Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese January 22, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:03 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Good afternoon, everyone. Happy Friday. Today, we are joined by National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, who will highlight some key aspects of the executive orders the President is issuing today related to the economy and underline their impact on American families and workers.
Brian is kind enough to take a few questions; I didn’t have to twist his arm too much. But he does have to go to a briefing with the President, so I’ll be the bad cop and come up when he has to cut it off.
Go ahead, Brian.
MR. DEESE: Thanks, Jen. So I want to just take a couple minutes to talk to you about the executive actions that the President will take today.
But just to start with a little bit of context: Our economy is at a very precarious moment. We are 10 million jobs short still of where the economy was when this pandemic started. Last month, the economy lost jobs for the first time since last spring. Retail sales fell last month. And just yesterday, we saw another 900,000 Americans file for unemployment insurance. That’s a weekly rate that is higher than any week during the Great Recession.
It’s a moment that requires decisive action to beat this pandemic and support the economic recovery that American families need. That’s why, a week ago, President Biden laid out a comprehensive American Rescue Plan — a plan that is focused on changing the course of the pandemic, getting students back in school, and giving families and businesses a bridge to the economic recovery, while also addressing the stark inequities in our economy that this crisis has exposed.
We have been engaging closely with members of Congress, with governors, mayors, business and labor organizations in the week since, and we’ll continue to do so and hope that Congress will move quickly to consider this important proposal without delay.
At the same time, the American people are hurting, and they can’t afford to wait. They need help right now. And that’s the motivation behind the actions that the President will take today.
I want to be very clear these actions are not a substitute for comprehensive legislative relief, but they will provide a critical lifeline to millions of families.
So just to get into the specifics: The President will sign two executive orders today. The first directs agencies to consider a number of actions that will provide emergency relief for working families affected by the COVID-19 crisis, within existing authorities, and helping to correct some of the errors or omissions of the prior administration in providing families with relief.
I just want to touch on a couple of elements that are in that executive order to give you a sense of what we’re talking about.
On the issue of food insecurity, which is a growing crisis in America — of hunger — nearly 30 million Americans last week said that they didn’t have enough food to put on the table. So the President will ask the Department of Agriculture to consider taking immediate steps to provide nutrition assistance to hard-hit families, first by increasing pandemic EBT benefits by about 15 percent. This is the program that is aimed at supporting families who traditionally rely on the school lunch program to provide meals to millions of kids through their schools.
So in the pandemic — the Pandemic EBT program provides direct assistance to families to cover those costs. But the way it is being implemented today doesn’t get to the full costs necessary. So, with these changes, an eligible family with three children would get about an additional 100 bucks over two months to help pay for food.
Second, increasing the SNAP benefits — emergency SNAP benefits for as many as 12 million low-income Americans. This is the core program targeted at preventing hunger in America. And these changes — again, for a family of four — would mean about a 15 to 20 percent benefit increase.
And third, revising the Thrifty Food Plan — which is really the basis for determining SNAP benefits — is out of date and needs to be updated to better reflect the cost of a healthy diet.
Another element of this executive order is to promote worker safety. And here, President Biden will ask the Department of Labor to consider clarifying that workers have a federally guaranteed right to refuse employment that would jeopardize their health. And if they do so, they will still qualify for unemployment insurance.
This is a common-sense step to make sure that workers have a right to safe work environments and that we don’t put workers, in the middle of a pandemic, in a position where they have to choose between their own livelihoods and the health of they and their families.
The second executive order that the President will sign is focused on the jobs of federal workers and on federal contractors. He will direct his administration to initiate a process, starting today, that would allow him within 100 days to issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay at least a $15.00 minimum wage and provide emergency paid leave to workers.
This was something that the President talked about on the campaign that, when we’re using taxpayer dollars, federal contractors should provide the benefits and pay that workers deserve.
The order will also protect and empower federal employees, who’ve dedicated their careers to serving the American people, many in very difficult circumstances during this pandemic.
And the steps will include restoring collective bargaining power and worker protections for federal workers; eliminating Schedule — so-called Schedule F — which has threatened the protections of career employees and also provided a potential pathway to burrow political appointees into civil service; and also promoting a $15.00 minimum wage by directing the OPM, the Office of Public Management, to develop recommendations to pay more federal workers at least $15.00 an hour.
Finally, just one final note: In addition to the executive orders that we’ll be issuing today, we will be focusing on another key priority of the President and the Vice President, which is equitable relief to small businesses.
In previous rounds of relief, too much of the support that has been dedicated to small businesses has left out the smallest businesses, mom-and-pop businesses that don’t have existing connections with a financial institution. And in particular, black-, Latino-, Asian-, and Native American-owned businesses were shut out completely. And a lot of that is because the outreach and communication from the federal government was either unclear or just nonexistent. And so, too many of those companies have been denied relief, and many of them have had to shut their doors for good.
The President is completely focused on changing that. And he has — he has directed us to take immediate steps to make sure that we’re listening to these communities, we’re taking their advice on how to improve the distribution of relief.
So, just this morning, I met, along with representatives of the Small Business Administration, with dozens of groups representing black- and brown-owned businesses and other underserved communities, as well as lenders, to hear their ideas on how we can improve communications and act on them.
We discussed the President’s idea of having navigators who are dedicated to helping small-business owners find the right relief programs, fill out paperwork, get the money into their bank accounts — the kind of support that many of these businesses don’t have because of embedded relationships that more well-connected businesses do.
There are some groups out there in the country who are doing this really successfully. We’re determined to learn from them and to scale those efforts nationwide.
And in this vein, I look forward — I will be joining Vice President Harris later today. She will be meeting with small-business owners to discuss both the American Rescue Plan and the need for more effective small-business relief delivered without delay.
So that’s — that is — that is today, and that is our focus through a set of executive orders. And I’m happy to take a couple of questions, of which you all have many. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Do you want me to (inaudible)?
MR. DEESE: Sure, sure. This is the good cop/bad cop for you. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Kristen, go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen. Hi, Brian.
MR. DEESE: Hi.
Q Good to see you. Thank you for taking questions today. I want to ask you about the call on Sunday with a bipartisan group of lawmakers. What can you tell us about the call? Will President Biden be on the call? And what is your message to moderate Republicans, like Mitt Romney, who say the economy can’t have another stimulus after you just passed a $900 billion relief package last month?
MR. DEESE: Yeah, thanks, Kristen. So, the President has made clear to his team that we should be reaching out to members of Congress from both parties to make the case for the rescue plan and to engage with them, understand their concerns.
So that’s what we’re doing, both myself and senior members of the team. We have been doing that over the course of time. We’ll continue to do that, including the call on Sunday that I’ll be doing with a group of senators, and we’ll continue that engagement going forward.
In terms of the — in terms of the message, it’s pretty clear we’re at a precarious moment for the virus and the economy. Without decisive action, we risk falling into a very serious economic hole, even more serious than the crisis we find ourselves in. And economists across the board — including today, President Trump’s former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers — arguing strenuously that now is the time for that type of decisive action for the economy; and that we can’t wait to provide the resources to make sure that we can open up schools, we can get vaccine shots in people’s arms, and we can provide that bridging relief to families and small businesses.
There’s a lot of support. I met with a group of mayors yesterday — a bipartisan group of mayors from across the country. You hear from mayors, you hear from governors just crying out that in order to take on these crises, the public health and the pandemic and the economic crisis at the same time, now is the moment for that kind of decisive action. That’s the case we’ll be making.
Q And just to be clear, Brian, will President Biden be on the call? And if not, why not, if this is so urgent?
MR. DEESE: So, like I said, we’re doing all outreach. The President has directed the team to do outreach to members of Congress, to business and labor organizations, to mayors and governors, and we’re in the process of doing that. I’ll be having that conversation on Sunday. You can expect that other members of the administration will be engaging with members of Congress across time as well.
Q And just very quickly, Brian, if I could: What would a February impeachment trial — how would a February impeachment trial impact getting the COVID relief package passed?
MR. DEESE: Look, I think that we have faced — we are facing right now a period of multiple crises. And what we’re going to need is to be able to act on multiple fronts. And so that’s — certainly we understand, and as Jen has spoken to, we understand that the Senate has a constitutional obligation in this context, but we also have these pressing economic and pandemic priorities as well.
So we’re going to — that’s why we’re engaging. That’s why we’re focused on making the case. And certainly with the expectation that Congress will — will heed that call and move forward.
MS. PSAKI: I promise to do a whole briefing after this, so just — we’ll do econ questions for Brian.
Go ahead, Mary.
Q Thank you very much. If you are able to pass this nearly $2 trillion plan, do you envision this being the last round of stimulus, or do you think you may need to do more?
MR. DEESE: What I can tell you is, if we don’t act now, we will be in a much worse place, and we will find ourselves needing to do much more to dig out of a much deeper hole.
So what I can tell you is the single most important thing, economically, right now is to take decisive action along the lines of what we’ve laid out in this rescue plan.
And you hear, again, from economists across the board — whether it’s the Federal Reserve, the International Monetary Fund, and economic experts across the political spectrum as well — when you’re at a moment that is as precarious as the one we find ourselves in, the risk of doing too little, the risk of undershooting far outweighs the risk of doing too much. And that’s the economic logic, the economic case behind this package.
I think you’ve also heard the President clearly explain that his economic approach is one where rescue and recovery need to come together. And he’ll be speaking more about his recovery plans in the coming weeks that are about building back better, an urgent priority to start creating the kinds of good jobs that we know we’re going to need coming out of this crisis.
Q And after the recession, it took nearly a decade to get the country back to full employment under the Obama administration. If you’re able to pass this rescue package, how long do you think it will take for every American who wants a job to be able to have one?
MR. DEESE: Well, I would just point to, you know, just one example of an independent analysis that was done of the American Rescue Plan by Moody’s. And what they said — what they found was that if we passed the American Rescue Plan now, we could see seven and a half million jobs created just this year, and we could see a return to full employment a full year ahead of what is projected if we don’t. So those are the stakes involved.
And without this kind of decisive action, we’re going to have a much deeper economic hole, and that’s why we are so focused on making the case for a decisive action now.
MS. PSAKI: Justin.
Q Thanks, Jen and Brian. I wanted to follow on Welker’s question a little bit. The President has talked about seeking “unity” on this bill, but also being “clear-eyed” when there’s policy differences. So I’m wondering if after this call, which is with sort of the bipartisan coalition that you’d need to get this bill passed, if you expect to know whether the White House will pursue legislation — bipartisan legislation, or sort of head towards legislation through reconciliation.
And I’m also wondering if you could talk about what sort of red lines will be — the point at which you say, “Okay, if you’re not willing to negotiate this in the bill, we’re going to just start working with Democrats as Speaker Pelosi and others have encouraged you to do.
MR. DEESE: Yeah. Well, I guess, I’d say two things to that. The first is, if you look at the elements of the American Rescue Plan, it was designed with a bottom-up focus on what are experts saying is the actual need. What’s the actual need to get schools open? What’s the actual need to have a national vaccination distribution plan to underwrite the strategy that you heard Dr. Fauci and the President talk about yesterday? And what’s the need to support families and businesses during this transition?
And the second thing — the second thing is that, as a result of that, I think we’re seeing a lot of support, as I said, of bipartisan mayors, bipartisan governors, business organizations, Chamber of Commerce, business roundtable, economists across the board, saying this is a — this is a — an appropriate response to an unprecedented economic circumstance.
So that’s the — that’s the approach that we are taking, and that’s the — that’s the perspective that we are bringing here.
And I think that we are heartened to see that kind of support, and that’s the conversation that we’re going to have with members of Congress, be they Republicans or Democrats, including, you know, looking at where we are, where we’ve come over the last year, and the lessons we’ve learned that, without decisive action, we know the consequences. And so now is a moment not to undershoot or to wait and see; now is a moment to act.
Q Right. I guess my question is: I think a lesson that a lot of — President Obama and others have talked about from the ACA fight was continuing to court Republican support beyond the point of it being productive. And so I’m wondering, for you guys, what is the decision point going to be where you — you know, you might have Republican mayors, but it doesn’t look like you have Republican senators right now. At what point do you say this is no longer worth, kind of, pushing forward?
MR. DEESE: We’re — we are — we’re making the case. We are engaging, we’re having conversations, we’re listening, and we are also focused on the urgency and the need to act. And so, you know, what I can tell you is that’s where the President’s focus is, that’s where the Vice President’s focus is. That’ll be — continue to be our focus is we want to — we want to engage and we want to act, and that’s going to be what guides us here.
MS. PSAKI: This is going to be the last one. But Brian will come back.
Q Thank you for doing this, Brian. Back to the point of the objections of some of these Republican senators who have already spoken out — they say they just passed $900 billion or so at the end of the year, and most of it isn’t even out yet. How do you know, if that money hasn’t gotten into the system yet, that you even need to release more at this point? Why move ahead with a trillion-dollar plan if the $900 million that’s already been approved hasn’t even gotten out the door?
MR. DEESE: Sure. Well, first of all, you know, we waited for six months or more before Congress acted. And so, really, a lot of what that $900 billion was doing was filling a hole in the second half of 2020 that desperately needed to be filled. And so — so, it’s — this is not — this is not an issue of Congress acting too much; it’s an issue of not acting enough.
And the second is, if you look at the components of that $900 billion — again, we could go line by line, but these are resources that are either already out the door or already — or are addressing economic challenges or public health challenges that were in the rearview mirror.
So as we find ourselves today looking forward, we need a very set — a very decisive set of actions if we are actually going to get schools open, if we’re actually going to get a vaccination program up and running. And I think that the case that we will make is that, today, we’re not where we need to be. And if we go line by line in the American Rescue Plan, these provisions are — have been designed based on an assessment of need, and we think they’re going to absolutely be necessary. So, you know, I think that, looking forward, we’re quite confident that this is — this is the prudent assessment of needs.
Q And I want to clarify two quick things. How many federal employees or federal contractors are making minimum wage right now? Do you guys know?
MR. DEESE: So I don’t — I don’t have an — I don’t have an estimate of that right now.
Q And then, last night, you said that there are roughly 8 million people who haven’t received their stimulus checks.
MR. DEESE: Yes.
Q How do you find them?
MR. DEESE: So, it’s a great question. This is principally an issue associated with people who are non-filers, so they’re not filing income taxes, in most cases because they don’t make enough money to need to file federal income taxes. And so as a result, the way that the IRS and the Treasury Department in the previous administration has focused on getting those checks out has been to work through the tax system.
But those are people who are legally entitled to those checks, and so we have a number of strategies that we’re going to pursue. And that, today, we’ll start with the President’s executive order to direct the Department of Treasury to consider a whole range of efforts, including creating an online portal that would allow people to easily identify if they’re eligible, to work through counterpart organizations to actually affirmatively do outreach to communities where we know there are significant numbers of these — of these families and these individuals to let people know that they may be available. Some of this is education outreach as well.
And I would just — you know, it’s a little connected to what I was saying about small business as well. What the President is directing all of us to do is to really focus on the affirmative steps that we can take and an affirmative strategy to say it’s not enough to just say, “Well, if folks don’t know or if they don’t have a network, then they’re left out in the cold.”
We’re going to — we’re going to work both directly in what the federal government can do and with partner organizations to try to make sure that every American who’s entitled to a benefit is actually receiving it.
Q But if there’s someone out there right now who hears you saying this and realizes, “I’m eligible and I haven’t gotten it,” right now, today, is there a way for them to raise their hand and say, “Send me my check”?
MR. DEESE: Well, starting today, we’re going to start a process to make that a lot easier — a lot easier for families, including being able to go online and do that. But that’s — that’s work that’s going to start today.
MS. PSAKI: I totally skipped the AP, so would you mind taking one more?
Q Just one small —
MS. PSAKI: I didn’t mean to.
Q Thank you. I just have one small question on the mechanics of the EO targeting the food insecure. Does the USDA have the money to distribute these plus-ups that you’re talking about? Or is there going to need to be an appropriations from Congress?
MR. DEESE: So these are mandatory appropriated programs, so there’s no need for additional congressional action. It’s a change in regulation on the eligibility for benefits. So these are — these are changes that can be made under existing statute and under existing budgetary authority without any additional action from Congress.
Q The money is there though to —
MR. DEESE: Yeah. It’s a mandatory program, so it operates based on — the benefits are paid out based on who is eligible.
MS. PSAKI: Great. Thank you, Brian. He’ll be back.
MR. DEESE: Great. Thank you all.
MS. PSAKI: All right, everyone. Happy Friday. I have a couple of things just at the top — some things you’ve been asking about, so hopefully they address some of the questions you may have.
First, we applaud the Senate’s strong bipartisan confirmation of Lloyd Austin, who has been breaking barriers all of his life, as the first black Secretary of Defense in our nation’s history.
Secretary Austin’s confirmation is a major benefit to our national security, and he’s going to hit the ground running, leading the Pentagon. He will be sworn in today, but he will be — he will be sworn in more officially by the — not “more officially,” I should say, but he will be sworn in more ceremoniously on Monday by the Vice President.
Similarly, the President is very happy to see that Janet Yellen — the first woman who would ever lead the U.S. Treasury Department — was unanimously voted out of committee this morning. This should only be the beginning.
We’re facing unprecedented challenges and threats to our national security during these emergencies, and our country urgently needs our Secretary of Homeland Security in place. Alejandro Mayorkas is one of the most knowledgeable homeland security experts in the country. He has earned bipartisan praise, and he’s been previously confirmed by the Senate three times. This is a confirmation that we are going to continue to press on in all of our engagements and conversations with the Senate.
I also have some news to share on the President’s response to domestic violent extremism. The January 6th assault on the Capitol and the tragic deaths and destruction that occurred underscored what we have long known: The rise of domestic violent extremism is a serious and growing national security threat.
The Biden administration will confront this threat with the necessary resources and resolve. We are committed to developing policies and strategies based on facts, on objective and rigorous analysis, and on a respect for constitutionally protected free speech and political activities.
Our initial work on DVE will broadly fall into three areas. The first is a tasking from President Biden sent to the ODNI today requesting a comprehensive threat assessment, coordinated with the FBI and DHS, on domestic violent extremism. This assessment will draw on the analysis from across the government and, as appropriate, nongovernmental organizations.
The key point here is that we want fact-based analysis upon which we can shape policy. So this is really the first step in the process, and we’ll rely on our appropriate law enforcement and intelligence officials to provide that analysis.
The second will be the building of an NSC capability to focus on countering domestic violent extremism. As a part of this, the NSC will undertake a policy review effort to determine how the government can share information better about this threat, support efforts to prevent radicalization, disrupt violent extremist networks, and more.
There’s important work already underway across the interagency in countering DVE, and we need to understand better its current extent and where there may be gaps to address, so we can determine the best path forward.
The third will be coordinating relevant parts of the federal government to enhance and accelerate efforts to address DVE. This considered, an NSC-convened process will focus on addressing evolving threats, radicalization, the role of social media, opportunities to improve information sharing, operational responses, and more.
Just a couple more items. As you all know, right now, the President and Vice President are having lunch. This is something they look forward to doing every week. They’ll be discussing their agenda, particularly getting relief to working families and containing the COVID crisis, and I’m sure they’ll talk about the last 48 hours, as well.
Later today, the President will speak with Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau. We had confirmed that earlier this week. He’ll also speak with President of Mexico Andrés Manuel López Obrador. We’ll have readouts of both of those calls when they happen.
Yesterday evening, the First Lady held a virtual event to honor and show gratitude for the hard work of educators across the country, especially during this difficult time of COVID-19. She was accompanied by the presidents of both the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association. Over 11,000 educators attended the virtual meeting.
Today, she will tour the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, D.C., to highlight and promote support services for cancer patients and caregivers. And while I know that was in our guidance, we want to use this platform here to also share with you information about both the Vice President and the First Lady moving forward.
One more item, as well. Earlier this morning — or late this morning, I should say — the President called General Daniel Hokanson, who is head of the National Guard, to thank him for not just his work over the last few weeks, but the work of the National Guard over the last several years. He talked about his own personal commitment and connection to the National Guard, given his son had served previously. And he offered assistance — any assistance needed of both the government, but also on a personal level, and asked him to reach out if there was anything that he ever needed.
I will stop there. Just a few updates. So, (inaudible), why don’t you kick us off?
Q Yeah, thank you. I know this has been asked you several times, but now that there is a impeachment trial imminent, does President Biden have a opinion on whether former President Trump should be convicted?
And then, secondly, with how this is going, you’re now getting a little bit of momentum on confirmations. Do you have all that you need to get going on coronavirus, on the economy, and so forth? Is this just going to slow everything down? And does it also take away from the ability to unify?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, remarkably, at this moment in history, we have some recent precedent of the Senate conducting an impeachment trial while also doing the business of the American people. And when the trial was being conducted last January, there were also hearings that were happening nearly on a daily basis, and we expect that type of work to continue.
I’ll also note, purely on an operational level, the House can also proceed and continue to do the work on the American rescue plan, move that forward, and we certainly expect and hope that they will do that.
But what the President’s view is: What cannot be delayed through this process is his proposal to get relief to the American people at this time of crisis. So he’s confident — he remains confident, after serving decades in the Senate, that the Senate members of both parties can walk and chew gum at the same time and can move forward with the business of the American people.
Q Does he believe that former President Trump should be convicted?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he’s no longer in the Senate, and he believes that it’s up to the Senate and Congress to determine how they will hold the former President accountable, and what the mechanics and timeline of that process will be.
Q I’d like to ask on — just on —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q — on DVE, if you don’t mind. Are the tools and methods available to federal law enforcement, are they what we need right now? Are we still stuck in sort of a post-9/11 mindset? And does there need to be really broad, radical rethinking about how we, sort of, approach things in the federal law enforcement?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the reason that the President wanted to do this review and the national security team wanted to do this review is because it’s a priority to ensure we are assessing what is happening in government and how we can do it better. So, clearly, more needs to be done. That’s why the President is tasking the national security team to do exactly this review on his first — his second full day in office. So it’s sending an indication of that.
Let me just give you just a little bit more information. Homeland Security Advisor Dr. Liz Sherwood-Randall has asked Joshua Geltzer to pioneer a scoping effort in the first 100 days, in coordination with the Senior Director for Counterterrorism, Clare Linkins. Geltzer previously served as the Senior Director for Counterterrorism on the National Security Council from 2015 through 2017. And Deputy Homeland Security Advisor Russ Travers will also bring his extensive experience. So those are some of the people who will be involved in overseeing this review and an assessment of what the steps are going to be following.
Go ahead, Kristen.
Q Thanks, Jen. One on impeachment, and then, if I could, on COVID. On impeachment, did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi consult with President Biden before sending the article of impeachment over to the Senate?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any calls between them to read out for you, Kristen. Obviously, they’re in regular touch. I can say, from a previous question you asked Brian, that he’s been in touch with members of both parties about his agenda, even since he was inaugurated. So obviously a range of topics come up in those discussions, but I don’t have anything more to read out for you.
Q And just on the timing: Leader McConnell has said that he’s going to push for a February timeline. I know that you don’t want to comment specifically on the timeline of this, but how would a February trial impact the effort to get COVID relief passed?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President’s expectation — he believes in the Senate and their ability to multitask and get the work and business of the American people done at the same time while they are proceeding with an impeachment trial, on whatever timeline it begins and ends on, Kristen. So he’s —
Q Is that fast enough for him? Is mid-February fast enough for President -–
MS. PSAKI: He’s going to leave the timeline up to them. But what is important — and again, there’s precedent for this — is that they are continuing to move forward with getting the relief to the American people because that certainly can’t wait and be delayed until March, April, or May. We can’t afford that.
Q If I could follow up with you on what you said about COVID yesterday, you said your goal is a million shots per day, which would double, you said, what the Trump administration was doing. According to the CDC, we have reached a million shots a day last week. So, given that — given the urgent need for vaccinations, why not aim higher?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first of all, we’re not packing up our bags and leaving at 100 days. We felt it was important. And we set that goal before any American had received a single shot. So, the incoming Biden administration felt it was important to set what was described as a “bold and ambitious” goal at the time. And many doubted we could even get there. So we want to set our own markers, and markers for the American public, so that they know we’re meeting our goal. If we surpass that, that’s great. We’re going to continue working after day 100 as well.
But there are a number of factors here Dr. Fauci also talked about. It’s not just having the access to the vaccine. Right? It is about addressing vaccine hesitancy. It’s about ensuring we have the materials needed. It’s about — and you all have done reporting, of course, on different issues going on in states, from New York and others, where there are concerns about supply, where there’s confusion about the process, and we need to address that. So there are a number of operational challenges that are happening at the same time.
Okay, let’s go to Ed.
Q Yeah. Following up on the vaccine: Stakeholders we’ve talked to, state leaders, medical experts, have said one of the questions that they’re trying to figure out is how much vaccine is actually in the National Stockpile right now. Do you have any sense of that yet?
MS. PSAKI: Our team, as you know, has been on the ground for about 48 hours, but certainly what they want to determine is not just the operational issues I referenced, but also what we’re looking at in terms of supply. We are, as you may know — well, we are going to be starting briefings next week — I should say a couple times a week — with some of our health experts. So I expect they’ll be able to provide some update of what they’ve reviewed and what they have access to at that point in time.
Q Two other quick ones on the previous occupant. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff is calling on President Biden not to extend the courtesy to President Trump of getting access to intelligence briefings. Has a decision been made on that?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, but I’ll follow up with our national security team and see. We would certainly leave the decision to them — to the intelligence community.
Q Can you clear up the confusion here about these — who exactly dismissed the chief White House usher?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it happened —
Q Is it the Biden administration or was it the previous occupant?
MS. PSAKI: It is — it is a very important question. I’m so happy you asked it. It is — it happened before we walked in the door, Ed. So I don’t have any more information than what we’ve provided.
Q Not to belabor this point, but you’ve said that Congress can walk and chew gum at the same time, which is true, but there are also so many hours in the day. Has the President expressed any concern that a Senate trial will slow down additional confirmations or movement on a COVID relief bill?
MS. PSAKI: Only that it cannot. There are only so many hours in the day; you’re right. But, again, if there’s a Senate trial happening in the Senate — of course it would happen in the Senate — the House can move forward on a package. And certainly there is the capacity and ability to have discussions, have hearings, take steps to move forward on the President’s COVID relief package. And we don’t think it can be delayed or it can wait, so they’re going to have to find a path forward, and he’s confident they can do that.
Q And President Biden has made pretty clear that he believes former President Trump is unfit to serve. Does he think he should be barred from holding federal office going forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ll leave it to Congress. He ran against him because he thought he was unfit to serve, and he’s no longer here because President Biden beat him. But we’ll leave the steps — the accountability steps to Congress to determine.
Q And can I ask just two —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q — COVID questions? Any update as to whether the President may sit down with congressional leaders to discuss and try and hammer out this package?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I will say, without giving you specifics necessarily, but — which I know you’re looking for, so I shouldn’t have just walked myself into that rabbit hole, but —
MS. PSAKI: Right. (Laughs.)
But the President has already done a number of calls with Democrats and Republicans; that will continue. He’s very eager to be closely involved, roll up his sleeves, and be making calls himself. I don’t — soon — but I don’t have an update on any meeting.
I will though just add, just for context, I know that the reporting — thanks for your reporting, I suppose — about the meeting this weekend kind of got out there, and obviously Brian confirmed it. There are a lot of meetings happening at one time with a lot of different officials. So I don’t — I wouldn’t see that as like this is the negotiating tool. That is one of many engagements and one of many discussions that the President, the Vice President, senior members of the White House team are having and are ongoing.
Q And as outlined right now, is he confident that you have enough Democrats on board with this plan to pass this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he announced the plan about a week ago. Right? And we are — his view is that this is how democracy should work, which is the President of the United States announces what his vision is and what his plan — his proposed plan is to address the crises the American people are facing. Then there are ongoing discussions with Congress. They like some pieces; they don’t like other pieces. You all have seen, Democrats like many pieces; Republicans even like some of the pieces, too. And we’ve — he’s had those encouraging conversations.
But the final package may not look exactly like the package that he proposed. That’s okay. That’s how the process — the legislative process should work.
Go ahead, Justin.
Q Thanks. Welcome back.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
Q I had a question on COVID, but I wanted to start with just some housekeeping from questions you had earlier in the week that you said —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q — you might circle back on.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q So I was wondering if —
MS. PSAKI: The plane?
Q Sure. We can start there. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Oh, I didn’t — I was — okay. (Laughter.)
On the plane: We are certainly aware of the White House military unit’s proposal that has been submitted to them about reconsidering the color scheme of Air Force One. I can confirm for you here the President has not spent a moment thinking about the color scheme of Air Force One or anything in the house or any article of anything. So — and no one is going to submit a decision memo to him on that particular topic. But certainly we’re aware of the proposal, and as there are any updates, we’re happy to provide them to you.
Q Maybe a little more substantively, I was wondering, you had mentioned syringes yesterday, but not if you were — or not specific companies that might have had DPA contracts, either started or come in. And then also, D.C. statehood was an issue that was raised in a previous briefing.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, on the first, I don’t have specific companies for you. I can circle back with our COVID team and see if we have more specifics. Obviously, those conversations are happening as we speak.
There was a question yesterday about whether the Defense Production Act had been invoked. It has been invoked. So those processes are now rapidly ongoing. The President has supported D.C. statehood in the past; that certainly remains his position. But I don’t have anything for you on the timeline or next steps there.
Q And then, sorry —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
Q Just the COVID one quickly. A, kind of, trademark of the last administration’s efforts were that there would be a big announcement of, like, Jared Kushner’s testing website, and then no timeline put on it, and it never really materialized. So I was interested when the Chief of Staff last night said that there would be a central clearinghouse for vaccine information. And I was wondering if you could provide a, sort of, expectation or a timeline on when Americans could expect if there’s a .gov email address — or .gov website or a phone number that they could go to to find out their specific vaccination information.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know all members of my family are also asking the same question, as I’m sure yours are. It is something we’re eager to do and also provide more information to the American public about when they can call their pharmacy and schedule an appointment, just to make it much easier. The lack of information and the lack — the disinformation at times about how people can get the vaccine, when they can get the vaccine, and who’s eligible has created a great deal of confusion, as you all know.
I don’t have anything on the timeline, but I will remind you that the person who saved Healthcare.gov and the person who helped him are working on the COVID team. So we’re in very good hands. And they’re certainly committed to getting more information out in a more accessible way.
Q Thanks, Jen. Two questions. The first is having to do with the operations of the West Wing. There was curiosity about this in the early days of the Trump administration, so I’ll ask you. Who has Oval Office walk-in privileges in this White House? Do you have Oval Office walk-in privileges, as you speak for the President? And how is that access to the President controlled here?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t know that I’m going to give you a list of everybody, but I will convey that, you know, since the first conversation I had with then President-Elect Biden, he conveyed to me it was important that we have regular conversations, and we’re able to have a discussion about how he sees things and questions that are coming up to ensure that we are providing you all with information not just about our policies, which is, of course, pivotal, but his — also his thinking on issues.
So I talked to him this morning, and certainly I expect and anticipate I’ll have regular conversations with him, and there are a number of other people who have those conversations with him on a daily basis as well. That’s part of his style and part of his style of governing, is to make sure people who are engaging with the outside world have an understanding of his thinking.
Q One more question for you. Is Dr. Deborah Birx still a member of this President’s COVID response team?
MS. PSAKI: I will have to circle back on that one. That’s an excellent question, and I don’t have any information on it in front of me.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you, ma’am. I’ve got a question about the Senate and then also a foreign policy question, if you’ll let me.
MS. PSAKI: Great. I love foreign policy questions.
Q (Laughs.) Thank you. Senator McConnell and Senator Schumer have been going back and forth over discussions when it comes to a power-sharing situation. Obviously, the sticking point has been the filibuster. Are you concerned that those negotiations could potentially delay the President’s legislative agenda, his nominees? And then also, does the President still oppose overturning the legislative filibuster, like he did in that interview with The New York Times?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, his — the President’s position hasn’t changed, but I will say he’s conveyed in conversations with both now Leader Schumer and Senator McConnell that they need to have their conversations, of course, but he is eager to move his rescue plan forward. He is eager to get relief to the American public. He wants to work with both of them to do exactly that, and he wants it to be a bipartisan bill. So that is his objective.
Q So his position hasn’t changed? He opposes overturning a legislative filibuster?
MS. PSAKI: He has spoken to this many times. His position has not changed.
Q And then, the previous administration, on their way out the door, declared that China’s human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims were, quote, “crimes against humanity” and, quote, “a genocide.” Does the President agree with that determination, and will he keep it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know that our Secretary of State is just about to get confirmed, or so Senator McConnell tells us. And I’m sure he will be reviewing — I know he will be reviewing a number of the decisions and assessments that have made. Obviously, the President has spoken before to the — to the horrific treatment of Uyghurs, but I don’t have anything more for you on it. I can check with our national security team and see if we have a more up-to-date statement.
Q Hi. Just a couple of quick follow-ups. The USDA aid for families that depend on schools to feed their children — that is $100 for three children every two months. Is that too little too late? What more are you thinking of doing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I will say that the executive actions — and this is something when we were discussing this with the President earlier today — are just part of his effort to bring relief to the American people. He — his priority was overturning a number of the detrimental steps that the Trump administration had taken and to take steps that he can through executive authority, through the review of the legal team, to do — to bring that relief.
But he has also proposed this large package, as many of you have pointed out to all of us, to bring additional relief. And he wants to work with Congress to build on the executive actions to take a bipartisan approach to making sure we are — that kids have food to eat, that people who don’t have jobs have the relief they need, that we can get the vaccine out, that schools can reopen. Those are all priorities of his. But the — his big focus is on doing that in a bipartisan way with Congress.
Q And there was this — there was this other detail mentioned about the $15.00 minimum wage — and I know Brian spoke about federal contractors — but the issue has obviously faced a lot of opposition in Congress over the years. Is President Biden planning to speak to Senator Schumer to bring the bill — the legislation that the House passed on $15.00 — to the Senate? I mean, how does this broadly help workers around the country?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, this is just one part of his step to provide relief to the American people. There are many federal contractors, of course, serving the government, and he felt it was something that was not just right to do, but something that was necessary to do. But he has proposed a significant relief package — or package that will provide assistance to many, many Americans, and he will continue to advocate for the $15.00 minimum wage moving forward. There’s no question about it.
Q Thank you very much, Jen. And I’d like to focus on vaccinations. There’s arguably something that the federal government can do in this front. In New York, there is a looming trainwreck that’s actually happening today. Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio say that they’re going to be running out of their batches of first doses of the vaccine today. They don’t expect to get more until Tuesday, so there’s going to be a three-day gap. Is the federal government and is President Biden going to do anything to prevent that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve asked the CDC to look into exactly this issue and see what can be done. I don’t have any update beyond that, but certainly we don’t want any states to run out of access to vaccine. We are hopeful that, in the weeks ahead, as we get our sea legs here and our team starts to operationalize engagement with governors, engagement with local officials, to provide them a greater understanding of supply, of what we are going to have access to, in a farther — in a timeframe that’s further in advance, that we can avoid situations like this in the future. But we’ve asked the CDC to look into what’s happening.
Q Can I just follow up on that? There’s arguably a way that the federal government can just basically flip a switch and help alleviate some of this problem. New York City says it has 65,000 doses that are reserved for a second shot. Is the federal government considering allowing those to be used for the first shots so that there is not this three-day gap of first-shot vaccinations?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, in the past, we have — we have advocated for releasing additional access from the reserves, but we have really deferred to health and medical experts, so that’s why we have asked the CDC to look into what the options are.
Q Okay. So you’ve asked the CDC to look into this so there isn’t a gap?
MS. PSAKI: Well, to look into — to have the conversation with officials in New York and to look into what is possible. But I don’t want to get ahead of them. We want to lean into health and medical experts to make the decisions.
Q Thanks, Jen. One of the executive orders that was signed yesterday requires that international travelers quarantine or self-isolate. Is the administration going to do anything to enforce that rule, or is it mostly an honor system?
And then, on coronavirus, one more: Has the President considered establishing any sort of national memorial to memorialize those people who have died from coronavirus?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Both are excellent questions, and the first one I should have information on, but I’ll have to follow up with you on both of them. I’m not aware of a discussion about the second piece, so that’s an interesting idea, and I will bring it back to people and see if there’s more to say.
Q One more then. On the immigration bill: Has the President got a sense of any feedback on the immigration bill that was sent to the Hill yesterday? And is there an overall timeline for when he’d like to see that move?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we already have co-sponsors of the immigration bill, as you may have seen, which is obviously a good sign. There are a number of experts, as you know — because I’m guessing you have covered this issue for some time if you’re asking with a level of detail — who have worked on immigration reform, had bipartisan discussions in the past.
And we are hopeful that this proposal — that this bill that he sent forward — we sent forward yesterday will be an opportunity for a reset to really restart those discussions. But we expect that will be the first step here and that we’re hopeful that the components of this proposed bill — which are different from what has been proposed in the past because it includes smarter security, it includes a path to citizenship, but it also includes funding to address the root cause — will help be the basis of those discussions. And we would like to see them move forward quickly.
Okay, why don’t you go ahead, over here?
Q You mentioned the issue of vaccine hesitancy. Does the President believe that all Americans should get the vaccine? And then for those who might be reluctant to get it, how do you convince them that it’s safe?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he does. The more people who are vaccinated, the safer we are. Health and medical experts have also conveyed that. That’s who I’m quoting.
In terms of addressing vaccine hesitancy, it’s a big challenge. You heard Dr. Fauci talk about this yesterday, and it will be easier for the first tranche of Americans to get the — to convince them to get the vaccine. They’re just looking for information on where to go and how to sign up and how to get grandma to come with them.
It is really the next layer of people who are concerned, as you alluded to, about the safety and about the efficacy. And, unfortunately, there is a large percent — a larger-than-should- be percentage in minority communities, communities of color, and so we’ve been quite thoughtful — or we want to be quite thoughtful about how we do outreach and engagement. Obviously, it’s making it accessible, so ensuring we have these community centers and health centers that can provide the vaccine, but also who’s communicating on behalf of the government or on behalf of the safety of the vaccine.
The President certainly will be doing that; the Vice President will be doing that. I know a lot of celebrities have offered. That’s okay. But what’s been interesting in the data — or great; we welcome that. But what’s interesting in the data is that local doctors and local officials — you know, people from the community — are people who are most often most trusted, and so we’re really trying to empower and be able to fund local communities to be able to be the spokespeople to build that trust.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you, Jen. On the — you mentioned that the COVID package — the talks may evolve, it may change the package, and there are already some things that you feel like there’s bipartisan support for. Is there any consideration that’s taken place or that may take place in separating some of these pieces out and passing the things, first and foremost, that may generate bipartisan support, given the urgency that you’ve talked — talked about?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you know, I will say, as Brian said, that our objective here — the way that the package was designed was to address the core issues of the crisis. So I think the tricky piece of that question is: Do you delay vaccine funding to distribute the vaccine? Do you delay funding for unemployment insurance? Do you delay funding to reopen schools? Nobody wants to be having a conversation about why schools aren’t reopened in May or June — Democrats, Republicans, no members of Congress. So, there are key components in here that we — that he — that — in the package that was designed to address the current crises.
So, right now, we’re having a discussion about the big package. But, as you noted, there are viewpoints — points of view — no surprise — about many components of it. We certainly understand that, and we welcome the discussion and engagement with members of both parties.
Q And is there any timeline on the fact-finding period for the domestic violent extremism orders that you –- the letters that you’ve sent? Is there a period when that — you’re expecting to get maybe some action (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: When we’re getting the report back? I don’t believe we have outlined that yet. Let me — we can follow up with you if there’s a specific timeline that we’re putting out publicly at this point.
Q Chairman Yellen, in committee yesterday, said that President Biden wouldn’t be signing any free trade deals because the focus was on the domestic economy and infrastructure. Where does that leave the potential for a UK-U.S. trade deal? Which — is it months away or next year or year after?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I can’t give you any timeline. I will say that what is important to the President and also our national security adviser Jake Sullivan is that we do — everything we do must help advance working families and the American middle class. And that certainly includes any trade agreements, and that is part of their objective and how they would approach it.
But, as you noted, at this point in time we’re working to get the pandemic under control, provide economic relief to the American public. We, of course, can do multiple things at the same time, but those are our primary priorities at this point.
Q Can I ask a follow-up? Can I ask what happened to the Churchill bust and what should be read about its removal from the Oval Office?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, such an important question. It’s the plane of today. I will follow up on that. I don’t have — it is — it is something that may certainly be existing in the complex. Of course, I’m very familiar with the bust. But we will circle back with you if there’s more to update you on on that.
Q Thanks. Two follow-ups to what they were just asking you. On domestic unrest: First of all, does the President have any comment on the ongoing violence in Oregon and Washington State that we’ve seen in recent days?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, we had our team on the ground — our national security team — even before 12:01, early in the morning, on Inauguration Day because we wanted to be able to monitor events happening across the country and any unrest that was resulting from — from the last couple of weeks.
I haven’t spoken with him specifically about those events, but it is something our national security team — Liz Sherwood-Randall, our Homeland Security Advisor — is closely monitoring, of course. And — but, if we have an additional update, I’m happy to provide it to you.
Q Thank you. Two more. He’s speaking with the leaders of Canada and Mexico.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hm.
Q Any word who else is next? And has there been any discussion about when or under what conditions he, the Vice President, the Secretary of State would fly overseas to meet with world leaders?
MS. PSAKI: So, despite his desire — my desire, if that matters — to do a foreign trip, I think it will be a bit of time. I don’t have an update for you on when that will take place at this point.
But I would expect he’ll have, of course, additional foreign leader calls next week. As has been the case with our national security team, you can anticipate that those will start with our allies and partners, including many of the Europeans. But I don’t have a specific day-by-day calendar for you at this point.
Q And this is his first weekend in the White House. Does he still plan to go to mass every weekend? And has he picked a parish here in the Washington area or a place where he plans to go?
MS. PSAKI: Well, his faith is certainly quite important to him, as you know from covering him, and I would expect that he attends church — continues to attend church very regularly. He has not selected a church yet. But if and when that happens, we’ll certainly keep you updated.
Let’s see, I haven’t taken the — go ahead, all the way in the back.
Q So, Japan is planning to host a Tokyo Summer Olympic game in six months, but they have not made a final decision if they go (inaudible) or be canceled because of the pandemic. So does the White House expect to be (inaudible), or is President Biden confident to be a safe Olympic game in Tokyo? And does he feel safe to (inaudible) Tokyo in this summer?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as a big Olympics fan, I’m certainly looking forward to it, but I have not talked to the President or our national security team about plans for the summer or the games. So we’ll have to take that question, too, and circle back with you.
But did you have another one? Maybe I can get another one.
Q Yeah. How about the –- President Biden’s Indo-Pacific policy? I’m talking about Japan and North Korea. I understand (inaudible) does talk with his Japanese counterpart. But what is U.S. policy on Japan?
MS. PSAKI: Well, U.S. policy and Japan, as it relates to North Korea?
MS. PSAKI: Both. Okay. Well, our — the President’s view is, of course, that it is without question that North Korea’s nuclear ballistic missile and other proliferation-related activities constitute a serious threat to the international peace and security of the world, and undermine the global nonproliferation regime. And we obviously have — still have a vital interest in deterring North Korea — as does Japan, of course.
We will adopt a new strategy to keep the American people and our allies safe. That approach will begin with a thorough policy review of the state of play in North Korea, in close consultation with South Korea, Japan, and other allies on ongoing pressure options and the potential for any future diplomacy.
So I will say we will — as we have historically, the United States will work closely with partners in the region to determine a path forward and work together on deterrence.
Q How about the TPP? Is President Biden considering to rejoin the TPP — Trans-Pacific Partnership?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think, you know, President Biden knows TPP wasn’t perfect and believes we need to make it stronger and better. But, at this point, you know, our focus and his focus, as it relates to the economy, is on doing everything we can to advance working families and the American middle class. And so that will be his focus in the coming months.
Go ahead, Justin.
Q Just a quick one on — on Inauguration Day, China sanctioned a number of outgoing Trump administration officials. I know the NSC has put a statement out kind of denouncing that, saying that it was a political act. But there’s been a call from some Republicans on Capitol Hill to either retaliate with sanctions against Chinese officials or to expel the ambassador here in Washington. I’m wondering if you’re contemplating either of those actions?
MS. PSAKI: For those who didn’t have the statement, well, I’ll just — because it was a — there’s been a lot going on this week, I think we can all agree. The Biden-Harris administration has noted China’s sanctioning of more than two dozen former Trump administration officials, imposing these sanctions on Inauguration Day as they did — a seemingly — an attempt to play partisan divides. Americans of both parties should criticize this unproductive and cynical move. And President Biden looks forward to working with leaders in both parties to position America to outcompete China.
I don’t have any additional update, though, on other considerations.
Q Thank you, ma’am. This morning, the White House put out a statement on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. As a candidate herself, the Vice President proposed an abortion rights law akin to the Voting Rights Act. Is that something that she still supports? Is that something that the President is exploring?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update from the Vice President’s policy. Obviously, her policies are the policies of the Biden-Harris administration, and the statement today speaks to those policies.
Q Thanks, Jen. Can we have a week ahead?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, we have ventured to get you a week ahead. And I promise that we will do it in the future, but we don’t have any really detailed specifics to share with you at this point in time, other than the President will not be leaving the DMV, I can assure you, next week, and he will continue to sign additional executive actions and engage with members of Congress. We will have a more detailed schedule, but we’re still ironing out all the specifics.
Thank you everyone. Let’s do this again on Monday.
END 2:05 P.M. EST
Post based on press release to Zennie62Media from The Biden Administration.
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