James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:52 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Monday. Okay, just two items for all of you at the top.
This afternoon, the President will be joined by Attorney General Garland, as well as law enforcement leaders, elected officials, and a community violence intervention expert to discuss his comprehensive plan to reduce gun violence and violent crime. During the meeting, the President will discuss his crime reduction stragedy [sic] — strategy, which gives cities and states historic funding through the American Rescue Plan and a range of tools they can use to improve public safety in co- — their communities, including support for community violence intervention programs, summer employment opportunities, and other proven methods to reduce crime.
The President will also highlight his strong support for and partnership with local leaders to work to reduce gun crime in their communities, like the ones joining him today, and he’ll underscore his commitment to ensuring their state and law enfor- — local law enforcement have the resources and support they need to hire more police officers and invest in effective and accountable community policing.
And the President will discuss the work the federal government is doing to stem the flow of guns used in crimes, including the administration’s zero-tolerance policy for dealers who willfully sell guns illegally; the Department of Justice’s gun trafficking strike forces; as well as previous steps the White House has announced, like cracking down on “ghost guns,” which are increasingly used in violent crimes.
One other update: In COVID news, we want to make sure we are lifting up some of the innowative [sic] — innovative ways that Americans across the country are meeting their communities where they are with the vaccine. We all have a duty to continue making the case for the vaccine to our friends and family. Companies, media, and individuals all can play a special role as trusted messengers to an unvaccinated person by sharing the facts that the vaccines are safe, effective, accessible, and free. Across the country we’re seeing Americans step up.
So I want to create some updates — I’ll give you some updates and lift up some of the innovative ways we are working with — to reach Americans with the shot.
So, today, I’m starting with the first example: truck stops. In the last few months, North Dakota, South Carolina, and Iowa all set up vaccine sites for truckers, with the goal of literally meeting these Americans where they are at, in their trucks or out of their trucks. Since then, more than 9,000 truckers have received a vaccine at these pop-up sites. We’ll provide more updates in the days and weeks ahead.
Go ahead, Jonathan.
Q Thanks, Jen. Two matters, both overseas. A couple of questions on Haiti first. The delegation that was sent down there — has anyone remained in Haiti to continue to oversee what’s happening? Or have — has there been any commitment to provide security forces to Haiti? And has the U.S. taken any steps to organize, perhaps, emissaries or troops from other countries to help safeguard the situation?
MS. PSAKI: So, as we announced last week, an interagency delegation, as you noted, was on the ground in Port-au-Prince yesterday and returned home. I’m not aware of anyone staying from that delegation on the ground. I will check that important detail for you after the briefing.
But while they were there, as we announced in our readout, they worked to get a better understanding of their request for assistance and to offer assistance to law enforcement forces — the law enforcement process, I should say, on the ground. They met with both the acting prime minister and prime minister-designate, as — both of those individuals. And they did receive requests while they were there on the ground for additional assistance.
They did also brief the President this morning. He will receive regular briefings, as he does from his national security team, on the events in Haiti, the requests coming in, and how we can help.
What was clear from their visit, also, what that was — I should say, “what was not clear” is what the future of political leadership looks like in the country. And it was a reminder how vital it is for Haiti’s leaders to come together to chart a united path forward.
So, while we will continue to — this is just the beginning of our conversations. And we will remain in close touch with law enforcement, with individuals in Haiti, with a range of leaders in Haiti about how we can assist and provide assistance moving forward. I don’t have any announcements to portray — to convey to all of you about assistance — additional assistance today.
Q So, just to clarify, as of right now, the U.S. is not committing to having any sort of presence on the ground in Haiti?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s not what I conveyed. We had a delegation that went down yesterday; they came back yesterday. They briefed the President this morning, as — as was — as we committed to. But I don’t have any — what was clear from their trip is that there is a lack of clarity about the future of political leadership. That’s an important step that the people of Haiti, the different governing leaders of Haiti need to work together to determine a united path forward. And we will remain deeply engaged, as we have been for months prior to the assassination, with individuals in Haiti to provide assistance moving forward. But I don’t have any new assistance to announce for you at this point in time.
Q And the other matter for me is on Cuba. The President — we saw the President’s statement today about the demonstrations there on the island yesterday. Two questions on that. But why hasn’t President Biden taken steps to undo some of the things that his predecessor, Donald Trump, did to overturn the overtures made by President Obama?
And then, secondly, we heard there’s a — obviously, a great cry yesterday — or during these protests for vaccines. Has Cuba — on the list to get vaccines from the United States?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say that we have actually provided, over the course of the last several months, a great deal of assistance to Cuba. I just want to note this because I think it’s important for people to understand. Since, FY- — since 2009, which is quite some time ago, Congress has directed $20 million in democracy assistance annually.
But even if you look at last year: Last year alone, the U.S. exported $176 million of goods to Cuba. In the first six months of 2021, Cuba imported $123 million worth of chicken from the United States — just as an example. Obviously, one of the issues that the ind- — that protesters are justifiably out there in the streets protesting about is hunger, is lack of access to vaccines, et cetera. But we are continuing to provide a range of assistance, which we will continue to do.
I will say, on vaccines, one of the challenges, Jonathan, which you may be familiar with, is that Cuba has not joined COVAX and has indicated they intend to vaccinate their population using the Abdala vaccine, which they’re — the Pan American Health Organization has been out there urging Cuban scientists to publish their — their results in the peer-reviewed literature on this vaccine.
So, in terms of — COVAX would be a mechanism that we have provided, as you all know, vaccines to a range of countries in the world. We certainly recognize and understand that access to vaccines is one of the issues that a number of individuals in the streets is voicing concern about, but we have to determine what the mechanism would be to work with the Cuban people to get vaccines to them. That’s something we’re working through.
Okay. Go ahead, Jeff.
Q Jen, just to follow up on Cuba: Can you give us a sense of where the President’s policy review on Cuba is right now? Do you anticipate making any changes, as Jonathan asked? And where do you see it going from here?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I will say first — and I meant to say this in response to Jonathan — but there’s every indication that yesterday’s protests were spontaneous expressions of people who are exhausted with the Cuban government’s economic mismanagement and repression. And those — these are protests inspired by the harsh reality of everyday life in Cuba, not people in another country. I’m saying that because I think there have been a range of accusations out there, as you well know, Jeff.
In terms of our assessment of a future — our current pol- — our policy, I should say, it continues to be — our approach continues to be governed by two principles: First, support for democracy and human rights — which is going to continue to be at the core of our efforts — through empowering the Cuban people to determine their own future. Second, Americans, especially Cuban Americans, are the best ambassadors for freedom and prosperity in Cuba.
I don’t have anything to predict for you in terms of any policy shift. Obviously, given the protests were just happening over the last 24 to 48 hours, we’re assessing how we can be helpful directly to the people of Cuba in these circumstances.
Q You hinted at this, but the President of Cuba did directly accuse the United States of basically fomenting these protests because of the embargo and that leading to a lack of medicine and the other things. Do you have a specific response to him?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d first say that the U.S. embargo allows humanitarian goods to reach Cuba. We exidite [sic] — expedite any request to export humanitarian or med- — medical supplies to Cuba. That continues to be the case.
And the United States regularly authorizes the export of agricultural products, medicine, medical equipment, and humanitarian goods to Cuba — and, since 1992, has authorized the export of billions of dollars of those goods to Cuba.
So that’s simply inaccurate in terms of the facts that are stated. But, again, I would restate what I said a little bit earlier in response, which is that there’s every indication that yesterday’s protests were reactions of the people in Cuba to exhaustion of the governance of the — of the leaders in the state, the economic mismanagement, and the repression that we’re seeing take place against the people of the country.
Q Lastly, there seems to be a disagreement between Pfizer and the U.S. government on the need for booster shots. Do you anticipate getting any clarity on that in this afternoon’s meeting? And can you just give us a sense of what is at the crux of that disagreement?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, this meeting is a meeting that HHS is overseeing, and certainly I would refer you to them for a specific readout of the meeting. But I would say that we don’t see it as a disagreement per se, but we provide public health information and make determinations based on a large swath of data, and that relates to boosters — booster shots as well. And some of that information that the FDA and the CDC look at — and this was in their statement last week — does include some private-sector data, and that can be part of how they assess what recommendations will be, but it’s a much broader swath of information and data than that.
Now, data — we continue to analyze. Science evolves. And we’ve long said that we will reserve options — optionality, including how we’re purchasing doses of sa- — vaccines to ensure we have maximum optionality for our own — the American public. But any assessment would be made by the CDC and the FDA. And we made clear, last week, that wasn’t a recommendation being made at this time.
I’d also point to something that Dr. Fauci said yesterday — when he was out there on some of your networks — when he conveyed that there could be assessments made about certain swaths of the population as well.
It may not be all or nothing, but that’s something that our scientists will continue to assess. And if they make a conclusion that booster shots are recommended, they will provide that information publicly and it would be based on a large range of data and information.
Go ahead, Karen.
Q Thanks, Jen. I just want to point out that HHS is not commenting on that meeting that’s taking place today with Pfizer. There’s nothing else you could share ahead of that of how seriously the administration is considering the possibility of booster shots?
MS. PSAKI: Well, not to minimize the meeting, but I would say that we regularly meet with and engage with health and medical — our health and medical experts do, I should say — regularly work and meet with companies to understand the latest data, and that would certainly be a part of an assessment of recommendations moving forward.
The point I was making, in response to Jeff’s question, was that it’s not based on, solely, the information or data from one company, which hasn’t been concluded or hasn’t been fully published publicly either. So, you know — but our health and medical experts will look at the data around the vaccine holistically, will use any further data as a consideration moving forward.
But I wouldn’t see this meeting today — I’m not surprised that there’s not a big readout from HHS, I should say.
Q And you mentioned other companies. Has the administration heard from any of the other vaccine producers about the possibility of a booster shot and what they’re pushing for?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I would leave that to any company to provide any information publicly about what they’re assessing. We are in touch with leaders of these companies regularly. We do look at our own data. We welcome their data as a part of that assessment, but we’ll make — the CDC and the FDA will make a recommendation based on their own assessment.
Q And just one more quick one. If there is a third shot recommended, would the government cover the cost of that shot as well? And what considerations would have to take place to get funding for that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have, in our — in our contingency planning, led by Jeff Zients and the COVID team — I think we’ve indicated from here that we have purchased the number of doses we have and indicated we want to increase manufacturing in these facilities around the country because we want to have maximum optionality, including — depending on what is most effective with children under the age of 12 — including if there is a booster shot needed.
So that is certainly — has long been in our planning, even — even in advance of knowing whether that will be a recommendation made by our health experts.
Q Thanks, Jen. What can you tell us about the President’s message in his voting rights speech tomorrow? Is going to be pushing more for congressional action? Is he going to be talking about state action? And what is his strategy to tackle this issue beyond the speech tomorrow?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, first — well, thank you for the question, because he’s very focused on this speech tomorrow — one that he himself wanted to deliver.
He’ll lay out the moral case for why denying the right to vote is a form of suppression and a form of silencing. And how he will use — he will redouble his commitment to using every tool at his disposal to continue to fight to protect the fundamental right of Americans to vote against the onslaught of voter suppression laws, based on a dangerous and discredited conspiracy theory that culminated in an assault on our Capitol.
He’ll call out — the greatest irony of the Big Lie is that no election in our history has met such a high standard, with over 80 judges, including those appointed by his predecessor, throwing out all challenges.
He’ll also decry efforts to strip the right to vote as authoritarian and anti-American, as a — and stand up against the notion that politicians should be allowed to choose their voters or to subvert our system by replacing independent election authorities with partisan ones.
And he will highlight the work of the administration against this, the necessity of passing the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and how we need to work together with civil rights organizations to build as broad a turnout and voter education system to overcome the worst challenge to our democracy since the Civil War.
So, this is an opportunity for him to make the case to the American people about how this is a fundamental right, what he will continue to do from the federal government. I would remind you, he signed a historic executive order on the 56th anniversary of Selma, which put in place funding measures and a priority from the federal government.
The Department of Justice has already used tools to fight against these laws in states. They will continue to. He’ll talk about that as well.
But the last piece is he will talk about, also, the importance of empowering, engaging, and supporting efforts around the country to make sure people know their rights and understand how to participate in the process.
Q So it sounds like this is the first of what might be a series of speeches around the country?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think he’s been clear and I think he’s told all of you that expanding the right to vote, the ac- — access of people across the country to vote is going to be a fight of his presidency. He’s asked his Vice President to play a leading role in that effort. He’ll talk about that as well tomorrow. And he’ll certainly continue to talk about it out around the country, but I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of additional comments or remarks.
Q And then you’ve said that there’s going to be a meeting at some point this week between U.S. officials and Russian officials about cybercrimes. When is that meeting taking place? Is it in person or virtual? Who’s participating? And what’s the message going to be from White House officials?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, there have been ongoing meetings at an expert level and discussions with Russian officials. And the most important thing we can do is preserve a space for those conversations to happen and, hopefully, progress to be made.
So, we’re not going to be reading out the agenda of these meetings or providing lists of participants. I think it’s safe to assume that high-level cybersecurity experts and members of our national security team are the appropriate points of contact with their Russian counterparts. But these meetings have been ongoing, as have the discussions, and this is a part of that process.
Q Thank you, Jen. Does President Biden agree with Dr. Fauci that, at the local level, there should be more vaccine mandates?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have the full context of Dr. Fauci’s comments in front of me. But I will say that —
Q I do have it if you want.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead. Let’s hear it.
Q He said: “I’ve been of this opinion and I remain of that opinion that I do believe, at the local level, Jake, there should be more mandates. There really should be. We’re talking about [a] life-and-death situation. We’ve lost 600,000 Americans already, and we’re still losing more people.”
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say first, from the federal government, I — if I remember the context of the question, it was about federal mandates, I believe — correct me if I’m wrong. That’s not a decision that we are making. That’s not a — that is not our intention from the federal government.
There will be decisions made by private-sector entities, by universities, by educational institutions, and even perhaps by local leaders, should they decide that is how to keep their community safe. If they decide to make that decision, we certainly support them in that step.
Q The President said, on March 11th, “My message to you is this: Listen to Dr. Fauci.” Is he now saying, “Don’t listen to Dr. Fauci” if he doesn’t agree?
MS. PSAKI: Welcome back.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: I would say that what the — what Dr. Fauci was conveying is that there will be decisions made by local leaders, just like there will be decisions made by business leaders, by institutional leaders on how they can keep their communities safe, and we support their right to make those decisions.
Q Thank you. And then on Cuba: You’re talking today about how some of these protests are inspired by people exhausted with the government. Why is it that yesterday the State Department was saying that this was all happening out of concern about rising COVID cases?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say first that the protests were just happening yesterday. We’re still assessing what is motivating and, of course, is driving all of the individuals who came to the streets.
But we know that when I — we say “exhaustion,” the — the manner by which the people of Cuba are governed, that can cover a range of issues, whether it’s economic suppression; media suppression; lack of access to health and medical supplies, including vaccines. There are a range of reasons and voices we’re hearing from people on the ground who are protesting.
Q So when these protesters are yelling “freedom” and “enough,” there are people within the administration who think they’re saying, “freedom from rising COVID cases”?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I would say that when people are out there in the streets protesting and complaining about the lack of access — to economic prosperity, to the medical supplies they need, to a life they deserve to live — that can take on a range of meanings.
There’s a global pandemic right now. Most people in that country don’t have access to vaccines. That certainly is something we’d love to help with.
Q A few months ago, when asked about Cuba policy, you said it was not a priority for the President to review U.S. policy toward Cuba. Do the events of this weekend change that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, Kelly, that we, of course, are monitoring closely. You saw the — the statement the President — we put out in the President’s name this morning from — in his voice, of course, conveying his support for the people of Cuba; making clear that he doesn’t support the approach of the government of Cuba, which he’s — he has never held — he has never been — held back on.
In terms of where it ranks in a priority order, I’m not in a position to offer that, but I can tell you that we will be closely engaged. We will be looking to provide support to the people of Cuba. We certainly, you know, support the freedom of speech, the freedom of press, the freedom of — when we believe they deserve to have access to the economic support and medical support, health supplies that many of them are asking for.
Q And on voting rights: Texas Democrats, who have been working through their process, some of them plan to leave the state, come here. Is there any plan for the President or the political arm of the White House to meet with them? What can you update us on that?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any — let me check on that for you, Kelly. It’s — and certainly it’s possible there are people here who plan to meet with them as we have in the past when oth- — other legislators have come to Washington. So, let me see if there’s a planned meeting with anyone from our team.
Q Back on Haiti for a second — and sort of honing in on the question that Jonathan was asking: What’s the status of the formal request that the U.S. send troops to Haiti? Is that still under analysis here?
MS. PSAKI: That’s correct. It’s still under review.
Q So it’s not been ruled out?
MS. PSAKI: No.
Q What is the current assessment here as to how Haiti ranks in terms of American interests — safety and security there? How important is safety and security to American interests in the President’s mind?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, the safety and security of the people of Haiti is of great interest to the President and to the administration.
I don’t think it’s particularly constructive to rank order issues happening around the world. They’re all important. That’s why we have a big government and why we are focused on doing what we can to support the people of Haiti, support the people of Cuba, continue to address the range of challenges we have around the world.
Oh, go ahead.
Q One more question. The President, later today, is going to meeting, as you mentioned, with the officials to talk about gun violence and crime. He did something similar less than three weeks ago. Are we — should we expect to hear something different today than he has so far said about this issue?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, that rise in crime has been an issue in communities across from the country for 18 months, if not more. It’s cost lives, shattered communities. And our focus is on addressing that head on, saving lives. And he feels it’s important enough to communities around the country to continue to voice what his approach is going to be here: advocating for more police with better training and accountability, then — advocating for the need to keep illegal guns out of the hands of criminals, making sure people understand we need to use every tool at our disposal.
So, certainly, today is an opportunity to meet with a number of individuals who have played a role in law enforcement, who have been leaders in their communities — and certainly should be an indication of his ongoing commitment to this important issue.
Q I wanted to just check in on what the President’s legislative priority is right now.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q The first: For the reconciliation bill, they need to pass a budget resolution.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Seem to be, still, pretty stark divides between, you know, Bernie Sanders, who’s running the Budget Committee in the Senate, and some of the more moderate senators. So, I’m wondering: Has the White House decided on a number that they want for that bill? And if not or if you can’t express one right now, how confident are you — since we’re continuing to see this divide as we get later into July — that you’re going to be able to bridge that gap by Leader Schumer’s schedule for this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, you know, back in April, when the President said we would move forward on two tracks — that we would seek a bipartisan agreement on infrastructure and that we would work with Democrats on a budget reconciliation process that included key components of the American Families Plan — there was some skepticism about the possibility of that moving forward. And that’s a diplomatic definition of how the — the broad reaction was.
That’s exactly what is happening now. And in our view, this is how the legislative process works. Our policy-making muscles have atrophied over the last few years. This is exactly what it looks like; it’s messy at times. And we fully expect that these negotiations will have ups and downs.
We’re prepared for that. We’re going to be closely engaged. The President will be talking with, engaging with, inviting down members to have discussions as needed through this process. But we’ve already seen speculation that our agenda was dead be disproved over the last several days. And we’re going to continue to work in close coordination with members moving forward.
Now, I will say that, as it relates to the budget reconciliation process: That, of course, is for members of the Senate to work through what they can all collectively support together to get enough votes.
The President will continue to advocate for components of his Build Back Better agenda, the American Families Plan — components he’s laid out in his budget — and pieces of his American Jobs Plan that were not included in the bipartisan package. Those will be his priorities as he’s having these discussions with Chairman Sanders and others who are leading this process.
Q And speaking of the bipartisan bill and maybe some of the messiness, there’s a meeting tomorrow to sort of hammer out the final details now the Senate is coming back. Is the White House going to be involved in that meeting at all? And what’s your level of confidence at this point that — you know, obviously, there were some missteps after the deal was announced that threw it into a bit of peril. How confident are you that this is going to move forward in the next couple days?
MS. PSAKI: We expect there to be some significant ups and downs, but we are ready for it. We’re bracing for it; we’re also ready for it. And we’re going to remain very closely engaged at every level in these discussions.
In terms of this specific meeting, I believe we’ll be directly involved in some level, but I can check and see if there’s more specificity.
Q Are there any meetings between the President and lawmakers this week that you can preview, specifically on this?
MS. PSAKI: There will be, but I don’t have anything I can preview in this moment. But we’ll see if there’s more we can provide.
Go ahead, Kaitlan.
Q In his meeting with civil rights leaders last week on voting rights, did the President make any assurances to them?
MS. PSAKI: The President reiterated to them what you’ve heard him say many times, which is that he is absolutely committed to signing voting rights legislation into law; that he will work side-by-side with them to advocate not just here in Washington, but around the country for moving this forward; and that it is a top priority for him.
And you heard them go out and speak in front of the White House and convey how constructive they felt the meeting was as well. But there’s no question that these leaders and their organizations are key partners for the President in our efforts to move this legislation forward.
Q And, on Cuba, in this White House statement today you note the, quote, “tragic grip of the pandemic.” But under current U.S. sanctions that were put in place by the last administration but have not been changed by this administration, Cuban exiles cannot send remittances to their family that lives in Cuba. So why is the Biden administration continuing that policy?
MS. PSAKI: Well I would say, again, even under the embargo, there are a number of exemptions, I should say — humanitarian assistance, medical supplies that we’ve continued to provide assistance to the people of Cuba, even with that in place.
But I have nothing to preview for you in terms of a change of policy.
Q But even though the President said he was going to reverse the policy, you can’t say when he plans to reverse the policy?
MS. PSAKI: Again, these protests happened yesterday, I think, or over the last two days.
Q But he made the promise in September.
MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand, Kaitlan, but there’s nothing I can preview for you. But to be accurate, there are exemptions that we can send hed- — medical supplies, we can send humanitarian supplies. That’s something we’ve been doing for some time from the U.S. government.
Go ahead. Go ahead, Shelby.
Q Yeah, I just had two quick ones. So, first, on Cuba: Recently, the New York Times described the American flag as “alienating to some.” We’ve seen these Cuban protesters flying the American flag as a symbol for freedom. We saw it in Hong Kong as well. So, does the administration support international protesters flying the American flag? And what message do you have to Americans who are wary of flying it here in the U.S.?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, the President certainly values and respects the — the symbol- — symbol of the American flag. He’s someone who certainly waves it outside of his house, or does in Delaware and — and other places where he’s lived throughout his time. But he also believes that people have the right to peaceful protest, and he thinks both can be true.
Let’s see. Go ahead.
Q So the President’s meeting today — I know that the White House has promoted using American Rescue Plan money for hiring more police officers. I’m curious if there’s going to be some sort of effort to track whether an increase in police officers leads to a reduction in crime in those communities.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, there are a number of places — and we noted this; we put out a memo that outlines some of the places where there has been an increase in funding. And certainly, there’s available data. And we will also look closely at where we’re seeing an impact.
So, Tu- — in Tucson, Arizona, they announced a plan to invest at least $7 million in community safety, health, and wellness from the American Rescue Plan. In Walla Walla, Washington, they announced they plan to use funding for help in — for new police hires. In Utica, New York, they announced plans to support gun violence prevention and law enforcement career recruiting efforts. In Albuquerque, New Mexico — announced plans to invest $3 million to expand a gunshot detection system, $5 million to refurbish stationhouses.
So, obviously, there are a range of factors that lead to a reduction in crime, and different communities have different challenges, even if guns are — gun violence is a big driver in many communities across the country. But we’ll certainly be working closely with them.
We also have these strike forces that we are working — engaging with about a half a dozen cities around the country to also engage — to also reduce illegal guns from being on the streets as well.
And all of these measures — our hope is that they will lead to a reduction in gun violence and crime in these — in these cities, of course.
Q And on voting rights: What is, I guess, the goal here in terms of giving these speeches, given that there’s still Republican opposition in the Senate? What does the President hope to accomplish in reaching out and talking to the American people about this issue?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the President is a big believer that, you know, as someone who has fought against the odds to get hard things done before, that part of what you need to do is build a grassroots army across the country to engage with, to empower, to inform about what their rights are and what the challenges are.
And one of the reasons he’s going to speak to how stark this issue is — how, in — in dozens of states across the country, there are efforts to put in place restrictive voting measures — is because he wants people across the country to not just look ahead to 2024, but be prepared and eyes wide open about 2022, and also understand and know their rights and understand what the efforts are to silence them around the country.
Q Jen, a follow-up on voting rights?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Go ahead, April.
Q Following that and looking historically, you’re talking about an army — pulling together an army in support of voting rights. Is this akin to what LBJ told Dr. King — “Go make me do it” — when he talked to him about voting rights, when they went to Selma? Is this an effort to get the coalitions to go out and force Republicans to change their minds? Is that what you’re talking about?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you well know and you alluded to, April, this is not a new struggle; it’s a 60-year struggle. And the President has been at the forefront of this fight throughout his career, from his work leading the effort to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act, to even the steps he’s taken as President.
So, obviously, this is a new moment that certainly builds on the challenges over the last 60 years with new challenges, including the swath of restrictive laws that — that many legislatures — Republican legislatures — are attempting to put into law across the country.
So, yes, he is going to be calling on Americans to make sure they are informed, make sure they are informing their neighbors, and make sure they are fighting efforts to pass restrictive laws in their states.
Q And on the history piece about Haiti: What is this administration doing, when it goes back to the historic nature with administrations in Haiti? Bill Clinton helped Jean-Bertrand Aristide go back into power. Condi Rice went there during the Bush administration under blue-helmet support from the U.N. to talk about democracy. Is this administration looking at the historic nature of what administrations have done as it relates to Haiti in how you are dealing with Haiti today?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, history is always a part of how you — any leader approaches governing and approaches engagement with foreign governments, or — or the people of other countries because sometimes that’s embedded in how they understand or how they think of the United States.
What’s important to know and understand is that we are — have provided $75 million for a wide range of issues, including democratic governance, health, education, agricultural development, and strengthening of pre-election activities even before, of course, last week — that was as of January — and that we’ve long been working with — directly with — in lifting up, empowering, and training Haiti’s law enforcement — improving, I should say — Haiti’s law enforcement capacity.
There — this is a situation, though, in Haiti where the determination of what the next steps are, what the path forward is going to be up to the people of Haiti. Who is going to be leading the country moving forward? When is it safe to have elections? How will they work together to figure out what their needs are? And how can we work with them to assess what those needs are and how we can help meet them here from the government. So, obviously, there — from the United States, I should say.
So, obviously, there’s a great deal of uncertainty. There’s a lot more information we need. Yesterday was just the beginning — not the beginning, but an important step in our engagement that will certainly continue from a range of entities in the federal government moving forward.
Q Jen, over the weekend, House Whip James Clyburn, an ally of the President’s, called for a filibuster exemption on voting rights as a potential pathway forward for the Senate to pass that legislation. Does the President agree?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that Congressman Clyburn is a good friend of the President and certainly of the administration — an important partner as we work to get our agenda moving forward.
I will say, though, in terms of how this works, the filibuster is a legislative process tool — an important one — that warrants debate, but determination about making changes will be made by members of the Senate, not by this President or any President, frankly, moving forward. And it requires every single Democrat supporting changes.
Now, I’m not here to provide a Whip count for all of you, but that’s not where support currently stands. So, the President’s view continues to be aligned with what he has said in the past, which that he has not supported the elimination of the filibuster because it has been used, as often, the other way around.
I understand you’re asking me about an exemption. We don’t have any new position on that either.
I would note that there are a lot of issues out there — and I think activists and advocates will tell you this — where you could argue that there should be an exemption, and this is certainly one of them. But that is what a lot of advocates — there are advocates for a range of issues, whether it’s gun rights, climate, who are out there advocating for this.
So he’s talked about his support for returning to the talking filibuster; he continues to support that. But he, again, believes that, as somebody who was in the Senate for 36 years, we need to continue to work to find a path forward to do hard things, even when they seem challenging. And that’s what he will do in this case.
Q So, with no pathway, really, forward, and the legislation languishing, is there a plan B? Is there — like, is he rallying — I mean, as he is tomorrow — public support to hopefully change the complexion of the Senate and then try and pass legislation? It just seems like there’s no, kind of, obvious path forward for legislation that he says that he wants to pass if he’s not going to change the filibuster rules or advocate for that.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think — you know, if you look at even the Supreme Court ruling just a few weeks ago, his view is that — and he’ll talk about this tomorrow — is that that sends the focus back to Congress. And we don’t accept the notion — and he’s an optimist by nature; otherwise, he wouldn’t be sitting in the Oval Office right now — that it’s dead. We don’t accept that.
We believe there needs to be a path forward. He’s going to ask the Vice President to help play an important role in determining what that looks like. And we’re going to continue to advocate, to fight for moving forward on voting rights legislation. And he’ll certainly elevate the need for the American people to be engaged in that effort moving forward.
Q Jen, we have an out in a minute, if you want to do, like, one more maybe.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay. Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, well, I was going to go to you, if that’s okay, only because she hasn’t been here in a while. Go ahead.
Q Okay, thanks. Just to follow up on Matt —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Clyburn was saying that he would like Biden to endorse the carveout either publicly or privately. Like, get on the phone with Machin — just call him, say that you’d like to do this.
To bring up LBJ again, as April said, does the President see no role for himself in trying to press these lawmakers, given you say he’s going to talk about the authoritarian danger of these voting rights? Does he not see that role for himself?
MS. PSAKI: I think the President sees his role as somebody who can speak from the bully pulpit to elevate and advocate for the need to move forward on voting rights legislation, of course, but also to use every lever in the federal government to protect the rights of the American people to — to vote around the country.
That is one lever — is legislation. There are other levers that are at his disposal that we’ve already started to implement and rely on. And I would just go back to what I said a little bit earlier is that, you know, if it were that — if it were waving a magic wand to get voting rights legislation on his desk through ever- — any means, he would do that. But it requires the majority of members in the Senate to support changes to the filibuster. It requires —
Q But what about arm-twisting? I mean, you say a magic wand, but —
MS. PSAKI: It requires — again, I’ll leave it to — I’ll leave it to all of you to do a Whip count out there about the support. This is a Senate procedural process. It requires the majority of them to support it.
What he can do as President is to continue to lift up, elevate, advocate, engage, empower people across the country; make sure they understand that this is based on the Big Lie; make sure they are as outraged as he is about efforts around the country to suppress and silence people across the country. That’s the most instructive role he can play.
I’m sorry, you — I’ve got to go because we’ve got to — you’ve got to gather. Thanks, everyone. We’ll see you all tomorrow.
1:29 P.M. EDT