Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, February 1, 2022
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:27 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: All right. Kristen, welcome back.
Q Thank you, Jen. I appreciate it.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. We missed you.
A couple of items for you all at the top. I know there was some good questions yesterday about the status of the infrastructure law implementation, so I just wanted to bring you a few updates that are hopefully helpful to all of you.
In the 79 days since the bill — the law was signed, our team has hit the ground running to get money out the door, engage partners, and provide comprehensive resources to help municipalities unlock funding opportunities so no community is left behind.
To date, over $80 billion has already been allocated and is headed out to states, territories, and local governments. That includes over $50 billion to states for highways and roads; $14 billion for 500 Army Corps projects; over $5 billion for — to states for bridges; over $7 billion to states for water infrastructure; $3 billion to repair and rebuild over 3,000 airports; $1 billion to support Superfund cleanup to 49 sites; and $239 million in Port Infrastructure Development Grants.
And this is just the beginning, and we’ll do our best to provide you all updates in here on the status of these funds being allocated. State, local, Tribal, and territorial governments will receive over 90 percent of funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to rebuild their communities.
We mentioned yesterday — or I talked a little bit yesterday about this large guidebook we had put out to provide guidance and information to communities to apply for the part of this that will be through competitive awards.
As we did with the American Rescue Plan, we also know that local leaders have the best sense of where the communities need funding. And the formula funds in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law include flexibility to deal with unique local and state challenges.
As we’ve also said many times, with flexibility comes great responsibility to use funds wisely. So, to ensure accountability and transparency, Mitch Landrieu and the infrastructure team convened a meeting with inspector general — inspectors generals — general from all agencies with funding from the infrastructure law to discuss oversight and transparency. He called for each state to appoint an infrastructure implementation lead, and we are committed to showing transparency on how money is allocated and spent.
Also, one other update for all of you at the top. As you know, the President is headed to New York City on Thursday, and I wanted to give you a quick preview of his trip.
He will be joined on the trip by Attorney General Garland to talk about the steps the administration has taken so far to reduce cri- — gun crime, and how we can be a strong partner for New York City and other cities grappling with increased gun violence over the past two years.
The President and the Attorney General will join with law enforcement officials alongside elected leaders, including Mayor Adams, Governor Hochul, at the New York Police Department headquarters to discuss the work that federal, state, and local law enforcement officials are doing to quickly take guns and repeat shooters off of our streets.
Afterward, President Biden, Attorney General Garland, Mayor Adams, Governor Hochul, and other elected leaders will visit with community violence intervention leader — leaders in Queens to talk about the community-led work to interrupt gun violence.
The President outlined a comprehensive plan last year to tackle gun crime that includes giving cities historic funding through the American Rescue Plan to put more cops on the beat and support community violence intervention programs, as well as initiatives like afterschool programming, creating economic opportunities, and reducing recidivism to address the root causes of gun crime.
The President’s budget also doubles federal support for community policing, with $300 million more for cities plus another $200 million for community violence interventions — a total of a half a billion dollars for these strategies that are proven to reduce gun crime. And he’s going to continue to urge Congress to act on that.
Finally, the Department of Justice continues to step up their efforts to combat violent crime and gun trafficking, including through five strike forces launched last year in New York City and other regions.
As the Department of Justice reported just last week, those efforts have resulted in thousands of guns and violent criminals being taken off the streets over the past year. But they will, of course, have more to say on Thursday.
Why don’t you kick us off?
Q Thanks, Jen. It’s been a busy news day so I have a few. Off the top, Senator Manchin just said Build Back Better is “dead.” Was the White House aware that he felt this way? And what’s the path forward for some of those Democratic priorities?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, as a policy, we’re not going to get into private conversations we have with Senator Manchin or any other senators about this piece of legislation or our efforts moving forward.
What I will note and where there is strong support moving forward across the Democratic Caucus is on taking steps to lower costs for childcare, for healthcare, for eldercare; on making sure that Medicare can negotiate the cost of prescription drugs; and ensuring the tax system is fair. Whatever you call that, there is strong support for that, strong passion for that, a lot of advocacy for that, and there are a lot of members having continued conversations about it.
Q And then Russian President Vladimir Putin just said today that the U.S. is ignoring its top security demands but that Moscow is still open for more talks. Is the U.S. open to more talks? If not, what is the step forward with respect to Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely we are. The door to diplomacy remains open. We don’t know what decision President Putin will make. While we’ve seen the buildup of troops on the border, Secretary — our Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, just spoke this morning with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and he reiterated our commitments and openness to a diplomatic path forward.
Let me give you a little bit more of a readout of that. And I can give you more of an update of some of the other conversations we’ve been having with a range of counterparts as well.
So, Secretary Blinken — I know the State Department did a bit of a background call on this, but let me give you some highlights: The Secretary emphasized the U.S. willingness, bilaterally and together with Allies and partners, to continue a substantive exchange with Russia on mutual security concerns, which we intend to do in full coordination with our partners and Allies. He reiterated the United States commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as the right of all countries to determine their own foreign policy and alliances.
He also urged immediate Russian de-escalation and the withdrawal of troops and equipment from Ukraine’s borders, and was clear that further invasion of Ukraine would be met with swift and severe consequences and urged Russia to pursue a diplomatic path.
Our National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, also met with his German counterpart today as part of our regular consultations with our Allies and partners. But certainly, the door to diplomacy remains open. As we’ve said many times, de-escalation will, of course, make that diplomatic path easier moving forward.
Q And then one more on HHS. Last week, there was a GAO report warning that HHS may not be prepared for a future pandemic and that it had fallen short in a number of ways in this pandemic. There have also been reports about White House officials being frustrated with Secretary Becerra’s leadership. So does the President still have confidence in Secretary Becerra? And has he talked to him about any changes he might want to see at HHS or about his leadership of the department?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you know how we feel about anonymous sources around here.
Q They weren’t all anonymous. There were some experts that are publicly criticizing the way HHS has —
MS. PSAKI: From — from within the government, I’m referring to.
MS. PSAKI: I would just reiterate that the President remains confident in the role of Secretary Becerra. He is somebody who is an important partner. He has been leading a range of efforts from the Department of Homeland Security — I mean — Homeland Security — the — from the Department of Health and Human Services. And we have strong partnerships from the very top down with HHS.
We’re less focused on — not at all focused, I should say, on palace intrigue, as much as we are on vaccinating more Americans, fighting the Omicron surge, expanding testing capacity, and getting more therapeutics out to the American people. And that’s how we believe we and the leadership of the Cabinet will be judged.
Q A couple of follow-ups here. On Ukraine, we’ve seen some of the major European allies talking directly with Putin. Emmanuel Macron has spoken with him twice. The Italian Prime Minister has spoken with him. Boris Johnson is now traveling to Ukraine. Why not have the President have a — you know, take more direct involvement like some of these other allies are?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President remains certainly open to that if there’s a determination that that is the appropriate and most constructive step moving forward. We also have a very active and engaged Secretary of State, who has had a number of conversations with his counterpart, including this morning, and that’s the channel that those conversations are happening through at this point — as well as at many other levels, I should say.
Q And on the question about Senator Manchin: He also said that no one has reached out to him. He hasn’t been having talks about trying to do this “in chunks,” as the President has suggested may be the path forward. Why not?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to outline from here conversations that we are having with a range of senators and a range of senators are having with each other, but I can assure you we’ve been in touch with and hav- — with every member of the Democratic Caucus.
Q And just some housekeeping on the Supreme Court pick. The Times is reporting that Doug Jones will be the sherpa on the Hill. Can you confirm that and talk about that decision?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to confirm yet at this point about what the team will look like that we bring in, as has been done historically, to help sherpa through our nominee whenever that person is selected.
I can reiterate that we intend to have that team in place before the President makes a selection, and that team will be more than one person.
Go ahead, Kristen.
Q Thank you, Jen. And thank you for the welcome back. Following up on the Supreme Court decision, a number of Republicans, as you know and as you’ve been asked about, have spoken out about the President’s pledge to pick a Black woman for the High Court. How do you respond specifically to Ted Cruz who, overnight, called it “offensive” — offensive to Black women that he would make that pledge?
MS. PSAKI: Well, here’s what I would say first: Just over a year ago, the previous president also promised to select a woman for the Supreme Court. Not only were there no complaints about choosing a nominee from a specific demographic — from the same corners — but there was widespread praise of now-Justice Barrett on those grounds with Republican lawmakers widely highlighting that they thought this was positive for women in America.
So, take Senator Cruz himself: He had no objection to Donald Trump promising he’d nominate a woman in 2020. I repeat: No objection at all. In fact, he praised her on these grounds during — praised her on these grounds — the nominee. During her confirmation hearing, Senator Cruz said, quote, “I think you’re an amazing role model for little girls. What advice would you give little girls?”
When President Reagan honored his campaign pledge to place the first woman on the Court, he said it symbolizes the unique American opportunity. There is no outcry around that.
The President’s view is that after 230 years of the Supreme Court being in existence, the fact that not a single Black woman has served on the Supreme Court is a failure in the process, not a failure — or a lack of qualified Black women to serve as Supreme Court justices.
Q And broadly speaking, we just heard from the President on how he is viewing this pick. He says he is taking the “advise and consent” role very seriously —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q — of the Senate. If he thought — and I know you’ve been getting questions around this, but just to kind of put a finer point on it: If he thought that a nominee could get more Republican support, how would that weigh on his decision?
MS. PSAKI: I talked with him about this exact question this morning because I know a lot of you are asking about it. And what he reiterated to me is that his focus is on picking the person who is eminently qualified, who is ready to serve and prepared to serve in a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, not in navigating the legislative process.
Q Just yesterday — on different a topic, HBCUs: A number of them have gotten more bomb threats today. You ca- — yesterday said that the bomb threats were disturbing. Can you update us on what, if any, more information the White House, the President has about these potential threats? And is there a concern that it is, in fact, linked to Black History Month?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t have an assessment at this point. We are continuing to evaluate. Our homeland security advisor here in the White House, Liz Sherwood-Randall, is providing regular updates to senior staff, to the President as well. And he certainly is aware of the latest instance of bomb threats not just yesterday, but also those this morning.
And let me just reiterate that we condemn these disturbing threats, and our thoughts are with the students, faculty, and staff of these storied institutions.
We have been long supporters and have made historic investments in HBCUs and deeply value the significant role they continue to play in advancing opportunity for Black students across America. But, right now, we don’t have any assessment or new assessment right now.
Q Any chance that the President — or are there any discussions about the President visiting one of these HBCUs to reaffirm the commitment that the White House has to the protection of the students (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: He has certainly visited HBCUs in the past, Kristen. Obviously, right now, our focus is on ensuring we are working in close coordination with our law enforcement authorities and ensuring that the leaders of these institutions and the students know that we are watching closely and that we are standing with them as they face these threats.
But I don’t have any trip to predict at this point in time.
Q Jen, can I follow on that, please? Just one —
MS. PSAKI: I’ll go to you next, April. Let me just finish Kristen’s —
Q One more, really quickly.
Q Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the Family Reunification Task Force. As you know, Secretary Mayorkas has told NBC News that the White House is 100 percent supportive of permanent legal status for families separated at the border. Is that a true statement? Is that a (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: We stand by Secretary Mayorkas.
Q Okay. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go — April, go ahead. And then, I’ll come back to you. Go ahead.
Q Okay. So, Jen, back on the HBCU bomb threats. There is a historic issue when it comes to bomb threats in the Black community.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q And with that said, you have people like Lee Merritt calling it “terrorism.” And he’s asking for the DOJ, Homeland Security, and U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate — to form a task force, particularly specifically on these issues. Is there talk around the White House for this to happen?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what I can tell you, April, is that we take these threats incredibly seriously; that, again, our homeland security advisor is in close touch with law enforcement authorities at a federal and local level. And we are assessing what we think the origin, the reasoning, the motivation behind it is. We don’t have an assessment of that quite yet. And I don’t want to get ahead of that process.
But we absolutely are behind these HBCUs. We are — want to make very clear that we take these threats seriously and we deeply value their contributions.
But it’s important for law enforcement authorities and others to make an assessment before we make any determinations about next steps.
Q And does the White House see the irony in this moment with these continued bomb threats of HBCUs, particularly as much of the power structure up and down Pennsylvania Avenue are graduates of HBCUs, starting with the Vice President, Howard University; Cedric Richmond, Morehouse; Joyce Beatty, the head of the CBC, Central State; the House Whip, James Clyburn, South Carolina State. So, is there irony in this moment?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure I would say — call it “irony,” April. But I would say that it is — it is scary. It is horrifying. It is terrible that these students, these faculty, these institutions are feeling under threat.
Now, again, we don’t know more details at this point in time, and I don’t want to get ahead of law enforcement authorities. But certainly, given the history you referenced, you know, this is something we’re very mindful of and that is why we’re so focuses on providing regular updates and seeing what our law enforcement team assess.
Q And lastly, on the policing executive orders: Reverend Al Sharpton says that there is now a move to break apart the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act for standalone pieces that could possibly go up for a vote and, one way or another, pass or fail. And they’re doing that because the executive orders don’t have as much teeth as a law. What do you say to this effort to break apart the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and make each portion a standalone bill?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what I can’t assess from here, April, is whether there’d be support for getting that across the finish line and signed into law.
As you know, the President very much wanted to sign the George Fle- — Floyd Justice in Policing Act into law, and we did not take executive actions becau- — at the time, because we wanted to leave room and space for that process to proceed in a bipartisan manner.
So, I’d really point you to leadership and committee chairs in Congress to see what is possible on that front.
And certainly, we agree, a law is more permanent than executive orders. That is absolutely true. But we have not even finalized, nor do I have a preview of exactly when it would be, a police reform executive order. So, I would also encourage people to wait to assess what that looks like.
Go ahead, Weijia.
Q Thank you, Jen. Back to the Supreme Court.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q I know the President said he wanted to seek the advice of the Senate, in addition to consent. Is there anything you can share about his conversation with Senators Durbin and Grassley, and whether he shared his list of potential candidates with them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think they were still meeting when I came out here, or I had not spoken with him yet if it was breaking, so I have not gotten a rundown from him quite yet.
I think he wanted to have an open and engaging conversation with them. In terms of what specific information he shared, I think it was more of him looking to listen to them and hear what they had to say about — there are a range of names, a range of candidates out there. But also look to them for their advice and their counsel.
As we have noted before, Senator Durbin has been through seven confirmation hearings for Supreme Court justices. Senator Grassley is certainly a veteran of these committee processes. The President takes his role seriously and, as he said today and as your referenced, takes the role of consent of the Senate seriously. But I don’t think we’re going to read out too many specifics other than to say he was looking forward to having an engaging conversation.
Q And since Justice Breyer announced his retirement, has the President spoken personally with any of the candidates who he might be considering?
MS. PSAKI: We’re not going to give a process update or assessment from here, just as a policy. But I can tell you that what we’re focused on now is — obviously, the President is continuing to consult with leadership in Congress, as is evidenced — as was evidenced by this morning. He’ll do more of that this week.
There is obviously an ongoing process as we look to name and nominate a Supreme Court justice before the end of this month. As is, you know, related to Mary’s earlier question, we’ll also be announcing soon a team that we will be bringing in from the outside. So, there are a number of steps that are happening at the same time. But we’re not going to be going into specifics of confirming the internal processes.
Q And you mentioned just a bit ago that he is looking for — to someone who will obviously serve for a lifetime. Will age be a factor as he considers who to nominate so whoever it is can have a longer imprint on the Court?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to get into more specifics of what he’s looking for. I mean, I think the President outlined, when he spoke earlier, that he’s looking for somebody who is qualified — who is eminently qualified, who is prepared to serve in this role.
There is a range of candidates he’s been reviewing bios of for some time now. But beyond that, I’ll let him speak to more specifics.
Q Thank you. And then one more question on Russia: How soon could the U.S. move troops to the eastern flank? And just to clarify: When the President said “it will happen in the near term,” did he mean troops that are already stationed in Europe? Or would some of those troops be the ones based here at home?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve said previously that there’s NATO troops, of course; there’s 8,500 of them that we’ve committed to the NATO — the NATO effort. That would be a decision made by the Alliance. Some of those troops are in the United States; some are in Europe.
I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of any additional troops. Obviously, there are troops currently that are stationed in Eastern European countries. Some of those troops, of course, are not — many of them are not under the NATO Alliance.
But I don’t have anything to predict for you at this point in time.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. A couple quick ones on the Supreme Court first. Last week, I know you said you’d look for an answer on whether you thought the Vice President could break a tie on a Supreme Court vote. Have you guys come to a determination on that?
MS. PSAKI: So, the Vice President has been the tiebreaking vote for a number of judicial appointments — or nominees in the past. But our intention is, of course, to get broad support for an eminently qualified nominee.
Q In the Oval, the President evoked the Ninth Amendment as he was talking about the qualifications he’s looking for for a judicial nominee. In the past and in committee hearings, he’s certainly brought that amendment up in the context of abortion rights. Is it a fair reading that that is what he was specifically saying that he was looking for from a candidate here?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to give any more detail on any qualifications he’s looking for at this point in time. I’m sure we’ll have more conversations about that in the days ahead.
Q And there was a kind of long New Yorker story over the weekend in which a former NSC aide, Andrea Flores, made two claims. One was that Susan Rice and Ron Klain had opposed expanding asylum access for political reasons, and that the White House, partially because of that, wasn’t doing contingency planning for the lifting of Title 42 whenever we get to that point in the pandemic and hadn’t, kind of, built out capacity to do that.
So I was wondering if you could kind of respond to, I think, those two points that would suggest that immigration policy has shifted within the White House from the campaign.
MS. PSAKI: Well, what I can tell you is that — I did not work with Andrea Flores, so I don’t know her well, nor can I speak to her role here — but that our policy as an administration has been entirely consistent with what the President committed to on the campaign. And his effort has been to build a fair, humane, and lawful immigration system and bring it into the 21st century.
Hence, he obviously proposed an immigration bill on his first day in office. And beyond that, he has taken steps to protect DACA recipients, ended the Muslim ban and the Public Charge Rule, put together the Family Reunification Task Force, restarted the Central American Minors Program that the previous administration ended, extended or newly desig- — newly designated Temporary Protected Status for a number of countries, and worked with DHS to give clear guidance for internal enforcement.
It’s also true that we’re still in the midst of a pandemic. And that is not something, of course, as we’ve talked about here a bit in the past, that everybody anticipated still being at, at this point in time. The CDC is obviously the determinant of having Title 42 in place, and that still is in place because of the pandemic that we’re in.
But I would also note that we have — and I think this was noted, I believe, in the story — but that we have also been very clear about our view on the MPP program and very clear on our view about the inhumanity of the prior administration and how they handled immigration and that we had every intention of implementing a different approach.
Q And one last one. There’s been a bit of a controversy this week on the other side of the pond. Prime Minister Johnson and the actions of him and his staff — a report came out this week.
I’m wondering: Is the President aware of what’s going on? Is he at all worried that that political controversy is impacting, you know, the U.S. and UK’s ability to, sort of, press President Putin on the Ukraine situation? And, you know, has he ever been “ambushed by a cake”? (Laughs.) How —
MS. PSAKI: Has the President ever been ambushed by a cake? (Laughs.) Not that I’m aware of.
Q But just what his reaction is, sort of, to this controversy that’s been blowing up.
MS. PSAKI: You know, I have not spoken with him specifically about the reports in the UK. But what I can tell you is that he is confident in the important partnership we have with the United Kingdom, the role they play as an important partner in making clear to Russia the unacceptable nature of the buildup of troops and their bellicose rhetoric as it relates to Ukraine. And that certainly has not changed, despite cakes in anyone’s faces.
Q Thanks, Jen. Starting quickly just with Ukraine. You guys keep holding up this, kind of, diplomatic path for Vladimir Putin. But as he noted today, you’ve already rejected both of his, kind of, central demands. So, what exactly is this a diplomatic path to if you’ve already rejected what he’s asked for? And can you kind of sympathize with the fact that he may be feeling like he’s strung along and wants to pursue things on another battlefield?
MS. PSAKI: As in invading a sovereign country? Which would be the alternative, right? Right? Is that what you’re saying?
Q Perhaps. Perhaps.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Well, here’s our view: We don’t know what President Putin is going to do. And it is our responsibility to — and it’s an imperative to keep the door to diplomacy open. That does not mean that we are going to not stand by our own values, which includes the — our belief that — and the belief of NATO countries — that it should be up to NATO members to determine who is able to join NATO and that the door to that should be open.
So if that is one of their claims, we have reiterated the same thing privately that we have reiterated publicly.
In our view, do we have sympathy? I mean, this is — you know, Secretary Blinken has used some of these analogies in the past, but when the fox is screaming from the top of the henhouse that he’s scared of the chickens, which is essentially what they’re doing, that fear isn’t reported as a statement of fact. And as you watch President Putin screaming about the fear of Ukraine and the Ukrainians, that should not be reported as a statement of fact.
We know who the fox is in this case. We have seen the buildup of troops at the border. We have seen them move troops to Belarus, on another border.
And our role in the United States is to work with other countries around the world to keep that bor- — door to diplomacy open, because certainly all of our preference is to de-escalate and to prevent an invasion from happening.
But that is up to President Putin to make that decision.
Q And do you think a possible endgame here could be just mutual de-escalation and then live to talk —
MS. PSAKI: De-escalation in what regard?
Q — about the issues another day?
MS. PSAKI: “Mutual de-escalation” — tell me more what you mean by that.
Q I mean, it’s up — I suppose it’s up to you to define. But I mean, you guys have asked for him to move troops back from the border.
MS. PSAKI: But here’s what I’m getting at: We are defin- — it’s a mistake, I would say, to define things by the terms that President Putin is defining things. This is a country and a leader who has, you know, used chemical weapons, who has invaded multiple countries in the past several years, who has taken aggressive steps on the global stage on many occasions.
So, when we talk about mutual de-escalation, Russia has 100,000 troops on the border; they are the aggressor. We are working with NATO countries to make sure they feel secure in this moment. NATO is a defensive alliance. It is not the same thing. And I think we need to be careful about comparing them as the same thing.
Q Thank you. And just to switch gears to Supreme Court. You guys, obviously, have got this big nomination that you’re working on, but there’s also huge existential questions hanging over the Supreme Court. Does the President plan to decide what he’s going to do on Supreme Court reform before he makes this nomination?
MS. PSAKI: He is reviewing the Supreme Court Commission report. I don’t have a prediction of when he will conclude his analysis of that.
Q And I just asked because the report includes suggestions about things like changing the number of people on the Court, and you would think he would want to know who — if he’s going to increase the size of the court, who he’s going to put on first. Right?
MS. PSAKI: I think, Trevor, his focus right now is on going through a process that takes it — that values the seriousness of the role he has as president, that cons- — where he consults, as you saw today, with Democrats and Republicans to select and nominate an eminently qualified Black woman to serve on the Court. That’s his focus right now.
Q And finally, there have been some ethical questions about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. His wife is — has a number of political affiliations with groups that file amicus briefs before the Court, have other business before the Court. It’s his choice whether or not to recuse himself from those cases; he hasn’t. Does the President feel that there is an ethical issue there that he’d like to see dealt with?
MS. PSAKI: I have not had a discussion about that with the President or our counsel’s office. I will see if there’s any comment we have from here, or it might be a Department of Justice comment. I’ll get back to you.
Q Hey, Jen. How’s it going?
MS. PSAKI: Good.
Q The Center for American Progress put out a memo today focusing on specific priorities for a more narrow Build Back Better bill, but not listed is the extended Child Tax Credit. Could the White House (inaudible) support a revised bill that didn’t include the extended Child Tax Credit?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to make a prediction or negotiate from here. Obviously, the President proposed an extension of the Child Tax Credit, as you know, because it helped cut the — child poverty by 40 percent last year. It’s something he would absolutely like to be extended.
There is a question here as to what 50 members of the Democratic caucus will support. And they support, as we were talking about a little bit earlier, some big fundamental goals, which is important: lowering cost of childcare, healthcare; negotiating prescription drugs. That’s important. But I can’t predict for you here what all 50 of them will support.
Q Sure. Last week, the Surgeon General also was asked on MSNBC about Joe Rogan’s vaccine comments on Spotify. And he said that tech companies have an “important role to play” in stopping misinformation because he — they are the “predominant places” where misinformation spreads.
Spotify is putting out advisory warnings on episodes that have to do with COVID-19. Does the White House and the administration think this is a satisfactory step? Or do you — do you think that companies like Spotify should go further than just, you know, putting a label on there to say, “Hey, go do your own — you know, check this out. You know, there’s more research you can look at — you know, scientific research regarding COVID”?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, last July, I — you probably know, but the Surgeon General also took the unprecedented step to issue an advisory on the risk of misinformation and public health, which is a very significant step. And amid that, he talked about the role social media platforms have.
So our hope is that all major tech platforms — and all major news sources, for that matter — be responsible and be vigilant to ensure the American people have access to accurate information on something as significant as COVID-19. And that certainly includes Spotifly [sic].
So, this disclaimer — it’s a positive step. But we want every platform to continue doing more to call out misinform- — mis- and disinformation while also uplifting accurate information.
I mean, look at the facts, right? You are 16 times more likely to be hospitalized if you’re unvaccinated and 68 times more likely to die than someone who is boosted if you’re unvaccinated. That’s pretty significant. And we think that is something that unquestionably should be the basis of how people are communicating about it.
But, ultimately, you know, our view is it’s a — it’s a — it’s a good step, it’s a positive step, but there’s more that can be done.
Q And I have another tech question for you —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — which is: There have been some recent reports that the White House is planning to issue a series of executive actions on cryptocurrencies in the next few weeks. Can you give a timeline on when those are coming and what actually might be in those executive actions?
MS. PSAKI: I would have to check with our NEC team on that and see if that’s something that is coming down the road. But I will check and see if there’s anything to predict for you.
Go ahead, Brian.
Q Thanks a lot, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: I wanted to first follow up on something you said about the Supreme Court process.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q You said that President Biden has been looking at bios for some time now. How long has that been that he’s been looking at bios of potential candidates?
MS. PSAKI: Since last year.
Q So that was something that started in the transition process? Or —
MS. PSAKI: No, since last year, not during the transition process.
Q And what prompted that for him to start looking at bios last year?
MS. PSAKI: He takes his role incredibly seriously. And we certainly know and he committed, of course, to the American people he would nominate a Black woman — a qualified Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. And so he’s just been reviewing a range of bios.
Q And Justice Breyer notified him on the 27th of January. Did he get advance notice before that —
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into any more details. If Justice Breyer wants to get into details about our communications, he can certainly do that.
Q And I have a question on Russia as well. This is — the jailed Russian dissident, Aleksey Navalny —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — in an interview with Time Magazine, said that the
U.S. is repeatedly falling into Putin’s traps — that Putin makes escalations, like he’s doing now, and then seeks concessions.
I want to quote Navalny here, where he says, with Putin, the U.S. is acting “like a frightened schoolboy who’s been bullied by an upperclassman.” What’s President Biden’s reaction to this? Is he — is the U.S. reacting like a “frightened schoolboy”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, that we have great respect for Aleksey Navalny and the role he’s played in speaking out and being vocal, even under duress himself. And that’s to be hugely admired.
I think the President’s actions, the administration’s actions that have been broadly supported in a bipartisan manner speak for themselves, whether it’s our engagement and leadership on the global stage, having more than 200 engagements, leading an effort to have a unified front and making clear about the severity of economic consequences there will be should Russia decide to invade, or whether it is making clear that we are going to continue to stand up for what is a global value, which is the fact that no country should be able to invade another country and take their territory.
I’ll let others define that. I don’t think that’s a “frightened schoolboy.”
Q So when the President talks about economic actions that — and economic consequences for Russia if it does invade, why not enact some of those sanctions now? Why not enact those economic consequences now? Why wait for an invasion?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have enacted some sanctions. But I would say that we think it’s an important point of leverage in the discussions.
Q Thanks, Jen. To clarify something you said earlier about the BBB talks —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — you know, to the extent that you’re going to tell
us about them: You said that — you know, rest assured the President — you said, “We’ve been in touch with every member of the Democratic Caucus.” “We’ve been in touch…”
MS. PSAKI: We in the White House.
Q So that’s the leg affairs team, mainly, and the —
MS. PSAKI: The leg affairs team and senior members of the White House. We’re just not going to detail more specifics.
Q So you can’t say if the President has been involved personally in any of the conversations with (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: The President has talked to a range of senators. He always does.
Q Okay. On the Ukraine-Russia stuff, any plans in the works for another conversation between the President and President Zelenskyy?
MS. PSAKI: He has talked to him a couple of times in the last few weeks, and we’ve been in regular contact. We also are in very close contact from Jake Sullivan’s level and Secretary Blinken’s level. So, certainly, it’s possible. We’ve been in regular touch, but I don’t have any call to predict at this point. He just talked to him a couple days ago.
Q Sure. And one other question. Today, obviously, is the start of Black History Month. The President issued a couple of tweets about that.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q I wonder what the administration — the President’s response is to what has been happening in Texas and other states where a number of books have been banned by school districts. These are, generally, books that have focused on slavery, on Jim Crow, on civil rights, even on the Obamas. Does the White House have a position on the books that are being banned by these local school boards?
MS. PSAKI: I have not discussed this with the President, but I can tell you that, as an administration, we believe in the freedom of speech and expression. And certainly, we have never been advocates of preventing people from understanding and reading history.
Q And does the President plan to do more to recognize — commemorate Black History Month this month?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. Let me see if we can get you some more details.
Q Good afternoon, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Good afternoon.
Q A couple of questions for you. Back to the Supreme Court.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q How will the debate over abortion shake the President’s selection process?
MS. PSAKI: The President is going to select an eminently qualified Black woman to serve on the Court, someone — and he’s going to do that through consulting with a range of members of Congress, through outside experts, and obviously through engagement with them directly. But I don’t think I’m going to give you more specifics from here.
Q But that person — will that person have to be pro-abortion?
MS. PSAKI: I think somebody asked a similar question. I’m not going to outline litmus tests from here today.
Q Okay. Following up on that, the President has said in the past he does not believe that life begins at conception. When does he believe it begins?
MS. PSAKI: You know the President’s position. He believes in a woman’s right to choose.
Q But that’s not the question I asked. I said —
MS. PSAKI: And he’s spoken — he’s spoken to this in the past. And I know you ask this every time you come in here, which is your —
MS. PSAKI: — your absolute right, but I don’t think I have anything new to —
Q But I — that’s not — that’s not —
MS. PSAKI: — reveal for you.
Q The question is: When does he believe life — and essential to the debate over the question of a baby’s viability, pro-life Americans — don’t you agree? — should know where the President stands on his thinking on this. It’s a fundamental question.
MS. PSAKI: The President believes in a woman’s right to choose.
Q But his — when does he believe life begins?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. I think we’re going to move on unless you have another question. Go ahead.
Q Oh, let’s do another question. One more question —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q — unrelated to that.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q Following up on the question for — on the expanded Child Tax Credit.
MS. PSAKI: Yep.
Q You have said time and again that this has taken lots of kids and families out of poverty.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q A tremendous success there.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q But with that now gone — it looks like it’s gone, dead — inflation creeping up, high gas prices, high food prices, how quickly are those same kids and families going to go back into poverty, do you fear?
MS. PSAKI: Well, how it’s implemented — first, the President is going to continue to fight for the Child Tax Credit. It’s something he very much believes in. I just can’t predict what a package will look like and what there will be support from 50 senators on.
What I can tell you is that as individuals who are eligible file their taxes, they will get the other half of the Child Tax Credit benefit from last year. That is not a forever solution, but that is something that many can look ahead to.
The other part of the Build — the President’s Build Back Better Agenda that’s important, as you’re talking about rising costs for people: You know, we have — we have a proposal — the President has a proposal, many Democrats across the board support it, which is — that will lower costs for Americans across the country and all the issues you talked about, things that really weigh on people’s family budgets, whether it’s healthcare, which is a huge — has a huge impact on people’s budgets; childcare, which is contributing to preventing 2 million women from rejoining the workforce. That’s the Build Back Better plan, and that’s something that we know will help lower costs for families.
Q And finally, does the President have a message for those struggling families who are very worried right now not seeing that extra $500 or $1,000 a month or whatever that are saying, “I can’t afford the groceries. I can’t afford the gas. This is getting very stressful”? A message from the President to those families.
MS. PSAKI: The President would say, “I am here to fight for you, and I — that’s why I’m going to continue to fight to pass legislation that will lower your costs.” And that is a top priority for him.
Q Thank you, Jen. I want to go back to what you said in the beginning about the money that’s going to be flowing down to states and that there’s going to be an appointment of —
MS. PSAKI: Infrastructure?
Q Infrastructure. Mm-hmm. An infrastructure lead. Can you tell me more about who is — who’s going to be appointing that person in each state? Because there may be concern over states when you get to, like, Florida, where you have Governor DeSantis saying that the President is trying to implement “woke-ification” policy and saying that there is no racism within some of the (inaudible) that have been in the past. How can there — when you talk about accountability, how is that process going to go? And what information may be accessible to the public as far as reporting?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have a huge — several — 100-page book that we put out yesterday about how people can apply for a range of funding. And I just outlined for you the money to date that has been allocated. And we have taken steps, and we will continue to, to make sure that is as transparent as possible.
Now, some of these — the funding in this package — as I mentioned, 90 percent of it will go to local, Tribal, and territorial governments. So, that really gives the opportunity for a range of leaders to apply for funding. And the book is meant to give them the information and access they need so they don’t have to hire lobbyists to do that, so that they can do that on their own. And we’re doing that in part to ensure that equity is at the central — is central to how we’re implementing this bill.
Q My final question is: What do you say to many organizations — I’ve talked to several civil rights organizations — on the process of selecting a Vice President? They feel like some of the desires of the Black community have been put on the backburner. So, when it comes to selecting a Vice President, why is there no need or no push to speed up the process? The President has said he —
MS. PSAKI: You mean a Supreme Court justice?
Q A Supreme Court justice.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
MS. PSAKI: No, it’s okay.
Q A Supreme Court justice. Why is there no need to speed up that process —
MS. PSAKI: Of selecting a nominee? Well, he’s going to —
Q He’s going to name one (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: He’s going to name one this month.
Q Right — name one this month. But there has been a little bit of pushback as far as comparing the process — the timing to Amy Coney Barrett, as opposed to what the President is going to do during this time.
We’ve heard Chuck Schumer say that, but is the — does the President feel the same way as far as moving — how long, how quickly and expeditiously he wants to move this process along?
MS. PSAKI: I just want to make sure I’m answering the right question. So, you were saying there’s unhappiness in the civil rights community about the pace? Or are you talking about the Schumer call for the 38 days?
Q Well, is the President going on board with that to push — to push it that fast?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President takes the decision to select an eminently qualified individual to nominate to the Supreme Court very seriously. He wants that to be a thorough process. And he’s still doing that expeditiously by nominating someone this month.
And he wants, of course, the Senate to move forward expeditiously, but we’re not setting artificial deadlines beyond that.
Go ahead in the back. Okay, we actually have two more, so let me get to them quickly. Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen. I have a couple of questions on two different topics.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q One is Russia and then immigration. On Russia, I know the President has — spoke with the Amir of Qatar regarding the role of that country exporting natural gas to the European Union. But is the U.S. considering increasing its role as a natural gas exporter to the European Union to serve as an alternative to Russian gas?
MS. PSAKI: We are having a conversation with not just countries but also suppliers about how to help meet any shortage of natural gas that could come about if — if there’s an invasion.
Q Also on Russia: Since Ukraine is not a NATO member, according to the North Atlantic Treaty, NATO cannot really respond militarily to Russia in Ukrainian territory. But are U.S. unilateral military actions on the table to support Kyiv?
MS. PSAKI: You mean sending U.S. troops to Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: No.
Q Okay, no.
And on the other topic that I wanted to ask real quick: This administration is now sending Venezuelan migrants arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border to Colombia under Title 42. What agreement has been reached with the Colombian government? Is it similar to the MPP with Mexico?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what we tried to do from the beginning is ensure that, for Venezuelans who are coming — who were coming from a third country, right? — that they were able, at some point, to return to that country.
So, in this case, pursuant to Title 42, we began repatriating Venezuelan nationals who had attempted to unlawfully enter the United States to Colombia, where they had previously resided. So, it was, you know, a place where they had been living before.
Flights to Colombia with Venezuelan nationals who have legal status are expected to take place on a regular basis and will be operated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Of course, that requires agreement with the government.
Q When did that started? And how temporary is that supposed to be — this program?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s — it’s just starting now. And I can — I’m sure I can get you a timeline of when it actually started to commence.
Q And is there a deadline until when this will be implemented?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe we’ve set a deadline, but I can — I can get that information for you as well.
Go ahead. Last one.
Q Thank you, Jen. One on the Supreme Court and two on COVID, if you’ll indulge me.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q First, on the Supreme Court: Does President Biden have plans to talk to Senator McConnell — McConnell at all today or this week?
MS. PSAKI: I expect he will have many more consultations with Democrats and Republicans. I don’t have anything yet for you at this point, but hopefully we’ll have more in the next 24 hours.
Q Okay. And then two quick ones on the pandemic. First of all, I was wondering if you’d be able to provide an update on the free mask program that the White House was doing? I’m just curious if there’s an update on the how many of the — of the hundreds of millions of masks have been distributed already.
And also, is there a way for Americans to know, you know, if there are masks in their area, if they’ve been delivered to the area pharmacies — just, you know, sort of, when — when they know that they can go find them in their area?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. So, we just announced this last week, but we’ve already cranked up our shipments. We’ve shipped 100 million N95 maks [sic] — masks so far, which is incredible progress. They’re available at thousands of locations around the country.
The initial wave of health centers or for people who are looking to see if they’re available near them is available on the Health Resources and Services Administration’s website.
And the program, we — we’re working to expand it to make it available across all health centers over the coming weeks.
Q And then lastly, one from our colleague who couldn’t be here. At NewsNation, they reported hearing from people who signed up to receive the free COVID tests through the website — the government website, but they had issues where either the tests were shipped to the wrong address or they never received a confirmation email.
So, what should people do in that case? Is there a way for them to rectify that? Does the White House have, like, a response team in case somebody never gets a test that they ordered or anything like that?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. There’s a — there’s a — there’s a “Help” component on the website. Hopefully, it should be easy for people. There’s also a phone number — I’m sure we can get that to you after the briefing — as well that people could call should they have any concerns.
I will note that we confirmed last week that 60 million tests have been — had been ordered as of then. I don’t have an updated number. Tens of millions of tests have gone out the door and reached the right — right doors. I think that’s the vast, vast, vast majority.
That is earlier than we were scheduled and were planning to get those tests out the doors.
But we can — we can get you the phone number and you can publicize that in your publication.
Q Can you make sure we all get a list of what’s going on for Black History Month?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Thank you.
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