Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:36 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: All right. I will tell you masks are a little tricky with earrings on, so just bear with me here. Okay.
So, just have a couple of items at the top. Okay. Learned my lesson on earrings. All right.
Today, the President will deliver remarks to mark the 50 -- mark 50 million shots that have been administered since he entered office. In his remarks, he will provide an update on the strong progress we've made across our pandemic response to date. He will commend the COVID Response Team's extraordinary whole-of-government effort to get shots in the arms of Americans, as well as the work of so many Americans who have stepped up to the plate in this moment.
He will also remind Americans that now is not the time to let our guards down, especially in the face of new variants. He will continue -- he will encourage people to continue wearing a mask and get vaccinated when it is their turn.
I also have some brief updates on the winter storm that affected a few states last week. As many of you saw, last night the President approved the State of Oklahoma's Major Disaster Declaration request. This action will authorize FEMA to provide both public and individual assistance, including grants for temporary housing and home repairs; low cost loans to cover uninsured property losses; and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.
Power and water restoration continue across Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. Accelerated vaccine shipments are occurring. And vaccination appointments are being rescheduled and expanded to accommodate those canceled last week.
And as you all know, the President is, of course, traveling to Texas tomorrow.
Today, the Vice President also visited a local Giant Pharmacy in Washington, D.C., that is participating in the administration's federal Retail Pharmacy Program. The program is increasing access to COVID-19 vaccines across the country. The Biden-Harris administration is committed to ensuring Americans have access to vaccine in their own communities, including at local pharmacies. And last week alone, the administration doubled our allocation to pharmacies to over 2 million doses across 7,000 pharmacies.
With that, Darlene, why don't you kick it off?
Q: Great. I have a question to start off with about Neera Tanden. So when she tweeted that, quote, "a vampire has more heart than Ted Cruz," when she compared Senator McConnell to Voldemort, and when she called Senator Collins, quote, "the worst," did those comments meet the President's standard of treating everyone with dignity and respect?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first I'll note that when Neera Tanden testified just a few weeks ago, she apologized for her past comments and that she would be joining an administration where, as we've noted in here, there's an expectation of a high bar of civility and engagement, whether that's on social media or in person. And we certainly expect she would meet that bar.
Q: Did the President and the transition team underestimate how much of a problem her tweets would become?
MS. PSAKI: The President nominated Neera Tanden because she is qualified, because she is experienced, because she has a record of working with people who agree with her and disagree with her, with -- and she has decades of experience, and plus, she has lived experience of her own, having benefited from a number of the programs that she would oversee, as a daughter of a single parent and somebody who benefited from food stamps at certain points in time. She would bring a new perspective to the role. That's why he nominated her to the job and why we're continuing to fight for her confirmation.
Q: On the 50 millionth shot, this afternoon, does the White House -- is the White House able to say where and when that shot was administered, what state, even some characteristics about who may have received it?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, it's a -- it's a great question. I think the challenge is that we get data in from so many different sources on a daily basis -- from states, from pharmacies, from mass vaccination sites -- that we hit that point -- hit the 50 millionth shot sometime yesterday, if not a little bit before, but we can't fine-tune exactly the person who hit that point -- hit that shot.
Q: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.
Q: Any update on the President's phone call or scheduled phone call with King Salman of Saudi Arabia?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have an update. As I noted yesterday, as soon as that call happens -- we expect it to be very soon -- we will, of course, provide a readout to all of you.
Q: And you said, when they do talk, that the President won't hold back. Will he be following up this talk with actions? Are sanctions on the table?
MS. PSAKI: I think there are a range of actions that are on the table, but the first step is -- the next step, I should say, is for the President to speak with the King. We expect that to happen very soon. As you know, we've committed to the release of an unclassified report that would come out from DNI and not from the White House. And, of course, our administration is focused on recalibrating the relationship, as we've talked about in here previously, and certainly there are areas where we will express concerns and leave open the option of accountability. There are also areas where we will continue to work with Saudi Arabia, given the threats they face in the region.
Q: What's the holdup to the phone call? Is the King avoiding your calls?
MS. PSAKI: I don't think that's the characterization. The President has a busy schedule. The King, obviously -- I can't speak to his schedule -- I'm not his spokesperson -- but we expect the call to happen very soon. I think there was some inaccurate reporting about it being confirmed when it wasn't a confirmed call yet.
Q: And you have made clear that the President is going to be speaking with his counterpart, with the King, not with the Crown Prince. But given the Crown Prince's role in the future of the Kingdom and that he is expected to be implicated here, why not speak to the person expected to be responsible?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the President's conversation will cover a range of topics with the King. There's obviously a lot to discuss with Saudi Arabia and with the leaders of Saudi Arabia. And as I noted -- previously noted -- the Crown Prince has been engaged with his appropriate counterparts. The President will be engaged with his appropriate counterparts. And we're engaged at many levels with leaders in Saudi Arabia.
Q: So will the Crown Prince's counterparts here (inaudible) -- speaking to him about this issue, though?
MS. PSAKI: He spoke with him last week; they did a readout. I don't think I have anything more about their call to read out.
Q: Hi, thank you. I just want to ask about the Post Office -- a couple of questions. You said earlier today that there was some concerns, I guess, with the leadership. Quote, "It's clear that the leadership can do better, and so that's our hope." Can you clarify whether you want a change in the Postmaster General, now that you've named new members to the board?
And, secondly, they've announced the purchase of a new fleet. The President, of course, announced on January 27th a study pursued -- aiming at electrifying the government fleet, including the Post Office. Only 10 percent of the fleet, (inaudible), will be electric. Do you plan to change that order or seek changes to it at all?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. The second question, I'll have to follow up on more specifics on it. That is certainly something that presidents committed to. I don't have an update on it, but I can venture to get one for you.
On the first question, some people may not be following this as closely as you and I have, so let me just give a little more context. Of course, the President is committed to the Post Office -- the Postal Service's success, which is why yesterday he nominated three extremely qualified individuals to fill the empty spots on the Board of Governors: Anton Hajjar, Amber McReynolds, and Ron Stroman.
And the American people highly value the Postal Service and the men and women who deliver our mail every day. And we're working hard to do exactly that.
But I think we can all agree, most Americans would agree, that the Postal Service needs leadership that can and will do a better job.
Now, as you know, and -- but not everybody knows -- it's up to the Board of Governors, of which we just nominated three individuals to serve, to determine the future of leadership there. And we certainly leave it up to their discretion.
Q: It sounds like you're signaling that the board could take a look at it. Does the President have confidence in the current Postmaster General?
MS. PSAKI: I think the President is certainly familiar with the process. He believes the leadership can do better. And we're eager to have the Board of Governors in place.
Q: Okay, can I ask on a slightly separate subject? You may have seen that GameStop is spiking again, as are similar stocks -- or "stonks" dare I call them. Do you have views on whether the SEC or the administration -- the Treasury Secretary will weigh in if we continue to see these sort of "meme" stocks fluctuating and spiking like this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, the SEC had been -- had had over- -- has oversight, I should say, and certainly has been watching it closely, monitoring it closely. The Treasury Secretary also convened a meeting just a few weeks ago, but I would certainly send you to them on what their plans are for monitoring engagement or speaking to it.
Q: But there's been no update since that meeting?
MS. PSAKI: I would send you directly to them to give any update on their progress and how they're monitoring it.
Q: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.
Q: The President is going to Texas tomorrow. He's obviously going to show empathy for victims of the storm. Does he have a message for the leadership in Texas on how to better prepare for winter storms? And what can the federal government do to kind of coerce private industry there to better prepare?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that he'll be traveling for most of the day with the governor, and he'll be -- they'll be surveying the damage, and I'm sure he'll be getting an update and briefings from him directly.
The President doesn't view the crisis and the millions of people who've been impacted by it as a Democratic or Republican issue. He views it as an issue where he's eager to get relief to tap into all the resources in the federal government, to make sure the people of Texas know we're thinking about them, we're fighting for them, and we're going to continue working on this as they're recovering.
There's plenty of time to have a policy discussion about better weatherization, better preparations, and I'm sure that's one that will be had. But right now we're focused on getting relief to the people in the state, getting updated briefings, tapping into all of the levers of federal government.
Q: Sure. There's a lot of hearings on the Hill about how the Capitol Police responded or prior to the January 6th events. Mike Pence and his family were there that day. Secret Service had intelligence briefings, presumably. Is there any concern or review about how the Secret Service assessed intelligence briefings and whether there was any missteps on their part?
MS. PSAKI: Review by the --
Q: Secret Service. I mean, Mike Pence and his family were at Capitol Hill that day. Clearly, there was intelligence out there that suggested things could happen. I'm curious to whether there's been any review by the Secret Service, or ordered about the Secret Service's actions that day, and how they handled (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: I'd encourage you to reach out to the leadership of the Secret Service to get a further comment on it.
Go ahead, Kristen. I'll come to you next.
Q: Thank you, Jen. A little bit of housekeeping.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q: A follow-up on the Texas questions, if I could. Will President Biden invite Senator Cruz and Cornyn to Texas with him to travel on Air Force One?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Dr. Biden is traveling, of course, with us to Texas -- with the President to Texas. There are some limitations on space available, so there are not members, I don't believe -- I will double check on this -- of any party traveling with the President to Texas.
But again, he's going to be spending the day traveling with Governor Abbott and surveying the damage on the ground.
Q: Will they be a part of his plans to survey the damage? Will they join him in any of those events tomorrow? Has there been any invitation extended?
MS. PSAKI: I'm happy to follow up on it for you, Kristen, but I'm not aware of their plans to participate in the events tomorrow. But I can check.
Q: Okay. I want to ask you about the uptick in migrants at the border. Some members of the Democratic Party are displeased with the way the administration is handling children who are being held at the border. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez tweeted this: Quote, "This is not okay, never has been okay, never will be okay - no matter the administration or party." Is this a failure on the part of this administration?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I can't speak to what "this" is that is being referred to --
Q: Holding children in these detention facilities at the border.
MS. PSAKI: Well, that's not what's happening. And, you know, we will be doing some briefings, of course, with members of Congress. But what is happening now is there are children fleeing prosecution, fleeing threats in their own countries, traveling on their own, unaccompanied, to the border. And our focus is on approaching this from the view of humanity and from -- and with safety in mind.
And so the steps that we have taken is: They are, of course, processed as quickly as possible, ideally with a maximum of three days, through CBP. Then they are transferred to facilities overseen by HHS.
We had to open -- reopen a new facility that had previously been closed because of COVID protocols, because previously -- because we can't have kids in beds next to each other; we need space appropriate. It's been revamped. There are -- there's educational services there. There are health services and medical services. But our objective is to move them as quickly as we can to families that have been vetted and to, of course, reunite kids with their families.
Q: How do you respond to Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, though, who says she sees these images and "it's not okay," from her perspective?
MS. PSAKI: Well, look, we will work, of course, with Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez on a range of issues, and we look forward to doing that.
What I'm conveying from here is what the actual circumstances on the ground and the tough choice that we have had to make. There are only a couple of options here. So either we send kids back to a very dangerous journey back to their countries. That's not a good option. I don't think anyone would support that option. We send them to families that have not been vetted -- we've seen challenges with that in the past where kids have then been trafficked. That is not a good option, in our view.
Our best option, in our view, is to get these kids processed through HHS facilities where there are COVID protocols in place, where they are safe, where they can have access to educational and medical care.
There are no -- there are very few good options here, and we chose the one we thought was best.
Q: And I just want to ask you about CPAC. I know you got some questions about this yesterday. If I could try again. Based on our reporting, former President Trump is going to be talking about President Biden's immigration policies. He will point to the uptick in migrants coming to the U.S. How is the administration planning to respond?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we're not looking to former President Trump or any of his advisors as a model for how we're approaching immigration. In fact, we're in the circumstance we're in because not only was their approach inhumane, it was ineffective. And so we're going to forge our own path forward. We'll see what he says, but our focus is certainly not what on President Trump is saying at CPAC.
Q: Thank you, Jen. The head of the group the President is going to meet with today, the National Governors Association, Andrew Cuomo, is being accused of sexual harassment by a former staffer named Lindsey Boylan. She says that Cuomo, while he was governor, gave her an unwanted kiss on the lips. He asked her to play strip poker. Is the White House worried about this becoming a distraction from an important meeting about COVID response?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that the President has been consistent in his position. When a person comes forward, they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect; their voice should be heard, not silenced; and any allegation should be reviewed.
Governor Cuomo is also the governor of one of the largest states in the country that has been one of the hardest hit, with millions of people still suffering from an ongoing pandemic and an economic crisis. And our focus is to continue working with governors from across the country, from a range of states, on how we're helping people in their states. He also is still head of the National Governors Association, hence he's at the event today.
Q: And to him being in charge of the governors and in charge of such a big state, will the President talk to him about these accusations from Democrats in the New York legislature that Cuomo misled the public about deaths in nursing homes throughout the pandemic?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this is a meeting and a conversation with a range of governors about how we can all work together to address the pandemic and get relief to the American people, and that's what I expect the focus of the meeting to be on.
Q: There are some Democrats in New York who want a -- who want congressional hearings about these deaths in nursing homes. There was a Cuomo aide who told lawmakers, in February, that the Cuomo administration withheld the number of residents who died in hospitals from the public due to the fear that it would be used against them by federal prosecutors. Is this something the White House thinks would be appropriate for a congressional hearing?
MS. PSAKI: It's really up to Congress to determine how they want to review or have hearings on those reports.
Q: And I know you were asked about this this weekend, but I'll try again: Does President Biden still think Andrew Cuomo is the "gold standard" for COVID leadership and that he's doing a "hell of a job," which he has said about him?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first of all, I think, to be fair, let's put all of the comments in context, which sometimes is missing from these conversations we have in here or during interviews. At the time -- which was, I believe, April of last year -- the President spoke out and said positive things about a range of governors, Democrats and Republicans, who were stepping in when there was a vacuum of leadership at the federal level, when they were getting no information, when they were getting no help and no guidance from the former Trump administration.
He had -- he made some positive comments about Governor Cuomo and his role in New York at the time, as he did about a range of governors.
Q: Okay. And then one more. On climate change: There's been some reports about a meeting with airlines CEOs next week. How important is it to the White House to reduce airline emissions as part of an overall climate agenda?
MS. PSAKI: I'm not actually familiar with that meeting. Do you know who it's with?
Q: Gina McCarthy and some of the airline company CEOs.
MS. PSAKI: I'd have to look back into it. I don't have any more details on that meeting.
Q: Okay, thank you.
MS. PSAKI: I'm happy to.
Q: Thank you. I just want to follow up on the unaccompanied children. Is President Biden open to the creation of an ombudsman within the Health and Human Services Department? This has been proposed by Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal. This person would be able to go in and check out the facilities, see the care that the children are receiving, and report back to Congress. Would the administration support such a role within Health and Human Services?
MS. PSAKI: I have actually not spoken with the President about that proposal by Congresswoman Jayapal. We have, I should note -- I think someone asked this the other day -- we have had cameras. HHS has had cameras in there also to make sure people and the public -- the media -- are able to see the conditions in these facilities, and we'd certainly be open to supporting that in the future. But I'd have to follow up with him and our legislative team on that proposal.
Q: And that includes lawmakers obviously being able to go in and see the care of the children?
MS. PSAKI: We would certainly support that. Sure.
Q: And then, one more question. In 2018, it was discovered migrant children were being forced to take psychiatric medication without knowing the drugs they were taking -- things like lithium and so on. What's being done? Obviously these children need psychiatric care. In some cases, they've been traumatized, they've had a difficult time. What can the administration do to assure these kinds -- while the children are getting the care they need, there would be no such abuses?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, we are not using the past management as our guide. And the -- we have -- the Secretary of Homeland Security is, of course, overseeing, in coordination with the Health and Human -- Health and Homeland -- sorry, HHS Secretary -- it's a mouthful -- to ensure that these children are treated humanely, they are provided with the medical assistance they need, the mental health assistance they need. And you're absolutely right -- I mean, these kids have been through a trauma, and we want to treat them humanely and make sure they're kept safe.
So I would send you, of course, to the HHS team to get more specifics of how it's monitored, but certainly that's our expectation.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q: Hello. Has the President been following Brexit? And has it gone as he expected so far? And does he share the position that President Obama expressed in 2016, when he said Brexit would put the UK at the "back of the queue" for trade deals with the U.S.?
MS. PSAKI: Well, a lot has happened on Brexit -- and in the world -- since 2016, I think it's fair to say.
I will say that President Biden is focused on strengthening our domestic economy through significant investments in American workers and competitiveness. That's his focus. He's committed to prioritizing those investments at home before signing new trade deals. That's his approach, and that's how he sees trade deals in general around the world. Making those investments is critical to restoring the middle class and making us more competitive.
So our team is still reviewing negotiations that were begun under the prior administration. Ambassador-designate Tai, of course, had her hearing this morning, and she will be essential to that review.
Q: Has the President spoken to leaders from Africa yet? And how concerned is he about competition from China in Africa?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we've long been concerned -- the United States has long been concerned about competition from China in Africa. We provide readouts whenever he does calls with foreign leaders, so he has not quite made it to every foreign leader at this point in time. But I'm sure that engagement with China and the bar and the -- we expect to be set would be part of those discuss- -- many of those discussions.
Q: Thanks, Jen. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders said this week that he's open to using reconciliation to pass the President's infrastructure package. Is the President open to that approach, and has he spoken with Bernie Sanders about it?
MS. PSAKI: That would require having an infrastructure package -- right? -- to decide how it would pass.
Well, let me first say that our focus is on the American Rescue Plan. And, of course, the President has talked about what his Build Back Better agenda would look like on the campaign trail; infrastructure is a part of it. He's been a long fan of investing in infrastructure -- long outdated -- long overdue, I should say. But he also wants to do more on caregiving, help our manufacturing sector, do more to strengthen access to affordable healthcare.
So the size -- the package -- the components of it, the order, that has not yet been determined, and I feel like that's the next step. I don't expect the President or any of us will preview anything until we have the American Rescue Plan through.
Q: And just one more. The Chief of Staff said yesterday that the President would overrule the parliamentarian if she decides that you can't raise the minimum wage as part of this broader economic relief package. If that is the decision, what's the next step on raising the minimum wage? Does he expect to introduce a standalone bill? Would it be part of this upcoming economic -- broader economic (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say it would be a serious step for the Vice President to take that step. And obviously, she and the President respect the historic institution of the Senate. It would also require 50 votes. So there's -- it's not just a standalone step that any Vice President could take.
In terms of the minimum wage, you know, we're still waiting for the conclusion of the parliamentarian's view on whether or not raising the minimum wage should be included -- can be included, I should say, in the American Rescue Plan. That's where the state -- the step is -- the process is at this stage in time. The President included an increase in the minimum wage because he believes it should be -- it's long overdue, and American workers should not be struggling to make ends meet.
But that's the next step, and we'll have to go from there.
Q: And just one more. Is the administration considering easing social distancing rules for unaccompanied minors in these detention facilities to allow more unaccompanied minors to be in the facilities?
MS. PSAKI: I'm not aware of that consideration. I mean, one of the reasons that we opened this facility -- revamped this facility is because we did not want to put unaccompanied minors at risk. And we obviously follow CDC guidelines, which is six feet of separation, so my expectation is we would continue to follow those guidelines.
Q: Thanks, Jen. So, March 21st is coming up as the first anniversary of border restrictions between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico. Back in October, Republicans and Democrats in Texas demanded that the Trump administration release a plan for reopening the border. These restrictions have obviously divided families. They've (inaudible) the economy on the border. Can we expect a plan from the Biden administration anytime soon on potential border reopenings? And what would the parameters for that look like?
MS. PSAKI: I do expect there will be more on this soon. It would likely come from the State Department, so I would send you to them for an update on the status and the timeline.
Q: Thank you very much, Jen. I wanted to ask about the domestic terrorism review. The President asked for a 100-day domestic terrorism review. He had the DNI take charge of that and work closely with the FBI and DHS. What does the President expect to come out of that review at the end of 100 days? Does he want to see a report, a list of recommendations? What is he expecting to see, and what would we expect to see out of that review?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have more than 60 days left until we hit 100 days. In terms of the format of what the review will look like, I would expect some form of a report. I don't know yet if it will include specific recommendations or if it will then launch a policy process. I can talk to our team and see if there's more specifics.
Q: Has the President been briefed and updated on the progress of that review? We're about 33 -- 35 days into it.
MS. PSAKI: As you know, the President has daily meetings as a part of the PDB and is certainly tracking threats to our homeland, as a part of what's discussed there, but I don't have any update for you on updates on the overall report that's not due for more than 60 days.
Q: And what's the President's assessment now of the threat from domestic terrorism? You know, we obviously saw domestic terrorists involved and groups -- and armed groups involved in the January 6th insurrection. In the subsequent weeks, how has that changed?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the reason that he asked his national security team to do a comprehensive review was so that he wasn't looking at it, and we weren't looking at it, through the prism of one event versus another event, or through a political lens. So I'm not going to be able to offer for you a day-by-day or week-by-week assessment. We're going to wait for this review to conclude, and then we'll use that as guidelines for our process and our policies moving forward.
Go ahead, George.
Q: Great. Thanks, Jen. I have a question for myself and then one for reporters who can't be here.
On the budget: New Presidents put their own stamp on the budget, and all recent new Presidents have given a speech in February that talks about the budget, and then within a month or so, submitted their revisions. Can you talk about what your -- the President's timetable is, given -- and how much it's affected by the fact that the pandemic, the less-than-cooperative transition, and the failure to confirm a director?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, George. Well, the President is certainly looking forward to sharing his budget priorities for the fiscal year with Congress and, of course, the American people as our nation faces unprecedented challenges.
We anticipated during the transition -- and we talked about it a bit during the transition -- that the budget would be delayed due to some intransigence we encountered from political appointees at OMB during the transition. Those roadblocks definitely delayed the process. We have a strong place in team -- team in place, of course, at OMB, many of whom are career officials who are working through administrations to put budgets together. But the lack of a confirmed head of OMB certainly doesn't help to expedite the process.
So we certainly anticipate it will be delayed. I don't have an exact timeline on it, but I wouldn't expect a budget rollout or announcement in February.
Q: Do you think it will be possible to give that kind of traditional speech, or does the pandemic make that impossible?
MS. PSAKI: A traditional budget speech?
Q: A speech to the Congress.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we would be looking at a nontraditional approach to a joint session. I don't have any update on what that will look like at this point, simply because I don't think anyone could envision 500 members of Congress in there with a President of the United States during a pandemic. But I don't have any updates on the timeline or format.
Q: And the one from other reporters -- it's sort of a follow-up to your earlier answer. When you do make the --declassify the report on Saudis, will that come at the same time as you announce any kind of sanctions or actions, or is that a separate timetable for those two?
MS. PSAKI: I'm not going to be in a position to preview that. I would just say the unclassified report would be released from DNI, not from the White House. And I would just broadly remind you that, oftentimes, any actions related to global issues don't come out of the White House; they come out of a range of agencies. But I don't have anything to preview for you at this point in time.
Go ahead, Lalit.
Q: Thank you. I would like to ask you about -- India and Pakistan today announced ceasefire along Kashmiri border, including Line of Control. This for the first time, I think, after 2003 that they have announced this kind of ceasefire. What does the White House to say on this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the United States welcomes the joint statement between India and Pakistan: that the two countries have agreed to maintain strict observance of a ceasefire along the Line of Control starting on February 25th. This is a positive step towards greater peace and stability in South Asia, which is in all shared -- is in our shared interest. And we encourage both countries to keep building upon this progress.
Q: And do you think Pakistan is doing enough in the fight against terrorism?
MS. PSAKI: Couldn't -- sorry -- I'm sorry, the masks always make it hard to hear people in the way back. Can you say that one more time?
Q: Is Pakistan doing enough in the fight against terrorism?
MS. PSAKI: Well, of course we remain closely engaged with a range of leaders and officials in the region, including those in Pakistan. But in terms of an assessment of that, I would point you to the State Department or the intelligence department -- team.
Q: Yesterday, President issued a proclamation in which he revoked the previous -- his predecessor's policy on green -- issue of new green cards to (inaudible) people who are outside the country. There are a lot of legal immigrants who leave their country and they want to make this country as their home, but they're having a decade-long wait for the issue of green cards so that once they get it, their potential is unfolded: They can open their company, they still have the startups, and they give employment -- create employment and generate employment in this country.
What's the President's message to those legal immigrants in this country?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President believes that it's important and long overdue to put in place immigration -- to modernize our immigration system, and that includes taking steps to help ensure that high-skilled workers can stay in the country and can go through the proper process to stay in the country. So we're eager to work with Democrats and Republicans in Congress to get that done.
Q: One more. Final one. Several Republicans on the Hill, and including Nikki Haley, the former U.S. Ambassador of U.N., are urging President Biden to -- not to participate in next week's Chinese Winter Olympics. Has the President taken a decision on that?
MS. PSAKI: There hasn't been a final decision made on that. And, of course, we would look for guidance from the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Q: Thank you, Jen. Back on immigration. Do you believe that you have a crisis at the border? And is the government now acting as if you had a crisis at the border?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, you know, having unaccompanied minors travel across the border, and so many that we are looking -- we had to open new facilities, is something that we take incredibly seriously. And we, you know, are eager to, of course, address humanely and with the focus of keeping them safe.
I don't think I'm going to put new labels on it from here or from the podium, but it is a priority of the administration, it's a priority of our Secretary of Homeland Security, and certainly of the President, who's kept abreast of the developments.
Q: On family reunification, the lawyers -- the pro bono lawyers that have been working with the families on trying to get them together announced yesterday that about 100 families have been reunited from those 600 kids that were in the system and lost. Has the government been working with those pro bono lawyers, as well, to get that process going?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this program is being overseen -- the family reunification task force -- by the Department of Homeland Security, by our Secretary of Homeland Security. Of course, he will be doing an official report at about the 120-day mark, but I would send you to them for any updates or status of our work with those lawyers.
Q: And on the Texas ruling about the 100-day moratorium on deportation, will the government appeal to a higher court? Will the legal process continue?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say a couple of things about this, because we haven't talked about this in the last couple of days.
The pause on deportations was a time to reset our enforcement priorities so that we focus on threats to national security and public safety as opposed to mothers and fathers who are longstanding members of our community, who are in many cases performing essential work during the pandemic.
So the Department of Homeland Security has put in place interim enforcement priorities and is reviewing the prior administration's policies and practices. The court's ruling still allows us to do this.
In terms of next steps or how we will approach it from here, I would send you to our Department of Justice.
Q: And will the President address immigration at all down in Texas tomorrow?
MS. PSAKI: The President will be certainly speaking, you know, about COVID and addressing the pandemic. He will also be speaking about the impact of the storm on the people of the state. And I know immigration is an issue on the minds of many people there, but I don't have anything to preview in terms of whether he'll address it while he's there.
Go ahead, Josh.
Q: (Inaudible) vaccine event this afternoon, the President has made equity a key part of his response. Some mixed results on that. Some states have no data -- for instance, on race -- of people vaccinated. Other states, the data is showing that white and Asian people are getting the vaccine disproportionately as compared to black and Latino people. Does the President think enough is being done with regards to equitably distributing the vaccine?
MS. PSAKI: The President has always known from the day he took office, and as has the Vice President, that addressing -- ensuring that we equitably distribute the vaccine would be a big challenge because there was a lack of accurate data, as you referenced; because it is challenging. You have to use a number of approaches to get into communities where there is vaccine hesitancy, which is an ongoing issue that we're working to address.
So, of course, he feels that there is more that needs to be done and that there's more that, across his team, he will continue to encourage people to take action on.
Now, there are a number of steps, including partnering with community- and faith-based organizations; enhancing public transit options; working -- of course, distributing vaccines to pharmacies; opening mass vaccination sites that we are taking as an administration to more equitably distribute the vaccine. But there's more work to be done.
And we expect, as we get to the point where there are enough vaccines for Americans -- 300 million by the time we get to the end of July, or if not sooner -- that one of the challenges will be, you know, ensuring it's equitably distributed and that people who are -- have a history of vaccine hesitancy take the vaccine.
Q: There are reports that if Congress launches a 9/11- style commission to investigate the January 6th insurrection, Nancy Pelosi would want it to have seven Democrats and four Republicans as part of the makeup. Would the White House be satisfied with that, or would you rather see it more evenly distributed by party?
MS. PSAKI: We leave that up to Congress -- leaders in Congress -- to determine what that will look like.
Q: And on immigration: Why does the White House think there is this surge of unaccompanied children right now? Your critics are saying it's because you're not sending anybody back -- any of these unaccompanied children back. Do you share that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there's a couple reasons. One, there's conditions that are in these countries that we have not done enough to help improve. And that's why there is funding in the President's immigration bill and why -- one of the reasons we're eager to have it passed.
We don't feel that sending unaccompanied minors, kids, back to take a dangerous journey is the right step to take. And that's not something that we're going to do as an administration, and it won't be our policy. But we always need to keep communicating more effectively about how this is a dangerous time to travel; this is a dangerous time for families to come, for children to come. And we'll continue to work to do that more.
Q: And when the President had half a dozen Republican lawmakers in the Oval Office yesterday, they came out, they shared they thought it was a good meeting. But they said the COVID-19 rescue package never came up. Why not?
MS. PSAKI: Well, did they raise the COVID-19 rescue package?
Q: I don't -- the President says that he makes it a top priority.
MS. PSAKI: Of course.
Q: He talks about it with great urgency. He could've brought it up. And I'm just curious why he didn't.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the meeting was about a supply chain executive order, something that there is a great deal of interest on and bipartisan support for.
The only time the President talks about the American Rescue Plan is not in meetings in the Oval Office; he picks up his phone and calls Democrats, Republicans, and others on a regular basis. And I think he's used every opportunity he has to make the case publicly to have those conversations. And it's probably why more than 70 percent of the public, including the majority of Republicans, support the plan.
Q: So that is not a signal that the President has conceded he is just going to pass the package with Democrats?
MS. PSAKI: Hardly. Look, I think the President's view is that this is a package that will help get the pandemic under control; it will help put people back to work.
If somebody has a better idea, by all means, bring it forward. We have not seen one. This is a plan that he remains committed to, and he is hopeful that Republicans, many in Congress, will follow what their constituents want. And the American people clearly want this Rescue Plan passed. They clearly want money for vaccinations. They clearly want schools to reopen and funding to reopen schools. And they clearly want direct checks.
So, hopefully, members will listen to that. And we have plenty of time for Republicans to vote for the package.
Q: Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.
1:16 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/348171