Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki

April 15, 2021

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:52 P.M. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi everyone. All right. Okay, I have a couple of items for you -- all of you at the top. Today we are announcing the release of $39 billion of American Rescue Plan funds to states, territories, and Tribes to address the child care crisis caused by COVID-19. These funds are a critical step to pave the way for a strong economic recovery and a more equitable future.

These funds will help early childhood educators and family child care providers keep their doors open and make sure every state has a strong child care system that provides families with what they need.

Since the start of the pandemic, as we've talked about a bit in here, roughly 2 million women have left the workforce. That is disproportionately due to caregiving needs, and we are hopeful that this will help.

As you know, later this afternoon, the President and Vice President will meet with key members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. The meeting will broadly focus on their priorities, their shared -- our shared priorities, I should say -- including critical issues such as combating anti-Asian hate, the American Jobs Plan's impact on shared infrastructure priorities, and immigration.

Last night, we also announced the appointment of Erika Moritsugu as Deputy Assistant to the President and Asian American and Pacific Islander Senior Liaison. She will bring her experience and expertise to the Biden-Harris administration, where she will be a vital voice to advance the President and the administration's priorities.

And we'll have a readout after that meeting, of course, as well. And, as you know, the President will be making some brief remarks at the top.

Also, an update on our COVID-19 vaccination progress: Today we reported over 3.5 million COVID shots -- sorry, today -- it was reported from yesterday, of course -- but we had 3.5 million COVID shots yesterday. This is a new Thursday record. So certainly a step -- a good -- a piece of good news.

One more scheduling update: President Biden looks forward to welcoming President Moon of the Republic of Korea to the White House in the second half of May. We're still finalizing the date for that. But this visit -- following the recent two-plus-two visit to Seoul by Secretaries Blinken and Austin, and the National Security Advisor's trilateral meeting in Annapolis -- will highlight the ironclad U.S.-South Korea alliance and the longstanding ties and friendships between the people of our two countries.

And, with that, Aamer. It's been a week. It's been a lot going on this week, so go ahead.

Q And it's not the end of the week yet, either.

MS. PSAKI: It's not the end of -- we have more to come. Go ahead.

Q With Prime Minister Suga coming tomorrow, and now you've just announced President Moon coming -- I guess, just looking ahead to both of these visits, what message is the President trying to send? And, in a sense, is elevating -- particularly with tomorrow's visit the Japanese Prime Minister, is he sending a message to China by who he is picking first?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, first, the President is looking forward to welcoming -- welcoming the Prime Minister tomorrow. And it is significant that our first bilateral meeting, in person, is with Japan. It emphasizes our important relationship and all of the cooperative work we have to do together.

I will say that, of course, our approach to China and our shared coordination and cooperation on that front will be part of the discussion, as will our joint commitment to the denuclearization of North Korea. Security will be a prominent issue -- regional security -- as well.

So I would say these relationships have a range of areas of cooperation. It's an opportunity to discuss those issues in person, and I would anticipate that China will be a part of the discussions.

Q And if I could ask just a question on the Russia sanctions today -- in a statement, the White House noted reports that Russia had encouraged Taliban attacks against U.S. coalition personnel in Afghanistan. The word "report" seems to leave some ambiguity. Does the White House believe Russia placed bounties on American troops?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, that we felt the reports were enough of a cause of concern that we wanted our intelligence community to look into those reports as a part of this overall assessment. They assessed -- with low to moderate confidence, as you alluded to -- that Russian intelligence officers sought to encourage Taliban attacks against U.S. and coalition personnel in Afghanistan.

The reason that they have low to moderate confidence in this judgment is in part because it relies on detainee reporting and due to the challenging environment -- and also due to the challenging operating environment in Afghanistan. So it's challenging to gather this intelligence and this data.

I will say that we assess -- our intelligence community, I should say, assesses that General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate -- GRU, also known as -- manage interaction with individuals and Afghan criminal networks. We have high confidence in that assessment, and the involvement of this GRU's unit is consistent with Russia's encouraging attacks against U.S. and coalition personnel in Afghanistan.

So while there's low to moderate assessment of these reports, we felt it was important for our intelligence community to look into it. And we, of course, will not stand by and accept the targeting of our personnel by any elements, including a foreign state actor. This information really puts the burden on Russia and the Russian government to explain their engagement here.

Go ahead.

Q Jen, given that assessment, does the President have any regrets for how many times he attacked President Trump on the campaign about this issue for not taking action related to the Russian bounties?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I'm not going to speak to the previous administration. But I will say that we had enough concern about these reports and about the targeting of our men and women serving -- the men and women who are proudly serving around the world -- that we wanted our intelligence community to look into it.

Now, again, there are several factors that -- that contributed to the low to moderate confidence in the judgment, including the difficulty of -- of the operating environment and, of course, the reliance on detainee reporting. At the same time, we still feel there are questions to be answered by the Russian government.

Q And then, another one on foreign policy: With the Russia decision, with the Afghanistan decision -- I'm just trying to get a sense of how the administration operates here. There's still Americans unjustly detained in Russia. I believe there's an American who was kidnapped by a Taliban-aligned group in Afghanistan. What level does the administration look at those, you know, hostages, I guess, as they think through broader foreign policy decisions? Do you have a team working on that? Did that play any role in any -- either of these decisions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, every relationship we have, even with it -- when it's -- when it's adversarial or even when it's not, we raise issues of the detainment of American citizens or even sometimes citizens of our partners and allies around the world through those diplomatic conversations.

Typically, those conversations are led by the State Department and officials that are working at the State Department. Typically, we don't read out too much detail because our focus is, of course, on bringing Americans home.

Q And just one more: I think we ask you this every week but -- on the refugee cap.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

Q You know, we hear a lot of concerns from your allies on Capitol Hill. And I think the big concern is not necessarily, right now, when is the President going to sign the directive; it's what are the issues that are holding it up. And I feel like Democratic senators we've spoken to don't have answers to that, even though they said they've reached out to you guys. We don't have answers that either. Are there actual, tangible reasons why this has not been signed yet?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can assure you and I can assure anyone who has concerns that the President remains committed to this issue. He is somebody who believes that refugees, that immigrants are the heart and soul of our country, and they have been for decades.

And that is why he has proposed, you know, a comprehensive immigration reform bill. That is why he wants to improve the -- the processing of those seeking asylum at the border. And it certainly is an issue he remains committed to. That's why he -- he stated that. But I don't have an update on the timeline of the signing.

Q I didn't ask about the timeline. The reasons though -- what is the holdup here? Is it --

MS. PSAKI: It remains -- it remains an issue. The President remains committed to raising the refugee cap, and I can assure anyone who has concerns that that remains the case.

Go ahead.

Q Jen, the U.S. has been leveling sanctions on Russia for its behavior for years, as you know well. It hasn't deterred them in the past. Why should we expect that these new sanctions will do something that past sanctions have not?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say, Peter, that our objective here is not to escalate; our objective here is to impose costs for what we feel are unacceptable actions by the Russian government.

Some of these are done in coordination with our European partners and allies in the past. And our view is that when there are actions that are taken that are unacceptable; that are not aligned with our interests; that we feel go beyond what should be acceptable from any country you have a partner- -- a relationship with, then there should be consequences.

We can't predict what the impact will be, but we still believe that when there's unacceptable behavior, we should put consequences in place.

Q Let me ask you about Afghanistan, if I can, quickly. The President's own CIA Director, William Burns, yesterday warned that there is a, quote, in his words, "significant risk" that al Qaeda and other terrorist groups could fill that vacuum that exists when the U.S. and its allies leave that region. I have the quote for you, but you saw the testimony as well as I did.

Why not leave a small residual force behind? And, knowing that he addressed this in some form, to deal -- to support the intelligence community there to gather information, why not leave a military force there to help protect them and their ability to collect intelligence?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I will say that we believe we have the means to keep our eye on any terrorist threats or any sign of al Qaeda's resurgence without having a persistent footprint on the ground. And the evaluation and the decision made by the President was that -- based on the recommendations, the advice from national security advisors, from his team across the administration -- is that the threat against the homeland now emanating from Afghanistan can be -- from Afghanistan can be kept to a level that can be addressed without per- -- that persistent footprint.

Now, at the same time, because obviously our capacity and our capabilities have dramatically increased and improved over the last 20 years or even the 10 years, we can -- we are going to reposition our counterterrorism capabilities. We'll retain significant assets in the reso- -- in the region, as he talked about over-the-horizon capabilities, to counter the potential reemergence of a terrorist threat. That's -- that's our focus and how we'll approach any rising threat.

Q I know we're going through a bunch of different topics. On the vaccine and J&J, obviously --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Q -- the task force or the response team doesn't brief on Thursdays. The single shot, as you know, was particularly attractive to those populations that are harder to reach right now. What specifically is the White House doing now to redouble its efforts to improve equity or to attain equity in the distribution of these vaccines?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that if we take a step back, which we sometimes like to do, our focus has been on ensuring that equity and addressing any -- any issues related to confidence was central to our strategy. So we have had a robust strategy in place, long before the announcement by the FDA a couple of days ago.

We've also seen, so far, that -- by the number of shots that we were able to distribute yesterday, some data and polling that's been out there -- that -- and we'll have to see as time goes on -- that we've not seen, to date yet, an impact on confidence in the vaccines, writ large.

But there are a number of steps that we've taken over the course of time that we feel will continue to pay dividends and be impactful, because we are over-preparers here. One is the launching of the Community Corps -- our program to get fact-based messages into the hands of local messengers. More than 6,000 organizations are participating in that effort.

We also launched a $3 pillion [sic] -- $3 billion effort to -- providing to states and community-based organizations funding and support to strengthen vaccine confidence. And we also have public health officials who have been out on your airwaves, across the board, communicating with local organizations, to reassure and confirm that we have enough supply to meet the demand that is coming.

Q The First Lady had a common medical procedure yesterday. Any update on how she is doing?

MS. PSAKI: I think we put out a note yesterday that she returned to the White House and resumed her daily activities, so that should give you a sense --

Q She's still well. Good. Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, absolutely.

Go ahead, Kristin.

Q Thanks, Jen. Does the President support the bill just introduced by the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to add four seats to the Supreme Court?

MS. PSAKI: Well, just last week, the President signed an executive order creating the bipartisan commission on the Supreme Court of the United States -- a bipartisan group of over 30 constitutional and legal experts who are examining a range of questions about proposed potential reforms to the Supreme Court.

And one of the issues they'll look at is, of course, the size of the Court, but they'll also look at the Court's role in the constitutional system, the length of service, the turnover of justices, and they're going to come back to the President with a report on what their discussions are and what their findings are.

So he's going to wait for that to play out, and wait to read that report.

Q So, I mean -- I mean, this isn't just coming from some obscure member of Congress; this is coming from the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. So is the President -- is the White House frustrated that Chairman Nadler, perhaps, didn't wait for this report from the commission that President Biden just called for last week?

MS. PSAKI: No. The President believes that it's important to take a look at a range of points of view, whether they are progressive or conservative, at different -- different sets of legal opinions to -- and he would like -- he looks forward to assessing that himself. And I expect he will not have more to convey about any recommendations or views he'll have until he reads that report.

But he certainly understands that members of Congress have a range of views and they're going to propose legislation. He may or may not support it.

Q So, I just want to be clear here: The President does or does not think that this -- this bill is premature?

MS. PSAKI: He believes that members of Congress have the right to put forward legislation on issues they support. His -- his view is that he wants to hear from this commission that has a range of viewpoints.

Q Okay, and one more question. Senator Ed Markey, he just said this: "We must expand the Court, and we must abolish the filibuster to do it." Is the White House comfortable with a Democratic senator explicitly linking those two ideas from the steps of the Supreme Court?

MS. PSAKI: The President believes that -- in freedom of speech and that members can come forward and share their points of views on a range of issues, including the future of the courts. He has his own view, and he looks forward to seeing their -- the recommendations from -- and -- that comes out of this Court commission.

Okay, go ahead.

Q I wanted to start with the Russia sanctions.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q The Kremlin has been kind of downplaying the actions today, noting that Americans still buy debt on the secondary market. There's also been some criticism from Republicans, including Senator Toomey, who's -- who noted that the Nord Stream 2 sanctions weren't a part of this package. And so I was wondering if you could respond to both of those, and maybe explain, if this is a more modest package than you could have perhaps pursued, what the, sort of, strategic thinking behind that is.

MS. PSAKI: Well, one, we thought -- broadly speaking, we felt this package was proportionate and appropriate for the response. But there were a number of steps, as you know and you've all reported on, that we -- that we g- -- that we did to give ourselves maximal -- maximum optionality, including the executive order that provides authority for relevant agencies to target any sector of the Russian economy and anyone determined to be a leader, official, or instr- -- or play -- or anyone who's played a role instrumentally in the government of the Russian Federation.

So that gives us a great deal of flexibility moving forward, and we wanted to have that; we felt it was important.

I will say that, in terms of the impact, before we took this action, the U.S. only -- the United States only prohibited U.S. banks from new purchases of non-ruble denominated debt in the primary market. This means the vast majority, or over 80 percent, of Russian's -- Russia's sovereign debt, the ruble-denominated portion, was untouched by our sanctions regime. We've now made a move into this space. But again, we have maximum optionality moving forward.

Our hope, though, is that -- that we can move forward with a predictable and a stable relationship. We still felt -- and, you know, as I said in response to Peter's question -- that it's important to respond and put in place consequences to actions that we felt were unacceptable.

Q So, Nord Stream, you thought would be disproportionate in response to this? Or Nord Stream was on a different track? Can you explain that?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have anything to predict about Nord Stream. Obviously, we feel that it's a bad deal. But, you know, these were the steps we felt were appropriate in response to these actions.

Q And yesterday, you said the President would address the resettlement of translators and other Afghanis who had helped U.S. military forces in his speech. It didn't sound like that made the final cut, so I'm wondering if you have any more details about that, especially considering the sort of immigration loopholes that -- or immigration issues that have -- that have been present over the last year because of COVID.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, and I am happy to get you more specific details from our national security team as well. I will say that, you know, we will continue to provide and work with Congress to expedite and expand Special Immigrant Visas.

We remain committed to working with and helping people who have served alongside and been important partners to our men and women serving on the ground in Afghanistan. And -- and we are, of course, maintaining -- intend to maintain a diplomatic presence there as well to help with that.

Q And the last one: Yesterday, you guys said that you'd keep the temporary scheduling order on fentanyl substitutes.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

Q Civil rights groups have said that this is counterproductive; it makes it harder for folks to seek treatment and sort of replicates the "War on Drugs" sort of criminal justice system that has been shown to disproportionately impact communities of color. And so I'm wondering if you could explain the decision and respond to some of those concerns.

MS. PSAKI: Well, this is a decision, of course, that's made in part -- or the recommendations by ONDCP and the Department of Justice. And I would just reiterate that we are committed to avoiding expiration of this legislation, but we also have expressed legitimate concerns related to some components of it, including mandatory minimums.

So we're having discussions about that, but we do want to avoid the expiration of this legislation and recognize the role that fentanyl plays.

Go ahead, Ayesha.

Q Thanks. The White House has said over and over again that you want a "stable and predictable" relationship with Russia.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q But that seems to run completely counter to the way that Russia operates. They try to be unpredictable, and they have been destabilizing in their actions. So is this goal really realistic to have a stable and predictable relationship with Russia?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we feel that has to be our objective and that part of our objective is to, as you said, have a stable and predictable relationship in order to leave space to pursue areas where we feel there is greater opportunity and also address areas where there might be greater challenge.

Now, we're not going to get ahead of what those discussions look like. Obviously, this continues to be a difficult relationship. There are adversarial components of it. But our objective is to move to a place to de-escalate and to move to a place where, you know, this is not a -- that -- that escalatory relationship is not a primary focus for the President and this administration.

Q Is there something that the administration plans to do differently than all of the other administrations that have been dealing with Russia and have struggled to get that predictable relationship that it would seem that most administrations have been wanting with Russia, instead of this adversarial relationship? Is there something different that this administration plans to do?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, we're going to be clear with Russia that we will impose consequences when warranted and that we are not going to hold back when -- in response to their behavior.

At the same time, I think the ind- -- the President's conversation with President Putin and his invitation and discu- -- and proposal that they have a discussion about areas of mutual agreement, whether that is, you know, working together on Iran nuclear negotiations or -- or issues along those lines, gives an indication that we feel we can work together in areas where we agree and continue to make clear areas where we have disagreements.

Q Now, on the issue of the sanctions, Russia has said that that makes the idea of a summit -- which President Biden had, you know, broached -- that that makes that less likely to happen. Does the administration still expect to have a summit with Putin? Is that still something that the White House is going to press for?

MS. PSAKI: The invitation remains open, and we believe it would be a good step forward in continuing to move forward on a stable -- the development of a stable and predictable relationship.

Q On a -- just really quickly, so on the -- the FDA kind of punted on the decision of J&J; within 10 days they're going to talk about that pause.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

Q Is the White House frustrated at all that that decision is, kind of, on hold right now, and that it's going to take 10 more days to decide whether that pause is going to be removed or changed or anything?

MS. PSAKI: Well, science moves at the speed of science, and they want to review more data. We believe they are the gold standard -- the FDA is the gold standard in the world. It -- actually, their thorough and transparent approach should give the American public additional confidence in the role they play and the role -- the approach the United States takes to the approval of vaccines out on the market.

So, no, we remain confident that we have the supply needed to meet the demand. We -- because we are overprepared and oversupplied, we remain confident in that.

We've also seen, as I noted at the be- -- at the beginning of the briefing, positive, so far -- in the last 24 to 36 hours -- you know, numbers in terms of individuals taking the vaccine.

So we believe the FDA -- their process to review the data is -- is transparent. It's appropriate. It is -- it is the gold standard, and we will look forward to hearing what their outcome is.

Go ahead, Tyler.

Q Thanks. Last week, Roberta Jacobson announced she's leaving.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

Q Who is the President's point person now, moving forward, on the border?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that Secretary Mayorkas will continue to play a predominant role here. There is also -- but there's different components of this, of course, because one of the things we've talked about is addressing the root causes.

Ricardo Zúñiga is a special envoy; has a great deal of experience in the region, in the Western Hemisphere. He has been name- -- he was named to that position only just a few weeks ago, so he will continue to play a vital role.

And, of course, the Vice President will continue to play a role in the Northern Triangle as well.

Q And so, just a little bit more on the Vice President's role: Republicans have, over the past few days, been quite critical of the Vice President and --

MS. PSAKI: I've seen that. They need more to do, I think.

Q -- and what her relationship -- is the White House suggesting that her diplomatic role is -- is disconnected from the border? How are you guys squaring, kind of, how you think about that issue?

MS. PSAKI: I will say -- all respect to you, but this is -- this confusion is very perplexing to me, I have to be honest, because the current President, who was the Vice President, he ran point on the Northern Triangle when he was Vice President, and that's obviously a role that is focused on diplomacy. It's focused on working with these countries, working with these leaders.

And the Vice President has had a number of those conversations at the leader level. And having a discussion about what steps can be taken, whether it's improving the personnel and the approach they each take at the border -- we've seen some steps they've taken on that front -- or whether it is working with them to determine how we can provide the best assistance to address the root causes over the long-term, that's the role that the Vice President is playing.

That is certainly a significant role. Of course, that's linked because if we don't address the root causes, we will continue to see influxes and large number of migrants coming to the border cycle after cycle, just as we have seen over the last several years. It is not a one-woman -- even a one-woman job. It is a multi-high-level-official job.

And so Secretary Mayorkas is playing a -- obviously, a significant role overseeing the -- the Border Patrol facilities, overseeing a lot of steps and policy proposals that are coming about the border. The Secretary of Health and Human Services oversees the shelters.

This is an interagency process, as it should be and as it has always been.

Q And just one on the J&J vaccine.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q The White House -- some White House officials were touting polling data that came out yesterday that showed the pause in the J- -- in the distribution of the J&J vaccine instilled confidence in Americans.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

Q New polling has come up today that -- that shows that to be the opposite. Actually, there's some decline in confidence around the J&J vaccine. How do you reconcile those two, and what is the White House doing proactively to try to deal with issues of vaccine hesitancy?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first, to be clear, I think the poll you're referencing from yesterday was measuring vaccine confidence writ large in all of the vaccines. And I think the poll today -- if I'm correct, but correct me if I'm wrong here -- was related specifically only to Johnson & Johnson --

Q Yeah --

MS. PSAKI: -- which are slightly different. So it's a little apples and oranges. Our --

Q Well, some White House officials were touting that data yesterday on Twitter about -- pointing to it, saying, "Look, you know, the pause was a good thing given this data." So --

MS. PSAKI: Correct. Which is what the poll said. I -- so what I'm conveying is they were not measuring the same thing, which is, I think, important for people to understand. Our focus is -- is on ensuring we get shots in the arms of every adult American, and we have enough Moderna and Pfizer vaccine to do that; we will.

So, we, of course, will see the FDA process will play it -- play its way out. And we are fortunate to have a massive effort underway to increase vaccine confidence long before the announcement by the FDA just a couple days ago, which we will continue to implement.

But I think it was touted, in part, because we want to ensure Americans understand and show Americans do understand, so far, that they can remain confident in the efficacy and the safety of the vaccines out there on the market that are currently being distributed with the FDA emergency approval.

Q Just two quick ones. Do you think that Secretary Becerra will be making a briefing-room appearance at any point? I know a lot of the Cabinet Secretaries have come in. As you said, he has a big role in --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q -- in what's going on with the care of migrant children. Will we have an opportunity to ask him questions, similar to other Cabinet Secretaries?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, absolutely. We haven't had an -- all of the Secretaries, as you know, here, and we hope to get them all in here in the coming weeks.

Q And then one more real quick one. Is the administration still planning to roll out the -- the second part of the infrastructure -- the American Families Plan this month?

MS. PSAKI: That is our intention.

Q Okay. No changes on that front?

MS. PSAKI: Nope. That's our intention.

Go ahead, Jeff.

Q Jen, a couple more follow-ups on Russia.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q Does the White House and the U.S. Intelligence Community have a better sense now of what the impact of the SolarWinds attack was on the U.S. government? What -- what did the Russians steal? What was the -- the broad intent?

MS. PSAKI: We do have a little bit of a better understanding, I should say. So, we know, one, that the compromise of the soft- -- SolarWinds software supply chain gave it the ability to spy on or potentially disrupt more than 16,000 computer systems worldwide.

The scope and the scale of that is obviously a significant and national security and public safety concern, particularly given Russia's history of reckless behavior in cyberspace and what they could have done had we not caught it and tried to address the issue.

So, there may be more than that, Jeff, and I'm happy to connect you with one of our cyber experts directly if that would be useful to you.

Q Okay. Yeah, that'd be great.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q Apropos that, something else that was included in this -- in the sanctions today were five Russian cybersecurity firms.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

Q Can you give us a sense to us of what those -- why those firms were chosen and what they did to the United States?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say the firms -- let me see, I probably have more specifics on this here, Jeff. One moment. If not, I can also get you connected with our cyber experts on exactly that question. I mean, obviously, the individuals who were -- and the companies who were designated through our announcement this morning were -- had a direct involvement in hacking, and -- and that was the reason for designating and taking the actions we took.

But I -- let me connect you with a cyber expert so you can get more specific detail.

Q Okay. And just one follow-up on Justin's question about Nord Stream.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q Nord Stream had been, we understand, approved to be one of the sanctions. Was it -- did Chancellor Merkel advocate for that to be left off the list? Can you give any sense of why it didn't end up being part of the sanctions today?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have any more detail on that. I understand the question. I would just convey that, obviously, if there's additional actions taken, we certainly preserve the option of putting additional actions in place. And it doesn't mean that we won't have more.

But I don't have any more detail to project to you about any considerations about what sanctions were not -- were or were not finalized.

Q All right. And one just on one other topic completely. Next week is the Earth Day Climate Change Summit.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q Can you give us any sort of a preview on your plans to release the U.S. target for emissions cuts by 2030? When can we expect to see that?

MS. PSAKI: I understand the question too. It's going to be a full week next week. May- -- let me see if we can get to some more previewing by tomorrow. We're still finalizing all the specifics, so I just don't have anything to provide to you at this moment.

All right. Go ahead. Hi, Lauren.

Q Hi. Thanks. To follow up on a question Phil asked earlier, immigrant and refugee advocates say they can't recall a time when a presidential declaration took this long after first announcing to increase the refugee cap. So just to ask again: I mean, what is the delay here?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I can just reiterate the President remains committed to raising the refugee cap. And obviously, his commitment to ensuring that we are treating refugees, immigrants, people who come into our country with humanity is evident in most of his -- in his policies, but I don't have any more specifics for you.

Q Okay. On the infrastructure bill, Speaker Pelosi says that she wants to get this all done by July 4th. So how much time is the White House willing to negotiate with Republicans before you start making big decisions about what to push through?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we'd like to see some progress and some forward movement by Memorial Day, and we'd like to -- the President would love to have the package signed -- or passed, I should say, this summer.

Q Is the White House encouraging the Senate to pass a traditional infrastructure bill through regular order with Republicans?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly believe there are -- there should be agreement. There is agreement on a number of components. We were encouraged by -- we've been encouraged by many of the conversations that we've had to date. We look forward to hearing alternate ideas or different ideas as they come forward, and there should be an opportunity for that.

We're also quite open to what path this takes. We don't -- it doesn't -- we're not going to predetermine whether it has to all happen in one big package. There are different components that could move forward certainly on their own, and we -- right now is the time where members and their staff and committee staff are doing the hard work of determining where there's agreement and how things -- what vehicles -- pieces can move forward through.

Q As Senator Coons was saying early -- you know, today, that -- pass something, with Republicans maybe, on traditional infrastructure -- roads, bridges, et cetera -- and then everything else could go in a reconciliation bill. So you guys are open to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that's Senator Coons's point of view, which, of course, we certainly respect. He's a friend of the President's. But there are a range of views on the Hill -- as you well know, Lauren -- about how this should move forward and what the size of the package should be and what components should go together. We'll let that all work itself through.

Go ahead, Hans.

Q Does the President think that young women ages 18 to 26 should register for the draft?

THE PRESIDENT: I'll have to talk to him about that, Hans. It's an interesting question.

Q Well, I mean, today you -- the Justice Department walked back and said that they weren't going to join a suit that challenged the constitutionality of that. So I'm just wondering what the President's position is. Does he think that everyone should register for the draft?

MS. PSAKI: I'm happy to talk to him about it, and I'll take a look at the Department of Justice case as well.

Go ahead.

Q Thank you. Border Patrol agents have been shifted in recent weeks from the northern border -- Canadian border -- to the Mexican border.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q And we've seen complaints about shortages at the northern border. How many agents are going to be diverted ultimately? And can they maintain security along that rather long northern border?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I am sure that is assessed as they are making changes or making -- or shifting resources. I would certainly point you to the Department of Homeland Security for specifics about the movement of Border Patrol agents.

Q And some of your own administration's immigration experts -- officials -- I'm sorry -- have said that some migrant families are, in their words, "self-separating" at the border and sending their kids across alone because they know that unaccompanied minors are not going to be turned away. Is it time to rethink that policy because of these unintended consequences and the way people are kind of taking advantage of it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, you're right, Todd. That certainly is an unintended consequence. And we have been clear and we have continued to convey the message that our border is not open, that it is a treacherous journey. And even as families are doing that, a number of these kids are still in -- taking a very dangerous journey, even for a shorter period of time -- or distance, I guess I should say.

But I don't have any -- I don't think we have any intention to rethink our approach to treating kids humanely and ensuring that they are safe when they cross the border.

Q Can I ask a follow-up on the Court-packing bill?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q So the President is not ruling out the possibility of expanding the Court, and he has started this process that could lead to those -- to recommendations to expand the number of seats on the Supreme Court. Right? So is that fair --

MS. PSAKI: I think that is getting a little bit ahead of the process. This is a commission that has officials who are -- many very progressive, many very conservative -- have a range of viewpoints. They are going to look at a number of issues. The size of the Court is one of the issues, but there are a number of other issues they'll look at.

I'm sure the President will look forward to reviewing that report when it comes to his desk, and then I'm sure it will impact his thinking moving forward. But we don't know what that report will look like. And he obviously can then --

Q But --

MS. PSAKI: -- still make the decision about what he supports.

Q But he hasn't taken the idea off the table. So isn't it -- isn't it a fair inference that he is open to the idea of expanding the size of the Court?

MS. PSAKI: Well, he's spoken to the issue in the past, during the campaign; his position has not changed. However, he believes that it was important to look at a range of issues related to the Court, given, at times, the politicization of the Court, and that is what he has asked this commission to do.

Go ahead.

Q Thank you, Jen. Three quick questions.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q First one, I want to go back on Russia and the sanctions.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

Q Now that we know the details, can we just go back and -- you can bring us back to the conversation the President had with President Putin. What was his reaction? How cold or warm was it as a conversation?

MS. PSAKI: President Putin's reaction?

Q Yes.

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the Russians to characterize that.

Q But people -- you -- people in the administration were on the call listening to his reaction.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q How -- the two men talked to each other through translators? Yes?

MS. PSAKI: Yep.

Q Was it warm a little bit? Was it cold?

MS. PSAKI: I'm not going to characterize the tone. I will say that, on that call, the President made clear that there would be consequences -- that consequences would be coming. He also suggested that they meet in person, and that he wanted to have a stable and predictable relationship.

So, the content, I think, can tell you a lot about the tone of the conversation.

Q And on President Moon -- Moon's visit next month.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q Can you tell us if the administration has made some more steps to start a dialogue with North Korea, and will _ I guess it will be also part of the conversation with President Moon.

MS. PSAKI: There's been an ongoing review, of course, of the approach and the steps forward here. Of course, our objective is a denuclearized North Korea. That remains our focus. But I don't have anything more about the review to read out.

Q No new initiatives --

MS. PSAKI: It's -- an important part of our objective is to take our approach -- and approach the denuclearization of the North Korean Peninsula in close coordination with our partners and allies in the region. And certainly, South Korea and Japan are two of our important partners in the region.

Q And last question: my Canadian one of the day.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. (Laughter.)

Q Knowing that communities on both sides of the borders are suffering from the closing of the borders, and the fact that now the vaccination has been going well on this side of the border, has conversation started -- have conversations started with the Trudeau government about loosening the restrictions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we would -- obviously, the conversations -- and that is raised, as you know, by -- by foreign governments, including Canada, certainly for the reasons that you outlined. But we are going to base any decision on the guidance and the recommendations of our health and medical experts, and there's been no change that I'm aware of at this point.

Go ahead.

Q Hi, Jen. Thanks. I wanted to go back to the infrastructure plan and --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q -- specifically the tax portion.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

Q What parts of that is the President flexible on? Are there parts of it that he would be open to negotiating about?

MS. PSAKI: You mean in terms of the payfors?

Q Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Well, the President is quite open to alternate proposals to paying for his package. The -- his most important focus here -- or his line in the sand -- is the vital imperative of investing in infrastructure and modernizing our infrastructure, creating jobs for the American people.

He believes that should be paid for. He has proposed a way to do that. If others have alternatives to that, he's quite open to a range of options.

Q And one on climate. I know the summit is next week.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q And going back to one of the early executive orders that the President signed on climate change: There was a line in there about a creating green procurement plan for the federal government, where agencies would consider climate in their spending decisions. He set a deadline for the end of April on that. Do you know what the status is and when you would expect to see it?

MS. PSAKI: I expect -- for those of you who are excited about climate, we will have a lot more to say next week. And I will see, as I promised to Jeff, if there's anything we can preview by tomorrow. But it will be a busy week or two on the climate front, but I'm just not going to get ahead of any announcements.

Q Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.

Q Thanks, Jen. A few in the economic lane. We are being told that congressional Republicans are looking toward a counteroffer on infrastructure with the topline number being in the area of $650 billion. And I'm wondering what the White House's response to that would be?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we would welcome any good-faith engagement on finding common ground on infrastructure in this proposal. We haven't received -- just to confirm -- any concrete counteroffer so far, at least as of my coming out here to see all of you, so we're not going to speculate about hypotheticals.

But from the outset, the President has said that he wants this to be a collaborative process and he wants input from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on how we can improve the Jobs Plan. And certainly, he is -- he looks forward to hearing what their proposals might be.

You know, he has some fundamental -- and this kind of goes in response to an earlier question -- he has some fundamental core elements that are important to him: money to update our infrastructure; investments in long-term growth; investments in the American people, in their workplaces, in their education and communities. So we'll see what this proposal looks like.

Q There's a big push here in Washington to eliminate, as you know, the SALT cap. And I'm just hoping you can sort of clarify the position from the White House: Do you believe that eliminating the SALT cap is good policy that just needs to be paid for somehow? Or do you believe it's not good policy?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the President didn't put it in his proposal. But I will say that we understand there are a number of members who feel strongly about the elimination of the SALT cap, and we are happy to hear from them.

As you also know -- just with our little calculators out -- it is not a revenue raiser, and so it would add costs -- and potentially significantly -- to a package. There'd have to be a discussion about how that would be paid for, what would be taken out instead. And then there's sort of a discussion of what's most important to achieving our overarching objectives.

Q And I want to ask you one in a different space, and that is cryptocurrency. In the news the last many weeks --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q -- and certainly the last few days here: $2 trillion market cap, big growing space. We've heard from Janet Yellen, her thoughts. We've heard from Jay Powell, his thoughts. We've heard from Gary Gensler, his thoughts. And to the best of my knowledge, I don't believe we've heard President Biden, his thoughts on cryptocurrency. So can you give us some sort of insight? What is the President's thinking on it?

MS. PSAKI: I would suggest that Secretary Yellen -- who is our, of course, Treasury Secretary -- is the appropriate person to speak to it. I'm not -- I don't think the President has a disagreement with her on this particular issue or most.

Q So this -- so if he doesn't have a disagreement, does he think that there needs to be some form of regulation at some point?

MS. PSAKI: He would -- we would defer to her and her comments and views on cryptocurrency and the market.

Go ahead.

Q I just wanted to follow on your answer on North Korea.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q This is a very semantic question --

MS. PSAKI: It's okay.

Q -- but you said that the U.S. is seeking the "denuclearization of North Korea," and then later you said the "North Korean Peninsula," and that sort of betrays the --

MS. PSAKI: Sorry. Of North Korea --

Q But it betrays the thrust of my question --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q -- which is the policy (inaudible) denuclearization of the entire Korean Peninsula. And so I'm wondering if you could explain why that's sort of shifted in the administration and if you no longer seem -- see denuclearization of South Korea as part of this long-term negotiation?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that it's just an indication that, you know, we understand that the denuclearization -- I mean, I wouldn't overthink this, to be honest, but -- because we sometimes say one, we sometimes say the other. But we understand the intentions of the North Korean leadership are ones that we have concerns about, and that certainly is a factor.

Yes.

Q A couple last thoughts, as it relates to the expanding-the-Court discussion. Nancy Pelosi, we heard her say she wouldn't bring that proposal to the floor. Did the President speak to Speaker Pelosi in advance of her making those comments?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have any calls to read out. The -- I think it's -- the President has been pretty -- he's spoken about his views, and, obviously, we announced the commission publicly last week.

Q For sure. And as it relates to his views as a senator, his view was -- he was speaking of President Roosevelt then, who wanted to expand the Court by six seats -- he said it was a, quote, "boneheaded idea." Does he still believe it's a "boneheaded idea"?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the President feels that it's important to take a look at a range of issues related to the courts, and I think that's an indication that he's seen the impact in recent years and it's time to take a -- take a fresh and clear look at a range of issues. The size is one of them, but so was the length of service, the selection -- the case selection rules and practices.

Q The last question is on the vaccine -- just one other thing. We heard -- with J&J now out of commission for the near term at least for these next 10 days or however long it would be -- the White House says that they will have enough doses for every American who wants it by the end of July -- I think was the latest. Not just for everyone who wants it, but to be able to give them for everybody who wants it by end of July.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

Q My question is -- that requires a calculation by the White House about how many Americans they believe do not want it. So the question is: How many Americans, by your judgment, by the White House's judgment, are you assessing do not want to take a vaccine?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say -- let me try to answer this question -- I think this is going to get to your -- part of your question here is -- when we say we are confident we're going to have supply for all eligible populations who want it, that means that, by the end of May, for about 80 percent of the population; by the end of July, about 90 percent of the population.

We've also recognized, and as you guys have reported on, that there are parts -- populations in the country that are going to be hesitant, are going to be reluctant to get the vaccine.

We are having a massive campaign to communicate about the efficacy, the safety through a range of trusted messengers. And so, we are working to rebuild that confidence as well, but we're talking about what we think the demand will look like.

Q So, to be -- so to be clear, in terms of demand, is there a figure, though, to have this assessment? There is an expectation that you guys believe there will be some Americans who won't.

What -- where do you set that number right now? Obviously, you're trying to overcome it right now. What is your belief, in terms of how many tens of millions of Americans it is that will say no.

MS. PSAKI: I don't have a new -- I don't have an assessment for -- I mean, that there's no playbook for this. Right?

So what I'm conveying to you is that when we say we will have "enough" -- 80 percent -- for 80 percent of the adult of population by the end of May, we think that will meet the demand. Right?

But we assess day by day, week by week, what progress we're making on addressing any issues with confidence.

Q Because, by the end of May, I think -- by my calculation, having read on this, it's 220 million total available doses, I think, that would --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

Q -- or 220 million Americans who could have been -- get their shots by then. That means that there's an additional number of Americans above that who wouldn't. But you guys don't have a specific number that you're circling right now?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have any number to share with all of you.

Q Okay, thanks.

MS. PSAKI: Thanks. Okay. Oh, go ahead. Did you have one last question?

Q I wanted to ask about the Supreme Court commission that you've been talking about during the briefing. Will that commission at all study lower-court reform?

MS. PSAKI: It is looking at five issues. It's primarily focused on the Supreme Court. It's the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States, so it'll primarily be looking at the Court's role in the constitutional system, the length of service, the turnover of justices on the Court, the membership and size of the Court, the Court's case selection rules and practices, but the Supreme Court will be the focus.

Q So no lower court at this point?

MS. PSAKI: That's what the focus of that commission is.

Q Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Okay? Thanks, everyone.

Q Jen, will you share participants for the two o'clock when you get a chance?

MS. PSAKI: Oh, sure. Sure, sure, sure.

Q Thank so much.

1:40 P.M. EDT

Jen Psaki, 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/349548

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