James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:29 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.
Q Hi, good afternoon.
MS. PSAKI: Good afternoon. Okay. Today, the President will announce that on Thursday he expects he will meet his goal of 200 million shots administered in 100 days — or under 100 days, I should say — a goal he doubled after meeting his original goal of 100 million shots by day 58 of his presidency.
As the administration — as we work to get even more people vaccinated, President Biden will call on employers across America to do everything they can to help their employees and their communities get vaccinated.
That includes a tax credit for small- and medium-sized businesses to fully offset the cost of paid leave for employees to get vaccinated and recover from any aftereffects of vaccination if needed, and a call for employers, large and small, to take additional steps to help get their employees and communities vaccinated.
With that, Aamer, why don’t you kick us off.
Q Thanks. DOJ announced a pattern-or-practice investigation today — the Minneapolis PD on the aftermath of the George Floyd killing and verdict. Under current law, it’s a high bar for convicting officers of federal civil rights crimes. Does the President think it’s time to revisit this aspect of the law?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, first, as the President alluded to last night in his remarks after the verdict was announced, he believes the bar for convicting officers is far too high. It needs to be changed. He’s a strong supporter, as he also conveyed passionately last night, of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which does change the intent standard. Obviously, there is negotiations that need to happen on Capitol Hill, but he believes the bar is too high.
Q And if I could just square that: That — that includes the federal civil rights aspect of the law as well? Or is he speaking more broadly?
MS. PSAKI: My understanding is that’s also addressed in the bill.
Q Okay. And then, second — if I could just hit on briefly — he’s obviously going to be meeting with world leaders today on the Climate Summit.
What does he say to allay concerns — considering how divided Washington is, politically, on this issue — that we’re actually going to — that this country is going to follow through on what he says today — what he says this week?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what he’s sending — the message he’s sending to the country and, frankly, to the world is that he feels that the climate crisis we’re facing around the world — and certainly in this country, as the world’s largest emitters — is so significant that under — within 100 days of his presidency, he is convening the world’s largest economies to have a discussion about that.
And he is going to put — put actions in place, as well. Obviously, he’s put in place a number of executive actions. And he’ll announce — we’ll have more specifics to announce in the coming days about what targets we are setting here in the United States.
And I understand what you’re asking me is, “What happens in 2024?” Right?
MS. PSAKI: Or is that what you’re asking me?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s a long time away, but the President has every intention of getting reelected and certainly ensuring that he is implementing policies where climate — addressing our climate crisis, putting Americans back to work, go hand in hand, which is absolutely his desire and his commitment and will be a part of his continuing agenda.
Q Thank you, Jen. You just called on Congress to pass the George Floyd bill. President Biden did; Vice President Harris did the same last night — said it’s a key priority.
Why should people have confidence that President Biden will be able to win over Republican support for the George Floyd bill when he hasn’t been able to do so on his other legislative priorities?
MS. PSAKI: Like the American Rescue Plan that he passed into law and —
Q He hasn’t been able to — he didn’t get Republican support for that.
MS. PSAKI: He didn’t, but he certainly has support from the American people. And about 80 percent of the — almost — it’s more than 70 percent of the American people.
I will say, Kristen, that, look, the President doesn’t believe that he alone can pull the George Floyd Act — Policing Act across the finish line. That is going to be up to Congress. And, right now, there are negotiations that are happening; there are leaders on both sides that are having those discussions.
The President obviously advocated, as you alluded to, last night in remarks he delivered after the verdict. And we are also — have been advocating — our senior leadership has been advocating for this on the Hill, including in direct conversations with members. We’re in close touch with the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate leadership, who are working towards this goal.
This encompasses many offices in the White House, including — of course, the President talked about this quite a bit during his meeting with the CBC last week — but also our legislative affairs team, our public engagement team, the Department of — the Domestic Policy Council and their leaders are deeply engaged. And we’re also in regular contact with the nation’s civil rights leaders, who are also advocating for this.
But I will also say that there are times — and this is true in diplomacy, but also true in legislating — that we need — the best strategy is to provide the space for those conversations to happen privately, and that’s our — part of our objective.
Q And I understand you’re citing the fact that public polling showed there was bipartisan support for ARP. But in order to get the George Floyd bill passed, you need 60 votes.
So, I guess, the question is: Why should people have faith that the President will be able to get 60 votes to get the George Floyd bill passed?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what I was trying to convey — but let me try again — is that the President alone cannot pass the George Floyd Policing — Justice in Policing Act into law.
Q But how does he see his role in getting the George Floyd bill passed?
MS. PSAKI: Well, his role is to work with leaders in Congress, as he did — as he has; being in touch with leaders in Congress in the Senate and House; also having a discussion with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, many of whom are playing important and prominent roles in getting this legislation across the finish line.
Our — he’s also asked members of his senior team — whether it’s the legislative team, the Domestic Policy Council, his Office of Public Engagement — to work with outside organizations, civil rights leaders, and others to inqui- — to work together to put pressure on Congress to move forward.
He used the opportunity last night to deliver remarks. And I will say: As he’s preparing to — as he’s thinking about what his Joint Session speech looks like next week, he has every intention of lusin- — using that as an opportunity to elevate this issue and talk about the importance of putting police reform measures in place.
Q As you know, one of the key sticking points is that qualified immunity provision. Is the President willing to compromise on qualified immunity? Would he back a bill that didn’t include qualified immunity?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think the stage we’re in now is that leaders on the Hill need to have discussions among themselves about where they can find agreement.
And often, those discussions, just like they do — it is the case in diplomacy — the best strategy, the most effective strategy is to allow for space for those conversations to have — be happen privately. Once they — once they come to agreement — and we’re certainly hopeful they’ll do that — we’ll have to take a look at what that looks like.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead. Go ahead, Kristin.
Q Thank you, Jen. Just to follow up from the other Kristen’s line of questioning.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. The “Kristins” in the front row.
Q (Laughs.) I know. We were laughing about that.
When President Biden spoke with George Floyd’s family yesterday, he promised that he would do everything he could to get the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed. So would that potentially include supporting getting rid of the filibuster if he can’t get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate?
MS. PSAKI: The President’s view remains the same, which is that he believes there should be support from Democrats and Republicans to put in place commonsense, long-overdue measures to reform our police and justice system. And he believes rebuilding trust among communities is something that Democrats and Republicans should support.
There are conversations that are happening now that involve Democrats and Republicans, and he wants to leave the space for that. So he doesn’t believe that having a discussion about the filibuster is constructive to that at this point.
Q Okay. And two questions on immigration. Is President Biden potentially open to doing immigration reform through reconciliation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this is another area where the President looks both at history and al- — and al- — past history and also recent history, and sees that there has been bipartisan support. There is bipartisan support, for example, on the DREAMers and moving forward there. And he believes that modernizing our immigration system and putting in measures in place to address that is something that should warrant bipartisan support.
So his view is that, right now, this should not be — that the conversation should not be about a reconciliation process; it should be about moving forward in a bipartisan manner.
Q And so, I mean, these members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that President Biden met with yesterday, they said that, “We need to find any other form and avenue to achieve as much as we can, and that can include reconciliation.” So, I guess, can you at least confirm that that did indeed come up during their meeting yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: That members of Congress raised this issue?
Q No, they were saying that President Biden raised this issue and that he at least expressed some degree of support for it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I guess I can articulate what the President’s point of view is and certainly what his intention of conveying in any private meeting was, which is that he believes there should be bipartisan support.
Of course, members are going to propose a range of mechanics for moving things forward. But his view is that the conversation right now should be — should not be focused on reconciliation; it should be focused on finding a bipartisan path forward.
Q Thanks, Jen. You mentioned Republicans and Democrats negotiating this on Capitol Hill.
MS. PSAKI: Immigration or —
Q I’m so sorry. Immigration was on my head — my mind, and I meant George Floyd —
MS. PSAKI: No, no. It’s okay. I just wanted to make sure I was answering the right question.
Q No, no. On the George Floyd Act, over this issue of police reform: Is there — does this White House see this as the George Floyd Act, all or nothing? Is there room for Republican proposals like the one from Senator Tim Scott?
MS. PSAKI: Of course. This is — this is going to be a discussion. And a lot of the conversations right now, as you know from covering this, are happening between Democrats like Senator Cory Booker and like Senator Tim Scott. And they’re going to have to decide where they can find agreement moving forward.
Ultimately, the President believes, as he conveyed quite passionately last night, that we need to put in place police reform measures. They’re long overdue. And, certainly, the events of the last few weeks elevate this as an issue we should be adj- — adapting — or not “adapting to” — should be addressing as a society.
So we know that democracy in action means there are negotiations, there’s compromise. We’ll see what that looks like. But our objective here is to stay in close touch through senior members of our White House team, through the President himself; to be helpful and constructive and get feedback as needed, but also to leave space for those conversations to happen.
Q Because you mentioned the negotiations on the Hill as a separate entity from this White House. Will — could you just elaborate on what you just said — the President’s involvement and senior staff’s involvement?
We’ve seen the President get involved in negotiations on infrastructure, on COVID relief. Will he get involved in something like police reform? On what level?
MS. PSAKI: He had a high-level conversation with members of the Congressional Black Caucus just last week. And this was a prominent part, an important part, of that conversation. And I wasn’t intending to send — so I appreciate you asking — I wasn’t intending to convey that it was separate; it’s not separate.
But there are conversations that are happening between Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. We are staying abreast of those. We are certainly engaged with a number of those members at a range of levels in this White House — including at the President’s level, but also from leaders in the legislative team, from leaders of his Office of Public Engagement, and from leaders from — of the Domestic Policy Council.
Q Does the President have a deadline by which he would like to see this on his desk, given where this falls in the national discourse right now and the importance and the potential for losing the momentum that exists?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the President certainly sees this moment as an opportunity to redouble everyone’s efforts in getting this legislation passed and moved forward.
But he also recognizes, having served 36 years in the Senate, that you can’t rush negotiations between Democrats and Republicans. He’s eager to have something on his desk, but we’re not here to set a deadline at this point in time.
Q Thanks, Jen. I know we’re celebrating 200 million shots today, but there’s some indications that, at the very latest, the rates aren’t raising at the same rate as they have been previously in the administration.
MS. PSAKI: The rates of vaccinat- — or, sorry — just clarify what you mean.
Q Of vaccines being put in arms.
And my question is whether you guys see that as just, sort of, the inevitable blip from J&J coming out of circulation; if it’s hitting a wall with — we’re now moving towards folks who might be more hesitant to get the vaccine versus folks who already have; if it’s just, sort of, blips in the data or if you don’t — basically if you don’t think that the last few days have been representative of a broader trend.
And, more broadly, I know that you — or the President is planning to announce this tax break going into effect.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q But are there other things that you can talk about the administration doing to address hesitancy since it now seems to be squarely pivoting away from folks who are eager to get the vaccine and towards folks who are not.
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say — and you asked a few questions there, so let me see if I can answer all of them. What we’ve seen — and there was some interesting data that came out over the last couple of days; obviously, a lot was happening yesterday — is that we’ve actually seen a decrease in hesitancy, an increase in confidence among many communities.
So in some polling that was put out just yesterday, 40 percent of respondents said they were more likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine than they were a month ago.
And as a full — in terms of conservatives’ confidence in vaccine — again, this is a poll, so it’s not perfect, but it was interesting data — a full 71 percent of Trump voters said they have either received at least one dose of a vaccine or definitely or probably will — up from 59 percent in an earlier poll conducted just one month ago.
So what — but what we’re trying to address, to answer another one of your questions, is what we see as the issues- the barriers to getting the majority of the American people vaccinated — and one of those barriers is access.
And so what the announcement today wa- — is intended to do is address one of those barriers to access, which is people of — not — not through a political prism, but pe- — many people who have not yet been vaccinated are concerned they can’t take a day off of work. They don’t have additional paid leave. And so we’re trying to address that barrier, reduce that barrier as a pr- — as one that is preventing access.
I will say that the reason we’re at this point — where we are getting to a point, which we always knew we would reach, where we have greater supply — where we will about a point — get to a point where we have greater supply than we have demand — is because in — only in some regions of the country, I should say is — as you know, not everywhere — is because we worked quickly to increase supply and provide thousands of easy and convenient locations for people to get vaccinated.
So, you know, in the last few weeks, we’ve sent out more than 115 million doses, but what we’re trying to do now is address what we see as the barriers.
So I mentioned the tax cut, of course — trying to help businesses. We’re providing technical assistance to states. Again, we’re relying on local voices and local doctors to provide the best information, which every set of data we’ve seen, and even from some news organizations, show that those are the most trusted messengers. We’ve allocated $3 billion for states. We’re ramping up targeted media efforts. We’re also — along with the CDC, we’re working to help states expand vaccine distribution to primary care physicians, where many people are very much trusted local doctors.
So, yes, we will continue to assess and look for ways to increase access and get it out to more communities.
Q In the — both the Washington Post and the New York Times last night had pretty detailed reports about the refugee issue. They suggested that the President himself overruled national security experts on his team and Secretary of State Blinken.
You’ve sort of maintained that there was never a policy change at all, but is it fair to say at this point that the President changed his mind from the 62,500 number and then changed his mind again once he saw the, sort of, outrage and blowback from Democrats and refugee groups?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I can say that we have every intention of putting out an increased cap, and we hope to do that soon — in advance of May 15th.
I’m obviously not going to get into private conversations between the President and members of his national security team. But I will say that one of the things that has been on the President’s mind that I think was covered in a number of those stories are the challenges and — the challenges to our resources. And we’ve talked about this a little bit.
So one of those is refugee processing in a global — big, global system. And there were muscles that have been atrophied over the last few years. It’s not just the federal government; it is also a lot of important organizations around the world that help address this. And his concern was, in part: Is that system prepared?
Now, by setting a larger cap, which we have every intention of doing, we are sending a message: “Get your muscles back in action so that we can welcome more refugees and continue to strive toward the goal that he has always maintained of 125,000 refugees for next year.”
Our policy has not changed on that front. We’ve always wanted to reach 125 [thousand]. It’s just a matter of what we think we can get to this year.
Q Well, the State Department is in charge of processing refugees. If the Secretary of State is encouraging the President to sign the paperwork to raise the cap, that would suggest that he feels that the State Department, despite whatever atrophy may have happened, could have raised that limit; and that the President — because of, perhaps, you know, worries about if HHS could support the refugees when they got there, perhaps, because of political calculations — overruled the Secretary of State.
And so I’m asking if you can explain why, if the State Department says that they can do this, the President didn’t think that they could.
MS. PSAKI: Well, first of all, it’s setting a cap. Right? It doesn’t answer the question of whether we can reach that — this is an important point of —
Q You’ve mentioned this a number of times, and I — I would love to —
MS. PSAKI: — whether we can reach that point.
Q — to get into this. Right? Because there’s no reason that the President couldn’t have done what he said he was going to do — raise the cap to 62,500 — and then, if the State Department or HHS determined that they couldn’t, you know, process the refugees, just not hit that number.
As you said yesterday, or two days ago, that happens all the time.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q So this just, sort of, underscores the point that there was a change that (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: And he has ever- — and he has every intention of raising the cap. The Friday announcement was not about the hei- — the top level of the cap, and I think that’s an important thing for people to understand.
But I’d also say, as you alluded to in your question, the State Department — yes, they do the visa pro- — they do the vetting, which is an important part of the process and can take months. And there are a low number of refugees that are currently through a security vetting process, despite numbers that have been put out there and in reporting which are inaccurate. There’s a low number —
Q It’s not hundreds of people that have already been —
MS. PSAKI: What did you say?
Q It’s not hundreds of people that have already been approved by the State Department. I think the reports are something like 700 people have had to cancel flights because of —
MS. PSAKI: And the flights have resumed. The flights have resumed as of Friday.
But there’s also another component of this, because it’s an interagency process that addresses refugees’ resettlement. Right? ORR — the Office of Refugee Resettlement — which is not a part of the State Department, has a component of this as well. It’s a part of HHS.
The President looks at all of the government, all of our resources available — what he thinks the capacity is — but he also is looking for assessments from the interagency team on what’s possible. That’s what his questions were. Hence, we’ll have more to say when we have a conclusion on that.
Q I think we’re talking past each other, so I’ll just ask once more, and then we —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q — we can move on if you don’t want to.
But the question is whether the President changed his policy on the sixty-five hundred [sic] and if, on Friday, you intended it to be 15,000 and then changed the — changed the decision after the outcry.
MS. PSAKI: Well, his policy was — was on Friday, was months before, continues to be — to reach 125,000 refugees in next fiscal year. Sixty-two five was a down payment. It will be slower this year than it will be next year.
The President wants an assessment of how far we can get; that’s what he’s looking for. The State Department has a component of that. HHS has a component of that. We’re going to look at all of that.
And the refugee cap — and the point I’ve been trying to make — which I know you don’t love, but that’s okay — but to others — is that the cap is something that is not typically reached. We wanted to send a clear message: We are a country that is welcoming in refugees.
We recognize that that is not the message that was sent, and so we reassessed. But it’s not a change in policy. It’s just send- — making sure we’re sending a clear message to the world about who we are. America’s back. We’re welcoming refugees. We need to get our muscles back working again, and — and we’ll have an updated cap, hopefully, soon.
Go ahead, Trevor.
Q To the point about, kind of, getting the muscles back to —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — where they need to be: You know, we’re curious just about what capacity does exist right now for the government. And when you talk about the Office of Refugee Resettlement —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q — is one of the issues that some of the employees there have been transferred over to dealing with some of the asylum issues? Is that — is that one — one potential issue there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, one of the issues — the President wanted — want — wanted an assessment of whether they could do both, right? It’s — there are components that exist in different agencies of government, right? But whether they could do both, whether there was enough funding to do both — there has been funding transferred from other components of HHS to help address the unaccompanied children — the — the number of unaccompanied children who are coming across our border.
But, also, there was a hiring freeze at the Office of Refugee Resettlement during the last administration, and there were only a couple thousand — low number of thousand — refugees who were welcomed in during the last fiscal year.
So it’s not just government, it’s also external organizations who play a vital role. And certainly — and this is one of the points, I think, maybe we were in agreement, but I think you were getting to — or what I was trying to get to — is that it’s also these high caps — the 125 cap is sending a message to the world: “We’re going to do this. Work with us on this. Work with us on vetting. Work with us on resettling and assistance that’s needed.”
There are legal requirements and funding requirements that we need to help refugees when they come into the country from ORR. There’s funding requirements for that. But we also acknowledge a lot of the funding comes from outside organizations; that needs to be prepared, as well.
There’s one other factor we haven’t talked about but is an interesting one, I think — is there are some — some limitations that have come about because of COVID. Because sometimes — typically, in the past, people have traveled to do some of these vetting interviews and expedite moving refugees through processing. Also, people coming into embassies around the world — that’s an additional challenge. We were looking at an assessment of all of these — of all of these items.
Q And do you have a number just of how many refugee officers have been transferred over to dealing with asylum or unaccompanied minor issues?
MS. PSAKI: Transferred over from UACs or transferred over —
Q Or, I mean, who work in the Office of Refugee Resettlement as officers, but now they’re working primarily on unaccompanied children (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Oh, we have some funding numbers. I don’t think I have staff numbers in front of me. I’d certainly send you to them, but we can check if there’s more specifics.
Q Got it. Okay. And then are there outstanding security concerns around the — the Refugee Resettlement Program that are being addressed as part of this review that you’re doing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s a fairly stringent vetting process that takes place. And that can take months and months; it really depends. There have been some limitations and delays, frankly, because of COVID, which has happened in other areas as well. I’m not saying that’s the totality, but that is certainly a factor. But that can certainly take some time, so that’s had an impact as well.
Q Got it. Okay —
MS. PSAKI: But not new security iss- — conce- — issues, if that was what you were asking.
Q Yes, thank you.
MS. PSAKI: No.
Q And then just on policing —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q — just quickly. Just curious about — we were talking about the DOJ announcement this morning.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Is there any White House reaction on — on that decision to start that investigation? And has there been any other outreach that you’ve done to police groups or civil rights groups since the Floyd verdict as you move forward on that issue?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let me first say that, during the campaign, the President pledged to appoint DOJ leadership that would prioritize pattern-or-practice investigations. And so last week — obviously we didn’t know the outcome — right? — of the verdict, but just to give a little history here: Last week, the Attorney General reversed a Trump administration memo that limited the use of consent decrees, with respect to investigation of police departments.
And, obviously, while we didn’t know what the announcement would be today, the attorney — the announcement today of this new investigation into policing policies in Minnesota, there’s kind of a direct pattern — right? — there of what the President was advocating for, who he nominated, the overturning of the memo just last week.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Hi, Jen. One on vaccines, one on Russia.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q What does the Biden admini- — the Biden administration consider to be vaccine discrimination? Should public or private spaces be allowed to exclude people who opt out of getting the COVID-19 vaccine?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think those are standards we’re setting from here. Obviously, private-sector businesses and entities are going to set their own standards.
Q But you — you mentioned earlier you’d be releasing guidance on the privacy rights people can expect when it comes to a vaccination with COVID-19.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure wh- — are you referring to like an FAQ related to vaccine passports or something —
Q Part of that, yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Well, I think — just to be clear on the vaccine passport issue: What we also made clear is that that’s not something that is going to be conducted, reviewed, or overseen by the federal government.
On Russia: Today, in his annual address, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned against foreign intervention in Ukraine, where there is a troop buildup reported in parts of Crimea and hundreds of protesters supporting Aleksey Navalny have been arrested. Is there evidence that the White House sees that U.S. sanctions against Russia are working?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, our sanctions were put in place in som- — many of them done in coordination with our European partners and allies — because our strong view and the view of the global community is that there should be consequences for actions. We have never expected, nor have we projected, that one set of sanctions or any individual set of sanctions is going to immediately change behavior, but it is sending a clear message that behavior is unacceptable and it can’t continue.
I would also remind you that our consequences, as we’ve long said, many are seen — sanctions — and some are unseen and we don’t speak about more specifically.
Q Thank you very much. Two more foreign ones. Today, Australia announced it was — the Australian federal government announced it was revoking a deal by one of the states to do a Belt and Road Initiative with China.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q The Chinese are unhappy. Has the administration — the administration talked specifically with Australia about that deal? And more generally, is the administration talking with its allies and partners around the world about the BRI, and generally, trying to get partners to push back against that?
MS. PSAKI: I think the State Department would be the most likely entity within government to give any readout of conversations with the Australians. Obviously, economic partnerships, relationships; how we can work together as a global community and in a coordinated fashion as it relates to China is part of nearly every discussion the President has with a European partner or country in the region.
Q But specifically, the Belt and Road Initiative, which — which obviously has been painted by some as this, kind of, you know, very clever soft power/loan shark scheme taking over large parts of the world. What — what’s the U.S. —
MS. PSAKI: Well, what about it is your question?
Q Well, I mean, given that Australia, today, pushed back against this very —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — specifically, I was just wondering if the U.S. is in — like, having actual direct talks with partners about — you know, “We’ve got to do something about this BRI.”
MS. PSAKI: I can check and see if there’s anything more specific.
Q Not from here. Okay. And the other one is: The President of Belarus and Putin, as well, today — both touting this supposed plan by the U.S. to have tried to assassinate Lukashenko of Belarus.
MS. PSAKI: I can confirm there’s no basis in fact there.
Q Thanks, Jen. I just want to bring it back to policing.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q On a call with George Floyd’s family and the family’s attorney after the verdict yesterday, the family’s attorney said, quote, “Hopefully, this is the momentum for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to get passed and have you sign.” The President’s response was, “You’ve got it, pal. That and a lot more. Not just that, but a lot more.”
So, in your estimation, is that the President promising to the Floyd family that he will get a policing bill passed?
MS. PSAKI: I think he’s promising to the Floyd family that he will use the power of his presidency; the bully pulpit, as he intends to do during his joint address next week; the role of senior leaders in his government to help push the George Floyd Police — Justice in Policing Act forward.
Q How far — how far is he willing to push for it?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what that means.
Q I mean, how far is he willing to push to get something done? I know you’ve talked a lot about —
MS. PSAKI: In what way?
Q You just talked about giving people in the Congress, lawmakers breathing room to talk and negotiate.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q But, you know, how far is he will- — is he willing to get Democrats in line? Is he willing to keep just pushing for this? Is it a huge prior- — like, can you prioritize, like — give me a sense of his priorities, in terms of getting this done.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point you to the fact that, one, the President gave a passionate call last night for the importance of moving forward in this moment with the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. It is on his mind as he is working with his team and all of us to draft his Joint Session speech, which is one of the highest profile moments any President has in the first year of their presidency.
He has worked and has — had discussions with leaders and members of Congress about moving forward on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, including as recently as his meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus last week. And he has asked prominent leading members of his min- — his administration to remain closely involved and engaged in this effort as it moves forward.
So I’d say it’s absolutely a priority on his mind and he feels this is a moment where there should be momentum for action.
Q And just one on Putin, who, today, did have some aggressive language for Western nations that would, you know, interfere in Russia’s affairs. He said that Russia’s response would be “asymmetric, fast, and tough” if forced to defend his — its interests.
I’m just wondering, broadly — and the Russians have also expressed skepticism that sanctions could do anything to box them into having a summit between Putin and the President. Can you give us any update on how Putin’s words today and his posture could affect any plans for a summit between the two?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve been clear that we desire a relationship with Russia that is stable and predictable, and we don’t think it needs to be — continue to be on a negative trajectory. The sanctions were not meant to entice anyone to attend a summit; that would be a strange strategy. It was meant to put in place consequences for the actions that were completely unacceptable in our eyes and the eyes of the global community.
At the same time, while we put those consequences in place, the President was sending a clear message to President Putin on his call that he believes we can have — this is an opportunity to have a discussion about areas where we think there’s an opportunity to work together on, whether that is nuclear
nonprolifler- — proliferation [nonproliferation], as we did with the continuation — the extension of the New START Treaty or the Iran nuclear deal, and also have discussions about areas where we disagree.
Obviously, it requires all parties having an agreement that we’re going to have a meeting, and we issued that invitation. We’re continuing to have discussions at a high level, as — as is evidenced by the National Security Advisor’s conversation with his counterpart earlier this week.
Q Thank you —
MS. PSAKI: I’ll come back to you. I just want to get to everybody.
Q Thank you, Jen. I have a quicker — quick follow-up question on something you were asked yesterday, and then a second somewhat-related question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q Regarding yesterday, I — respectfully, I feel like you didn’t give quite a firm answer, and I wanted to try again.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q You were asked whether President Biden will honor his Democratic primary campaign pledge to release, quote, “everyone” in prison for marijuana. People are skeptical that he will. President Biden is personally responsible for sending some people to prison for life for marijuana under his 1994 crime bill. And Vice President Kamala Harris oversaw 1,900 marijuana convictions as San Francisco District Attorney. So, will President Bonnor [sic] — will President Biden honor his commitment to release everyone imprisoned for marijuana?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what I did yesterday is reiterate what his position on marijuana was: decriminalizing, rescheduling, and certainly legalizing medical marijuana.
What you’re asking me is a legal question. And now we’re in government, and so I had to follow up with our legal team, and I don’t have any additional information quite yet.
Q So regarding rescheduling, that wouldn’t necessarily release anyone from prison. Schedule II is — has fentanyl and cocaine. You can’t just —
MS. PSAKI: That’s right. It addresses things moving forward though, which is important and important to many advocates.
Q So should people in prison for marijuana who are asking President Biden to honor his pledge to release them — should they expect to be released or are they going to serve life in prison for marijuana?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think I’ve stated very clearly what the President’s position is. What you’re asking me is a legal question. I’d point you to the Department of Justice. And if there’s anything more we can provide from here, I’m happy to provide it.
Q My second question: President Biden, yesterday, responding to George — the George Flord [sic]– Floyd case verdict, said that George Floyd’s death, quote, “ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see the systemic racism” in the United States. But he is an architect of multiple federal laws in the 1980s and ’90s that disproportionately jailed Black people and contributed to what many people see as systemic racism.
The activist Cornel West said that Biden is, quote, one of the “core architects” of mass incarceration, and that, quote, “I think that Biden is going to have to take responsibility and to acknowledge the contribution” he made to mass incarceration.
To what extent does President Biden acknowledge his own role in systemic racism, and how does that inform his current policy positions?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that the President is — one of the President’s core objectives is addressing racial injustice in this country not just through his rhetoric, but through his actions. And what anyone should look to is his advocacy for passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, for nominating leaders to the Department of Justice to address long-outdated policies, and to ask his team — leadership team here in the White House to prioritize these issues in his presidency, which is current and today and not from 30 years ago.
Q Does he believe it’s important to accept his own culpability in setting up a system —
MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve answered your question.
Q Two questions, and you kind of touched on the first one. But, Vladimir — Vladimir Putin accused today — criticized the West by saying that, “All provocateurs will regret it more than ever.” He compared European countries with jackals who, quote, unquote, howl to their “Shere Khan,” but does — did not name specific name — names or countries. Does the U.S. take it personally?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we take anything President Putin says personally; we have tough skin.
Q And then the second question is: On February 2nd — this is to immigration — Biden signed an executive order calling for the CDC and Homeland Security to review Title 2 [sic] — 42. I was wondering if there’s any update on that review on the —
MS. PSAKI: Title 42 is still in place because we are still in the midst of fighting a global pandemic. So I don’t have any predictions of when that will change.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Hi, Jen. Taylor Popielarz with Spectrum News. Three quick —
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Taylor.
Q — questions, so I’ll make them quick. First, has the President been briefed on 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant being shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio, yesterday? It happened moments before the Chauvin verdict came out.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. I should say — yes. And let me — let me just say, since you gave me the opportunity, the killing of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant by the Columbus Police is tragic. She was a child. We’re thinking of her friends and family and the communities that are hurting and grieving her loss.
We know that police violence disproportionately impacts Black and Latino people in communities, and that Black women and girls, like Black men and boys, experience higher rates of police violence. We also know that there are particular vulnerabilities that children in foster care — care, like Ma’Khia, face. And her death came, as you noted, just as America was hopeful of a step forward after the traumatic and exhausting trial of Derek Chauvin and the verdict that was reached.
So our focus is on working to address systemic racism and implici- — implicit bias head on and, of course, to passing laws and legislation that will put much-needed reforms into place at police departments around the country.
Q And has the President been briefed on it?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Okay. And then also in Ohio, the family of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old Cleveland boy who was killed by police in 2014 — they’ve asked the Justice Department to reopen his case. Does the President support that?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the Department of Justice; it’s their decision.
Q And then, lastly, a climate-related question. There have been several lawmakers from Ohio and other states who have called for the U.S. Postal Service vehicle contract to be paused with Oshkosh Defense.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q The lawmakers are alleging that there was maybe inappropriate political dealing with it, but also that it may not meet up to the President’s executive order on electrifying the fleet.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q Is the White House concerned about that? Do they agree — do you agree with the pause and investigation?
MS. PSAKI: I’ll have to check on that. It’s an interesting question.
So, just so I understand, though: It is about a contract that a company has that may or may not meet the electric fleet objectives in the executive order?
Q Yeah. And the Postal Service has said they’ll at least be able to electrify 10 percent, but, obviously, the President has wanted to electrify the whole fleet.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. Okay, let me check on that for you.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. I’ve got one on anti-AAPI discrimination, and then —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q — I’d like to circle back on a vaccine question from last week.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Let’s start with the vaccines. A number of lawmakers — Democratic lawmakers and foreign countries have asked the President to waive vaccine patents to surge production. What possible reason does — could the President have for not doing this, given that a number of organizations like Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam have said that this would be integral to the global fight against coronavirus, outside of protecting the, you know, financial interests of these pharmaceutical companies or maybe maintaining leverage over, you know, production of the vaccine entirely? Is there any reason why you wouldn’t do this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, our ambassador — our USTR Ambassador gave some remarks related to this just last weekend, and I’d certainly point you to those. And we’re certainly looking at a range of options to help address the global pandemic, but I don’t have anything more from here.
Q And then on anti-AAPI hate: Will the President direct Ms. Moritsugu to investigate claims of discrimination from that community in the college admissions process? The executive orders he took in March — or he signed in March — notably didn’t address this. And then the DOJ actually dropped the federal lawsuit, you know, supporting that claim in February.
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s her first week on the job. She just started. And she — as we’ve talked about a bit in here — will have a role both on policy, personnel, and outreach, and certainly have a seat at the table. I believe there’s still ongoing litigation on this specific case, so I would —
Q Yeah, they’re just trying to bring it to the Supreme Court.
MS. PSAKI: But I wouldn’t expect that would be something that a White House official would weigh into while there’s a DOJ ongoing consideration — or ongoing litigation.
Q Is that why that issue was absent from the slate of executive actions that the President took?
MS. PSAKI: I — if there’s ongoing litigation that’s typically a factor, but I’m happy to check with you if there’s anything additional on this issue.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thanks, Jen. Three foreign policy questions.
On Yemen, first: The President — President Biden’s envoy to Yemen, Tim Lenderking, just testified in Congress just now, and he said that he doesn’t believe that Iran is helpful in ending the crisis in Yemen, which he considered a top priority in this administration. Is this a topic that you guys are going to raise in Vienna through your partners — European partners?
MS. PSAKI: I believe that the conversations in Vienna — which are ongoing, as you know — are focused primarily on the nuclear file and where — how we can get to a point of having compliance — meet — meeting compliance obligations, I should say, on all sides. So there are a lot of channels we work through, but I — my expectation is that those will focus on that specific issue.
Q Talking about Vienna, Western diplomats indicated the negotiations seem to be going through successfully. Going halfway through, (inaudible). And they believe that maybe you need two more rounds to reach some kind of agreement. Is this your understanding? And what — what kind of agreement? Is it just to go back to the agreement itself — I mean, the previous one in 2015?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I can say that, for the past few weeks, the U.S. delegation, led by Special Envoy Rob Malley, has been exploring concrete approaches concerning the steps both Iran and the United States would need to take to return to the mutual — to mutual compliance.
And while the discussions have been thorough and thoughtful — if indirect — and we’ve shared some ideas, we still expect there to be a path forward. So I don’t — I don’t think we’re in a position to set ambitious goals like a conclusion in 10 weeks — 2 weeks, at this point.
Q And finally, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just held a press conference with the Republican Study group at Capitol Hill, and he basically wants to introduce a legislation called “Maximum Pressure Act.” Does this complicate your efforts now? Do you see it as an interference? Do you see it as helping you in putting pressure on Iran to come back to the negotiation table? How do you, in fact, see it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t clearly have all the details yet on what the legislation is he’s proposing, but I would say, broadly speaking, our view is that diplomacy should be in the lead; that the former administration pulled out of the Iran deal, which led us to a point where we had far less visibility into what the — what was happening on the ground in Iran. It certainly did not make us safer. And so I don’t know what’s in his legislation, but it’s — I think it’s safe to say we have a very different approach.
Q He would not be lifting the sanctions, basically.
MS. PSAKI: He would be opposed to lifting the sanctions?
I don’t think we’ve indicated we’re speeding — we’re moving toward that, but we’re having a discussion about how to meet compliance obligations on all sides. And we certainly believe that moving towards a diplomatic path forward is in the interest of the United States and the global community.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Saturday is the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. Adam Schiff and a group of about 100 bipartisan lawmakers sent a letter to the President today asking him to follow through on his commitment that he made as a candidate. Will the President be following through on his commitment, and will it be coming by Saturday with the latest remembrance?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I expect we will have more to say about Remembrance Day on Saturday. But I don’t have anything to get ahead of that at this point in time.
Okay. Thank you, everyone.
1:12 P.M. EDT