Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Director of the National Economic Council Brian Deese

June 04, 2021

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:39 P.M. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Friday. We have a special guest with us today, on Jobs Day -- Brian Deese, our Director of the National Economic Council -- who will give some brief remarks on the jobs numbers and take a few questions, and then we'll proceed with the briefing.

MR. DEESE: Great. Hi, everybody. Glad to be with you today. So you all heard from the President early today -- earlier today with his perspective on the May employment report. So I won't repeat what he said, but I just did want to provide a couple of contextual points and a little bit more looking under the hood of that report from an economic perspective.

So a couple of things that I think were notable from our perspective: First, beyond the topline -- strong job gains and the now consistent pace of over 500,000 jobs a month for the last four months -- we saw in May the largest one-month decline in long-term unemployment -- the long-term unemployment rate since 2011, so in about a decade. That measure is measuring people who have been out of work for at least 27 weeks, so for more than half a year. And that number fell by 431,000 this month.

This is a really important indicator, certainly for those of us who have been watching and tracking the economy closely over the course of the last several years and into and through the pandemic. Because we know the economic evidence that those who are long-term unemployed tend to have the hardest time getting back into the labor force and eventually find new employment.

And so, this substantial reduction is an important indicator of the -- that the health of the labor market and something that is obviously very good news for those people and also, I think, for the economy writ large.

Second is on wages. And the President touched on this, but we saw average weekly earnings rise a half a percent this month, which -- consistent with the wage growth that we saw last month. We saw analogous data on aggregate compensation come out earlier this week.

And this again is -- it's good news -- good news for the American worker, and also consistent with what the President was talking about when he went to Cleveland last week, around looking at the broader goals of our economic recovery to drive toward full employment and to put our economy in a situation where we see sustained job gains but also wage gains for American workers.

Third point is just how we see in this jobs report some of the impact of the American Rescue Plan and the specific elements of that work that were designed to try to address challenges that we face. Obviously, beyond the direct vaccination effort, two of the key elements of the American Jobs Plan were around trying to provide the support necessary to get schools open, and then, in particular, to provide the support for childcares and childcare centers to actually get more childcare centers open, because we know that the more centers that are open, the more slots there are, the safe -- safe childcare environment is a key element of how families and parents think about how to sustain work in the post-COVID environment.

In May, we saw employment increase by 103,000 in state and local education. That is a direct result of seeing more schools open, more educator jobs. Good news for those people who are getting back to work but also for the broader economic recovery.

We saw 18,000 jobs added in child and daycare services. Again, you draw a direct line between the resources that were provided in the Rescue Plan for those purposes and the results we're seeing now.

I would also provide the context on that: You know, despite that progress, we're still down 800,000 state and local education jobs since February of 2020. And we're still down 135,000 jobs in childcare. And I think that that's a reminder of the depth of the crisis of this pandemic, the ways that we have to go, but also, I think, importantly, a reminder of why it is that we focused on passing a Rescue Plan that would sustain support over the course of this year -- that the Rescue Plan was designed to not just provide support for a day or for a month, but over the course of the year, as we understood -- and the need to continue to provide support, to continue to build back to a stronger foundation.

Fourth, I think that, you know, we're looking at this employment report in the context of -- of a number of contemporaneous economic data points.

The first -- probably the most important that provides, I think, additional reason for economic optimism -- is that this report was a snapshot of what -- of where we were on May -- May 12th. And perhaps most evocatively, and just how quickly things are changing, were we -- were we to have been doing this briefing on the day that this -- you know, on a day in that week, we all still would have been masked. Things are changing very quickly. And, in fact, since that period, an additional 21 million adult-age Americans have gotten fully vaccinated. And so we're making progress even -- even since this snapshot in time.

And secondly, we're looking at, you know, this job growth in the context of the overall health and growth of the economy. And we saw earlier this week the OECD significantly increase its economic growth forecast to 6.9 percent for 2021.

In that report, citing that the American Rescue Plan and the United States fiscal response likely adding 3 to 4 percentage points to GDP this year and positioning the U.S., as the President heads to his first G7, as the only G7 country, the only OECD country in a position where our future growth prospects are actually stronger today than they were pre-pandemic in January 2020. That's the -- that's only true of the United States, not any other developed country.

The final point that I will make is a point that you will hear me repeat is -- if and when I come back and we talk more about jobs numbers in the future -- is that we are in an unprecedented situation; there's a lot of uncertainty in our economy; and we never put too much weight on any individual data point, be it a jobs report or any other report.

We expect there to be ups and downs. We expect there to be bottlenecks as we turn this economy back on. And our focus, the President's focus, is on executing an economic strategy that is working -- we see that in the data from today -- but to be patient and think to the long term about what the American economy needs and the American workers need as well.

So with that --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Just take a few --

MR. DEESE: -- happy to open it up and take some questions.

MS. PSAKI: -- a few today.

But go ahead, Zeke.

Q: Thanks, Brian. You mentioned just now, and the President mentioned in his remarks earlier, the administration is going to look to efforts to address some of the supply bottlenecks. Industry experts say semiconductors -- that's a multi-year process to fix that. So what is the administration going to do to fix some of those bottlenecks that are raising prices right now?

MR. DEESE: Yeah, it's a great question. So, first of all, I would say this is an issue that the President has been focused on from the campaign and early on in -- upon taking office; that one of the things that the pandemic has exposed is the degree of vulnerability in supply chains and the need to have a deliberate strategy to try to build resilience in our supply chains.

So that's why the President actually, on February 25th, signed an executive order tasking an all-of-government approach to try to look at supply chain challenges across a set of four critical areas -- one of them being semiconductors -- but also to launch a longer-term effort to look at supply chain vulnerabilities and opportunities across sectors of the economy.

So, that -- that executive order had a 100-day timeframe associated with it, which is -- which is coming due at the end of this week. So you can expect to hear more from us on this topic early next week.

But, in short, what I would say is, look: On a lot of these issues, there is no immediate short-term, you know, magic-bullet fix. We have been at this issue of semiconductors now for some time. We've been spending an enormous amount of time with industry participants up and down the semiconductor supply chain. We've identified some very concrete solutions that we need to take, and thinking about a long-term strategy to actually build resilience so that we're not left vulnerable, the way that we have been, to supply chain challenges in the future. Some of that is working on bipartisan legislation to actually fund a dedicated strategy to build out a domestic -- domestic semiconductor industry in the United States. We're making a lot of progress on that front and are optimistic there.

The other thing that we will be looking at is: Some areas where we have seen, over the course the last 100 days, bottlenecks emerge that are more short-term in nature, that may not connect to a longer-term geostrategic or -- or -- or strategic supply chain issue, but are blockages, in part because we're seeing demand come back in some areas faster than people anticipated.

So whether that's in, you know, housing and construction materials, or in transportation and logistics, those are areas we're building on the all-of-government approach that we have in place, we're going to intend to really zero in on: Are there pragmatic issues that we can help facilitate? And some of that is bringing the right industry actors around the table to really understand where those bottlenecks are and whether there are ways to unstick them.

At the end of the day, a lot of that issues are transitory, associated with turning an economy back on, and supply and demand mismatches that the market will work through. But we want to be doing everything that we can to try to help facilitate practical solutions where they exist.

So, we'll have a lot more to say about the specifics of that, but I think that hopefully gives you the context.

MS. PSAKI: Monica.

Q: So, last month, President Biden assessed that federal unemployment benefits had not contributed -- or he didn't see much evidence -- to the more lackluster numbers. Is that still his assessment for this month? And given how many states are now going to end them through the month of June, with the President's comments earlier today about them expiring in 90 days, should other states consider ending them sooner? Or could that money be used elsewhere?

MR. DEESE: So, I'd say a couple things about that. I mean, the first thing that -- the first takeaway from this report is that we're seeing really robust job growth. And we're seeing, in fact, historic job growth in the context of historic economic growth.

So, we find ourselves -- the American economy now -- the economy is growing faster than any other major economy, jobs are growing faster than any other major economy. So, that's the -- that's the -- that's the immediate context.

With respect to the UI benefits -- you heard the President earlier today -- this -- that program was designed as a temporary lifeline. The UI program itself provides a critical support network to the American people and the American economy. And those temporary -- the temporary boost is slated to now expire in 90 days. And as the President said, that's appropriate.

With respect to some of the state changes, I just -- just the important context -- which I think is implicit in your question, but just to be clear -- is that none of the state -- none of the states have actually eliminated any benefits yet. Some states will initiate that process over the course of the next several weeks.

But, in many cases, what we're talking about is states making changes to benefits for four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks before the expiration that is -- that will happen under current law.

So, as we look at where we are in the economy, we see strong job growth -- 500,000 jobs a month on average the last four months, the U.S. outpacing every other major economy in the world -- and we see reason to really focus on what are -- what are actually going to be the drivers to accelerate this recovery and then sustain it for the long term.

And that's where you'll see the President's continued focus is on finishing the job on vaccinations, delivering benefits to get schools open, to get childcare available, and focusing now -- now is the right time to focus on what are those investments that are actually going to sustain us, not just through a rapid recovery, but into full employment and the kind of productive investments that you see in the Jobs Plan and the Families Plan.

MS. PSAKI: Nancy, did you --

Q: I didn't -- oh, yeah. I --

MS. PSAKI: It's got to be the last one, though, because he's got to go to a meeting.

Q: My question was similar to Monica's, so I'll ask another one. How do you explain the drop in construction jobs last month? Wasn't this a sector that was actually revving up?

MR. DEESE: Yeah, so it's a great question. I think if you look under the hood in employment, in the establishment survey, what you see in May is job gains very broad-based across almost all sectors -- job gains.

We did see, you know -- we did see a reduction in construction. I think that, you know, the first thing I would say to that is that in any given month, you see some movements up and down, and so you never want to read too much into one month. But you saw construction jobs increase in the prior month. We saw manufacturing jobs decline in the prior month and up this month.

I think -- but -- so, you don't want to read too much into one individual month. But I do think that some of this is connected to the prior question where we are -- as we -- as this economy recovers, we're seeing some supply chain bottlenecks, we're seeing some mismatches between supply and demand.

And as we anticipate those to be short term, they are still -- you know, they're still causing bottlenecks. And we're seeing that in different sectors of the economy. I think some of that may be what's going on in the -- in the construction sector as well.

So -- so I think, you know, bottom line, we saw broad-based job growth over the course of May. And I think that that's the most important takeaway. And, at the same time, you can expect the administration to be really laser-focused on those places where we are seeing those bottlenecks, trying to make sure that we're doing everything that we can, in a practical level, to try to help unstick those temporary issues.

MS. PSAKI: We can do one more.

Q: I just want to clarify really quickly, because you didn't say yes or no: Does the President still feel that these enhanced jobless benefits are not discouraging people from finding jobs?

MR. DEESE: The President -- I'll just, you know, restate what the President said today: The President believes that the temporary unemployment benefits and the temporary boost to those benefits has provided a critical lifeline, that that lifeline was designed to be temporary and to expire in about 90 days. And that's -- that's appropriate.

And I would, you know, also just put that in the context of that is a -- that is a very short-term issue, where most states you're talking about a set of weeks. And, really, as we look forward and are focused on what are the things that are really going to drive the durability of this economy going forward, you're going to see the President continue focus like a laser on the vaccination program.

The President identified and recognized, before coming into office, that there would be no economic recovery if there wasn't a viable eco- -- vaccination strategy. We're seeing the progress in the vaccination strategy help to -- help to drive economic gains, help to make it possible for more people to feel comfortable and capable to go back to work.

And we anticipate that as we continue to succeed on that front, we continue to make investments in things like school opening and childcare and otherwise, we're going to be able to sustain this progress going forward.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Brian, very much.

Q: Do you have a status report on infrastructure? The infrastructure talks?

MS. PSAKI: We'll have more this afternoon.

MR. DEESE: We will have a status report on that later this afternoon --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

MR. DEESE: -- so, stay tuned.

MS. PSAKI: More to come.

MR. DEESE: Thanks, guys.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, thank you so much, Brian. Let's do this again next month. Okay, a couple of items for all of you: Starting this weekend, as we noted the other day, we will -- and with collaboration and support -- we will be launching our National Month of Action, so that is exciting. We've outlined a lot of those specific details, but it's starting this weekend, so wanted to note that.

I also wanted to give you all an update that, today, the U.S. government delivered 1 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the Republic of Korea. The friendship and alliance between our two countries run deep, especially in times of great need and hardship.

As was noted when the President hosted -- hosted the South Koreans here just a few weeks ago, this was done in order to ensure the safety and readiness of U.S. and ROK military forces. And today, thanks to a whole-of-government effort, we are delivering on that promise.

And I would just note, again, that our plan -- our commitment to deliver 80 million doses is five times more than any other country and 13 percent of the U.S. supply. And we're committed to doing that by the end of June.

Also would note the Vice President is traveling to Mexico and Guatemala next week in her role overseeing diplomacy toward the Northern Triangle and Mexico.

She lands in Guatemala on the evening of June 6th. She'll be on the ground there until the evening of June 7th before flying to Mexico. Then she'll be in Mexico until the evening of June 8th. She'll meet with the President of Guatemala, the President of Mexico, and -- as well as community leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs, and U.S. embassy personnel. And I'm sure they'll do many readouts from there.

The week ahead: On Monday, the President will meet with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg at the White House. The President and Secretary General will discuss the June 14th NATO Summit in Brussels and many issues on the NATO agenda, including reinforcing transatlantic security in the face of challenges from Russia and China.

They will also discuss adapting NATO to address threats like cyberattacks and climate change, while continuing to ensure a more equitable sharing of responsibility among Allies.

As we've said, revitalizing our alliances is a priority for this administration, and our Alliance with NATO is a big part of that.

As you all know, on Wednesday, the President and First Lady will also be traveling to the United Kingdom for their first stop for their first overseas trip. And we'll have one of the members of the national security team, hopefully at the highest level -- we're working on schedules -- on Monday to do a full preview of the trip for all of you.

Last thing I would note -- I think that was it, actually.

Zeke, go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Jen. Looking ahead to that trip, the backend --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q: -- the meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin: He had some comments today where he was suggesting that he was not expecting any concrete breakthroughs. I was hoping you could describe what the President hopes to get out of that meeting. And is the President going to commit to raising issues, like the imprisonment of Navalny, the imprisonment of American citizens in Russia, directly with President Putin, face to face?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that the President never holds back in raising human rights issues, the detainment of activists, with the Russian President. And, certainly, as our -- as our readout made clear when he spoke with him directly, he didn't hold back in that conversation. I don't expect he will when they meet in two weeks at the summit.

In terms of the focus of the summit: You know, I think the -- we'll have more to preview on Monday. But as I've noted in here previously, I think the President expects to raise a number of issues, including Ukraine and what we've seen as aggressive behavior at the border by the Russians.

He also will raise cyber activity, malign activity, problematic activity, harmful activity we've seen take place. Of course, there is the SolarWinds hack, but also the ransomware hacks. As we've talked about, the actions of criminal groups within a country -- there's a responsibility of the leaders of that country to take action. And there's no doubt President Biden will be raising that directly in that conversation.

I don't think we're setting this up to be a meeting where there is going to be, you know, an outcome that resolves every issue or every challenge in our relationship. We expect there still to be challenging conversations moving forward. But it's an opportunity to discuss areas where we -- where we have mutual interest, like nuclear -- nuclear security and stability, and also to raise issues where we have concern. And we expect that -- this to be a forum for that, face to face.

Q: Separately, the President just got back from a couple days at the beach. Heading into the summer travel season, should we expect to hear from the President -- you know, encouraging Americans to travel, particularly domestically, as a way to stimulate the economy, to spend their money here at home? As sort of -- as the pandemic seems to be waning and travel does seem to be picking up, is that -- is there going to be a pivot from -- on the part of the President, going forward, to encourage Americans to, sort of, get out there and spend the money?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the President will continue to encourage Americans to safely get out there into their communities, especially vaccinated Americans, who are safer to travel, to go to restaurants, to not wear masks. And certainly, we abide by CDC guidelines, as you know. But the President went to a restaurant just last weekend with the Vice President -- last weekend? -- on Monday with the Vice President. They had a meal -- something he hasn't done a lot of; most Americans haven't done a lot of over the last year and a half.

So certainly, he will -- he will lead by action and continue to encourage Americans to take advantage of the benefits of being vaccinated; and for those who are not vaccinated, to get a shot so they can take advantage of those benefits themselves.

Q: And just one last one for me, since it's Friday: Has the President been briefed on the unidentified aerial phenomena report? And is he satisfied with the conclusions? Does he want additional work in that space?

MS. PSAKI: Because it's Friday -- it's always a little wacky on Friday. So, let me first say that we know there have been press reports about the status of this report. This is a DOD report, and so I would certainly refer to them on the status of the report. Their work with ODNI is ongoing.

We -- the team is actively working on it, but it's not at a conclusion phase, as I understand, and as I think they've commented from their building.

I will say that we take reports of incurgion [sic] -- incursions into our airspace by any aircraft, identified or unidentified, very seriously and investigate each one. Safety and security of our personnel, of our operations are of paramount concern. There's a requirement to put out this report, and certainly our appropriate teams are working on finalizing it.

Q: But was the President briefed on it? Or has he been briefed on it?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have any update on internal briefings, no.

Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Jen. There seems to be a bit of a shift in tone here because, last month, the President was pretty adamant that he did not believe that these enhanced unemployment benefits were playing a role or factoring into people's decisions not to get back into the jobs market. Today, though, he's underscoring that these benefits are simply temporary, set to expire in 90 days. So, which is it? Yes or no: Does the President believe that these unemployment benefits are playing a role here?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we shouldn't lose sight of some basic facts here, which is that those governors who have made the decision, as they have every right to do, to pull back on unemployment benefits -- or not accept them, I should say, accurately -- that hasn't even taken effect in any state across the country. So in terms of how we're evaluating the impact, we haven't even seen the impact yet; that takes effect in June.

It is important for people to understand, factually, that the President, no one from the administration has ever proposed making these permanent or doing it over the long term. And sometimes I think that was just an effort to make that clear in the public.

So we understand there's politics at play here. That's okay. Every governor is going to make their own decision.

At the end of the day, what we see as the biggest driving factor is vaccines and individuals being vaccinated feeling safe to go back to workplaces. The fact that childcare centers have rehired, that teachers have gone back to work -- those are all positive signs. And at the end of the day, we've created -- the President and this administration has created more jobs than any President and any administration in modern American history.

So that's, kind of, how we see the jobs data.

Q: But based on the data, do you believe that these benefits are having any kind of impact in people deciding not to maybe reenter the job force right now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think that's a really difficult thing to analyze, given we have created a historic number of jobs in the last four months -- more than any President in modern American history. So -- and the jobs -- the UI benefits haven't even been pulled back in any state.

So it's a question I'm sure we can have a discussion about in the next couple of months as we see what the impact is on different states, or if that's a factor. But we think the biggest factors overall are more people getting vaccinated, more people being comfortable and feeling safe going out into the workforce, and that's where we feel there's going to be an encouraging upward trend.

Q: I guess I'm trying to understand what happened in the last month though. Because last month, you said you didn't see any indication of that, when looking through the data.

MS. PSAKI: I don't think we can evaluate the data that hasn't been applied in states across the country yet. And what we're really talking about from state to state is governors making a decision to pull back on accepting unemployment benefits for six weeks or eight weeks. That's it. It hasn't even started yet.

So I would leave it to all of you and your outside analysts to decide whether that is a big factor in terms of economy and data, or whether that is a political discussion we're having.

Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Jen. Does the White House have any reaction to Facebook's decision to suspend President Trump for two years? Was this a reasonable consequence for what he said?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as always, it's a decision for the company to make and any platform to make. And clearly, they've come out and made their decision.

Our view continues to be, though, that every platform -- whether it's Facebook, Twitter, any other platform that is disseminating information to millions of Americans -- has a responsibility to crack down on disinformation; to crack down on false information, whether it's about the election or even about the vaccine, as we're trying to keep the American public safe and get more people -- or return to normal out in society.

And I think, as we look at it, we learned a lot from President Trump -- the former president -- over the last couple of years about his behavior and how he uses these platforms. It feels pretty unlikely that the zebra is going to change his stripes over the next two years. We'll see.

Q: So does this decision validate what President Biden has repeatedly said about Mr. Trump, which is that words matter?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don't know that it's a validation. I think the President isn't the only one who thinks that. Words do matter. Words do have an impact. We saw the impact, on January 6th, of words on social media platforms, and we've seen the impact of words as it relates to disinformation, traveling, around the vaccine, around election integrity.

So, of course, we think words matter. This is a decision by a private-sector company. We'll see what their evaluation is a couple of years from now and what other steps they can take, most importantly.

Go ahead.

Q: Jen, our reporting indicates that the Biden administration is considering counter cyberattacks to stop the ransomware criminals in Russia. How big a factor is the upcoming summit in that decision making? Is there a concern that if you did that before the meeting in Geneva, it could derail the talks? And if it doesn't happen before then, what message does it send to Russia after these multiple cyber intrusions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that we always reserve the option of responding to behavior or actions that are unacceptable and are harmful. And some of those responses are seen and some of them are unseen, and we typically don't give a timeline on that in a public capacity.

But I will also note to you that when the President -- when we announced the invitation to have this discussion, it was also in the same time period where we announced the sanctions that we were putting in place in response to harmful actions by the Russian government -- right? -- in response to SolarWinds, in response to their engagement in our own election.

So we expect -- this is -- this is diplomacy in action here, right? We will take action when warranted -- sometimes seen, sometimes unseen. We typically don't predict that ahead of time. And we also will look for areas of opportunity to have a discussion.

But we are not having this summit as a reward. We're not having the summit because we expect to only talk about areas where we agree or disagree.

Q: And in the President's budget blueprint, there's only about $1.3 billion dedicated to bolstering cybersecurity. Given what we've seen over the last few weeks, is that enough? Are there talks that more resources need to be dedicated to this? Or are you thinking more to leave this to the private sector for those companies that we've seen that have been impacted?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, it's a really good question. I mean, I will say that we know that the ransomware threat is urgent, it's complex, and it's been increasing over the last several years. And, you know, it feels new to us over the last couple of weeks, but it has been increasing rapidly around the world over the last several years.

One of the reasons that we have initiated a rapid review internally is because we recognize that threat. And we will assess, based on that review, what additional needs there are, both from the federal government -- in coordination with Congress -- or from the private sector. And that review is focused on the disruption of ransomware infrastructure and actors working closely with the private sector; building an international coalition, of course -- which will be a focus of the President -- will be a topic of discussion, I should say, of the President's foreign trip; expanding cryptocurrency analysis, which we know is a factor, given so many of these ransomware attacks are -- you know, if ransom is paid, which, of course, we don't recommend and don't advise from the FBI, but it's often done through cryptocurrency channels; and reviewing our own policy.

So that review is ongoing internally with our national security team, and we'll assess what additional needs might be needed.

Q: And one last bit of housekeeping. Last month, you said you didn't have an update but that you maybe expected the President to get his first physical soon. Do you have anything -- any update to provide on that? Should we expect that to happen this summer, or is there anything else you can give us (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: It will definitely happen this year. And when he has his next physical, we will provide that information transparently to all of you, but I don't have a date for you.

Go ahead.

Q: Thank you, Jen. Would the President support a commission to investigate the initial U.S. response to COVID-19?

MS. PSAKI: A commission in Congress?

Q: Or a presidential commission.

MS. PSAKI: I would say, if members of Congress have a discussion and want to have a discussion about that, we're happy to hear from them. But our focus right now, as you know, Peter, is on our own internal investigation -- our own internal process, I should say -- using all of the resources of government, tapping into our data and science experts to see what more we can determine over the next 90 days, or less than 90 days, about the origins of the pandemic.

Q: Mike Pompeo is now saying that when he was the Secretary of State and he was trying to investigate the origins of COVID-19 there, the NIH folks were trying to suppress what he was doing. So is there any concern from the White House that there may have been people at the NIH who were making policy decisions based not in science, but based on their personal political beliefs or preferences?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I really don't have any analysis of the last administration's inter-working.

Q: Well, a lot of these people are still over there, and you see how they operate.

MS. PSAKI: Here's what we know, Peter: We know that Dr. Fauci and many members of the NIH team -- medical and science experts -- because of their work over the last 10 years, we have developed a focus, an effort, an apparatus to fight this pandemic, and we are grateful to them for their work. Everybody wants to get to the bottom of the origin: former Secretary Pompeo, President Biden, Democrats and Republicans across the board.

We all share a concern about the challenge -- and that is the intransigence, at times, by the Chinese in providing data and providing information. We share agreement on that. We all want to get to the bottom of what happened here.

Q: And you mentioned Dr. Fauci. There have been these emails that have come out through a FOIA request that make it seem like -- we knew that he had his hands full at the time, trying to figure out what to do, but it seems like there were times that he was saying one thing in email and then coming to this microphone and saying something else. If that is the case and if that affected the U.S. policy posture at the time, should he be held accountable?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I've talked a little bit about Dr. Fauci, and Dr. Fauci has been out doing several interviews himself and answering questions on these emails and questions that you all may have.

Dr. Fauci is a renowned public servant -- civil servant, I should say -- career civil servant. He's overseen management of multiple global health crises. And attacks -- and attacks launched on him are certainly something we wouldn't stand by.

I understand there's interest in the emails. He's answered a lot of questions on the emails. I don't think I'm going to have much more to add on them from here.

Q: Do you think the attacks are political against Dr. Fauci?

MS. PSAKI: I'm going to let Dr. Fauci speak to his own defense of his emails from 17 months ago, before this President even took office.

Q: Okay. And then, finally, does President Biden have a position on gain-of-function research?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have not -- as Dr. Fauci has actually said repeatedly, we've never approved any funding for gain-of-function research in Wuhan. I know that's, I think, why you're asking the question. I believe some may have been approved, or there was funding approved during the prior administration. There's a framework, I should say. This is not meant to be a criticism of funding and how it's approved through different NIH programs, but I would send you to them to give more of an explanation of the funding mechanisms.

Q: And just -- since you mentioned Dr. Fauci again, can you imagine any circumstance where President Biden would ever fire him?

MS. PSAKI: No.

Go ahead.

Q: Just to follow up a little bit on Russia: I know you've said repeatedly that this is not a reward to Vladimir Putin, but what can you do in terms of stage management to make sure that it doesn't become that. I mean, become a platform for him to offer alternate facts, alternate analysis of history, of what's going on, and also provide, you know, a way for him to damage the opposition within his own country. Are you thinking through that issue? Are you -- how will you address that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, one thing is we're going to bring all of you with us to report on what he says and doesn't say, and factcheck what he says or doesn't say.

The other piece is: President Biden, as you've heard him talk about, has known, has engaged with President Putin in the past throughout his career, and he is never one to hold back on areas where he has concern, areas where he feels the actions of the Russian government or Russian leadership are hurting the United States. And he certainly has no intention of holding back during this meeting, publicly or privately.

But at the end of the day, our job, or our focus, is on moving toward a more stable and predictable relationship with Russia. There are areas where we can work together. We've talked a little bit about -- you know, we renewed START -- New START, early on in the administration, for five years. That's an area we can work together.

There are ongoing negotiations for the Iran nuclear deal. They just finished their fifth round of discussions. Russia is a member of the P5+1. We can have a discussion there.

At the same time, we also feel that no country should be, you know, harboring -- has responsibility not to harbor criminal individuals who are launching ransomware attacks, and that will certainly be a part of the discussion as well.

So, you're right: When we have conversations with leaders we disagree with, where we have some adversarial components of our relationship, it is important to send the message that we're not validating their actions. In fact, we're calling them out on it. But it is also an opportunity, face to face, to raise those issues and also to hopefully move toward a more stable and predictable relationship moving forward.

Q: And on infrastructure -- you know, is the corporate tax hike that was originally proposed, is that pretty much dead now? Can we expect to see it in reconciliation? And is there anything else that President Biden plans to offer when he speaks with the senator today?

MS. PSAKI: Well, since you gave the opportunity, Trevor, I think there's an important note here. One is that we didn't talk a lot about the book line taxes that the President talked about yesterday -- that we've talked about a little bit yesterday -- the 15 percent tax that these companies -- we're asking these companies -- or we think these companies should pay -- that pay no tax -- no tax.

That was in his original American Jobs Plan proposal. It was in the lengthy factsheet. I'm sure Reuters wrote many stories about.

So, that was a component that we didn't get -- we didn't have a lot of a public debate about, but it has been something he talked about on the campaign. It's in our budget. It was in his American Jobs Plan proposal.

In terms of the corporate tax increases that was also proposed and certainly has been more of a public component of our discussion, you know, that's something he continues to believe corporations can pay more money; that that's a way to fund his bold ideas.

There are a lot of ideas that he wants to move forward on, whether it's extending the Child Tax Credit, universal pre-K -- proposals that he has put forward in the American Families Plan, which we are looking forward to having a continued discussion about. And there are also a range of payfors he has proposed.

Q: And that 15 percent minimum that you just brought up, is that -- did you bring that up because that's something that Yellen is pursuing on the international stage as well?

MS. PSAKI: No. Separate. I'm glad you asked that question. Separate issue. I know it's confusing because the 15/15. Separate issue. There is a discussion, as you noted, on the global stage about a global minimum tax.

But this is a -- this is a proposal the President talked about on the campaign trail, he proposed in his American Jobs Plan, and also in our budget that would eve- -- would require -- you know, would have companies that didn't pay any tax, wouldn't allow them to pay zero tax.

And so we see it as a separate entity. We still believe the tax rate should be higher than that, as the President has proposed, on a corp- -- for a corporate rate.

Go ahead, Josh.

Q: Can you give us a sense of what your expectations are for their discussion? Like, is it by phone, for instance, with Senator Capito (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: Oh, sure, sure.

Q: Is this -- are we any near a decisional process or a point for the President?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. So they will be talking by phone -- President and Senator Capito -- this afternoon. He'll also be talking with Congressman DeFazio. And we will be doing readouts of those conversations that are happening this afternoon -- as we speak, perhaps. But we will provide readouts.

You know, I'm not going to obviously prejudge conversations, but I would say, for the conversation with Senator Capito, they've had good-faith discussions. There are areas where, of course, you know, the President has priorities, where he'd like to see more, including more investments, but also areas including electric vehicle investments, rebuilding veterans hospitals. And that's part of the discussion -- as well as payfors.

And as Trevor just asked about, but as we talked about a bit yesterday, what the President put forward -- he looked at all of his tax proposals, and what he put forward are ways to pay for an infrastructure proposal that he -- that shouldn't cross any bar or line for Republicans in the Senate who say they won't touch the 2017 tax plan.

So, I think the question, really, on that front is: Do you think these companies should pay no tax at all or 15 percent, which is very viable, supported by 85 per- -- 84 percent of Republicans in the country?

Q: Does the President believe he's running out of time to try to reach a deal, or is there runway left?

MS. PSAKI: There's runway left. He's going to have these discussions. There are Democrats and Republicans who are talking with each other. We're going to engage with them as well and continue to have a discussion with a range of interested leaders in Congress about how we can come together to make a historic investment in infrastructure. There are some realities of timelines, including the fact that Congressman DeFazio is leading the markup of key components of the American Jobs Plan next week -- key infrastructure components -- where there is a big overlap. There is a lot of interest and excitement by many Democrats in Congress about that.

So it's not unlimited, but we have an opportunity. He's going to talk to Senator Capito this afternoon. We're going to see how those conversations go. We're going to keep a range of pathways open to move these bold ideas forward.

Q: And just briefly, Brian Deese talked about the supply shortage issue. Can you talk about any particular types of supplies that we're talking about, the -- you know, with regards, for instance, to the construction job gains that were pretty sluggish? What are we talking about here? Lumber? Like, what are the powers the government has to try to address those?

MS. PSAKI: Well, you -- I know you've covered this closely, as have others. Lumber is certainly one of the areas, and we've seen an impact on the housing market in part because of a shortage of some of these supplies that's having an impact on new builds, that's then having an impact on the pricing for homes that have been around a longer period of time. I know you know this, but just to catch everybody else up. So --

Q: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Okay. So -- so we've seen that impact, and we have been doing this 100-day review. Certainly, looking at how we can address those challenges and issues through the role of the federal government is what we'll talk about when we have more details to share, and hopefully that will be next week.

Q: Are tariffs a way that you can address the supply shortages?

MS. PSAKI: I'm just not going to --

Q: Or changing tariffs?

MS. PSAKI: I'm not going to get too ahead or ahead at all of where we will come down in our final rollouts of our supply chain review process.

Q: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Kaitlan.

Q: Is the President expecting a counteroffer during this conversation with Senator Capito today?

MS. PSAKI: I think the President is expecting they're going to have a discussion. Part of negotiation is seeing how you can come closer to each other. He's obviously come down quite a bit in what he originally proposed, and hopefully they'll have more they can add to their proposal, but we'll see. But it's a discussion, not an exchange of paper.

Q: Well, you described Wednesday as a discussion too, but President Biden made a counteroffer, kind of, to them on Wednesday.

MS. PSAKI: I think that might be over-formalizing the discussion. There's a discussion about where there might be areas of agreement, then, obviously, she'll -- she may have to take things back; he may have to discuss on our end with Democratic leadership.

So, it's more of a discussion and where we can find common ground, hear each other out. And we'll see, you know, if this continues to be a viable path forward, and we'll continue to pursue a range of paths.

Q: Thank you. And on these ransomware attacks, does the President view those as a national security threat?

MS. PSAKI: I certainly think the President views those as a rising national concern -- security concern and an area where we need to continue to keep our focus, keep our assets, focus on energy and brainpower on what we can do to address it.

That's why we launched this rapid review to take a look at these four areas of focus, including our approach through the U.S. government, including how we work with the private sector, including cryptocurrency, and also including what role we can have on the global stage.

So, certainly this is a priority to him and an area where we will be spending a significant amount of time in the coming months.

Q: Okay. And my last question, just on the -- on the enhanced unemployment benefits, you said that you can't really make a determination because no states have actually cut them off yet -- the states that are pulling out of the program early. But if nothing has changed, shouldn't you be able to maintain the President's pretty unequivocal position, last month, that they are not encouraging people to stay home?

MS. PSAKI: Well, if we had that concern, we would be ending them. We're not. I mean, we -- there's still 7 million people out of work -- right? -- and we're talking about $300 benefits for three more months.

I think the point I was trying to make, and I think Brian was trying to make, is that the governors who have made the decision -- which they have every right to do -- to pull back on these benefits are really talking about having them for six weeks or eight weeks less than we would already intend to have them.

So I think the question is: Do you think Americans -- given 7 million are still out of work, or more than that -- could benefit from eight more weeks or 10 more weeks of these $300 unemployment benefits? Our view is they can, and they should. And that's an extra helping hand we can give to millions of people across this country. Some governors disagree. That's okay. At the end of the day, in early September, these -- these benefits will no longer be a part of the plan.

Q: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

Q: One quick thing -- housekeeping on Russia, and then I have something on Israel.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q: You mentioned a few moments ago that the press will be with the President when he attends the summit in Geneva. Can you commit that he will have a press conference, a side-by-side with President Putin, as previous U.S. presidents have done?

MS. PSAKI: I don't know what the format will look like at this point in time. I can certainly commit that he will communicate and speak to all of you, but I don't know what the format looks like yet.

Q: I mean, obviously, a press conference would be preferable, but I think --

MS. PSAKI: He will answer questions. I don't know what the format will look like at this point.

Q: Yeah. But, I mean, the -- given the history of the -- fairly recent history of side-by-side press conferences between the U.S. president and the Russian president, it would make certainly a -- it would be an opportunity for us to ask the kind of questions of both presidents that I think our President might want to answer.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know that we will make President Biden available to all of you, and I certainly hope my Russian counterpart makes President Putin available to all of you as well. I don't know what the format will look like at this point.

Q: On Israel: We're a couple of clicks closer to the formation of the new government. Have there been any developments here in President Biden's interaction with either the existing government or the new government in formation?

MS. PSAKI: No, not at this point. I think we're going to allow for that process to move forward. And as you know, it may be a little bit more time before the final formation is completed.

Q: What is the plan for his interaction with the new government, should it be formed?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have a long and abiding relationship, strategic relationship with Israel, and that will continue to be the case no matter who is leading the country.

Q: But would he call Prime Minister Bennett upon the formation of that government?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have any calls to predict for you, but certainly he will continue to engage with his counterparts in Israel and many countries around the world.

Q: And then, lastly, were you able to nail down whether or not he had actually ever met Naftali Bennett before?

MS. PSAKI: You did ask that question. I'm sorry, I did not ask him. I will follow up and see if I can find that out.

He, I know -- well, Naftali Bennett -- you would remember the years he was the chief of staff to Prime Minister Netanyahu. We'll have to do a little data tracing here.

Q: Yeah, (inaudible) jobs. But -- (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Yeah.

Okay. Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Jen. On the vaccine announcement from yesterday --

MS. PSAKI: Yep.

Q: -- can you give an idea at all of how many doses we can expect? Are there going to be monthly surplus shipments going out to other countries? And will they follow the same 25 percent, 75 percent, sort of, breakdown? Are there any discussions about that?

MS. PSAKI: Eighty million doses by the end of June.

Q: But in future months. I mean, it was said yesterday there -- we can expect more this summer. So (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: That's right. And we're going to continue to provide part of our supply to the global community. But I don't have anything to predict for you beyond that.

Q: And, on infrastructure, can we expect the President to meet with Senators Romney and Manchin at all as one of the pathways that the White House is exploring?

MS. PSAKI: Look, I think, as I -- as I alluded to a little bit earlier, the President is certainly open to and interested in continuing to engage with a range of members who have an interest in making a historic investment in our nation's infrastructure; modernizing our roads, rails, and bridges; and preparing us to compete over the long term.

I know those are two of the members who have expressed that publicly, so we will see what the future days hold.

Q: And just on the President's trip: Can we expect him to meet with the Pope at all? There's been some reporting out there that he might be meeting with the Pope.

MS. PSAKI: That's surprising. I don't think you can expect that on this trip.

Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Jen. Again, on the issue of the COVID vaccines: Can you talk a little bit about the timing? I know you said by the end of June, I think.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q: But how soon can the other countries start expecting to receive these vaccines? And also, how are you prioritizing which countries will get them first?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, first, let me say -- I mentioned, a little bit earlier, 80 million by the end of June. Obviously, 25 percent of those are coming -- are going bilaterally to countries. We're going to get those doses out -- those 25 million as quickly as we can, and we'll provide you updates as those doses go out.

So I had an update this morning about the dose -- or this afternoon about the doses that went out to the ROK, and we'll continue to have more updates on that, on those doses.

The additional doses -- the 75 percent, which are going through COVAX -- we've put out, kind of, our prioritization of the regions that those will be going to. And part of our focus right now is on the herculean logistical challenge of getting these vaccines out to the right places. This is one of the reasons that we're doing a large percentage of them through COVAX: because of their capability to do exactly that.

But just to step back, and as a reminder: This is not just, kind of, shipping these doses overseas. This is also ensuring that we can get them to the right places, that they have the ability to put them in arms, that they are at the right temperature. And so, these are all factors we're considering as we're determining how to get them out and the pace in the weeks ahead.

Q: One more. The U.S. and the EU have begun discussions on lifting tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. I'm just wondering if you have an update on what kind of progress, if any, has been made in those talks and if you expect this issue to come up during the G7.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly expect that our G7 partners will range -- will raise a range of issues of concern to them and a focus. And, certainly, I'd let them to speak to what those are, but the tariffs could be one of them. I don't have anything to predict for you or preview for you.

I have to wrap this up in a minute, but, Jerry, I'm just going to go to you because I -- you haven't been here since I've been here.

Q: I have not.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Good to see you.

Q: Good to see you. Kind of a parochial Buffalo question.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

Q: The Canadian border has been closed for a very long time.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q: There's a lot of concern about that in all the northern tier states right now. And Prime Minister Trudeau has said that he has to get 75 percent of the people in his country vaccinated before the border reopens.

That being the case, would the United States consider opening the American side of the border first, before Prime Minister Trudeau would do that? Or does there have to be a binational agreement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I'll first say that, as it relates to borders -- Canada or Mexico -- we really rely on the guidance of the CDC and our health and medical experts. So, in terms of how they look at the data and information, I would point you to them and whether they would do that in a preliminary fashion or not.

Certainly, any discussion about reopening a border would be done through -- in part through diplomatic channels. But we really are relying and waiting on the guidance of the CDC before we make any next decision there on the border.

Q: And how much concern is there in the White House about the fact that here we are -- it's summer travel season, there's a lot of concern in those northern border states about the economic impact, as well as the personal impact on people who've may -- you know, couples that may be separated by the border?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, we're very sensitive to that, Jerry. And we certainly know that many people want to not just get back to normal, but be able to travel; be able to see loved ones, some living on different sides of the border; be able to go to restaurants and shop and even do things along those lines. And we're eager to get back to normal, whatever that means, including reopening the border. But we have a responsibility during a global pandemic, which we're still fighting every day, to rely on the advice and guidance of our medical experts.

Okay, I think we have one more question here.

Q: Jen, does the administration remain committed to waiving vaccine patents at the WTO? Today, the EU submitted a counterproposal, saying that they don't want to do that. And will the President be pushing for this issue at the G7?

MS. PSAKI: Our position hasn't changed on that.

I think we have one question. Okay. Hello to our virtual Melissa. Hi, Melissa. Thanks for joining us.

Q: Hi, thank you. Right now, approximately 16 million public school students in the U.S. live at home that lack Internet -- high-speed Internet. The President released a plan to ensure that people in rural areas will have Internet access, but reports show that 13.6 million urban households also do not have Internet; many can't afford it. What does the administration plan to do to increase home Internet service for families in low-income urban neighborhoods?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it's a great question. And, Melissa, thanks for joining us, and hopefully you weren't waiting too long.

I will say that in the pa- -- in the President's American Jobs Plan he's proposed, we're proposing to expand universal broadband access across the country to urban and rural areas to level exactly that playing field: to ensure that kids in cities, as well as in more rural communities where there isn't as expansive broadband access, have -- have access. And we've seen over the last year and a half, during the pandemic, what a disparity it creates, both economically, but for kids who are just trying to get an education.

The Vice President, as the President announced in his joint session address, is leading this effort. It's an important part of the negotiation, and fortunately one where Democrats and Republicans have a lot of agreement about the need to move forward on expanding access to broadband.

Thank you so much. I apologize for this being short today. I have to go do some regional TV. And anyone who has follow-up questions, come up or email me and we'll talk more. Thanks, everyone.

2:34 P.M. EDT

Jen Psaki, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Director of the National Economic Council Brian Deese Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/350299

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