and, at the federal level, he supports decriminalizing marijuana use and automatically expunging any prior criminal records. He also supports legalizing medicinal marijuana. So that’s his point of view on the issue.
Q So if the House passed — the House and Senate pass a bill legalizing marijuana at a federal level, would the President sign it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I just have outlined what his position is, which isn’t the same as what the House and Senate have proposed, but they have not yet passed a bill.
Q Okay. One final —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Okay, go ahead.
Q Sorry, one final question, if I could. Some people in prison on marijuana charges are asking President Biden to keep his campaign promise and release them. Where is President Biden on keeping that campaign promise?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think when I’m talking about resched- — rescheduling cannabis as a Schedule II drug, so red- — that is also going to have an impact on the criminal justice system as well.
Q Thanks, Jen. It’s clear the dividing lines on the traditional infrastructure portions of the President’s job and infrastructure package are the payfors. And the President says he’s willing and open to compromise. Republicans seem willing to support new, higher — new and higher user fees on — for Americans to use roads, bridges, and airports.
But the President has insisted that such fees violate his campaign pledge not to raise taxes on Americans earning less than $400,000. Is the President’s idea of compromise just adjusting the corporate tax rate, or is he willing to budge on these user fees?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, the President’s pledge — which you touched on, which he outlined on the campaign and he has reiterated since — is that he’s not going to raise taxes on people making
over [under] $400,000 a year. He’s not going to budge on that pledge. So that is a line in the sand for him.
But this package and this proposal is really about creating millions of jobs. It’s about investing in and modernizing our nation’s infrastructure. It’s about ensuring that caregivers have the support that they need. It’s about providing broadband access to Americans across the country and leveling the playing field. That’s what the discussion should be about.
He believes it should be paid for, and there are really two options: Either you put the — put the burden on the backs of corporations that can afford to pay more, or you put the burden on the backs of the American people. He’s happy to have a debate about that particular issue.
Q Democratic lawmakers are calling on the Biden administration to scrutinize potential back — bank mergers more aggressively, arguing the Justice Department has approved too many, leading to higher fees for consumers and reduced access. Is the White House looking at this issue? And does it share those lawmakers’ comments, concerns?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve certainly seen the comments, and the President supports competitive markets and thinks robust competition is good for consumers and for innovation. He has appointed and will continue to appoint highly qualified people who are focused on vigorously enforcing our antitrust laws. That’s his — one of his objectives he looks at. Of course, the Department of Justice was — which handles these mergers, in collaboration with the banking agencies — are probably the right sources to look to for additional content or comment.
Q Sure. And last question: There have been at least three fatal crashes attributed to U.S. Tesla drivers using autopilots. The NTSB has urged regulators to be more aggressive in overseeing that technology. Is the White House engaged on this issue? And do they share the opinion of the NTSB?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know the Department of Transportation, as you noted, is aware of these incidents involving Tesla vehicles and that the National Highway Trans- — Traffic Safety Administration, otherwise known as, well, NHTSA, immediately launched a special crash investigation team to investigate the crash.
They’re actively engaged with local law enforcement and Tesla to learn more about the details of the crash and will take appropriate steps when they have more information. And, of course, they remain in touch, as appropriate, with our teams on the gro- — and teams in the White House.
Q Sure, but does the White House have any concerns or anything specific —
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s appropriate for it to be handled through NHTSA and NTSB, so that’s where it’s being handled.
Go ahead, Kaitlan.
Q Thank you. Yesterday, you said the White House did not want to get ahead of the jury’s deliberations, but, of course, the jury is still deliberating. So, what changed?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the jury is now sequestered, which is a significant change. And certainly, we want to allow them the space and time to consider and make a decision about what they believe the verdict should be.
Q Does the President still feel that he can come out after the verdict and, regardless of what it is, tell people to accept it, given he’s weighed in on what he thinks the verdict should be?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think anybody who’s been watching the President — and you guys are probably tired of me saying that his position is that he believes there should be space for peaceful protest. He’s been consistent in that. That will be his point of view, regardless of the outcome.
That is what we’ve been communicating publicly, but also locally to mayors, to governors, to local law enforcement as we’re communicating in preparation. So that’s consistently been his view. And he’ll continue to advocate that regardless of the outcome.
Q And so what made him want to weigh in today on this before the verdict has come down?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think he was asked a question if I — if I — if I followed it closely.
Q That was my question. It was — I asked him what his message was — was for the Floyd family, not what his — what he thought the verdict should be.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Kaitlan, you know, he, obviously, has been following this trial quite closely, as many Americans have been. He has been — was obviously impacted by his conversation with the Floyd family yesterday, as somebody who has lived through loss and trauma himself.
And he certainly has his mind and his heart on — on what is happening around the country, as people are digesting and watching these videos and watching this trial go forward.
So he knows that the jury is sequestered, as he noted in his comments, which is certainly a different place from where it was yesterday.
Q And who is he consulting with about what his response should be after the verdict does come down? I know we talked about speaking with state officials and local authorities, but who is — who are his advisors that he’s speaking with about the right way to respond to the verdict, regardless of what it is?
MS. PSAKI: You know, I think that’s something that will come from the President’s heart, and he will be prepared to speak to it in some form or another — I don’t want to get ahead of what that format will look like — when we know what the verdict looks like.
Q Okay. And my last question: The U.S. Ambassador to Russia is now coming home for, quote, “consultations” —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — of course, amid a pretty tense week with Russia. Is he going to be meeting with the President? And can you confirm that, yes, he will be going back to Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, that is absolutely the intention. He’s returning home this week to visit his family — he hasn’t been home in about a year, I believe; meet with members of the new administration with whom he has not had a chance to consult with since he agreed to continue serving in his post. And he’ll return to Moscow soon.
Q Does that include the — a meeting with the President, though?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t — I’m not — I’m not aware of that being on the schedule, but it’s primarily to meet with new members of the team as the administration has turned over and there’s new personnel at the State Department, on the national security team, et cetera.
Q Yes. The President spoke with the Floyd family yesterday. He talked about the trial today. What does he see as his role or responsibility as President during these deliberations and then, perhaps, as a verdict comes down?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, the President, as I’ve noted a little bit in response to some earlier questions, is certainly — was touched by and impacted by his conversation with the Floyd family yesterday. He met with them last year. It’s a family he feels he knows a little bit, and he is somebody who has been through a trauma and lost, himself.
And so, if you put all the politics aside and all the — everything else, that’s something that is an immediate, unfortunate bond between people who have lost family members.
He also understands this is an extremely painful moment for many people in this country who are exhausted, who are tired of seeing one person after another lose their life at the hands of law enforcement. He’s — he’s aware of that and the need for reform.
So, I would say, you know, I’m not going to get ahead of what the outcome is or what the verdict is. And I would expect you’ll hear some comment from the President; I don’t know what format that will look like. We’ll have to see what the verdict is once that is — that the — it is concluded — the jury has made their decision, and that is concluded.
And we’ll see what his role is moving forward. He’ll continue to call for calm.
Q Okay. And what is the — the White House’s goals for the Climate Summit later this week?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q And were they pleased to hear that Vladimir Putin would be speaking at it?
MS. PSAKI: (Laughs.) Well, we invited him to attend, as we did 39 other global leaders. So, I would say, first, we’re going to have a call — a briefing call later this evening to give you all a better rundown of the schedule, the speaking — and what is planned for speaking at the summit. So I know there’s been kind of a mix of reporting out there, but we’ll give you more of a full rundown later this evening.
But the President’s goal is really to convene the world’s major economies and other key voices to galvanize efforts to keep the vital goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach. And we know we have had some backstep on that, which the United States has been certainly a part of over the last couple of years. We have a role to play; he’ll certainly talk more about that.
But during the summit, leaders will discuss mobilizing public- and private-sector financing to drive the net-zero transition and to help vulnerable countries cope with climate impacts. Obviously, the world’s larger economies, as you all know, have — have a sometimes greater responsibility for themselves, but also in — for some other econ- — for economies that are not as economically advanced in helping address these issues.
And he’ll also talk about — it’s an opportunity to also talk about the economic benefits of climate action with a strong emphasis on job creation and the importance of ensuring all communities and workers benefit from this transition.
So that’s — he’ll be talking about that, but it’s really an opportunity and a forum to talk about how, as a global community, we can all come together to address what he sees as one of the four crises of his presidency.
Q Was Putin’s involvement important given the tensions between the two nations right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important for any large economy and developed nation to participate in a climate summit because the world’s largest emitters are of- — also, for the most part, aligned with the world’s largest economies or the most populated countries. And so — hence, those are the people who are invited.
And it just sends a message about the recognition that addressing climate is — addressing the climate crisis is something that, even when you have agreement — disagreements about other areas, you can — we can agree on that.
Q Do we know if Xi Jinping will participate as well?
MS. PSAKI: I believe that almost every leader who was invited is attending, but they’ll give you more of a rundown of that later this evening and a more detailed rundown of the speaking program as well.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Go ahead, Francesca.
Q Thanks, Jen. You just suggested that the format that the President’s remarks would take after the Chauvin trial could depend on the outcome of the trial. The President hasn’t delivered a speech yet, though, on race relations or policing. So why not — and why wouldn’t immediately after this trial, regardless of what the outcome is, be the time for him to do that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say, again, that addressing race relations and improving equity in this country is central to his presidency and central to his focus every day. And his actions, his policies certainly play that out.
I’m not going to get ahead of what the outcome of the trial will be. And I’m cer- — I’m just attempting to set an expectation about that — that we’ll decide what’s appropriate and what the country needs to hear once we know the verdict and once we see the outcome.
Q You also said that he’d been engaged directly on policing reform legislation. Has the President picked up the phone and called it any Senate Republicans, such as Republican Senator Tim Scott, about policing reform legislation?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any calls to read out for you, but I can tell you that, in his conversations with Democrats and Republicans — and he’s spoken with many of both — he talks about a range of issues.
I’ll also say that a lot of the work on the George Floyd Act is happening on the Hill. And the negotiations between members of the Senate — you referenced Senator Scott; obviously, Senator Booker is playing a vital role — they’re going to have to work together with other members of the House to determine where there can be agreement and what an outcome can look like and if they can come to agreement on that.
That’s the status. The President would love to have a bill come to his desk so he can sign it into law.
Q But, last summer, policing legislation stalled because they couldn’t come to a consensus on issues like qualified immunity, no-knock warrants, as well as bans on chokeholds. So what is the President’s position on qualified immunity? And does he think that Democrats should agree to pass legislation that perhaps doesn’t ban no-knock warrants or ban chokeholds, but would restrict their use in some capacity, such as limiting federal funding or something like that, in order to get Republican support for that bill and get a bill passed into law?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re going to allow Democrats and Republicans in the Senate to negotiate amongst themselves about what they think a final outcome or a final agreement could be. And we’re certainly hopeful that they’ll make progress in that, and the President is eager to sign policing reform legislation into law.
And, certainly, we recognize it stalled last year. There’s been work since then, and we’re hopeful that the President will be able to sign a law.
I can tell you that there are a number of steps that he has taken that he can take as President and his Department of justice can take. And during the campaign, he emphasized the importance of the Department of Justice using the authority he spearheaded as a senator to investigate systemic police misconduct. That doesn’t have to wait for Congress to act.
And, last week, Attorney General Garland reversed a Trump administration memo that limited the use of consent decrees with respect to investigation of police departments.
The President also pledged to appoint DOJ leadership that would prioritize pattern-or-practice investigations. He has two critical nominees pending who would do exactly that: Vanita Gupta and Kristen Clarke.
He, of course, supports, as I already noted, the George Floyd Act. He has also called, in his initial budget, for increasing funding for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division by millions of dollars in order to advance accountability and reform for abusive police practices.
And, finally, multiple states have taken action. Is it enough? No, it’s not enough. He wants to sign federal legislation into law. But his own administration has taken steps, even while that legislation is working through the negotiations that happen in Congress.
Q But do you have — and I know you need to move on. But can you share with us what the President’s position is on qualified immunity, no-knock warrants, or chokeholds?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new to share with you from what he had said on the campaign trail. I’m happy to provide that after; I’m sure you’re familiar with his views.
Q All right. Thank you, Jen. Following up a little bit on a question earlier — President Biden still opposes the legalization of marijuana. You’ve outlined what he does support, but why does he still oppose taking this step? At this point, public polling indicates about two thirds of Americans support legalizing marijuana. The Senate Leader and his own party, obviously, is pushing for it. Huge numbers of elected Democrats in many of the states are pushing forward with marijuana legalization. Why is he reluctant to sort of take that final step and support legalization?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know from covering this, rescheduling cannabis as a Schedule II drug would allow for research- — researchers to study its positive and negative effects. He wants to look at that.
He, of course, supports decriminalizing marijuana use, he supports leaving decisions up to the states, and he supports legalizing medicinal marijuana. But he’ll look at the research once that’s concluded.
Q But right now he’s still reluctant to — why is he still reluctant to support legalization, despite the movement that’s happening towards it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he — of course, we understand the movement that’s happening toward it. I’m speaking for what his position is and what’s long — consistently been his position.
He wants to decriminalize, but, again, he’ll look at the research of the positive and negative impacts.
Q And then, on a related note, yesterday the House passed the SAFE Banking Act, which is meant to — in states where cannabis is legal — let businesses use the banking system legally there. I noticed that bill passed with a very big bipartisan majority; half of the Republicans supported it. There was no statement of the administration policy on that bill. Does the President support it?
MS. PSAKI: That’s a good question, Kevin. I’ll have to check on it, and we’ll get you a comment after the briefing. I’m happy to.
Q Thanks, Jen. On refugee policy, you were asked on April 1st about why refugee flights haven’t continued and the President not raising caps on refugees. And you were asked whether it had anything to do with the situation on the border. You said, quote, “No, no, it’s not related to that.”
Now, of course, the President referenced the border directly in his explanation over the weekend. You mentioned it yesterday. So how do you square those two explanations: previously saying the border was not a factor and then now saying that it is?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me walk you back a little bit to the last few months. I will do this briefly, I promise. Josh’s eyes are glazing over here as he’s — (laughter) — I’m just kidding. As he’s — he’s worried how long I’m going to talk here.
I’ll first say, during the transition, Sean, we obviously — we took a look at how — what had happened over the last few years and how we could set a more aspirational, larger goal of — so we could welcome more refugees into the country. And we set a big, aspirational goal, which we remain committed to, which is welcoming in 125,000 refugees by the end of the fiscal year, next year.
And the President announced that, and he announced that we want to get to — we want a down payment on that, I should say — 62.5 thousand by the end of this fiscal year.
Now, a couple of things have happened in the last several weeks, and some of that was happening deep in the policy wells. And sometimes it takes some time for that to be communicated more broadly within the administration, including the fact that the — you know, the impact on ORR — the Office of Refugee Resettlement — of having — of course, of welcoming in — delivering on a decision the President made to treat children, as they come across the border, humanely and ensure they are treated in a safe manner — has a — has a weigh on the system, including the Office of Refugee Resettlement, including personnel, and including funding.
That is a factor, but that — some of that decision-making is — is happening in, kind of — people — you know, at the Office of Refugee Resettlement in ways that maybe, you know, I wasn’t communicated to about it at that time. But it happened over the last couple of weeks.
And in that time, I should say, this month — so just this month, so recently — probably since I made those comments — HHS transferred $850 million from the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, and $287 million from other departmental accounts to the Unaccompanied Children Program in order to ensure we can treat kids with humanity and ensure they’re safe.
These transfers were made using the HHS Secretary’s standing transfer authority and have no impact, necessarily, on the refugee program, but it’s funding from the of- — the same office. And the President’s responsibility is to look across government, look across resources — and his team is — and see where there is a capacity and where resource assessments need to be made.
Q So are you saying that the border has emerged as a factor in the last 20 days? I mean, even before April 1st, we we’re already seeing an increase in the number of migrants arriving at the border and the strains it was presenting to the system. Are you saying the border was not a factor back then at all in thinking about refugee policy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me bring you behind the curtains of how policymaking works: You assess, over time, and you look, over time, at your systems, your resources, your processes, what — what changes need to be made within government to address issues as they’re arising.
And, certainly, we’ve seen, of course, there’s been a number of unaccompanied children, a need to reopen shelters or open shelters across the country. Taking care of children and doing it in humane way is — costs money, and that’s something that has certainly had an impact.
But a big part of — as we looked at and assessed challenges here, the primary obstacle to reaching the goal has been the decimation of the Refugee Admission Program under the prior administration. And, as you know, there is — there is part when refugees arrive and they are resettled and provided benefits by the — by ORR.
There is also the vetting process that takes place, and — through our State — our State Department. This was all decimated under the last administration, and we had to make an assessment of that as well.
That happens over a progressive period of time. There’s not a magic day when you wake up and you — and an alarm bell goes off. You have to assess over time what the needs are and make changes as needed.
Q And real quick: Why did you guys identify May 15th as, sort of, the horizon for when you would announce a new cap on (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: I expect it will actually be sooner than that. And we were always going to be assessing what — what our resources, our capacity would allow for and — but I expect it will be before May 15th. It’s approximately a month from last Friday.
Q May I just pick a prerogative with my always unglazed-over eyes and just follow up on this issue, because it’s an important issue.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.
Q Why not just raise the cap to your promise? The cap is just that: It’s a cap. It’s not a guarantee. You’re not requiring that number of people to come in through the program. Why keep the cap lower, you know, and back this promise? Progressives, of course, were skeptical of this President early on and through the primary.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q They’re saying that this is a broken promise — arguably, his first big one of this administration.
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, we’re actually going to set a cap — a large cap soon. And I expect it’s going to be before May 15th. But, you know, I think we wanted to — you’re right in the sense that the cap is just a number. Most oftentimes throughout history, you don’t reach the cap. The cap is just a number. We could set the cap at 100,000 or a million.
It doesn’t really — we’re trying to send a message to the world that we are — want to welcome in refugees, and that’s who we are as an administration. Hence, we wanted to provide greater clarity for what our overall objectives were, even if they weren’t digested initially on Friday.
You know, I would say that, one, we’ll set that cap; two, we wanted to assess — given the impacts of the decimation of the refugee admissions program, the need to move some resources around — what’s possible — what was possible.
But we do want to set a large cap. We do want to send a message to the world that we remain committed to our objective. We’ve always been committed to the objective and the goal of 125,000 by next — next fiscal year. It’s really a question of how close we could get and what kind of down payment we could do this year.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you, Jen. So just point of clarification: When the President said quote, “it’s overwhelming,” a few hours ago in the Oval Office, did he mean the evidence against Derek Chauvin was overwhelming?
MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve answered this question a couple of times.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q No, wait.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. You have another question?
Q I do. Still on the same topic, but, as far as a response to the verdict —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — is a trip to Minneapolis on the table, and would he consider joining a demonstration?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t — we’re not going to get ahead of what the outcome or the verdict is. And we’ll make an evaluation about what the country needs at that point in time.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Hi. So I know you just, in some ways, answered the question about why, but I’m — I’m confused about why you won’t clarify what the President said about the praying that the verdict is “right” and it being “overwhelming.” The President obviously volunteered this information. No one asked him for his opinion about the verdict. Why not say, “This is what the President meant”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Yamiche, I think, you know, our objective is to lea- — the President was obviously, clearly impacted by his conversation with the Floyds — the Floyd family — just yesterday. He obviously has spoken to the video, the trial, the events of last year when they happened at the time. And he is impacted by the exhaustion and the trauma that he’s seen across the country over the last several weeks. I think it was a reflection of that.
But again, we’re not trying to provide greater information about predictions of a verdict. We want to leave that to the jury to make that determination. They’re sequestered, so they obviously can’t hear or listen to anything being said.
But I just don’t — I’m not going to have more clarification for you.
Q So, put simply, is it wrong for Americans to see this as the President saying he hopes the officer is going to be found guilty and the evidence is overwhelming? When people see that quote, is it wrong for them to make that assumption that that’s what the President is saying?
MS. PSAKI: I think what people should conclude is that the President, like many Americans, has been deeply impacted by the trial. He has been deeply impacted by — he was deeply impacted by his conversation with the Floyd family, yesterday. That he understands that people are exhausted, that they are tired, that — this type of violence and trauma we’ve seen around the country and continue to see over the past couple of weeks. And hopefully, that’s what they take away from his comments.
Q And apart from what the verdict might be, I wonder if you could speak a little bit to Americans who feel on edge, especially African Americans who have seen so many verdicts, so many trials happen. No matter — whatever the outcome is, I wonder if the White House has a message for people just feeling anxious about what comes after this verdict?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you know, first, I would say that, you know, the President sees their pain and understands or — and tries to understand the trauma that people have been through across the country. And he’s watching the trial closely. And I think he would want people to know that he is working hard at making change possible.
And I can — I walked through some of the steps that has been taken by his Department of Justice. He would love to sign the George Floyd bill into law. And that he also is here as a human being, and he sees their pain, he recognizes their loss and their trauma, and he wants to put reforms in place to help address it moving forward.
Q And Speaker Nancy Pelosi came to the defense of Representative Waters. Representative Waters, as you said, clarified — she said, my actual “words don’t matter.”
I wonder why the White House isn’t also coming to the defense of Representative Waters, given the fact that she’s now facing an onslaught of attacks, especially by — I would say — Republicans. I wonder why the White House isn’t saying, “We — we back what she said about being confrontational. She was obviously not threatening violence.”
There are civil rights leaders that are saying, “That’s what contro- — that’s what civil rights is, is to be confrontational, to be active.”
MS. PSAKI: Well, she could — she also clarified in her own remarks, Yamiche, and I think that’s the most powerful piece to point to.
Q And one last question, if I could?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
Q The Arizona governor, he lifted the mask mandate on all public schools in that state. I wonder what the White House makes of that. Does the President support it? Does he want to see other states do that, or maybe does he not like the idea that that happened?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly recommend any state and governor follow public health guidelines. And masking and social distancing are — but masking, specifically, since you asked about it, is one of the clear steps that can be an effective mitigation measure, according to the CDC, even as we’ve seen variants and even as we’ve seen upticks in some parts of the country. So, certainly it wouldn’t be a step that we would support.
Q On the Climate Summit, will there be any kind of joint statement at the end of the summit? Also will there be any bilateral meetings during the summit?
MS. PSAKI: There won’t be any bilateral meetings planned for the summit. But in terms of a joint statement at the end, I don’t have a prediction of that. I expect you’ll all learn more on the call later this evening.
Q Also, during the meeting between President Biden and Prime Minister Suga last Friday —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q — did they talk about the Fukushima wastewater issue? What is the President’s view on this issue?
MS. PSAKI: I believe we are having our team stay in touch and look at it. I don’t think that the steps are happening for a few years — if I’m getting this correct — or a few months. But I would — I would have to check with our national security team and see if it was a point of discussion.
Go ahead, Scott.
Q Thank you. So another question about today’s unofficial holiday, which I think some of our colleagues are potentially celebrating. (Laughter.)
So, as you might remember, one of President Trump’s final actions in office was to grant clemency to a dozen people in federal prison who are being held on marijuana charges. But there still remain a lot more in federal prison on marijuana charges — including Luke Scarmazzo, who was sentenced to 22 years in prison for operating a legal medical marijuana business in California.
Given, as you’ve noted in the briefing, the President’s support for decriminalization, support for expunging exactly these types of offenses is — are there any plans to revisit some of those bids for clemency, maybe in the honor of the holiday?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would just take it as an opportunity to reiterate that the President supports legalizing medicinal marijuana — it sounds like it’s applicable in this, or would have been applicable in this case — and, of course, decriminalizing marijuana use and automatically expunging any prior criminal records.
In terms of individual cases, I can’t get ahead of those. Obviously, I’d have to — I don’t expect we would — just to expectation set. I’m happy to see if there’s anything more from our counsel’s office we can share.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.
Q Thank you.
1:51 P.M. EDT