Joe Biden

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki

May 17, 2021

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:06 P.M. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi everyone. Happy Monday. Okay, a couple of things happening around here today. Today is the deadline to file your taxes. That's not a reminder to all of you, but take it as one if you'd like to. And we encourage everyone to file as soon as possible to make sure they receive the full amount of benefits they are owed.

Filing taxes will ensure people benefit from the three rounds of relief and rescue payments issued since the start of the pandemic, including up to $1,400 per person provided in the President's American Rescue Plan. Filing also ensures people get all the refundable tax credits they may be eligible for, like the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child -- and the Child Tax Credit.

And today, Treasury and the IRS announced that, starting in July, the American Rescue Plan will deliver critical tax relief to middle-class and hard-pressed working families with children. The first monthly payment of the expanded Child Tax Credit will be made on July 15th to 39 million households, covering more than 88 percent of children in the United States. These payments will be made on the 15th of each month unless the 15th falls on a weekend or holiday, allowing families who receive the credit by direct deposit to plan their budgets more effectively.

Eligible families will receive a monthly payment of up to $300 per month for each child under the age of 6, and up to $250 per month for each child age 6 until the year they turn -- over age 6, sorry, until the year they turn 18. More than 80 percent of the 39 million households will receive the Child Tax Credit by direct deposit to ensure safe and fast delivery.

Only other items for the top for all of you: Today, we recognize -- join the international community in recognizing Intern- -- the International Day Against Homophomia -- Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia.

The Biden-Harris administration will always stand with the LGBTQI community, and is steadily implementing the Presidential Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons Around the World.

As the President stated, everyone is entitled to dignity and equality. We will continue to engage with our alli- -- allies and partners to advance the human rights of LGBTQI people at home and in all corners of the world.

Josh, why don't you kick us off?

Q: Thanks, Jen. Two quick subjects. President Biden said last Thursday that Israel had a right to defend itself, and that its actions thus far were not a significant overreaction. After the events of the past few days, does the President still believe that Israel's actions have been proportionate?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first, Josh, let me remind people that the President also did two calls over the weekend that we did readouts of. And, in those calls, he conveyed -- stressed the need for Hamas to cease firing rockets into Israel and affirmed, again, Israel's right to defend itself against terrorist attacks. As I would note from the reports, there have been more than 3,000 rockets that have been shot from Hamas into Israel over the last several days.

He also expressed his concern that this current period of conflict has tragically claimed the lives of Israeli and Palestinian civilians, including children. And he raised concerns about the safety of journalists, including those who had to leave the building from the -- where the Associated Press was based -- and reinforced the need to ensure their protection.

So how we are looking at this, from our standpoint, is that our focus, our goal -- every single action we take, every statement we make is with the objective of reducing the violence and bringing an end to the conflict on the ground.

There are times, in diplomacy, where the -- we'll need to keep those conversations quieter, where we won't read out every component of it. But that is our objective, and that is the -- the prism through which every action and every comment is being made.

Q: Gotcha. And then, secondly --

MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead. Go ahead, Josh. Didn't mean to cut you off.

Q: The Supreme Court agreed today to hear a Mississippi law that would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. And I was curious: Does the administration believe that law is constitutional? And if the Court upheld the law, what would this administration be prepared to do?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don't have a comment specific to the Supreme Court taking the case. But generally speaking, given this is a state law, I can say that, over the last four years, critical rights like the right to healthcare, the right to choose have been under withering and extreme attack, including through draconian state laws.

And the President and the Vice President are devoted to ensuring that every American has access to healthcare, including reproductive healthcare, regardless of their income, ZIP Code, race, health insurance status, or immigration status.

As such, the President is committed to codifying Roe, regardless of the unrelated -- well, it's all related -- but to the outcome of this case.

Go ahead.

Q: Just stepping back a little bit from the current situation with Israel and the Palestinian territories, we reported over the weekend that the -- your envoy in the region has been basically telling both sides that they need to start thinking about what a peace process might look like after this happens. And I'm just curious whether the President is willing to invest himself in -- in being a broker in that kind of a process, and whether you're -- you're starting to think about what that might look like.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Trevor, I think it's clear to everyone who has been a part of -- and covered or been a part of -- I was at the State Department back in 2014. We all know that the only way to bring an end to violence, to bring an end to this escalation of violence is for there to be a two-state solution over time.

And in both calls the President made this weekend, he underscored his strong commitment to a negotiated two-state solution as the bet- -- best path to reach a just and lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But in terms of what that would take or what form and what it would look like, it is going to require both parties wanting to engage in that and wanting to have a discussion about the path forward.

And who would be the point person from this end -- we're certainly not quite there yet. It will be up to both parties to decide if they want to move forward on that pathway.

Q: Okay. And then just one more question on that subject, which is: What would be the value in making a case for a ceasefire from -- from your standpoint? And would you do that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that what's most important is that we all share -- the United States shares with a range of countries around the world -- those who have been outspoken at the U.N., our partners and friends in Europe -- a commitment and a desire to bring an end to the violence.

And how we are approaching this is through the prism, again, of what steps can we take; what actions can we take behind the scenes -- we've had over 60 calls in the past week, from the President on down, with senior leaders in Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and across the region; and how can we bring an end to the violence through our relationships in the region, both with the Israelis and the Israeli government and also with key other partners -- whether it's the Egyptians, the Qataris, and other key countries in the region.

So that is how we are approaching it from the United States.

Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Jen. I want to ask that in the inverse: Why not? What is the value in not calling for a ceasefire right now, given many of those countries that you just listed -- our close allies France, UK, Egypt, Jordan -- have done so, are doing so?

MS. PSAKI: That is true. But what we -- the role we are playing, the action -- the prism we are making all of our decisions through is: How can we help bring an end to the violence and bring an end to -- deescalate the situation on the ground?

And our calculation, at this point, is that having those conversations behind the scenes, weighing in with our important strategic partnership we have with Israel, also with other countries in the region, is the most constructive approach we can take.

So our approach is through quiet, intensive diplomacy, and that's where we feel we can be most effective.

Q: And does the President's assessment from last Thursday still stand: that he does not see Israel's strikes as a significant overreaction?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I think -- I noted that the President also had two calls over the weekend, since Thursday, where he conveyed his concerns about the current period of conflict; the -- the lives of Israeli and Palestinian civilians that have been lost; and certainly raised his concern about the safety and security of journalists and others who have been impacted on the ground.

So we're not going to give a day-by-day evaluation. I will say that our objective is to -- just like it is with other countries and our partners around the world -- is to play the role we can play in the most constructive way possible to bring -- to reduce the violence, to deescalate the situation on the ground. And a great deal of that is going to be through intensive, quiet diplomacy behind the scenes.

Q: And just one last question, if I may. You mentioned the journalists on the ground on that Gaza tower strike. The Prime Minister Netanyahu called this a "perfectly legitimate target." Does this White House agree with that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that any intelligence is being handled through intelligence channels. I don't have a further readout or confirmation of any of that -- those details from here, nor do I have an assessment of that intelligence that was stated by the Prime Minister.

Go ahead.

Q: The President obviously has a decades' long relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu. They met a number of times -- of course, most recently when he was the Vice President.

Tom Friedman wrote today about this being a "January 6th" moment for Prime Minister Netanyahu. Is there a concern at the White House and by the President that domestic politics in Israel are currently a barrier to an end to this escalation of violence?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I will say -- I will say, Mike, good to see you, first of all. I will say that it's not our role to assess or analyze the politics on the ground in Israel. Everybody has their own politics in different regions of the world, and we see that play out in foreign policy all the time.

What our role is, is to play the most -- be as constructive as possible in deescalating the violence, bringing an end to the conflict. And there certainly is -- the President has known the Prime Minister for some time. They've obviously spoken, as -- hence, we did the readout this weekend. And I'm sure they will speak again.

We were also deeply engaged at the highest levels. Our National Security Advisor spoke with his counterpart earlier this morning. We've done, again, more than 60 calls over the past week with a range of partners in the region.

So, our objective here -- our role is not to do political analysis or -- or provide motivation for any actions, but to take steps we can take as a leader in the world, as a country with deep relationships in the region to deescalate the violence on the ground.

Q: Speaking of domestic politics, you have a letter from a majority of the Senate Democrats calling for the White House to demand a ceasefire. You also have Democrats in the party -- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez -- calling Israel an "apartheid state"; Senator Bernie Sanders saying that, potentially, this should lead the U.S. to reevaluate foreign assistance. What's the White House's message to those in the President's party on this?

MS. PSAKI: I will say, if we -- our message is: Sometimes you have to step back from politics for a moment. It's not easy to do. And we recognize and agree that watching the lives lost of these Palestinian children, of these families, the fear you see in the eyes of the Israeli people -- it is heartbreaking. We want to bring an end to the violence. We want to dis- -- deescalate the situation on the ground.

The role we feel we can do that through -- the most effective way we feel we can do that is through quiet and intensive diplomacy, and that is what our focus is on at this point in time.

But we share an objective of deescalating the circumstances on the ground. We share a view that a two-state solution is the only way to bring a lasting end to the violence.

Q: And then, just on another matter: You have two self-imposed deadlines coming up here for the White House. Next Tuesday is the anniversary of George Floyd's death. The President has said he wants to see that legislation moved by then.

And then, Memorial Day is only two weeks from today as well. The White House has said they want to see progress on infrastructure talks by then. What is the White House doing to try to meet those deadlines? And can you define what "progress" on infrastructure means? Does that mean a bill on the floor? Does that mean a breakthrough agreement with some of these Republican senators?

MS. PSAKI: I would not expect a bill to be on the floor before Memorial Day. And all of you, including you, who have covered the Hill know that would be some sort of record-breaking pace, so that is not what we expect.

But I will also say that, almost two weeks -- which is the period of time between now Memorial Day -- is a lifetime in legislating. It's a lifetime in negotiations and conversations, and conversations in hallways, and phone calls, and meetings in person. It will be an active period; it will be an engaged period between high-level officials at the White House and members of -- members of Congress and their staffs and committee staff.

But, in terms of where we will be right before or around Memorial Day, our hope is that we will have a better sense on the path forward and what the opportunity is looking ahead.

Q: And on George Floyd?

MS. PSAKI: And George Floyd. I will say that we are deeply engaged, of course, with the members and in close touch with the members who are negotiating the path forward, including Senator Booker, including Cong- -- including the members of the House -- Karen Bass, who is leading this effort -- and we stay abreast of their discussions and their negotiations.

The President, of course, is eager to sign a bill. He thinks police reform and the -- is long overdue. But, you know, we'll continue to press forward, but we feel that is best placed in those negotiations and those constructive negotiations that are happening between members on the Hill.

Go ahead.

Q: Has the President seen this letter that was sent by Senate Democrats today calling for a ceasefire?

MS. PSAKI: Has he seen it? I -- I'm not sure if he's physically seen the letter. I know that he is, of course, aware of the calls and the points of view of a range of members of Congress on the conflict in Israel.

Q: And has he spoken with any members of Congress about the situation?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have any calls to read out.

Q: When members of his own party share the belief that he is giving too much credence to Israel in this situation, are they wrong (inaudible) the situation on the ground --

MS. PSAKI: Look, I don't --

Q: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: I don't think we are -- it would be constructive to put any labels on it, as you've just outlined. The President's view and the view of senior leaders in the White House is that our role as the White House, as the federal government, as the President of the United States is to play a constructive role in diplomacy to use our role, our relationships around the world to have intensive, quiet discussions with leaders in the region that we have longstanding relationships with.

We share an objective of deescalating the situation on the ground, of bringing an end to the conflict. That's an objective we share with members of Congress who have different points of view and are, of course, you know -- we support their ability to have different points of view, but we are approaching it through the prism of how we feel we can come to the most effective outcome.

Q: Over the weekend, there were these reports that the Israelis had shared intelligence with the United States regarding what was going on in that tower that was blown up that housed the Associated Press and others. They said that it was shared with the United States.

The Secretary of State, this morning, overseas, said he didn't see it. He's not the intelligence director, so perhaps that's why. Has the President seen it? And can you confirm that the Israelis actually shared that intelligence with the United States?

MS. PSAKI: Well, this would be handled, as you alluded to, through intelligence channels, and I'm not going to be in a position now or ever of committing or confirming who has or hasn't seen intelligence.

What I believe the State Department has confirmed is that the Secretary was saying he has not personally seen the intelligence because such matters would be appropriately -- be handled through intelligence channels. So that's not necessarily a surprise. But in terms of who has or hasn't seen it, what's been communicated, I'm just not going to be a position to confirm that.

Q: And let me ask you one on COVID real quick. There's been some pushback on the idea that those of us in this room or indoor places generally should be doing so without masks on, even though that's now the policy here (inaudible) --

MS. PSAKI: Should be not wearing masks?

Q: They should --

MS. PSAKI: Oh, should be.

Q: -- be wearing masks still --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

Q: -- despite the CDC guidance. Plenty of vaccinated people say they're not ready to take their masks off because they fear it would leave them on protected, even though doctors have said masks are about protecting other people, not necessarily you wearing them.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

Q: Does the White House hear that concern or criticism? I know there were governors and mayors, over the weekend, who've expressed concern that this came with very little notice. What says the White House?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the CDC Director promised the American people that she would convey the latest science to them as she knew it, that she would not delay, that she would not be impacted by politics or influenced by political pressure on the White House or elsewhere, and that's exactly what she did.

Now, that also means -- and she based that conclusion, as she outlined, on the fact that the vaccines work in the real world, vaccines work against the variants, and vaccinated people are unlikely to spread COVID, based on their data and analysis by health and medical experts at the CDC.

Now, because we are working in a way that we feel is what is going to rebuild trust with the American people -- and what should have always been the case -- which is that health and medical experts will determine that guidance, it may mean it's going to take some time for various sectors to implement.

It also is important to note what the President said in his remarks last Thursday: People may choose to continue to wear masks. They aren't through their vaccine -- they have -- they're not two weeks post-second vaccine; they have not gotten the vaccine yet; they're immunocompromised -- somebody in their family is.

We need to treat people with kindness. And this has already been such a politically charged issue; that's not our objective. Our objective is to share -- and the President will talk about it in his remarks this afternoon, too -- and make sure people have understanding and clarity of what the CDC guidance was conveying to people, which is that: They are safe not to wear their mask if they have been vaccinated.

Q: Is there anything else he's announcing in those remarks that we should be listening for?

MS. PSAKI: He is announcing -- he does have some news in his remarks, Ed. He will also be announcing that the United States will send 20 million doses authorized for use in the United States to help countries battling the pandemic by the end of June.

This is an addition to sending all of the manufactured AstraZeneca vaccine doses overseas during May and June as soon as these 60 million doses are cleared. So that is a total of 80 million doses, and this is the most doses donated by any country in the world, by five times.

So, we are waiting for, of course, AstraZeneca, as you know, to go through the approval process of the FDA, but this will put 80 million doses out into the world by the end of June.

Go ahead, Mara.

Q: Hi, Jen. Thank you. Wait -- just -- I want to ask about Israel, but the 20 million doses are AstraZeneca doses? Or are there other --

MS. PSAKI: Other doses of approved vaccines.

Q: Other vaccines?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, exactly.

Q: Okay. Okay.


Q: So, my question is: If you say that the ultimate -- the only solution is a two-state solution, and that requires both parties to want that, which they don't seem to right now, does that mean that despite all of your quiet, intensive diplomacy behind the scenes, that the U.S. really has limited leverage and power to solve this problem?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say first that, right now, our quiet, intensive diplomacy is of course not negotiating a two-state solution.

Q: Right.

MS. PSAKI: I know you're not suggesting that.

Q: Yeah. Yes.

MS. PSAKI: But just for clarity purposes.

That is to bring an end and to deescalate the violence on the ground now. And certainly, we feel we have strong relationships with Israeli leaders, we have strong relationships with key partners in the region, and we're hopeful that those conversations -- that quiet diplomacy -- will help bring an end to the violence and reduce the conflict on the ground.

As it relates to a two-state solution, you've been through many of these, as have I, and it is clear that it will require both parties to be committed themselves. The United States cannot manufacture, on our own, a two-state solution. It would require both parties having that desire to move forward.

Q: So it sounds like what you want the American people to understand is that although you are trying your hardest and doing everything you can with all your relationships behind the scenes, you can -- the U.S. does not have the power to solve this problem or it doesn't have the leverage to solve this problem.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, that it's been seven days. Every single life that is lost -- a Palestinian life, an Israeli life -- is a tragedy. It has been seven days. As you know, these conflicts have been far longer than that. That is not our objective, of course. We want to deescalate as quickly as possible.

But, yes, it would require actions from Israel, it would require actions from Hamas to end the violence on the ground. There are a range of parties and entities who are involved in those discussions, and we want to play as constructive a role as humanly possible.

Q: And I just have one more quick one: Is it fair to say that you don't want to answer the question -- yes or no -- whether the President feels the Israeli response has been disproportionate?

MS. PSAKI: We don't think -- I don't think it's constructive. We are going to take -- everything we convey, whether it's a statement or an action, is going to be to the end of deescalating the situation on the ground.

Hence, we're not going to give a day-by-day grade. Clearly, we want to end the violence. Clearly, we want to deescalate. Clearly, we want the lives of Palestinians, Israelis to be saved.

Go ahead, Nancy.

Q: The Washington Post reported that the Biden administration, earlier this month, approved $735 million in weapons sales to Israel. Is the White House considering putting that on hold during the fighting? And is the Israeli response forcing the administration to reconsider future arm sales?

MS. PSAKI: I've seen the report. I would say the State Department would be the entity to confirm -- which I don't believe they have -- any future sales or weapons sales. We do have an ongoing and abiding strategic security relationship and partnership with Israel. But, in terms of the status of that or considerations moving forward, I'd point you to the State Department.

Q: And just one more question. Did the President speak directly with any Republican senators over the weekend on the infrastructure proposal or the negotiations?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have any calls to read out for you. Sometimes these are scheduled, sometimes they happen on the fly, and oftentimes -- and maybe we'll just keep the theme going of diplomacy here -- sometimes those are best happening without particular readouts to have a constructive outcome.

Let's see. Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Jen. Just one more on Israel.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q: As this crisis, you know, gets worse and worse every day, are there any concerns that we might not be able to hit the Afghanistan withdrawal deadline and might need to intervene in a peacekeeping fashion somehow?


Q: None. None at all? Okay.

MS. PSAKI: I've not been -- I've not been made aware of any concern of the overlapping -- of a -- of an impact on our Afghan withdrawal --

Q: Glad to hear it.

MS. PSAKI: -- plans.

Q: On a different notion -- or a different subject, rather, the mask guidance, again: Has this triggered a new conversation about whether we need to have, perhaps, not a mandate, but a standard vaccine passport that businesses can use? Or is this decision going to be left up to the states? I know the President was pretty critical of his predecessor for sort of taking that hands-off approach.

MS. PSAKI: We -- it has not changed our view that the federal government will not be playing that role; the private sector may. And it may prompt the private sector, moving forward on actions, which is where we think it's appropriately situated.

Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Jen. So EU officials actually announced earlier that Johnson & Johnson would be cutting its COVID-19 vaccine deliveries to the bloc by about half this week. And they were already behind schedule for the second quarter.

Just in light of Biden's apparent announcement later that he's going to be sending 20 million vaccine doses abroad, is there any -- do you have any readouts for what countries are actually -- vac- -- these vaccines are actually going to be sent to?

MS. PSAKI: So, let me just make sure I understand your question. So, "Which countries are going to get these 80 million doses" --

Q: Which countries are going to receive the doses?

MS. PSAKI: -- "that we are announcing?" It's a great question. I know everybody is eager to know where are they going. I expect he'll have more in the coming days on what our criteria will be and our approach, and some of where it will be sent to once it's approved through the FDA.

Q: And specifically on the EU, does disputes over intellectual property have at all to do with the reduced exports there, or any (inaudible) --

MS. PSAKI: I -- I think that's really a question for Johnson & Johnson and their manufacturing.

Q: One more question. So, inflation numbers, obviously, last week came back higher than were expected. As the Biden administration deliberates internally on the American Jobs and Families Plan, would consistent levels of inflation or, you know, changes in the jobs reports influence the proposals that you all would be bringing to Congress in the package -- or changing some of the policies that you all would propose if that continues?

MS. PSAKI: Is -- just to make sure I understand your question: Is -- are the CPI numbers from a few weeks ago impacting our plan -- our proposals that we are --

Q: Would you all change any policies you would propose, given increased inflation numbers or --

MS. PSAKI: No, it's a good question. I just wanted to make sure I understood it.

It is -- as we looked and dug into the data -- and we talked about this a little bit last week; some of this data is kind of fascinating, I'll say -- but is that, the economy is turning back on. We take inflation very seriously. Our Secretary of Treasury, obviously, the Federal Reserve is in -- responsible for monitoring it.

But there are a number of factors, as the economy turns back on, including -- there are areas like the cost of airline tickets where, you know, if you look back at pre-pandemic, they dropped by about 20 percent. They are up about 10 percent since then. Right? So, there are -- there are prices where the baseline was actually lower than it was prior to the pandemic, and that's one of the things we're seeing in the data.

But it has not changed our view and the view of economists, I would say, around the country that there's more that needs to be done to put 8.5 million Americans back to work; to ensure that we are getting working families, working mothers the assistance they need; and to ensure we're competitive over the long term. So, it has not changed our overarching objectives and approach and our proposals.

Go ahead, George.

Q: Yeah, I wanted to follow on your opening remarks on taxes. Will you be releasing, today, the President's and Vice President's tax returns?

MS. PSAKI: We will be, soon, releasing, as -- as we believe is the transparent approach and what the public expect -- expects, the tax returns of the President.

I'll have to double check on the Vice President, but I would expect those will be out soon

Q: And -- but not necessarily today?

MS. PSAKI: I -- soon. So I would say, "Stay tuned. Stay at your computer."

Q: One last thing on that. It used to, at least, be the policy that President's returns were always automatically audited. If he is audited, that doesn't change your decision at all on releasing the return?

MS. PSAKI: No, I would expect that we will continue to release the President's tax returns, as should be expected by every President of the United States.

Go ahead.

Q: Hi, Jen. On Friday, Buzzfeed News was able to -- within minutes -- find President Biden's private Venmo account, which is funny, but also speaks to the epidemic of privacy concerns that everyone in this country has -- let alone, the President. And I'm just wondering whether any kind of federal digital privacy reform, any legislation is on your radar.

MS. PSAKI: It's a really good question. And I am very aware of the BuzzFeed story that came out last week. I -- I will have to probably check with our team and see if there's any specific privacy concerns -- privacy legislation or proposals that is -- are being considered.

I would suspect there may be, but I would delink it from the Venmo report, which was a very interesting report because, obviously, this is something that impacts millions of Americans out there who have a range of accounts.

But I'm happy to check with them, and we can get back to you.

Q: Okay. And I need to ask a Canada question.

MS. PSAKI: A Canada question?

Q: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay.

Q: Yeah, Josh isn't here, so I'm going to (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q: Are there any talks right now with the Canadian government about reopening the northern border? Is that something that this administration is pushing for?

And, as you know, Canada is a bit behind the U.S. in vaccination rates. I'm wondering whether there is any threshold you'd like to see them hit in Canada before the border is reopened?

MS. PSAKI: We -- I don't have any update on the timeline. We are certainly always assessing -- as it relates to travel, borders, et cetera -- what we need to do and keep in place in order to keep the American people safe, especially during a global pandemic. But we are constantly evaluating.

I don't think we have specific criteria to make available, but you can -- you can let me know after -- or let us know after which reporter we should follow up with on it, and we can see if there's more specifics on that.

Go ahead, Yamiche.

Q: Hi. Thanks so much for taking my question. The -- does President Biden think that there are any war crimes being committed right now in the Middle East? There are some experts who've told the New York Times that they think that there could have been war crimes on both sides.

MS. PSAKI: We're not going to be making an assessment of that from here. Our objective is on taking every step we can to reduce the violence to deescalate the situation on the ground, to save lives, to ensure that we are bringing some stability back on the ground.

Q: And then just to be -- just to follow up. Are you -- is the White House, at all, I guess, maybe -- or is the President at all concerned just about the number of civilians that are being killed? That's why some of these experts are telling the New York Times that these are war crimes.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, Yamiche, that in the readouts that we put out this weekend, we included -- and I -- as I've noted a little bit earlier in the briefing, his concern about the lives lost. Every life lost is a tragedy. And, certainly, that's why we are eager to deescalate the violence on the ground, bring an end to the conflict so that more lives can be saved.

Q: And may I ask you -- I want to also switch to COVID. The largest national nurses union is saying that the CDC guidelines on masks is putting frontline workers, and especially people of color, at risk. And that they're -- they're calling for the CDC to reverse that. What's the White House's stance on that union, in particular, saying that their members and people of color are at risk?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say we don't have any particular response to -- directly to the union. I will say that, again, the objective of the CDC and of Dr. Walensky was to -- to deliver on the commitment she made to the American people, which was to provide guidance, based on health and scientific evidence, on what people can do that is safe.

And so her guidance that was put out, last week, makes clear that if you are -- have been vaccinated, their recommendation is that you are safe not to wear a mask inside, outside, and when you're not in large public gatherings.

There's going to be a determination about implementation. And there are going to be populations and communities where they take a different approach to implementation because a lot of it is going to be based on the level of vaccination, the level in each community.

So, we certainly respect and value that, but it is still our view -- is that -- that science is the North Star. She was delivering on her promise. And we will continue to work with a range of communities on implementation.

Q: Can I ask you a follow-up on COVID? I've talked to some people who are very worried about the idea that we're operating on an honor system in a lot of ways. That we're -- in places like Walmart and Target, there's already started to be rule changes based on the CDC guidance. What do you say to people who think this is -- that it's worrisome to be operating on an honor system, that it could put kids or even immune-compromised Americans at risk?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that what this guidance provides is information to the public about what they can do to be safe: Wear a mask if you're not vaccinated -- that applies to kids. I have two kids; that isn't always easy, but that is the health and medical guidance.

If you are vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask in these settings.

So, the guidance is actually pretty clear, but it gives people the information and the power to be able to protect themselves. If you get vaccinated -- you go through your two doses; you're two weeks past your doses -- you no longer need to wear a mask. If you are not, you should still wear a mask to protect others, but also to protect yourself. And it also makes clear that kids should still wear masks.

So I would say that we know people are digesting this. They are -- we've all been wearing masks. Many of us have been wearing masks, I should say, for 14 months now. And different companies, different organizations, different -- different communities are going to implement based on a range of factors -- including the vaccination levels, cases, transmission rates -- and we all should respect that.

But it was the responsible step to put out the data from the scientists when it was available, and that's exactly what we did.

Q: If I could -- my question though was on, kind of, the enforcement of this and the honor system idea that you're trusting Americans all over this country to follow those guidelines. Is there any --

MS. PSAKI: Well, what I'm saying is that, though you're empowered, if you are not vaccinated, to wear a mask. So, it is less about the honor system -- you don't have to trust the person next to you has been vaccinated if you have not been vaccinated if you wear a mask. The guidance is saying that you will be -- that provides protection. So, you know, it doesn't -- if you are vaccinated, you don't need to wear a mask.

So, the honor system is -- I'm not -- I don't always -- I'm not sure I completely understand that argument, given it provides guidance directly to individuals about what they can do to protect themselves.

Q: And can I ask you one quick last one, which is --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q: -- the CDC, from my understanding, it's stop- -- it's saying that it's not going to be tracking breakthrough -- breakthrough -- people who people who get the virus if they're already vaccinated unless they're hospitalized or they die.

I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about what the -- the thinking behind that: why the President thinks that that's the best way forward -- to not track people who get the virus if they're not -- if they're vaccinated but they don't get hospitalized or die.

MS. PSAKI: I would -- I know the -- that we'll have a health briefing -- a COVID team briefing, I believe, tomorrow, if I'm remembering correctly the schedule. And it's an excellent question that I encourage you to ask them, and it's certainly one that should be answered by medical experts.

Q: Okay. Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Lalit.

Q: Thank you. I wanted to ask you about India. What is your assessment of the COVID-19 situation in India?

And the President has already announced $100 million of assistance to India. Is he thinking about additional -- more assistance to India?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say -- well, I'm not going to be able to give an assessment, as a non-public-health expert, of the situation on the ground in India. We remain closely in touched and engaged -- in touch and engaged, and we will continue to work through how we can provide assistance during this difficult time.

As you noted, we expect our assistance to be about $100 million. We've sent seven air shipments funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development to India. The seventh flight, carrying additional oxygen concentrators via commercial shipping center, arrived today, and those -- that obviously is critical for a number of the patients who have already been -- are already battling COVID.

So, we will continue to provide a range of assistance. We will remain in touch about what the direct needs are on the ground, and hope that we can play a constructive role in reducing the numbers and bringing some relief to the people of India.

Q: Has the President reviewed the situation himself with his senior officials? And of those 80 million AstraZeneca vaccines, would India be one of the recipients? If it is, how much would India receive?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say the President is, of course, kept abreast of the COVID pandemic -- how it's impacting different regions in the world, including our important partners in India. And he has been deeply engaged as we've made determinations about the type of relief and assistance that we can and should provide.

In terms of how we will distribute the doses, it's an excellent question. I expect and hope we'll have more in the coming days on how our team -- led by Jeff Zients, in partnership with our national security team -- will be making those determinations, what criteria they'll be looking at, and where the doses will be going.

Q: One final one: One of the consequences of the President's visa ban -- travel ban with India has been several hundred families have been separated across India and the U.S. Some of them are working there; some of them went to travel. Is there a way to unite those families back, not to wait unless --

MS. PSAKI: Within India? Within India?

Q: Yeah. There are some families who are working here. They went to India for travel or to get the visa stamp, but because of the ban, they are not able to come back and join their families here.

MS. PSAKI: I know that's very difficult. It's a great question. I think the State Department is probably the best entity to have a discussion with about that.

Okay. Thanks, everyone.

12:43 P.M. EDT

Joseph R. Biden, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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