James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:27 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Wednesday. Don’t be distracted by Andrew’s fabulous seersucker suit over here. (Laughter.)
Okay, a couple of items for all of you at the top. The President is running a little bit late too, so we’ll have a hard out at about five or ten after, but we’ll keep you honest, for those of you who are joining his event.
Today, the Biden-Harris administration launched the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program, a first-of-its-kind water assistance program that will expand access to more affordable water, and help low-income households affected by the COVID-19 pandemic pay their water and wastewater bills, avoid shutoffs, and support household water system reconnections related to non-payment. $166.6 million, or 15 percent of allocated program funding, is being made immediately available to grantees, which will then, of course, be distributed in communities.
In total, $1.1 billion will be available through grants, including $500 million in American Rescue Plan funding.
The President believes that having access to affordable, clean, and safe drinking water is essential to everybody’s health and wellbeing.
A little preview of the President’s remarks for later this afternoon: We have now vaccinated 63 percent of
the country [adults], and over 72 percent of those 40 and older are vaccinated thanks to aggressive action by this administration. COVID-19 cases and deaths have plummeted as a result. Cases are down over 90 percent. Deaths are down over 85 percent since January 20th. The fact remains: If you are not vaccinated, you are at risk of getting the virus or spreading it to someone else.
So, today, the President will announce the launch of a month of action to mobilize an all-of-America sprint to get more people vaccinated by July 4th. Community leaders, faith partners, businesses, celebrities, athletes, colleges, and thousands of volunteers will participate in this nationwide campaign.
And as part of the month of action, we’re making it even easier to get vaccinated, which, as we’ve seen, is the key to increasing numbers and getting more shots in arms.
So the nation’s largest childcare providers will watching — will be watching kids for free while parents get the shot. Vaccines will happen at barber shops, baseball games, and NASCAR races. Pharmacies will be open 24 hours on Fridays.
And throughout our time in office, we’ve seen — we’ve led a whole-of-government effort to get the vaccine out. So this next month, we’re continuing to build on that by leading canvassing, phone banking, texting into areas with low vaccination rates; coordinating vaccine events. More than 100 organizations have committed to hosting over a thousand events the first weekend alone. And we’re also launching a National Vaccination Tour. The Vice President will lead a tour to key communities across the South and Midwest. That will be coming up.
And we’re launching a Mayors Challenge — and you’ve seen a little bit of activity about this already — where cities compete to boost vaccination rates through canvassing, local partnerships, and incentives for people.
And through the COVID-19 College Challenge, more than 230 colleges and universities are taking pledge — taking pledge and commit — taking a pledge and committing to taking action to get their students and communities vaccinated.
And finally, businesses like Anheuser-Busch, Kroger, and DoorDash are stepping up to offer all adults free beer on July 4th, the chance to win a million dollars, and free meals for people who get vaccinated at community health centers.
We’ve seen Krispy Kreme has done this. I would not recommend a Krispy Kreme with a beer, but I’ll leave that to other people to decide.
Finally, the President wants to convey his heartfelt congratulations to Congresswoman-elect Melanie Stansbury on her decisive victory last night, marking the first time in over 100 years that a special election has been won by a larger margin than their party received in the previous general election. He looks forward to working with her in Congress.
Alex, why don’t you kick us off.
Q Sure. I have a couple of questions. First, on JBS, can you confirm that a ransom demand came from REvil? I know it’s a criminal organization likely based in Russia. And was the ransom paid?
And then, can you speak a little bit about — have you seen any progress on this call from the government for business and private sector to work with the federal government in updating their cybersecurity measures?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. On the last part, I’m not in a place to confirm the specifics of the ransom request or the origin. Obviously, our team is continuing to evaluate. And I would send you to the company for any specific questions about the ransom request.
I will say that this attack is a reminder about the importance to private sector entities of hardening their cybersecurity and ensuring that they take the necessary steps to prepare for this threat, which we’ve seen rising even over the last few weeks.
As it relates to actions we’re taking in the federal government, the President has launched a rapid strategic review to address the increased threat of ransomware, to include four major lines of effort:
Disruption of ransomware infrastructure and actors. Working closely with the private sector — we will work in partnership with them. That is something that this administration has done a bit differently than in the past in working to find best practices, ensuring that private sector entities have a seat at the table, and we can work in close coordination.
Building an international coalition to hold countries who harbor ransom actors accountable. I mean, this attack is an example of how this is not just a problem in the United States. These are actors that are working to get into systems around the world. This was a company obviously based in Brazil, but Australia was a major — was impacted also by this.
Expanding cryptocurrency analysis — obviously, this has been an increasing question out there — to find and pursue criminal transactions.
And reviewing our own ransomware policies.
So this is an internal policy process — essentially, one that’s looking at all of these entities within our national security/economic team.
Q And then, on the President’s comments yesterday, he seemed to call out Manchin and Sinema for — he said, voting “more with…Republicans” than Democrats. But ProPublica actually found that they’ve so far voted with Biden 100 percent of time on major votes. And so can you explain where those comments came from and why he felt the need to call out members of his own party?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, that if Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema were standing with me here today — they’re always welcome — they would call out their own independent streaks, and that’s something that I think they’re both proud of. They both vote for and represent the people in the states that — and all the people who elected them to represent them in the Senate.
If you look at what the Senate — the President said — the big tell here is, “I hear all the folks on TV saying.” Now, as a former TV pundit myself, I can tell you that sometimes these conversations can be oversimplified. TV isn’t always made for complex conversations about policymaking. We all know that. Right?
And what the President was simply conveying is that he — his threshold, his litmus test is not to see eye to eye on every single detail of every issue — and he doesn’t with Senator Sinema and Senator Manchin, and he doesn’t with Senator Capito, who’s coming here later this afternoon. He believes there’s an opportunity to work together, to make progress, to find areas of common ground even if you have areas of disagreement.
And he also believes that sometimes, because there are three entities — three branches of government — something he knows well, having served 36 years in the Senate — that sometimes it’s not a straight line to victory or success; that sometimes, you know, it takes more time and, you know, he is open to many paths forward.
So I don’t think he was intending to convey other — anything other than a little bit of commentary on TV punditry.
Q Well, he did seem to suggest that he is in favor of filibuster reform and wants to see that move. So why hasn’t he been more prominent in calling for that? And is he pressuring Manchin and Sinema to move on that issue privately?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t say that his comments yesterday were conveying a new position on his view on the filibuster. His full comment was —
Q But what did he mean by saying that Manchin and Sinema are standing in the way of his agenda, essentially? What was he referencing?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not exactly what he said. I think it’s important to quote him directly. What he said was: I hear all the folks on TV saying, “Why doesn’t Biden get this done?” Well, because Biden only has a majority of, effectively, four votes in the House and a tie in the Senate, with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends.
He’s not — he was not giving a specific commentary on a policy. He was conveying, again, that sometimes that’s the summary — shorthand version that he sees on cable news at times. Again, it’s not always the forum that’s easy to provide guidance on how a bill becomes a law.
His view on the filibuster continues to be that there should be a path forward for Democrats and Republicans to make voting easier, to move forward on progress for the American people. That position hasn’t changed. And he was not intending to convey something different.
Q Thank you. Back on the ransomware attack, is the U.S. going to retaliate? And, realistically, what options are on the table? Is a counterattack an option?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, one, let me say — not to get ahead of your line of questioning, but I assume this will be a question. So we do expect this to be one of the issues that the President will discuss with President Putin at the summit. That will be two weeks from today, if my — if my calendar is correct in my mind.
And in terms of considerations of — you know, we’re not taking any options off the table, in terms of how we may respond. But, of course, there’s an internal policy review process to consider that. We’re in direct touch with the Russians, as well, to convey our concerns about these reports.
Q You mentioned the meeting. When it comes to this issue, what does success look like at that discussion? I mean, what are you looking to accomplish when the President walks away from that table, when it comes to cybersecurity?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say that, you know, this is an issue that we have discussed with the Russian government — this specific issue — and we’ve discussed it in the past, and delivered the message that responsible states do not harbor ransomware criminals.
As we’ve also noted from here, and I noted in the beginning: Obviously, ransomware attacks — we’ve seen them increase over a period of time. It’s an increasing threat to the private sector and to our critical infrastructure. And there are other countries, many of whom we will see when the President is in Europe, who have similar concerns. So we expect this to be an issue of discussion throughout the President’s trip, I will say.
In terms of what success looks like coming out of the summit, I can’t predict that at this point in time. But I can convey to you that this will certainly be a topic of discussion — that harboring criminal entities that are intending to do harm, that are doing harm to the critical infrastructure in the United States is not acceptable. We’re not going to stand by that; we will raise that, and we are not going to take options off the table.
Q And in those conversations with the Russian government so far, do you get a sense that they are taking this seriously? Are they going to be taking steps to try and stop these bad actors?
MS. PSAKI: I am — as I’ve said before, I’m blissfully not a spokesperson for the Kremlin, so I will let them speak for themselves. But I can assure you that we are raising this through the highest levels of the U.S. government. It will be a topic of discussion in direct, one-on-one discussions — or direct discussions with President Putin and President Biden happening in just a couple of weeks.
And certainly, protecting our own infrastructure in the United States is of the utmost national security importance.
Q And just one more on this topic, because the Russians are outlining some of the things they would also like to discuss during the summit. The foreign minister, Lavrov, indicated that Russia wants to be discussing the human rights violations in the U.S., saying they’re following with interest the persecution of those persons who are accused of the riots on January 6 this year. I’m wondering what you make of that. Where do you think this is coming from?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t use the Russian government as our guide to human rights models in the world. But I will say that the President has not held back in his view that the attacks on January 6th were a mark on democracy, were a dark day in our own democracy. And certainly, I’m sure he’d be happy to repeat that.
But the President’s view is that there are a range of topics that we should be discussing in this meeting. We’ll have more to preview for it, probably in the days in advance of this summit, including on — his agenda is, of course, these cyberattacks and the use of ransomware, harboring criminal entities in your own country; also is their aggressive actions in Ukraine; and also is — are areas where there can be an opportunity to work together, including nuclear capabilities and security. So, lots to discuss.
Q Just to put a fine point on this very quickly: Is it President Biden’s view that President Putin can stop these attacks, these hacks, from occurring if he wanted to?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say the President — President Biden certainly thinks that President Putin and the Russian government has a role to play in stopping and preventing these attacks; hence, it’s a — it will be a topic of discussion when they meet in two weeks.
Q Does the President believe that Vladimir Putin is testing him right now, ahead of the summit?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to give any further analysis on that other than to tell you that our view is that when there are criminal entities within a country, they certainly have a responsibility, and it is a role that the government can play. And, again, that will be a discussion at the summit.
Q Of all the threats that the White House has to juggle right now — and, of course, there are a lot — how high does ransomware fall on that list right now? Has it gone dramatically higher in the course of this administration? Does it need to be higher than it is right now? Where is it?
MS. PSAKI: You know how I love rank ordering our focuses and our threats. (Laughs.)
Q How — but it’s been growing dramatically, obviously. Right?
MS. PSAKI: That is true. And I —
Q This is now a bigger issue.
MS. PSAKI: And, Peter, I just said that. I think that this is — this attack that we’ve seen over the last couple of days, and certainly following the attack that we saw several weeks ago, is also a reminder to the private sector about the need and the importance of hardening their own cybersecurity protections, of investing in and putting in place protections in their own systems.
We have given guidance for some time, from the federal government, and it is up to a number of these private sector entities to protect themselves as well.
Q The Steamship Authority in Massachusetts reports that they were just the victims of a hack. Has that been communicated to the White House? Are you involved? Do you have any comment or message, or anybody to attribute that to?
MS. PSAKI: I have seen those reports. They — they just came out.
Q They just reported it. Yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Yes, exactly. I just don’t have anything more for you on it, but we can see if there’s more later this afternoon.
Q All good. Last one, if I can, then. In March, we heard from the National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan. He came in here and told us that the U.S., “in the near future” — to his words — would name who’s responsible for the hack on the Microsoft Exchange.
So can you tell us who that is — multiple — several months have passed — and what the holdup might be?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check with our national security team and see if they have an update. As you know, they are quite careful and thorough — I should say, “thorough” is probably the right word — in how they review and assess and provide public guidance. But we can see if there’s anything more they can report out.
Q Is the prevailing theory still that it’s China? Or are you — can you not go any further than he did then?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I have an update on it from what we’ve provided in the past.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. Why does the White House think there’s a shortage of workers right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve talked about this a bit in the past, but I’m happy to go through it.
So, one, our view is that it’s going to take time for workers to regain confidence in the safety of the workplace; reestablish childcare, school, and commuting arrangements; and finish getting vaccinated. And even when individuals get their first dose — we’ve seen a huge increase in that, as I started the briefing talking about — it’s about a five- to six-week cycle. So we have expected that to have an impact.
At the same time, as we look at all of the data, we know that our economy is growing faster than at any time — 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 the President took office. And we’re continuing to put in place policies and measures to ensure that we’re helping people make ends meet and we’re helping the economy continue to grow.
Q And you mentioned thoughts about safety. You’re celebrating the number of vaccinations today. You say the vaccines work. COVID cases are way down.
MS. PSAKI: You’re right.
Q Is there any thought here that some of the worker shortage could be driven by the extra $300 in weekly unemployment benefits through September?
MS. PSAKI: I will say, Peter, that our economists and our assessment and the assessment of many economists out there is that the impact — the largest impact are on issues related to the pandemic.
And, yes, you’re right that the increased numbers — that’s a good sign; it’s a positive sign. But it’s a five- to six-week cycle. So the data that was taken for the May jobs number — the jobs numbers that came out for April and early May was from early April. That’s almost two months ago, right? We’ll see. We’ll have jobs numbers come out on Friday.
People — the vaccination rates are continuing to go up. But in terms of people being fully safe, fully vaccinated, it’s going to take some time. We always expected that to be a couple of months, and we expect to see continuing improvement in the numbers.
Q On the JBS hack, these hackers based in Russia have disrupted American gas supplies and American meat supplies. Why do you think that these ransomware attacks have been rising since President Biden took office?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say these are private sector entities who have a responsibility to put in place measures to protect their own cybersecurity.
As it relates to why criminal actors are taking actions against private sector entities, I don’t think I’m the right one to speak to that.
Q So, a total coincidence?
MS. PSAKI: I think you could certainly go track down those cyber criminals in Russia and have a good chat with them.
Q Okay. If you have any leads, we’ll take that.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q And then, on immigration, has the President or the Vice President seen the video from last Friday of a five-year- old boy dropped off along the border, yelling to the adults who abandoned him, “No, no, don’t go — no”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ve seen the video. It is heartbreaking and the reason we continue to be very clear: Irregularly migrating to the United States puts ourselves and others at risk. That’s why we relate — relaunched certain efforts to build a more fair and orderly immigration system, including programs like the Central American Minors Program that allows kids who are eligible to apply from within country.
But I don’t think anyone, whether a parent or not, would have watched that video and not feel heartbroken by a five-year- old, I think, screaming at the border.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. A couple of questions about the COVID numbers. You talked about the latest vaccination rates. Does the Biden administration still consider herd immunity to be realistic and achievable?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, that Dr. Fauci has spoken to this in the kind of terminology of herd immunity and, kind of, refuted that as the right definition of how we should look to how we’re going to make progress. And that’s why we have set out a goal of getting 70 percent of the American population vaccinated by July 4th. There’s still a lot of work to do. About a dozen states have met that requirement. That’s why we’re launching this big initiative over the past — over the next month.
But what Dr. Fauci and other medical experts have conveyed is that it’s really going to be up to local communities and states to see what their vaccination rate is and make determinations about what’s going to work locally. It’s — that is how the assessments will need to be made.
Q And you talked about the 90 percent drop in cases. Does the White House worry that as the number of cases drops, that these holdouts will actually be more reluctant to get vaccinated because they won’t be as worried that they themselves will get sick?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, that’s one of the reasons why continuing to reiterate that if you’re not vaccinated, you are not safe. You’re not safe against others who are not vaccinated who may carry the virus. The individuals who can benefit from all of the new guidance the CDC has put out, who can go to concerts and go to baseball games — I was going to say football; not quite there yet — go to their kids’ soccer games and not wear a mask, those are vaccinated individuals.
There’s huge incentives to getting vaccinated, but it doesn’t mean that individuals who are not vaccinated are safe from getting the virus.
And while, yes, we’ve made a lot of progress, there are still communities where the percentage is higher than it should be, where there are still larger numbers of young adults who are not vaccinated; those are many of the communities that we’re focused on in our month-long effort.
Q In the President’s speech yesterday, when he laid out his new economic equity measures, one of the things he didn’t talk about was student loan forgiveness, and that’s something he talked about a lot on the campaign trail.
We know that student debt is a big driver in racial — in economic inequality. So why didn’t he include that? And where — where does the White House want to go on that issue?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that one of the ways anyone can know out there about how much the President cares about student debt and student loans is by simply looking at his budget and the budget he proposed and rolled out last Friday. He makes two years of community college free, along with a major increase in Pell grants that will drastically reduce the cost of an education beyond high school.
The American Families Plan, which he proposed, we still need to get it, of course, signed into law — or passed and signed into law, which is included also in the President’s budget. It includes a historic $47 billion of investments in HBCUs, Tribal colleges and universities, and minority-serving institutions. And these institutions are critical to helping underrepresented students move to the top of the income ladder.
And so President Biden is calling for a historic investment in these areas, and those are things that are laid out specifically in his budget and shows his desire and commitment to level the playing field and provide necessary assistance.
Q But why doesn’t the budget include $10,000 in student loan debt forgiveness, for example? That’s something that he called on Congress to do when he was a candidate.
MS. PSAKI: And he’d be happy to sign a bill into law if they passed that bill, and he’d look forward to having it on his desk.
Q Thank you, Jen. Just a couple of follow-ups on JBS. Obviously, the White House is engaging directly with Russia on this, and we were wondering if Russia has offered any cooperation or help in tracking down these hackers.
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to be reading out Russia’s view or their role here. You can certainly ask them those questions.
Q And considering — this is obviously the third Russia-linked attack this year, and we understand that the President will bring this up in his meeting with President Putin — but is the administration really considering any actions in addition to that, just to make sure that this doesn’t happen? Sanctions or any other actions that are perhaps on the table?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I mean, as I said, I think, in response to an earlier question: We’re not taking options off of the table.
But it’s just an opportunity — there will be an opportunity for the President to discuss this directly with President Putin, to reiterate the fact that we believe that responsible states do not harbor ransomware criminals and that — and as he said, as we said, around Colonial and the Colonial hack — or the Colonial ransomware attack — we will continue to be in direct touch with Moscow. We will continue to make the case that responsible countries need to take decisive action against ransomware networks.
At the same time, as I noted a little bit earlier too, we’re doing our own review of a range of options as well from here.
Q And I have one on the surplus vaccines.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Has there been any decision made on those 80 million vaccines? And will the President offer any updates on that today?
MS. PSAKI: He won’t offer any updates on that today. Hopefully, we’ll have more for you on that soon. I know there’s a lot of interest. And as I’ve noted earlier — or previously — what we want to do is not just convey, hopefully, some of — where some of the vaccine may be going, but also what our approach will be to ensure that it is distributed in an equitable manner around the world. So all of that would be a part of any announcement at the appropriate time.
Q Thanks, Jen. During the campaign, Biden promised to host a summit for democracy during the first year of his presidency. Can you give us an update on if that’s taking place, when it might take place?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any date or schedule for you. We have some time left in the year, fortunately, but I don’t have any update for you on the timing.
Q Is he still planning to do it in his first year?
MS. PSAKI: That — that still remains the plan.
Q Okay. And then can you say anything more about the specific mandate that the President gave to the Vice President on voting —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — that he mentioned yesterday? I mean, is there — how is he going to measure success on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say that the President sees the Vice President as an important partner and somebody who can work to take on challenging and hard initiatives. That’s the role of the modern-day Vice President. And she actually asked to run point and lead on voting rights. It’s an issue that she is personally committed to and passionate about.
As she conveyed in her statement yesterday, she expects in the week — weeks ahead to engage not just with the American people, but with voting rights organizations, community organizations, the private sector to help strengthen and uplift — uplift efforts on voting rights nationwide. That includes working with members of Congress, certainly, to move legislation forward — something the President strongly supports. It also includes working with local organizations, working with states to see how to make voting more accessible to people across the country.
So, I think the President is looking to work with the Vice President as a partner and e- — and looking forward to her taking on this important initiative, something that’s a priority to him as well. And I’m sure he’ll be regularly updated on her progress.
Q Does he expect the Vice President to travel to these states that have imposed voting restrictions in their state laws?
MS. PSAKI: I think the Vice President will have more to say about what — how she will approach this effort. As you know, she’s traveling to the Northern Triangle over the next couple of days on one of the other initiatives she’s leading, but I expect she’ll have more to say in the coming weeks.
Q And just briefly, how does he expect the Vice President to prioritize these multiple things that she has in her — in her agenda?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, just as the President has to balance a number of different priorities — whether it’s the American Jobs Plan or working to protect us from ransomware attacks or preparing for an international summit and all of the other entities that are on the President’s plate — a modern-day Vice President does the same thing.
So he’s confident in her ability to take on a robust agenda, which she certainly has on her plate.
Q Yeah, thanks, Jen. I’m curious if you can kind of describe —
MS. PSAKI: I’ll come to you next.
Sorry, go ahead.
Q I’m sorry.
MS. PSAKI: It’s okay. Go ahead.
Q No, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, so chivalrous there. Go ahead. Okay.
Q I’m just curious — (laughter). See how I did that?
MS. PSAKI: Sorry, we’ll come back to you.
Q If you can describe for us: How thin is the President’s patience when it comes to negotiating some of these bipartisan agreements he wants to see — not just with infrastructure today, but, for example, whether it’s police reform or the Jobs Plan — at some point, does he say to his fellow Democrats, “We just have to go at it alone”? And then does that mean we’re going to see more executive orders as a result?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that the President has a bit of experience legislating, and his approach is to look for means, ways we can find common ground. That’s exactly what he’s going to do when he meets with Senator Capito this afternoon.
“Negotiations” mean both sides continue to make moves toward each other, both sides continue to look for areas where they agree. And that’s what he’s prepared to do, and he’s hopeful this meeting is an opportunity to do.
At the same time, we’re working on a number of different paths. There’s discussions between bipartisan members in the Senate about how they might come to agreement on a path forward on a historic investment in infrastructure, on a version of the American Jobs Plan. He’s eager to see what they have to offer.
We also know, next week, Congressman DeFazio is going to be marking up the American Jobs Plan in the House — something a lot of members and Democrats in the House are quite excited about.
So, I would say that we’re working on many channels. He’s going to have discussions with all of these entities and parties. And he knows that sometimes in this journey and this path, you have to keep a range of options on the table.
Q And his level of patience?
MS. PSAKI: I would say he wouldn’t have been in the Senate for 36 years if he wasn’t quite patient. So — but, you know, him — patience is not unending, and he wants to make progress. His only line in the sand is inaction. He wants to sign a bill into law this summer.
But I would also remind you that the American Rescue Plan passed in a very quick timeline for how legislation moves forward — very fast.
And there’s historic legislation — the Affordable Care Act, for example, the Vi- — the President worked closely on — that took a year. We’re not advising that’s the timeline, but just to suggest that sometimes these efforts can take a little bit of time.
He’s working to move things forward. And there are certainly items on — you know, the clock is certainly ticking because there are items like the markup next week that will drive discussion by members of Congress.
Q So the President has talked a lot about seeing democracy as under attack. And his speech Monday, I think —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — was pretty blunt about that.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q He talked a lot about voting rights in that speech. Can you just clarify how he sees the stakes of these bills, like in Texas? Does he truly see them as an existential threat to democracy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that, first, he believes that the Texas legislation is a part of a concerted attack on our democracy being advanced, as we see — have seen, not just in Texas, as you well know, but in states across the country, on the basis of the same repeatedly disproven lies that led to the assault on our nation’s Capitol on January 6th.
So, that is, of course, of great concern to the President. He thinks that must stop. It must be easier, not harder, for all eligible voters to vote — to register and cast their ballots. We need to move forward and not backward.
And the fact of the matter is that the Texas legislation would make it harder to vote in a state where it is already too hard for many people to vote, but it’s not the only state where we’re seeing this troubling trend.
But this is one of the reasons why he asked his Vice — or he — she asked for it, but he certainly was thrilled to have her leading the effort on voting rights moving forward, given this is a huge priority to him and a huge priority to her as well.
Q A question on a much different scope. I have a follow-up on the free beer announcement.
MS. PSAKI: (Laughs.)
Q Can you just clarify, because Anheuser-Busch says this is in partnership with the White House.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q Can you clarify what that means? Is like the federal government subsidizing this at all? And also, are there any concerns that this is kind of — the way that they’re going about this — with like, “Upload a picture of yourself” — that there’s any sort of data-harvesting aspect of this promotion?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think all that “in partnership” means is that we’ve been encouraging private sector entities to take actions to incentivize people to get vaccinated, given we know that will ensure that more Americans have shots in their arms, are safe, are healthy, and communities can return back to normal.
You know, obviously, as it relates, we take data security and people’s privacy incredibly seriously. And, certainly, if there was an area of concern, we would speak out against that. But we have seen a number of these actions by private sector companies be quite effective, and more shots in arms is a good thing.
Go ahead, Kaitlan.
Q The meeting with Senator Capito today, should we expect President Biden to give her any kind of deadline for a major breakthrough on these talks to happen?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t expect this meeting to be an exchange of paper. It would be more of a discussion. And certainly, we’ll see what comes out of the meeting and what the appropriate next step is. But I don’t know — I’m not going to predetermine that before the meeting even begins.
Q And should we expect it to be one-on-one, or will White House staff be in the room, just to clarify?
MS. PSAKI: I would expect at least a portion of it to be one-on-one, if not — if not the whole meeting, but I can check on that for you too.
Q Okay. And just to follow up on your comments on what President Biden said about Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema: Are you saying that that was not a criticism of the two of them?
MS. PSAKI: It was not. No. He considers them both friends. He considers them both good working partners. And he also believes that, in democracy, we don’t have to see eye to eye on every detail of every single issue in order to work together, and he certainly thinks that reflects their relationship.
Q But even saying “two Democrats vote with Republicans more than they do with their own party” —
MS. PSAKI: “With my Republican friends.” I would say that the fact that the President is having Senator Capito here today and has been having ongoing discussions with Republicans in the Senate and that he’s eager to find a path forward on bipartisan work certainly tells you, I think, what you need to know about what he thinks about working with people even when there’s disagreement.
Q Just a few quick ones. The NAACP criticized Biden’s plan, as was mentioned earlier, about not including the cancellation of student debt.
In April, Ron Klain said that the President had asked the Education Department to prepare a memo on wiping out debt for executive action. And he said, “Hopefully, we’ll see that in the next few weeks.” Is there any update on that memo about, kind of, what the President might do on that front?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an update. It was Department of Education, but also a legal review as well.
Q Okay. And then one question on Israel: Does Biden have a view on Naftali Bennett’s past statements about annexing the West Bank and negating a two-state solution? How will Biden approach clear differences there on that issue? And does he still think he has a partner for peace in an Israeli government led by Bennett?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re not going to weigh in on an ongoing political process in a foreign country — in Israel or anywhere in the world. I think you’re probably — know well what the President’s view is on a two-state solution and how he believes it’s the only path forward for lasting peace in the region.
Q And then just a quick follow-up. Do you know if Bennett and Biden have met before, they’ve — or any interaction in person?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a good question. I don’t know if they have met in the past or have a prior relationship.
Q President Biden campaigned on ending the federal death penalty. When is he going to take steps to do that?
MS. PSAKI: He has — he did campaign on that and has talked about his views on the death penalty. I don’t have any update on any forward action.
Q But isn’t his delay there a sign that perhaps he doesn’t feel as strongly about this as maybe he sounded when he was campaigning? The —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think it’s a sign of that. There’s a legal process and a Department of Justice process that would be — would be standard in any scenario here.
Q When did he change his mind on the death penalty? Because during the ’94 —
MS. PSAKI: I did not convey he changed his mind.
Q The ’94 Crime Bill expanded the amount of crimes that receive —
MS. PSAKI: He spoke to this pretty extensively on the campaign, and that’s his position. I think we’re going to have to move on.
Q I wanted to just — given what you said that his position hasn’t changed on the filibuster, I just want to go back to the vote last week in the Senate on the January 6th commission —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — the fact that there were 54 “yes” votes, 35 “no” votes. The bill failed. This is an insurrection that the President has called an “unprecedented assault.”
I’m just curious if that math makes sense to this President and if that outcome would be acceptable should it repeat later this month when the Senate takes up voting rights.
MS. PSAKI: When you say the “math makes sense,” what do you mean by that exactly?
Q I mean the fact that 54 lawmakers in the Senate voted “yes,” 35 voted “no,” and the bill did not pass.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, that the President doesn’t see a reason for anyone to have voted against that bill, so he doesn’t understand that version of the math as a starting point.
He continues to believe that, given that was a dark day in our democracy — a day that, I think, we will all remember; he will remember, certainly, as President, as a day that does not stand out as a model of what is possible in this country.
In terms of his view of the filibuster, you know, again, his position has not changed on that. He does want to see accountability as it relates to — and he does want to see an assessment of what happened to prevent it from ever happening again. And he is happy to talk with members of Congress about how to approach that moving forward.
As you all know, no President can wave a wand and pass a piece of legislation with 50 votes, when it requires 60. That requires Congress to move forward with that action.
Q But it seems like it requires only one more Democratic vote than currently exists for that, and that vote happens to be a person who the President did seem to single out yesterday.
So you’re saying that he didn’t change his position on the filibuster, and yet, you know, he’s saying things — I mean, his passion for voting rights was evident yesterday when he spoke.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q He’s saying, “We must find the courage…” — I’m quoting him — “…to change the things we know we can change.”
So, I just want to be very sure that you’re saying that: Should that outcome repeat itself later this month — if the Senate takes up voting rights, more than 50 lawmakers vote for a bill, but if the bill does not advance to his desk — is that something he’s going to be okay living with?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t think the President is okay with a January 6th commission not being in place. He’s not okay with voting rights not passing. And he will continue to advocate for both moving forward.
Q Yes. As the President prepares for the summit with leaders of the NATO, some reports surfaced regarding spying on — on Germany. How would that affect the summit and the — like, the reestablishment of the U.S.-NATO relations?
MS. PSAKI: I think you’re referring to the reports from 2014 — correct? — that dated back to, I will say, my last time in government.
I don’t — I wouldn’t say that — you know, in 2014, let me say, we issued a full — the United States issued a full review of our approach to overseas surveillance. President Obama, at that time, issued a presidential directive that changed our approach in significant ways.
So that is a lot that has happened since — between the la- — over the last seven years. And we will continue to work with our European allies and partners to address any questions through the appropriate national security channels.
But I can tell you that President Biden will be able to reassure President Merkel and President Macron about current U.S. posture. And, you know, certainly we look forward to working together on a range of —
Q And Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said that, you know, he would stand against any agreement between — you know, with Iran, even if that would, you know, cause trouble with the Israeli-American relations. Is there any reaction from the White House regarding that?
MS. PSAKI: Sorry, the first part of your question was what? It was about —
Q You know, Netanyahu said that, like, he would stand against any agreement on —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, on Iran.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q And, you know, even if that would, you know, result in, like, tension with, you know, American-Israeli relations.
MS. PSAKI: That’s consistently been the Prime Minister’s position. And what our responsibility is and the responsibility of President Biden is to act in the interests of the United States. And our view is that putting in place a diplomatic agreement — an agreement where we can prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, where we have returned to the visibility we had before the former President pulled out of that deal — is in our interest.
So we will continue to work and brief the leaders in Israel, as we have over the last several years, but our position hasn’t changed.
Q Okay. Last question, if I may.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q You know, the Israelis requested a billion dollar, you know, in military aid after what had just happened. You know, is the United States willing to and prepared to provide that aid?
MS. PSAKI: The President conveyed that — at his press conference he did with the leader of South Korea just a few weeks ago — that nothing has changed about our intention to provide assistance to the Israeli government and also our desire and interest in providing humanitarian and security assistance to the Palestinians as well.
So I expect those will continue. I don’t have any assessment of any new request.
Q Thank you, Jen. On the vaccination efforts: As of May 7th, only less than 7 percent of the ICE detainee population — about 22,000 detainees — have been vaccinated. Where is that process going? The ACLU has demanded this White House, via a letter, to speed up that process. So do you have an update?
And also, how do you plan to vaccinate eligible unaccompanied minors who are in detention?
MS. PSAKI: Well, on the first question, Immigration and Customs Enforcement — ICE — is firmly committed to the health and wellbeing and welfare of all those in custody. COVID-19 vaccines for ICE detainees are being allocated by local and state health departments — that’s how they are distributed — based on availability and the state’s vaccine implementation plans. So that’s where they directly come, not from — not directly from the federal government.
Additionally, DHS’s chief medical officer is rapidly working on scaling our own internal capability to vaccinate detainees in our care across the country. So that would be an additional step in addition to the state and local allocations, but it is a focus and a priority.
In terms of unaccompanied minors, some eligible unaccompanied children have already received a COVID-19 vaccine. We’re working with our state partners to implement broader vaccine distribution. In keeping with CDC guidance, it hasn’t been an extensive period of time where children under the age of 18 have been eligible.
Obviously, these allocations are distributed across states, but, of course, they’ve been broadly available for some time in the country, so this should provide greater access to the vaccine to unaccompanied children.
Q And is the President aware of the current situation in Nicaragua, where the government is harassing journalists, activists, even a presidential candidate, and is claiming — is investigating them for money laundering in that country with really no legal basis? Is he aware? Is the State Department working on this?
MS. PSAKI: I know the State Department is, and I’d certainly send you to them. On any specific comment from here, obviously, we would speak out against any harassment of journalists, individuals, leaders, the — you know, crushing of freedom of speech, expression that it sounds like is occurring in this case.
Q I think we have an out.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. All right, thank you, everyone. I’ll look forward to seeing you tomorrow.
1:09 P.M. EDT