Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Director of the National Economic Council Brian Deese, April 26, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:25 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Monday.
Q Happy Monday.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Our special guest today is our Director of the National Economic Council, Brian Deese. And he will be — as you may know, Brian was Senior Advisor to President Obama and previously served as Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget. And in the Obama-Biden administration, Brian helped coordinate policy development for tax policy, housing, clean energy, manufacturing, and the automotive industry.
Brian has agreed to come despite having the unenviable task of not being able to roll out many details of our joint session speech or the American Families Plan, but we still wanted to have him here to provide some context on some of the questions you all had raised. And he’ll take — will only be able to take a couple of questions.
But, with that, I’ll turn it over to Brian.
MR. DEESE: Thank you, Jen. And it’s good to see you all again. So I wanted to just provide a little bit of context around, in particular, capital gains taxes — and will provide just a little bit of context. And I’m happy to take a couple of questions.
So, as you know and as Jen has spoken about, the President is excited to, this week, lay out his plan to invest in American families. It will be a plan that will provide critical support for children and families and, in — by doing so, critical support for our economy by boosting labor force participation and future economic competitiveness, making it among the most cost-effective measures to boost our long-term economic strength that we know of.
And the President will also outline ways to offset the long-term costs of those investments by making reforms to our tax code that reward work and not just wealth.
And one element of this reform will be to change how we tax capital gains. And, as you all know, that’s income from selling stocks and other assets for taxpayers that make more than $1 million per year in income.
So, I want to start by reinforcing who this change will actually affect. This change will affect taxpayers making more than a million dollars a year.
In 2018, three tenths of 1 percent of tax filers made more than a million dollars a year. So, I want to start by underscoring this in simple terms: This change will only apply to three tenths of a percent of taxpayers, which is not the top 1 percent; it’s not even the top one half of 1 percent. We’re talking about three tenths of a percent; that’s about 500,000 households in the country that we’re talking about.
So, for the other 997 out of 1,000 households in the country — or the other 150 million households in the country — this is not a change that will be relevant. It won’t change their — the tax treatment of capital gains at all.
And this makes sense because, for the typical Americans, most of their income comes from wages. So, for people making less than a hundred — less than a million dollars a year, about 70 percent of their income comes from wages.
But for those making more than a million, for the top three tenths of a percent, it’s the opposite: About 30 percent of their wages come from wages. And that’s probably actually an understatement since the wealthiest can often strategically avoid reporting this type of income entirely.
And so, as a result, this is — this is the provision that, since 2000, if you look at the 1,400 tax filers — those are people making over $60 million a year — that’s the — for those of you keeping track, that’s the top one thousandth of 1 percent — they have only paid about 20 percent of their reported income in taxes. So, their tax rate, which probably is overstated, again, because this is the category that often doesn’t report or underreports income — their tax rate is lower than many middle-class families’ tax rate.
This is the dynamic that led Warren Buffett to famously explain that he paid a lower tax rate than his secretary. And it’s the — it is the dynamic that has led the President and others to argue that we need to do something about equalizing the taxation of work and wealth in this country.
And that’s why the reforms that the President will lay out are focused on this top sliver of people and treating capital gains the same as wages for that top three tenths of a percent. And we believe that it’s not only fair, but it would also help to reduce the kinds of tax avoidance that significantly under- — undermines trust and fairness in the tax code itself.
And importantly, the revenue from this provision would invest dir- — would help invest directly in our kids and our families and our future economic competitiveness, and put us in a position where we can drive greater economic growth.
So we’ll — we’ll have more to say on this and how it fits into the overall plan, but I just wanted to re- — underscore at the top that — that, number one, we’re talking about a tax change that would affect, again, the three tenths of 1 percent — the top sliver of households.
And, number two, the principle here is to equalize the treatment of ordinary income and capital gains, and that is a principle that’s neither new nor particularly novel. In fact, the last President to enact a reform to equalize the treatment of ordinary income and capital gains was President Reagan, who did so while raising capital gains taxes as part of the 1986 Tax Reform.
And, of course, we will be raising higher rates than in that reform, but a lot has changed in the economy since then; a lot has changed in the academic and empirical research in this space. But the principle is the same, which is that for the very highest income Americans, we should tax at the same rate ordinary income and capital gains.
So, with that, why don’t I pause and can take a couple of questions.
MS. PSAKI: Josh.
Q Thanks so much for doing this, Brian. Just to make sure I understand this: Critics say that you tax capital gains at lower rates to incentivize investments that help the economy grow. Is the administration’s perspective that, among these high earners, they have not been making the investments to help the economy and that the government programs can do it better?
MR. DEESE: So, across a wide body of academic and empirical evidence, there is no evidence of a significant impact of capital gains rates on the level of long-term investment in the economy.
If you look back over the last 30 or 40 years, we’ve had capital gains rates at various rates; we’ve seen different levels of investment in overall economic growth. You can’t identify a meaningful correlation between the two. There’s lots of reasons for that, including that if you look at where a lot of venture capital and early-stage investment comes from, it actually comes from pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, entities that actually are not tax-sensitive. Also because, at the — at the end of the day, a lot of things go into making an investment decision.
But certainly our view and reading of the evidence is that there is not a — there’s not a correlation that would significantly affect investment for these highest-income individuals, number one.
And number two, we can use those resources to invest in areas that we know where there is convincing academic evidence, empirical evidence that investments — for example, in early childhood and in our children — return enormous dividends, in terms of their own academic success, reduced costs in healthcare system, productivity and growth in the future.
MS. PSAKI: Catherine.
Q Brian, one question on the Families Plan itself: Why isn’t the White House including a plan to reduce the price of prescription drugs in the plan?
MR. DEESE: The good news about a question like that is I get to tell you that, since we haven’t rolled out the Families Plan yet and I’m not going to do it at the podium right now, I am not going to confirm whether or not that is — is in. I can, you know, say that the President has long focused on the issue of rising cost of prescription drugs for American consumers and American families. It’s something that he continues to focus on and prioritize, but I’m going to let him speak to those issues in the speech.
MS. PSAKI: Andrea.
Q Yeah. Brian, so, on the question of how you enact this: So, is it — I mean, is this capital gains tax increase dead on arrival when it comes to the Hill? The Republicans are screaming that it is not a good proposal. There’s even some concerns in Democratic circles. How do you convince people that this makes sense?
MR. DEESE: Well, I would say a couple of things to that. The first is on the — on the facts and on the evidence, to go to the conversation we were just having, that we think that the best read of the — of the evidence is actually that making this sort of change for that top, you know, three tenths of a percent of taxpayers — equalizing ordinary income and capital gains — is — would restore fairness, and do so in a way that wouldn’t significantly affect investment and that would allow us to make really high return investments, for which there’s been broad bipartisan support. So, we think that that’s a pretty sensible way of going at it, number one.
Number two, is: The President has said in the context of the Jobs Plan and the Corporate Tax Reform Plan, and will say in the context of this plan as well, he is laying out his Jobs Plan and his Families Plan. This is his vision for how we need to put in place a public adjust- — investment agenda for the country.
He is also identifying ways to responsibly pay for it, and he is welcoming and encouraging others to come forward with their ideas as well.
Q Are you going to need reconciliation to do this?
MR. DEESE: I think what you’re going to hear from the President is a call to consider these investments and the potential that they would provide for the country, and engage in a serious conversation about both whether these investments are needed — and, if we can agree that they’re needed, how we’re going to offset their cost. He’s starting that conversation where he believes is a responsible place to start: by putting a plan on the table. And we’ll take the conversation from there.
MS. PSAKI: Geoff.
Q I want to pick up on something you mentioned about investing in kids and ask you about the Child Tax Credit — not specific to the American Families Plan, but just in general. Some of the President’s Democratic allies on the Hill, as you well know, have pushed to make that permanent. They say they’ve faced some resistance and pushback from the administration.
What’s the argument against making it permanent? Is it economic or is it political, in that Democrats potentially might want to run on this in 2024 and, if you make it permanent, it robs Democrats of that opportunity?
MR. DEESE: Well, let me start by making the argument for the expanded and fully refundable Child Tax Credit, because it was President Biden who put a temporary, one-year expansion of the Child Tax Credit in his American Rescue Plan, which he announced on January 14th — seven days before he was even inaugurated. And it was President Biden who worked with Congress and fought to get that enacted into law.
And now, as a result, the American families — families with — of 66 million children will receive a fully refundable, expanded Child Tax Credit this year, and that will be delivered monthly, going forward. And the best estimates are that that, in combination with the other elements of the Rescue Plan, will reduce child poverty by 50 percent — by about 50 percent this year.
So President Biden is both incredibly proud of that accomplishment and the — and the speed with which we were able to implement it, and believes that we should extend that — that policy to provide some certainty and stability to those families who will be relying on that payment but would see it go away if Congress doesn’t act.
So that’s the context for it, and I’ll let the President speak to the specific plan in the joint session speech.
MS. PSAKI: Brian has gone, already, way over the time allotted. He will come back, as will other people. But Brian has got to go. Sorry, Brian. Thank you for coming, and he’ll come back soon.
MR. DEESE: It’s always so much easier for me to play good cop. Now I realize why. (Laughter.) You know? I’d take all your questions, but Jen — (laughter).
MS. PSAKI: That’s right. Okay. Come on back. (Laughter.)
Q Oh, just do that.
MS. PSAKI: (Laughs.) Right, exactly. Well, there will be much more to say when we roll out the speech. Okay, a couple of items — additional items for all of you at the top.
Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Secretary Vilsack announced the historic expansion of the Summer Pandemic EBT program. This is the single-largest summer child nutrition effort in our nation’s history and will reach more than 30 million kids this summer thanks to the American Rescue Plan.
Summer feeding programs are considered a lifeline for some families, but until now, they’ve reached less than 20 percent of families served during the school year. Children are eligible for this program if they’re eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year or if they are under age six and live in a SNAP household. That is about 34 million American children.
Parents or guardians do not need to take any action to receive the cards in the mail from their state agencies; each child will receive a $375 credit loaded onto an EBT card and can then — that they can — that can then be used by parents or guardians to purchase food.
Also today, President Biden will sign an executive order establishing the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment. This Task Force is a historic effort to mobilize the federal government’s programs, policies, and practices to empower workers to organize and collectively bargain with their employers, and will have a specific focus on increasing worker power in marginalized and underserved communities.
Vice President Harris will be Chair of the Task Force and Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh will be the Vice Chair. The Task Force will include more than 20 Cabinet members and department heads.
Also, Vice President Harris — and will — will have a bilateral meeting with the President of Guatemala this afternoon. They’ll meet virtually to discuss working together to address immediate relief needs of the Guatemalan people, as well as deepening cooperation on migration. The Vice President will also participate in a roundtable with representatives from the Guatemalan community-based organizations tomorrow.
Vice President Harris’s direct engagement is a testament to the importance we are placing on improving conditions in Guatemala. When the Vice President spoke last with the President of Guatemala on March 30th, they agreed to collaborate on promoting economic development, leveraging technology, strengthening climate resis- — resilience, and creating the conditions to expand opportunity for people in their home countries in order to address the root causes of migration.
Finally, as you may have also seen: Today, we announced that the administration is looking at options to share American-made AstraZeneca vaccine doses during the next few months. Given the strong portfolio of vaccines that the United States has already authorized and available in large quantity — and that is available in large quantities, including two-do- — two two-dose vaccines and one one-dose vaccine, and given AstraZeneca is not authorized for use in the United States, we do not need to use AstraZeneca in our fight against COVID over the next few months.
Before any AstraZeneca doses are shipped from the United States, the FDA will confirm any such doses meet its expectations for product quality. This is being done in the context of the FDA’s ongoing review of all doses made at the plant where these AstraZeneca doses were produced.
And I anticipate, in the near future, our team will share more details about our planning and who will be receiving doses from here. But we’re in the planning process at this point in time.
Josh, go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. Let’s go to India and what they’re dealing with with the coronavirus. The President just spoke with the Prime Minister of India: Can you give us some more details about that? And in terms of how many supplies: What all are we really going to rush out there? What’s the volume and the scale to deal with the problem?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, as Josh noted — you may have all seen the readout that we just put out, but just in case you didn’t — the President spoke today with Prime Minister Modi of India committing that the United States and India will continue to work closely together in the fight against COVID. The President pledged America’s steadfast, ongoing support for the people of India who have been impacted by the recent surge in the COVID-19 cases.
In respon- — and we have provided — and let me give you more of a specific update, and I will also note for you that there’ll be an additional call later this afternoon that will provide additional details. So this is just what is available at this point in time of what is being requested and what we are providing.
So there are a number of areas that ha- — are of great interest and are of great need to India at this point in time; oxygen is one of them. At India’s request, the — we are exploring options to provide oxygen and related supplies. The Department of Defense and USAID are pursuing options to provide oxygen generation systems. We may be in a position to reroute shipments planned for other countries with lower immediate needs, given the urgency of the conditions in India. And we’ll have more details, hopefully, on the possibilities soon.
DOD is also exploring providing field oxygen generation systems, which we have used in our field medical hospitals. Each unit can provide oxygen for up to 50 to 100 beds. And we’re also exploring options to provide oxygen concentrators and ventilators, and are in technical discussions with India to ensure the equipment we supply can connect to Indian devices.
The United States has already provided 200 ventilators to India last year and trained medical professionals on their use, so this is, of course, in addition to that and other assistance we’ve provided.
Another one of the major needs is PPE, and we’ve identified U.S. commercial suppliers as well, and — and I should say, “and therapeutics and tests.” But we’ve identified U.S. commercial suppliers of remdesivir that are immediately available to help relieve the suffering of COVID-19 patients in India.
We’ve identified rapid diagnostic testing supplies, personal protective equipment, and additional ventilators available to be transferred to immedia- — into India immediately.
And I noted, of course — we’re also, of course, are in close touch with India officials at all levels about the raw material needs that they have. And as requested by India, we will provide raw materials for the production of AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine at Serum Institute of India.
I know some of these have been announced, but that’s just a little bit of additional details. So we’re in ongoing discussions about what their needs are and how we can meet them. But go ahead.
Q And then, secondly, the President issued a 100-day mask mandate for federal buildings.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q Does the administration plan to update its mask guidance now that we’re at 100 days, roughly, of the Biden presidency? And what about for the broader country? What science, what research are using to guide you?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know there’s been some reports out about CDC plans, and we will certainly leave it to the CDC to announce their guidance — which I think was the second part of your question about what will be required outside — and when masks will be required for individuals who have been vaccinated, so we won’t get ahead of any final details or announcements they will make.
You know, the President, of course, issued that at 100 days; we’re not quite at 100 days, so I don’t have anything more to preview for you in terms of what might be next.
Q Looking ahead to Wednesday, to the President’s speech before a joint session of Congress, can you give us a sense of how the speech is coming together — the President’s involvement in it, how he wants to use that speech and his appearance there to sell the remainder of his legislative agenda?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, first, the President has been working over the last couple of days, as he will be over the next two, on his speech. He’s deeply involved in the development of his speech. He’s thinking a great deal about what — what message he can send directly to the American people about what progress we’ve been made, but, of course, what challenges remain ahead.
He recognizes, as somebody who served in the Senate for 36 years, that this is an opportunity — one of the highest-profile opportunities — even the President has each year to speak directly to the American people, and that’s exactly what he intends to do.
He will lay out the specific details of the American Families Plan in that speech, but he will also talk about a range of priorities that he has for the upcoming months of his presidency, including putting in place — working with Congress to put in place police reform; including doing more to expand access to affordable healthcare.
So there will be a range of priorities he will also mention in his speech, but he’s deep — working closely with his speechwriters on it, but also with policy advisors and policy — and the policy teams on finalizing the components that will be in the speech.
Q And on COVID in this country: What’s the level of concern within the administration that apparently 5 million people — or about 8 percent of those who got the first dose of Pfizer and Moderna didn’t return for dose two?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what — what I will say is that there’s no precedent, right? There’s no playbook. And the other way of looking at that is that we’re pleased that the vast majority — or 92 percent — of people came back for their second doses. And that is, actually, a pretty significant number, in our view.
We know people lead busy lives, but the second dose is critical to getting the maximum level of protection to help defend against variants and get people the longest-lasting protection, and that is certainly a message that is being projected by our health and medical team and doctors who are speaking on behalf of the administration, as it was over the last couple of days.
I’ll also say that a big part of our effort, as we shift into this newer stage where it’s less about supply and more about reaching people where they are, is making it easier to get vaccinated. And that certainly applies to people who have not yet received their first dose, but it also applies to people getting their second dose.
So partnering with doctors’ offices, setting up walk-up sites, helping workers get paid time off — that’s all a part of our effort to ensure people are getting both doses of the vaccine if they’re doing the two-dose vaccine.
Go ahead, Peter.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: And congratulations. Not to embarrass you, you got married.
Q I did, yes. Thank you very much.
MS. PSAKI: Well, congratulations. Welcome back.
Q Thank you. Thank you, Jen.
First, Vice President Harris says that she’s not gone to the border yet because “We have to deal with COVID issues.” What is she referring to?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would certainly have to ask her team about that specifically, but I would tell you also that her focus is not on the border; it’s on addressing the root causes in the Northern Triangle. And that’s why the majority of her time has been spent on working with — on a diplomatic level.
She is going to speak — have a bilateral meeting with the President of Guatemala this afternoon. She’s going to speak with the President of Mexico next week. And she’s working with them to ensure there are systems put in place to reduce the amount of migration coming from these countries, but also to address the root causes. And that’s really what the President has asked her to do.
Q Then, I guess, if not with regard to her specific statement, is there a White House concern — when you guys were planning presidential or vice presidential travel — more about COVID at the border than other places that she has traveled recently?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly know that the number of people who were in facilities — the reason we have been so focused on expediting moving kids out of these Border Patrol facilities is because we want to reduce the public health impact in these facilities and get them into spaces where we can do social distancing and where we can ensure these kids have access to health — you know, health and medical experts and educational resources.
So that’s certainly — and we’ve made some progress on that front even over the last few weeks, since you got married, I will say, on that exact issue.
So, look, but if the — if a President or a Vice President goes down and visits a facility like this, you have to potentially clear some parts out; there’s a lot of security that comes. Our focus here is on solutions, on making progress, on moving these kids out of these facilities, on getting them connected with sponsor homes with — with family members if possible. And that’s really where the President — the President’s focus is at this point in time.
Q And then, about those facilities: There was a report in the last couple of days in the New York Post that every migrant child being brought to a shelter is being given a copy of her children’s book, “Superheroes are Everywhere.” Do you know why that is and if she is making any money off of that?
MS. PSAKI: Of the President — of the Vice President’s —
Q The Vice President’s book. Yeah.
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check with our Health and Human Services team if — you’re talking about if they go to shelters or if they go —
Q Yeah. In the welcome kit, apparently, there’s a copy of her 2019 children’s book, “Superheroes are Everywhere.”
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to certainly check on that. I hear it’s a good book.
Q And then — (laughs) — and then I’ve got one more. Why was President Biden the only world leader at the Climate Summit Zoom who was wearing a mask?
MS. PSAKI: Because he is sending a message to the world that he is putting in place precautions and continuing to do that as leader of the United States. And I don’t know what setups they all had in their countries — that may warrant some more reporting or not. But obviously, he had a pool there for portions. There were additional staff there, additional personnel. And that’s the sort of model that we try to keep ourselves to here.
Q But I know the CDC’s website and their guidance is that you can gather indoors with fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask or staying six feet apart, so —
MS. PSAKI: That’s actually for — in your private home, so it’s not workplace guidance. And we still wear masks around here, just like you are all wearing masks. And we wear masks in our offices and continue to abide by that until that guidance changes here.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Mary. Go ahead.
Q Hi, thank you. Our latest poll over the weekend showed that the President has a 53 percent approval rating, which is of course lower than any recent past President except for President Trump. Just 52 percent approve of his handling of the economy. Why do you think that is?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say there were a bunch of polls over the weekend. I know you’re asking about yours specifically, but there were also some very positive signs about the American public’s view of the President’s job he’s doing, including his response to COVID and the pandemic — something that’s on the minds of the majority of the American public.
According to the NBC poll, it was 69 percent; CBS, 65 percent; ABC, 64 percent approval. Also, I will — I will also note, per our earlier discussion, that, according to the ABC poll, 58 percent of the public approved of raising corporate tax rates.
But the bottom line is the President — these polls show what we have long known: that the President came into office at one of the most divisive moments in modern American history. And the President’s focus is on fulfilling his promise to bring the country together — so, in large part, on delivering on the things the American people were — elected him to do, which there — we have seen broad approval for: getting the pandemic under control; turning our economy around, especially for working families and the middle class.
So we know that bringing the country together — that getting through what is a height of divisiveness in our country is going to take some time. And that certainly, we see, is reflected in the polls.
Q So, when you do look at these numbers, what lessons do you take away, if any, in terms of how you may approach the next 100 days?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we — the President would be the first to tell you we have a lot of work left to do to get the virus under control, despite the fact that two thirds of the public, in all of these polls, support his approach and support the progress that’s been made to get our economy up and running.
There’s still 10 million people out of work. People aren’t feeling satisfied by that. And we still need to keep our heads down and keep pushing forward to get the American Jobs Plan passed and ultimately the American Families Plan passed.
But also, he knows that he needs to do — continue to work at bringing the country together. And he will always be open to bipartisanship. He will always have an open door in the Oval Office to members of Congress of different viewpoints to get work done for the American people. And he certainly believes that’s what people elected him to do.
Q And on the speech on Wednesday — you know, obviously, your first joint address is a big moment for any new President, but this is not going to be a joint address like we’ve seen before because of the pandemic. A lot of the pomp and circumstance won’t be there. The audience will be scaled down. No guests, et cetera. How is the President modifying his approach to the speech to sort of accommodate these unusual circumstances?
MS. PSAKI: You’re right. And it will look very different for people who are watching at home who are used to seeing — they may not even know they’re used to seeing this — right? — but they’re used to seeing a full Senate Chamber — House and Senate — you know, full members of Congress filling — they’re used to seeing guests for all of these members of Congress.
They’re used to seeing — which is always an important part of the speech — a First Lady’s box that’s full of incredible people who are inspiring — have inspiring stories and the President references in his speech. And that’s tradition as well.
And none of that will be a part of the speech in the same way that people have seen in the past. So there’s certainly an adjustment to, you know, how he’ll speak to the audience, speaking directly to the American people at home. That’s always a part of it, but even more so — to, you know, not having all of these incredible stories, inspiring stories that are typically a part of any President’s joint session or State of the Union Address.
So, it will look different. But from his vantage point, it still is an opportunity to speak directly to the American people about the progress that’s been made, the work that’s still ahead, his new proposals for an American Families Plan, and some of the priorities that remain central to his presidency. And that hasn’t changed.
Q And do you know — will he be wearing a mask? Because, I think, technically, now the rules are such that anyone speaking on the floor must be masked. Or will there be an exception for the speech?
MS. PSAKI: You know, I’ll have to ask him that and ask our doctors that. It’s a great question, and we’ll — let me get back to you so people can know what to expect.
Q Thanks. Quickly, because I didn’t get to ask Brian Deese this: Is the 1 million threshold for the capital gains tax increase applying to households or individuals? Do you know?
MS. PSAKI: These are all excellent questions. And I know I put him in a very difficult position, as I am too, because the speech is not for two days. And we will have lots of briefings that will go through all of the specific details.
So you can’t clarify right now if it’s —
MS. PSAKI: I’m just —
Q Because he did confirm that there will be a capital gains tax raise, but it’s not clear —
MS. PSAKI: Yes, and over a million dollars is what’s been reported; that’s accurate. But I am not going to get into more specifics. I will see if there’s more we can provide to you after the briefing, but we’ve been quite careful about not getting ahead of the President.
Another topic: The European Commission president said, over the weekend, that American — vaccinated American tourists can safely enter with proof of vaccination — whatever form that may be — in the summer.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q Is there any discussion that the White House would reciprocate that for European travelers?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re constantly reviewing. But obviously, it is based on the advice of our health and medical team who are evaluating what needs to be done to continue to protect the health and safety of the American people. So I don’t have any update on that at this point.
Q Jen, Canada and the United Kingdom have both restricted travelers from India amid concerns about the variant there. Is there any effort here or a review here about whether the U.S. would temporarily suspend travel from India?
MS. PSAKI: We’re always reviewing what needs to be done to protect the American people, but I don’t have any restrictions — or rollback of restrictions to preview today.
Q And one more on India. The Indian government ordered Twitter and Facebook and Instagram to block social media posts criticizing the handling of the COVID response there. Any White House comment on that move?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that certainly wouldn’t be aligned with our view of freedom of speech around the world.
Q And will the First Lady have any kind of virtual box? Or will there be anything to, sort of, replace the — you know, the traditional — as you spoke about, the First Lady’s box full of guests?
MS. PSAKI: Not as people knew it previously. Right? There won’t be — she won’t be sitting in the box with people. We are looking for ways to engage with the American public — whether it’s through viewing parties or ways to communicate about what the President is proposing — but it won’t look or feel or sound like it has in the past.
Q Yeah, so, just back on the tax question, real quick. We keep asking this question about reconciliation. Do you have a — a sort of a plan to increase your outreach to potential skeptics, even among the Democratic side, in terms of getting this, really, additionally large package through Congress?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I mean, obviously the President has himself been engaged with Republicans, as he was last week and I expect he will be again next week. And he’ll talk about the American Jobs Plan as well as the American Families Plan.
But our root focus here — I know you were asking Brian about the corporate opposition to the capital gains component. Look, our core — our core focus here and the President’s core focus is on laying out policies that will increase investment in industries of the future, create millions of jobs, invest in childcare and education to make us more competitive.
Then he believes we should propose ways to pay for it, but that’s not — he’s not doing a corporate tax proposal; he’s doing an American Families proposal, an American Jobs Plan proposal. These are ways to pay for it. If people have alternative ways, we’re open to hear from them.
But the bottom line is the President is not going to raise taxes on people making less than four hundred doll- — “$400,” that would be like nobody pays taxes — but $400,000 a year. And he believes that the burden should be on the backs of corporations and highest-level income people who can afford to pay more. Hence his opposition to user fees and other proposals that would be — put the weight — the burdens on the back of American people.
Q On India, I have another question.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q You — actually, on AstraZeneca. So did — the opening up of a — is that — is there any specific measure or urgency to get doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to India? Is that a biggest — among the biggest priorities?
And then on the India — specifically, you mentioned that the idea is to get some raw materials —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q — to Indian production of the AstraZeneca vaccine. There are other vaccines that are being produced in India. Will those raw materials also be available to other manufacturers working on other vaccine?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, on the second question, I think we — I mentioned another vaccine option as well, where the raw materials would work for — could be useful for.
But I will say that we are continuing to look for a range of ways to help India. So we’re talking about what we can redirect, what is available now.
A lot of what they need at this moment is oxygen. That is what they will tell you. What — I know reporters, all of you and your colleagues who are reporting from the region, will tell you that we are quite focused on that, as well as PPE, testing, and other immediate needs they have now.
But since you — since I didn’t mention this earlier: Just to be clear, we have — right now we have zero doses available of AstraZeneca. We’re talking about what the F- — the FDA needs to go through a review — right? — to ensure the safety and it’s meeting our own bar and our own guidelines.
And we expect there to be approximately 10 million doses that could be released if/when the FDA — if or when the FDA gives its concurrence, which could happen in the coming weeks. So this is not immediate.
And there is an estimated additional 50 million doses that are in various stages of production. These could be completed in stages across May and June.
But our team — our national security team, our COVID team, working with the State Department and others — we’re going to assess a range of requests, a range of needs around the world. But that’s the timeline, just to give you a sense.
Q Okay. And then, on the Putin summit, is there a date that you’ve got in mind? And have you made any decisions?
So there was some reporting that was — you were looking at the 15th and 16th of June, which would be right after the G7 Summit. Is that the intention — to, sort of, twin those two trips? And do you have a country yet?
MS. PSAKI: We’re not quite there yet. We are eager, of course, to — as we have any details to provide, we will provide them, but we don’t have confirmation of any details yet or a proposed timeline quite yet.
Q Thanks, Jen. I wanted to follow up on something Geoff was asking you about — about the second doses —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — and then do a school question on the back end.
But on the second doses: The 5 million Americans who have missed their second dose — why does the administration think that’s happening? Why are people not going back for their second shot?
MS. PSAKI: There are a range of im- — a range of reasons for different individuals. I will say — it is important to note — there is no history or precedent here. Right? So the fact that 92 percent of people are going back for their second doses, in our assessment, is a pretty significant number.
But we are looking at ways that we can take steps — as we are for people who haven’t even taken their first dose — or their only dose, if they’re doing Johnson & Johnson — to help address, including ensuring that we have more mobile sites; that we are, as we announced last week, providing — ensuring there’s an opportunity for paid leave; that we are working in partnership with doctors to make it easier.
You know, people have busy lives; we certainly understand that. And we want to take every step we can to make it easier for people to get their second dose or their first dose if they have not yet done that either.
Q And would there be any plan to do some of those things specifically for those people who need to go back for shot two to guarantee that they get back in the door wherever they went for their first one?
MS. PSAKI: The same approaches apply to all of these challenges. So, obviously, we target — you know, we take different approaches, depending on the community or depending on what we’re seeing in the data of the challenges.
But the importance of increasing our investment in mobile sites; partnering with doctors; partnering — increasing our pharmacy allotment — these are all steps we’re taking to increase the number of people who are getting their doses.
Q And on schools — obviously, this was a key part of the President’s 100-days agenda: Nearly half of schools are open full time, but the vast majority of students are learning online at least some of the time during the week. They’re fulltime virtual or hybrid learning.
If the buildings are open but the students are still learning remotely a significant portion of the time, does the President view that as a success, and will he declare that this week?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think we’ve seen data since the early April data that was reflective of February. So the data is quite old at this point in time. And we’ve seen, across communities and states, there’s been a significant amount of progress of schools opening five days a week, of students being in school learning.
Now, some school districts have given the option of scoo- — of students, if their parents choose, to stay remote. That is, in some school districts, the option they’ve chosen. I expect we’ll have more data on March — not until probably early May or late April time. That will give us a greater assessment, and we have every confidence we will be over 50 percent of schools open five days a week.
Q So no data — new data before day 100 this week?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s — the data is done by the Department of Education, so we can’t really change the data-release timing. But we are confident, given what we’ve seen happen across the country, that we are going to meet that goal.
Go ahead, David.
Q I have two questions for you on different topics, Jen. First, you may have seen the FBI and DHS turned out a fairly detailed set of guidance today on SolarWinds and suggested there would be more attacks coming. How are we supposed to measure — since the President announced his sanctions two weeks ago — what success looks like there? Would it be —
MS. PSAKI: From — from the impact of sanctions?
Q From the impacts of the sanctions and whatever unseen activities you –- you engaged in.
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s challenging, as you know from covering this for some time, as you have. I will say that, you know, we have never — never thought — seen one set of sanctions as being the silver bullet that would change — alone change the behavior of the Russian government, just like we wouldn’t see sanctions as the one silver bullet that would change behavior in any country.
We still felt it was essential to put in place consequences and implement consequences for a behavior that we found to be absolutely unacceptable, as did most of the global community.
But in terms of measuring success: You know, our objective is to deescalate the relationship; to, of course, speak out where we have concerns; speak out where we have — take action as needed when we are responding to their behavior that we find unacceptable; but also to find a way to make it predictable and stable.
So I would say, you know, that’s what we’re working toward. We’re not looking as the implementation of sanctions as a — as a solo incident that we’re evaluating the success of, as much as it is part of moving and changing the relationship.
Q Did you see Putin’s move to pull back from the Ukraine border as his indication that he also wanted to deescalate?
MS. PSAKI: I am — as I’ve said before, I’m blissfully not in the mind of Vladimir Putin.
MS. PSAKI: And I — but, you know, we are — and so, I can’t predict or analyze for you really effectively what was in his mind in the movements that were made.
But our objective continues to be working with our partners in Europe to convey that mil- — that troop buildup was unacceptable, that escalation is unacceptable.
And, you know, President Biden, Tony Blin- — or Secretary Blinken and others don’t hold back in making that — conveying that clearly.
Q One last question for you. You have some visitors this week from Israel — an intelligence group, I think, led by Yossi Cohen of the Mossad and some others. Who are they seeing in the administration? And do you plan to be conveying or do officials plan to be conveying to them the thought that Israel may be, actually, actively undercutting your effort to get back — get the Iran deal back together?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to get back to you — as we try to be transparent around here — who they’re meeting with and check with our national security team about that, David and others who are interested in that.
I will say that we will, of course, brief them — I’m certain it will be a part of the — of the conversation — as we regularly do, on the status of negotiations. We’ve just concluded the second round; that will likely be multi-round negotiations in Vienna. And we will update them, I would expect, on those discussions and the progress being made there.
But in terms of other components of the discussion, I will see what we plan to read out from those meetings.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Two questions on behalf of colleagues who can’t be here —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — a couple of ones, and one of my own. For the capital gains tax increase, when would that take effect?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I know there’s lots of questions and interest. I understand it; I’m with you for it. But we will have many factsheets, many pages of factsheets, many briefings to get you all of the details you would like.
Q And, on AstraZeneca, the doses: Are those going to be given specifically to countries or to COVAX? What is the process for determining who gets those? Does Canada get any of those, other countries, and how many?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. We’re working through the — what the process will look like, and we will consider a range of options from our partner countries. And, of course, much of that will be through direct relationships.
Q Okay. And the other question I had was: You mentioned two of the President’s goals was to bring the country together and end the pandemic. Those are obviously the two big goals that he has. You’re seeing —
MS. PSAKI: Get Americans back to work.
Q Which is obviously connected to ending the pandemic.
And, you know, you see this vaccine hesitancy among Republicans. You see slower vaccination rates in Republican-led states. How are the — how does the President view those two goals as intertwined? And does, you know — do they have to, kind of — can you not have one without the other, I guess, is what I’m saying?
MS. PSAKI: That’s an interesting question. I would say that the President believes he’s got to govern for all people. And that includes, of course, getting the pandemic under control, which is certainly not impacting people through a political prism.
So, our efforts are to increase vaccine hesi– — confidence, I should say, across a range of communities where we’ve seen some — some concern or some question.
Now we have seen, in recent data, that there has been large increases among not just communities of color, but also more conservative communities — people who have had a neighbor take the vaccine; who have seen the — people who are vaccinated able to have dinner together in their home, as is part of the CDC guidance. And so that’s encouraging.
But we are going to — the President is going to continue to govern for all people to work to address the crises we’re facing — that are not Democratic or Republican crises; they’re crises for the American public — whether that is the pandemic, people who are out of work, the climate crisis, racial injustice in our country. Those are the four he’s identified as being central to his presidency.
Q Hey, Jen. Hey, a question on unity. You know, you talk about — earlier, you said you wanted to bring — or the President wanted to “bring the country back together.” So, I guess, the question is: He has not met with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, according to Kevin McCarthy. What does that say about unity?
And also, there are some other legislative issues, as it relates to H.R. 1 and a commission to study packing the Supreme Court, as you would say. And there’s a lot of other lists as well — budget reconciliation. So, there’s a lot of folks — you talk about tens of millions of people — that are concerned about that this doesn’t seem like unity at all.
MS. PSAKI: Do you think tens of millions are people are concerned about him not meeting with Kevin McCarthy?
Q No, I think of tens of millions of people are concerned about H.R. 1 and budget reconciliation and going with a 50-vote threshold. I think that was a concern.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure the polling bears that out. But I will say that the President’s view is that bringing the country together is bringing the American people together. So, when I say he is — he is focused on re- — bringing — you know, bringing people together, bringing Democrats and Republicans together, he is not talking about solving bipartisanship in the — this ZIP Code here. He is talking about proposing policies that address the crises that we’re facing, whether it’s getting the pandemic under control, putting people back to work.
A lot of those policies he’s proposed — whether it’s the American Rescue Plan or the American Jobs Plan — are supported by the vast majority of the American public — Democrat, Republican, independent. They certainly want to see him working with — with Republicans and Democrats and — here. And he’s absolutely doing everything he can to do that. He’s had a number of Republicans down here to the Oval Office. He’s looking forward — we’re going to be reviewing their proposals, and I think certainly people see that — see him rolling up his sleeves and ready to work with people of all different viewpoints.
Q So, just real quick: Why not separate the infrastructure bill that Republicans have — whatever it is; $800 billion or so? Why not just take that and call it “unity,” call it a deal, and then move on to some of the other legislative priorities within the total construct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, David, as you know, you need 60 votes. You can talk to Republicans in the Senate and see how many votes they have.
But I will say that where we are now is that we are certainly taking a look at the proposal. Right now, there’s deep-in-the-weeds, sometimes-nerdy conversations between staffers, members of Congress. We have lots of follow-up questions; I’m sure they have lots of follow-up questions. We’re sharing ideas. That’s actively happening now.
He’ll invite some members next week — bipartisan members — to come to the Oval Office and have a discussion about it on what the path forward looks like.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Thank you, ma’am. I have one question about foreign policy, and then another about COVID here. So, the first one is: In tapes obtained by the New York Times, Iran’s foreign minister says that former Secretary of State John Kerry informed him that Israel attacked Iranian interests at least 200 times.
You know, as the Secretary has shifted roles, he still continues to represent the United States on a world stage. Does the President have any comment or reaction to Kerry telling the Iranians about covert military action on the part of Israel?
MS. PSAKI: We’re not going to comment on leaked tapes.
Q Okay. And then, my second question is: I’ve heard from a number of governors who are frustrated that they haven’t heard directly from President Biden on these weekly coordinating COVID calls. Why hasn’t he joined those weekly calls?
MS. PSAKI: And how many governors?
Q Say what?
MS. PSAKI: How many governors have you heard from?
Q I’ve heard from a number, but has — how many times —
MS. PSAKI: Like how many? One? Two?
Q Well, I’m actually curious to see how many times he’s joined those calls, and if there’s — if there’s a reason why?
MS. PSAKI: It was never his — but I’m curious to answer to your question too.
Q It’s — it’s in our story. We —
MS. PSAKI: I think there were two in your story.
Q There were two in my story and there were others who didn’t go on the record, but we reflected that in the story.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, so two governors and some anonymous governors.
I will say that the intention was never for the weekly call — the COVID call that is led by our COVID Coordinator — to be a part — to — for the President to be leading that call. That — the intention was for our COVID Coordinator to be providing an update directly from the President, directly from our work across the federal government to get the pandemic under control.
And what we’ve done on that call is provided weekly updates on the number of doses that are going out to states, which is — have increased nearly every week. We’re talking about an average of about 28 million out to states now. It’s an opportunity to have an engagement, have a discussion about where there are challenges in the system; how to better operationalize; better communicate, which was a complaint that we came in and tried to solve when we came into office.
So that was the intention. I can assure you that the — the American public, governors hear quite a deal — quite a great deal from the President on his plans to get the pandemic under control. And he is — it’s in excellent hands with — with his COVID Coordinator.
Q So to clarify: He has not joined. Does he have any plans in the future to join those calls?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve never conveyed it as a call that would be a part of his agenda, so I’m not sure there’s like a big controversy here.
Q Okay. Thank you, ma’am.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Can you confirm reports that Ambassador — that — sorry, excuse me — that the CIA Director Bill Burns was in Iraq, in Baghdad, meeting with Iranian officials in (inaudible) foreign minister’s home?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the CIA for confirmation of anything about his schedule.
Q Okay. Because he was somebody who led the discussions in 2015, and currently, Prime Minister — I mean, Foreign Minister Zarif is in Iraq too, so I’d be interested to know whether the two of them are planning to meet. Is that something that you’re able to discuss?
MS. PSAKI: I’d — again, I’d point you to — to the CIA and his team there for any details of his schedule.
Q I have another question —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — on Guatemala.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q So, earlier today, Secretary Blinken announced sanctions on some Guatemalan officials.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q Are there are other sanctions that the administration is weighing for other Northern Triangle countries now? And how is this expected to affect the discussions that the Vice President is having later today on migration cooperation?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, the sanctions that were announced today — which everybody may not have seen; I know there’s a lot going on — is on one current and one former Guatemalan government official for their role in corruption in Guatemala. And these sanctions support efforts by the people of Guatemala to end the scourge of corruption as part of the U.S. government’s commitment to support improvements in government — in governance in Guatemala.
You know, and as the Vice President’s virtual bilat with the President today indicates, we are focused on working with Guatemala and other partners in the region to improve conditions and address the root causes of migration.
Today’s actions were also taken in close coordination with the United Kingdom, which has today established a new anti-corruption sanctions regime.
But we are confident we will continue to be able to work with the Guatemalan leadership on areas of agreement, areas where there is opportunity. But we also are not going to hold back when actions warrant sanctions, as they did in this case, on the grounds of corruption.
Q Do you expect the Vice President to meet with El Salvador President Bukele?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know she has a — a virtual bilat next week with the Mexican president, and I expect she’ll have more in the coming weeks. But I don’t have anything to preview for you today.
Go ahead, all the way in the back.
Q Yes, I have a question for myself, and then two for colleagues who can’t be in the room.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q First, you’ve laid out a number of domestic agenda items for the President’s speech on Wednesday. How much can we expect that he will speak about foreign policy?
MS. PSAKI: He will certainly talk about foreign policy in his speech and reiterate his objectives and commitments to rebuilding our place in the world, regaining the United States’ seat at the table. I don’t have more to preview for you than that, but it will certainly be a part of the speech.
Q Okay. And let me see — what is your response to the criticism that the U.S. response to the crisis in India is coming late?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I will say, first, you know, the United States has been one of the largest providers of assistance to address the COVID pandemic around the world, including to India.
And we have obviously taken some significant steps over the nex- — last couple of days to address their immediate needs and been in close touch with them at every level, including with Prime Minister and the President discussing — or communicating.
I will also say that, you know, we are continuing to fight a pandemic here. India and the United States are — have two of the highest — or have two of the highest challenges as it relates to fighting the COVID pandemic, so we also take that into account.
But I can assure people who are watching and paying attention that we are — want to work in partnership with India. We are committed to getting them assistance they need — whether that’s oxygen, PPE, therapeutics, tests, raw materials for vaccines — and we’ll continue to communicate at the highest level.
Q Okay, and —
MS. PSAKI: Andrea.
Q Oh, sorry.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, did you have one more? Go ahead.
Q One more. Is the administration concerned about reports on the use of forced labor to produce polysilicon for solar panels in Xinjiang?
MS. PSAKI: Let me check. I think we would be concerned, but let me check with our national security team and we’ll get you a statement directly on that.
Go ahead, Andrea.
Q I just had a — kind of, a clarification question.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Previously, when you released doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Canada and Mexico —
MS. PSAKI: We lent them.
Q You lent them. Is the loan thing — the loan program over? Are we into gifting now? Or —
MS. PSAKI: (Laughs.) We’re — we are considering a range of options. And I expect, as we put together our plan and we consider the range of requests we have and determine where we will be distributing these vaccines, we will do that through a range of means.
Q Thanks, Jen.
Q And then just — Jen, just on the overall issue of, kind of, vaccine production in the U.S. There is, as you know, mounting pressure on U.S. to support this TRIPS waiver at the WTO. Has there been any shift in the U.S. position?
Up until now, the U.S. has not even permitted those discussions to take place on a formal level. Given what we’re seeing now — this sort of worst-case scenario of the increased incidents in India and Brazil and other places — is there a rethink going on?
I understand that there’s concern about the emergence of variants and not knowing that — you know, what will happen to those. Are you rethinking the position now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ll first say — and I know we’ll have a call shortly on — where you can — where there’ll be an opportunity to ask a lot of these questions too.
But, you know, India has their own IP — right? — and they are also manufacturer of vaccines. Some of it has been delayed. Our — the last time we really communicated about this at a high level was from our USTR, Katherine Tai, but I don’t have any updates to that.
Q Jen, could I do one from a colleague?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q (Inaudible), sorry. I know you want to get out for the call.
MS. PSAKI: It’s okay.
Q This is from VOA. He can’t be here, obviously —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — due to COVID. The question is: Ukrainian President Zelensky is suggesting including U.S. participation to try to end the Donbas war. Is the administration ready to take a more active role in the peace process? And if yes, what capacity?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would certainly point you to the State Department. They’re probably the most appropriate entity to talk about our engagement in negotiations.
We have been engaged in the past, as you know, and certainly we are in close touch with the leadership of Ukraine at a range of levels. The President himself has spoken with the President of Ukraine, and certainly the Secretary of State and others have spoken with their counterparts about what their needs are and how we can be effective partners.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: You have eight minutes until the call, so you’re welcome. (Laughter.)
2:23 P.M. EDT