Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, January 20, 2022
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:52 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy one year anniversary.
Q And to you.
MS. PSAKI: Time flies. I’m sure it has for all of you.
Okay, I don’t have anything at the top, so let’s kick off with your questions.
Q Okay. Thank you. Just a couple questions about yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q The President said one of the things that’s been clear to him is the public doesn’t want to see him be the “President Senator.” And I was just wondering, does that mean he plans to step back from negotiations on the Hill going forward?
And related, he talked about the importance of him getting out of Washington and explaining his agenda. How often should we expect to see him out and about America?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that one of my favorite things I have done since I took this job is to travel with the President because he absolutely loves engaging with people. It’s probably why he’s been in politics so long. He loves talking to people who agree with him, people who don’t agree with him.
And I think what you heard him say a lot last night is what — is reflective of what he’s been telling us for some time now, which is that he wants to do a lot more of that.
What that looks like on the schedule, we’re still determining that. But it certainly means you’ll see him out on the road more. You’ll see him probably bring members of Congress with him on Air Force One as he’s done recently, and he’s really enjoyed the opportunity to be able to have those free-ranging conversations with them on the back of Air Force One. And it means you’ll see him talking more about his agenda and what he’s doing to make people’s lives better.
So, we don’t have anything more to preview. But I think you heard very clearly multiple times last night from the President that that is how he wants to spend more of his time moving forward.
But to go back to the origin of your question there, Aamer: It doesn’t mean — what it means is he has a talented, experienced legislative team. Some have said one of the most experienced legislative teams in recent history. That is true. And he’s certainly going to continue to rely on them, and probably rely on them more to get a lot of the business done and negotiations and work with Congress.
He, of course, is always going to be someone who picks up the phone and talks to people he’s known for a long time in Congress, whether they’re Democrats or Republicans, and he’ll continue to do that. But it’s a reflection of how he wants to spend his time and his recognition that he wants to spend more time out in the country and less time behind closed doors negotiating.
Q And is that — is that a course correction or a lesson learned from the first year of being on the job and going through the paces?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t — I wouldn’t put it exactly in those terms. I would say that it’s a reflection of how our own — of his view, which we share, of how we can best use his time. And there’s nothing more valuable than the President’s time.
So — but it also means bringing members of Congress with him on the road sometimes, having them listen to the American people — people who agree with them and don’t agree with them.
And COVID, obviously, has posed some challenges, but that’s what it’s a reflection of.
Q A second thing I wanted to ask about yesterday was — he — President Biden said the midterm elections, quote, “easily could be illegitimate.” Is he predetermining that the elec- — that the November elections are going to be suspect?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I talked to the President about this last night and this morning. He was not intending to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 election. He was actually attempting to make the opposite point, which is that in 2020, despite COVID, despite many attempts to suppress the vote, a record number of voters — Democrats and Republicans, independents too — turned out in the face of a pandemic. And election officials made sure they could vote and have those votes counted.
He was also explaining that the results would be illegitimate if states do what the former president asked them to do in more than a half a dozen states in 2020 — after the 2020 election: toss out ballots and overturn results after the fact.
And his view is that what one of the most important roles we can play now is informing and educating the public on what these laws are, on efforts to suppress their vote, and — even beyond the laws — efforts in different states across the country to make it more difficult for them.
Go ahead, Phil.
Q Thanks, Jen. Just to follow up on that: The President said — or he predicted that something would get done on the electoral reform side. Senator Manchin said today that he spoken with the President about the bipartisan effort that’s going on related to Electoral Count Act as well. Is the President getting behind that effort? Are you guys involved in that effort? How do you see that effort playing out given that he, kind of, went against that effort earlier, through the context of the John Lewis Act?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve never been against it. We just want to be — want to — have always wanted to be clear that it was not a substitute for voting rights legislation, which some, I think, were attempting to project.
And so, especially as we were working to get the John Lewis Voting Rights Act across the finish line and the Freedom to vote Act, which do very different things, right? I mean, the — than the Electoral Count Act.
The Freedom to Vote Act creates standards for voter access and voter registration, outlines criteria to make redistricting less partisan, and strengthens campaign finance laws.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act establishes a new preclearance process to ensure that certain states and jurisdictions need approval from the Department of Justice before moving forward with changes that impact voting rights.
The Electoral Count Act does something entirely different.
So, I think our point is: It’s not a replacement for it.
But, certainly, the President is open to engaging with, talking with — as we are — even though it’s not a substitute — Republicans and others who are interested in moving forward.
Q And I’ve got another legislative question. The President talked about breaking up pieces of Build Back Better. I think I understand what he was trying to say there, but just for clarity for congressional process nerds: He’s still talking about keeping —
MS. PSAKI: We’re in D.C. It’s a safe place. Lots of process nerds here.
Q — scaling back a single reconciliation package and moving that forward, and then maybe voting on things that aren’t in that package. Is that the context here?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he wasn’t necessarily dictating what the size would look like. He wants to get as much — as big of a chunk as we can get done — done and through Congress.
He also recognizes that nothing is going to get done without 50 votes. So, we’re not confronting a choice between what can happen and our ideal. It’s a choice between: Do we make critical progress for the economic wellbeing of middle-class families and in tackling climate crisis, or not?
So, right now, it’s determining how big that chunk can be through the reconciliation process, which, as you know as a budget nerd, requires 50 votes. If you break different pieces apart or as you continue to fight for anything that might not be in there, it would require 60 votes, of course. And if there’s 10 Republicans who want to support efforts, of course, we’d welcome that.
But he’s talking about getting a big chunk — as much as you can get done — where we can get an agreement of 50 members of the Senate.
Q Okay. And then just one last one. We’ve seen the President’s statement, the tweets, and your statement last night. Has there been any communication directly to Ukrainian officials to address any of their concerns that they had after the press conference?
MS. PSAKI: We have been in touch at a high level with Ukrainian officials and leaders. As you may know, the Secretary of State has been in Europe. He was meeting with Ukrainian officials a couple of days ago, with European leaders earlier today, and he’s meeting with his Russian counterpart tomorrow. So, we have been in touch at a high level.
They certainly understand, from those conversations, what the President meant. And you saw the President make a statement — or convey clearly his point of view this morning, which is reflective of exactly what he said, most importantly, to President Putin.
Q Jen, just to make it very clear: Has President Biden spoken to President Zelenskyy since his comments yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: He has not. He has spoken with him a couple of times, as you know, in the last month. But we have spoken at a very high level but below the President.
Q Let me ask you, if I can follow up on the questions about — about voting rights and the integrity of the election. You say the President’s intention was not to cast doubt on the upcoming midterms.
But when a reporter followed up, the President said to him, “I’m not [saying] it’s going to be legit. The increase and the prospect of being illegitimate is in direct proportion to us not being able to get these reforms passed.” So, yes or no: Does the President believe, if all remains as it is right now, that the elections this fall will be legitimate?
MS. PSAKI: He is — well, yes. But what he is — what the point he was making is that as recently as 2020, as we know, the former president was trying to work with local officials to overturn the vote count and not have ballots counted. And we have to be very eyes wide open about that and clear-eyed that that is the intention — potentially of him and certainly of members of his party.
Q So to be clear: The President is satisfied even if — because it — yesterday, obviously, voting rights hit a wall in Congress right now without the votes for the filibuster rules to be changed, and given the conversation we just had about other avenues that can be taken.
If there is — if there are no changes in terms of voting rights legislation going forward, the President does still feel confident that the elections this fall will be legitimate?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Okay. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen. Just following up real quick on this this legislative stuff. Yesterday, the President blamed Republicans for blocking his agenda. He called them “obstructionist.” But he admitted that he hadn’t reached out to any on the issue of voting rights.
So, now, given where things stand with these two bills, will he be reaching out to any Republicans, seeing that this bipartisan effort on the Electoral Count Act might end up being the only game in town on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t accept that. But I will also say that there has been discussions between Democrats and Republicans for months now about voting rights legislation. They’ve been invited multiple times, a part of the conversation, reached out to, engaged with. Sixteen of them have supported the protection of voting rights legislation in the past and declined to do that this time.
They are not uninformed about exactly what this legislation would do, and they have always been welcome to be a part of the conversations. They decided not to, and I think that’s important for people to understand.
Q Real quick question on crime, and then I want to ask about Ukraine. Ahead of the President’s meeting with the Mayors Conference tomorrow, some of the biggest headlines this week have been the New York City woman being pushed to her death in a subway; the woman in LA being murdered, allegedly, by a career criminal.
I saw this morning that you went on TV and reiterated the President’s position —
MS. PSAKI: On Fox.
Q — yes, on Fox; thank you for joining us — that he wants to fund police and, you know, make clear that crime is something that this White House takes seriously. But you guys have not weighed in on the actions from these prosecutors.
So why hasn’t the administration weighed in on some of these new policies from DAs who are, you know, downgrading certain crimes or refusing to prosecute certain crimes, given that it could undermine some of these broader efforts that your White House is making to show that it takes crime seriously?
MS. PSAKI: Well, one, there is a law enforcement component and a justice component of the federal government. Right? The President has been crystal clear, I think, in almost every time he’s spoken about this, that he believes that more needs to be done by local leaders.
We’re going to support funding to ensure they have that, whether it’s local COPS programs or other programs to support surge response teams as we’re seeing different kinds of crime in different parts of the country. And that will continue to be what he advocates for. But I wouldn’t expect he’s going to comment on or engage in every local law enforcement action.
Q Moving on to Ukraine. Bipartisan members of Congress from several different committees this week have been told in briefings that U.S. officials believe Russia is likely to invade Ukraine, despite this continuing narrative that Putin has not made up his mind.
They’re saying that satellites, signals intelligence, and human intelligence is all telling the same story; what they’re seeing and hearing is about to happen. And the President’s comments last night seemed to corroborate that to a certain degree where he said, “My guess is [Putin] will move in.”
So why wouldn’t the U.S. introduce, sort of, level-one sanctions as proactive deterrence and then remove them if Russia deescalates?
Q Well, one, I said two days ago we’re now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack in Ukraine. And we’ve been pretty transparent about what we’re seeing, both in our briefings but also in our engagements with all of you and in our conversations with our European partners.
I would note that, this morning, the Treasury Department did announce sanctions on individuals who have engaged in influence activities directed by the Russian governments. This action was part of our ongoing, longstanding efforts to counter Russia’s network of influence efforts and to expose Russia’s dangerous, threatening, and ongoing campaign to destabilize Ukraine.
These individuals are at the heart of Russia’s destabilizing campaign in Ukraine, and we stand united with the Ukrainian government.
We are not waiting to take action to counter Russia. We see what they’re doing. We’re disrupting it. And these actions are also, of course, separate and distinct from the broad range of high-impact, severe measures we and our allies are prepared to impose in order to inflict significant costs should they invade.
Q The President said he thinks Putin will “test” the West. Isn’t that in some way already happening? And why are we spending this time debating what to do after an invasion rather than mitigate the risk of one in advance of that happening, especially because this buildup is already causing economic consequences for the U.S. — having to send additional aid? Shouldn’t the threat of an invasion also carry serious economic consequences?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I just referred to Treasury sanctions we announced this morning. Right? We’ve also provided more assistance to Ukraine than any year in history —
Q But isn’t that just four individuals, though?
MS. PSAKI: — including defense assistance.
Those are. But again, we’re — what we’re making decisions on — based on decades of experience the President has and decades of experience of our foreign policy team and through consultation with our partners — on what is going to be the most effective step.
President Putin is going to make the choice he’s going to make. Either he’s going to decide to invade Ukraine and suffer severe economic consequences, or he’s going to decide to engage in diplomatic discussions.
It’s important to remember who the aggressor is here. The aggressor is Russia and Putin. They are building up military troops. They are pushing out misinformation in Ukraine. That’s who we need to keep our focus on and make sure we’re educating the public about their actions.
Q Jen, where do deliberations stand on the broader economic sanctions that you’re planning? Has the President given a final sign-off on a package?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an update on that. I believe, Steve, that we’re continuing to consider a range of options and haven’t ruled out any that have been reported. But I don’t have an update on the internal status.
Q And Peter asked you whether you’ve been in touch with the Ukrainians.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Have any allies sought clarification of the President’s remarks?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Secretary Blinken saw his European counterparts this morning. I don’t have any — I know he just spoke and, I think, answered questions. But I didn’t see the full totality of that.
But certainly he reiterated what you heard the President say this morning, what the President has also conveyed directly to President Putin. And we have been in such close contact — I think over 100 engagements over the last several weeks — with our European partners and counterparts, with our NATO partners, with the OSCE, with the EU to make sure we’re working in alignment and in lockstep about how we’re going to approach any actions President Putin takes.
Q The President talked a little bit about the possibility of another summit with President Putin. What about a phone call over the next few days just to try to fix things or give him some (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to predict on that front, Steve. I would say that, you know, as you know, last week, there were three rounds of discussions. This week, Secretary Blinken is, of course, in Europe, and there was also a bipartisan congressional delegation there. The President has been in touch with all of them. I expect when Secretary Blinken comes back, they’ll discuss with the national security team what the right next steps are.
Q And last thing: The President is going to meet with the Japanese Prime Minister tomorrow, virtually. What are they going to talk about? Are they going to talk about this recent upsurge in missile launches by North Korea?
MS. PSAKI: I expect there’ll be a range of topics of discussion. He looks forward to meeting with Prime Minister Kishida to further strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance, deepen ties between our economies and other people, and advance our vision, including about a free and open Indo-Pacific, and that includes security.
I think we’re going to have a preview call later today, I expect, so I will leave it to our experts to give you more details and information.
Go ahead, Cleve.
Q Hey. Thanks, Jen. Just a follow-up on going out into the country. You know, Biden conceded that he needed to do more. But I know that there are already folks that have talked to them who are disillusioned with the last year. I wonder if there’s a special message that goes out to them, or does the White House worry that it’s disillusioned some people, you know, from ever coming back into the fold?
MS. PSAKI: Do you mean members of the party? Or the —
Q Voting rights groups, Black voters in, say, places like Georgia and South Carolina.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Look, I think the President — you heard the President say last night, several times, I think, that he was deeply disappointed that voting rights legislation didn’t move forward.
You’ve also heard him say — and he would repeat this to advocates who have been fighting so hard since the 2020 election — that he’s going to fight until his last breath to ensure there is voting rights legislation that passes.
I know today marks one year, but that does not mean our work is done. Nobody is packing up their bags. We are continuing to fight and continuing the work ahead. So that’s what he would convey to those advocates.
I think what you will see him do — and, again, I don’t have anything — I know Aamer asked about this — is, you know, be out there doing what he’s done for many decades. And people who’ve covered him for a long time know he loves engagement — I’ve never seen anyone who likes a rope line or a photo line as much as he does — having conversations with people. And some of them may be people who care deeply about voting rights, some of them may be people who care deeply about their small business or healthcare, whatever it may be, or it may be a combination of all of those things.
Q Has the White House had any conversations about an executive order that would do what H.R. 40 does — the one that would study reparations?
MS. PSAKI: I can check on that and see if there’s anything to update you on.
Q Thank you. I’m Jarrell Dillard from Bloomberg.
MS. PSAKI: Yes, Jarrell. How are you? Good to see you again.
Q Good to see you.
When will the White House engage in new talks with Senator Manchin on Build Back Better? Last night, he told reporters that no one has contacted him.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, as I’ve said here before, we are not going to read out or detail all of our engagements with every senator, including Senator Manchin. And we are in touch with every senator at a senior-staff level. That is true. But of course, he’s a key part of getting legislation across the finish line. And you heard the President convey his desire and interest in doing exactly that.
Q Will a new Build Back Better proposal be forthcoming without the expanded Child Tax Credit?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to prejudge what it’s going to look like. The President proposed an extension of the Child Tax Credit because it’s something he very much believes in. It helped cut the — cut child pov- — childhood poverty by 40 percent last year. That’s significant. A lot of families — it helped a lot of families get them some breathing room, help them make ends meet.
But again, what the President knows is that there is agreement in Congress among Democrats about a couple of things: doing more to lower costs — lowering costs for childcare, for healthcare; negotiating with prescript- — on prescription drugs. And we got to figure out what we can get in a big chunk of a package to get it across the finish line. But I’m not going to negotiate from here.
Q Thanks. I have questions today on East Asia and also on Iran.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q Starting with East Asia and the upcoming U.S.-ASEAN Summit: Can you just talk a little bit about how important ASEAN is for U.S. policy in the region and how you view specific ASEAN members in those goals — in the context of those goals?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what you’ve heard the President talk about before, as it relates to how he was going to approach — and even if we reflect back on the first year —
Rebuilding our partnerships and alliances — and some of those are through preexisting structures like ASEAN; some of them are through direct bilateral relationships — has been a priority for the President from the beginning because he thinks it will strengthen our objective of advocating for human — for human rights, for global security, and for even working in conjunction to address big global problems — right? — like the global economy or the COVID crisis.
In terms of the exact agenda, I don’t have the details of that yet. I’m sure we will preview it as we get a bit closer. But, you know, it’s another opportunity to have — for him to have conversations about how we can work together and how we can rebuild a lot of the relationships that were destroyed over the last — the four years prior to him.
Q Cool. Then quickly on China before I move on to Iran: The President said yesterday that he’s not ready to lift tariffs on Chinese imports, but the Chinese Ministry of Commerce fired back and said that if he were to do so, it might ease inflation and make things easier for both manufacturers and consumers in China and in the U.S. Is that a tool that he might consider to fight inflation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are doing — undergoing a review of all of these and looking at how they impact different industries. That effort is being led by Ambassador Tai, as you know.
Some of them have not hurt industries. Some of them have. And we’re certainly — but I don’t have anything to preview on that front. It’s really being led by Ambassador Tai.
Q And then, finally, on Iran, the President was quite optimistic yesterday. What is the source of his optimism? Has he received any assurances from Iran’s Supreme Leader? And is the U.S. planning to deliver on the guarantees that Tehran is seeking?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it depends on what Iran is willing to bring to the table. So, the President is always going to — you know, he believes that diplomacy is the first best option. And we are engaged — I believe it’s the eighth round of talks now, if I’m remembering my numbers — eighth round of talks. And we are going to see what happens.
He also, several weeks ago, asked his team to prepare a range of options, as well. So, that — that has also happened.
I mean, there are realities, though, here of what we’re looking at because of the decision by the last president to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, which means Iran is much closer to developing the fissile materials they need. They are — we have no transparency or visibility as we had when we were in the deal. There have been more attacks around the world on our allies and partners.
So, there are some realities of the challenging circumstances we’re in because of the decision made by the former president.
And his team at the time, I would remind everyone, promised they would negotiate a stronger deal, that these things wouldn’t happen. That was not true.
So, here we are. We’re in the diplomatic negotiations. And we’ve been very clear about where we stand on what we would agree to.
But again, I don’t have anything to read out for you beyond the status of where they are now.
Q Jen, thanks. I wanted to ask you about your statement last night that came out after the President’s press conference. You said, in that, the President was aware the Russians have an extensive playbook of aggression short of military action, including cyberattacks and paramilitary tactics. Was the implication — the statement didn’t quite say it — that when the President used the words “minor incursions,” he had the paramilitary actions and the cyberattacks in mind?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Okay. So —
MS. PSAKI: And he — and later on, he said “cyberattacks, right?
MS. PSAKI: But not in the first answer.
Q That’s right. So, are we to conclude from that, then, that paramilitary action and cyberattacks would not necessarily trigger the full sanctions or get unanimity within NATO to do that? Because that was the context of his “minor incursions.”
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, David — and, obviously, you closely covered, as others did, back in 2014, as well. So there’s a — that was a reference in part — or what he was doing is referencing what we’ve seen in terms of tactics during that period of time and since that time, of course, right? The “Little Green Men,” cyberattacks, et cetera.
You know, I think he — we have a range of what he was — the point he was making is that we have a range of tools, right? I’m not going to outline for you here “what if this, what if that.”
I think what should be clear to everyone — and I think he was very clear on this this morning — is that if Russia, if President Putin decides to invade Ukraine, if they move military troops, military across the border, that’s an invasion. And there will be severe economic consequences.
We also know that we need to be prepared for a range of scenarios. And we have a range of tools and tactics at our disposal. Obviously, we just announced sanctions this morning, and they have not invaded.
So I’m not going to parse more than that, other than to convey that we’ve seen them use a range of tools. What he was very clear about this morning is that if they assemble Russian units, if they move those across the Ukrainian border, that’s an invasion. There will be severe economic consequences.
On NATO, what he was conveying is that we have been focused in ensuring that we remain united with NATO. Now, “united” doesn’t mean that everything will be identical, right? It means we’re united in taking actions should they decide to invade.
And we are united. And you’ve seen leaders from Europe convey very clearly that there would be consequences, even as recently as this morning
Q I guess — and this will be the last one on this. But where I’m headed is: For five or six years, even back to when you were in the Obama administration, you may recall there’s been an effort to try to bolster particularly cyber deterrence by not making a distinction between what you could do with a cyberattack and what you could do with a physical attack.
And, obviously, the Russians have turned off the power in Ukraine twice — in 2015 and 2016. They’ve messed with an election in Ukraine before they came here.
So, I’m just trying to figure out if the President is trying to make a distinction that we would use lesser forms of penalties for cyberattacks or paramilitary action than we would for going over the border.
In other words, are we diminishing what, over the years, two or three administrations have tried to build up in that sphere?
MS. PSAKI: Our intention is not to diminish. Our intention is to be very clear about what a military incursion would mean.
Now, in terms of what the range of options are at our disposal, obviously we’ve taken actions — seen and unseen, announced and unannounced — on cyber in the past, and we reserve every right to do exactly that. And we’re certainly — the President is very cognizant of the threat that cyberattacks — we’ve experienced them here, of course — pose to the United States, pose to other countries around the world.
But I think it was to provide clarity and directness on what he — what he conveyed directly to President Putin.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Hey, Jen. Two questions on the President’s remarks about Ukraine. One: President Biden has repeatedly said the words of a president matter, so why isn’t he more careful with his remarks?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the President gave nearly two hours of a press conference last night. What we conveyed this morning — last night and this morning was exactly what he has conveyed to President Putin.
And I think what’s important to the American public — and tell me if you agree or disagree — is what the President’s positions are and what he means. And that’s exactly what he provided directly this morning.
Q But you had to go on Fox News to clarify. We saw —
MS. PSAKI: I was already planning to go on Fox News. Looking forward to it, in fact.
Q But when you have to take the time to send out the tweets, do the media appearances, does that take away —
MS. PSAKI: It doesn’t take long to send out a tweet — promise you.
Q Does that take away from the — but does that take away from the administration’s ability to send a consistent message to international allies and the American people?
MS. PSAKI: I can assure you that our allies and partners know exactly what the President’s position is. They knew what it was yesterday. They knew during the press conference. They knew after the press conference. Because we have been engaged closely and working in lockstep with them for weeks on the rising military incursion — or threat posed by Russia. So they know exactly where they stand. They always have and they certainly do today.
Q Hi, Jen. Two questions. First, on what’s ahead. I attended the GOP House leadership press conference today on Biden’s one year.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, boy.
Q And — yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Did they have lots of good stuff to say?
Q Well, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy rejected the idea that the President floated yesterday that Republicans are blocking his agenda. He said the White House has not approached them about his agenda outside of infrastructure. What’s your reaction to his words that you’re not working with Republicans? And what’s the pathway forward for his larger agenda items if there is going to be a breakup of Build Back Better?
MS. PSAKI: I would say that if Mr. McCarthy wants to come over here and have a constructive conversation about more we can do together to put people back to work, to protect people from the virus, to put in place more — smarter security measures at the border, we’d be happy to have that conversation.
I don’t think that’s a comment he made that’s entirely on the level, given we certainly have engaged with Republicans across the board — the President of United States himself has. And so, I don’t think that really bears out in fact.
Q Well, to his point though, the administration — or Senate Democrats at least — Democrats, however — proceeded with Build Back Better through budget reconciliation. They approached it with the intent that they would need only Democrats to get that agenda done.
Again, for this question, looking at chunks: What’s the bipartisan plan moving forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, look, in the history of reconciliation and the use of it, it’s been bipartisan about 20 times. You can’t — it’s not the rule you can’t vote for it if you’re from the other party. That’s not the rule at all. And if anyone is telling you that, that’s not true.
I would say that what’s perplexing to us — and maybe somebody asked Mr. McCarthy this or not — is: Are Republicans now against negotiating lower prescription drug prices? Are they now against lowering the cost of childcare? Are they now against lowering the cost of eldercare?
I mean, if they allow us to claim all of those things on the Democratic side, we’ll take them. But it is a little perplexing that they would — they would allow for us to own all the ground on that.
Q One last question from our Hawaii bureau. I don’t think the administration has spoken on this yet. But has the President been briefed about the oil spill? And what’s that action to — to address that?
MS. PSAKI: I can check with our team. I believe he probably has been briefed on it. But let me check with our team and see if we can get you an update after the briefing.
Q Thanks, Jen. Three questions, if you can humor me.
First, in response to my colleague — on crime, you said local leaders — more needs to be done by local leaders. Is that going to be part of the message tomorrow when the President can meet with mayors — that, you know, this is an issue that is under their control and they need — they need to handle it so it doesn’t, sort of, come back to you in the way that it seems to be doing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s not exactly our message. I mean, actually, what we’ve conveyed very clearly and the President’s budget includes is a plus-up of a lot of the funding — for the COPS program, for example, a significant plus-up of several hundred billion dollars from the last president — because we know that local communities, local COPS programs need that funding.
There’s different crime challenges in different communities. It is important for local leaders to step up if — if they see crime in their communities.
There’s a lot the President will discuss with the mayors tomorrow. I haven’t had a chance to look at the remarks yet and see if that’s a part of it.
Q Second question. There’s a conversation brewing that I’m sure you’re aware of about the direction of the Democratic Party. And it’s no longer just sort of confined to the Substack Discontents. The Times has this focus group that they — that they published the, sort of, transcript with Fr- — that Frank Luntz, your favorite pollster, held. And one voter said —
MS. PSAKI: I have no issue in Frank Luntz.
Q No, no, I know. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q And one voter says, “I just want to send a message. I think the Democratic Party is nuts at the moment, and the only way I can send that message is with my vote.” And then another voter responds to that, “Yeah, the progressives have taken over the Democratic Party.” I just want you to respond to that and to the broader criticisms that the administration is being moved too far to the left and that could present challenges down the road for you.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to respond to individual people in focus groups. But I will tell you that the President’s view and our view is that his agenda is one that is broadly popular in the country among many progressives, but also among many moderates and, frankly, many Republicans who are maybe not sitting in this ZIP code but are members of the public writ large. And that’s because negotiating the price of prescription drugs is something people think is long overdue. That’s because a lot of people can’t afford the cost of childcare; it is prohibitively expensive. That is why 2 million women — in part why 2 million women are not in the workforce.
A lot of people don’t know how to afford eldercare, especially when they’re paying also for childcare. People don’t know how to get universal pre-K for their kids or they can’t afford to do it. They put them in daycare, make them — making them less likely — by data, less likely to graduate from college.
Those are things that are American issues. They’re not Democratic or progressive issues. And his agenda is broadly popular across the spectrum.
We also know that there are challenges — that the American people is going through a lot right now. You know, and we’ve talked about this before. But obviously, we’re at a point where we’re still fighting a pandemic. We didn’t think we’d still be there. That’s frustrating to people. No matter what wing of the party or whether you’re a Republican, it’s frustrating to everybody. We certainly understand that, and we know that’s why we need to focus on getting the pandemic under control and continuing to address costs.
Q So that actually gets to my final question. And I appreciate being able to ask all three.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q So let’s say — if we climb to, like, a higher altitude than, you know, crime trends or polls or focus groups, how much of — just of the key to this administration is just getting through the pandemic, and getting through it in a way that is safe and responsible and then we can all sort of exhale and say, “This is done”?
And is there a sense — and I have a feeling there is — that other things will fall into place once you get through COVID? Because it seems to me that you guys are paying a political price for the fact that this pandemic just does not end and people are frustrated, and — for any number of totally legitimate reasons, but they’re taking it out specifically on you.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we know that COVID — the fact that we’re still fighting a pandemic is on the minds of nearly every American. Of course, it is; it impacts their daily lives and how they’re living their lives. You know, they can’t go to concerts or restaurants. You worry about your kids going to school. You know, and life doesn’t look the same as it looked a couple of years ago.
The President believes — and you heard him say this last night — that we can get COVID under control. And COVID, as it is right now, is not forever. It does not have to disrupt our daily lives.
Right now, of course, we’re in an unprecedented surge. We have the tools — but we believe we have the tools to protect ourselves, our communities, our schools, and our businesses. And everyone needs to be unified around these tools. That is our focus.
But COVID, right now — as it is right now — is not going to be what it is forever, and that’s what we’re working to get to the other side of. There’s no question that addressing the pandemic is the top issue on people’s minds.
Q I know you know, because we’ve discussed it here, that Governor Polis in Colorado last month said, “Emergency…over.” Is there a sense that a similar message from the President could, I guess, sort of help with the sense that we are — you know, we are progressing, even if we are clearly still in a pandemic? But some people thought Polis’s message was irresponsible, but others celebrated it, and I wonder what you make of that shift in tone from a fellow Democrat.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the President of the United States has a responsibility not to make that statement until the data and the science backs it up. And when it does, he’ll be eager to make that statement.
I would note that Colorado still receives a range of federal assistance to ensure that people have tests, masks, vaccines. And so, you know, that’s still part of how they’re working to address the pandemic.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q And if I could go back to Ukraine for a moment.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q When he made those comments yesterday about the minor incursions, he said something along the lines that those types of minor incursions would require some more discussion with allies as to whether or not to respond to them. He did say this morning that there was a wide range of options to respond.
How much of agreement is there — if we’re putting aside full-blown invasion — how much of agreement is there between allies and the United States as to whether or not to respond — and how? Like, what type of response should be there?
MS. PSAKI: I mean, you’ve heard a lot of our partners and allies in Europe say themselves that if Russia invades, there will be a strong and consequential, you know, impact. And that is steps they will take, steps we will take.
As I said a little bit earlier, we are united. “United” doesn’t mean identical. And that’s something Deputy Secretary Sherman has said, and I think it really clarifies what we mean.
But we are in very — working in close lockstep with NATO, with our European partners, with the OSCE, and there is clarity and resolve and united commitments to take coordinated, united steps should Russia invade.
Q But it seems that this unity is very clear and obvious and public on the invasion part, not so much if we talk about other forms of aggression. Is that right? Or —
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, there are — as the President said this morning and as I said in my comments, obviously there are a range of tools at our disposal as there are a range of tools at the disposal of our partners. And we are prepared for a range of steps or actions the Russians could take. And we’ve seen this playbook before. I’m not going to outline each step and what that may mean, but that is all part of the discussion with our partners.
Q And if I could, just one much bigger picture —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — since it’s the one-year anniversary.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q If you take all the foreign policy elements that happened — the pull-out of Afghanistan, the Iran talks, Russia, the AUKUS deal, and the crisis with France — how would you assess that first year when it comes to foreign policy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say what the President is most proud of is rebuilding our partnerships and alliances around the world that had been frayed for some time. And he said this publicly, but when he has traveled around the world or engaged with foreign leaders, they are relieved that a respect for democracy, a respect for alliances is back. They are worried about how long, and that is how frayed the last president left those relationships. But rebuilding that and rebuilding that trust is a big basis of what he’s proud of.
And he believes, as you touched on a couple of the items you did — one, we have a long and abiding relationship with the French. They’ve said that, so I don’t think it’s accurate to say it was a “crisis.”
Two, he still stands by his decision to end a failed 20-year war in Afghanistan — one that he felt we were fighting too long and spending a billion dollars a week. So, he certainly stands by that decision.
I don’t remember what your third one was. But I think the rebuilding our alliances and partnerships is something he feels will be an important — an important baseline to build upon as we look to continue to address a range of global issues moving forward.
Q Thank you, Jen. Two questions. First, on the pandemic. Obviously, the billion tests that have been ordered, the deploying of the mask reserve, so to speak — all of these things — and probably the need for more orders of therapeutics or the various treatments that are coming online — all of this is going to cost more money.
There’s some — been some dispute or question as to whether or not there’s another request coming from OMB, and whether or not there’s any sort of unusual supplemental funding that’s going to be needed. Is there any update on where that stands and when we may see anything on that front?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as Speaker Pelosi said last weekend — and we agree with this — we’re never going to let resources stand in the way of addressing the pandemic. I think I paraphrased that. It was different words, but you get what I’m saying. And that remains the case.
We have what we need to fight this moment in the crisis. But we have continued discussions and engagements with Congress about what we may need. And part of what we’ve done to date is make sure we are not just preparing for the moment, but we are ahead. Right?
So, if you look at even the order of the antivirals, you know, we knew that once those pills were approved, they would be a game changer. We worked to expedite the process by several months, and we made a huge order. So, we are always looking ahead to see how we can ensure we are prepared and have what we need, as often as we can. But I don’t have anything specific to preview for you in terms of a request.
Q Okay. And on a completely different topic that I don’t think has come up here yet today —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q — a federal grand jury in Indiana yesterday indicted a man for the murder of a police detective who was part of an FBI task force. The charges that the individual was indicted on would be eligible for being a federal capital case. And I am wondering whether or not the President, given his position on the death penalty, intends to intervene in any way regarding the Attorney General’s decision on whether or not to pursue that as a capital case or whether that is up to the discretion of the Justice Department.
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s always up to the discretion of the Justice Department. But the President’s view on the death penalty is well known.
As you know, the Justice Department is undergoing a review, which is — I have nothing to preview on. They can speak to that and the status.
Okay. Thanks, everyone.
Q Last thing. Last thing. Did the President make any observation about the news conference? Is he going to do more? What do you think?
MS. PSAKI: Stay tuned, Steve. Buckle up. Bring snacks next time.
Q Did he think it was long enough?
MS. PSAKI: (Laughs.) Record breaking. Many records broken — job creation, press conference length. You know.
2:35 P.M. EST