James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

 
2:28 P.M. EDT
 
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.
 
Q    Hello.
 
MS. PSAKI:  All right.  Happy Tuesday. 
 
Okay, a couple of items for you at the top.  Today, President Biden is issuing an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay a $15 minimum wage to hundreds of thousands of their employees.  These workers are critical to the functioning of federal government, from cleaning professionals and maintenance workers, to nursing assistants who care for the nation’s veterans, to cafeteria and other food service workers who ensure we all have healthy and nutritious food to eat, to laborers who build and repair federal infrastructure.
 
The executive order will increase the hourly minimum wage for federal contractors to $15 in new and renewed contracts and contract options starting in January 2022.  This increase must be implemented by March 30th, 2022; continue to index the minimum wage to an inflation measure, so it keeps up the cost of living — with the cost of living; eliminate the tipped minimum wage for federal contractors by 2024; ensure a $15 minimum wage for federal contractors with disabilities; and restore minimum wage protections to outfitters and guides operating on federal lands. 
 
Also, as you may remember — and I think this announcement just went out — but President Biden signed a Made in America executive order directing federal agencies to ensure taxpayer dollars supporting American manufacturing.  We’ve been, of course, hard at work delivering on that commitment.  And, today, the President announced the appointment of Celeste Drake as the nation’s first Made in America Director — which, I think, is a great title.
 
As Made in America Director with the — within the Office of Management and Budget, she will make sure agencies follow the President’s ambitious “Buy American” commitment and will help continue the work to carry out his bold “Made in America” agenda.  
 
Also today — sorry, two more items here.  Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, the Department of Homeland — of Health and Human Services is announcing the availability of $1 billion for the construction and renovation of community health centers.  The funding builds on President Biden’s commitment to ensuring equity and access to COVID-19 response efforts and high-quality primary healthcare services.
 
Community health centers are a critical pipeline — as we’ve talked about a bit in here before — for our COVID-19 vaccination efforts.  And all of the nation’s nearly 1,400 Health Resources and Services Administration-funded health centers will be eligible for these funds.  
 
Finally, following the President’s address to the joint session of Congress, we are launching the “Getting America Back on Track” tour to highlight the successes of the first 100 days in addressing the crises facing our country: vaccinating America to beat the pandemic — 200 million — more than 200 million Americans, to be exact; delivering much-needed financial help to American families; making transformative investments to rescue and rebuild our economy; and fundamentally showing the government can deliver for people.
 
They’ll also — we’ll also use the tour to take the case directly to the American people about the vital need for action on the Jobs Plan and the Families Plan — which the President will be laying out in detail tomorrow evening — so we can make badly needed investments in the financial security of middle-class families, as well as in jobs, growth, and competitiveness. 
 
After the joint session, the President, Vice President, First Lady, Second Gentleman, and Cabinet members will fan out across the country.  On Thursday, as you know, the President and First Lady will travel to Georgia, and the Vice President will go to Baltimore.  On Friday, the President will travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; the Vice President will go to Ohio; and the Second Gentleman will head to North Carolina.
 
They will be traveling, of course, next week, as well.  And we will announce additional stops then. 
 
Hello, Josh.  Go ahead.  Kick us off.
 
Q    Thanks so much, Jen.  The census recently came out and reallocated congressional seats.  Does the White House share the concerns that Hispanics were undercounted as part of the census?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, let me say that the President took steps when he took office to overturn the policies of the Trump administration — or the approach to counting by the Trump administration.  That was one of the first steps he took.  As you know, this process is carried out by career, apolitical experts.  It was announced yesterday because they needed additional time, and we thought that was absolutely appropriate. 
 
Of course, the steps that are taken to allocate congressional seats is set by statute and has been in place since 1941.  In terms of the impact of the last administration, I would send you to the Census.  We’re not in a position to assess that. 
 
Q    Secondly, a report came out today from Human Rights Watch about Israel, saying that Israel is guilty of international crimes of apartheid and persecution because of discriminatory policies towards Palestinians.  Israel has rejected that characterization.  Does the White House think the report is accurate or inaccurate? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, Josh, the State’s Department has its own rigorous process for making atrocity determinations and reports on human rights abus- — issues globally on an annual basis through the Human Rights Report that they issue, they do briefings on, and they put out publicly.  The Department has never used such terminology. 
 
As to the question of whether Israel’s actions constitute apartheid, that is not the view of this administration. 
 
Go ahead, Steve.
 
Q    Is — thank you, Jen.  Is the President going to change his own personal habits to adapt to the new CDC guidelines?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Certainly.  He’ll be following public health guidelines.  So I think you saw him outside today.  He took the mask off; he didn’t put the mask back on.  It will take some time to adjust and adapt for all of us.  And I know when I take my kids to the playground this weekend, I’ll be happy not to be wearing a mask. 
 
Q    And what about indoors: Is he changing anything about indoors? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, the — the guidance, as you know, that was put out, it was more about mask wearing outside.  If you’re vaccinated and — and you can — and you wear a mask inside, then you can go to gyms and restaurants and things along those lines. 
 
We will still, in here, until there’s different guidelines, abide by the recommendations of the CDC as it relates to workplaces.
 
Q    And could you talk a little bit about the speech tomorrow night? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.
 
Q    How long do you think it will be?  Is he doing practice sessions?  Are Cabinet members going to be in attendance?  That sort of thing.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Let me give you as many details as I can, at this point.  And then we’ll continue to provide additional updates.  As you all know, there’s a briefing later tonight as well. 
 
First, Steve, you have covered many Presidents who have delivered these addresses.  You can be our historian and tell us if any of them have final addresses where we know the exact length about 36 hours in advance.  So, we’re not quite there on that piece yet, but I can tell you that the President has been working on this speech for the last few weeks.
 
He has been preparing with Senior Advisor Mike Donilon, Director of Speechwriting Vinay Reddy, working on the speech.  And, really, over the last several days, he’s been edit — line editing it, meeting with his speechwriters, getting advice and counsel from senior advisors, checking in with members of his family.  And also, as part of his process, he engages with his policy teams to ask for additional details, ask for further clarification.  And certainly, given we’re rolling out the American Families Plan, that has also been — being — been finalized — or in the finalization process through this. 
 
I can also tell you that while the major policy announcement in the speech is of course the American Families Plan, a historic investment in education and childcare, he will also use the speech as an opportunity to talk about many of his other priorities, including police reform, immigration, gun safety, his ongoing work to get the pandemic under control, and to putting Americans back to work. 
 
He was in the Senate for 36 years.  He also sat through eight of these as the Vice President, and he certainly recognizes the important opportunity that this offers.
 
In attendance, there will be the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, as well as — I think the Supreme Court confirmed the Chief Justice will be in attendance.  Joining him will be Dr. Biden, the Vice President, and, of course, the Second Gentleman.  There will not be a First Lady’s Box, as there has been historically.
 
While the speech will, of course, look and feel different from past years, the President will preserve a few traditions, including the walk down the center aisle that we have seen Presidents do for many years.  He will, of course, be wearing a mask for that; he’ll remove the mask when he delivers his speech.
 
He’ll also be meeting with men and women — career staff who were at the Capitol on January 6th — in advance of the speech.
 
Q    And will he bring up — you know, I know he’ll have a foreign policy piece —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.
 
Q    Will there be a lot of talk about China in the speech?
 
MS. PSAKI: I expect there certainly will be a foreign policy speech — it’s never as much foreign policy as the foreign policy team wants; that’s always the battle — but there will be a foreign policy portion of the speech.  He will talk about our — his commitment to reengaging with the world, taking America’s seat back in the world, what our values are as a country.  And, certainly, I would expect he’ll talk about a number of the priorities of this administration, including our engagement with China. 
 
Q    Thank you.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead, Peter.
 
Q    Just for clarity, since the whole Cabinet isn’t going to be there.  In the past there would be a “designated survivor,” as they say.  Is there a designated survivor on a night like tomorrow night, and who would that be?
 
MS. PSAKI:  There does not need to be a designated survivor because the Cabinet will be watching from their offices or home, but they will not be joining him for the speech.
 
Q    And the highest-ranking person who is not present there will — I guess we’ll sort that out for ourselves thereafter.
 
Let me ask you about the President’s remarks earlier.  Obviously, this White House, this administration has spent so much time trying to get Americans to wear masks. 
 
Right now, with only roughly a third of the American population fully vaccinated, are there concerns that this could cause, in some form, a resurgence — or that this relies on the honor system and thereby could cause any uptick in COVID?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, Peter, I think one of the priorities of the President’s and Vice President’s and our entire team, of course, is abiding by health and medical experts and guidance — but is providing information — transparent information to the public to make clear what the benefit —
 
(The briefing is interrupted by a creaking sound.)
 
Have no fear, the ceiling is not falling — that I’m aware of.  Okay. (Laughter.)  Okay. 
 
Q    And I trust you. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  I — hopefully.  It’s an old building.
 
Q    It’s Lincoln’s ghost.  (Laughter.)
 
MS. PSAKI:  One — maybe.  Lincoln’s ghost, that’s quite something.  Maybe it is.
 
One of the President’s priorities is ensuring people understand — who are vaccinated out there, who are contemplating whether they should get vaccinated — what the benefits are.
 
And while we will, of course, always abide by the health and medical advice of our experts — the CDC guidelines on this — this is a step forward because people can go out and they can take their kids to the park and not wear masks if it’s not crowded.  You can go for a run.  That’s what they’re telling you.  And that’s safe if you’re vaccinated and — and not wear a mask.
 
And, you know, this is important for people to hear as well.  So we’re trying — we’re at the stage now where we have enough supply.  We want to convey to people what the benefits are and this is — these are what — some of the benefits.
 
Q    Help me understand on the July 4th deadline that the President had — or goal that the President said in his inaugural primetime address from here at the White House.  He said, “If we do…this together, by July 4th, there’s a good chance [that] you, your friends, and family” can have — can “get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout [or] a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day.”
 
MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.
 
Q    We — didn’t we sort of erase that deadline in some ways, and say, “Right now, for those vaccinated, that day is here.”
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think it’s clear that it — as it has been clear for some time.  It’s also — the guidelines from the CDC several weeks ago was also: If your neighbors are vaccinated, you can be inside and have dinner with them. 
 
What he’s trying to convey to the public is: When the vaccine is available — when he made that announcement — when the vaccine is broadly available, which it now is — to the public — as of April 19th — encourage your friends to get vaccinated, encourage your neighbors to get vaccinated.  We know that that’s one of the most impactful ways to get people to pharmacies, to their doctor’s office to do that so we can have a barbecue on July 4th. 
 
So yes, we are — there are some communities, some people whose neighbors are vaccinated; they can all gather if there’s a, you know, April 30th barbecue.  But —
 
Q    “July 4th is here for some but not for all” is the point?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, the incentive is to get vaccinated so that you can enjoy the benefits of being vaccinated.
 
Q    Let me ask, if I can, really quickly about — as it relates to Novavax and to AstraZeneca, the White House said that it would be providing 60 million doses to other countries.  Has the administration communicated to AstraZeneca or to — and to Novavax that they don’t need to rush ahead in their effort to get a EUA right now, and that you’re going to be giving it elsewhere?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, I think we see that as a separate process.  They have not applied for an EUA.  And nor have — obviously have they been granted one. 
 
We also have ordered 300 million doses from AstraZeneca, which we certainly expect they will deliver on.  So, we will evaluate. 
 
What we’re talking about here is — and the reason that 300 million is relevant is because we’re talking about 60 million here — 10 of which we expect and hope will be through the FDA review in the next few weeks — and the 50 million in the next few months. 
 
But, you know, they will decide when they apply for an EUA.  We’re talking about doses that have not yet been approved, that we are going to supply, to give to the global community.
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.
 
Q    Sort of a broader, all-of-government kind of question.  A year ago this week, it was said in this room how sunlight might kill the virus and make outdoor transmission unlikely.  Clearly, things are a little different now. 
 
But why have Americans had to wait this long for today’s guidance when, to many, it was quite obvious that this is what the next step was?
 
MS.  PSAKI:  Well, Ed, I think we want Americans to be confident in the information they’re receiving from the federal government.  It’s been important to us to lead with health and medical experts, to provide them the time they need to make these evaluations so that when the CDC comes out with guidance, the American people know they can trust it. 
 
And, you know, where we — we are working to clean up from a great deal of misinformation, inaccurate information that was put out by the last administration — some of it politically tinged.  And it’s — therefore, we’ve been really leaning into the timeline of the health and medical team and experts.
 
Q    And if there’s anyone out there who questions whether — this decision coming right before the big speech and right before the 100 days — you guys would say?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I can assure you that the CDC makes — makes decisions and does evaluations on their own timeline.
 
Q    A few other COVID things.  Can you confirm whether the administration still plans to buy the 100 million more doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t think anything has changed about our plans.
 
Q    No idea why there’s a delay then in doing so?
 
MS. PSAKI:  A delay in their delivery or a de- — delay in purchasing?
 
Q    Both.
 
MS. PSAKI:  I’ll have to — I’ll check on that for you, Ed.
 
Q    Why — the India decision this week — and the President just spoke to it.  Why wasn’t a similar announcement to send resources or help made when Brazil had its outbreak earlier this year and we know they too were sort of clamoring for international assistance?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, Ed, I can speak to kind of where we are as a — obviously, we’re a provider, as you know, of a great deal of public health assistance to India, but also to Brazil.
 
Our focus — our availability at this point of providing certain kinds of resources, including the materials to make vaccine, may not have been at that point several months ago.  But I’d have to talk to our team about what the specific requests were and what they feel were not met. 
 
Q    And I’m asking this one on behalf of our Miami TV station.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Okay.
 
Q    You may have seen this report about a private school in Miami that’s telling its staff and teachers not to get the COVID vaccine, and are threatening to terminate their employment if they do get it.  It means teachers are being forced to choose between their job and their health. 
 
Obviously, there’s not much the White House specifically can do.  Does it have any comment on this situation?  And any idea if there’s anything federal authorities can do to help the teachers in this case?
 
MS. PSAKI:  That’s a good question.  In terms of helping the teachers, I’ll have to check with the Department of Education.  I’d send you to them as well, of course. 
 
Obviously, our objective is continuing to convey that it’s important to abide by public health guidelines; that they’re in place for a reason; that they are not done through a political prism — they are done by medical experts, by health experts; intended to keep children safe, keep parents safe, keep teachers safe, keep communities safe, which is why we recommend people abide by them. 
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  I wanted to start with a follow-up on the COVID vaccine, specifically the AstraZeneca doses that are going abroad.  I want to clarify something you said yesterday about COVAX. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    And can you just say whether the U.S. is considering distributing those doses to other countries through COVAX, or are you only focusing on distributing them, you know, on a country-by-country basis directly?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’re — we expect it to be a combination.  It is — we’re still developing our plans and what that looks like.
 
And, again, as I alluded to earlier, we’re talking about 10 million doses if it is — goes through a FDA review in the next few weeks — so it’s not today; we have zero doses available today — and then, another 50 million in several months.  So we have some time to develop what our plan is and meet whatever the needs are at that moment in time.
 
Q    And then, on refugees: You know, the Washington Post reported today that there’s now a consideration of bumping that cap up to the 62,500 number that the administration initially proposed in February.  Your statement at the time when that was changed said that meeting that target was “unlikely.”  So, can you just talk about what changed in the thinking there, again, as this consideration is leading up to May 15th?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Well, we’ve — we’ve long said — or said for the last several weeks that the President had every intention of announcing a cap — a new cap, and that he would do that in advance of May 15th.  And we are certainly — continue to be on track toward that. 
 
In terms of our considerations over time, we inherited an incredibly broken system.  It left us with some — and the President and others — with some skepticism about what the system would bear.  Hence, our announcement a couple of weeks ago was meant to be a first step, focused on announcing the resumption of flights and also the overturning of the xenophobic policies of the last administration that prevented refugees from applying from Africa and the Middle East. 
 
That has changed — that was the biggest hindrance to refugees being able to apply from that part of the world — or for — in general, but from that part of the world.
 
One of the considerations, at this point in time, as we’re determining what the cap will look like is what message we’re sending to the world.  And we are a country — under the Biden-Harris administration — where we want to send a clear message: We are welcoming refugees.  We want to send that message to the world.  We want to send that message to the refugee community and to organizations that have been underfunded, that have had their muscles atrophied over the past couple of years where that was not a primary focus. 
 
We also are sending — want to send a message that we’re — the President has long been committed to the 125,000 cap that he has set — has always consistently been his objective since February — for the next fiscal year.  Sixty-two five was always meant to be a down payment on that.  And so, we — those were the considerations as we make a determination about the cap that we’re setting.
 
Q    But wouldn’t you now say getting to that sixty-two five number this fiscal year is likely, rather than unlikely? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  I would say that whatever the cap is — if the cap is close to that or at that — it will continue to be challenging.  But there are considerations, including the message we’re sending to the world and also the need to get the muscles working in the system, in the federal government, but also with all of the important partners out there in the United States and around the world that play an important role in refugees traveling to the United States — help enable them to raise money, help enable them to hire staff, and get their systems ready so we can meet that 125 cap next year.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    On India and the explosion of COVID cases there, the UK and Canada have already instituted a travel ban in regards to India.  Why isn’t the U.S. doing the same?
 
MS. PSAKI:  We would make those determinations based on the advice of our health and medical team.  They haven’t made that determination at this point.
 
Q    And we are hearing reports of places where vaccine supply is outstripping demand.  In Iowa, for instance, they’re now declining a new shipment of vaccine because the demand isn’t there.  If this continues, would the administration consider shipping more doses overseas?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, we always expect it to hit that point, and we’re in a new stage at this point in time, as you alluded to, Mary, where there are — we’re not — we don’t have a supply challenge.  Now our challenge is ensuring we’re meeting people where they are; we’re getting into these communities; we’re continuing to increase confidence, which we’ve seen an increase in, in a range of communities — Black and brown communities, as well as more conservative white communities — which is a good sign.  But there’s more work to be done.
 
We will continue to evaluate what supply we have available for the global community.  And we want to be a part of that effort, as is evidenced by the announcement we made yesterday.  But that doesn’t mean we’re going to pull back on or provide — give away supply that is needed to vaccinate the American people, because that remains our top priority.
 
Go ahead, in the back.
 
Q    I had one on labor relations, and then one on the virus, if I could.  The National Labor Relations Board has a May hearing.  It’s on a complaint from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.  They allege that Amazon, kind of, interfered in that union push and vote down in Alabama.  Does President Biden feel that Amazon did in fact interfere?  Does he support the complaint?
 
MS. PSAKI:  We would leave that to the NLRB.  They’re in place for a reason.
 
Q    Do you expect that to just play out? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  (Nods.)
 
Q    You won’t — okay. 
 
And then, on the virus, I know we’re still fighting COVID, but what efforts are afoot to make the U.S. more proactive if another pandemic comes along down the road — you know, be more nimble on testing, surveillance?  I know you’ve proposed a DARPA-like agency, the health agency —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.  APRA-H?
 
Q    Yeah.  Would infectious diseases be part of that?  Is he going to address at the speech — just looking down the road at what might come?
 
MS. PSAKI:  ARPA-H is an issue — an endeavor that is close to the President’s heart.  He’s talked about it quite a bit.  It could be a part of the speech, but we’re still finalizing what that looks like. 
 
I will say that one of the President’s objectives, and the objective of our national security team, is to do exactly what you said: is to prepare for any future pandemics to make sure we are more closely working with our national partners — international partners around the world; that we are fully staffing agencies and positions that were removed during the prior administration; that we are investing in research and development; and that we are leading with health and science.
 
So, we are — while we are fighting this pandemic, we are also focused on reinvesting in areas to prevent the next pandemic, including personnel, research, and any needs to do exactly that.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Hey.  So, just a question.  Obviously, the President is going to celebrate the 100-day mark with this tour.  But looking ahead to the next 100 days in the first year of the administration — the first 100 days were quite scripted.  You know, the transition team talked quite a bit about how they — you know, Biden set out certain goals for them, and they tried to meet those over the course of the first 100 days.  What does the next 100 days look like?  Can you give us some sort of preview of what new priorities or benchmarks you’re going to set, and how that planning process is underway?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, we certainly believe we’re still going to be at war with the virus, and there’s more work to be done to get the virus under control, to meet people where they are, to get people vaccinated who may not be confident in the efficacy at this point in time.  That will be a — continue to be a priority.
 
We are continuing to implement the American Jobs Plan and the American — or, sorry, we’re continuing to implement the American Rescue Plan.  I got a little ahead of myself there.  We will be working with Congress closely bipart- — in a bipartisan way is certainly our intention — to get the American Jobs Plan passed, to get the American Families Plan passed.  The President would like to see progress by Memorial Day and would like to sign it into law this summer.  So that will — those will certainly be big priorities of our next 100 days.
 
He also believes that police reform — getting the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed — is long overdue, and he would certainly like to see that move forward in Congress.
 
And we’ve just — last week, we just held a — I’m not done yet — last week, we just held an international climate summit.  There was a lot of due outs, and a lot of work to be done from that, and I expect we’ll continue to charge forward on addressing the climate crisis.
 
Q    And just — should we expect more benchmarks? Obviously, he set the 200 million in 100 days; majority of schools reopen in 100 days.  Is that, sort of, a pace that we’ll see — so those — were benchmarks set again for the next 100 days? Do you have any —
 
MS. PSAKI:  I expect we’re going to continue to set marking points in a transparent way so that we can evaluate ourselves and the American people can evaluate our progress.
 
Q    And just one more on the travel.  I know you said more travel could come, but one of the things about the President’s travel so far is it has mostly been to states that he won.  As — I covered his campaign and he talked quite a bit — “There aren’t blue states or red states.”  Should we expect the President to travel to states — more states that he did not win in the presidential election or are not traditional battleground states?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yes.  Stay tuned.
 
Q    Any updates on — on what those might be?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to tell you before we tell governors.  So, soon.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Thank you.  In addition to messaging the benefits of the vaccine, launching the Community Corps, what other strategies is the administration considering to reach out to the vaccine hesitant — to the vaccine hesitant, the remaining 50 percent?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say, first, we’ve seen a great deal of improvement along these lines.  When the President took office, it was — you know, only about 40 percent of the public wanted to get and take the vaccine.  That has increased dramatically since that point in time.
 
We’ve seen increases in confidence in — among Black and brown communities.  We’ve also seen increases in confidence among white conservative communities, which — I reference those because those are some of the communities where there has been the higher level of — of hesitation.
 
But what our focus is on is — is following the data.  So what we’ve seen is that local messengers, trusted voices — doctors, medical experts, civic leaders, clergy, and local communities — continuing to distribute out that $3 billion that has part of our funding to get to those communities is going to be prime — front and center to our strategy.  So we’re continuing to implement exactly that.
 
And one of the challenges we’ve seen or heard most from communities or people who are reluctant to take the vaccine is access and the challenge of taking a day off of work or fitting it into their lives.  Some of that is, again, meeting people where they are — mobile clinics; local doctors; you know, making it available at pharmacies.  But some of it is also the paid leave announcement we made just last week for businesses of under 500 — that they can — that people can get time off and have that covered through paid leave in order to go get a vaccine shot.
 
So there are a number of strategies we’re implementing.  We’re seeing progress.  We’re seeing them work.  And we know it will continue to be harder as we vaccinate more and more people.
 
Q    Is the administration tracking unused doses in each state?  And what’s being done to make sure, in individual jurisdictions, doses are not going to be wasted?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Certainly, we are — our COVID team is.  And certainly they work with states, localities, through our Pharmacy Program and all of our programs, to ensure we’re doing everything possible to ensure doses are used.
 
Q    And then, one more on behalf of radio pool.  Is there an update on whether the U.S. will support the special waiver to waive vaccine patents at the WTO so other countries can make generic versions?  Of course, there’s a meeting at the end of the month.
 
MS. PSAKI:  And I know that our ambassador — our UST- — our USTR spoke to this.  So, how we’re looking at this is our focus is on maximizing production and supply at the — in — for the world at the lowest possible cost.  And there are a lot of different ways to do that.
 
Right now, that’s one of — one of the ways, but we have to assess what makes the most sense.  So, for example, we produce a lot of vaccines here in the United States.  Right?  Vaccines, you know, manufactured here.  We have manufacturing facilities that have been through — a number of them have been through FDA approval or going through FDA approval.  We have to evaluate whether it’s more effective to manufacture here and provide supply to the world or the IP waiver is an option.  There has not been a recommendation made from USTR, nor has the President made a decision.
 
Q    And one more follow-up on that topic.  What will go into deciding which countries get our excess vaccine?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I expect it will be a combination of our COVID team, working with our national security team, our team at the State Department to determine where the requests are, where the needs come in, where the needs are in order — and when — where we can be the most impactful on helping get the pandemic under control.  And there is a process ongoing now. 
 
Again, we’ll have about 10 million doses, we expect, hopefully, if they go through the FDA review in the next couple of weeks, and then an additional 50 several months from there.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Is the White House open to some of the changes that Senator Scott has proposed on qualified immunity?  In particular, is the White House open to making it so that lawsuits can be brought against police departments as opposed to just police officers?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, the White House and the President are strong supporters of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that has passed the House.  We have every confidence in the negotiations that are happening between members of the House and the Senate, and we will make an evaluation once those hopefully conclude.
 
Q    Okay.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.
 
Thanks, Jen.  Two questions.  First, on the virus and relating to the new guidance on the masks.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    Does this mean that there will also be a revision to the President’s order on mask use in federal facilities?  For instance, will the National Park Service be easing the guidelines for the — where you have to wear a mask when you’re outside on a trail or at an overlook in the national park or anything like that?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah, it’s a great question.  Just like many states will be looking at the new guidance, I know, obviously, federal entities will be very closely looking at the guidance. 
 
We’ll have to check and see what the status of that is, but obviously, federal agencies — the National Park Service and others — certainly look at and the President looks at the guidance put out by the CDC.  And I expect there’ll be adjustments accordingly, but we’ll have to check on the status of those or a timeline.
 
Q    All right.  And on another topic: It’s been probably about a week, I think, since someone in this room has asked the question about the student loan forgiveness or cancellation. 
 
I know that the Department of Ener- — the Department of Education was working on some sort of review of what was possible.  Is that review going to be something that will be completed in time to make Chuck Schumer a very happy senator tomorrow night? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  (Laughs.)
 
Q    Or is that’s something that will have to wait a little while longer?
 
MS. PSAKI:  The review is ongoing.  Hopefully, we will make Senator — Leader Schumer happy in other ways in the speech, but the review is ongoing. 
 
Go ahead, in the back.
 
Q    Thank you, Jen.  So two questions.  My first one — a follow-up to this.  So I understand the — that you will be — that the COVID team and the national security team are going to consider for the vaccine —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.
 
Q    — sharing.  We’re not — I understand we still don’t have any AstraZeneca doses to share, but the (inaudible) millions that will be coming.  Can you at least say that, in order to open more quickly the borders with Mexico and Canada, they will be at the top of the list of the countries who will have access to these vaccines?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I can’t.  You know, obviously, we have already lent doses to Canada and Mexico.  They’re important — they’re not only our neighbors; they are our friends.  But the process is just beginning, and I don’t want to get ahead of the process that will be — the ongoing process.  Once it’s concluded, we’ll let you know.
 
Q    Okay, thank you.  And I want to try Josh’s question again about the human right —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Okay.
 
Q    — the — yeah, the Human Rights Watch report on the treatment of Palestinians by Israel and the abuses that they underline.  It’s a very thorough report.  You said — and the fact that the U.S. has turned a blind eye to what’s happening over there.  That’s what they say.  That’s what they say. 
 
You said that in the foreign — in this — in the President’s speech tomorrow, there’s going to be a foreign policy section, and he’s going to talk about what are our values.  Do you consider that the treatment of Palestinians by Israel corresponds to the American values?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say that the United States is committed to promoting respect for human rights in Israel and the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  And we’ve been an enduring partner — we also have an enduring partnership with Israel and discuss a wide range of issues with the Israeli government, including those related to human rights.
 
So I was really conveying — or responding, specifically, to Josh’s question, but it’s important to reiterate that, so I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to do that.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Good afternoon.  Just a few questions for you.  Has the President decided who he wants to see serve as the next U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, and what are his criteria in choosing that person?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any personnel announcements to make.  I know that’s, of course, an important one, but I — we’ve announced just a couple of ambassadors, and hopefully we’ll have more in the coming months.  We will have more in the coming months.
 
Q    If I may follow up: Would he pick someone pro-life?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Would he pick someone pro-life?  I — I don’t have any more details on who the President may or may not pick for that important role. 
 
Q    Okay.  Next question.  As you well know, the administration just lifted the ban on researchers using fetal tissue from elective abortions.  And the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the leaders of the President’s own faith, said in reaction, “It is…deeply offensive,” quote, “to millions of Americans for our tax dollars to be used for research that collaborates with an industry built on the taking of innocent lives.” 
 
How does the White House respond to that criticism?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Look, I think the White House specifi- — or respectfully disagrees.  And we believe that it’s important to invest in science and look for opportunities to cure diseases, and I think that’s what this is hopeful to do.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Yeah, and —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.  Oh, go ahead.
 
Q    A third question.  Thank you.   I don’t get in here too often because of the COVID restrictions —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.
 
Q    — so thank you very much. 
 
Okay.  You may be aware of this.  The LGBTQ — LGBTQ community is suing the U.S. Department of Education, saying — they say the religious exemption rule under Title IX is unconstitutional.  I don’t know if you’re familiar with that case, but what is the administration’s response to that?  In other words, will you stand behind that religious exemption?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I’ll have to check with our legal team.  In — in general — generally speaking, we support LGBTQ rights and believe that — especially for children.  And children should be able to play sports, including children and members of the LGBTQ community, of course.
 
Q    That religious exemption, the White House stands behind?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have anything more on it.  I’ll check with our team.
 
Q    Thank you.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  I wanted to follow up first on qualified immunity.  Is the President committed to signing policing legislation if that bipartisan working group that includes Karen Bass and Tim Scott are able to come to an agreement and get something passed in Congress?  Is he committed to signing that?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, he has every trust and confidence in Karen Bass and appreciates the work of Senator Booker, Senator Scott as well. 
 
He, again, is a supporter of the George Floy- — Floyd Justice in Policing Act that has passed the House.  And we’re not going to negotiate from here.  We’ll see what comes through their negotiations. 
 
Q    And as far as his speech tomorrow to the joint session of Congress is concerned — I heard you earlier talk about some of the folks who have been involved in helping him write that — did the Vice President help him write that in any way, review any parts of that?  How is she involved in the speech tomorrow?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  The Vice President always has a role in advising the President, of course, on policy; on how he’s communicating to the American people; on a range of issues that are huge priorities to this administration.  And certainly, she will have a touch in the speech that the President delivers tomorrow night.
 
I didn’t include her only because I was including, kind of, staff and the speechwriting team.
 
Q    And final question, also on the Vice President: The President today talked about vaccine skepticism or hesitancy in his speech. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.
 
Q    The Vice President — that was supposed to be part of her portfolio, and she’s done issue — events on that in the past.  Has he asked her to do anything specific to help with this problem — vaccine skepticism — especially now that all Americans are eligible for the vaccine?
 
MS. PSAKI:  He’s asked her to play a leading role both as a person who is very prominent in the country, but — and also somebody who has, you know, experience on the policy front — determining what the right steps are, engaging with the COVID team, ensuring that we are taking the right steps forward.
 
We have a plan that’s being implemented across the country right now —
 
(The briefing is interrupted by a creaking sound.)
 
— a very robust — okay, it’s — maybe it’s former President Lincoln’s ghost, so I’m going to go with that. 
 
— robust plan that’s being implemented — $3 billion focused on getting out to communities.  You know, she’s involved in all that.  I expect she’ll be out and doing more events around the country. 
 
So the President has just asked her to play a leading role in this effort moving forward, which she is certainly doing.
 
Q    So there’s nothing specific that he’s asked her to do in the near future?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I’m not sure what you mean by that?  Like what? 
 
Q    Maybe cut a PSA, or, you know, potentially have some other, sort of, event here at the White House with groups.  I don’t know.  That’s what I’m asking you to tell me.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I — whoa, okay.  I think the President has asked her, as the Vice President, to be his partner in this and to be a prominent leader in this effort to address confidence around the country.  She’s doing exactly that. 
 
He’s not going to — their conversations don’t involve him directing her to be in a PSA.  That happens at a staff level. 
 
She is somebody who travels around the country.  She’s doing events.   I’m certain she’ll do PSAs.  She’ll continue to be involved with the COVID team, with governors, with states, to continue to reach communities where we need to increase confidence, and that will continue to be a role she plays.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Democratic lawmakers have been making the case that the expanded Child Tax Credit should be made permanent.  They say it’s the responsible thing to do to minimize child poverty. 
 
And I was curious: What’s the administration’s take on why it’s responsible to let it expire in 2025? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, there’ll be more details — we’ll confirm, later this evening — about what is in the President’s speech and what is the American Families Plan.
 
But largely speaking, the President agrees that the Child Tax Credit has a huge impact on helping families, helping reduce child poverty in this country, which we’ve already seen an impact of from the implementation of including it in the American Rescue Plan — which is something he did.  And he also believes that it helps bring more women back into the workforce. 
That’s why he has been engaging with Congress and why you’ll hear him talk more about it in the speech. 
 
There is also — and we’ll discuss more what members of Congress want to see.  Some disagree on this — about the length of time and everything.  That will be a part of discussions.
 
There’s also a cost.  It’s about a billion dollars a year to implement the Child Tax Credit, and certainly that’s a — that is a part of the discussion that we expect to have with Congress moving forward.
 
Q    Jen —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yes.
 
Q    Has the President spoken to families of the Black men who were killed in the police shootings in Virginia and North Carolina?  And if not, has the White House had contact with them?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any calls from the President to read out.  I certainly — I just don’t have calls from the team, but I will check on that for you and see if I can get back to you with more details.
 
Q    And then, more broadly, as it relates to India, do you guys have any good understanding of how many Americans in India right now have become sick with COVID?  Are there any unique precautions being done to help bring them here in some form?  How do you deal with that?
 
And also, can you give us any better guidance, in terms of the diplomatic situation there?  We believe a lot of Americans at the consulates and perhaps the embassy there.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yes.
 
Q    Or not Americans, but the staff there have tested positive.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  It’s — all great questions.  I would tend you to the State Department who will have more in-depth details about this.  Obviously, we’re working very closely with them.  But given they oversee all the consulates, they’ll have the specific numbers, et cetera, for you.
 
(The briefing is interrupted by a creaking sound.)
 
Q    Very quickly on —  (laughter).
 
MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  Steve —
 
Q    That was the State Department.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Right.  That was the State Department weighing in.
 
Q    Very quick: Is there any update on the Iran talks in Vienna?  Is Rob Malley back there now, and how long do you think this round will last?
 
MS. PSAKI:  So they have been — we always expected there — the talks would proceed again.  So Rob Malley, I believe, is either on his way to the region or there now to take part in an additional round of negotiations.
 
We have felt that even though they’re direct — indirect, I should say — that obviously a diplomatic process, diplomatic discussions are the right approach.  And we are — have been encouraged by the fact that they’ve been continuing.
 
Q    Any timeframe on how long this round will last, do we know?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t think we have a timeframe at this point in time, Steve, but I will check with the negotiators and see.
 
Q    Thank you.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Okay.
 
Q    One — one thing on the mask mandate that a observant colleague just called out. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Okay.
 
Q    You have a order in place that requires masks at all — at all federal buildings and all federal lands.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    Is that being tweaked at all given today’s guidance on outdoor masks?
 
MS. PSAKI:  So this was a great question your colleague in the back, I think, asked a version of.  Obviously, our — the federal government will be certainly looking at the CDC as we make changes or make — implement these policies.  I just have to check on the timeline of that.
 
Yeah.  Go ahead.
 
Q    While we’ve been in this briefing at the White House, someone else —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Uh oh.
 
Q    — in this building put out a list of nominees — including Ed Gonzalez, the sheriff in Harris County, Texas — to be the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  Do you have anything to say about that selection or about where that should be on the priority list for the Senate’s consideration?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, certainly, we want — we encourage the Senate to not only consider but confirm qualified nominees.  We certainly consider him one of them.
 
But the President looks forward to having someone in place in this position, and it certainly indicates a priority that we put it out today.
 
Okay.  Yes, go ahead.
 
Q    Anything more you can say — the President teased to more information next week in terms of getting the country closer to normal by July 4th.  What should we expect in terms of additional updates or guidance?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, we rely on the timeline and the guidance of our health and medical experts.  So I would — I’m not sure they will give you too much guidelines or too much ahead of time, but the CDC — we would wait for the CDC to provide any additional guidelines.  And we’ll continue to provide updates from here from the President as appropriate, as we get new advice from our health and medical teams.
 
Okay. 
 
Q    Thank you, Jen.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Thank you everyone.
 
3:11 P.M. EDT

Stay Connected

We'll be in touch with the latest information on how President Biden and his administration are working for the American people, as well as ways you can get involved and help our country build back better.

Scroll to Top
Top