James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:29 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hi, everybody. Okay, good to see everyone. I have a couple of things for you guys at the top.
Yesterday, we made history: Kristen Clarke was confirmed with at — with — as the first woman and first woman of color to lead the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice. And Chiquita Brooks-LaSure became the first Black person to be confirmed as Administrator for the Centers for Medical — Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Kristen’s career was launched in the office that she now leads. She personally prosecuted crimes based on hatred and bigotry, human trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual assault. She has served at two of the nation’s oldest civil rights organizations, where she worked on everything from voting rights to equal education and employment. At the Department of Justice, she will continue advancing civil rights progress, including on police reform.
Chiquita is a lifelong public servant who has worked at OMB, on Capitol Hill, at HHS, and at CMS where she helped implement the Affordable Care Act. Chiquita brings a wealth of knowledge to CMS, where she will work to strengthen Medicare and Medicaid, bring down healthcare costs for American families, and advance health equity in communities across the country.
The President was proud to nominate Kristen and Chiquita for these positions, thanks the Senate for their bipartisan confirmation, and is honored to have them serve in these key leadership positions.
As you all saw yesterday, we announced that next Tuesday, June 1st, the President will travel to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and deliver remarks to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Black Wall Street Massacre.
While there, he will meet with surviving members of the community now between the ages of 107 to — 101 to 107, and tour the Greenwood Culture Center. We’ll have additional details as we get closer to Tuesday.
As you all know, President Biden believes affordable, safe housing is the foundation upon which families build their lives. And he knows that stable housing will remain out of reach for tens of millions of Americans even after COVID-19 pandemic and economic crises come to an end.
Across the country, there is a 300,000-unit gap in annual housing supply, 11 million families pay more than half their income on rent, 3 million families with children under six reside in homes with lead paint, and thousands of working families are displaced every year as a result of extreme weather fueled by climate change. These changes are even more severe in low-income communities and communities of color, which have been segregated, excluded, and neglected for generations.
Investing in housing is an essential part of President Biden’s strategy to grow strong, healthy communities in every ZIP Code. So, today, the administration is releasing two new factsheets highlighting some of the key housing elements of the American Jobs Plan.
The President’s plan proposes a bold $213 billion investment in America’s housing infrastructure through a number of federal programs and proposals with bipartisan support.
This investment is paired with expansion of bipartisan tax credits and incentives to lower barriers to affordable housing in more — and higher-opportunity — places across the country.
Together, our estimates suggest this will enable the construction and modernization of more than 2 million affordable and sustainable places to live. Along the way, these investments will create and sustain hundreds of thousands of good-paying union jobs, and provide employment and economic opportunities for residents of assisted housing.
As you may have seen by now, today, the President asked the intelligence community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to him in 90 days.
Back in early 2020, the President called for the CDC to get access to China to learn about the virus so we could fight it more effectively. Getting to bottom of the origin is this — of this pandemic will help us understand how to prepare for the next pandemic and the next one.
As we have done throughout our COVID response, we have been committed to a whole-of-government effort to ensure we’re doing everything to both understand and end this pandemic and to prevent future pandemics. That is why the President is asking the U- — the U.S. intelligence community, in cooperation with other elements of our government, to redouble efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring the world closer to a definitive conclusion on the origin of the virus, and deliver a report to him, again, in 90 days.
It will be another whole-of-government aff- — effort, as I mentioned, including work by our National Labs and other agencies. Importantly, we will continue to — pushing for a stronger, multilateral investigation into the origins of the virus in China.
And we will continue to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation with the needed access to get to the bottom of a virus that’s taken more than 3 million lives across the globe and, critically, to share information and lessons that will help us all prevent future pandemics.
With that, Zeke, will you take us away?
Q Hey, Karine. First, on that last bit about the calls for China to cooperate with these international investigations: What are the consequences for China if it does not — if it continues its current posture, which has not been to allow for a free and independent — independ- — investigations into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, right now, we’re just going to focus on the President’s announcement on the 90-day investigation — a more deeper investigation to really look at the core of how did we get here — right? — with this pandemic, and where — the origins, clearly, of COVID-19. And once we get to that — once we get to that conclusion, we’ll have more to share.
Q So — but, in terms of, you know, cooperating with the WHO investigations, there’s nothing new from the White House in terms of encouraging China or penalties for China if it does not, sort of, cooperate with the investigation going forward?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — I’m not going to prejudge or, you know, make any preannouncements at this time. We’re going to go with the 90-day investigation and see where it takes us from there.
Q Then, on that 90-day investigation, is White House committing to making the results of that investigation public?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, we’ll have more to share after the 90 days.
Q And then a final just on this — the President’s statement noted that at least one member of the intelligence community was leaning in the direction of there being a potential for a laboratory accident involved. Which member of the intelligence agency — community was it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have that information to share with you right now. I think the most important thing is that the President has made — has made a decision to make sure that — to get to the core — right? — to really figure out where did this — where did the origin come from, to do this additional 90-day review after asking his team to look into it into March — in March. So he wants to take that next step.
Go ahead, Mary.
Q Thank you. Has the President been briefed yet, this morning, on the shooting in San Jose, California? And any other details you can share with us — who may have briefed him?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Excuse me. Just give me one second.
So the White House is monitoring the situation, and our hearts go out to the victims and their families. I know local officials have addressed this publicly. And there is an ongoing investigation, as we all know. We will continue to stay in close contact with them and o- — and offer any assistance as needed. We still don’t have — we still don’t know all of the details.
But that — but what’s clear, as the President has said, is that we are suffering from an epidemic of gun violence in this country, both in mass shootings and in the lives that are being taken in daily gun violence that doesn’t make national headlines. That’s why he has already taken an initial set of actions on gun violence that will save lives, and that’s why he’s go- — he’s calling on Congress to take action, including calling on the Senate to pass the three bills to strengthen background checks that have already cleared the House with bipartisan support and which have the overwhelming backing of the American people.
Q And on infrastructure, I know you’re awaiting, sort of, the Republican counterproposal here. Any update? Any more details you may have received on Republicans’ next move here?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, you know, as we all know, this is — negotiations work in this really funny way: We make an offer, they make a counter, and then we counter. So, as you all know, we made a — we made our offer and our — and our counter, and we’re waiting to hear from Republicans, which we’re hearing will happen shortly, what their counter will be. This is a process.
We understand that this is a town that hasn’t seen a whole lot of bipartisanship over the last few years — the last four years to be exact. But this President is committed to trying to end that, which is why you have seen us continue to negotiate in good faith.
The President’s red line — the line in the sand — has been very, very clear. The way that he does not want to see, he does not want this to go is without any action at all. So inaction is that red line, and he wants to make sure that we don’t tax people who make less than 4- — $400,000 a year.
So we look forward to seeing what they come back with.
Q One more on this. Senator Chris Coons — obviously a close ally of the President, someone who generally has a pretty good read on things over here — he has said that he thinks the Senate could pass a trillion-dollar proposal focused more on traditional infrastructure — splitting off some of the other items that the President has called for — and doing that just with Democratic support. Is a trillion dollars something the President can support? And would he back splitting things up like this?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, look, I — look, Mary, we’re still going through this negotiation process. We have to see what the Republicans, the senators on the Hill are going to come back with. And once we have, you know, their — their counteroffer, we’ll know more and what steps to take next.
Q Okay. Just, lastly, a bit of a personal question.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. Yeah, sure.
Q Your presence here today is making history. You’re the first Black woman to stand behind that podium speaking on behalf of the President in 30 years. Just wondering if you could share your reflections with us.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, thank you for the question. You know, it’s — it’s a real honor to be standing — to just be standing here today. It doesn’t — you know, the — I appreciate the historic nature, I really do. But I believe that, you know, behind — being behind this podium, being in this room, being in this building is not about one person; it’s about, you know, what we do on behalf of the American people.
Clearly, the President believes in “representation matters,” and I appreciate him giving me this opportunity. And it’s another reason why I think we are all so proud that this is the most diverse administration in history.
But, again, this is not about me; this is not about any of us. And, you know, anytime I’m behind here — and I think you’ve heard Jen say this as well — we are going to be truthful. We’re going to — we’re going to be transparent. And that’s the way, I believe, the President would want us to communicate to the American people.
Thank you for the question.
Q Thanks, Karine. Welcome. The White House publicly has mostly focused on the WHO investigation into the origins. What changed from that to the President’s statement today?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, you know, nothing has changed if you — if you think about it. As I mentioned in the readout and I’m sure you saw in the statement, the President has asked his team to look into this back in March. So, this is something that has been ongoing. We have been pretty vocal with WHO these past several months. And so, this is just a continuation of what the President has been focused on. We’re going to see what happens this next — these next 90 days.
As I — you know, we just read out, it was inconclusive, so we need to get to the bottom of this. As we all know, we’ve lost almost 600,000 Americans to COVID-19, and we have to get a better sense of the origin of COVID-19, and, also, how do we prevent the next — you know, the next pandemic. And so that is the focus of this — of this announcement that we put out this
morning — the President put out this morning.
Q And when it — when it comes to the IC, their conclusions, or where they land on things, hasn’t actually changed that much in the last 12 years. Is the President concerned that the IC does not have enough visibility, even if they’re redoubling their efforts into what actually — is there a collection problem here?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I think this is going to be the process. Right? They have 90 days to, kind of, you know, get a deeper look on — on this. And then we’ll have a better sense — a better sense of where to take this next.
I mean, I do want to go back for a second. You know, we’ve gotten this question about the origins, and we’ve been pretty vocal. Right? This administration — we have seen — we didn’t have access. You know, China wasn’t transparent enough. We have been saying that for a very long time — that China needed to provide more access to the lab, cooperate more fully with the scientific investigators — and we don’t think that they have met that standard.
So, we’ve been clear that sound and technic- — and sound and technically critical theory should be thoroughly eval- — evalulated [sic] — and data — before we can give a full pronouncement.
So, that’s the one part, right? That’s the WHO and China. And now the President has asked his team to do another — to do a 90-day review.
Q And then just one quick one on infrastructure: Republicans have talked about repurposing COVID money as a potential payfor here. Does the administration think that’s feasible? Is that something the President is willing to consider?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. So, Phil, as you know, we have not seen the counterproposal yet. We’ll look forward to reviewing that. It seems like tomorrow that might happen.
But, you know, the President has been clear that his line in the sand, as I just said, is raising taxes on Americans making
more [less] than $400,000 a year.
But we should also be clear that there are simply not hundreds of billions of dollars in COVID-relief funds available to rep- — repurpose. As of the end of March, about 95 percent of the $3 trillion in pre-Rescue Plan COVID relief funding has either been obligated or is for PPP, unemployment insurance, or nutria- — nutrition assistance, where the money is going out as planned to specific businesses and people.
Of the remaining 5 percent, the largest categories of unobligated balances are in the Healthcare Provider Relief Fund, funding for rural hospitals and healthcare providers, and disaster loans for small businesses.
So, turning to the American Rescue Plan, the legislation is working exactly as needed, delivering relief to family businesses and communities to bridge our economy, to end the pandemic, and in- — and into a strong recovery, which is what we’re working towards.
Q Thank you. First, on the economy and concerns about inflation: The JPMorgan CEO, Jamie Dimon, warned today that we were going to have more inflation, less productivity, and slower growth if future federal spending, administration spending isn’t done productively.
The federal government — not historically known for efficiency. So, can you guarantee there’s not going to be any waste in the possibly $4 trillion more of spending in the next couple months?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, you — so let me, first, step back for a second when — when we think about the inflation, when we think about where we are currently.
Look, the President plan — plan is — the President’s plan is working. We are growing the economy from the bottom up and the middle out faster than any time in the last 40 years. We’re creating an average of 500,000 jobs a month, up from 60,000 a month before he took office — before this President took office. And if you look at unemployment insurance claims, they are down. And Americans have much-needed money in their pockets thanks to the American Rescue Plan.
So we’re going in the right trajectory, right? We’re looking at the trend, and the trend is going in the right way. And, you know, this is a President who understands about making sure that we’re not wasteful — right? — making sure that — he was the — when we think about when he was a Vice President, he overlooked that stimulus recovery package back then. And so, he made sure there was no — no corruption and no waste. And so, he understands how this all works, and he has a team that will be on top of this as well.
Q And I know that one of the big things for him is not to raise taxes on anybody that makes less than $400,000 a year. But if there is inflation because of wasteful spending or any other reason and everything is more expensive for everybody, is there concern that that could be a tax on the poor effectively?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just want to make — be really clear about the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan proposal. Look, both of those plans will create job opportunities for all Americans, rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, invest in research and development, and educate our children, and combat climate change.
So, these plans that we’re talking about is actually an investment in our country, an investment in people, an investment in families that we need — that we have long needed, even before we saw what the pandemic has done to everyday Americans.
Q And then just last one: On COVID-19 origins, if it turns out that COVID-19 originated from some sort of a lab accident in China — which, the President now says, one element of the intel community thinks is possible — would the President seek to punish China?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — we’re not going to go there just yet. We have to go through the 90-day review. And once we have the 90-day review, we’ll be able to reassess.
Q But just on a 30- — just to take a step back: Anything that kills 591,116 Americans, is that something — if another nation either was responsible or knew more than they were letting on — like you said, they weren’t letting the inspectors in and that hurt the overall investigation forever — what would the President do? Would he do anything?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, he’s doing something right now. He’s been — he asked his team, back in March — right? — to do — to do this — to look into this — look into the origins of COVID-19.
This is incredibly important, like his statement says. We need to find out how — where the COVID-19 originated from. So this Pr- — the President has been very clear. He actually, you know, spoke out about this back in 2020. So, this is not the first time we’ve heard his voice, his concern about the origins of COVID-19.
So, we’re just taking the next step. I’m just not going to prejudge. I’m not going to make a statement until, you know — until we know what happens after this 90-day review.
Q Karine, welcome.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.) Hey.
Q As for the opening statement, we received a statement on the origins of COVID-19 from the President where he said, among other things, that this report may include specific questions for China.
Given China’s lack of transparency as it relates to the WHO Joint Study, why does President Biden think that China would answer the questions that the U.S. wants as it relates to the origin of COVID-19?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken, I think, 1.3 million lives globally; 600,000 American lives, about. And it’s imperative that we get to the bottom of just where the pandemic originated — not just for the purposes of understanding this pandemic, but the pandemics to come, as I’ve already, kind of, alluded to.
And so this is something that we’re going to, you know, continue to have conversations on. This is a global effort. It’s not just United States alone as we’re working with the WHO. This is our process here with the 90-day — that I just mentioned — review. But we’re just going to continue to work with WHO, and — and WHO is going to continue to — to work with China on this.
Q So I understand why we want it to get done, but why do we think that China would cooperate?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You know, this is — this is something that you have to ask the Chinese government, right? This is something that should be impor- — it should — should matter to them —
Q Has the President —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — but this is a question for them, as well.
Q Has the President specifically asked or made this ask of President Xi of China for their cooperation in this effort?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not — I’m not going to go into details of private conversation that the President may have — may have had with President Xi. All I can say today is that we’re going to do this 90-day review, and this is what the President asked for, and we’ll see where it takes us.
Q If not the President, has the White House made this ask of the Chinese government more broadly?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, I don’t have anything — anything to preview for you on that or to read out.
Q Let me ask you about Belarus, if I can, very quickly.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q The President said yesterday — I think his specific language was that sanctions — it’s “in play,” he said of sanctions. Has the White House, this administration made any final decisions about possible sanctions against Belarus?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The President, as we said yesterday as well, he asked his team to look into it and come up with a — kind of, a menu of options on how to move forward. So we don’t have anything yet to — to read out on that.
Q Last item. I’m just following up on the awful tragedy that’s — we’re still learning more details about in San Jose, California, right now. You said what the President is doing broadly in an effort and what he’s been pushing Congress on. Are there any Republican lawmakers in particular that he’s reaching out to? And what specifically is he doing in terms of that effort now to try to push this along, given great frustration that it appears stalled? Any broad gun reforms?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. As you know, as I laid out, the President made some — you know, some historic proposal plans of his DOJ just about a month — a month and a half ago, which is the most — you know, which is, kind of, historic, when you think about what Presidents have done in the past when it comes to dealing with gun violence prevention.
You know, the President talks to many Republicans and Democrats on the Hill. As you — as you know, he was — he was a senator for 36 years, a Vice President for 8 years. He has a lot of close relationships. They talk about an array of issues. And so, I don’t have any specific conversation to read out to you about this particular issue, but he continues to call on Congress to move on getting — getting gun reform done.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Trevor.
Q Thank you. So there was a letter from 15 states to your Climate Envoy John Kerry this week. And in that letter, they expressed issues with Kerry pushing banks to divest from fossil fuel companies. And they said that they would be pushing back on that. Do you — I mean, is that going to hurt your strategy? Do you have any comment about that letter? Any reaction to it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I have not seen this letter. I don’t have a — I don’t have a comment for you right now, but I’m happy to go back and talk to the team and get back to you on that specific letter.
Q And then, just on a separate issue: The President spoke with Egypt’s President Sisi on Monday. And in your readout of that call, you said that President Biden underscored the importance of a constructive dialogue on human rights in Egypt.
Could you talk a little bit about exactly what dialogue Biden is having with Sisi about human rights in Egypt? And will it go beyond talk?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I have to tell you: I don’t have any more to read out from that specific conversation from the readout. I’m going to let the readout sit for itself. But I don’t have any more specifics on that particular human rights issue.
Q And just anything to preview about what you — how you plan to approach human rights? I mean, you have a budget coming out tomorrow that has foreign aid. You — you know, you have a lot of leverage with governments like Eqypt, as we saw with Suez —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — as we saw with Gaza. Is there scope for the White House to put pressure on (inaudible)?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, as you can imagine, our — you know, our — one of the things that the President really puts front and center is his relationships — his deep, long relationships with many of the leaders, clearly, across the globe. He has had decades of experience in foreign policy.
And so one of the things that he truly believes in, as it comes to how we’re moving forward with foreign policy, is diplomacy and making sure that we’re having those critical important conversation.
Those type of conversation is probably best, as you can imagine, to have it quietly, to have it behind the scenes, and to just to continue to talk about our values and what’s important to this country and how we see us moving forward when we talk about — especially something like humanitarian issues.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Weijia.
Q Karine, thank you. It’s great to see you here.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good to see you.
Q I’m trying to get more clarity on the timing of the President’s statement today on the COVID-19 origins. He said that he received the report earlier this month about the origins and asked for additional follow-up. Did that follow-up include the current position of the IC? Or, in other words, when did the President first learn about the IC’s current position that they don’t have enough information to say if it was the animal host that caused this or a lab accident?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I — from just his readout, it said that he learned about it a month ago. So I don’t have more to read out than that.
You know, one of the reasons that we’re doing it now is because classified information takes time to declassify. And so that is a process that takes some time. And so, now we are — we are sharing that information with you all.
But just, you know, it was a month ago that he got the inf- — that he got the readout from the IC.
Q Does it have anything to do with those reports that three researchers in the Wuhan lab were hospitalized in November 2019?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I mean, this is something that the President has been working on for some time — right? — as I mention in the readout, as we put out in the statement. And this is something that the President called out back in 2020 — early 2020. So this is something — this is an issue that has been at top of mind and that he wanted to dig into and make sure that we really get to the bottom of how we got here.
Q I guess I’m just trying to understand if there’s new evidence that emerged or a new posture from the IC, because medical experts, including Dr. Fauci, have long said that it’s highly likely that the virus came from an animal-to-human transmission. So what changed that led to today?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, the readout basically said it was inconclusive. Right? That we needed to do some — needed more time to get to — to get to a better answer.
So, this is why we’re doing a 90-day review to get a better sense of where do we take this next.
Q What does “redoubling” mean? What more can the intelligence community be doing that they’re not already doing?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I think, you know, we’ve talked about making sure that we are getting the data — right? — from China. Right? Making sure that we’re getting more information so we can — we can —
You know, it’s hard to prejudge these things. Right? It’s hard to make pronouncements of something when you don’t have all the information that you need.
So this is going to take some time. This is going to continue to work with the WH- — the WHO as well. These are not mutually exclusive; these are happening at the same time. So it’s going to take more collaboration and more conversations as well.
Q Thanks. And just one quick one on Belarus. Roman Protasevich’s mother has issued an urgent plea to world leaders to help free her son, saying, “Please save him. They’re going to kill him in there.” Is there anything that President Biden can do to help secure his release? And has he communicated yet with President Lukashenko?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, one thing — I don’t have a call to read out on your second question. But, you know, the President, as I mentioned, has asked his team for options. They are working through them now. He spoke a little bit about it yesterday, as I think Peter just mentioned.
Look, the Europeans are leading on this. This was a flight that was between European capitals. There were Americans on this flight, clearly, as well. And we are very concerned.
The President condemned it, and there will be more — more to come.
Q Thanks so much.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No problem. Thanks, Weijia.
Go ahead, Mario.
Q Thanks, Karine. Congratulations again on being at the podium.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you. Thank you.
Q Another question on COVID. The language that you all use specifically mentioned an “accident.” Does that mean that you’ve ruled out — or the IC has ruled out that it was deliberate or not an accident?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We haven’t ruled out anything yet. But, again, we’re going to go through this — you know, this redoubling down of another — of a 90-day review, and we’ll have more to share.
Q And then, what makes the President confident that the IC community — the intelligence community, rather, can come up with more or better evidence in the next 90 days, given it’s been working on this for the better part of the past year?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well — well, you know, he asked them to, again, double down, as you just mentioned, and dig in and see if we can get more data, more information.
There’s not much more I can say about what, you know, our intelligence community is doing. We’re going to let them do this 90-day review and we’ll see where we are at the end of 90 days.
Q And the last couple — just one more on China. The Chinese have indicated that they’d like to see some of the tariffs rolled back before they engage in discussions with the U.S. Trade Representative. Is that something that the administration is willing to make concessions to facilitate those talks?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything to share about the tariffs and trade — that we’re — that we’re — in conversations that we’re currently having right now.
Q And final question, domestically: The President, of course, met with the Floyd family yesterday. How does his meeting change the White House’s strategy toward getting police reform passed?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m so sorry, can you say that last part? I didn’t hear it.
Q The President met with the Floyd family yesterday.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes. Yes.
Q How does that meeting, if in any way, impact the President’s strategy toward getting the George Floyd Policing in Justice Act [sic] passed?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, so, as you mentioned, the — you know, his meeting with the Floyd family yesterday — this is deeply personal to the President. Over the last year, he’s gotten to know this remarkable family. This is a President that knows about loss, personally, as we all know. And he has connected with them on a very personal level not just as President and a grieving — not just as a President and a grieving family, but on a far more personal level.
He has been particularly taken by Gianna, George’s younger daughter, who was here as well. He met her before the funeral last year of Ju- — I think that — I believe that was June 8th — and has kept her close to his heart ever since.
And, you know, she — he has talked about her famously saying that her father changed the world. And the President has not only told her she is correct, but he is committed to doing everything in his power to make it so. He told her this at the funeral last year, and he reiterated his — his commitment to that after the verdict and again yesterday when they met here at the White House.
So, when it comes to police reform, this is a priority for this President. He said it in his speech — his joint speech — joint — his speech — joint speech in Congress — right? — his joint Congress speech. And — and he’s going to continue to work on this today, tomorrow, and every day.
He is very pleased to see and heartened to see the bipartisanship of negotiators on the Hill. This is Senators Scott and Booker, and also Congresswoman Bass. He wants to give them the space — right? — to work on this. They have only been positive about the direction that the police reform is –bill is going — is headed to.
And so, you know, he wants to continue to work with them but also give them the space to negotiate. And so this is a — again, a top priority. He wants to see the George Floyd Act be signed into law.
Go ahead, Michael.
Q Hey, Karine. Thank you. Welcome. I wanted to follow up a little bit on Phil’s question about what had changed on the COVID — on the China lab situation and some of the other questions as well. It seems to me, despite your response to Phil, that it’s clear that at least two things have changed. Right?
One is that: Jen spent much of the last week — in response to these questions — focusing entirely on international investigations, led by the WHO, and dismissing the idea raised by a lot of us in the room about, “Why not have the United States conduct its own investigation?” And she continually referred back to the WHO as the proper place for this. So it seems like it has — there has been a change.
There also seems like there’s been a change in the President’s view of the possibility of a lab accident. I mean, this — the statement seems to elevate that possibility and give it more credence. At least, you know, not saying that it — that it’s certain, but that it at least deserves — has the credence that deserves a, kind of, full investigation.
And so, I guess — trying to get at the question some others have asked — is like: What has changed in those two things? Why — what was it that brought the President and this White House to a different place now than it’s been even just in the recent past few days?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, Michael, I would say to you: This is something that was ongoing. Right? This was — this is something that has been going on since March. So this is not a change; this is, you know, something — like I said — that’s been ongoing.
What has changed is: He wants to give another 90 days to dig a little deeper, to double down — IC to double down their efforts. And that is what he’s asking for.
But, you know — I said this earlier — you know, the WHO doing their thing and the IC doing what they’re doing currently is not mutually exclusive. Right? This is something that could happen at the same time.
And so, you know, at the end of the day, we are committed to throwing everything we have at this pandemic, both domestically and internationally. That’s why we’ve been so strong at ensuring that the WHO gets what it needs for a thorough, independent investigation, and that’s why we’re also devoting U.S. resources to learn more about it.
Q Okay. And I’m just — I won’t — I don’t want to beat the dead horse, and it’s not fair to ask you to answer for Jen — but, like, then why was — why was this White House so dismissive of the idea of a — of an independent — I mean, of a U.S.-led investigation —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — if the President was already interested in that kind of investigation before that? That seems to be —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, but I — I mean, Michael, I get your question. You know, you — you’ve been doing this longer than many of us. As you know, we don’t — you — we don’t speak about every — everything that’s being reviewed, you know, especially if something like this, that was actually classified. And it takes time to declassify something so that we can share with all of you. So that’s part of it as well, we’re talking about classified information. We’re talking about something that the inte- — intelligence community was working on, that we don’t normally, every time, put out there.
Thank you, Michael.
Q Hi, Karine. Congratulations.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you.
Q Thanks for being here.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Absolutely.
Q I have one last little question on this: How confident is the President that even without Chinese cooperation, that the U.S. can get to the bottom of this in 90 days?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, we —
Q And then I have a question about something else.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. We got to keep — you know, we’re going to keep working on it. I mean, this is what he’s asking his intelligence community to do. We will review and reassess all of this in 90 days, once we get that — get that review back from the intelligence community.
Q And I have a question about Nord Stream. Yesterday, the President basically said there wasn’t anything he could do; it was already completed by the time he took office. He said if he went ahead and imposed sanctions, it would be counterproductive to European relations, but, you know, he’s been an opponent of that pipeline.
But he did say, “I hope we can work on how they” — the Europeans — “handle it from this point on.” How does he want the Europeans to handle Nord Stream from this point on, since he has decided that there’s really nothing he can do to stop it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I — just to step back for a second, Nord Stream was like 95 percent done. Right?
Q Right, (inaudible).
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So the — before he even stepped in. And, you know, I talked earlier about diplomacy; there’s some times you have to do things in a different way. Right? We all have — you know, we have to — we have these relationships that we are rebuilding as well, especially after the last couple of years.
And so, this is — this is going to be a process. And so, like the President said, we’re going to figure out ways that we can work together. And that is something that is incredibly important to this President.
Q But what does he want from this point on? As he said, “I hope we can work on how they handle it from this point on.” What is he talking about?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, I don’t have any specifics to share with you. As you can imagine, a lot of these conversation behind — happen behind closed doors. But I think he was trying to share his thoughts on this and where we can — you know, how he really truly wants to figure out a path forward.
Q Thanks, Karine. A follow-up on the Olympics question that came up in the briefing either yesterday or the day before: Today, a major Japanese newspaper put out an editorial calling for the cancellation of the Olympics, saying that it is not rational to hold the games this summer.
So, given Japan’s low vaccination rate, as well as the State Department bluntly telling Americans, “Do not travel to Japan,” is there any second guessing on the part of the administration to move forward and concern about athletes’ safety?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, first, let me just be very clear: The — the trivel — the travel advisory is a advisory; it’s not a ban. But, you know, our positions remains we — has not changed on the Olympics.
You know, we respected the decision to delay the Olympics — the Games — last summer, and we understand the careful consideration that the Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee are weighing as they prepare for the Tokyo Olympics that’s just coming up right around the corner.
So, the Government of Japan has stressed that the public health remains the central priority as they plan to host the Games. Tokyo has assured us that they will keep in close contact with Washington as they — as their plans develop.
And the President proudly supports the U.S. athletes who are — who have trained for these games and will be competing in the best traditions, if you will, of the Olympic spirit. And so, America’s Olympic athletes represent the very best of our determination, diversity, and teamwork.
Q And just one other thing: You just mentioned, at the top of the briefing, factsheets about the economy and housing and things. The President is going to be in Cleveland tomorrow talking about the economy. What are the — what’s the thrust of his remarks tomorrow?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. So, tomorrow, during a speech on the economy in Cleveland, President Biden is going to make a clear case that his economic plan is working.
He’ll talk about how far we’ve come as a country because of the actions we’ve taken over the last four months turning the tide on the pandemic, creating 500,000 new jobs each month on average, cutting unemployment claims by more than a third, raising wages, and leading the development world’s recovery.
And he’s going to talk about why now is the right moment to — investing in building back better for workers in places like Cleveland by making historic generational investments in foundation of our economy’s strength through the Jobs Plan and the Families Plan — investments that will create good-paying union jobs , expand economic opportunities for all Americans, and help us outcompete the rest of the world in the 21st century. So that’s the trip for tomorrow.
Q Thank you very much. And, yes, welcome. So I’m afraid — with apologies — it’s not the last COVID question. Is the White House satisfied with the cooperation it’s getting from China on this? Because, in the past, clearly it hasn’t been.
And if it isn’t, is the President — has he got a message to China that “I would like more cooperation.” Are you asking China to step up in these 90 days? Or is it okay?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, we’ve been working, you know — speaking closely with WHO. Right? They’re the ones who are — they’re the global, kind of — the global entity bringing us all together. And so they’re having that direct conversation when it comes to the origins of COVID-19.
And we have been pretty clear, you know, China has not been transparent; they need to do more. And so, that’s what we’ve been, I think, very vocal about this — these past several months, and we’ll continue — we’ll continue to do so.
Q Thank you. And another question on the Olympics, as well. Just to put the same question a slightly different way: A large majority of the Japanese, according to the polls, are against it, and it’s pretty consistent. You’ve got some prominent businesses against it. You’ve got a large part of the medical community against it. And now you’ve got this newspaper, which is one of the sponsors of the Olympics, against it.
Is there a point at which the administration says, “Look, we just don’t want to basically offend the Japanese people, even if the government is saying, ‘It’s okay'”? Or are you just going to follow the government’s — their government’s guidance and just go along with what they say?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, it really goes back to what I was saying earlier — is that, you know, we — we truly respect the decision, you know, to delay it last year. And — and the Government of Japan has stressed that public health remains a central priority.
And so that is the commitment that they made to us and to other — to other countries where their — they will have athletes attending the Olympics in just a few weeks. And so that — that’s — that’s pretty much where we are. We just — we — we really truly — you know, we trust what the Government of Japan has stated to us.
Q Thanks. And congratulations, again.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you.
Q A question on the origins of the pandemic: The President says he has specific questions for China. I know that a lot of this is classified information, but can you share anything on what some of those specific questions are for China?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I can’t share the specific questions that are for —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Because this is the intelligence community. They’re doing — you know, they’re doing their deep dive. I can’t go into that.
Q Okay. Some Republicans — turning to infrastructure — some Republicans are saying, including Senator Thune — are blaming White House aides for not getting a deal, saying that, in fact, White House staff is less interested in getting an infrastructure deal than the President himself. How concerned is the President about that? And has the President reached out to those senators who are saying this to say, “No, in fact, my staff and I are on the same page.”
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, this is — this is — all of this — this negotiation is being led by the President. If you think about the memo, the counteroffer that he put out that — last Friday — that was approved and led by the President.
He’s been in the room in these negotiations. Again, he has close personal relationships with a lot of these senators. This is — as we know — this is — I’ve mentioned this before — he was in Sen- — in the Senate for 36 years. He was the [Vice] President for eight years. He believes in having bipartisanship.
He has — in those, you know, as a VP and as — as senator, he has reached across the aisle to get things done, to get big things done. And so this is how he sees this moment. This is an infrastructure — you know, infrastructure is a bipartisan issue. This is something that Democrats, independents, and Republicans truly care about.
We’re talking about investing in our country, investing in people, investing in roads — right? — investing in bridges. This is something that will have a long-lasting effect, something that we haven’t done in a — in a generation.
So this is something that we believe — he believes, more importantly — that should have bipartisan support, and that’s what he’s — he’s going for. And thus far, you know, we are seeing negotiation happening.
We’re waiting to hear the counteroffer from senators on the other side — Republican senators. And so, once we get there — once we get that counteroffer, we’ll have more to share.
Q Can I ask you one about COVID and equity? I know there are, of course, COVID briefings, but the share of Black people who are making up the new coronavirus cases in cities like D.C. has risen sharply, and this is after the vaccine — the vaccines were widely available.
In D.C. now, 80 percent of the new COVID cases are Black people. How concerned is the President about that? And does he see that as a failure in his responsibility, specifically when it comes to the number of Black people that we’re seeing now get COVID?
MS. PSAKI: So, it’s a great question, Yamiche. You know, earlier this week, Jen talked about the wartime kind of response that we’ve had to COVID-19 and the successes. We’ve actually seen some great successes on getting people vaccinated, but we still have a lot of work to do, right?
We have — the President made a pledge to have 70 percent of [adult] Americans, by July 4th, have at least one dose in arms; 160 million Americans fully vaccinated. And so that means that we have to bring everyone along.
And as you just iterated, you know, the President puts equity in everything that we do. Equity — we have a Equity Task Force. There’s a reason why we have it, because we want to make sure we don’t leave communities behind.
And so one of the things that we’re doing and we’re continuing to do is we got to meet people where they are. That’s why now, in many pharmacies, you can walk in and get your — get that vaccine; it is free. It is something that, clearly, we’re working really closely with states and local governments with on. We have mobile units in communities [that] do not have access to — close access to CVS or, you know, maybe don’t even have a — you know, a doctor to go to. So we have made it so that we are meeting people where we are.
And one thing that we have learned: The more people who get vaccinated, the more that the confidence of the vaccine — you see that number going up.
So, we do have a lot of work to do, but we also have some successes that we can point to that we can continue to replicate and continue to get out there and make sure we bring all communities along.
Q If I could with that — with a quick follow-up.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, absolutely.
Q You said that the President — and it’s true, of course, the President has put equity at all — the center of a lot of what he’s done on the pandemic. Of course, these numbers, though, say — tell a different story just in terms of —
Again, here in D.C., 1 in 10 — I should say 8 in 10 people in the new cases are Black people. What’s the disconnect there that you think — what’s failing, what’s broken, what could be happening more to prevent the numbers from going in the direction that they are?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. I mean, look, we — as I said, we still have a lot of work to do. That’s very critical and important. And it’s alarming — those numbers. Right?
Because like I said, in order to get back to normal, we have to bring everyone along. All communities need to get vaccinated. And we have to be able to do that in a way that, like I said, we don’t leave people behind.
But I think one of the things that we are doing is making sure that we have those trusted voices on the ground, making sure we have a Community Corps — more than 6,000 people — where we have people who are in those local communities that are continuing to have those conversations with people who have hesitancy; with people who, you know, may not know or have the full information. And so, this is what we’re continuing to do.
And, you know, this is not lost on us. Right? Like I said, this is — those numbers are alarming, and we’re going to continue to do the work. It’s not done yet. We are not done yet.
Q Thank you.
Q Thanks, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh. Oh, thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, I’ll take this last question. (Laughter.)
Q Karine, hi. Taurean Small with Spectrum News. Congratulations, by the way.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you.
Q I have to start by apologizing because I’m going to ask about the COVID origins again. But you said you were confident — the administration is confident in U.S. investigation into this. But are you guys confident in the World Health Organization’s credibility? This statement greatly differs from the findings that the organization has put out. They said it was extremely unlikely that this came from a lab leak. Is the administration at — going to call on the World Health Organization to call on — call for a new investigation, an independent investigation? How confident in the results (inaudible)?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, I mean, we’ve been very clear on that. We’ve been very clear with the WHO to continue to get to the bottom of this, to get the additional data that we need to figure out where the origin of COVID is from or came from.
And so this is — this is — like I said, we’ve been vocal. We’re going to continue working with WHO. We joined — rejoined the WHO once — very early on. And one of the reasons why we did that is to be able to hold them accountable as well. Right? This is a global institution that brings everyone together. And so it’s important that we get — we — it’s important that they have the information, they get the information so we know how to move forward.
Q One quick question on the budget: Progressives in Congress are calling on the Biden administration to slash funding to the Pentagon’s budget. Representative Mark Pocan, specifically, called on the President to cut about $50 billion from the defense budget because of the President’s announcement to pull troops out of Afghanistan. Is this something that President Biden is considering?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, let me just say that we’ll be announcing and rolling out the President’s proposed budget this coming Friday, and I’m not going to get too far ahead of that.
What I will say is the President’s proposed budget will outline how he is proposing to pay for a range of the plans the President has put forward. And he’s clearly talked about and remains committed to his campaign pledge of pushing for a public option of prescription drugs — something he talked about in his joint session address — and other — other items, not just that one. But every — every entity may not be reflected in this budget.
But again, I don’t want to get ahead of the President, who will be putting out his budget on Friday.
Q Karine, I wanted to follow up on my colleague’s question —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you, guys.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you, guys. Thank you, guys.
2:21 P.M. EDT