Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:52 A.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Good morning. Is it morning? Is it lunchtime?
Thank you all for your flexibility. I know we moved the briefing up a little bit today.
At 1:00 p.m., the President will deliver remarks on the administration's response to the coup in Burma, which I think that guidance just went out, but just so you all have — are aware.
A couple of other updates for all of you: The President, the Vice President, and the Secretary of Treasury had a productive and substantive conversation yesterday with the business leaders about the need to urgently pass the American Rescue Plan. The group discussed the importance of getting direct assistance to families who are suffering, and there was consensus that getting immediate help to the American people is paramount.
The President also raised his priority to increase wages and ensure no one who makes minimum wage is living below the poverty line. The business leaders shared the experiences of their own workforces and discovered — discussed, sorry — discussed the challenges their employees and customer base face to overcome the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.
The group agreed to work together moving forward to help grow the economy, particularly around infrastructure investment, and help make life better for working families across the country.
Another scheduling update for all of you: This Friday, President Biden will continue his engagement around the American Rescue Plan by meeting with a bipartisan group of mayors and governors here at the White House to discuss the vital need to get more support to their communities and to those on the frontlines of this fight.
He has proposed $350 billion in support for state and local government. That means keeping cops, firefighters, public health workers, teachers, and other public servants on the job in the fight against the virus. And that means getting help to cities, counties, and states to get vaccines in arms faster, something many governors and mayors have spoken about.
Mayors in particular are on the frontlines of this, and we've seen widespread bipartisan support from them. We're hoping to even bring some of them to the briefing here to talk — briefing room here to talk with all of you on Friday.
Just a couple of other updates:
Today our COVID response team gave an update on its progress and sweeping action in addressing the health crisis facing our nation. They announced the launch of five new community vaccination centers across Texas and New York State.
In Texas, sites in Arlington, Dallas, and Houston will collectively be able to administer more than 10,000 shots a day in some of the hardest-hit areas in the state. Teams from the federal government are being deployed immediately to help get those sites running and are expected to start the week of February 22nd, so before the end of the month.
In New York, sites in Brooklyn and Queens will open the same week and will together have a capacity for 6,000 shots a day. This follows two sites announced last week and other ongoing efforts to accelerate equitable vaccination efforts, including by increasing weekly state vaccine supply by 25 percent since entering office; deploying federal personnel to support vaccination efforts nationwide; and over $3.15 billion in funding to states, tribes, and territories.
Second, our team also announced members of its Health Equity Task Force. This is something all — many of you have been asking about since the President took office. The President's 12 members — the 12 members will bring noteworthy backgrounds and expertise to represent a range of racial and ethnic groups and other key constituencies, including children and youth; educators and students; healthcare providers; immigrants; individuals with disabilities; LGBTQ: individuals; public health experts; rural communities; state, local, territorial, tribal governments; and labor unions.
This board is charged with issuing a range of recommendations to help inform the COVID-19 response and recovery, including equitable allocation of resources. And, of course, it will be chaired by Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith.
Finally, someone in here — I think it was your colleague from AP — asked last — a couple of days ago, I should say, about the President getting COVID tested. And I just wanted to provide an update that the President's last COVID test was last Thursday; it was negative. We will venture to ensure we are providing that information to you as it comes out moving forward, or as he has tested for.
But just so everybody has a full assessment of why or the timeline: Ninety-five percent — there's 95 percent protection from the vaccine, but it's not 100 percent protection. So the President's doctor believes it is reasonable and prudent to randomly test the President every two weeks as surveillance, and we'll keep you all updated. But that's kind of the — while there isn't CDC guidelines, that's his recommendation.
That is it. Let's go to you. Go ahead.
Q: Well, thank you, Jen, for the follow-up there. On two topics, first being impeachment: The President has said consistently that he will not be watching the trial. He said so again yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q: But yesterday, the House impeachment managers unveiled videos of the Capitol riot that clearly was very moving to a lot of people. It resonated to a lot of people, including those in that chamber. Is the President really not going to participate at all in this historic experience, this national moment? Does he have nothing he wants to add to those who may have been impacted by what they saw yesterday as part of this trial?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it may seem like some time ago, but the President has spoken repeatedly to the events of January 6th. On January 6th, he called the insurrection at the Capitol "an unprecedented assault" on our democracy, bordering on sedition. He called — said it was "unlike anything we've seen in modern times."
Again, when the House voted on January 13th, following that vote, he called the events of January 6th an "armed insurrection against the United States of America" that was carried out by "political extremists and domestic terrorists, who were incited to this violence by President Trump."
He has certainly not been silent. He won't be silent on, of course, the — you know, his concerns about hate rhetoric and speech, and the impact that has on society. And he hasn't been silent on the actions of the former President.
Q: On another matter, the CDC today announced that they find it — they have a study that show that two masks are significantly better than one in slowing the spread of coronavirus. Will the White House champion the position that Americans should be wearing two masks? And is that a behavior will be modeled perhaps by White House staff?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I've learned a lot about this myself — the issue of studies versus recommendations, or specific guidelines, I should say.
So this was a study, which was a reflection of the importance of well-fitting masks, something that many of our health and medical experts have talked about. It doesn't actually issue definitive guidance on one mask versus two masks. Obviously, if that's something they were to issue as official guidance, we listen to our health and medical experts.
But the study does show that if a person has a loose-fitting mask, that they should consider options to improve that fit, and this includes: nose wire, knotting the ear loops on your mask, wearing a cloth mask over a medical procedure disposable mask — something we do here quite a bit.
So the bottom line of that study is actually to improve the fit of the mask, and a second mask is one of several options to be able to do that.
Q: And then, just to follow up, and then I'll hand off: In terms — where is the — is there a plan underway for the White House administration to send out masks to Americans — to mail them to addresses so Americans will have their own high-quality mask, when there's often confusion as to what kind should be worn, what offers more protection?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, one, the President uses every opportunity he has, as he did at the Super Bowl — not that he was there, but in the PSA — to make clear to the American people the safety of wearing masks, the impact of wearing masks. He said that it would save 50,000 lives — more than 50,000 lives if Americans wore them for 100 days.
There are a range of options under consideration on to –how to ensure that people who need masks the most, people who need this type of protection the most receive it, but no decision has been — no final decision has been made.
Q: The President's remarks at one o'clock on Burma — could you give us a little flavor of what he's going to say? Is he going to announce sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: I've been here long — we're having such fun together. I don't think you want me to get fired on week three of my time here as the Press Secretary. He will have more to say about actions being taken by the United States in rea- — in response to the coup in Burma.
Q: Just to follow up, he's called for the military coup leaders to stand down. Is there any indication that they are doing that yet?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have a specific update on the actions of the military leaders. Obviously, this is an issue that we are following closely from here, from the State Department, from our entire national security team.
As we've noted in here previously, but it's worth repeating, we're also in consultation and close coordination with our partners and allies in steps that can be taken, pressure that can be made.
There's been a statement from the U.N. Security Council, which is a significant act, as you all know. So I don't have an update on the actions on the ground, but clearly, this is on the President's mind, this issue, and it's essential that we lead here from the United States.
Q: Just a second topic: Has the President abandoned the plan to force the sale of TikTok's American operations to a group that would include Oracle and Walmart?
MS. PSAKI: I know there was some reporting on it this morning, I think that you're referencing — I believe.
Q: Wall Street Journal.
MS. PSAKI: Wall Street Journal. So it's not accurate to suggest that there is a new proactive step by the Biden White House. It looks like there was a conflation of two ongoing processes: one that's through the courts and one that is through the CFIUS process that goes through the Department of Treasury. There is a rigorous CFIUS process that is ongoing. I'm not going to, of course — not that you're expecting me to — set a precedent of commenting on those reviews in process, but would just stress that they are distinct processes.
I will note, broadly speaking, that we are comprehensively evaluating, as we've talked about in here, the risks U.S. data, including from TikTok, will — and the risks to U.S data, I should say, including from TikTok, and we'll address them in a decisive and effective fashion.
But if we have news to announce, we will announce it. So I wouldn't take it as a new step.
Q: Lastly, is there a timetable for this review?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have a timetable for you. Again, it's a broad review that's expanded beyond TikTok, of course, from here. And I think what I was referencing in the beginning is the fact that there are ongoing processes through the courts, which we'd certainly send you to DOJ and others, but there's also an ongoing CFIUS review that's happening at the Department of Treasury.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead, Kristen.
Q: Jen, thank you. So President Biden will be speaking at the Pentagon later today. Among the top issues he inherits, of course: Afghanistan. So will he be addressing the situation in Afghanistan? And Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said over the weekend it's his understanding that the troops will not be leaving Afghanistan in May, as was determined under the previous administration. Is that an official decision that President Biden has made?
MS. PSAKI: I don't — I'm not aware of Senator Graham being a spokesperson for the administration. I will say that I wouldn't expect there to be an update in his remarks today at the Department of Defense on Afghanistan. Of course, this is a topic that is of utmost importance to the President and his national security team, but I don't have an update on force posture, and I wouldn't expect one today.
Q: So just to be clear: no official decision on the troop withdrawal that was previously determined from the previous administration.
MS. PSAKI: There's no update on a change or an update on a status — a force — the status of the force posture. Obviously, that would be something determined in consultation with the Secretary of Defense. So I understand why you're asking, he's going there today, but that's not the focus of his trip.
Q: Okay, and if I could just follow up with you on comments he made yesterday about school reopenings. You said the goal was for more than 50 percent of schools to have some teaching in person at least one day a week. You said you hoped it would be higher. But why is the administration setting the bar at one day a week? Why not go higher?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we are not planning to celebrate at 100 days if we reach that goal. That is our own effort to make our own — set our own markings, bold and — set a bold and ambitious agenda for how we're going to measure ourselves and progress.
But we certainly hope to build from that, even at 100 days. And from there, our objective — the President's objectives is for all schools to reopen, to stay open, to be open five days a week, for kids to be learning. That's what our focus is on. This is simply a goal for 100 days.
Q: But, Jen, a lot of schools are already doing that. And for working parents, one day a week doesn't help a lot.
MS. PSAKI: That's, again, the bar of where we'd like the majority of schools across the country to be, which they're not at this point in time, and we want to build from there. And it really depends; it differs from school district to school district. Part of the reason that there is funding in the American Rescue Plan is to ensure that school districts that don't have the funding they need to ensure they are equipped to reopen, to meet that bar and exceed it are able to do exactly that.
Q: Thanks, Jen. I want to pick up on Jonathan's comment on the President — or question on the President not engaging on impeachment. Indulge me.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, always happy to.
Q: How should the American public interpret the President's silence on this? Is he not invested in the outcome of this trial or is he?
MS. PSAKI: The American public should — should read it as his commitment to delivering on exactly what they elected him to do, which is not to be a commentator on the daily developments of an impeachment trial, but to push forward an American Rescue Plan that will put people back to — that will ensure people are back to work, get the assistance they need, get shots in arms, reopen schools. That's what they asked him to do, and that's what he's focused on doing every day.
Q: Might he address it when it's wrapped?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he did put out a statement at the conclusion of the House trial, so I'd certainly keep that option open. And he was obviously asked a question, as you referenced, yesterday about it and reiterated that — where his focus is. And I expect that will be his focus for the coming days.
Q: And then one other housekeeping thing. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is indicating that he hasn't heard directly from President Biden, and that he reached out on January 8th and has yet to hear back from the President directly. Why is President Trump — pardon me, why is President Biden, not engaging with Republicans —
MS. PSAKI: I won't tell him you called him "President Trump."
Q: Why is he — why is he not engaging with Kevin McCarthy directly?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I can assure you that senior members of our team are in close consultation and in touch with senior members of Congressman — Leader McCarthy's team.
I don't have any additional calls to read out for you, other than to repeat or reiterate that the President is open to and committed to speaking with a range of Democrats and Republicans, as is evidenced by the people he's brought here to the White House. And he picks up the phone on a daily basis and calls people, but I don't have any calls to Leader McCarthy to read out for you today.
Q: Two topics. First of all, what does President Biden think about the Dallas Mavericks' owner, Mark Cuban, deciding to indefinitely stop playing the National Anthem before his National Basketball Association games?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I haven't spoken with the President about the decision by Mark Cuban on the Dallas Mavericks — or the, I should say, the National Anthem — but I know he's incredibly proud to be an American and has great respect for the Anthem and all that it represents, especially for our men and women serving in uniform around the world.
He'd also say that, of course, that part of the — that pride in our country means recognizing moments where we as a country haven't lived up to our highest ideals, which is often and at times what people are speaking to when they take action at sporting events. And it means respecting the right of people, granted to them in the Constitution, to peacefully protest. That's why he ran for President in the first place, and that's what he's focused on doing every day.
Q: And then, on schools, when President Biden talked for the last couple of months, particularly during the transition, about reopening schools within the first 100 days, why didn't he ever mentioned the small print that that was just going to be for one day a week as the goal?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, the President made a — set a goal of reopening the majority of schools within 100 days, and when you asked what that meant, I answered the question.
So we are — that is the — that is not the ceiling, that is the — that is the bar we're trying to leap over and exceed. And as I said in response to Christian's [sic] — Kristen's question, the President wants to not just open schools, he wants them to stay reopened. He wants kids to be back in school learning five days a week. He wants everybody — parents to feel safe, teachers to feel safe.
That's why he asked his Department of Education and the CDC to work together on guidelines. That's why he's put funding — proposed funding in the American Rescue Plan, because he knows that's not going to happen on its own. It's going to need some assistance to make it — make it reality.
Q: Is there a thought that this goal though that you guys are setting for the first 100 days is more of a dry run for next year? Because 100 days from January 20th — April 30th — that's when a lot of schools are getting ready to close for the year anyway.
MS. PSAKI: Well, it just happens that January 20th is when every President is inaugurated, so we can't change that. And 100 days, we felt, was a period of time — a measurable period of time where we could set a goal; measure ourself against; hopefully leap way past that goal — you know, that's always our objective; and then build from there.
And you're right: Schools won't be in session for the summer, but this is a pandemic we're working to get under control, making progress every month. And we're certainly hopeful that things will be — more kids will be back in school five days a week as quickly as it can safely happen.
Q: And then just one more for one of our colleagues who could not be here because of social distancing guidelines. What do you say to teachers who are nervous about going back into the classroom without being fully vaccinated?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we say to teachers: We want you to be able to go back to school and go back to school safely. And, you know, the President is married to a teacher, Dr. Biden. He has known many thousands of teachers throughout his career. He listens to them. We all — we all engage with a range of groups about their concerns, about what their objectives are. Most teachers will tell you they want to be in the classroom and they want to be there with their students, especially of younger kids, and do that in-person learning. They want that too. They want to do it safely.
We're waiting for the CDC guidelines. We are — those will be the first guidelines that will be coming from the federal level that will outline recommendations based on health and medical experts. We're waiting for those. We're hopeful that those will give a sense to school districts across the country on the steps that they can take to increase the safety in their schools. It will be up to school districts, but that's really the next step here.
We want schools to open, but we want them to open safely, and we want teachers and parents to all feel that.
Go ahead, Mike.
Q: Thanks, Jen. If I could talk to you a little bit about the sales campaign that you've talked about to pass the COVID relief package, and the — and the COVID vaccination effort.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q: If you compare to the Obama administration, when he was trying to sell the healthcare — Obamacare — Affordable Care Act, the President went around the country; held very long, very involved town hall meetings. There's obviously COVID restrictions, but the President — President Biden seems willing to travel now. He will be going on his second trip on Air Force One next week.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q: And so, you know, why aren't you guys using that opportunity to at least, you know, get out to the — to the American people and sell the plan a little bit more aggressively? And he seems to be just staying here.
And then second, on the — on the vaccination in a sort of related way, you know, once the website was fully up for Obamacare, there was a massive multimedia campaign — TV ads, you know, you worked with partners to sort of get out there into like underserved communities to, you know, to get people to sign up. Where is the similar effort to get people vaccinated?
MS. PSAKI: There will be a similar effort. We've just —
Q: And when will that start?
MS. PSAKI: We've only been here three weeks. It takes some time to get a paid media campaign off the ground. We want to do that in an effective manner.
We're not — we're not waiting or delaying. We obviously just announced the Equity Task Force today. All of these individuals are experts, represent different parts of the country and different communities in the country who are deeply impacted. We expect to have many of them out there communicating broadly. We have done dozens and dozens and dozens of interviews with the senior administration officials, with Cabinet officials to communicate about the American Rescue Plan. The President has been out talking about it nearly every day.
So we have not held back from using the bully pulpit of the presidency to communicate with the American public. He will be out next week, as you mentioned, and I expect he will be out more in the weeks ahead to communicate effectively and directly with the American public, but a little different from the Affordable Care Act.
What we're doing, in part — it may be what's — the components of what are in the plan: reopening schools; getting vaccines in arms; ensuring that Americans who don't have food have — or have, you know, concerns about putting food on the table have money to get through this period of time — is working. More than 70 percent of the public, in almost every poll, supports this package.
So, we are certainly out there, everybody is focused on this every day, selling it, and the public seems to like what they're hearing. But we — our job is not done; we need to get it across the finish line. It's why the President will be traveling and others will be out there even more in the weeks ahead.
Q: And on one other topic, the President put forth on the first day a comprehensive immigration proposal legislation that would — that would wrap a lot of things into one bill. There seems to be support in the advocacy community — immigration advocacy community now for moving ahead with components of that separately, both for DREAMers, perhaps for ag workers.
Does the President support splitting that effort up? You know, while — you know, while they're, you know — essentially, while the bigger package is being worked on, does he support going ahead, and would he sign into law if they got passed — the smaller pieces? Or does he want to put that off and wait for the bigger effort?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Mike, from following this closely, the formal bill has not been proposed yet on Capitol Hill. The President proposed it with three key pieces of it because he felt they were all important, including investing in smart security, providing a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, and also addressing the root causes that are causing people to flee their home country, something he worked on even as Vice President.
So, it hasn't even been formally proposed. I think we're going to wait for that to happen before there's, you know, readouts or our engagement on what is looking like it's going to happen on Capitol Hill. But we'll see what happens.
Q: Two questions, please. In India, Twitter has shut down hundreds of accounts from people who criticize the government. Is this — is the White House concerned about this crackdown on free speech by the Modi government? And to what extent does this impact the U.S.-India relationship and your administration's Indo-Pacific strategy?
MS. PSAKI: I know that my colleagues at the State Department have spoken to this more extensively, and I would certainly point you to them. Of course, we always have concerns about crackdowns on freedom of speech, freedom of expression happening around the world, and — when it doesn't allow people to communicate and peacefully protest. But I would point you to the State Department for more specifics.
Q: And then the second question is on the — on this chip shortage that has now moved beyond just automakers. A lot of automakers have shut down production. Obviously, they need the chips to come in from Asia.
You're planning to do a broad supply-chain review, presumably including these chips. What does that mean? Does the White House consider these parts essential? And are you interested at all in creating incentives for chipmakers to make them in the U.S.? Because there's a lot of — everything basically relies on them.
MS. PSAKI: Right. Absolutely. That supply chain is essential. This kind of flows into both the national economic — the economic team and the national security team. Let me talk to them and see if there's any more specifics on our plans for incentivizing production here in the United States.
Q: Thanks, Jen. I wanted to ask if you could share more about the trip to Wisconsin. Why Wisconsin? Is he going to be doing more — you alluded that he'd be doing some outreach. Can you talk about what kind of outreach he'll be doing? Is — I assume it's on the Rescue Plan, but if you could — will he be meeting with first responders, people in the communities? Can you talk about that a little bit?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. And the specifics are still coming together, but I'll tell you what's knowable at this point in time. You know, the President is going to Wisconsin. Obviously, it's a state where, you know, many people have been impacted by COVID and many people have been impacted by the economic downturn. And he always enjoys traveling and engaging directly with people, so while he's there, he'll do a town hall, and that's an opportunity to hear directly from people about how the dual crises are impacting them.
In terms of other events and stops he'll do while he's there, the schedule is still kind of coming together and being finalized.
Q: On Myanmar-Burma: In Burma, you know, the economy is really weak. It's shrinking. There's COVID. I mean, the question I have is, is: Would sanctions, beyond sanctioning the generals, really help in any way?
MS. PSAKI: Help in terms of change the behavior?
MS. PSAKI: Well —
Q: Or just hurt regular people and the country.
MS. PSAKI: Well, you know, we'll wait for the President to actually announce the specific details, which I know will happen more — later this afternoon. But part of our effort is not just unilateral action from the United States, but also working with our partners and allies, including in the region, to determine the right ways to put pressure on and have engagement.
As I noted earlier, there was obviously the statement from the U.N. Security Council permanent members. There is ongoing discussions and talks with our partners and allies in Asia and Europe. And, you know, there's certainly a recognition that this will need to be a coordinated effort.
Q: And on immigration: I know, on Monday, you talked about, kind of, working out the priorities — national security threat, recent entries. There's more reports of, you know, a growing number of people arriving on the border. How closely is President Biden watching this? Obviously, attacking the root causes of this migration is something that he knows well, that he's worked on for a long time.
But what about in the short term? What steps are going to be taken to confront this issue? Because more — so we don't have a repeat of things that we've had had in the past, which obviously President Biden is very familiar with.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. He's certainly following it closely, but obviously defers to the leadership and the guidance of his Secretary of Homeland Security, Ali Mayorkas, who is now confirmed — been in office in his role for just over a week now. Obviously, is — comes to that job with a great deal of experience working on these issues, including during challenging times.
But since you gave me the opportunity, I mean, one of the things we are certainly doing is communicating that, due to the pandemic and the fact that we have not had the time, as an administration, to put in place a humane, comprehensive process for processing individuals who are coming to the border, now is not the time to come, and the vast majority of people will be turned away. Asylum processes at the border will not occur immediately; it will take time to implement.
And as DHS and CBP have said, you know, when long-term — you know, this is — you know, there have been incredibly narrow and limited circumstances where individuals have been — have come into the country awaiting for their hearing, but the vast majority have been — have been turned away.
And so this is not the time to come. And, you know, this is obviously an emotional issue for many of us who've worked on this in the past, for the President himself, but we need time to put in place, and partners to put in place a comprehensive process and system that will allow for processing at the border of asylum seekers, but also, you know, providing a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who are in the United States.
Q: Thank you, Jen. Jim Murren, who is the head of the Nevada COVID Task Force, has proposed making Nevada have an elite level of health and safety measures. And he said that, by fall, he thinks there'll be enough shots in arms that there'll be fans in seats of a variety of venues — sporting venues, concerts, stuff like that. Do you think that that is possible? And is that a priority for the administration?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the President said during his Super Bowl interview that he certainly hoped that next year, at this time, we would all be watching the Super Bowl at parties, and the stands would be full.
Our — but we defer to our health and medical team who look at the entire country — and I'm not sure if this individual is just looking at Nevada or looking at the entire country — and what their guidelines and their guidance offers us.
We know that we will have enough vaccines to provide them to the American people by the end of the summer, but a vaccine is not a vaccination. And in order to get to a place where we are returning back to normal, we need to ensure that those vaccines are made and — are turned into vaccinations and that, you know, the vast — that a large swath of the American public is vaccinated.
But obviously, we defer to our health and medical team working for the federal government here. No disrespect to the individual you mentioned.
Q: Yeah, does the White House have a position on the prosecutors opening up cases in Georgia on efforts to subvert the 2020 Election?
MS. PSAKI: I'm not — I have not followed this closely. I would likely send you to the Department of Justice for any comment on it.
Q: And on the HHS Secretary-designate: There are plans on the part of Republicans to paint him as taking actions and supporting actions in California that have been punitive to people there, that the state has been overly aggressive. What is the — what is your position on that, with — as far as it goes with Becerra?
MS. PSAKI: Tell me a little bit more about your question.
Q: Well, what is your response to the idea that he — that he has stepped in and taken actions in California that have been overly aggressive, and that he should take — bear some blame for the problems that the state is having with COVID?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that the President nominated Attorney General Becerra because he felt he was exactly the right person to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this time, and that his work on a range of issues, including in working to pass the Affordable Care Act, including his defense of the Affordable Care Act on a number of cases in California, were certainly part of that decision.
And, frankly, it is disappointing that Congress — the Senate — is delaying any further in confirming his nomination at a time when thousands of people are dying every day of a pandemic, and people need leadership at the top of an agency that has an important role to play.
Q: Thanks, Jen. I want to ask you questions on two fronts here. First off, you know, it's been over a month since the January 6th Capitol attack, and we have not received any kind of public briefing from the Capitol Police. A lot of people have raised concerns about that. Does President Biden want to see that kind of briefing? And also, on a similar note, what does he think about efforts from — such as Congressman Jamaal Bowman's to establish a congressional investigation or commission into the Capitol attack?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly leave the determination about whether there's a congressional investigation up to members of Congress. I've seen that proposal. Obviously, there are others who would need to support that to move it forward, and I note a number do.
In terms of the timeline of a briefing from the Capitol Police: You know, I would again for refer to them on the timeline. We, of course — here in the federal government, there's an ongoing investigation, as you know, out of the Department of Justice, and I defer to them for any reports or updates from their end.
Q: And a second question: You know, obviously the President is going to be addressing the coup in Myanmar today.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q: You know, he's, I'm assuming, speaking out against it and taking action there. You and Secretary of State Blinken have talked about how the January 6th attack, you know, makes it — I think the Secretary of State said a "greater challenge." You said it will take some time for America to gain its status as a beacon of leadership again.
As we address this, how important is it to have accountability for the Capitol attack, including potentially impeachment, as we want to, you know, spread democracy abroad?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what Secretary Blinken and I were both referring to is the fact that, in order to project to other countries around the world that there should be a protection of democracy, that there should be freedom of speech, that there should be freedom of expression, we have to conduct ourselves in that manner from here. And the pieces we have control over are what the President of the United States does, what the Secretary of State does, and how we all conduct ourselves from this administration.
He has spoken, as I started the briefing talking about, to his views on the horrific events of January 6th and the fact that it was an attack on our democracy here. He has — he made those statements because that's how he felt, and also it's important to make that clear to the public and to the world. But in terms of what steps will be taken from here, we leave that to the Senate.
Q: Obviously, we're calling what happened in Myanmar a "coup." Do you think that's an accurate description for what happened on January 6th?
MS. PSAKI: I'm not going to give any new definitions. There's obviously a process that's ongoing. I'm sure you'll all be watching today as the Senate proceeds with the hearings.
I appreciate your creativity, though.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q: The Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attacked Saudi Arabia today in Abha. The coalition called it a war crime. Does this undermine the President's effort to end the war in Yemen? And are you putting too much faith in the Houthi rebels' intention to get into the negotiation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, thank you, Nadia. Let me first say that we condemn the Houthi attack today at the Abha International Airport in Saudi Arabia, a civilian airport. The attack coincides with Special Envoy Lenderking's first trip to the region in his efforts to bring a lasting peace to Yemen that will ease the suffering of the Yemeni people.
The Houthis, meanwhile, continually demonstrate a desire to prolong the war by attacking Saudi Arabia, including attacks on citizens. And we will continue our diplomatic outreach and engage with various stakeholders, including members of Congress, humanitarian aid organizations, the U.N. Special Envoy, and others to bring a negotiated settlement to end the war.
As President Biden has said, we are stepping up our diplomacy to end the war, as I say — I should say, as he said last week at the State Department. And the main focus of our efforts will continue to be on diplomacy to end the war via the U.N.-led process: to impose a ceasefire, open humanitarian channels, and restore long-dormant peace talks. We believe that remains the best path forward.
Q: Oh, thank you. I have a quick question on Iran. Some reports indicate that you're considering baby steps to get back into the negotiation. Is this on the table? Is this something that the administration is considering (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Did you say "baby steps"? I'm sorry, the masks make it hard to hear.
MS. PSAKI: You know, the President's focus is on reiterating what he did last weekend, which is that in order to move forward, Iran needs to comply with the outlines of the JCPOA and the agreement that was formed just a few years ago.
In terms of any additional steps under consideration, I don't have any update on that.
Q: Thanks, Jen. I wanted to ask you about the budget, which I know it's a little early to be thinking about, but —
MS. PSAKI: It's never too early to talk about the budget — skinny budget, all sorts of budgets.
Q: Can you lay out a timeline for us of when to expect to see the President's first budget? And my second question is, does the President plan to cut his proposal — or cut defense spending, or propose to cut defense spending?
MS. PSAKI: As you know, our nominee to lead the OMB just had her hearing yesterday, and hopefully she'll be in place soon. But there was — there were some challenges that came about during the transition in terms of a bit of intransigence from the outgoing administration and lack of cooperation, as it related to OMB on the budget process. So we expect there to be a delay in the first — in the release of his first budget. I don't have an exact timeline of when that will be though.
Q: Would we see an outline or something? I mean, I know the budget is a thick document, but would you see an outline before that? Or what are you thinking?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have anything to preview yet for you. I can talk to our friends or connect you directly with our colleagues at OMB and see if there's anything more specific they can preview for you at this point in time.
Q: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead in the back.
Q: Yes, thank you, Jen. On Iran as well, does the administration welcome any role that its allies in the region can play in order to help facilitate talks with Iran or bring it back to the table? I mean, General McKenzie said on Monday, namely about Qatar, "When you consider the problem with Iran, they have a large role to play in that." Does the administration consider Qatar as a potential, maybe, role-player in bringing Iran back to the table? And knowing that both National Security Advisor Sullivan and the Iran's envoy Rob Malley, they both spoke with the Qatar Prime Minister.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the way to move things forward is for Iran to come into full compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA. And if they do that, the United States would do the same and then use that as a platform to build a longer and stronger agreement that also addresses other areas of concern.
So that's really — the ball is really in their court to take those steps. And whether there are roles of other countries in the region — obviously, in any of these — you know, if we were to reach that stage of consultations with countries in the region, we'd be a key part of that process, but we're certainly not there yet.
Q: And also, on the Houthi (inaudible) — delisting the Houthis from the terror list — other than the humanitarian assistance, does it have any strategic significance? Is the administration willing to enter a dialogue with the Houthis in order to end the war in Yemen in a peaceful way?
MS. PSAKI: I know there have been some reports, but I don't believe my colleagues at the State Department have confirmed anything about delisting, so I would point you to them for any confirmation or specifics and any of the reasoning.
Q: But is the administration going to do that at any time soon?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I'd point you to the State Department. They have not even — they have not even spoken to these reports.
Q: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Mike.
Q: One quick question. I know the Speaker hasn't yet set a date, but I assume we all expect a joint address to the — to Congress in the next few weeks. Has the President started the process of both thinking about what he wants to say personally and also the, sort of, interagency collection of information that a President normally does for these things?
MS. PSAKI: "Interagency collection" — it doesn't make it sound that interesting. Discussing with experts all of the ideas they have to put Americans back to work —
Q: You're the spokesperson.
MS. PSAKI: (Laughs.) We have — I don't have any update on a date. Obviously, there are — you know, there — the impact of COVID includes the fact that it is challenging to envision how you'd have 500 people in attendance at a joint session, but obviously —
Q: Do you think you can remote? Is a remote speech possible? Is that on the table?
MS. PSAKI: There are — there are a range of options under discussion. We're engaged on that. I don't have any updates for what it will look like or when it will — when it would be.
But I can say that, you know, the President is eager to lay out more specifics of his Build Back Better agenda, and he is in ongoing discussions with a range of stakeholders in Congress and the administration, outside, about what that's going to look like.
And he mentioned that when he gave his joint — not joint session speech, sorry; he wasn't in office yet — but when he gave his primetime address a couple of weeks ago, that that would kind of be the next step. So he's, you know, always discussing with experts and policy experts what that would look like, but I don't have anything on the timeline or what the format would look like at this point.
Q: Does he want the American Recovery Plan to be passed before he delivers that speech?
MS. PSAKI: You know, he wants the American Rescue Plan to be —
MS. PSAKI: — to be — it's okay — to be — the "ARP," you can call it; sometimes it's easier — to be passed as quickly as possible. He certainly, as — having served in the Senate for 36 years, he knows that there's a process that needs to take place. As you know, it's working its way through the committees in the House; then it will go to the Senate. That takes a little bit of time just by the nature of the important work that happens. He is pleased with the progress and the urgency he sees from the House and Senate. But in terms of a specific date for his next speech or next proposal, I just don't have anything to preview for you.
Q: Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.
12:35 P.M. EST
Joseph R. Biden, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/348026