Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, May 24, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:05 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Welcome to a more full briefing room. “Double the fun” is what I’ve been — (laughter) — saying this morning. Good, you laughed. Thank you.
Okay, I have a couple of items for all of you at the top. I will say I have a hard out at one o’clock, but I’m going to try to get to as many people in here as humanly possible.
Today, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that they have awarded $200 million from the American Rescue Plan to support services for survivors of domestic violence. As we all know, the pandemic and its economic impact significantly increased the risks of abuse for victims of domestic violence and made it much harder for them to seek safety and support.
This money will provide critical support through the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act program. It will provide 296 supplemental grant awards that will be used to fund domestic violence services in every state and territory, as well as supplementary funding for Tribes, state domestic violence coalitions, national resource centers, Specialized Services for Abused Parents and Children grantees, and national domestic violence hotlines.
Also, on COVID, to start off today, I wanted to — well, to second, I guess, today — I wanted to give you a brief update on our whole-of-government wartime COVID-19 response. We have gone from 6 percent of U.S. adults with one shot on the day the President took office to more than 60 percent in just four months.
We’re averaging about 24,000 cases per day, down from nearly 184,000 cases per day when we took office. And daily death rates have dropped nearly 85 percent since January 20th. Is there more work to be done? Absolutely. We’re still at war with the virus.
A couple of things that we’ve been able to implement: Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, we’ve been able to accelerate and improve our COVID-19 response. School districts across the country have been able to leverage the resources needed to safely reopen. Small- and medium-sized businesses are able to pay their employees for the time needed to take off work to get the shot and recover from it.
And billions of dollars have gone to states and loca- — and local organizations doing the boots-on-the-ground outreach around vaccine confidence, which is, of course, a big focus for us at this point.
HHS is leading regular engagement with the le- — with the COVID Community Corps leaders to discuss best practices. And just a few minutes ago, we announced the President hosted a YouTube townhall with a range of influer- — influencers with millions of followers, primarily young people who need to understand the benefits of getting vaccinated. So just another example of the ways we’re trying to use all of our resources here.
Last things I would just note on this: We’ve also worked with a range of companies to — and a range of companies have stepped up to ensure getting the vaccine is accessible to everyone. Big businesses from Tra- — from Target to Tractor Supply have stepped up to ensure their employees have access for paid time off.
Companies are also leveraging cuate- — creative ways to boost vaccination rates. United Airlines is offering rewards like free first-class flights and other sweepstakes to vaccinated travelers. And starting today, Uber and Lyft will be offering free rides to all Americans to vaccination sites until July 4th.
The last thing I just wanted to note is that, today, the President will be joined by Senator Murkowski, Senator Sullivan, and Congressman Young as he signs H.R. 1318, the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act. This law will allow large cruise ships to visit Alaska this year, a critical step toward returning to normal in a state where 1 in 10 jobs is in the tourism industry.
This bill is an example of criti- — the critical bipartisan work that can be done in Congress. And the President is grateful to Senator Murkowski and Congressman Young for their leadership in this area.
And for anyone who was here the first day we took a question from somebody remotely, this was exactly the question that he asked. So, here we are just a few weeks later.
With that, Darlene, why don’t you kick us off?
Q Thank you. You didn’t say when that bill signing is taking place. Is that today?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, this afternoon.
Q This afternoon. Okay. And then on infrastructure: Can you say what the White House is expecting next from Republicans after the White House dropped the price tag last week and following that very sharp statement from Senator Capito’s office? What — what are you expecting from Republicans on that front?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the ball is in the Republicans’ court. We put forward a proposal on Friday that I detailed extensively here, and you all saw the details of that proposal in the written summary that we provided transparently to all of you. And our reasonable counterproposal cut $550 billion from the President’s original proposal, including to some areas that were core priorities — continue to be core priorities to the President — investing in infrastructure.
The last counteroffer that came from the Republicans came up — just came up $50 billion, so our concessions went 10 times as far as theirs.
So the ball is in their court; we are waiting their counterproposal. We would welcome that. We’re eager to engage and even have them down here to the White House once we see that counterproposal.
Q Are you expecting the two sides to have more discussions this week, either here or up on the Hill?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ll say we have remained closely in touch at a staff level and senior staff level here with members and with their teams over the course of the last several days. That will continue. And again, we look forward to seeing their proposal.
Q Thanks, Jen. I want to — big picture, as the country gets ready to mark the anniversary of George Floyd’s death, if you will. After that — that happened, the President called this a “wake-up call to the nation.” Given where things are here in Washington with police reform, has anything actually changed since Mr. Floyd was killed as it relates to policing and Black and brown people in this country?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that the President is still very much hopeful that he will be able to sign the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act into law. And we are, of course, very closely engaged with a range of — with the negotiators while also leaving them room to work.
And just on Friday, the President spoke with Senator Booker. We’ve also seen that Senator Scott has publicly said that “The key for us is to keep making progress.” And we’re going to cont- — keep supporting those efforts.
You know, I would say it’s hard for me to assess from here, community to community, where we have seen progress made. Certainly, the death of George Floyd — the tragic death of George Floyd has unfortunately elevated into the public eye — thanks to the reporting for many of you — the need to put reforms into place, the need to rebuild trust and communities. And we’re certainly hopeful that that activism, that engagement will help move this legislation across the finish line.
Q And then, a look back over the weekend and over the last year: This past weekend, there were more than a dozen mass shootings across this country, four thousand more people shot and killed by guns in 2020 compared to the year before. Is there a crime problem in this country?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say certainly there is a guns problem, and that’s something the President would say. And there are communities where local violence and community violence is an issue, and that’s one of the reasons that we have proposed and have — now are implementing funding for community violence prevention programs across the country.
I will say that we don’t often highlight — and you just gave me the opportunity to — the fact that between mass shootings — mass shootings that get a lot of attention, that we lower the flags — there are hundreds, thousands of people who lose their lives.
And that’s one of the reasons the cres- — President will continue to advocate for the Senate passing back- — universal background checks, but also advocate for actions in states where we have seen the greatest level of activism over the past several years.
Q Does COVID have anything to do with the increase in numbers that we’ve seen in the last year?
MS. PSAKI: In terms of local community violence? It’s — it’s an interesting question. I’d have to ask our team to check on that. I know, as I started off this briefing giving an update on — that we’ve seen statistics on domestic violence.
And obviously we know that there are — the loss of life at the hands of gun violence is often — too often. Suicide can be domestic violence, and we’ve seen statistics as it — as it relates to the impact on mental health. But I’d have to check with experts on the assessment of that.
Q Thanks, Jen. Are U.S-based airlines safe to fly over Belarus right now?
MS. PSAKI: Are U.S. airlines safe to fly over? There’s not been an update, I don’t believe, by our airline industry — or by our — those who monitor the airline industry in the government in terms of giving new assessments or new recommendations on that, and I’d certainly defer to them.
Q And then kind of following up on that: In terms of actions, is the U.S. working with NATO? What’s the President’s approach right now —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — in response to what occurred over the weekend?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, first, let me say the President was briefed. You know, he’s been kept abreast, of course, but he was briefed this morning during his PDB by his national security team.
Our National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, also raised our strong concerns on this issue — the actions of the government of Belarus — with the Secretary — with his counterpa- — his Russian counterpart during their
phone call [meeting] this morning, which we provided a readout of, and it was largely, of course, focused on moving the ball forward on getting to a meeting, but he also raised this issue.
We certainly — since you gave me the opportunity to do this — condemn the Lukashenko’s regime’s ongoing harassment and arbitrary detention of journalists simply for doing their job.
This was a shocking act: diverting a flight between two EU member states for the apparent purpose of arresting a journalist. It constitutes a brazen affront to international peace and security by the regime.
We demand an immediate, international, transparent, and credi- — credible investigation of this incident.
We are in touch with a range of partners bilaterally and through multilateral channels from NATO, the OSCE, U.N., EU, and others. And we have nothing to read out at this point, but we will continue to coordinate closely with them.
Q And just one more quick one since we’re in kind of a critical week on infrastructure.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Does the President have a trigger — has he identified like, “All right, this is — if I see this, we’re walking” or “If I see this, we’re going to keep this going past Memorial Day”? Is that — do you have that laid out, kind of, in black and white inside the White House right now?
MS. PSAKI: I would say we’re eager to see their proposal and see what they have to offer. And I think it doesn’t take anything more than simple math to know that if we came down by $550 billion and they came up by $50 billion, they have a ways more to go.
Q President Putin and President Lukashenko are very close friends and allies. Does the events with the Ryanair and the arrest of the journalist — is that going to have an impact on the meeting? And are you prepared to announce a summit between the President and President Putin today? Or when do you expect to be able to do that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I will say that, as we provided in the
call [meeting] readout, our National Security Advisor did have a call [meet] with his counterpart, and it was an important step in — that call [meeting] was an important step in the preparation for a planned U.S.-Russia summit — the date and location of which we’re not ready to announce at this point yet, and we’re still working on the details.
I will say that while our focus and the purpose of a meeting like this will be to move to a more stable and predictable relationship with Russia after several years where it has not been exactly that — and we believe we can do that in a constructive manner — it does not mean that we will hold back on areas where we have concern — as you’ve seen over the past several weeks, where we have simultaneously issued an invitation to have a meeting while also putting forward sanctions for actions that we find unacceptable.
And so, certainly, the fact that the national s- — our National Security Advisor raised this issue is evidence of that, while also having a conversation about how we can move forward our planning on the summit.
Q On another subject, can you give us a sense of what the meeting with the George Floyd family will look like tomorrow —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — how many members and family will participate?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Do you expect that to open for coverage? What should we expect?
MS. PSAKI: I certainly can. So, tomorrow, the President is hosting members of the Floyd family here at the White House to mark the anniversary of his tragic killing. This is going to be a private meeting. And we certainly will also put out a statement from the President marking the anniversary — a day that certainly impacted him personally and impacted millions of Americans.
But he wanted this meeting to be private in order to have a real conversation and preserve that with the family. He has a genuine relationship with them. And the courage and grace of this family — and especially his daughter, Gianna — has really stuck with the President, as you have seen him talk about, Kelly and others, many times over the past several months. So, he’s eager to listen to their perspectives and hear what they have to say during this meeting.
In terms of the people who are attending, it is — let’s see: Gianna — his daughter, of course — will attend; Roxie Washington,
his [Gianna’s] mother; Bridgett Floyd, his sister; Philonise Floyd, his brother; his — his brother’s wife, Keeta Floyd; Rodney Floyd his other — another brother; Terrence Floyd, another brother; and Brandon Williams, who is George Floyd’s nephew. So, it will be a full family attending this meeting with the President tomorrow.
Q Obviously, there’s a deadline associated that the President asked Congress that will not be met.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q There’s also been deadlines related to infrastructure with Memorial Day, wanting to see real progress. Is the President concerned that setting deadlines on some of these key priorities has not been enough of a catalyst to get action? Is that a sign of how he’s approaching this not working or a sign of something else? I mean, these are key deadlines that you’ve set, and some of them are not being met.
MS. PSAKI: Well, first I would say, on the American Jobs Plan, our timeline is really our own timeline, and that — is that we will be able to assess — we will assess internally, as we go into Memorial Day weekend, where things stand, what the next steps are, and where we go from here. That can take a range of formats.
As it relates to the George Floyd Act, the President used the opportunity of his joint session address to elevate a piece of legislation. That is working its way through with bipartisan negotiations because he felt it was important to elevate it and important to put out a bold and ambitious agenda.
Now, it’s clear — by the negotiators and by the fact that tomorrow is the anniversary — that’s not the timeline that the passing of the bill will be on. But he is encouraged that there’s ongoing progress and that there is a sense from the negotiators that there’s a path forward. And he believes he can continue to press on that.
Q Thank you. On the origins of COVID: There’s a new Wall Street Journal story that three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were hospitalized with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illness in November of 2019. That’s something that is apparently known to U.S. intel officials. So why isn’t President Biden pushing for more access, more information to get to the bottom of exactly what happened?
MS. PSAKI: We are, and we have repeatedly called for the WHO to — to support an expert-driven evaluation of the pandemic’s origins that is free from interference or politicization.
Now, there were phase one revol- — results that came through. We were not — during that first phase of the investigation, there was not access to data, there was not information provided. And now we’re hopeful that WHO can move into a more transparent, independent phase two investigation.
Q But with 589,920 dead Americans, at what point does President Biden say, “We don’t want to wait for the WHO. We don’t know what they’re doing. This needs to be an American-led effort to get to the bottom of what happened”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first of all, we need access to the underlying data and information in order to have that investigation, and —
Q Then why not — but he talks all the time about how he’s known President Xi for a long time, so why can’t he just call —
MS. PSAKI: And — and we need them —
Q — and ask him for that information?
MS. PSAKI: I think you’re misunderstanding how this process actually works. An international investigation led by the World Health Organization is something that we’ve actually been pressing for for several months. In coordination with a range of partners around the world, we need that data, we need that information from the Chinese government.
What we can’t do, and what I would caution anyone doing, is leaping ahead of an actual international process. We don’t have enough data and information to jump to a conclusion at this point in time.
Q But — so is there any amount of casualties from COVID in this country that would make you want to not wait for an international effort and just do it as a U.S.-led —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I have to say, I think the family members of the loved ones whose lives have been lost and — deserve accurate information — data — not the jumping to a conclusion without having the information necessary to conclude what the origins are. What we do share — everyone in this country — is a desire to know how this started, where it started, and prevent it from ever happening again. That’s something we all share.
Q Thanks, Jen. I want to ask you first about the negotiations that are going to be getting back underway in Vienna tomorrow over the Iran nuclear agreement. How would the White House assess the status of those talks? Doesn’t seem like there’s too much momentum toward an agreement. Would you agree that things are kind of grinding to something of a halt here?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re not going to predict an outcome before the fifth round — I think, if I’m remembering the numbers specifically — have even begun.
Look, the fact that they are starting a fifth round of negotiations, even as they are direct — indirect, is a sign that we’re continuing to plug along on the path to diplomacy. We continue to believe that’s absolutely the right approach and the right steps as it relates to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
We know, because we have been through this journey before, that this is going to take some time, that there will be moments where it is challenging and hard and there are difficult conversations. And that is certainly playing out.
But the alternative would be not pursuing diplomatic negotiations and accepting that we won’t have visibility or access to an understanding of Iran’s capabilities like we have — which is — would be similar to the situation we’ve had over the last couple of years.
So we’re going to keep — we have the best diplomats on the ground. We’re going to keep plugging away, working with our European partners, and seeing what we can achieve here.
Q And then just one more on infrastructure. In addition to the obstacles with Republicans, there is some resistance among Democrats too — for example, raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent. Some Democrats are really agitating to repeal those SALT exemptions on taxes.
So, can you lay out some steps the White House is going to take this week, perhaps, to get back in touch with those Democratic lawmakers to address their concerns? Because it seems now a deal might be made among Democrats and not necessarily with Republicans.
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that we’ve had 500 — about 500 engagements, if not more, at this point with members, their staffs, their teams over the past several months wi- — on a range of issues, including the American Jobs Plan — including Democrats.
So, I know we talk a lot in here about negotiations with Capito, but I don’t want that to confuse the notion that we are talking with Democrats — with Leader Schumer, with Speaker Pelosi, with committee chairs — all the time about what their priorities are, what they’d like to see in a final package. And that’s vitally important to these negotiations moving forward.
I will say that the President has been clear: He is quite open to a range of mechanisms for paying for these proposals, including lower — raising the corporate tax rate to a lesser — lesser percentage. It’s all about how you pay for it — right? — so it’s a numbers — a matter of numbers.
We’ve just put up — forward a proposal that lowers the cost of the overarching package by $550 billion. That requires less money — not a mathematician, but that is true. So there’s opportunity there. What we have not seen from the Republicans is any proposal on how to pay for it that doesn’t raise taxes on Americans making less than $400,000 a year.
And as it relates to the SALT deduction: We’ve heard from members. We’re open to having those conversations. That is not a revenue-raiser, as we know; that costs more money. So, that would require more ways to pay for it.
Q But is there any specific engagements with those Democrats to read out that might be happening this week?
MS. PSAKI: I’m — I’m happy to see if there’s more that we can provide from our team. I will say that we’re in constant touch with a range of Democrats, from the Problem Solvers Caucus to — which I know are quite focused on the SALT deduction, or a number of their members are — to leadership, to
ranking members [chairs]. But we can see if we can get a summary for all of you. Sure.
Go ahead, Jeff.
Q Jen, just a couple follow-up questions. First, on Russia: Is it the White House’s belief or assessment that Russia was involved in the Belarus decision on that plane?
MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t trying to jump to that conclusion, only to convey that, as Kelly noted, there has been a close relationship. And so, as we’re discussing ways we can engage to convey our point of view on the actions by the government of Belarus, that we’re going to do that through many channels. Our ambassador in Belarus has also conveyed that directly.
Q Okay. A follow-up on the China/Wuhan question: Can you just give us a sense of the White House’s view of that report that the Wall Street Journal cited? Is it accurate? And is — do you have any concerns that it may have been politicized?
MS. PSAKI: I would say, in terms of the report, which was specifically about individuals being hospitalized, we have no means of confirming that or denying that. I mean, it’s not a report from the United States.
What I was conveying in response to Peter’s question is that it doesn’t mean we can draw a conclusion. We don’t have enough information to draw a conclusion about the origins. There is a need to look into a range of options. We need data, we need an independent investigation, and that’s exactly what we’ve been calling for.
Q I think the journal cited a U.S. intelligence report, so that would have been a U.S. report.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any — I don’t have anything more on a U.S. intelligence report from here.
Q Okay. And just lastly then on the issue of infrastructure: You’ve cited the fact that you’ve brought — you’ve cut the proposal by $550 [billion].
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q But a lot of that is going into other bills. So, is it really a cut if you’re planning on putting that money elsewhere in other legislation?
MS. PSAKI: Some of it is; not all of it is. And we’ve certainly come down from our proposals, and there’s also bipartisan support for a number of those proposals to move them forward.
So, at the end of the day though, we have put forward a proposal. We’ve put forward a way to pay for it. We have come down from our original proposal a great deal. And we look forward to Republicans putting forward their own counterproposal so we can continue to negotiate.
Go ahead, Weijia.
Q Thanks, Jen. So on the COVID report: Are you saying that the administration did not learn about these three researchers seeking hospital care until the Wall Street Journal reported it?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more on that for you.
Q Okay. On the Belarus plane: Does the President consider the forced diversion a hijacking or not?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a new definition of what happened here, other than to convey that it was — obviously, we’re outraged, as the international community has expressed and we have expressed as well. And we think this was a brazen affront to international peace and security by the regime.
At this point, we’re not legally ready to change any of the existing language regarding the terms “hijacking” and “sanctions.” Obviously, there are processes to consider that.
Q Thank you. And does the President plan to speak with President Lukashenko about this or has he already?
MS. PSAKI: He has not spoken with him to date. I don’t have any calls to preview. Our ambassador has spoken with him directly — or spoken with the leader — the government directly, I should say, for clarification.
Q Got it. And just one more question: On Friday, President Biden said he would not allow the Justice Department to seize the records of reporters. Has he communicated that to Attorney General Garland? And if so, how did he communicate that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any private conversations to read out for you between the President and his attorney general.
What I can convey is that the President spoke clearly that he won’t allow the abuse of power to intimidate journalists and he is alarmed by the reports of numerous abuses of power regarding the previous — how the previous administration used the powers of the Department of Justice, and thought it was right to speak out.
I don’t have further specifics beyond that.
Q But without revealing any private conversations, is the Justice Department aware that they are not to seize the records of reporters?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think the President was — always believes that we should always be refining and improving our approaches. The President made those comments quite publicly, so everyone, I think, is aware.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Go ahead, Mike.
Q Okay. (Coughs.) Excuse me. Thank you, Jen. Two quick foreign policy questions.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q One on Israel.
MS. PSAKI: Yep.
Q Obviously, the ceasefire seems to be, you know, holding for now, but there’s challenges ahead, obviously, for the President, who is under pressure — I think renewed pressure, even today, from the left — to do more for Palestinians and to do more to protect and enhance the quality of life for them.
On the other hand, you’ve got his pledge to — to essentially rebuild Gaza, which — you know, which is a difficult proposition at best when Hamas is in control of Gaza.
So how does he see walking that line going forward — you know, and maybe in the context of sending Blinken to the region as well?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, as we announced this morning, the President asked Secretary Blinken to travel to the region to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, also with leaders — additional leaders in the region to accomplish a couple things or to discuss a couple of things.
One is creating sustainable conditions for a ceasefire. Yes, it is holding. We’re continuing to watch it. But there’s a recognition we need to continue to discuss and have conversations with our key partners in the region, who played an instrumental role in getting to the point we reached last Thursday, and also to discuss the path forward on rebuilding Gaza.
And as you noted, Mike, we know that won’t be easy, in part because we want to prevent funding from going to Hamas. We obviously don’t communicate directly with Hamas, given they’re a terrorist organization; a number of countries in the region do.
And so the Secretary’s trip over the next couple of days will be focused on those objectives. And I’m certain he’ll have the opportunity to provide a readout to the President when he returns.
And then, on Russia: There was a part of the statement this morning which mentioned “strategic stability” in the interests of — that the United States has in working with Russia towards “strategic stability,” which usually seems — usually refers to, sort of, nuclear cooperation and — and the limiting of potential problems that could emerge from the spread of nuclear technology.
So is the — is that — should we see that as a signal of something that the President particularly wants to talk to President Putin about? And, you know, is that also a signal that maybe you’re pretty optimistic that this summit is actually going to happen in a matter of weeks because you’re already at that stage where you’re talking about that kind of — that level of agenda?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we — we specifically put in the readout that the — the discussion “was an important step in the preparation for a planned U.S.-Russia summit,” because we feel we are continuing to make progress toward that, even if we’re not at the point where it’s final and prepared to announce.
In terms of cooperation on nuclear capabilities and threats, I will note that this is one of the areas — even with the heightened level of tension with Russia over the past several years — where, when the President came into office, one of the first items on our agenda was extending the START treaty for five years. And obviously, now we have five years from now for that, but also they’re an important partner as it relates to the Iran nuclear negotiations — that were asked about earlier — because they are a member of the P5+1.
So while we’re not quite at the point of conveying what the breakdown would be of a potential summit that’s not yet confirmed, I would say that — that discussion and continued cooperation on nuclear stability would, I suspect, be a part of the agenda.
Q Thanks, Jen. Staying on foreign policy, a couple questions on Venezuela.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Would the administration being willing to ease sanctions on Nicolás Maduro as a gesture of its willingness to engage and to facilitate talks with Juan Guaidó?
MS. PSAKI: I’ve not been given any indication that’s in the works. But obviously, we continue to consider a range of steps with, you know, our global relationships around the world, including Venezuela.
Q Do you have — does the administration have any reason to believe that Maduro was serious about negotiating his own exit?
MS. PSAKI: I really don’t have an assessment of that. I’m happy to talk to our team that oversees — that handles Venezuela and see if there’s anything more we can convey.
Q And is the President personally involved in this policy portfolio? What is his involvement? And does he see a window of opportunity in negotiations?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President is briefed regularly on a range of our global engagements. And obviously, we have a talented team that manages relationships in the Western Hemisphere both here and at the State Department.
I don’t have an assessment from the President at this point in time. He takes recommendations and considers them from his national security team.
Q Thank you. What’s the President’s view on the January 6th commission standoff? Does he share the thinking of some who say — comparing the day to 9/11 and that it should be treated as such, with that kind of seriousness?
And if he does, would he — would he — would he take some steps himself, like address the nation or really get involved himself, if the Republicans don’t go along with it and there is no bipartisan commission?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re not quite there yet. There are ongoing discussions and negotiations. The President believes the attack on the Capitol on January 6th was an unprecedented assault on our democracy. He’s repeatedly conveyed that to the American public and spoken — and said that in public addresses.
He doesn’t feel this is a political issue. This is really a question of how we secure our democracy and the rule of law.
We saw 35 Republicans support — join Democrats in supporting a commission moving forward; we’re talking about action in the Senate. And, certainly, we are going to continue to encourage Republican members to do the right thing, but ultimately, it’s up to them.
Q But would he get involved if they — if they dropped the ball, in his view?
MS. PSAKI: We’re not there yet. We’re here every day. So we’ll have a discussion if that’s the point we’re at.
Q On — if the infrastructure bill doesn’t get any bipartisan support, is the White House concerned at all about it impacting other areas you’re seeking compromise — police reform being one of those areas?
And I ask because Mitch McConnell said a couple of weeks ago, “100 percent of our focus is on stopping [the] new administration.” So it doesn’t seem like they’re going to be coming to the table in any real way on a lot of these issues at this point.
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say, on police reform: There are ongoing negotiations that both Senator Booker, Senator Scott, and Congresswoman Bass have all conveyed are making progress, and they’re encouraged by the tone and tenor of those conversations. That’s a good sign.
I talked earlier about how the President is going to be signing a bipartisan piece of legislation into law later this afternoon; Senator Murkowski and Senator Young will be here.
There are a range of opportunities to work together in a bipartisan way, including on the Frontiers Act that has since been renamed, but you know the one I’m talking about.
So, look, I would say that our view is that investing in our nation’s infrastructure, preparing our workforce to be more competitive in the global community to compete with China is something where there should be bipartisan support. We’ve put forward a good-faith proposal. It’s — now the ball is in their court.
But as it relates to your question about Senator McConnell and what impact his agenda will have, you know, our view is that it’s really a test for Republican senators. Do they want to find common ground? Do they want to engage with the President about moving an agenda forward for the American people? Or are they going to take all of their direction from leadership?
And we see there’s opportunity to move forward in a bipartisan manner, even with those comments made by Senator McConnell.
Q And just quickly, back to gun control: Where are the talks on gun control? And, more importantly, has the President talked to Senator Toomey or any of those other Republicans that have talked about background checks legislation, for example?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President has had a range of conversations with members over the past several months and, obviously, putting in place commonsense gun safety measures is something that has been a priority for him throughout his career. He helped pass the Brady Bill, he helped get background checks in place, he helped get the Assault Weapons Ban passed, and he will continue to encourage and push that with members while he is President. Top of his agenda.
In terms of the status of the legislation, I would point you to leadership in the Hou- — in the Senate to have a discussion about that.
Q Most of California is already in a drought emergency. There’s fears that wildfire season will be earlier and longer and worse than ever this year. You’re — obviously, we’re about to head to FEMA for a —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — hurricane outlook briefing. You’ve announced some money, but what is the administration doing right now that could have an impact in this current drought and looking ahead to this year’s wildfires?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s a — it’s a great question, and I’d love to get you a more detailed answer than I’m going to have in front of me in this moment.
I will say that there have been internal briefings — through the interagency, through Cabinet-level inter- — interagency meetings and discussions about how to address not just hurricane season, but also the approaching season — wildfire season.
In terms of exact funding and money, I would have to check with them.
Let me just note, if I may, that in advance of the President’s visit to FEMA, we are announcing, as you may have seen, 1 billion — we will direct $1 billion for communities, states, and Tribal governments into pre-disaster mitigation resources to prepare for extreme weather events and other disasters.
And we certainly know that part of this effort is preparing communities for hurricanes, but also for pending fire — forest fires that we know have impacted many parts of California. We know where they may impact. And our effort now, internally, is to get ahead of that and work — use every lever we have in government, in coordination with local and state authorities, to make sure we’re as prepared as we possibly can be.
But we will — we will see if there’s more specifics we can get you as well.
Q Yes. On the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, one of the things that environmental groups, like Friends of the Earth, have said is that the coronavirus-induced pause in big-ship cruising has given the government an opportunity to kind of reconsider the environmental impact of cruises and modify the regulations. Is that something that the administration is considering?
MS. PSAKI: I would say the Department of Transportation would oversee any new regulations or recommendations for that as it relates to the cruise industry. So the legislation, as you know, is a positive in our view because it helps reinvigorate an industry that accounts for a great number of jobs in Alaska and jobs that have been on hold for the past year, plus.
Q Well, maybe more broadly then: Is the human impact of the environment something that has been revealed by this pandemic something that the administration takes into account when it’s focusing on the “Better” part of “Building Back Better”?
MS. PSAKI: The human impact in general? In the —
Q On the environment, yes.
MS. PSAKI: Of the cruise industry?
Q No, no, just in general across the board. I think we’ve seen evidence that the environment has flourished at times because of the decrease in industries. That’s something that, when you’re thinking about “Building Back Better,” is worth taking into account.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, I mean, I think if you look at the American Jobs Plan and proposals the President has put forward, including his ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2035, our view is that clean energy jobs — investing in clean energy jobs, which can help the environment, help ensure that we are protecting our Earth for our kids and our — and our grandchildren can be done simultaneously while creating jobs.
So I think that initiative or that viewpoint is central to how the President sees his agenda. And certainly, we’ve seen interesting data — I think that you’re alluding to — over the past year, as we’ve seen a slowdown in some industries, but our objective is ensuring that we are investing in a sustainable way to ensure that we can create a system that’s creating millions of jobs while also, you know, protecting our environment over the long term.
Q And one other thing on cruises. One of the reasons why they’ve been able to restart cruises from Washington to Alaska is because these cruise lines are testing people — asking for the vaccination proof from the guests on these cruises. That’s something that state law in Alaska and Washington allow them to do, to abide by the CDC guidelines.
Florida isn’t doing that. Florida has passed a law that prohibits vaccine passports. Does the administration have a view on these kinds of laws and the impact that they might be having on the cruise — the cruise industry in Florida?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t — we don’t. I will say that we are not instituting vaccine passports from a federal level. We certainly understand that industries will make their own decisions about how to continue their — the work they need to do.
Q Just a point of clarification, I guess, on the infrastructure. So if Memorial Day comes and goes —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — and the White House is not any more satisfied than you are right now with the Republican offer, is that the point in which the President asks Senate leadership — Democratic leadership to begin reconciliation?
MS. PSAKI: We’re not quite there. We talk — we’re obviously in touch and working with Senator Capito and a range — a number of Senate leaders, committee chair — committee ranking members who she brought to the table. We’re looking forward to hearing a counterproposal from them.
We also, as any White House does, continue to talk — well, maybe I shouldn’t say “any White House” — our White House does — continue to talk with a range of members. The senator — the President is looking forward to seeing Senator Murkowski later this afternoon and Congressman Young. And we’ll continue to look for ways to move forward in a bipartisan manner. We’re not quite there. We’ll do this every day, see where we go this week.
Q And one — one more point of clarification, if I may, on the Belarus — the Ryanair plane: Is part of this trying to get a sense of sort of how you classify what Belarus did to — before you, sort of, figure out what sort of approach, what sort of consequence may follow?
MS. PSAKI: There certainly is a process I mentioned in response to Weijia’s question about classifying — right? — what it looks like from our standpoint. I’ll also say that an important part of our effort is to coordinate closely with our partners around the world. And so we’ve been in touch with them over the last period of time, and will continue to be as we assess next steps.
Q On the mitigation funds for FEMA for wildfires —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — of about $1.7 billion. On those monies, do they come from any — does that take away from any of the things that have been done with vaccination efforts — using FEMA money?
MS. PSAKI: I do not believe so. Let’s see. I can — I can get back to you, though, on more specifics about where the funding comes from. But there are — you know, obviously, we, like any administration, prepare for managing and planning ahead for hurricane season. So it’s a reflection of that.
Q And one final thing on gun control?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q They’ve had a hard time in the Senate moving through with the bi- — the background bills. With the legislative calendar so packed, do you expect anything before the August recess? Or is there — if it goes into next year, with an election year, it’s pretty dim. So what kind of push is the White House planning to make on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I will say that the President believes that we need to continue to press for progress on gun safety measures. And the fact is the two pieces of legislation that are moving — have moved through the House — are for universal background checks. That’s something that’s supported by more than 80 percent of the country. And so, it shouldn’t be a political issue. I know it is; we recognize it is.
But the President will continue to press for those legislation — pieces of legislation moving forward.
He also believes that there’s an opportunity for activism and progress in states, as we’ve seen on a number of initiatives, whether it’s red flag laws — and he took some steps to provide guidance, through DOJ, for states to put in place red flag laws — or additional background check legislation in states. So there’s a number of levers that can be pushed.
You know, he — his position on gun safety measures is clear. There has — there’s decades of evidence for it. And he will continue to press Congress to move forward.
Q Yet another infrastructure negotiations question for you.
MS. PSAKI: Great.
Q You and other members of the administration have focused a lot on the $550 million you’ve took off your offer, but a lot of the Senate Republicans over the past weekend said the bigger problem is not necessarily the dollar figure, but more — yet again, the broad definition of infrastructure and just massive disagreement there. Do you agree with that characterization of where talks are right now?
MS. PSAKI: I think that’s a little perplexing. I mean we’re calling it the “American Jobs Plan.” Right? It creates millions of jobs. And I’m not sure why it wouldn’t be infrastructure to rebuild and replace lead pipes around the country, which also has the benefit of ensuring kids have access to clean drinking water.
There are a lot of areas of this bill that are maybe not in the traditional sense, but guess what? It’s 2021, and we need to modernize what we think about infrastructure, what we mean by it. And at the end of the day, what we’re just trying to do is create millions of jobs. And we’re hopeful the Republicans will put forward a proposal — come — come meet us somewhere in the middle — a counterproposal that can help accomplish the same thing.
Q But that hope aside, have you seen any movement in getting to the same page of how one defines “infrastructure,” over the past few weeks?
MS. PSAKI: I would say we kind of refute that as the basis of discussion here. At the end of the day, we — what we proposed is the American Jobs Plan that would invest in, yes, our nation’s infrastructure — modernize it, create millions of jobs, make us more competitive, put people back to work — and that’s what we’re having a discussion about.
And we welcome a counteroffer from the Republicans; the ball is in their court.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thanks Jen. I have a couple questions on TPS. It was just granted to 100,000 Haitians —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — and just announced for Burma. There’s hundreds of thousands of Hondurans who were affected by Hurricanes Eta and Iota, and they’re also waiting for TPS.
And then also along that line, on October 4 — 4th, hundreds of thousands Central Americans are losing that protection. Is the President aware of that deadline? And is he willing to guarantee to all these hundreds of thousands of people that have made their lives here in the U.S. that they will be protected if Congress doesn’t do what — or pass the protection for them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me note that, over the weekend, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Mayorkas, announced a new 18-month designation of Haiti for temporary protection — protected status. And as you noted, there are about 100,000 Haitians who could be eligible for that.
In terms of assessing or making recommendations on TPS status, that would really be something that would be done by the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department. Certainly, the President is aware — and certainly aware of the plight of many people across the — across the world, Hondurans and others, who have been impacted by hurricanes, other natural disasters, and other reasons why they certainly would be requesting this status. But I don’t have anything to predict for you or preview for you about additional countries being granted status.
Q And on the ones that are losing it on October 4th — the people that already have the TPS, it’s expiring October 4th — hundreds of thousands. There were families — 30 people that were just marching in front of the White House.
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. And we’re certainly aware of that. And October 4th is several months away from now, but it would be, again, a recommendation — a decision made by the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department.
Q And the last thing that I have is — there was a meeting here at the White House with members of the Hispanic Caucus. And when they came out, they said that the President guaranteed that he would be able to pass immigration protections for farmworkers, TPS holders, and DREAMers through reconciliation if nothing happens before that. When is — when — is there a deadline on that? Is there a time where patience just — patience runs out, as we were talking about with infrastructure and Jobs Plan, and the White House just decides to go alone?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know that meeting was a couple of weeks ago, I guess — several weeks ago, and we’ve spoken to it since then. That — that sounds like it was a bit of a garble of what the President actually conveyed, because the President doesn’t feel that reconciliation is the preferred path forward for moving these — these areas — priority areas of immigration forward.
He did talk about, in his joint address, the fact that — where there is agreement, which there is great agreement on DREAMers and even agreement on farmworkers — on moving this forward. We should move things forward in a bipartisan manner, and we’ll continue to press for that.
Q And last question: Is the Vice President planning on going to the border? I know she’s handling this. Why hasn’t she been there? Is she planning, in the future, to go and see what’s going on firsthand?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Vice President is overseeing exactly the same portfolio that the President did when he was Vice President, which is North — the Northern Triangle, and engagement with countries in the region about how we can work together to reduce the rate of migration and work together to address corruption, address the root causes of why so many people are traveling to our border.
I expect she will make a trip to the Northern Triangle at some point soon. So that would be where she would travel, given her purview.
Q On infrastructure, is the budget proposal that’s coming Friday going to incorporate the original infrastructure plan into it or this revised smaller one? Or can you tell us anything about how you work infrastructure into the budget on Friday?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, the American Jobs Plan will be a part of the budget proposal that we put forward on Friday, but we’ll — I’m not going to get further ahead of what that will look like. You’ll have to tune in on Friday. Come back.
Q Can you tell us if this Washington Post story on Friday that said this budget is not going to include the public option or a plan to reduce prescription drug prices — is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the budget will — the budget language and the budget documents will certainly talk about the President’s priorities, which include lowering the cost of prescription drugs and putting forward — moving forward on a public option.
But this budget proposal is about — a proposal for the next — which will encompass a number of his proposals he has already put to date. But, certainly, in the — in the budget documents we put forward, it will highlight and emphasize his priorities as President.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you, Jen. The SALT deduction mostly benefits wealthy people; studies have shown that. Given the concerns about income inequality in this country, concerns about deficit spending, does President Biden support doing away with the SALT deduction as opposed to just lifting the cap, which some Democrats want to do?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think, Peter, as you know, it requires money, and the President did not put it in his original proposal because he felt there were other areas that warranted his support and would help benefit a larger swath of the American public.
But we also know that there are a number of Democrats who — and others; Republicans too, of course — who support different iterations of this, I think it’s fair to say, and he’s open to hearing from them and to discussing with them.
But as we’re in the midst of negotiations, it would require paying for — for these proposals and — and that — that is not a revenue-raiser.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you, Jen. The White House hosted President Moon of South Korea last Friday. It was one of the first indoor large gatherings involving foreign visitors. So he already got vaccinated — fully vaccinated with two doses of AstraZeneca vaccine. Is there a list of vaccines that the White House accepts as proof of vaccination? Because AstraZeneca is not approved by the FDA yet.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have anything to read out for you in terms of specific requirements of attendees. That’s not something we’re requiring here, as I think I read out on Friday, for attendees for events. We had an event last week where we signed into law the COVID Hate Crimes legislation.
Obviously, people who are attending events at the White House would be tested — that’s part of the requirement — but I don’t think I have anything more for you on that.
Q And the CDC already have guidelines for — people who are in the United States who are fully vaccinated can travel pretty freely. What about international travelers? Will there be any, like, same rule applied to international travelers?
MS. PSAKI: We continue to review — our health and medical experts continue to review the data, and we would certainly refer to them on when they feel safe to ease those restrictions. And we certainly understand the desire of many people around the world to come here and many people here to go travel around the world.
Q If I can just go back to Belarus — what does the President view as the most concerning action taken by President Lukashenko? Is it arresting Mr. Protasevich on trumped-up charges, or is it diverting the plane to land it and then to arrest him?
MS. PSAKI: I mean, I think they’re both outrageous and concerning.
Q So if the U.S. believed the charges against Protasevich were legitimate — as it did with Edward Snowden in 2013 when the Bolivian President’s plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Vienna because we thought Snowden might be aboard — would the U.S. still object to the method used?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I think I’ve given an extensive comment on this specifically. We’re working with our partners around the world. I don’t think I have anything more for you.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you, Jen. I have a couple of questions, one on the southern border and another one on Colombia.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Are this administration using Title 42 to expel asylum seekers based on public health concerns? The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has called this government to swiftly end Title 42. Is that the intention? And is there a timeframe that you’re working on, specifically now that the country is rapidly opening up?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are still at war with the virus. Yes, there has been progress made, but we are still in the midst of a public health crisis. So, at this point, we are still implementing Title 42 and we have not changed our policy on that.
Q There’s no timeframe?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any timeframe for you.
Q And, if I may —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q — is President Biden concerned that the U.S. might be violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by not accepting new asylum requests?
MS. PSAKI: In terms of from where?
Q Since the Declaration of —
MS. PSAKI: Because of Title 42?
Q No, because the U.S. is not accepting asylum requests at the moment.
MS. PSAKI: Well, our objective is absolutely to get our asylum reprocessing — processing system back up and running. It was broken. It was not working for several years. And it’s going to take some time, but we — that is our objective and something that is a priority for the President.
Q And, if I may, on Colombia.
MS. PSAKI: Go —
Q One last question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q Thank you, Jen. Dozens of people have lost their lives in the ongoing protests and social unrest that has started in Colombia a month ago. Ten days ago, actually, 55 members of Congress, led by Representative Jim McGovern, signed a letter to Secretary Blinken urging the U.S. government to, quote, “clearly and unambiguously” denounce police brutality in Colombia. Is the White House — that means you, I guess — ready to do so from this lectern?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I will say we welcome announcements by the Colombian government to investigate allegations of excessive use of force by police. The Colombian government, as you know, has activated a special urgent search unit to investigate reports of missing persons, with 35 search teams deployed nationwide to follow reports received through their 24-hour hotlines.
We encourage the authorities to continue to work to locate all missing persons as quickly as possible, and we certainly encourage those actions.
Q Back to Gaza, Secretary Blinken has made clear now is not the time to be bringing up the two-state solution. While the U.S. has the ear of both sides at the moment, the world has watched 11 days of fighting and awful death toll. When is the right time to bring up a two-state solution?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I’ll say that the President, the Secretary of State all believe that the only way to bring a lasting end to the violence in the region is for there to be a two-state solution between the parties. It is going to require these parties coming together and agreeing that this is a path they want to pursue — negotiations they want to pursue and an outcome that they’re open to discussing.
What the Secretary is there primarily on this trip is to focus on immediate issues right now at hand, which is ensuring that we are creating conditions with our partners in the region for a sustained ceasefire and also discussing the path forward on rebuilding Gaza — something that there’s a great deal of interest and support in the international community on and there are great needs on the ground.
So that’s the focus at this point in time, but we continue to support, of course, a two-state solu- — or any negotiations for a two-state solution. It’s something we’ve raised already, even prior to the conflict of the last two weeks, with the Israelis and other partners on the ground.
Q And, if I may, what more can you tell us about the President’s health regime? We hear he’s lifting weights. What sort of weights is he lifting? Does he have a personal trainer? And what happened to his Peloton bike? (Laughter.) Did he bring it to the to the White House?
MS. PSAKI: I didn’t know where this was going, but I’m intrigued by it. I — I will say I have nothing to read out on the President’s private exercise regime. But I can tell you, having traveled with him a fair amount, sometimes he’s hard to keep up with.
Q Do you have a schedule on his physical exam?
MS. PSAKI: I know you’ve asked about this before. And it is something we will be doing, of course, this year and providing transparent information to all of you on. I will see if there’s anything more specific I can get to all of you.
Q Thanks, Jen.
Q And was he briefed on the specifics of the COVID vaccine and the incidence of myocard- — myocarditis in some young people? Has that been a part of his portfolio?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, he is aware of that. And obviously, as you know, Kelly, our health and medical experts still continue to convey that it is the right step for 12- to 15-year-olds to get vaccinated, that these are limited cases, and that obviously the risks of — of contracting COVID are certainly significant, even for people of that age.
Thanks, everyone, so much.
Q What about the cat, Jen? (Inaudible.)
MS. PSAKI: We’re — we’re waiting for a really tough news day for the cat. So I’ve now let you in on my secret. (Laughter.)
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