Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:56 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: All right. I have a couple of items for all of you at the top, and some charts. We love charts in here.
In today's encouraging report, initial claims for unemployment insurance fell to their lowest level and below 400,000 for the first time since the pandemic hit. This is just the latest evidence that President Biden's economic strategy and vaccination plans are working. While weekly data can be volatile, since taking office, average claims have fallen by about 50 percent, which you can see in this chart, over the course of time, and by more than 100,000 in last -- in the last month alone.
And earlier this week, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development -- the OECD, as it's commonly known -- one of the leading bodies in analyzing economic growth around the world, increased their projection for U.S. economic growth this year to 6.9 percent due to the strength of the American Rescue Plan and our pandemic response to get Americans vaccinated and lift our economy out of the crises that we inherited.
In fact, the United States is the only major industrialized nation to have its growth projection through 2025 revised upward.
We also learned earlier this week that manufacturing activity in May was near its highest level in more than 15 years.
Okay. I also wanted to note, which many of you saw this morning, that our Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber, Anne Neuberger, who's been here a couple of times, released an open memo to corporate executives and business leaders urging them to take immediate steps to address the threat of ransomware. Obviously, this is in light of the attack this week -- the ransomware attack this week, and the one from just a few weeks ago.
The federal government, under the leadership of President Biden, has been stepping up to strengthen the nation's defenses against cyberattacks, but we can't do it alone. Business leaders have a responsibility to strengthen their cyber defenses to protect the American public and our economy.
The most important takeaway from the recent spate of ransomware attacks on the United States, Ireland, and Germany, and organizations -- other organizations around the world, is that companies that view ransomware as a threat to their core business operations, rather than a simple risk of data theft, will react and recover more effectively.
So, our Deputy National Security Advisor laid out a small number of highly impactful steps that private-sector companies can take to harden their cybersecurity. We've outlined them here. And again, it was in the memo that she put out just this morning, and that's something we will encourage -- continue to encourage companies to do.
Finally -- lots of news out there this morning -- as you all know -- and many of you were probably on this call -- Jeff Zients and Jake Sullivan announced the President's strategy for global vaccine sharing and their allocation plan for the first 25 million doses to be shared globally.
So, just a couple of highlights from that:
First, having successfully secured enough vaccine supply for Americans, we're donating excess -- donating surplus U.S. vaccine supply and encouraging other countries with surplus supplies to do the same.
He's announced -- the President has announced a U.S. commitment to sharing a total of 80 million doses by the end of June. So that's 25 million doses that will go out as soon as possible, very quickly. A number of those are going to even go out as soon as today. And that is five times the number of doses any other country has committed to sharing and 13 percent of the total vaccines produced by the United States by the end of this month.
Second, we're working with vaccine manufacturers to vastly increase vaccine supply for the rest of the world in a way that can also create jobs here at home. So that -- so we have all these manufacturers who have facilities that will enable us to continue to produce additional supply, even beyond, so that we can provide that to the rest of the world.
We will also work with our partner nations and pharmaceutical companies and other manufacturers to create the kind of global vaccine production and manufacturing capacity and capabilities that can not only help the world beat this pandemic, but also helps prepare the world to respond to future threats.
A couple of additional highlights: One, our approach today was rooted in a couple of considerations. One, ensuring vaccines are delivered in a way that is efficient and equitable and follows the latest science and public health data. Two, providing vaccines for populations across different regions and those most at risk, as well as the nations experiencing surges, high burdens of disease, or low vaccination rates.
And finally, the President -- as the President said, we will not use our vaccine supply and the doses we're sharing with the world to secure favors from other countries, and that's a value from the United States.
So, today, we announced that we're sharing at least 75 percent of these vaccines, which is approximately 19 million, through COVAX, which will -- of the 25 million, I should say, that are going out -- through COVAX, which will facilitate equitable distribution to reach those most at risk. So, approximately 6 million for Latin America and the Caribbean; 7 million for South and Southeast Asia; 5 million with the African Union and Africa CDC. And we're sharing 25 percent of these vaccines with countries with immediate needs and to help surges around the world.
As final determinations are made about additional supply and where it's going, we will provide that to all of you, but wanted to convey how we'd be approaching this and where the initial set of supply is going.
Okay. I hope everyone had a snack.
Alex, go ahead.
Q: Thanks, Jen. With the news that the Trump Justice Department sought the records of more journalists, this time from the New York Times, can you talk a bit about Biden's pledge that the practice won't continue under his Justice Department? Can you speak to, in particular, how can the President keep that promise while also making good on his pledge to uphold the independence of the Justice Department?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let me -- for those of you who didn't follow as closely what Alex referenced, although I bet many of you did, this is the third announcement by the Department of Justice of attaining records of journalists during the last year of the Trump administration -- so, something they're projecting publicly that happened during the last year of the Trump administration. They've also indicated that this is the last.
As you noted, Alex, the President has made clear that, on his watch, freedom of press will be protected. He laid out core principles several weeks ago, because this is something that he is personally passionate about, and he has a long record with respect to protecting the rights of journalists.
And as he's always been emphatic about -- he was always alarmed by the way the former administration, the Trump administration, abused their power in some cases. And the career, nonpartisan, civil servants often were doing their work with great professionalism and honor and were put in a difficult position.
So, I will say that he's always felt that it's important, as is evident by his words he shared just a few weeks ago, that we should always be refining and improving our approaches to how we approach this issue and any other issue. I don't have anything to preview for you in terms of a specific policy moving forward, but it's something that he is -- that's, kind of, his principles he will approach this from, moving forward.
Q: Well, you said the White House had not spoken to the DOJ about this particular issue. Was it just a suggestion to the DOJ? I mean, how is this going to become codified?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, the President spoke to it himself publicly, and we're in touch at the appropriate layers of the White House and the Department of Justice. And -- but certainly this is the position of the President of the United States -- what principles he wants to abide by as President, and he conveyed that publicly, so it wasn't exactly in secret.
Q: Sure. And then, on infrastructure: President Biden tried to give Republicans an alternative to funding infrastructure. He suggested a 15 percent minimum tax, rather than a hike in the corporate tax rates. So, can you talk a little bit about how this informs his broader vision? Is this a change to his broader vision on infrastructure? And is he basically proposing that no profitable corporations should be able to avoid taxes? Is that the, sort of, founding principle of that proposal?
MS. PSAKI: Well, on the last one, that's absolutely a principle. I will note -- and I know this was a lengthy factsheet at the time -- but the "book minimum tax," which is the 15 percent minimum tax, was actually in the American Jobs Plan as one of the payfor components.
So what happened over the last couple of days and also in the meeting yesterday is that the President did a thorough review of all of the tax reforms he's proposed -- many of them on the campaign. So he talked about this on the campaign. It was in the American Jobs Plan as a payfor and also is reflected in our budget that we just put out last Friday. And he looked to see what could be a path forward with his Republican colleagues on this specific negotiation.
Now, I think it's important to step back and remember that what -- the proposals about the American Jobs Plan is a historic investment in infrastructure, modernizing our nation's infrastructure, becoming more competitive around the world. He's proposed ways to pay for it. Right? Others have not exactly done the same in many capacities.
So, this is a way for him to identify pieces that he's long been a proponent of as ways where he feels it would not violate. This would not -- this would -- this should be completely acceptable to a number of Republicans who have said that they -- they want to leave their bottom lines, they want to leave the 2017 tax law untouched.
So I wouldn't say it's a new approach by the President. This is in our budget. It was on the campaign. It was in the American Jobs Plan proposal. He also talked, of course, about the benefit of tax enforcement and how that could be a revenue raiser.
But what really should stand out at this point to people is that opposing this proposal would not -- would mean not only opposing raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans who've done extraordinarily well during the pandemic; it would mean opposing the very enforcement of the 2017 tax law. It would mean maybe having the view that nobody should pay -- that these 50 corporations who didn't pay taxes shouldn't pay any taxes at all. And that certainly is not the view the President has.
Q: And one more quick one. Can you clarify the President's position on the filibuster?
MS. PSAKI: In what way?
Q: Where does he stand?
MS. PSAKI: I've said -- I talked about it quite extensively yesterday. I'm happy to repeat it -- and often.
But the President's view is that he believes that there should be a path forward for Democrats and Republicans to work together to get the job done on behalf of the American public, whether that is voting rights and ensuring that more people have access to voting rights, or whether that is moving forward on other priority items for him.
He has talked, in the past, about a move back to the talking filibuster. It shouldn't be so easy to invoke the filibuster; that is his view. But it hasn't changed beyond that.
Q: Jen, following up on infrastructure, quickly: The President and Senator Capito had said they aim to reconnect tomorrow. Is that going to be another face-to-face meeting here at the White House, or is that going to be happening virtually?
MS. PSAKI: It's a great question, Monica. I think it could -- I don't have a definite format for you, but it certainly could happen. They're just going to reconnect and engage. It certainly could happen on the phone.
Q: And is the expectation from the White House that tomorrow Republicans will offer yet another counterproposal and that that may be the final step in the set of negotiations? Or do you anticipate this will go through the weekend until Monday, June 7th, as you had noted?
MS. PSAKI: I know everybody is excited to work through the weekend. Look, I'm not going to prejudge what Senator Capito will come to the table with tomorrow. I will leave that to her to speak to and other Republicans who have been a part of these good-faith discussions and negotiations.
I will note that this has been a good discussion and -- good, ongoing discussion where we've -- we're working to find areas of agreement. We also feel there are a number of paths forward.
Next week, the House is going to be marking up the American Jobs Plan; Congressman DeFazio will be leading that effort. There are a number of Democrats and Republicans who have talked about working together -- many of you have reported on -- to come up with a proposal where they can all mutually agree on.
So, the President is looking forward to engaging with Senator Capito tomorrow; feels they've had good discussions -- good-faith discussions. But we're also going to keep options open and keep a range of paths open for how we move his ideas forward.
Q: And, on vaccines, how does the two-dose regimen factor into the 25 million doses? How many of them are Johnson & Johnson? Or should this be viewed as something that is potentially more for 10 to 12 million people to get vaccinated given, of course, it requires two shots?
And, also, what is the plan for doses that may expire this month or soon? What is the U.S. going to do to ensure that gets there quickly enough to ensure they can actually be viable?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, on the second question, we are going to, of course, look closely to determine that we get doses out as quickly as possible. And, as I noted, 25 million will be going out as quickly as we can logistically get those out the door. And we are going to -- that's certainly a factor as we are working to operationalize this, which is kind of a historic herculean effort to get these doses to all of the communities and countries that we have committed them to.
In terms of Johnson & Johnson, you know, of the doses that will be going out, they will be all approved doses by the FDA, of which Johnson & Johnson is one of them. I don't have an exact breakdown between the three, but you're absolutely correct that, obviously, if it's Johnson & Johnson, it would be one dose; if it's the other two approved -- Moderna and Pfizer doses -- it would require two doses.
Go ahead, Steve.
Q: Jen, do you feel like you're close to a deal on infrastructure -- that you've significantly narrowed the gap?
MS. PSAKI: I would say, over time, we feel that all parties -- of course, we have been and we certainly feel that Senator Capino [sic] -- Capito and the other Republicans who've been a part of that have been operating in good faith.
Now, and negotiation -- as you know, Steve, from covering a lot of these -- is exactly that. It's seeing how much each side can come closer to the other. And the President has some priorities, including ensuring that we're investing in infrastructure of the future.
And there are areas that are personally important to him: making sure we're rebuilding veterans hospitals; making sure we're making electric vehicles a reality; charging stations, buses, et cetera. Some of these proposals have been in our counterproposal, on the original proposal.
And, certainly, part of negotiating is coming up in numbers.
Q: And has he abandoned the plan to raise the corporate tax rate to 28 percent?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely not.
Q: Is that off the table?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely not. What the President believes is, one, that corporations can afford to pay a little bit more, and that's a way that can -- we can pay for a range of the bold proposals that he has put forward. But he also took a look at these proposals, and the -- all of the tax proposals that he has put forward over time to find a way where there should be payfors that, based on their -- based on their bottom lines, many of the Republican negotiators should be able to agree to.
Q: And lastly, Israel seems to be on the cusp of a new prime minister. What's at stake for the United States here? Does policy change as a result of this leadership change?
MS. PSAKI: We will leave -- which won't be a surprise to you, Steve -- the politics and the determination about political formation in Israel up to the parties there. Israel will remain an important strategic partner, one where we have an abiding security relationship. And that will continue.
Q: Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: I'll come back to you guys. I'm sorry. Go ahead.
Q: So, just to clarify: Is the President's position that he would be willing to do away with this increase in the corporate tax rate if Republicans agreed to a minimum 15 percent corporate tax rate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let's take a step back. The minimum -- the book minimum was in the President's American Jobs Plan proposal as a proposed payfor. It was also in our budget. So this is not a new idea; this is a component of what he's proposed for a payfor that he's lifting up as a question as to whether they could agree to that, because it certainly doesn't violate anything about the 2017 taxes. So that's what he's putting forward as an idea that he's asking them where their point of view is.
Q: So he's saying it could be one or the other?
MS. PSAKI: Well, no. He believes that we should continue to look at raising the corporate rate; that is a way to pay for a range of ideas. He's got a lot of ideas out there, a lot of bold proposals, including that aren't a part of this infrastructure negotiation. And he continues to believe that corporations can pay more.
But the bottom line is that these proposals he's put forward as payfors in the American Jobs Plan, including IRS enforcement -- which is also in our budget, of course -- and this book minimum tax are ways that, unless you think corporations shouldn't pay any tax at all -- and we'll leave that to others to speak to -- then there should be a way to find a path to agreement.
Q: And how was that proposal received by Senator Capito?
MS. PSAKI: I'll leave her -- I'll leave that to her and others to speak to.
Q: Okay. The President said yesterday that he's putting Vice President Harris in charge of the White House's efforts to combat voting restrictions around the country. What is this effort going to look like exactly? What is the White House going to do to push back on bills that are making their way through state legislatures?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that the Vice President put out an extensive statement on this just two days ago. And she has this assignment because she asked to lead the effort on voting rights, because it's an issue she is personally passionate about, and she wants to spend time and effort and energy working on.
What she's conveyed -- the President certainly supports and agrees on -- is that there's a federal component here -- continuing to push for legislation to move forward at a federal level -- but there's also an important component of working with grassroots organizations, leaders in states, and others to see how we can push back on laws that have been -- that are moving toward getting approved, that make it harder to vote, and how we can use the power of the vice presidency to activate energy and engagement on these issues.
Q: And then, finally: The FBI has been investigating Postmaster General Louis DeJoy in connection with his former business. Does President Biden believe that the Postmaster General should step down or be replaced?
MS. PSAKI: He'll leave -- he'll let -- he'll leave the investigation and the process forward to the Department of Justice.
Q: Going back to infrastructure: I understand that the President offered to repurpose $75 billion in unspent COVID money after there was some concern from the White House that doing that would jeopardize aid to rural hospitals in the areas where it was intended in the beginning. What changed in that negotiation?
And then, is there any more room for that, given the jobs report and the 20 states not taking enhanced federal unemployment anymore? Could more be taken from unemployment to dedicate to the $75 billion (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say that what he's referencing -- or there might be some openness to -- is pre-ARP money, which passed during the prior administration; there is a tiny, minimal amount left. So that's certainly not going to pay for the majority -- the vast majority of these proposals.
Also, I would note that a lot of this funding -- as we've talked about before -- the vast majority of this funding is allocated, and it is meant to go to, as you noted, hospitals, to firefighters, to keeping law enforcement on the job, to state and localities that have suffered during the pandemic.
So, we've proposed alternatives to pay for these proposals, as we've been talking about a bit in here. Why wouldn't it be a better option for companies that paid no tax to pay 15 percent? Which is still a lower tax rate than even was in the Trump tax package. Why wouldn't it be a better proposal to invest in enforcement -- IRS enforcement -- something that's supported by 84 percent of Republicans in the country?
So, there are a range of ideas out there. The President's bottom line is: He's not going to raise taxes on people making less than $400,000 a year. He's proposed a lot of different options that don't cross that red line. And he's looking forward to seeing what the other side has to offer.
Q: Where did that $75 billion come from? What pot did it come out of?
MS. PSAKI: The pre-ARP COVID funding.
Q: Okay. And then going to the emails with Dr. Fauci: There was an exchange between Dr. Collins and Dr. Fauci referencing a Fox News report, discussing it as -- basically, the lab leak as a conspiracy. Collins denied, you know, jumping to conclusions, and he asserted that his mention of conspiracies was referring to the thought, the rumor that the virus was engineered -- bioengineered as a weapon.
Is that the position of the administration and their top health experts, that this was not engineered? Or is that still an open question and part of this review?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we've spoken to this pretty extensively from here.
Let me just say, on Dr. Fauci and his emails, he's also spoken to this many, many times over the last -- over the course of the last few days, and we'll let him speak for himself. And he's been an undeniable asset in our country's pandemic response. But it's obviously not that advantageous for me to re-litigate the substance of emails from 17 months ago.
We've launched, based on the President's direction, an entire internal review process to use all of the resources across government to get to the bottom of the origins. And that's a 100-day process, and we'll look forward to providing more when that -- or 90 days, sorry -- when it's concluded.
Q: Can you speak at all to the Vanity Fair report about this State Department factsheet that came out five days before inauguration? You know --
MS. PSAKI: Five days before this President's inauguration?
Q: Correct. Do you know if there was any crossover of that; how that was seen by this administration -- the conclusions that they were trying to put out in the final days of the Trump administration?
MS. PSAKI: I think I'm just going to focus on our own internal review that's going to use every resource in the federal government -- whether that is our health experts, our medical experts, our national security team -- to see what more we can unearth about the origins, which certainly we all want to get to the bottom of.
Q: Yeah, back on infrastructure. So just to be clear on this: One trillion in new spending, and the focus on the minimum tax instead of corporate tax hikes. Is this the President's best and final offer to Republicans?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first of all, I think it's important to note we have a range of means for moving the President's ideas and proposals forward. And the President is going to have a conversation with Senator Capito tomorrow. He's very much looking forward to that.
I will tell you, for clarity, that what he put forward would have been new spending on top of a baseline of $400 billion over five years. That amount of money -- that would be expected to be invested in infrastructure regardless of these talks.
And beyond that, I think, in terms of the payfors, we're open to other options. The President is just not going to raise taxes on Americans making less than $400,000 a year. If the Republicans want to go back to raising the corporate rate as a part of this specific negotiation, we are absolutely for that, and we think that these corporations could pay more.
If there are other options, great. We're not going to go down the road of user fees or other areas that would raise taxes on the American people.
Q: And how much of the plan does that minimum tax cover? Does the White House --
MS. PSAKI: It's in our budget. You can -- you can take a look.
Q: And just on the corporate tax rate: Are you confident progressive Democrats in Congress would get behind a proposal that doesn't include an increase in the corporate tax rate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, to be clear, the President absolutely thinks that corporations can afford to pay more, and especially -- including corporations that paid zero in taxes over the last several years. That's why it was in his proposal as a payfor. And certainly, a range of members, including progressives, are certainly well aware of what was in the President's American Jobs Plan proposals as payfors.
Q: And just on the hack -- the cyber hacking. The White House is telling businesses to take steps to prevent this. You know, what's the message to Americans, to businesses that keep seeing these hacks happening? Would you consider enforcement? Would you consider other regulations that would try to make this, you know, stricter to prevent these cyberattacks?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I will say that there has been. Ransomware is a global problem, as I think we -- you all know. And we have seen these attacks -- ransomware attacks, I should say -- we've seen these attacks disrupt organizations around the world, from hospitals across Ireland, Germany, and France, to pipelines, as you all know, in the United States and banks in the United Kingdom.
These attacks have been on the rise for years because these criminal groups are able to make a profit off the backs of businesses, schools, local governments, and more. That's one of the reasons that we're doing our own review internally, which has the focus of four lines of effort -- because we recognize this is an increasing threat; that it is a threat here, but it's also a threat around the world, and certainly one that we'll be discussing on the President's trip in just two weeks.
Our focus is on the destruction of ransomware infrastructure and actors, including through close cooperation with the private sector -- part of that communication; building the international coalition -- hence part of the President's trip; expanding cryptocurrency analysis to find and pursue criminal transactions; and reviewing our own ransomware policies. That's ongoing -- something that's a priority to the President, and that will be a priority in the national security team.
Go ahead, Kaitlan.
Q: Does he view the $1 trillion in new spending as the lowest he is willing to go?
MS. PSAKI: I'm not going to negotiate from here, but certainly we look forward to the President having the discussion with Senator Capito tomorrow. And as a reminder, there are some other lever -- or some other paths that are currently happening. We're days away from the House marking up the American Jobs Plan. That's something a lot of Democrats in Congress are pretty excited about, as you all know. And also, there are, as has been evidence in much of your reporting, Democrats and Republicans who have been working together to come up, perhaps, with their own proposal.
So we're looking forward to seeing that as well. So we're going to keep optionality on the table, and we'll see how the conversation goes tomorrow.
Q: Okay. So he could potentially be open to going lower than $1 trillion in new spending?
MS. PSAKI: I'm not going to give you any new bottom lines from here, but I think it's important to note that there are a range of options moving forward. And certainly, his approach and his priority is making a historic investment in infrastructure, creating millions of jobs, and seeing how we can do that as quickly as possible.
Q: You noted that the markup is just a few days away. Does he see Monday as, kind of, the deadline for any major breakthroughs on where these talks are going?
MS. PSAKI: No. He's going to continue to have conversations with Democrats and Republicans about what the path forward may look like. And certainly it's an important -- it's an important moment in the timeline, of course, because there will be movement then. We've seen Speaker Pelosi talk about how she wants to move forward with infrastructure in June. We've seen Senator -- Leader Schumer talk about how he wants to move forward with infrastructure in July. Those are some realities in the timeline. But the President is not -- we're not here to set new deadlines; we're going to continue those conversations.
Q: Okay, just checking. Because the Transportation Secretary did say on Sunday that they do view Monday as a deadline for any breakthroughs on these talks. So President Biden does not view Monday as a deadline?
MS. PSAKI: I think we're going to keep our options open to see what paths we can move forward on. And certainly, the President is not going to accept a deal that doesn't help create millions of jobs and make a historic investment in our nation's infrastructure.
Q: Okay. My last question: Before he goes abroad on his trip next week, should we expect any ambassador nominations to come from the White House?
MS. PSAKI: I don't know yet, Kaitlan. We will see. I know that there's an interest in that, and we hope to have more soon.
And I would note that one of the processes in the ambassadorial nomination process is that countries have to agree to these selections, and so sometimes that's part of the timeline.
Q: Is that holding this up (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: It's not a holdup. It's just part of the process. So --
Go ahead, Annie.
Q: In general, when so much of Biden's agenda includes long-term things that will take a while to bear fruit, even once they're passed -- infrastructure being at the top of that list -- is the White House concerned that Congress is moving slower than a snail's pace on everything from democracy reform, to a policing bill, to these endless infrastructure talks, and that it will get harder as you get closer to the midterms for you to tackle your priorities?
MS. PSAKI: No, that's not our view. I would say, first, the American Rescue Plan passed at a pretty rapid speed. That's typically faster than most pieces of legislation, as many of you know, moves through Congress. I mean, not that this is necessarily our model in terms of timeline, but the Affordable Care Act took a year to move through Congress.
And so, we certainly recognize that sausage-making is messy. It takes some time. The President has talked about wanting to sign a bill into law this summer, and there is certainly appetite and interest and a commitment to moving forward on infrastructure from Speaker Pelosi, as well as Leader Schumer.
I would say, as it relates to police reform, we certainly know that coming together -- in order to get that across the finish line, there needs to be agreement from the negotiators about what the path forward looks like. They've said they're making progress; they've been encouraged by the tone of the discussions. That's a positive sign to us, and we're going to continue to support those efforts as they move forward.
Q: I guess, just, the question is: You know, how are you going to show voters who are trying to decide if Biden was an effective President, beyond the falling virus numbers, that his approach is working?
MS. PSAKI: Beyond falling virus numbers? Beyond getting a global pandemic under control?
Q: (Inaudible) voters.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, Anne -- you know, from polling and from what the American people care about and are focused on -- getting the pandemic under control; ensuring that we're saving tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of lives; making sure that the majority -- more than 70 percent of people in this country are vaccinated so that they can return to their normal lives, which means returning to their jobs, kids returning to school, seeing friends, going to concerts, returning to life pre-pandemic -- that is the number one, two, three, four, five issue on everyone's mind. That has been the President's focus from day one and absolutely how he has spent the majority of his time to date.
Q: One other question on Israel. Gantz was here today and met with Jake Sullivan.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q: His plan was to ask for a billion dollars in emergency military aid. Is the U.S. expected to grant -- to provide those funds? And if so, does it have any expectation that we would get cooperation from the Israelis on rebuilding Gaza if we did?
MS. PSAKI: I haven't -- I knew we were going to do a readout of that. I don't know if that's come out yet -- the readout of the call.
Q: It came out and it didn't mention anything about whether or not those requests would be granted.
MS. PSAKI: I'm happy to check and see if there's any update on that. It may be that we have to consider their requests. And I'm not sure we'll have a rapid response, but I will check with our team and see if we have any update.
Go ahead, Mara.
Q: Thank you, Jen. In terms of the voting -- the ballot bills that are being introduced around the country -- the President spoke out pretty strongly in Tulsa about them -- other than the Vice President, as you said, working with grassroots groups, if you don't have the votes to stop these laws in the state legislatures, and you don't have the votes to overturn the filibuster so you could pass H.R. 1 or the John Lewis Act, what can he do other than engender a public backlash to them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, one, we don't accept that -- that that's the case. We're going to continue to press for Congress to move forward with legislation on voting rights. We know it's not always a straight line and that sometimes it takes time. And there needs to be discussion and negotiation.
And in states, it's not just about engaging with community organizations; we're also talking about working with the private sector, working with voting rights groups, strengthening and uplifting efforts on voting rights nationwide.
So this is an across-the-board effort that's not just focused federally, it's also focused on states. It's also focused on local and grassroots organizations.
And certainly, one of the President's lessons from having been -- done this for 50 years or more is that, you know, the engagement and the activism of the American people is often the driver of change. And so a part of this effort is certainly to engage with that.
Q: Even though some of these bills have already been signed into law or are about to be (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Well, laws sometimes are meant to be changed.
Q: Okay. I have a question about the cyberattacks. Is this something that he would talk to Putin about? Is it something he thinks that Russia has some responsibility for or could do something to stop? Or what -- how does he -- what is Putin's -- where does Putin fit into these ransomware attacks?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, we expect it to be a topic of discussion at the summit that is happening in just less than two weeks. And the President's message will be that responsible states do not harbor ransomware criminals, and responsible countries must take decisive action against these ransomware networks. So that will be a part of the discussion when he sees him in less than two weeks.
Q: And I just have one more quick one, just to put infrastructure to bed. I understand it --
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, I don't know if it's to bed. (Laughter.)
Q: I understand if --
MS. PSAKI: It's like brushing its teeth or something. (Laughter.) I don't know.
Q: He's saying -- he's saying that for infrastructure, it's not -- he can -- he has so many payfors it's not necessary to raise the corporate tax, or just enforcement and the book minimum would take care of infrastructure.
Does he believe that raising the corporate tax and raising the tax on people who make more than $400,000 is still necessary to fund his other proposals like the American Families Plan? Or is he -- or is he -- does he believe that maybe this is not necessary at all? I'm not talking about whether you're for it or not; I'm asking you if he still feels that those hikes are necessary for his agenda.
MS. PSAKI: He wouldn't have proposed them and put them in his budget if he didn't think so. I mean, I think there's a math ch- -- not challenge -- there's a math problem here somewhere, you know, in that the President has come down in his proposal, and what -- and as we're negotiating with Republicans on an infrastructure package. As you noted, Mara, there's a range of other ideas that he has put forward that he wants to get passed into law: Child Tax Credit, universal pre-K, et cetera. He's also proposed ways to pay for it.
So these are components that would help pay for his proposals in this negotiation. But, certainly, raising the corporate rate is something -- going back to what the rate was in, you know, the early days of the George W. Bush administration -- is certainly something that he feels -- sees as a viable payfor for many of his bold ideas.
Q: "Viable payfor" or necessary to pay for it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it's important to take a step back and remember this is not about -- these proposals were not standalone corporate tax increases. These proposals were an American Jobs Plan to make historic investment in our nation's infrastructure. They were to level the playing field and make universal pre-K eligible -- you know, kids across the country eligible.
So he's proposed a range of ways to pay for it. Those payfors can be moved around. And certainly raising the corporate rate is a -- is an area he feels is a viable, good, positive, essential option.
Q: Jen, in light of the recent ransomware attack, what is the White House guidance to private companies, the private sector about paying ransom?
MS. PSAKI: Our guidance continues to be -- from the FBI -- that companies should not pay ransom because it incentivizes these attacks on other companies.
Q: Okay. And then, separately on the -- on a fourth stimulus check idea that is supported by dozens of Democrats in Congress. I know, a month ago, you said, you know, stimulus checks aren't free, and it's really up to Congress to decide whether to move forward on that. I'm wondering, at this point, does the President support that idea? Or does he believe that his American Jobs and Families Plan provide enough economic assistance that a fourth stimulus wouldn't be necessary?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, as he said at the time -- as I said at the time, I should say when you asked this before: The President is certainly open to a range of ideas. There are some who are proposing an elimination of the SALT deduction.
I think I said it the right way.
And there are some who are proposing making the Child Tax Credit permanent. There are some who are proposing additional stimulus. He's happy to hear from a range of ideas on what would be most effective and what's most important to the economy moving forward.
But he's also proposed what he thinks is going to be the most effective for the short term, for putting people back to work, to getting through this pivotal period of time, and also to making us more competitive over the long term.
Q: And just to clarify, the President does support an extension of the family Child Tax Credit that's going to start taking effect next month, correct?
MS. PSAKI: It's in -- in his American Families Plan, he's proposed an extension of the Child Tax Credit.
MS. PSAKI: Yep.
Q: Thank you. Does the choreography of the Europe trip, having these sit-downs with allies and NATO before Putin, is this meant to effectively project President Biden as a messenger of the West, not just the U.S., when he sits down with the Russian leader?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would first say that his commitment to attend the G7 and NATO predated the scheduling of the summit, just factually, as you all know. But I would certainly say thematically that what you'll see from the President, and him talk about on this trip, is his advocacy for democracy over autocracy -- domestically, here in the United States, but certainly around the world.
And he's always felt that we are stronger when we are working with our partners and our allies -- many of them are in the G7 and in NATO -- and certainly discussing issues as it relates to cyberthreats, the threat of climate change, or problematic behavior from some where we have disagreements -- including Russia, including China -- would certainly be a part of those engagements.
Q: Would it be fair to say that that theme you're talking about, the democracy over autocracy, is that maybe his guiding theme through that whole week?
MS. PSAKI: Stay tuned.
Okay. Go ahead, Eugene.
Q: The President hasn't nominated a -- someone for the top Antitrust role at the DOJ yet. It's the longest since before H.W. Bush. I'm just wondering if there's a hold-up there. And if so, what is it?
MS. PSAKI: I'm not aware of any particular hold-up. And certainly, he wants to select and nominate the right people for each of these important positions. We can check and see if there's any update on the timeline.
Q: And on H.R. 40 -- President Biden was obviously in Tulsa there. I was also there talking to some activists, and they heard from the President and they've heard from this White House that he is supportive of a committee to study reparations, which is what H.R. 40 would do.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: But he hasn't called for Congress to pass H.R. 40 or talked about his support for the bill specifically, so I'm just curious if he supports the bill as written that just went through (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Well, he supports a number of components of the bill, including the funding and the proposal for a study, which he feels would be the next important step forward and something that he feels would be absolutely correct in addressing this moment in history -- these moments in history.
Q: But not H.R. 40 as it stands?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have more of an assessment of the legislation. But he, of course, supports a study of reparations and feels that would be the best next step.
Q: Thank you, Jen. I know that you don't want to relitigate what happened when Biden wasn't in office and when those e-mails were sent. (Inaudible.)
MS. PSAKI: Uh-oh. That's a setup. (Laughter.)
Q: Probably not.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q: But has anyone from your team briefed the President of what was in those FOIA'ed Fauci e-mails?
MS. PSAKI: I'm not aware of him being briefed on the publicly reported e-mails.
Q: And then, given that there were some things that Fauci said privately that contracted -- contrasted with what he said publicly -- whether it was masks or whether or not someone who had the virus, you know, could have immunity, or
you know, other questions as well -- I mean, does he still have confidence in his NIH director? Does this change anything at all -- these e-mails?
MS. PSAKI: No, the President and the administration feel that Dr. Fauci has played an incredible role in getting the pandemic under control, being a voice to the public throughout the course of this pandemic. And, again, I would reiterate a lot of these emails are from 17 months ago or more, certainly predating this administration, but some time ago in -- as we look to history.
Q: Just one more. This morning, on "Morning Joe," Anthony Fauci said that one of the ways to get transparency from the Chinese on the origins of COVID-19 was to, quote, "don't be accusatory."
Does the President feel that the initial investigation of the origin of the virus, including that WHO survey that your team had deep concerns over -- was the problem with that that it was too accusatory? I mean, is that a problem that this administration is being accusatory? Or -- I mean, is this a situation where, you know, "we're just following the evidence where it leads"?
MS. PSAKI: I think our primary objective here has been working with the international community -- rejoining the WHO, working with the international community to unite in pressing the Chinese to be transparent, to provide the underlying data so other scientists can take a look at that data, and to participate in a constructive way in the second round of -- the next round -- or the next phase, I should say, of the WHO investigation.
As we noted at the time when we announced our own internal next step here, our 90-day review, one of the things that was happening in the timeline was the Chinese conveying that that was not their inclination.
So, I can't assess what the impacts are. I can tell you what our position is and what we've been pressing for on the international stage.
Q: Yes. Just about the 90-day review. One thing that's not clear is: How is it that the U.S. intelligence officials knew about the workers in Wuhan lab -- that they knew about them getting sick back in 2019, and then, in February, the intelligence officials were saying that they still hadn't ruled out the possibility that the virus came from the lab? But the inquiry didn't happen until late May of this month, and I'm wondering what took the U.S. so long before it launched its --
MS. PSAKI: That's not actually an accurate depiction of the timeline. The President actually asked his intelligence community to look into -- to do an internal assessment, which then was presented to him in an internal meeting back in March.
Q: Yes, but the official -- the 90-day inquiry, the one you're describing, but the full look at this hypothesis, that was not announced publicly -- I mean, people were not aware of -- until May 26. So --
MS. PSAKI: He didn't -- he didn't decide to launch it. The timeline here was: He asked the intelligence team to do an internal review, an internal assessment. When that was done several weeks ago, he asked it to be made public -- to declassify that information. That goes through a process. Sometimes it takes a couple of weeks to do.
When that assessment was done, we were presented with an option for a public statement, and the President decided we wanted to do a more extensive review and tap into our lab scientists and experts, our -- more of our national security team to see what more we can uncover over the course of 90 days. That's the timeline.
Q: Yeah, maybe I wasn't saying it -- or maybe I was saying it too specific with the dates. But the question -- the bigger question is: What took the U.S. so long to take it seriously, when there were reports about the possibility of this virus coming from there, you know, way, way (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: We completely refute that argument or notion. Obviously, the President asked his intelligence team to do an internal assessment, which happens all the time. We rarely talk about that publicly. We obviously took the step to declassify that, and that's something that he did early on in his administration.
Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q: Oh, great. Okay.
MS. PSAKI: Sorry, Nancy. I didn't mean to skip you.
Q: No, that's fine. Come back to (inaudible) --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. (Laughs.)
Q: Are you concerned that vaccination rates are slowing down? And with the National Month of Action, if you do not get to that 70 percent goal, what is your plan B? And is there a concern that you have to throw in some more incentives in there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, we're not going to prejudge our outcome here on July 4th. That's why we launched the Month of Action and one of the reasons why we are working with every entity that can play a constructive role here. Free beer -- that seems to be very appealing to the public, it seems, by headlines. Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. Getting into raffles for flights. And a range of incentives that states are implementing. Many of them did not come from us, obviously.
Because we recognize that, at this stage -- and we always knew that the rate of vaccination would slow down because we were at a period of time -- we went through a period of time where there wasn't enough supply for the demand, and then we got to a period of time where we had more supply than the demand. And that's why we launched a $3 billion effort to do local engagements, working with community leader leaders, clergy, other trusted voices, doctors, pediatricians.
But now we're at a one-month -- it reminds me a little bit of political campaigns where you are knocking on doors, you're making phone calls, you're incentivizing -- all legal, of course -- ways to get people to the polls. This is: How can we get more shots in arms? And we're -- we've welcomed the engagement from a range of -- range of entities in the private sector to do exactly that.
I will also say, as of yesterday, about a dozen states had met their 70 percent or higher. And ultimately, this is going to be up to individuals to get shots in their arms. We can take every creative step we possibly can take. We also understand we don't have 100 percent control here, but we're going to do everything we can from the federal government to reach that goal.
Q: He did create this initiative with Shots in the Shops within barber shops across the country. How are you going to work with other, you know, I guess, communities, especially in the South, where there is a concern that those vaccination rates are going down?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you're absolutely right that we are -- and they're going down in different parts of the country, which, again, we anticipated. But in communities and areas where we've seen -- the lower numbers are actually primarily under 40, and they're more among young people.
And so, one of the ways we focused is on how we can reach and engage with the communities that don't have the highest percentage rate. People over 65: there's a huge percentage of people who have received their first and even second doses. And even over 40, it's quite a high percentage.
So, again, what we've learned from our data is that local engagement, working with trusted voices. Maybe it's the primary care physician that somebody has been seeing for 20 years; maybe it's local churches where they go every Sunday or they go more than once a week. We're working at a very local level to do this, and also working through the private sector on, kind of, some of these engagements where it could incentivize some of the communities that have not -- that don't have as high of a percentage rate.
Q: And last question: Does the President have an idea of when things would be quote, unquote, "back to normal," especially with these ramping up of vaccine efforts?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you know, we obviously are guided by CDC guidance. But what we've seen -- and they've announced over the last several weeks -- is that, you know, if you're vaccinated, you don't have to wear a mask inside, outside, you know, going into stores. We've seen that in -- around the country, as well.
So, we're already seeing a move toward "back to normal," but it really depends on community to community. And that's the other guidance that we have been providing and emphasizing -- because if a community has a vaccination rate of 80 percent, they are clearly in a different place than a community that has a vaccination rate of 55 percent. So, it's really going to be determinations made at a very local level about what is safe.
Go ahead, Nancy.
Q: Just in terms of -- back to the corporate tax rate for a second. If it's something that the President is willing to, you know, drop out of a potential bipartisan infrastructure deal, does the White House see it fitting in as a payfor for the American Families Plan? Or where else could that be slotted in?
MS. PSAKI: We have no shortage of ideas around here, Nancy. I will note that, again, he's put forward a range of ways to pay for his big, bold ideas, including raising the corporate tax rate. And there are a number of components of his ideas that are not in this infrastructure negotiation right now -- and you've referenced many of them -- in the American Families Plan.
I'm not going to predetermine what all the aligning of items will be in the future because that obviously isn't a package that's a part of this specific negotiation. But, certainly, he thinks that raising the corporate rate, ensuring -- asking corporations who have -- many of whom have made a big profit during the pandemic -- to pay a little bit more is a very viable way to pay for ideas moving forward.
Q: And just one more thing on the COVID vaccination distribution.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q: How does the White House expect to donate 80 million doses without AstraZeneca? Does that mean that the J&J shot will definitely be part of the distribution?
MS. PSAKI: Well, J&J has been approved by the FDA, so it would be a part -- those doses would be a part of what we're distributing, along with Moderna and Pfizer, including in this initial set of 25 million. AstraZeneca, as you know, we're waiting for FDA approval to -- to even approve it to go overseas. That's something that certainly we could utilize those doses, and they would be a part of the doses of the 80 million.
Go ahead, in the -- go ahead. Oh, go ahead, Alex.
Q: Yeah, just -- we're weeks and weeks into these infrastructure negotiations, and I'm curious, what does the White House think it has to show for it? What do you think -- what progress would you point to? What would you point to to show that, you know, we're closer to a deal than when this process began?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that it may feel foreign, but the process of policymaking and negotiating can be messy and can -- the sausage-making isn't always beautiful or pretty. So that's what we're in the middle of right now.
And the President has pledged to the American people, when he ran for office, that he would work with Democrats and Republicans to try to get important initiatives forward on behalf of the American people.
This is an example of that. We're having ongoing discussions with Republicans. We feel that those discussions have been done in good faith. The President is looking forward to talking to Senator Capito tomorrow. We also are eager to see what proposal may be put forward by Democrats and Republicans who are talking about what they might agree on.
So, there are a range of paths forward here, and the President remains committed to his goal of signing a bill into law -- historic investment infrastructure -- by the summer.
Q: And just one more.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: The Remain in Mexico Policy has ended. Is it still your message to immigrants coming from Central America not to come -- that the border is still closed?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. Our message is still: "This is a dangerous time to come." We've been clear in our assessment that the MPP program -- more commonly known as Remain in Mexico -- was quite problematic. It led to dangerous and inhumane conditions along Mexico's northern border, in part because of the camps and the conditions at the camps.
That's something the President talked about, or we've talked about, for some time. And Secretary Mayorkas and DHS determined that the program does not adequately or sustainably enhance border management either.
So, our message continues to be: "This is not the time to come." We want to have an effective immigration system in place, including asylum processing at our border. And that has not changed, but the -- ending the "Remain in Mexico" program is something we've long talked about our commitment to.
Brittany, go ahead.
Q: Thanks, Jen. The President has tasked Vice President Harris with two contentious, if not at least very-difficult-to-wrap-your-head-around, time-consuming issues in American politics: you know, immigration, the Northern Triangle, and race (inaudible) voting rights. It's not just National Space Council stuff that hasn't kicked off yet. Broadband, dealing with labor unions. Should we expect any other major additions to Vice President Harris's portfolio in the coming months -- let me say, by the end of the year?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, the President is confident that the Vice President is absolutely up to the task. He sees her as a partner and someone who he -- is playing the role of a modern-day Vice President, which is taking on challenging tasks, tasks that won't be easy. And that's certainly something he felt he did as Vice President, and he is confident that Vice President Harris will do exactly the same thing.
And, as you know, she's traveling to the Northern Triangle next week. She's just taken on this initiative, per her request, on voting rights. She's going to be active on that in the weeks ahead.
So, I can't predict what's going to come our way or what initiatives she'll need to take on over the months ahead, but certainly, these are two big tasks that he's confident in her ability to lead.
Q: I know you said earlier that Harris had asked to take on this issue of voting rights. Is that how she's -- her portfolio has been determined. Has she been the one advocating for herself for these other assignments? Or has it been (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Typically a discussion. They have regular lunches, and they discuss areas where they know there needs to be one of them at the helm. And certainly, this is an area where she expressed a direct interest in.
I'm going to have to just wrap it up shortly, but go ahead.
Q: Just quickly, a little update on the White House cat. Is that something that is still happening here? Our readers are asking us a lot, so I figured I have a right to ask.
MS. PSAKI: I bet. I've been joking, although maybe it might be true, that we're waiting for a bad news day for that to come out. If you see a tail wagging coming out of the briefing room, you'll know something bad is about to happen. I don't have any update on the cat. I know there's a lot of interest.
Q: What's the symbolic importance of the President's meeting with the Queen at Windsor Castle in the UK? And also, when he sits down with Boris Johnson -- there's also a long history of meetings between American presidents and British prime ministers, but will this one be different because the UK is no longer part of the European Union?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we continue to have a Special Relationship with the United Kingdom, and I'm certain we'll have more to preview early next week about what the trip looks like.
But there's a range of issues of mutual interest. We've talked about some of them in this briefing -- from the future of economic growth in the world, to addressing the COVID pandemic, to security issues around the world.
So they have a range of topics they can clearly discuss, and certainly it should be seen as significant that it's the President's first stop on a foreign trip.
Q: And this is his first meeting with the Queen. Is that something he's always looked forward to? Does he have any kind of relationship with her? Obviously the first time.
MS. PSAKI: Who among us wouldn't want to meet the Queen? I don't have anything more personal to read out. I will check and see if he has met her in the past. I believe he has, but let me check on that to confirm for sure.
They issued, of course, a graceful invitation, which he certainly accepted. He's looking forward to seeing her with Dr. Biden, as well, on -- a couple days into his trip.
Q: In Tulsa, the President talked about the American Jobs Plan and what it does for closing the racial wealth gap. Does he give a cast-iron guarantee that whatever these negotiations are with Republicans, that will remain intact, there'll be no compromise on racial equity?
MS. PSAKI: Racial equity and addressing racial equity is central to the President's initiatives, his commitments to rebuilding our economy around the country, and certainly he's not going to give up on that.
I'm sorry, I've got to wrap it up for another meeting. Apologize.
Q: Is it fair to call it a 1.4 trillion-dollar plan? Because it's a --
MS. PSAKI: I will allow you to do the math yourself. Thank you, everyone.
1:50 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 https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/350204