James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:48 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Tuesday. So, I know the COVID briefing is at 1:30, so I’m going to try to get through as many people as possible between now and then. I just have one item at the top.
After an update from our COVID-19 team yesterday — you may have seen out there this morning that today the United States will hit 50 percent of adult Americans fully vaccinated. That number was around 1 percent when the President took office, so that’s certainly a significant development.
Alex, that’s all I have for the top.
MS. PSAKI: Not to disappoint, but go ahead.
Q Let’s start with Russia.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Can you share any further details on the meeting? What’s on the agenda? What does President Biden hope to get out of the meeting? And the choosing of Geneva — obviously, Geneva is an historic place, so was that part of the decision-making process in deciding to hold it in Geneva?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let me start with — of course, you’ve seen the statement we put out this morning confirming that President Biden will be meeting with President Putin in Geneva, as you said, on June 16th.
The leaders will discuss the full range of pressing issues as we seek to restore predictability and stability to the U.S.-Russia relationship. And to — more specific to your question, we expect they will spend a fair amount of time on strategic stability, where the arms control agenda goes following the extension of New START. Obviously, we’re both members of the P5+1, as well, as those negotiations are ongoing.
The President will also raise Ukraine, underscoring America’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
And he will also plan to raise Belarus and convey our grave concerns, as he has now done publicly — privately, as he’s done — has now done pri- — publicly.
It also is three weeks away, so there could be a range of issues that could be discussed during the forum — during the meeting. And we will, of course, provide a preview for you as we get closer.
Q Can you respond to criticism from some Republicans that the administration is essentially rewarding Putin for bad behavior considering, you know, his sort of soft response to the Belarus situation, his treatment of Navalny, various other issues he’s — he’s had recently?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we may have forgotten over the last couple of years, but this is how diplomacy works. We don’t work together — we don’t meet with people only when we agree. It’s actually important to meet with leaders when we have a range of disagreements, as we do with Russian leaders.
So we don’t regard the meeting with the Russian President as a reward; we regard it as a vital part of defending America’s interests.
And President Biden is meeting with Vladimir Putin because of our country’s differences, not in spite of them. It’s an opportunity to raise concerns where we have them and, again, to move toward a more stable and predictable relationship with the Russian government.
Q And then on the George Floyd Act: Negotiations on the Hill have been hung up on the issue of ending qualified immunity. Tim Scott has proposed a compromise that would allow individuals to essentially sue police departments and not individual police officers. Would the President sign a bill that included that compromise if it came to his desk?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President has had a principle from the beginning, which is that he wants to allow the negotiators the time and space to have those negotiations and those discussions.
As you know, in a — in a statement they released together yesterday, they conveyed that while they are “still working through differences on key issues, [they] continue to make progress toward a compromise and remain optimistic about the prospects of achieving that goal.”
He has great trust in Senator Booker, who he spoke with just last Friday, as well as Congresswoman Bass, but we’ll see what the final agreement looks like between the parties.
Q The President obviously was hoping for more progress to be made by today — he had set this as sort of that unofficial deadline. We are seeing some movement on the Hill, but can you explain to us a little bit more what the President himself has been doing — conversations he may have been having to try and deliver on that goal?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we have been closely engaged with the negotiators and a range of parties on the Hill. We have also been respecting the space needed for the negotiators to have these discussions about where they can find common ground and where they can find agreement.
So we’ve been closely engaged. The President himself called Senator Booker to get an update last Friday. I expect he’ll continue to get updates over the coming days. And we have also been — made it imper- — and made it a priority to leave space for the negotiators to have these discussions.
Q We’ve actually gone back and have been talking to some of the police reform advocates, some of the victims’ families who met with the President during the campaign to kind of get their perspective on — on action, or lack thereof, coming out of Washington. And some of them have expressed some real frustration that they feel that the President could be doing more here, that he could be putting more public pressure on Congress. Your response to that? And why aren’t we seeing him — today, for instance — come out and speak publicly and try and urge more action here?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we issued — or are issuing, if it hasn’t gone out yet — a public statement from the President, in his name, commemorating the anniversary of the death of George Floyd — a moment that impacted him deeply, personally, as it did millions of Americans.
As you know, he’s meeting with the family today. He wants that to be a private discussion. He has a close relationship with them — or they’ve really impacted him in their courage and grace over the last year. And he felt it was important for that to be private.
But, look, I think we may just have a disagreement in terms of what the right strategic approach is to these negotiations moving forward and getting to the final outcome, which we all want to see, which is a bill that the President can sign into law.
I will say that we are very engaged with a range of groups around the country — civil rights groups, police reform groups and advocates — about what they think is going to work, and we’ve kept them abreast of what our strategy is.
I’ll also note though that the President has also — while we’ve been pushing for this legislation, he also, when he was running for office, pledged to appoint DOJ leadership that would prioritize pattern-or-practice investigations; emphasize the importance of the Justice Department, using the authority he spearheaded as senator, to investigate systemic police misconduct. That’s something the Attorney General has already moved forward on.
And we, also, in our initial budget call, we — in our initial budget calls that we put out several weeks ago, we called for increasing funding for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division by millions of dollars in order to advonce — advance accountability and reform.
So, I will say, we are continuing to press in the way we feel is most effective and most constructive in coordination with the negotiators, but we also are taking additional steps that we can take — and our administration can take — to move forward accountability and justice.
Q Thank you, Jen. Just to follow up on Mary’s questions: Why wouldn’t the President use his bully pulpit today to call for police reform? Is it a missed opportunity?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Kristen, he used the opportunity of his joint session address — which is the highest-profile moment any President of the United States has in their first year of office — to call for forward movement on police reform, to call —
Q But today is the one-year anniversary —
MS. PSAKI: — let me finish — to call for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to pass. And we put out a statement today, and he’s meeting with the family.
Again, I think this is a matter of what we feel is most constructive to move these negotiations forward and to get to the final outcome that everybody who advocates for justice, who advocates for — for reform wants to see, which is signing this bill into law.
Q And when does he expect to see this bill on his desk? Is it this summer?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not here to put a new timeline on it, Kristen. He’s encouraged by the statement we saw the negotiators put out yesterday — that they feel there is an opportunity for progress, for forward momentum, for forward movement. That, certainly, is significant coming from Democratic and Republican negotiators.
Q As you know, Congress works very well when they have a deadline. There doesn’t seem to be a deadline anywhere in sight.
MS. PSAKI: As soon as possible, he’d like to sign the bill into law.
Q How does the President keep the pressure up?
MS. PSAKI: As soon as possible.
Q How does he keep the pressure up, though?
MS. PSAKI: He remains closely engaged and closely in touch with the negotiators about what is most constructive and what role he can play and we can play to leave the space for them to negotiate and to move toward a place where he can sign the bill into law.
Q And following up on Russia: What message does it send to the United States adversaries that the President would hold a summit with President Putin in the wake of all of these recent provocations?
MS. PSAKI: That the President of the United States is not afraid to stand up to our adversaries and use a moment of in-person diplomacy to convey areas where he has concern and look for any areas of opportunity to work together in areas where we have mutual agreement.
Q But why not wait until they’ve shown some good faith on some of these issues before setting up a summit? Is he not, in some ways, offering him a victory here?
MS. PSAKI: We proposed the summit because we feel that it is an opportunity to move forward our national interests and our agenda. And the most effective me- — approaches to diplomacy are those where you seek opportunities to have tough conversations.
We’re not — we’re not suggesting that at the end of this that it’s going to be easy breezy from here. In fact, we continue to expect that we’ll have difficult conversations. We will have confrontations at points about areas where we have disagreement, but this is an opportunity to move to — or toward a more stable and predictable relationship with Russia.
Q Very quickly on Belarus —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q I know you got a question on this yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q It’s now been 24 hours. Has the White House — has the President determined whether Russia had any role in diverting that plane?
MS. PSAKI: I did not give any indication that we had that view yesterday, and that has not changed.
Q But have you — so, will the White House make a determinization before this summit?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t have a belief that that is the case.
Q Thank you, Jen. First, on COVID: Does President Biden think these theories we hear more about now — that COVID-19 may have been manmade and escaped from a lab in China — are a wacky conspiracy theory? Or, based on what he has heard and been briefed on, does he think that’s possible?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we went through this journey together yesterday, so let’s do it again.
So, the President believes there needs to be an independent investigation, one that’s run by the international community. It’s an international pandemic that’s killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
He believes the Chinese need to do more to put forward data, to be more transparent. And in the second phase of this effort, he’s certainly hopeful that will be the case. And he believes that every theory should be explored through that process but that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions before that data and that information is made available.
Q Thank you. And on the rise in violent crime: Compared to this time last year, homicide is up 113 percent in Minneapolis, up 38 percent in Philly, up 22 percent in Chicago. Just to clarify: The White House’s position on this is that that is mostly because of guns?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I’m not sure what data you’re looking at, but I think what we can — most data that is out there shows that there’s actually been a rise in crime over the course of the last year, since the start of the pandemic — which actually predates President Biden taking office, to be totally clear.
Q But he is President right now —
MS. PSAKI: You’re right.
Q — while there is a big —
MS. PSAKI: You’re right. You’re right, Peter. And that’s why we’re —
Q — increase in violent crime and homicides.
MS. PSAKI: — we are focused as well. We’re focused on solutions here. And that’s why we proposed putting 5- — we put $5 billion in the American Jobs Plan to help address community violence-intervention programs — to help fund them.
That’s also why we fought for funding for state and local governments in the Rescue Plan, something many opposed; there was a lot of Republican opposition to that. That’s helped keep cops on the beat and other public servants in vital role ro- — roles.
And it’s why his budget proposal — his budget proposes to increase funding for the COPS program by $300 million to invigorate community policing.
We believe there needs to be funding. We believe there needs to be — we need to help, from the federal government, ensure community policing and local police have the assistance they need.
Q Then the last one: The mayor of St. Louis says that she believes more police does not prevent crime. Does President Biden agree with that?
MS. PSAKI: The President believes there’s a number of steps that need to be taken to rebuild trust in communities. Police reform is long outdated. He also believes that there needs to be funding for local programs and local initiatives, and there’s not going to be a shortage of funding under our watch.
Q Back to Belarus. Why does it seem like the U.S. is sort of lagging behind what other nations have done? The EU was very quick to impose sanctions. What is the U.S. considering and why is it taking until now or beyond to — for the —
MS. PSAKI: It’s only been a few days. It’s not — not been that long. I will say the President has asked his team to develop appropriate options in close coordination with the European Union, our allies, and other international organizations to help hold the Lukashenko regime to account, including sanctions.
Q So is there anything — does anything — can give us some readout of what’s being considered?
MS. PSAKI: Not before it’s presented to the President. But he’s asked that…
MS. PSAKI: Not before it’s presented to the President. But he’s asked his team to put together some options for him. And we certainly remain in close touch and coordination with our European counterparts.
And as I read out yesterday, our National Security Advisor spoke with his Russian counterpart and, certainly, conveyed in strong terms our concerns here as well.
Q And secondly, on infrastructure: Republicans, today, are saying that in their Oval Office meeting with President Biden two weeks ago, the President indicated he was comfortable with $1 trillion over eight years. Is that accurate?
And secondly, they’re also saying that White House staff has since ignored that sort of offer — if that’s the right word.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me just peel the curtains back for you here a little bit. I don’t know if that’s “peeling the curtains back,” but you know what I’m saying.
The President — the proposal — the counterproposal that the President — that our team put forward on Friday was approved by the President, was signed off by the President, every single detail of that was directed by the President of the United States. He was in the Senate for 36 years; I can promise you he does not take a hands-off approach to legislating, negotiating, and determining what kind of counterproposals we should put forward.
Now, we put forward a counterproposal that reduced the — that cut the price tag by $550 billion. We felt that was a good-faith effort, and we look forward to getting a counterproposal back from the Republicans, which we’ve seen — they’ve conveyed — we expect to get later this week. And we certainly look forward to that.
At the same time, I will say that we expect this week to be a week of progress. We know tomorrow, the energy — Environment and Public Works Committee, under the leadership of Chairman Carper and Ranking Member Capito, is marking up the Surface Transportation bill. That’s a $303 billion infrastructure bill. That is a great down payment; it’s very much aligned with the President’s proposal and initiatives.
We expect the Senate to finalize an agreement on the Innovation and Competition Act this week. This is a proposal, led by Leader Schumer, that will make an important re- — investment in research and development.
And again, we expect to get a counterproposal later this week. I’d say that’s progress. That’s legislating. That’s negotiating. That’s compromise certainly happening.
Q Just so we’re real clear, they said the $1 trillion — that was not mentioned in the Oval Office?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to read any more specifics of a private conversation. But I will just reiterate that the proposal put forward last Friday, that we put out transparently to all of you, that brought the price tag down by $550 billion was directed, signed off on by the President of the United States.
Q Thank you, Jen. Question for you on the Olympics. On Monday, the U.S. urged against travel to Japan, and this is just two months before the Olympics. Has there been any change in the United States’ support for Japan’s decision to hold the Olympics?
MS. PSAKI: Our position has not changed on the Olympics. We respected the decision to delay the games last summer. We understand the careful considerations that the Japanese government and the International Olympics Committee are weighing as they prepare for the Tokyo Olympics this summer. And the government has stressed that public health remains the central priority as they plan to host the Games. The President proudly supports U.S. athletes.
I would note that we’re talking about athletes, of course, traveling under the Olympic umbrella, which — within their strict COVID protocols. This is one of the very limited categories of U.S. travelers that are actually planning on going to Japan for the Olympics. There are very specific entry and movement rules and procedures which the organizers have laid out in order to ensure the protection of everyone involved.
Q Okay. And then I just had a quick follow-up on Russia.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q You mentioned that the President is likely to bring up Ukraine and Belarus. What is going to be his message to President Putin, specifically on Ukraine? I mean, despite Russia’s announced withdrawal, a senior Ukrainian official told Reuters earlier that Russia still had about 100,000 troops near the border and in Crimea.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President will continue to convey what has been his consistent message, that is: Ukraine is a sovereign country. We respect, you know, their — that. And we are closely coordinated with them. We support them in their efforts to protect their people and protect their borders. That’s been consistent — a consistent message from him. And I’m — it will be the basis of his message to the Russian President in a couple of weeks.
Q And will he bring up, also, concerns about cyberattacks, specifically — specifically Colonial as well, considering he said that, you know, he did not believe the government was involved but the malware was based in Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, again, there will be a range of topics. This meeting is about three weeks away. So, certainly, cyber has been a topic of discussion with — between the President and President Putin, but we’ll have a much more detailed preview as we get closer to the meeting in a couple of weeks.
Go ahead, Weijia.
Q Thank you, Jen. On Russia, now that the summit has been formalized, were there any preconditions attached to the meeting? And are there any circumstances under which the President would pull out of it — as an example, if it turns out that Moscow was involved with this forced plane landing in Belarus?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to predict something we don’t — that’s disproving a negative here, that doesn’t exist, that we have not conveyed from here. But I would just reiterate that we don’t see this meeting as an opportunity to just talk about everything we agree on. We see this as a diplomatic opportunity for the United States, one that’s in our national interests, which is to convey areas where we disagree, to have a conversation about concerns we have and also look for a more stable and predictable path forward.
We don’t expect everything to be solved at the end of this meeting, but we think that it is in our interest to — to have the meeting, which is why we proposed it to the President.
Q Were there any preconditions?
MS. PSAKI: No.
Q And also, under the previous administration, there was little detailed record of the face-to-face meetings between former President Trump and Putin. In the Helsinki meeting, no one was in the room except the two leaders and their interpreters. Will there be other U.S. officials in their face-to-face meetings to serve as witnesses? And can you commit to providing readouts of the meeting?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly will provide readouts. I don’t have anything on the format of the meeting. But, as is standard, there typically is a representation from both sides.
Q And then one, I guess, housekeeping bit.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q In Europe, the President will be in Brussels for the NATO summit on the 14th. He’ll be meeting with Putin on the 16th. What are his plans for that day in between?
MS. PSAKI: There’s an EU summit, I believe, in that day in between; that’s been announced that he would be attending — I think is the day in between.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. Secretary Blinken announced today that the U.S. wants to reopen the consulate in Jerusalem.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q I’m just wondering, why now — why not three months ago or four months ago, given the role that consulate has played historically, pre-the last four years?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. You’re right, and we didn’t — you’re right, in that he has announced that, I should say. And that it is an important step in our view, in terms of continuing to rebuild the relationship with the Palestinian leaders that was cut off for several years because of the closure of the consulate, because UNRWA funding was cut off in 2018, and there really wasn’t a method for engaging with Palestinian leaders and others.
Look, we’ve taken a number of steps over the last couple of months. Back in April, we announced the resumption of U.S. assistance to the Palestinians, including economic development, humanitarian, and security assistance. In our view, this is an eth- — naxtra- — a next natural step to announce plans to reopen the consulate. And again, also announce our commitment to contributing to the funds to rebuild Gaza.
So these are all part of our efforts to rebuild that relationship.
Q Okay. Following up on Alex’s question a little bit. A Republican senator said, explicitly, they believe their counteroffer will be in the trillion-dollar range. Would that meet the definition of “progress by Memorial Day” to keep these talks going beyond this week?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, as I said a few minutes ago, our view is that this can be a week of progress. And — including the counteroffer, which we expect to get later this week — I’m not going to prejudge what that looks like; we’ll have to look at the nitty-gritty details — certainly, them coming up in funding is progress. But we’ll see what that looks like.
In addition, the markup, tomorrow, of the Surface Transportation bill, that’s bipartisan work trying to fund an infrastructure bill. That’s consistent with the principles of the American Jobs Plan. And these are all positive steps forward, in our view.
Q And just one more quick one. If you have to go alone, do you feel like Democrats are ready to do — like, you were talking yesterday to Eugene that, you know — constant conversations with Dem committee chairs, rank and file. If you have to go along, do you feel like the caucuses are with you in that decision?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re not quite there yet. We’re still working with Republicans, Phil. Hang in.
Q Thanks so much, Jen. I’ve got two questions. First, just continuing on the Wuhan journey: I wanted to ask a little bit about a report from House Republicans suggesting that dissenting views in the intelligence community were suppressed — sort of, for follow-up on the origins of this — of this virus. Can you comment on that, whether some of these dissenting views were suppressed in intelligence community and whether the Biden administration is doing anything to ensure that doesn’t happen?
MS. PSAKI: By — intelligence views suppressed by the prior administration?
Q This administration, the prior administration, whether, you know — this is now the Biden administration, so —
MS. PSAKI: I know, but I —
Q But this is our culture —
MS. PSAKI: — I think this is an accusation about the prior —
Q Well, this is a culture —
MS. PSAKI: — administration suppressing views.
Q But this is a culture that the — the Biden administration has inherited.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q And the intelligence community has not had any sort of major overhaul, that I’m aware of at least. And if there is a sense that this view was being suppressed in some — in some way, is there anything the Biden administration has done to make sure that’s not the case?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve sent a clear message that we are going to rebuild our institutions, whether that’s the intelligence community, the Justice Department, other — the civil service that — who are the backbone of our government. So, there’s no question about that.
I think, when it comes to the kind of reports we’ve seen over the last couple of days, you know, our view is that sound and technically credible theories should be thoroughly evaluated by international experts. And, yes, there have been a range of reports, but a factsheet issued by the previous administration on January 15th, which I think there’s been a lot of focus on, did not draw any conclusions regarding the origins of the coronavirus.
So, our view is that, yes, there are a range of views. We welcome the range of views throughout the administration. There still needs to be an international investigation. We need Chinese cooperation in order to provide data in order to be transparent about what happened on the ground. We all want to see that outcome. There are a lot of good questions we have the Chinese should answer, and that’s where our primary focus is on.
Q We have an intelligence apparatus that’s much greater, ideally, than the rest of the world. I mean, wouldn’t there naturally be quite a curiosity within the Biden administration that this could have come from a lab in Wuhan? I mean, it’s — you know, nearly 600,000 people here have died, and the President has shown an enormous amount of empathy for that. But should this be the cause, it would seem, that the United States would want to put some of its intelligence firepower onto that question?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Annie, as you’re not a public health expert, I assume — neither am I — I think we need ac- — we need access to the underlying data. We need access to the information that the Chinese government has in order to make a determination through the international bodies that would do this investigation. And that’s something we’ve called for many, many times. And we’ve pressed, with our international partners for the WHO to support an expert-driven evaluation of the pandemic’s origins. We would certainly participate in that with all of our research — resources from the United States.
But given it was an international pandemic — yes, it’s killed, as you said, more than 500,000 people here in the United States; killed hundreds of thousands more around the world — we’re going to do that in coordination with our international partners, continue to press the Chinese to release that data and information and play a constructive role in the second phase of the investigation.
Q I just also wanted to ask you about — (laughs) — a phenomenon, known as —
MS. PSAKI: The giggle gives away — I don’t know what this question is. We’ll see.
Q I can see I’ve already ruined it here. (Laughter.)
But this is quite a serious issue: There are these unrecognized objects in U.S. airspace that are also known as “unidentified aerial phenomenon,” I understand. And I wanted to see — there’s a DNI report, that I understand, that’s going to be released soon — can the Biden administration commit to releasing it in full?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that would be for — a decision by the Department of National Intelligence to make. As you noted, we’re aware of the report requirement, and our team at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is, of course, actively working on that report. And we take reports of incursions into our airspace by any aircraft identified or unidentified very seriously and investigate each one.
But ODNI would be working on that report. And in terms of disclosure, that would be up to them.
Q I guess, in all seriousness though, can you characterize the President’s concerns about this phenomenon? I mean, it is this concept of objects in U.S. airspace that are either origin from other nations or other entities, but what is the concern of the President that this phenomenon seems to occur, and the national security apparatus?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, broadly speaking, the fact that we have a team that’s actively working on a report. Certainly, the safety of our personnel, security of our operations, our airspace are of paramount concern, whether that is identified or unidentified aircraft. And we don’t discuss that publicly for a range of reasons, but certainly the President supports the ODNI putting together a report and following through on that commitment.
Q On housing, today, we saw that sales of new homes declined in April by more than analysts had expected, in part because of rising prices because of the cost of — the increasing cost of materials like lumber. Does the administration have concerns about what it’s seeing in the housing market — in particular, both in the new homes and existing — and, sort of, the bidding war environment that’s existing for a lot of existing homes right now, and what it can mean for the broader economy?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, first, let me say: For some middle-class families — some — I know not the ones you referenced — their home is their primary source of wealth. So, the financial effects that some are feeling are positive.
That said, the increase in housing prices we’ve seen does raise concerns for us about housing affordability and access to the housing market, which is certainly, as you alluded to, Jen, impacting many, many Americans.
We recognize there is a need for new housing supply, particularly on the affordable end of the market. There are issues — supply-and-demand issues, as you are well aware of, with construction and supplies that are needed to build new houses, which we’re seeing an impact on the market.
One of the reasons that we put — proposed a number of the initiatives we did — including the Neighborhood Homes Tax Credit — which would renovate 500,000 single family homes in low-income neighborhoods and help ease the nationwide shortage — is because we knew we could see this becoming an issue.
So, as our team looks at it, we recognize that — as we’ve talked about a little bit around other issues — restarting the economy is going to produce some bumps, and there are some barriers to increasing supply in the short-term supply and demand, et cetera. We’re carefully monitoring these issues. We are cognizant of and — and concerned about housing affordability and access in the housing market, and our team is watching it very closely.
Oh, go ahead.
Q Can I just follow up on some of the infrastructure questions?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Yeah.
Q Both in some of the Republican senators’ comments on the Hill today, in the written statement last week, there were mentions of, sort of, this — the White House staff potentially getting in the way of negotiations. This is also a theme that we heard back in February. Is there any daylight between the staff and the President on — in these negotiations? Is — do you think that — and why do you think that the Republicans are using this kind of wedge in this conversation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I — I’m probably not the right source to answer the second part of that question. But I can tell you, on the first —
MS. PSAKI: — on the first — many people you can ask that question.
On the first: The President directs — oversees and directs his team, as it relates to what he wants to see on negotiations, what kind of proposals he wants to see. And he signed off on the proposal that was put forward on Friday, which he felt and we all felt was a reasonable counteroffer given it brought the price tag down by $550 billion.
But this is an ongoing negotiation. We’re eager to see what the Republicans propose or what their counterproposal looks like, and it sounds like we’re going to see that in the next few days.
Q If Congress has not passed legislation to create a January 6th commission, does the President want to create his own presidential commission to look into the events of that day?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re not quite there. There have been Republicans who have come out over the past several days and conveyed their support or their openness to discussing the path forward on a January 6th commission. That’s a positive sign.
Our view is this is not a political issue; that it is one — it is a commission that could help look into one of the darkest days in recent modern history, a dark day on our democracy. And the President is hopeful that members of Congress will do the right thing.
Q Yeah. I wanted to get some guidance on the Floyd meeting this afternoon.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Can you give us any guidance on what the President intends to convey to the family, what he hopes to tell them,
even in broad terms?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think a lot of the meeting will be him listening to them and hearing from them on what they want the path forward to look like.
He’ll provide them, I’m sure, an update on his efforts on the legislation and the negotiators, which is important to everybody who will be in that meeting.
But he really wants it to be — he wanted it to be a private meeting because he has personal — a personal relationship, and he wanted to hear how they’re doing, give them an update on his efforts to sign a bill into law, and ensure there’s long-overdue accountability.
And, you know, I expect we’ll have a readout after the meeting.
Q One more quick question, and that is: We were told that the administration moved to terminate members of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. And one of my colleagues reported a story with an interview with the chairperson of this commission, who said that in the history of this Commission on Fine Arts, this had never happened before, that the President or his administration had asked for the termination of all three members of the committee. Can you give us any clarification on — on why this move was made and why the President decided to remove these commissioners?
MS. PSAKI: I, unfortunately, don’t have all the details on this. The little piece I recall is that a number of them were nominated just recently in January of 2021, so before President Trump left office. And certainly any President coming in has the right to nominate their own people to serve on a commission or serve in any positions in their own administration. But I can see if there’s more details to provide to you.
Q If there is not a negotiation that has been able to be reached on — today on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, what is the President willing to do? What if this just cannot go through?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s not the — that’s not the indication we’ve been given by any of the negotiators who put out a joint statement yesterday indicating that there was progress, that there was an opportunity to move these negotiations forward. And the President thought that was encouraging.
Q Part of that was the issue of qualified immunity. How does the President feel — is deciding — is he more on the side of, like, Congressman Clyburn, who says, “Let’s take it out and come back to that issue”? Or more on the side of Representative Maxine Waters, who’s like, “I’m not just going to take just anything”? How does he feel with that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President was a supporter of the original bill proposed, but he also wants to leave space for the negotiators. He has a great deal of trust in Congresswoman Bass, and he’s looking forward to seeing what comes out of those discussions.
Q And one more question: What percentage of the approximate 48 million rental units that are available in the U.S. — how many are actually covered under the eviction moratorium?
MS. PSAKI: That’s a great — excellent question. I’d have to check with our Department of Housing and Human and — you know, HUD — the HUD. I’ll check with our friends at HUD. And I’m happy to get a number to you if that’s available.
Q Thank you. And to build off her question on police reform —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — is there a plan B? Would President Biden use executive action on police reform?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he’s already, of course, taken many executive actions. He wants — at this point, he feels the be- — most constructive role he can play is to stay in close touch with the negotiators, to make sure he is continuing to advocate for moving this legislation forward, and leave space for them to negotiate. So we’re not going to get ahead of that.
He was encouraged by the public statement made by the negotiators — bipartisan; Democrats and Republicans — just yesterday.
Q And lawmakers say they’re making progress. Is President Biden happy with the progress they’re making or would he like them to pick up the pace of it?
MS. PSAKI: The President looks forward to signing the bill into law as soon as possible, but he is encouraged by the fact that they’re making progress, and he’ll stay in close touch with them as they continue to negotiate.
Q Thanks, Jen. A couple more on infrastructure: Senator Wicker, up on the Hill, just said, a little while ago, not only is it — the counteroffer going to be in the trillion-dollar range, but he also said, “We’re going to make an offer [which will] make it clear [that] we are not going to disturb the 2017 tax bill.”
If that is indeed the case, is there any way in which the White House would accept a counterproposal in which the 27 [sic] — 2017 tax bill is not touched?
MS. PSAKI: That sounds like a question for Senator Wicker. What are they proposing instead to pay for it?
Q Well, what — I guess, you guys need to see some of the details. But in terms of a topline, if that just flat out isn’t touched, is that — does that mean you guys can’t come —
MS. PSAKI: The proposal is about investing in infrastructure, creating millions of jobs, making sure we’re competing with China, and preparing our workforce. The President proposed a way to pay for it. We’re waiting hear that — hear back from Republicans on how they would propose to pay for it.
So, if they don’t want to touch the 2017 Tax Cuts — $2 trillion tax cuts that did not end up having a windfall back to the American public — I guess that’s their choice what they put in their proposal, but they have to propose an alternative.
So, I guess — I hope you ask Senator Wicker that question.
Q And then to bounce off another question as well: Can you assure the American people that there is going to be an infrastructure package — whether it’s negotiated between the White House, congressional Democrats, and congressional Republicans, or if this ends up going down line of reconciliation in which Democrats come together and put forth their own plan?
One way or another, however this comes about, are you confident that there, at the end of the day, is going to be an infrastructure package?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the only — the President’s only line in the sand is inaction. Right now, we’re in the midst of bipartisan negotiations. We’re looking forward to getting a counterproposal. We’re seeing bills marked up over the next few days that are a down payment on the President’s ideas. Those are all positive signs.
So we’re in the midst of progress here, so that’s what we’re focused on at this point.
Q Thanks, Jen. To follow up on some of the questions about investigations on the origins of the coronavirus —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q You’ve spoken a lot about the need for an independent investigation. What role does the Biden administration think U.S. scientists or CDC scientists should play in that investigation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the WHO would be the body that would be overseeing a transparent, indef- — independent, phase two investigation. That’s something we have strongly supported.
That would require China finally stepping up and allowing access needed to determine the origins. Of course, the United States would be supportive of that second stage of the investigation, but it would be led by an international body.
Q So the U.S. wouldn’t take a lead role, essentially, in this investigation?
MS. PSAKI: Again, the WHO, which we rejoined when the President took office, is the body that we have been pressing and is the appropriate body for moving this investigation forward.
Q And then, just quickly: Given some of the concerns among some economists and some lawmakers about inflation, has the President considered loosening trade barriers like some of the tariffs that were put in place during the last administration to, sort of, combat those concerns? Or is he — I guess, essentially, is he weighing lifting some of those trade barriers like tariffs on —
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re constantly reviewing the policies of the last administration, but I would reiterate that monitoring inflation is obviously the purview of the Federal Reserve. Our economists have conveyed that they feel that the impact of our proposals will be transitory. The economy is getting going again. But in terms of any actions that would be taken, we would defer to the Federal Reserve.
Go ahead, in the back.
Oh, and I’ll come back to you. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to skip you.
Go ahead. Yep.
Q The Anti-Defamation League has noticed an increase of over 63 percent in reported anti-Semitic incidents since May 10th. Both the President and the Vice President have condemned them, but can you discuss how the administration is working with various stakeholders and outside groups to try and curb them?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I will say that the President issued — we issued a tweet from the President — he issued a tweet yesterday conveying his concern about the anti-Semitic acts we’ve seen happen around the country.
This is something that he has spoken passionately out against — anti-Semitism — throughout his career, from one of his first — first speeches — just to take you in the time — time machine — as senator. He condemned anti-Semitism from the Senate floor in May of 1973 in his — and, obviously, up to his vocal condemnation of the events at Charlottesville.
He recognizes this is a persistent evil that always deserves our attention and efforts. We’ve been working in close and ongoing contact — we’ve been in close and ongoing contact, I should say, with the Jewish community to offer our support. We’ve taken steps to confront anti-Semitic violence and hate crimes of any type, including by signing into law stronger hate crimes legislation just last week.
But we are also working to bolster safety and security of synagogues and other religiously affiliated facilities and organizations. DHS has briefed security directors across the Jewish community in the United States and preparing — and is preparing a public awareness bulletin that will include security messag- — measures individuals and facilities can take.
So, we have an across-government effort that the President is quite focused on.
Q Just to follow up on that. Some Jewish groups are planning a day of action against anti-Semitism on May 27th, which is this Thursday. Do the President or the Vice President have plans to make any remarks there or make virtual appearances?
MS. PSAKI: I know that the President will be traveling on Thursday, and he’ll — in Ohio, and he’ll be delivering an economic speech. I can see if there’s anything more in scheduling plans to read out to all of you.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Just in terms of trans-Atlantic travel: The EU, last week, announced an easing of restrictions on Americans coming into Europe, and yet most of the rest of world is not permitted back into America at the moment. Does the President have any plans to ease restrictions on incoming travelers from the EU, maybe this summer — and particularly, maybe, the Summit you mentioned next month in Brussels?
MS. PSAKI: Well, currently, we have no announcements in regards to lifting existing travel restrictions. Any decision to change or lift them would be based on the guidance of the — of our public health experts, of course, and an interagency process including all relevant agencies would be required to ensure a policy change is operationalized appropriately.
I will say: Of course we want to have travel resume between the United States and Europe and other countries around the world. We’re very mindful of the pandemic, ensuring we’re doing — taking every step we can to keep the American people safe. And that’s why we rely on the guidance of public health officials.
Q And just a quick second question: We’re now more than four months into the presidency and very few ambassador positions have been announced. A, when should we expect something on that?
And, B, just a bit more specifically: More than two dozen members of Congress has written — have written to the President calling for the appointment of a Special Envoy for Northern Ireland in light of recent — an uptick in tensions there. Is there any plan to appoint a Special Envoy to Northern Ireland?
MS. PSAKI: Well, on the latter, we certainly continue to closely monitor issues in Northern Ireland. We welcome the provisions in both the trade deal between the United Kingdom and European Union and Northern Ireland Protocol that will help — which will help protect the gains of the Belfacs [sic] — Belfast Good Friday Agreement.
I don’t have any personnel to announce for you. That would be the State Department that would make that recommendation, in terms of ambassadors. I know keep saying this, but: Coming soon. Soon. But I don’t have any update for all of you today.
Okay, sorry, this has got to be the last one.
Q Some governors and mayors want to use their portion of the $350 billion in direct aid from the American Rescue Plan on infrastructure, such as road and bridges repairs, but this type of infrastructure spending is prohibited under the American Rescue Plan law. Is the Biden administration open to offering more flexibility to allow cities and states to use their money on roads, bridges, and other infa- — infrastructure improvements?
MS. PSAKI: The state and local funding —
MS. PSAKI: — from the American Rescue Plan? Just to make sure I understand what you’re asking about.
MS. PSAKI: Look, there were certain parameters that were quite broad that were put into this law, and put — in the implementation phase of this, as this money went out to communities. One of the areas was to ensure we keep cops on the beat; ensure we keep local — state and local officials in their jobs.
And there’s a range of ways that state and local authorities can use this funding, but we — there’s a bill that is being negotiated to ensure we get infrastructure funding out to communities across the country. And we believe we agree that it’s a priority, but I don’t have anything new on the parameters of it or intentions moving forward.
Okay. Thanks, everyone.
1:31 P.M. EDT