James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:38 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI:  Hi everyone.  Happy Monday.  Today, we are joined by Homeland Security Advisor and Deputy National Security Advisor Dr. Liz Sherwood-Randall and Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technologies Anne Neuberger. 
I know you all know who they are, so I’m going to skip the introductions so we have more time for questions.  We have very limited time, but we will try to take as many as possible.
So, with that, I’ll turn it over to Liz.
DR. SHERWOOD-RANDALL:  It’s great to be with you today.  Thank you, Jen.
I have an update for you on the Colonial Pipeline and what the Biden administration is doing to provide assistance through a whole-of-government effort.
On Friday evening, May 7th, Colonial Pipeline reported that its pipeline system had been subject to a ransomware cyberattack.  Colonial chose to shut down its pipeline operations as a precautionary measure and to ensure that the ransomware could not migrate from business computer systems to those that control and operate the pipeline.  We’ve been in ongoing contact with Colonial, and the President continues to be regularly briefed on the incident and our work.
Colonial is currently working with its private cybersecurity consultants to assess potential damage and to determine when it is safe to bring the pipeline back online.  Thus far, Colonial has told us that it has not suffered damage and can be brought back online relatively quickly, but that safety is a priority given that it has never before taken the entire pipeline down.
Beginning on Friday night, soon after we learned of the shutdown, the White House convened an interagency team that included the Department of Energy, which is the lead agency for incident response in this case; the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency — or “CISA”; the FBI; the Department of Transportation Pipeline Safety and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration; the Department of the Treasury; the Department of Defense; and other agencies.
To give you a sense of what we’ve been doing together since that first meeting, we have met throughout the weekend.  The Department of Energy’s Information — Energy Information Agency — or “EIA” — is in contact with state and local agencies to assess current supply and impacts due to the shutdown.
DOE has also convened the oil and natural gas and electric sector utility partners to share details about the ransomware attack and discuss recommended measures to mitigate further incidents across the industry.
DHS’s CISA is preparing a release to go to the broader critical infrastructure community to ensure it has visibility into the ransomware attack and it’s taking appropriate measures to protect its networks. 
Colonial is responsible for safely returning the pipeline to service. 
And our role in the federal government is to take proactive steps to analyze the impacts of the shutdown on the delivery of gasoline, diesel, and aviation fuel in states that are dependent on the pipeline; and to identify federal options for alleviating supply shortfalls should they develop. 
For example: To help address potential supply disruptions, the Department of Transportation issued an hours-of-service waiver yesterday, which provides greater flexibility to drivers transporting gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and other refined petroleum products across 17 states, as well as the District of Columbia. 
Right now, there is not a supply shortage.  We are preparing for multiple possible contingencies — because that’s our job, especially on the Homeland Security team — and considering what additional steps may be useful to mitigate any potential disruptions to supply.
This weekend’s events put the spotlight on the fact that our nation’s critical infrastructure is largely owned and operated by private-sector companies.  When those companies are attacked, they serve as the first line of defense, and we depend on the effectiveness of their defenses.
To improve the cybersecurity of our critical infrastructure, the Biden administration has already launched a high-priority initiative to collaborate with our private-sector partners to harden our defenses and to build our nation’s resilience. 
And that is a perfect segue to my colleague, Anne Neuberger, our Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technologies. 
MS. NEUBERGER:  Thank you, Liz.  Good morning everyone. 
So, building on Liz’s comments: As you know, on Friday, Colonial shut, proactively, its pipeline operations as a precautionary measure to ensure ransomware would not spread to its sensitive operational networks. 
In response, we’re taking a multi-pronged and whole-of-government response to this incident and to ransomware overall. 
First, we’re actively engaged with the company and offered support as needed to restore their systems.  Right now, they’ve not asked for cyber support from the federal government, but we remain available to meet their cybersecurity needs. 
Second, we’re aggressively investigating the incident and its culprits.  As part of their work today, FBI released a flash alert with indicators of compromise and mitigation measures once infected. 
The FBI identified the ransomware as the DarkSide variant, which they’ve been investigating since October of last year.  It’s a ransomware as a service variant, where criminal affiliates conduct attacks and then share the proceeds with the ransomware developers.
We recommend all critical infrastructure owners and operators use the indicators that came out in the FBI flash to protect themselves.  And if other inc- — if other entities are infected, please notify the FBI. 
Third, the government is convening stakeholders more broadly to ensure everybody has the information needed to protect themselves and to rapidly share information. 
This morning, the Department of Energy convened calls with the electricity and oil and gas sectors to keep them informed.  The Departments of Energy, Transportation, and DHS, and others will be sharing further indicators of compromise with the sector Information Sharing and Analysis Centers — or “ISACs.”
And the Department of Energy will be holding additional calls with critical infrastructure sector owners as well as state and local leaders to ensure everyone has the latest information about how to protect themselves. 
Fourth, we’re taking the threats posed by ransomware seriously with several initiatives.  First, we’ll focus on industrial control systems.  Critical infrastructure, as Liz noted, in the United States is largely owned and operated by the private sector, which determines their cybersecurity protections are applied to their systems.
Under that context, in mid-April, the administration launched a new public-private initiative to enhance the security of critical infrastructure systems and improve visibility across their operational control systems — the systems on which all Americans depend.
The Department of Energy had the lead for the first 100-day sprint focused on the utility sector, and we will follow with follow-on sprints with natural gas pipelines, water, and other sectors.
The administration encourages all private-sector owners of critical infrastructure to focus on improving cybersecurity, and the government remains open and willing as a partner to support those efforts.  
Second: In tackling ransomware, we’re working to disrupt ransomware infrastructure.  The FBI recently worked with international partners to disrupt two particular strains of ransomware: the Emotet and NetWalker strains. 
More recently, DOJ has established a ransomware taskforce to ensure it can better investigate and prosecute ransomware actors. 
Third, CISA is leading a counter-ransomware sprint, which is focused on helping small- and medium-sized companies, who are often the targets of ransomware, better protect themselves. 
Finally, we’re pursuing greater international cooperation — ransomware affects countries around the world — to address ransomware because transnational criminals are most often the perpetrators of these crimes and they often leverage global infrastructure and global money-laundering networks.
Indeed, to combat the exploitation of virtual currencies that are often used for payment in ransomware, the U.S. Treasury has also been leading international efforts, including driving development and adoption of virtual assets standards under the Financial Action Task Force.
With those updates, I welcome your questions, turning it over to Jen and Liz.  Thank you for your time today. 
MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  Aamer, kick us off. 
Q    Thanks.  Just to clarify something: Has Colonial paid any ransom?  And has there been any advice on that?
And then, secondly, is there any timeline for when Americans should be certain that this is going to be taken care of?  People are getting ready — Memorial Day is not that far away, and we’re — everyone is concerned about their gas prices.  What’s the timeline on when this thing is going to be under control?
MS. NEUBERGER:  Absolutely.  I’ll speak to the first, and then I’ll turn it to my colleague, Liz, for the second. 
So, first, we recognize that victims of cyberattacks often face a very difficult situation.  And they have to just balance off, in the cost-benefit, when they have no choice with regard to paying a ransom.  Colonial is a private company, and we’ll defer information regarding their decision on paying a ransom to them.
Q    Did you — would the administration offer any advice on whether or not to pay a ransom?
MS. NEUBERGER:  So, typically, that is a private-sector decision, and the administration has not offered further advice at this time.  Given the rise in ransomware, that is one area we’re definitely looking at now to say, “What should be the government’s approach to ransomware actors and to ransoms overall?”
DR. SHERWOOD-RANDALL:  So, on the issue of gas prices: As I indicated, right now there are no supply disruptions.  And the Department of Energy’s Information Agency — the “EIA” — is doing the analysis right now about potential supply disruptions and what price effects that could have.  And we’re working with other agencies to consider how, if necessary, we can move supplies to a place where it might be needed if it turns out that there is a shortfall.
MS. PSAKI:  Nandita.
Q    Thank you, Jen.  My question is just a follow-up on what Aamer was asking.  Has the White House broadly considered advice for companies who are victimized by — you know, in such incidents going forward?  Is there any advice that you’re considering when it comes to paying ransom in the future?
MS. NEUBERGER:  So that’s a really good question.  The first and most important advice is: Secure your systems.  In this case, the ransomware that was used is a known variant.  The FBI has investigated many cases of this in the past, as I noted, beginning in October.  So the first and most important thing is to ensure that systems are patched and that cybersecurity is maintained at the level needed in a given network. 
We want to see ransomware not be successful, and that begins with greater resilience, particularly in critical infrastructure networks. 
Q    And another question.  You mentioned perpetrators are usually transnational criminals.  Do you have any information on whether this particular incident has any ties to Russia or other Eastern European criminals?
MS. NEUBERGER:  At this time, we assess that DarkSide is a criminal actor, but that’s certainly something that our intelligence community is looking into.
MS. PSAKI:  Josh.
Q    Can I ask a little bit more about DarkSide?  What — what do you know about them?  Is there any retaliatory measures that have been taken or are being considered by the U.S.
in response to this or any investigation?  You mentioned it dates back to October.
MS. NEUBERGER:  Absolutely.  So I mentioned that DarkSide is a ransomware, is a service variant.  It’s a new and very troubling variant where it’s essentially provided as a service and the proceeds are split.  So, in that way, it’s something that we’re particularly troubled by. 
And I mentioned as well that the FBI has recently worked with international partners to take down and disrupt ransomware infrastructure.  We expect that that will be a continued focus area to make it far more difficult for these actors to prey on their victims.
Q    And even though you’re treating it as a criminal act, are you saying it’s state sanctioned?  Or is there suspicion that it’s state sanctioned?  Or do you just not — don’t know right now?
MS. NEUBERGER:  As I mentioned a moment ago, currently we assess DarkSide as a criminal actor.  But, of course, our intelligence community is looking for any ties to any nation-state actors.  And if we find that further information, we’ll look into it further.
Q    But you’re not blaming a particular country right now for (inaudible)?
MS. NEUBERGER:  No, we are not.
MS. PSAKI:  David.
Q    Thanks very much, both of you, for doing this.
First, Anne, just to clarify what you said on ransomware: The FBI has, for years, advised people not to pay it.  I didn’t quite hear you say that, so I wondered whether or not you’re reconsidering the advice the FBI has given across many administrations. 
And both you and Liz both mentioned the concern that the ransomware may have revealed some kind of data that would then move over to the operational side or put malware in that could move to the operational side.  We don’t have a lot of understanding about what that concern is. 
Did you no- — did you see, in the early parts of the investigation, that there was malware in the IT side that could be moved to operational?  Was it simply that they froze up their ability to bill and, you know, move the fuel, which has been one theory, or that they simply learned information that would allow the ransomware operators to later on be able to get access to the main operational site?
MS. NEUBERGER:  Thank you, David.  So I’ll begin and then, of course, turn it over to Liz if she’d like to add anything. 
So, first, thank you for highlighting the FBI has provided advice in the past that paying a ransom would encourage further ransomware activity and is so troubling.  We recognize, though, that companies are often in a difficult position if their data is encrypted and they do not have backups and cannot recover the data. 
And that is why — given the rise in ransomware and given, frankly, the troubling trend we see of often targeting companies who have insurance and maybe richer targets — that we need to look thoughtfully at this area, including with our international partners, to determine what we do in addition to actively disrupting infrastructure and holding perpetrators accountable to ensure that we’re not encouraging the rise of ransomware.
And to your second point regarding the concerns on the connection between the information technology and the operational technology side of a network: The operational technology side of the network is the part that actually drives control of a pipeline, for example, and, as such, it is the more sensitive part.  The — we are aware that it is the more significant part.
Colonial was very careful.  And one of the reasons they proactively chose to shut down the pipeline was because of concerns to manage the incident and gate the ransomware as quickly as they could.  So —
Q    What I was asking was: Did you see evidence in the malware there was something that could move to the operational side?
MS. NEUBERGER:  So the Colonial incident is the private-sector entity themselves. 
That being said, speaking to the ransomware directly, the ransomware could, of course, infect technology — whether it is on the IT side or, for example, when there’s Windows-like technology on the OT side.
In this case, I won’t speak to details here because it’s subject to an investigation and those details are held within that investigation.  But it certainly is a concern we have in the case of ransomware and why quickly and effectively gating the spread of the ransomware is always the first area of priority.
MS. PSAKI:  We can do Kelly and Phil.  They got to be quick though because we have — short timeline.  Go ahead.
Q    Can you explain to us if you believe that this — since it’s criminal, in your judgment now, that there’s a financial motive there — but do you believe that there was a desire to try to penetrate a kind of system that has such huge implications for the U.S. economy and so forth?  And how does that create concern for other kinds of systems: the electric grid, whatever it might be, other energy companies?  Or was Colonial just a rich target because they could financially pay, potentially?  Do you see this as being about the infrastructure more than just the financial incentive?
MS. NEUBERGER:  We don’t have further information about the intent of the perpetrators when conducting the ransomware hack against Colonial. 
However, as you know, ransomware affects broad sectors.  And clearly, criminals have learned that those sectors — one of the key sectors we saw during the COVID pandemic was the hospital sector that was affected by ransomware.  Clearly, we know — we see that criminal actors have focused on the more vulnerable victims: state and local governments, schools, critical infrastructure. 
And that is why coming up and addressing ransomware with great vigor is a key priority of the administration, because we’re very concerned about the growth in ransomware and the impact it has both on small and medium businesses, as well as the state and local governments in the United States and around the world.
Q    Thank you, and just two quick ones.  Do you guys consider this attack ongoing or has the malicious actor been removed?  
And then, Anne, just to follow up on something: You said that they have not — Colonial has not yet asked for cyber support.  Does that create a problem in terms of your ability to respond or the — just federal government’s ability writ large to get a grasp or handle on what’s happened?
MS. NEUBERGER:  The details regarding the actual incident are being currently investigated by the FBI.  Colonial has noted in their public statement that they’ve worked to control the spread of the ransomware and are actively working to bring back up their network, and they’re at the remediation phase.
So, we’re happy to see the important progress that they made there.  And, I’m sorry, what was your second question?
Q    You said that the company has not yet asked for cyber support.  Does that create a problem for your — the U.S. government’s ability to respond or get a handle on what’s exactly happening when a private entity is not requesting support in that capacity?
MS. NEUBERGER:  Our goal is ensuring that the support is available so that any private sector entity who is experiencing a cyber hack can turn to the government for remediation assistance and technical assistance.  We judge that the company said that they have adequate support.  And they noted, in their public remarks, that they’re using a third-party service, that they feel they’re making adequate progress with their own resources, and we know we’re standing by. 
But that — that is — we’re happy that they are confident in their ability to remediate the incident and rapidly recover to meet the needs of their customers in this current environment. 
MS. PSAKI:  Thank you both so much.  I’m sorry.  They have to run to another meeting as they go run the world.
MS. NEUBERGER:  Thank you.
MS. PSAKI:  Thank you both for coming. 
MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  I know we also have a hard stop because of the President’s remarks.  Just keeping you busy on a Monday.
Just a couple of other small things at the top.  Tomorrow, President Biden will meet with a bipartisan group of governors to discuss innovative — innovative ways governors are working to get the people in their states vaccinated.  The bipartisan group will share with the President some best practices on promoting access to vaccination, building confidence in vaccines, and ensuring that everyone is reached in the vaccination response. 
He will also acknowledge the instrumental role Democrats, Republicans, and independents have played in the vaccination efforts thus far, including helping deliver 220 million shots in the first 100 days of his presidency.  And he will also discuss how this continued partnership with governors is critical to meeting the goal of achieving 70 percent of our adult Americans having one shot and 160 million Americans fully vaccinated by July 4th.
The meeting will include Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Utah Governor Spencer Cox, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, New Mexico Governor Lujan Grisham, Maine Governor Janet Mills, and Minnesota Governor Tim Walz.
Q    Thanks.  Is there any reaction to intensifying clashes in Israel?  In the last couple hours, it’s just gotten worse.  I know Jake Sullivan was on the phone over the weekend with his top counterpart.  But is the President, at this point, getting involved?  Is — what’s the next steps forward?  And then, if I could just — I know we’re tight on time. 
MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.
Q    Second question: Any readout on the President’s remarks — the Bucharest Nine meeting?
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Let me start with the first, and then I’ll go to the second.  We are continuing to closely monitor the violence in Israel.  We have serious concerns about the situation, including violent confrontations that we’ve seen over the last few days, as you noted — as you noted, an escalation earlier today. 
You also noted, Aamer, that in a call over the weekend with his Israeli counterpart, our National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, reiterated concerns about the potential evictions of Palestinian families from their homes.  And they agreed that the launching of rocket attacks and incendi- — incendiary balloons from Gaza towards Israel is unacceptable and must be condemned. 
So, this is something that our national security team is closely monitoring, obviously, across government.  Certainly, the President is kept abreast and is watching closely as well. 
And on your second question: This meeting — if we haven’t put out a readout yet, we will shortly.  Let me give you just a couple of highlights here that I think I have available. 
One moment. 
Let’s see here.  Let me work to get that to you shortly after, if I don’t have it available here.  Ah, here.  Here we go. 
So, as Aamer noted, the President spoke today with NATO’s Eastern flank Allies in a virtual summit hosted by the presidents of Romania and Poland.  He underscored his commitment to rebuilding alliances and strengthening transatlantic relationships.  He conveyed his desire for closer cooperation with our nine Allies in Central and Eastern — Central Europe and the Baltic and bl- — Black Sea regions on a full range of issues, including global health, security, climate change, energy security, and global economic recovery. 
And he also expressed his support for enhancing NATO’s deterrence and defense posture, as well as the importance of Allies increasing their resilience against harmful economic and political actions by our strategic competitors. 
In addition, he welcomed the opportunity to engage with these Allies, as well as NATO’s — the NATO Secretary General about Alliance efforts to meet future threats, which will be discussed at the NATO summit in June.
And finally, he stressed the importance of strengthening democratic governance and rule of law at home within the Alliance and around the world. 
Nandita, go ahead. 
Q    Thank you, Jen.  Just a quick follow-up on the Bucharest Nine: Was the President’s decision to participate in the meeting just, sort of — was it driven by this desire to show a united front against Russia? 
MS. PSAKI:  It was a desire to have a part — have a conversation and have a discussion with some important partners in Central Europe in — in East- — NATO’s Eastern — with East — NATO’s Eastern flank Allies about a range of issues, including security, of course, in the region; including our efforts to address the global health crisis, climate change, energy security. 
This group was gathering — or they had a pre- — preset gathering, and they invited him to address the gathering, and that’s exactly what he did. 
Go ahead.
Q    On infrastructure: The President spent the last 10 days making very clear his view on the merits of the corporate tax increase, and the White House has rejected user fees as payfors. 
(Someone sneezes.)
Bless you, Chris.
MS. PSAKI:  Bless you.  (Laughter.)
Q    The Republicans have made clear the 2017 tax law is a nonstarter and are proposing user fees to pay for it.  I don’t understand what the deal space is here when their payfors are considered nonstarters by you guys, and your payfors are considered nonstarters by theirs. 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, this is a big week ahead, Phil.  It’s a big week for someone who covered Capitol Hill and is now covering the White House.  Look, I think the President — the President’s red lines are inaction and are anything that would raise taxes on people making less than $400,000 a year.  Those are not areas where he is going to move. 
He is quite open, as is evidenced by the fact that he invited Senator Capito and a group of members to meet with him in the White House later this week.  He’s very open to having a discussion about where we can find agreement, where we can move forward.  And he has been encouraged by the spirit in which Senator Capito and other Republican colleagues are engaging with him.  And he’s hopeful that the meeting will be constructive. 
Now, you’re right, and what you touched on — which is an interesting piece of this — is that the disagreement is really about the payfors.  There is agreement about the need to modernize our infrastructure, about the need to do more to create jobs in the economy.  And he’s looking forward to hearing what additional ideas they may have.
Q    Can I just ask one more quick one?  I understand where you guys and the Fed are — that inflation right now — transitory if it pops — 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
Q    — to the degree that it does.  The jobs report kind of was a reminder that we don’t necessarily have a roadmap for coming out of a once-in-a-century pandemic economically.  Are you guys concerned about what would happen if you were wrong and it’s not transitory, and this ends up being an actual real problem in the weeks and months ahead, when it comes to inflation?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, let me first say that our economic team watches this incredibly closely — including our Secretary of Treasury, who has an expansive background in watching inflation.  And so, we have confidence in both their assessments to date and also the fact that they will watch this as we continue to assess the state of our economy. 
I will say that — and the President will talk about this shortly, I should say, later this afternoon — that his view is that, you know, we need to — we’ve always believed that this would be — there would be ups and downs in our jobs reports.  That is historically how it has gone — that there are a number of factors that contribute to it being a challenge for people to hire and people to rejoin the workforce. 
And there are steps we can take — and this is what he will talk about in his remarks — as a government.  We’ve obviously taken a number of those steps, including passing the American Rescue Plan.  But there are a number of barriers to work — the biggest barriers we’ve seen: affordability of childcare, schools reopening, vaccinations is actually a huge factor. 
So, when you dig into this data, which obviously we’ve done over the last couple of days, one interesting thing that struck the President as interesting is that the week of April 12th — which is the week that the data was compiled for the April jobs report was collected — at that point, only 18 percent of 18- to 64-year-olds were fully vaccinated.  And as of May 9th, it’s risen to 34 percent.  And the seven-day moving average of positive COVID cases was 40 percent higher in mid-April than May 8th last week when the data was compiled for next month.  So, all I’m conveying is there are a range of factors. 
He’ll talk about — or — announcements on state and local funding — how that will be distributed, which will help keep police, firefighters, and others on the job.  He’ll talk about delivering assistance to restaurants, which is some — where we see major opportunity for employment or rehiring. 
He’ll talk about providing guidance to childcare centers, which will help ensure that that funding gets out the door to cover child costs.  He’ll talk about the emp- — Employee Retention Tax — Tax Credit, which will hopefully help small- and medium-sized businesses.  But he also believes that there are steps businesses need to take, which he’ll also talk about. 
Employers can get people vaccinated.  They can pay people a decent wage.  These larger companies have received $1.4 trillion in money.  They can do a better job of paying a decent wage to bring people back into the workforce. 
And so, you know, there’s a lot of steps different entities can take.  And that’s where he think- — where he’ll discuss this afternoon and where he thinks the focus should be. 
Go ahead. 
Q    Thank you.  Two topics really quick.  First, on ethics waivers: The White House apparently had ethics restrictions that were preventing officials who work here from communicating with the unions they worked at previously, and they waived them for somebody at OMB and somebody at the Made in America office, and I’m curious why that happened. 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, since you gave me the opportunity, I will reiterate that this administration has — the President signed an executive order requiring all appointees across the federal government to sign the most stringent ethics code ever adopted by any White House. 
So, as you referred to, in the narrow circumstances when necessary and in the public’s interest, the order authorizes agencies to grant limited waivers in consultation with White House Counsel’s Office, including in the cases you’re citing. 
The President, of course, has stood strong for unions throughout his career, and he’s proud to have leading labor voices in the White House.  And there are circumstances — very, very limited — where it is in the interest of governing, in the interest of getting work done for the American people to issue these waivers.
Q    And then, on the economy: So, employment only rose by about 266,000 jobs in April out of 7.4 million or so job openings.  How does the White House know that people are just choosing not to apply for jobs because the extra unemployment benefits are so good? 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, let me say that we have looked at the data — and Secretary Yellen referred to this on Friday, or talked about this on Friday: We don’t see much evidence that the extra unemployment insurance is a major driver in people not rejoining the workforce. 
We actually see the data and our analysis shows that lack of vaccination, the lower rate — which is why I referred to the data in the week that it was taken — it has an impact.  Childcare has an impact.  Schools reopening has an impact. 
But there is also the need to pay a livable working wage, and that’s one of the reasons the President will talk about that this afternoon. 
Q    But, as Bank of America economists who were cited in a Bloomberg story say, anybody making less than $32,000 a year is better off financially just taking the unemployment benefits.  So is the White House creating an incentive just to stay home?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, the majority of economists, internally and externally of the White House, don’t feel that unemployment insurance — something that was done at a time where — to help unemployed people get through a very difficult economic downturn during a pandemic — is a dri- — is the — a major driver in our unemployment data; that there are other factors — bigger factors — that were contributing — have been contributing to the numbers we saw on Friday. 
That’s what we’re working to address, and that’s where we think our solution should be focused.
Q    And just last one, really quick.  The Commerce Secretary says the main reason that people are staying home is fear.  How does the White House know that people are scared?  What is that based on?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think what she was referring to is the fact that there were — there was a much lower vaccination rate just a month ago.  And that people are fearful about getting sick.  They are fearful about whether they’re going to have the conditions to be healthy — whether they can send their kids to a childcare center, whether there is a childcare center.  So those are all factors that are consistent with the examples and reasons I just provided. 
Go ahead, Josh.
Q    You mentioned that you’re monitoring inflation and that, with the jobs report, you expected, sort of, you know, lumpy reports from month to month.  Do you expect the same thing with the inflation report?  Is the White House bracing for, kind of, an eye-popping topline number, given the base effects it will be going off of?  Or are you not, sort of, cautioning that?  Are you worried people will overreact to the one number that will come on Wednesday?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, obviously, our analysis is going to be done by our economic experts.  They continue to convey that they believe the impact will be temporary, transitory — however you want to refer to it — but they’re looking at it closely.  But I don’t have any projections on that to make from here today.
Q    Can I ask a little bit more about vaccinations?
MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.
Q    You — the average has dropped from about 3.4 million, four weeks ago —
MS. PSAKI:  Yep.
Q    — (inaudible) 2 million.  It looks like it’s, sort of, leveled off there — declining steadily.  Is that where you expect it to continue?  Do you expect it to keep coming down?  And what are the factors that you think are driving that?  It’s a pretty substantial drop over the past month or so.
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Well, we always expected we’d be in a different phase.  And we were at a phase, just several weeks ago — and you cover this closely, so you know well — where there was such a demand for the vaccine.  People were eager to get their appointment.  They were — had vaccine T-shirts.  They were doing selfies. 
We are now at the point, which we always knew we would be at, where the supply has increased — has exceeded the demand.  And it means we have to work extra hard to get into communities; to have partnerships with local doctors, with primary care physicians; to expand access; expand mobile units that are going into communities to get the supply out to people.
We have reached — hit a higher number than I think most people anticipated at this point since the President was inaugurated — the number of people who have been vaccinated, who have received their first dose and are, hopefully, on their way to their second dose. 
So we knew we would be in this phase.  And we knew we’d be in a phase where it be more difficult because we need to increase access — which we’ve been focused on doing from the beginning — and continue to increase confidence.  We have seen progress in both areas.
Q    You mentioned, two weeks ago, the 10 million doses of AstraZeneca that were being reviewed by the FDA. 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
Q    Do you have an update on that at all?  Are they still reviewing it?
MS. PSAKI:  They are still reviewing it.  We don’t have an update quite yet.  And we’re working to, hopefully, have more for you on what our — how our approach and what our assessment will be of how those doses will be distributed.
Q    (Inaudible) quick housekeeping.  Tomorrow’s meeting with governors — is that virtual or are they all coming?
MS. PSAKI:  Virtual.
Q    It’s a virtual meeting. 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
Q    And can you give us, finally —
MS. PSAKI:  Yes.
Q    — a sense of whether you’re considering easing travel restrictions, particularly to Europe or whatever for vaccinated people?  Where is the U.S. thinking on that?
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have anything to preview on that at this point in time.
Q    Thank you.
MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead, David.
Q    Back to this interesting question on the unemployment benefits.  One suggestion the Republicans have been making is “End those benefits earlier than the current plan” — which I think is the end of September — “and use that money to go into infrastructure.”  Is that being taken up by your side?
MS. PSAKI:  I’m certain they will bring many ideas to the meeting — meetings later this week.  That may be one of them.
But again, I think it’s important to note that we don’t see the unemployment benefits as a major driver in the jobs numbers. We see there being a number of other factors that have a larger impact, including the pace of vaccination just a month ago, the childcare impacts, the need to get more money out into state and local communities. 
So that’s where our focus is going to be.  And, for us, it’s important that we continue to remain solutions-oriented on areas where we feel can be most beneficial to the economy and not be moved by talking points.
Go ahead. 
Q    Yeah.  Thanks, Jen.  The White House sent out, earlier, that the President is meeting later today with Senator Carper and Senator Manchin.  I was wondering if you could just give us a preview of what they plan to discuss and why those two senators, in particular, were invited — or will it be virtual or not?
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Well, I would expect the President will have — you already know — he has a number of meetings scheduled this week: one with a bica- — a bipartisan, bicameral leadership meeting on Wednesday.  He also has the meeting with Senator Capito and a group of Republican senators on Thursday.
So these are just examples of two senators — additional members he’ll be meeting with to discuss the American Jobs Plan, discuss the path forward.  And I’m not sure we’ll have a big readout afterwards, but it’s just a part of his ongoing outreach.
Q    And given — just the way you said, you know, what a big week it is; he has so many meetings with so many lawmakers — is this, sort of, I guess, like a defining week, would you say, for how things are going to proceed on the Jobs Plan and the Families Plan? 
Is the White House, sort of, you know, setting any kind of deadline?  You’ve mentioned Memorial Day as a time we’d like to see progress.  I’m curious, you know, where you, kind of, go after this week, given all of the meetings that are scheduled.
MS. PSAKI:  The President would still like to see progress by Memorial Day and would like to sign the bills into law this summer.  That hasn’t changed.  But we don’t have a new deadline.  But, of course, a number of meetings, and the Senate is back, and there’ll be all sorts of conversations happening this week.
Kel — sorry.  Kelly, go ahead.
Q    Do you get a sense that as the President is going to have his first meeting with Kevin McCarthy —
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
Q    — here and that leadership meeting you talked about — obviously, the House Republicans have some of their own internal matters going on. 
MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.
Q    Does the President think any discord they are having has an influence or comes into the meetings that he will have with leadership?  Does that affect how he views sitting down with them at all?
MS. PSAKI:  No.  The President knows that there is some introspection going on in the Republican Party right now and a determination about who they’re going to be, who they want to lead them, and what they want to represent moving forward.  He’s not going to focus on that. 
He also believes that the American people did not elect him to accept improbability or impossibility of working in a bipartisan manner.  So, the role he can play, as President of the United States, is to continue to seek ways to work together. 
And the fact is we are continuing to work — even with the family excitement that’s happening on the other side of the aisle, we are continuing to work with Republicans on a range of issues.  National security.  We passed our — we confirmed our Cabinet in a faster pace since — than — since Reagan.   We’re working to increase our competition.  There are a lot of ways we’re working with Republicans, even as they’re determining who they are moving forward.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q    Thank you, Jen.  Both the German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron have expressed their concerns over U.S. policy towards vaccine.  They’ve basically been underlining the need for more experts, be it for the vaccine itself or the components.  Does the President understand their frustration?  And more broadly, do you think he underestimated the — the negative reactions around the world?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, let me first say that the President’s commitment to a global COVID-19 response has been steadfast and consistent since day one, when we made the decision to rejoin the WHO.  We understand that the border — the virus knows no borders, that it is important for the United States to continue to play a central role in addressing the global pandemic.
We’ve invested more than any other country in COVAX, and we’re pushing other countries to invest more in the program to get vaccines to developing countries.  We’re working to boost global production through partnerships like the Quad partnership.  Moderna and Pfizer have announced plans and intentions to increase supply and get it out to the global community.  And, of course, we’ve announced that we are going to share 60 million doses — 10 million of which, as Josh referred to or alluded to earlier, will be hopefully approved by the FDA soon.
So, there’s no question we’re playing a role.  We will continue to play an increased role in efforts to address the pandemic and get the pandemic under control.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q    Thank you, Jen.  Speaking of NATO’s Eastern flank,
the important part of a security system in the Central and Eastern Europe was supposed to be U.S. missile defense site in Poland.  The project stalled during the previous administration.  It has been delayed twice.  Is President Biden committed to completing the project?
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have anything to preview about a bilateral project or project in Poland at this point in time.  The President addressed this group today.  He provided remarks to, obviously, a group of nine countries.  So it was not focused on one particular country, even though I know the President of Poland was a cohost of the event.  I can certainly follow up with our national security team and see if there’s more to report.
Go ahead.
Q    We’re seeing hesit- — hesitancy in some areas to resume activities that even the CDC says they’re safe — you know, wearing a — not wearing a mask outside if you’re fully vaccinated or even, in particular, in-person schooling.  Does the administration have a strategy on helping cure those anxieties around the country and make sure that the reopening can go as smoothly as possible?
MS. PSAKI:  The reopening of schools?  Well, we actually saw data that came out just last week that showed more than 50 percent of schools are open five days a week, and that data is from March.  So we’re actually seeing increasing numbers as schools receive the American Rescue Plan funding and as they apply the mitigation measures.
So, I’m not sure — but was there specific data you were referring to, or —
Q    It’s not just the reopening schools, but getting families confident that sending their children to those schools is safe.
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Sure.  This is — certainly, as we look to wait for and hope for, of course, approval of the — of one of the vaccines to be safe for 12- to 15-year-olds.  I know this is something that’s on the minds of parents around the country.  My kids are not quite that old, but I certainly relate to and understand that. 
And we will continue to do what we have done with a range of communities across the country where there has been issues with confidence — whether it’s communities of color, where there has been a massive increase in confidence as more people get vaccinated; or more conservative communities, where we’ve also seen an increase in confidence as more people in communities are vaccinated.
So one of the reasons that we are partnering with primary care physicians and local doctors is because we know that is an effective way — not just with adults, but with parents — to help address questions they have, concerns they have about whether or not getting the vaccine, taking the vaccine for their kids is safe, is effective, and is necessary.  And that is a program we were — we will continue to increase our investment in.  I think we’ll have more to say about that in the coming days. 
Sorry, I was trying to understand your question.  Go ahead.
Q    Thanks.  To go back to the Colonial Pipeline, if the U.S. does begin to see a shortage of supply, would they consider — would you consider waiving the Jones Act?
MS. PSAKI:  So, as — as Dr. Sherwood-Randall alluded to, we have an interagency process that was stood up this weekend and is meeting regularly — many times a day — about a range of options.
I’m not going to get ahead of those options.  And at this point in time, I would just reiterate: We don’t see a supply issue.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q    Hi, thanks for taking my question.  The first is: Is there — does the President have a sense of how many Democrats are fully on board with the 4 trillion dollars’ worth of plans right now, given that he’s meeting with these two Democratic senators? 
And is there any readjustment happening with job — the Jobs Plan or the Families Plan dis- — because of the disappointing jobs report last week?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would first say that the President has been regularly discussing with not just Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer, but a range of members.  I should say, also, senior members of the White House team have primarily been playing this role, have had dozens and dozens of meetings and engagements and discussions about these proposals and what’s important to a variety of members. 
As you know, Yamiche, you know, there are some members we’ve been talking about a lot who want to see a smaller package; some want to see a larger package.  So there’s a range of points of view that will certainly continue to be a part of the discussion. 
This meeting with bipartisan leaders on Wednesday — of course, the Job’s Plan will be a part of it.  They’ll also discuss a range of issues and a range of items on the agenda during that meeting.  But I don’t — the discussions are ongoing, and there are a range of viewpoints that we’re intaking on.  We’re answering questions. And that is not just — certainly not just with Republicans; it’s with a range of Democrats as well.
Q    Just want to make sure — the question was, basically, how many Democrats?  And does the President have a sense that he could pass it at least with Democrat support right now?  (Inaudible.)
MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, Yamiche, I — what I was conveying is that there are a range of Democrats and Republicans who have different ideas about what the priorities are, what they should be.  Some may even want different components of the package to be bigger; some may want it to be smaller. 
So all of that is being assessed as we have a discussion.  There isn’t a bill that’s going to the floor next week.  We’re in the early sausage-making stage of the discussion with members of both parties.
Q    And then two other quick questions.  The first is just on policing.  Does the President — would the President sign a bill that didn’t include an end to qualified immunity when it came to policing?  Jim Clyburn is supporting that now.  What’s the President’s stance on qualified immunity? 
MS. PSAKI:  The President is eager to see what the outcome of negotiations are, and he certainly trusts in the leadership of Congresswoman Bass, Senator Booker.  But his focus is on his hope that he can sign the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act into law on May 25th — if I’m getting the date correct.  And he will not — we’re not going to get ahead of those negotiations.
Q    So he doesn’t have a stance right now that he would — that he would say on qualified immunity?
MS. PSAKI:  We’re not going to — we’re not going to take a stance in the middle of the negotiations. 
Q    And then the last question I have is on schooling.  I saw some numbers that said Black children are — half of them have gone back to school; about two thirds of Asian American children have enrolled in remote school; compared to about 20 percent of white students.  Essentially, the point is that Black, Latino, and Asian students aren’t going back to school at the same rates as white students.  There are a lot of people —
MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.
Q    — who are worried about that equity gap.  Does the administration have a goal, a number in mind for — for how this should be playing out when it comes to students and who’s going back to school?  And what — what are the aim — what’s the aim there? 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.  Well, one of the challenges is that the data is from March, and so the data at this point is a month and a half old.  It still shows encouraging signs, but, as you pointed out there, Yamiche, it’s not nearly where we want it to be at the end — you know, at the conclusion of this.  And the focus of Secretary Cardona and on our Department of Education is ensuring we’re getting these funds out to the communities that need it in order to reopen — reopen as quickly as possible, five days a week. 
There are also entities that I think one of your colleagues over here asked about, in terms of concerns about the vaccine and safety and efficacy that we need to continue to address at the same time as well.  So we will continue to dig into the data. 
One of the things Secretary Cardona has been focusting [sic] — focused on is connecting schools and best practices so that they can learn: Is it a funding issue?  Is it a, you know, addressing-other-challenges issue and — that school districts and schools can learn from each other? 
But our goal and objective is to have all schools open five days a week, and that’s what we’re working toward.  And we’re not going to be satisfied until we get there. 
I know that — I think you have to gather, or maybe we’re even late for that, so I’m going to wrap this up.  But we’ll see you again tomorrow.  Thanks, everyone.
1:44 P.M. EDT

Stay Connected

Sign Up

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.

Opt in to send and receive text messages from President Biden.

Scroll to Top Scroll to Top