Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland

April 23, 2021

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

11:43 A.M. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Friday. We have another very exciting guest today: our new Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, who made history when she became the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet Secretary. She is the member -- she is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and a 35th-generation New Mexican.

Secretary Haaland has worn many hats throughout her career. She ran a small business; served as a Tribal Administrator; and became the first woman elected to the Laguna Development Corporation Board of Directors, overseeing the business operations of the second-largest Tribal gaming enterprise in New Mexico.

She also became the first Native American woman to be elected to lead a state party. In 2018, she became one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress. In Congress, she focused on environmental justice, climate change, missing and murdered Indigenous women, and family-friendly policies.

She joins us today, on the second day of the Climate Summit, to underscore our commitment to protecting public lands and strengthening Tribal sovereignty.

She's happy to take just a couple of questions because she has a hard out. And I will, as always, be the bad cop. And please welcome -- thank you again for joining us.

SECRETARY HAALAND: Thank you. Thank you so much, Jen.

Good morning, everyone.

Q: Good morning.

SECRETARY HAALAND: Thank you. Thank you so much. And thank you, Jen, for inviting me to be here today. I want to start off by wishing everyone a happy National Park Week. I hope you found a chance to get out and experience your public lands this week. The White House is actually a national park, so technically, we're all celebrating a bit right now.

I had always wanted to be a National Park Ranger. And while I didn't quite land that job yet, I'm pretty excited that, tomorrow night, I get the chance to swear in some Junior Rangers. All of your kids are welcome to join during the U.S. Army Field Band's virtual concert tomorrow night. I think you can find the link on our website.

I was happy, also, to celebrate this morning with the Second Gentleman; we announced 16 new listings to the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program. Our park system is our nation's storyteller, and I'm eager to ensure that these national treasures help tell a more inclusive and accurate story of our nation.

This week has brought significant news on climate action and on issues impacting Tribal communities. And so, I'm honored and grateful to have the opportunity to speak with you and take your questions today.

We have no shortage of work ahead: President Biden has set ambitious goals that will ensure America and the world can meet the urgent demands of the climate crisis while empowering our nation's workers and businesses to lead a clean energy revolution.

I believe that a clean energy future is within our grasp in the United States, but it will take all of us and the best available science to make it happen. The Interior Department is in a unique position to be a leader in putting our nation on a path to achieve net-zero emissions, create good-paying jobs, and benefit underserved communities.

We have taken steps in just the past few weeks to advance offshore wind proposals, restore balance to management of our public lands and waters, and create jobs, and revitalize land in coal communities.

I'll also touch on Interior's work to honor our nation-to-nation relationship with Indian Tribes and uphold our trust and treaty responsibilities.

I believe, just as President Biden does, that we must engage Tribal nations with an all-of-government approach, and one need look no further than the First Lady's visit to the Navajo Nation to speak and hear from Tribal leaders and Indigenous People.

For too long, Indian issues were relegated to the Tribal offices within federal agencies. If we're going to make sure that Native American and Alaska Native communities thrive, that Tribal sovereignty is respected and strengthened. And if we are truly to repair our nation-to-nation relationships, then that means every federal agency needs to be thinking boldly about our obligations to Indigenous Peoples.

The significance of being the first Native American to serve in the Cabinet is not lost on me. As I stand here today at this podium, I am moved by how monumental this week alone has been for Indigenous representation.

On Monday, I delivered remarks on behalf of the U.S. government at the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, where I affirmed our commitment to advancing Indigenous Peoples' rights at home and abroad. I talked about how we're putting the full weight of our federal government behind a cross-departmental Missing and Murdered Unit to address the crisis in Indian Country.

Yesterday, I announced that Interior is moving forward to implement the Not Invisible Act, establishing a joint commission led by Interior and the Department of Justice on reducing violent crime against Indigenous Peoples.

And later today, Domestic Policy Advisor, Ambassador Susan Rice, and I will convene the first White House Council on Native American Affairs meeting of the Biden-Harris Administration.

We're wasting no time. We have an ambitious agenda. And so, I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work across the Cabinet in identifying and supporting Tribal equities in the administration's core policy pillars.

Last, I come from a family that farms, ranches, and hunts. I've grown up in rural and agricultural communities, and I know what it's like to live in a community that's been left behind. These experiences underscore while I believe -- why I believe so deeply in the work that we do at the Interior Department and why I know that we can and will make a difference in the everyday lives of families across this country.

And with that, I'm happy to try and answer your questions.

MS. PSAKI: Nancy, go ahead.

Q: Thank you, Secretary Haaland. Can you give us an update on the moratorium on fracking on federal lands -- new contracts?

SECRETARY HAALAND: Thank you so much. So the pause on new leases is still in effect until we finish a review that is due to the President. That means that the existing leases are still in effect. We are still issuing permits on those lands. And when we finish the review -- it's an important review -- we're talking to many people; we've had a for- -- a gas and oil forum; we've talked to many folks across the country.

When that review is done, then us and the President will decide next steps.

Q: And can you give us a little bit more details on how that review works, what exactly you're doing, and when you think it'll be concluded?

SECRETARY HAALAND: So, I can't say exactly when it will be concluded, but, as I mentioned, we've had a gas and oil forum, already. That was virtual. The Department folks are talking to governors, to legislators, to folks on the ground. We're talking to --

It's mostly, like, getting everyone's input. We want to make sure that every voice has a seat at the table, and it's really that, as well as using the science. And that's how we'll do the review. And it'll go to the President.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

Q: We've heard from Republicans in Utah talk about their preference for legislation to expand the size of Bears Ears instead of executive action. Do you think there's room for bipartisan work there, or are we probably looking at executive action from this administration?

SECRETARY HAALAND: Well, I met with those legislators when I was in Utah -- the governor, the lieutenant governor, my former colleagues from the House. Legislators legislate, and I think they should move ahead with legislation if that's what they want to do.

We will get the report done for the President and send it to the White House. And it will really be the President's decision. The Antiquities Act is a presidential -- you know it's -- it's all him; he can decide.

What I did when I went to Utah was make sure that, again, every voice was at the table. We talked to ranchers and farmers; we talked to children who use those lands, and outdoor -- you know, economy folks. And so, we're -- we want to make sure that we include every voice, and that's the report that will go to the President, and he'll decide.

Q: Can I ask on a different topic of really fast?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q: We've heard so many Tribes this year talk about, "We're really struggling with mental health issues for teens…" -- I mean, a lot of teens around the country, but just teens struggling with depression during this pandemic. Is that one -- an issue that you guys are going be addressing in this Domestic Council?

SECRETARY HAALAND: I can't -- this is our first meeting, so what we're really going to do, initially, is assign committees to each Cabinet Secretary, and it will be up to them to look at the topics.

Of course, we care deeply about this issue. It's one that I know a lot of people are suffering from, so I appreciate you mentioning that. And once we're able to get a -- you know, a clear path on where we're going with the Council, we'll certainly let everyone know.

MS. PSAKI: Mario, you've got to be the last one, but we'll -- we'll invite her back.

Q: Thanks, Jen. Thank you, Madam Secretary.

Just piggybacking -- a couple questions just piggybacking off of your comments at the top about national parks. Any reason why they're still at reduced capacity when we know that social distancing outside is a best possible case for COVID?

SECRETARY HAALAND: Well, let's -- first of all, I'll say, we are taking every possible precaution to make sure that we are keeping people safe. I don't ever want to jump the gun on this. We know there's a lot of vaccinations that are happening. Yes, our country is safer since President Biden has been in office; we're just not quite there yet.

They'll continually monitor that situation. We want everyone to keep their masks on, to social distance, and -- and I appreciate the question. We can look into it, and absolutely get back with you.

Q: And more business related: What's your plan for restarting the sale of oil and gas leases in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico?

SECRETARY HAALAND: Once we are -- once we -- so, existing leases are already happening. As I mentioned earlier, there's not a moratorium on -- even on new leases; they're just a pause. So, when we -- when we have the review done -- what I'll say is, right now, permits are still being issued, so -- and there's still ongoing leases that are happening.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Secretary Haaland.

SECRETARY HAALAND: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you for joining us, and you're welcome back anytime.

SECRETARY HAALAND: Thank you.

Q: Thank you.

SECRETARY HAALAND: Nice to see you all. Happy National Park Week. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: National Park Week -- a good thing to celebrate.

Okay. A couple of other items for all of you at the top. As you know, President Biden just concluded a historic Climate Summit with 50 world leaders to show that America is back at the table.

On the first day, he upped the ante, announcing that the United States will target reducing emissions by 50 to 52 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. He underscored America's commitment to leading a clean energy revolution and creating good-paying union jobs.

We also want to lead the way, here in the federal government, toward achieving -- and act in a way that demonstrates our leadership on these issues. So some examples of our commitments, which some of you may have seen, but -- include the GSA is committing to power its approximately 186-million-square-foot, federally-owned real estate portfolio with 100 percent renewable electricity by -- sources by 2025.

The Department of Transportation is taking a comprehensive approach to addressing the climate crisis and expanding ways for all modes of transportation to transition to zero emissions. Examples include funding for lower-emission buses and expanding access to electric vehicle charging stations.

The Department of Defense is announcing a plan to complete climate exposure assessments on all major U.S. installations within 12 months and all major installations outside the continental United States within 24 months using the Defense Climate Assessment Tool.

And the EPA will fund $1 million in grants and cooperative agreements through -- through -- to work with underserved and vulnerable communities, including Indigenous communities, to prepare them for climate-related impacts. So it's an across-government approach.

Also, we wanted to highlight that today the Department of Education announced plans to distribute $800 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan for states to support students experiencing homelessness. The Department also took a series of steps this week to help states and districts access the $122 billion in American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds to support the safe reopening of K-through-12 schools and address equity gaps exacerbated by the pandemic.

Also this week, USDA issued a broad range of -- the U.S. Department of Agriculture, I should say -- issued a broad range of flexibilities that will allow schools and childcare institutions to serve healthy meals for free to all kids in the upcoming 2021-through-2022 -- through -- schoolyear. Roughly 30 million kids participate in school meals programs, and we know that, for lots of kids, school meals are the healthiest meals they consume all day.

Due to supply chain issues during the pandemic, USDA is giving schools added resources to maintain the nutrition standards of the school meal programs, including a strong emphasis on providing fruits and vegetables, milk, and whole grains.

And because, as many of you know, the pandemic caused steep spikes in hunger and food insecurity, re- -- leading to, as we've talked about a bit in here, one in seven families struggling to put food on the table, we've also -- we are heartened by the sharp decline from the implementation of a lot of these funds, as you can see in this chart, in the number of American households that say they're behind on rent or did not have enough to eat in the past week.

Obviously, there's a lot of work to go, and a lot more to be done. But we can see a clear, positive downward trend on this chart, which is quite encouraging.

Finally, a quick preview of the week ahead. On Tuesday, the President will deliver remarks on the COVID-19 pandemic. As you all know, Wednesday, the President will address a joint session of Congress. Among other topics, as we talked about a bit yesterday, he will lay out the American Families Plan, the specific details, and discuss a number of other issues that are important and major priorities to him, including expanding access to healthcare, and addressing -- putting in place policing reforms.

On Thursday, on the President's 100th day in office, he and the First Lady will travel to Georgia to highlight how he's delivered on his promises to the American people. While he is there, he will participate in a car rally.

And on Friday, he will have additional out-of-town travel that we will hopefully have more details for you in the coming days.

Finally, I know many of you saw this and reported it and tweeted it, but we announced this morning that the President will travel to the United Kingdom and Belgium in June for his first overseas trip as President. This trip will highlight his commitment to restoring our alliances, to revitalizing the transatlantic relationship, and working in close cooperation with our allies and multilateral partners to address global challenges and better secure America's interests.

He will attend the G7 Summit in Cornwall, which is happening from June 11th through the 13th. He will then travel to Brussels, Belgium, where he will participate in the NATO Summit on June 14th. And while in Brussels, the President will also participate in the U.S.–EU Summit.

With that, kick us off.

Q: All right. Thank you. The Climate Summit promised reductions in carbon emissions that the President announced this week.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

Q: Without the investments in the infrastructure proposal, can those be achieved? And with that, is that then -- is there some red line with Republicans that you have as a result of making those goals happen?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first: Yes, absolutely it can be achieved because we have several paths toward achieving that objective and that goal. Some include legislation -- the American Jobs Plan. But there are additional legislative options; there's executive options that are -- are also on the table -- and, of course, working with the private sector and states and localities to taking -- continuing to take additional steps forward.

But I'll also say that we have every intention of getting the American Jobs Plan passed and signed into law. As we saw, and we talked about a bit yesterday, there was a Republican counterproposal yesterday.

The stage we're in now is: We will have discussions. We'll get a full briefing. We expect those to happen through the course of the next several days. We'll review that plan. We'll ask questions at a staff level. And then the President will invite a number of those members down here to the White House.

Q: And if I could ask just one more.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q: Is the President speaking today with President Erdo?an? And with that, you know, the Turkish Foreign Minister said earlier this week that if President Biden goes forward with his campaign pledge on Armenian genocide recognition, that it would harm U.S.-Turkey ties. How much is that idea weighing on the President's mind as he makes this decision whether or not to follow through on the campaign pledge, especially with the need for Turkish cooperation on things like Afghanistan and Iran?

MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand your line of questioning. I know there's a great deal of interest in this particular area. I don't have any calls of -- with foreign leaders to predict for you. As would be the case with any call, we will certainly provide a readout once -- whenever we do a call with a foreign leader and the President of the United States, and actually down the -- down the rung below them as well.

In terms of delivering on his campaign pledge, I don't have anything to preview for you on that front either. I expect we'll have more in the coming days.

Go ahead.

Q: Jen, on the Republican counteroffer: Now that you've had a chance to peruse it, does the White House have any public reaction to what they're putting out there?

MS. PSAKI: Only a day. Only a day.

Q: Still, there's initial reaction.

MS. PSAKI: As we said yesterday, Nancy, we are -- the President's only red line is inaction. We want to have an exchange of ideas on both sides and -- from both sides of the aisle. In our view, this is an example of that. We're reviewing the details of the proposal.

We're starting to have conversations at the staff level today. We expect those to proceed through the course of next week. We'll ask questions. We'll exchange additional ideas. But our view: This is a good start and we look forward to having the conversation moving forward.

Q: But it sounds like you have a bit of a different posture on this counteroffer than you did to their counteroffer to the American Rescue Plan.

MS. PSAKI: That's true. We do. The American Rescue Plan was a plan and a proposal that was meeting what we felt was a crisis situation, which was getting the pandemic under control, putting millions of Americans back to work. The President felt -- as he said many times, as I said many times -- there was an urgency in moving that forward and there was less flexibility because he felt the size of that package needed to meet the moment.

We are quite open to the mechanisms of how his ideas can move forward. It can be in a number of pack- -- of different proposals. It can be worked through negotiating between members of Democrats and Republicans. There are a lot of ideas, including the Frontiers bill that Senator Schumer has put forward, where we feel there's an opportunity to move forward in a bipartisan manner and there's some overlap with what's been proposed in the American Jobs Plan.

So we do see it as different. We do think the process will be different. There's more time to move forward. There's more time to discuss and negotiate. And we'll take advantage of that -- that time available.

Q: Got it. It's now been pretty widely reported that you're not going to be including a big health coverage expansion in the Families Plan, and that is -- was going to include reducing prescription drug costs. Why did the White House decide not to include that in this plan?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I will say that the President is still making final decisions, as is his prerogative, over the coming days about what will be included in the speech. And the American Families Plan and the final components of that, when those final decisions are made, will be a part of that as well.

He will definitely talk in his speech about his commitment to expanding and increasing access to healthcare, as is evidenced by the fact that we have opened up the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act, ensuring that more than 500,000 Americans that didn't have health insurance have it now. That's why he's in -- he included subsidies in the American Rescue Plan to make it even less expensive.

But I will also say, even as he's making these final decisions, that the American Families Plan and the speech on Wednesday will not represent the totality of every priority item for him and every item on his agenda that he wants to move forward as President.

Q: And then finally, if you don't mind, India saw the biggest number of new cases in a day ever, yesterday. Are there any plans to send any of the U.S. stockpile of AstraZeneca vaccine or any vaccine to India?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that the United States offers our deepest sympathy to the people of India, who are clearly suffering during this global pandemic, and we are working closely with Indian officials at both political and experts' level to identify ways to help address the crisis.

We've made vaccine cooperation a big priority, including with our Quad partners -- India is one of our Quad partners, of course -- and discussing vaccine creation and distribution for the future. We've also provided $4 billion to COVAX.

And from the earliest stages of the pandemic, we've provided India with emergency relief supplies, medical consumables, pandemic training for Indian state and local health officials, and ventilators, which has been part of our effort over the course of time, including $1.4 billion in health assistance to India, to help them prepare for pandemics in the future and deal with the current one we're facing.

So there are ongoing discussions. I don't have anything more to preview, but we are in touch with them at a range of levels about how we can help get through this period -- help them get through this period of time.

Q: Thanks, Jen.

MS. PSAKI: Sure thing.

Go ahead.

Q: Back to the infrastructure negotiations.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q: We saw the White House respond pretty positively that they would at least consider Joe Manchin's proposal to raise the corporate tax rate to 25 instead of 28 percent, as was the initial proposal. So should we read this conversation about raising the corporate tax rate to 39.5 percent as more of a starting offer?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the President's proposal for the American Jobs Plan was about modernizing and making a historic investment in our infrastructure. The tax component was about how to pay for it. We're very open to a range of options. And he has some lines in the sand we've talked about, including not having American -- the American people pay for it -- or to not being on the backs of the American people.

As it relates to the capital gains rates and the top margins that you've seen reported out there: You know, the President's bottom line is that people making under $400,000 a year should not -- will not have their taxes go up. So if you look at those -- these proposed numbers, which are consistent with what he talked about on the campaign trail when he was running for President, what I can say is that it will only affect people making more than $1 million a year. That's 0.3 percent of taxpay- -- payers, or 3 out of every 1,000 taxpayers. That's even as the top 1 percent saw their net worth rise by $4 trillion in the middle of a historic pandemic.

So he has some bottom lines of where he will not budge past -- right? -- on individual numbers and who im- -- and who will be impacted, but he's also open to discussion.

Q: And we're hearing that the White House is also considering, in the proposal, ending the Child Tax Credit, even though we've seen progressives and --

MS. PSAKI: You mean "extending it"? Ending?

Q: Phasing it out.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Well --

Q: Is that wrong?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it's not -- it's not permanent, currently.

Q: Exactly. So are you guys going to take --

MS. PSAKI: So you mean extending it or making it permeant?

Q: Is that the position -- the definite position?

MS. PSAKI: The --

Q: Progressives and plenty of moderates also say that it should be extended permanently, is that the position?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. What I was trying to clarify -- I apologize -- is that it's not currently permanent.

Q: Right.

MS. PSAKI: So the question is whether it will be permanent.

Q: Whether that'll be a red line, like you said, or --

MS. PSAKI: Well --

Q: -- a definite part of proposal.

MS. PSAKI: And the President absolutely feels that -- that the Child Tax Credit provides essential funding and help to people who need help the most. That's why, in the American Rescue Plan, he increased the Child Tax Credit from $2,000 to $3,000 per child, and to $3,600 for children under the age of 6. And the expansion was the single-largest policy contributor to cutting child poverty, as is evidenced by the chart we had up.

We're looking into the mechanisms and the cost of expanding the Child Tax Credit. And that certainly is under consideration for the American Families Plan.

Q: Yeah, it doesn't sound like you guys want to budge on that one.

MS. PSAKI: I think you're confusing though -- it's current -- and I don't I mean that -- it's -- it's not currently permanent, so we're not --

Q: Right.

MS. PSAKI: We're talking about --

Q: And there was just reporting over --

MS. PSAKI: -- how long it will be extended.

Q: Right.

MS. PSAKI: And so, what I'm saying is that we are quite open. We want -- we think this Child Tax Credit is valuable. It is a huge -- it has a huge impact on lowering pov- -- the cost -- poverty -- reducing the level of poverty in our country. It helps women get back into the workforce.

What we're determining is what we can do. And there's a cost of it -- it's about a billion dollars a year for every year. And so, we have to figure out how to pay for it and there's -- this is all a part of the discussion.

Q: Could I ask a question about Johnson & Johnson really fast?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q: We've seen so many of the FEMA mobile clinics rely on the J&J shot, mostly because you don't have to keep it so cold and it's one shot. FEMA confirmed that only nine of its mobile clinics were still operational during this last week with the pause. So is the -- just how hard it is to get the Moderna and Pfizer shots in those mobile clinics, part of the slowing rate of vaccinations that we're seeing?

MS. PSAKI: I -- I'm happy to check and see if that's a factor. What I understand the biggest factor is, though, is that we're now at a point where we have reached -- you know, just two weeks ago, only 43 -- 43, it's still significant -- percent of adults, two weeks ago, were vaccinat- -- had received their first dose; now it's 52 percent. Just two weeks ago, only 66 million people had ri- -- had been fully vaccinated; now it's over 90 million.

So we're kind of getting to this point, as I think Jeff Zients touched on this morning, where we are entering a new phase where it is more challenging. We have -- we don't have -- we have less of a supply issue; we have more of a -- it's incumbent upon us to reach people and meet them where they are. So that's the bigger challenge, in terms of the numbers, at this point in time.

In terms of the difficulty, I think you're asking about Moderna and Pfizer and how that impacts getting into mobile units.

Q: Yeah, the --

MS. PSAKI: The temperature --

Q: -- the mobile clinics weren't really set up to be doing Moderna shots, Pfizer shots.

MS. PSAKI: I'll have to check with our COVID team on how they see that as an impact. And obviously, we are continuing to adjust the way and the means at which we're getting into communities. And, you know, we make adjustments by -- based on what we think is the most effective.

Obviously, the increase -- massive increase in pharmacies is a reflection of that reduction in some of the vaccination sites. We also make evaluations by where it is most impactful to invest. And some of what we've been doing lately has been increasing our investment in community health centers, in primary care physicians, obviously, in pharmacies. But I will check with our team and see if that's a factor.

Go ahead.

Q: Thank you, Jen. With the President's first trip abroad in June -- that's going to be the first time a President has actually traveled internationally since the start of the pandemic -- and I'm wondering if, by the time he leaves to go on that trip in June, is he going to lift travel restrictions to Europe as well?

MS. PSAKI: I can't make a prediction of that. That is based on the health and recommendations -- the health and medical -- the advice and recommendations of our health and medical team. And I don't have anything to predict on that front.

Q: Have there been conversations about that, given he is going to be traveling internationally, about whether it can be a period where everyday Americans also start resuming that kind of a travel?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say I think most Americans would see it as slightly different from the President of --

Q: Of course.

MS. PSAKI: -- the United State. I'm not suggesting other -- you're saying otherwise. But, as the President of the United States -- making a diplomatic trip, abiding by COVID protocols, and flying on Air Force One -- than whether it is safe for mass numbers to fly internationally.

Obviously, everybody wants that to be reopened -- Europeans, we do, American people who would like to travel. But, you know, those conversations are really happening between health and medical experts. And we'll -- they make an evaluation based on what they think is safe for the American public.

Q: Okay. Thank you. And on climate: You know, there have been a lot of questions about the President's new announcement about what he wants to see by 2030.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q: But I think there are still questions about the specifics of how they're actually going to get there. So there have been studies that have suggested that to get to that kind of a goal, more than half of the new cars and SUVs that are being sold at dealerships would need to be electric; right now, it's only about 2 percent. Is that something that the President agrees with, that they need to be at half of those being electric by 2030?

MS. PSAKI: You know, that's not a goal that -- that's not a number or a goal that he set -- because he feels that there are a number of ways to get there. And that -- I saw that reporting as well. That's an example of a way to get there, but there are additional ways, you know, including -- that impact a lot of sectors from electricity, transportation, buildings, industry, and lands.

Our view is, there a lot of pathways to get to reach this goal. Some of it will be done through legislation, through laws that will be put in place. Some of it will be done to incentivize investment in areas like electric vehicles and electric charging stations, which is already happening in the private sector. Right? A lot of the car companies will tell you this is where the future of their -- their industries are going anyway. But we want to incentivize and make that something that we can jumpstart in a lot of those industries.

But we've -- there are a lot of options for how we get there. And so, it isn't just one pathway to get there.

Q: Okay, well, I've got --

MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.

Q: Sorry, I've got one more question. On this Emergent facility in Baltimore --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Yeah.

Q: -- that, of course, has been plagued with issues, it seems like. And now U.S. regulators have conducted a study and found that they did not follow proper manufacturing procedures, they had poorly trained staff that resulted in the contamination of materials that, of course, ruined what could have amounted to millions of Johnson & Johnson doses.

This is a company that got $630 million from the federal government under the Trump administration. But is that a contract that you are going to keep or has there been discussion about canceling that contract and not working with this company, given they have not produced one usable dose of the COVID-19 vaccine?

MS. PSAKI: Well I think some of the AstraZeneca doses did come from there, but -- that have gone to other countries. But I will say that we -- we believe --

Q: But for the U- -- the United States --

MS. PSAKI: For the U.S.

Q: -- (inaudible) --

MS. PSAKI: Fair. For the U.S.

Q: -- the $630 million.

MS. PSAKI: For the U.S.

Q: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: I will say, to take some pressure off of the -- or take some criticism off of the former administration, there are a limited number of manufacturing facilities that have the capacity -- as you know, you've been covering this for some time -- that have the capacity and would have the ability to produce a vaccine like this in this capacity in size and numbers.

There's no question -- hence, they haven't been approved by the FDA for manufacturing -- that Emergent has not met those bars -- and, over time, has not met those bars.

In terms of future contracts, I don't have anything to predict on that front. But we'll contider [sic] -- continue to look for the FDA to give the, you know, for it to meet the FDA's bar before we are providing vaccines from there to the American people.

Q: So you're still going down that path for this facility to get approved by the FDA despite the number of issues that they've had?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, they have to make changes. Obviously, the FDA is working closely with them. And if they make those changes and they meet the FDA's bar, that's a different story. We'll see what happens.

Go ahead, Mario.

Q: Thanks, Jen. Will the First Lady be attending the President's joint address next week? And will she have guests, as has been traditional in those cases?

MS. PSAKI: It will be a little bit different because, obviously, there will be a limited number of people who are in -- in the Capitol, and a limited number that will be determined by the Speaker's office in terms of who will attend and who will have to watch virtually. We'll -- most of our staff, if not all of our staff, will be watching virtually.

In terms of whether Dr. Biden will physically be there in person, I'll have to check on that, Mario.

In terms of the box, there will not be the traditional box. You know, we're determining how we can, of course, engage the public and ensure we highlight some of the incredible stories of people who have been helped by the President's policies and proposals. But it will not look like or feel like, in many ways, what past joint addresses have.

Q: For those that will be attending, are -- is the President's preference that those people be vaccinated as well?

MS. PSAKI: This is all -- I would send you to the Speaker's office, and they are determining attendance and requirements for those who are attending.

Q: And then, a couple more questions. Any update on Neera Tanden's appointment to the administration at all?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have any update. The President remains interested in and committed to finding her a position in the administration and taking advantage of all of her talents.

Q: And last question: Has the President spoken to the families of either Daunte Wright or Ma'Khia Bryant in recent days?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have any calls to read out for you, Mario. I will check and see if he's had conversations with any of those families too.

Go ahead, Jeff.

Q: Jen, a follow-up on India. You said that your discussions about how to help -- can I just ask specifically if the U.S. is helping with their -- with their shortage of oxygen right now? Is that something that the U.S. is doing?

MS. PSAKI: The shortage of oxygen? Let me -- let me check on that for you, Jeff. I mean, we have provided, obviously, a range of funding over the course of time. It's a huge, significant amount of funding. We are likely one of the world's largest contributors to India in terms of, you know, their health needs. And it's gone to a range of supplies and training.

But I will check if oxygen is specifically a part of how we can help at this point in time. And there are ongoing discussions, so it may be that that's part of the discussion now.

Q: Okay. Also on vaccines, the European Union said today that it is close to finishing a contract with Pfizer to have what would be the largest contract for vaccine for the coming years. Is the U.S. in talks with Pfizer as well to get more vaccine for post-2021?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have anything about -- I'm not going to be able to read out, at any point, any contract discussions with any vaccine supplier. I can assure you, having worked with Jeff Zients many times over, he is an over-preparer and committed to oversupplying the United States, as is evidenced by the amount we've purchased to date. And obviously, we're cognizant about the needs in the future. But I don't have anything -- I probably won't have anything to follow up with you on, on contract discussions.

Q: Okay. And just, lastly, yesterday, I think Mario mentioned the stock market dipped a little bit in response to the reports about your tax plans. Just wondering what the White House's feeling is or reaction is to that. Are you concerned about Wall Street's support or lack of support for these policies, and to what extent does that play into your discussions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I've been doing this long enough not to comment on movements in the stock market, but I did see -- just data, factually -- that it went back up this morning.

Go ahead. Maureen, go ahead.

Q: Back on healthcare: There is a disagreement among congressional Democrats about how to use the savings from lowering the government's cost on prescription drugs, whether to put it into expanding Medicare or put it into the expanded saving -- expanded subsidies for the Affordable Care Act. Is that something that the White House is going to take a position on? Are you going to let the congressional Democrats work that out in any healthcare (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the President absolutely wants to lower the cost of prescription drugs and knows the burden on Americans and seniors is far too high. He's talked about that on the campaign trail. I expect we will be in discussions about what the plans are and what the options are. But we're not at the point to talk about that publicly quite yet.

Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Jen. On the -- on the border: The administration has repeatedly cited the use of Title 42 to demonstrate that the border is not open. This is a Trump policy that progressive groups are increasingly arguing that it denies migrants who are flying [sic] -- fleeing violence and persecution a right to even apply for asylum. I wanted to know what is the White House's message to these groups who largely are supportive of this White House, who are concerned about the continuation of this Trump policy?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Franco, I would say, first, that we consider it a policy that was put in place -- or that we've continued to implement because we're still in the middle of a global pandemic. And that keeping the American people safe and ensuring that we are taking responsible steps as it relates to the pandemic is front and center for the President. And certainly that's what we would convey to any of these groups.

At the same time, we absolutely believe that we should be a country that -- we are a country that wants to treat people humanely, as is evidenced by our efforts to treat children who come into this country -- who are under 18, who are coming as unaccompanied children -- in a manner that was not the same as the former administration.

So we understand and we have heard the frustration about this issue, but our objective -- as the President's objective is to keep systems in place or keep policies in place or implement policies that help us address the pandemic.

Q: Do you have some goals or some -- some goals of when you may be able to lift Title 42?

MS. PSAKI: I can't make a prediction of that. That will, of course, be based on what the evaluation is by our health and medical experts on the status of the pandemic and the safety of the American people.

Q: Can I ask you -- just follow up on the Turkey question?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q: I mean, Turkey is a NATO member. Is -- is the administration taking into consi- -- what consideration is the administration taking into the concerns that Turkey has about potentials -- this weekend's activities?

MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand all the questions. I just don't have anything to -- I'm not going to get ahead of the President, or get ahead of any decisions or announcements. And, obviously, any decision that the President makes on foreign policy, he takes into account concerns expressed by allies and partners around the world.

Q: And can I ask one more about immigration?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q: You know, as we approach 100 days, obviously, COVID-19 was the biggest challenge that this administration faced --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q: -- but immigration was another one that took a lot of oxygen and political time from this White House. Is there any -- does the White House feel like it could have communicated anything differently, done anything differently to address this challenge? Not only Republicans, but even some Democrats have been concerned about some of the messaging.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say there's no question -- we've recognized that this is a challenging issue, and we knew that it would be when the President changed the policies of the former administration when he came into office.

And, obviously, welcoming in or ensuring that we had the capacity and we were using resources to treat children humanely and ensure they're safe is a change in the last administration's policy that was going to dissatisfy some who are supporters of the last administration, but not satisfy enough -- as you alluded to in your question, some who think we should wel- -- be welcoming many more across our borders.

So, it certainly is an issue -- as you know, you've covered this quite closely -- where we recognized we were never going to satisfy everyone. And what the President's objective has been is to, you know, focus on the unaccompanied children, those who had been ripped from their parents' arms, those who were being asked to take a treacherous journey back, ensure we could take steps there.

He also wants to push for comprehensive immigration reform, providing a pathway to citizenship, ensuring we're investing in addressing the root causes in these countries. That's something he announced on day one of his presidency.

So, we are well aware, and there was some reporting this morning, that this was an issue that some supporters of the former President and some Republicans in Congress, apparently, are licking their chops about how to make children a political issue. We don't see it that way, and we felt this was the moral, right step to take. And we're going to keep working with immigration advocates, with groups out there to get this bill passed; to get DREAMers -- the DREAMers legislation passed. That continues to be a big objective for the President.

Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Jen. Is the President aware of the shooting death of Andrew Brown, a black man from Elizabeth City, North Carolina? And does he believe that body camera footage from the police officers involved in the incident should be released?

MS. PSAKI: He is aware of it. I've not talked to him about his particular view on that, and I believe he'd likely leave that up to law enforcement and others to work out.

Q: Did you have another -- does the White House have a comment on that particular incident as well?

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, they're -- the loss of life is a tragedy. And, obviously, we're thinking of the family members and the community who has los- -- who've lost another -- who have lost a loved one. There'll be a -- an investigation into this -- into this shooting -- or into this death, and we will look for the outcome of that.

Q: Okay. On infrastructure, you had noted that the President will travel next week to Georgia --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q: -- immediately after his "joint address," I guess, is what we're calling it this year. His joint address to Congress.

MS. PSAKI: It's always the joint address in the first year of a presidency.

Q: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: A little history note. Yeah.

Q: After his joint address, do you have any other travel that you can preview for us, even if you're -- it's just to say how frequently you expect the President and the Vice President to be traveling to sell this infrastructure package, especially now that all adult Americans are eligible for the vaccine?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, the President will travel on Thursday, as well as Friday. I expect he'll have some additional travel in the weeks ahead of that. You can also anticipate the Vice President, the First Lady, the Second Gentleman will be out traveling in the weeks after the joint address. Certainly, they'll be talking about the Jobs Plan, as well as the American Families Plan that the President will lay out in detail at his joint address.

But I don't have a prediction in terms of how many days a week. It really depends. We plan week by week, and what is needed and where we -- and we balance, of course, with needs at the White House.

Q: And two quick questions about Republicans. You also had said that the President would be meeting with bipartisan groups of lawmakers to talk about his infrastructure package after that. Do you have any Republican senators that the President plans to meet? Maybe a summit that he plans to have (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: Aside from the meetings he had last week?

Q: Moving forward. He's about to release his second infrastructure package.

MS. PSAKI: It's not an infrastructure package. It's a Families Plan focused on childcare and helping ease the burden on families -- so the American Families Plan.

I expect he will, of course, wel- -- probably invite in bipartisan members as a continuing conversation about the counterproposal on the American Jobs Plan, and certainly anticipate he'll have more members of Congress in, in a bipartisan manner, in future weeks.

Next week, you kind of have a sense of what the week looks like. Right? I mean, he's going to be preparing for the joint address. He'll make some remarks. He's going to travel two days, so you can anticipate it would be after that.

Q: So, the context of the question is that there are Republican senators, such as Marco Rubio or Mike Lee, who have said in the past that they are supportive of things like the Child Tax Credit, and maybe even extending it, but they don't want to see things that they, in their view, see as welfare assistance or permanent -- permanent entitlements, such as, you know, a federal paid leave law or a Child Tax Credit extension.

So, does the White House see some sort of bridge that they can -- sorry -- can they -- how does the White House think that they can bridge that divide between the Republicans who are supportive of this generally but don't want to see permanent entitlements, in their view?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first -- and someone you didn't mention, Senator Romney, has also proposed his own Child Tax Credit Plan. And you mentioned a couple of others who have spoken in support of extensions of the Child Tax Credit in different versions.

We see that as an opportunity to discuss, an opportunity to seek bipartisan support on a tax credit that we think would be beneficial to families across the country, children, getting women back in the workforce.

And so I expect the President will certainly have a range of conversations, and he'll continue to have members into the Oval Office.

Q: Okay, thanks.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Oh, go ahead. Sorry, it's a little -- I can be more clear. Go ahead, Emilie.

Q: No problem. Thank you so much. So lawmakers from across New England are pushing for funding for a highspeed rail line between New York City and Boston in the infrastructure package. I was wondering if President Biden is supportive of this idea and how does he envision his infrastructure plans will spur the development of highspeed rail in the U.S.

MS. PSAKI: Well, it will certainly be a part of it. And when Secretary Buttigieg was here, he talked about this a little bit. And part of the conversation that members of Congress are having -- or we're having with members of Congress -- is what the composition of grants are.

There are some grants that will be specific to individual projects. There are some that will be competitive. There will -- there will likely be some that are funding that goes to states. That's how transportation funding has worked in the past, and we expect it to be a combination.

So, that will be part of the discussions that are happening moving -- moving forward. I have no question, as a person who grew up in New England, that there will be many advocates for that from the New England delegations. And -- but we're not quite at that point. That's -- that's a part of the nitty-gritty decision making and discussions that are happening now.

Q: Can I just clarify, though, as a huge rail supporter, can you -- can you clarify whether his -- it is his goal that this infrastructure package will either advance or start a new highspeed rail line in the U.S.? There's only one under construction now.

MS. PSAKI: Certainly, highspeed rail is part of an option of investment. And as the President -- as you know, as you alluded to -- the President is a big fan of Amtrak and railways himself, but we have to work through with Congress what the different mechanisms are for funding; where we fund the projects: Are they through states or are they through different grants? And so that's part of the discussion and the nitty-gritty negotiation happening in the coming weeks.

Q: Thank you. And just on behalf of two colleagues who couldn't be here. Does the President plan to visit Ireland when he is making his trip to the UK in June?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I announced the confirmed parts of his trip at this point in time. I don't have any additional stops to add, but the trip is two months away -- a month away? Six weeks away? It's all running together. And if we have more trips or components of the trip to announce, we will do that. But there's not a currently -- a planned Ireland stop on this trip.

Go ahead.

Q: Thank you, Jen. The administration has given itself until -- I have a question about refugee admission.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q: The administration has given itself until May 15th to decide whether it's going to revise upwards its cap of 15,000 refugee admissions between now and September 30. What would be the reason for not going all the way up to the cap that the administration communicated already to Congress of 62,500?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have every intention of providing of -- the President has every intention of providing an updated number that will be significantly higher than the number from last week. Because the intention he was trying to convey last week -- or we were all trying to convey -- was that we were resuming flights and that we were overturning the policy of preventing individuals, refugees from applying from parts of the Middle East and parts of Africa. But I'm not going to get ahead of the process. We're assessing what's possible. We're assessing that through our policy and legal process, and we'll definitely have an update of an increased number in advance of May 15th.

Q: But, given that that number -- 62,500 -- was already communicated to Congress earlier this year and as a cap limit -- it's not a commitment to bringing that many people -- why not just go right up to that cap and that limit?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I'm -- I am certain we will take that into consideration. You're right, in that this cap is historically aspirational. If you look back at history, most people don't -- most administrations don't actually meet the cap. But it is sending a message to the world about the fact that we are a country that welcomes in refugees, that we want to get our systems and our muscles working in our refugee processing systems both in the country and around the world.

There were some limitations this year that were unique to this year -- in part because of COVID, in part because of the fact that the systems were decimated under the last administration -- and we just have to take a look at all of that.

But I think it's an important point you touched on, that -- I'd highlight that oftentimes this is an aspirational goal, and one that we are just trying to reach to send a message to the world about who we are as a country.

Q: Does the Biden administration see increasing the number of refugees admitted each year as a part -- a long-term solution to helping alleviate the pressure on the border of people who come to United States illegally because they don't have other legal avenues.

Does the Biden administration see increasing the refugee -- the number of people allowed in the refugee program as a long-term solution to the number -- to resolving the pressure on the border?

MS. PSAKI: I don't think we see it through the same prism exactly like that. It's an interesting question. The President's cap -- or the President's objective has always been consistently, from February through last week, welcoming in 125,000 by the end of next fiscal year.

So really, what we're talking about here is what the goal -- what the cap is for this fiscal year. And as I mentioned, we've been dealing with a few challenges. But we're assessing that; we will have an increased number very soon.

But, as you know, a lot of these refugees are not coming -- you know, they're coming from all around the world. They're coming from Africa. They're coming from the Middle East. They're coming from many parts of the world.

And so, while it's all related, because it's -- it's representing who we are as a country, and welcoming in people who are freeing [fleeing] persecution, freeing [fleeing] challenging circumstances, I don't think he sees it exactly through that prism.

Q: Do you have an update on the number of refugees that have been admitted into United States under the Biden administration?

MS. PSAKI: Over the last week or so, or over the last few weeks? I think we do have numbers. I'm happy to get those to you after the briefing. We've seen -- because of flights resuming, we've seen, you know, an increase even just over the last week.

Go ahead.

Q: Just going back to the trip to Europe: The statement today mentioned a bilateral meeting with Boris Johnson. Do you know any of the priorities that will be discussed at that meeting?

And just relatedly, a couple of years ago, President Biden -- before he was President, obviously -- said he thinks Boris Johnson is the "physical and emotional clone of Donald Trump," but does he still hold that view?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have anything yet to preview for you about the agenda. A lot of it will be dependent on what the world looks like at that moment in time. But there are a range of issues we, of course, discuss with our partners in the UK that I expect will be on the agenda.

So, as we get closer, we'll have more to say. And of course, the President is meeting with him as a fellow global leader in the global community, and it certainly sends a message about the special relationship we have with the United Kingdom that this is his first trip.

Q: And also the NATO Summit: President Trump always liked to claim that he was successful in getting NATO members to pay more. Does this administration think President Trump deserves some credit for that, and are there elements of his approach that this administration will continue?

MS. PSAKI: I know he thought he invented that. But having worked in the Obama administration, I can say that the objective has always been encouraging members of NATO to pay more, pushing members of NATO to pay more, and that's consistently been the U.S. policy for some time.

Go ahead.

Q: Thank you, Jen. A follow-up on David's question on a trip to the UK. Would President Biden like to meet the Queen?

MS. PSAKI: Would he like to meet the Queen? We're still -- who wouldn't want to meet the Queen? (Laughter.) Don't you?

Q: Is there a plan for that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we're still finalizing what the details are of the trip. So, I certainly understand the interest. I'm interested as well, myself, and we will have more to share with all of you as the final details are put together.

Q: Okay. And now on the Climate Summit: President Biden just said that the announcements from Brazil were encouraging. My question: Was it enough? And does it change the administration perspective about a possible bilateral climate deal with Brazil or possible assistance to Brazil related to the Amazon?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say that reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, 10 years earlier than previously committed and with no preconditions, as President Bolsonaro announced, and his commitment to double funds available for enforcement are crucial steps to eliminate -- toward eliminating illegal deforestation by 2030.

And so, we were pleased that he recognized the important role of the -- and we were also pleased he recognized the important role of the private sector in helping us find solutions.

We agree with his emphasis on the necessary involvement of Indigenous People and traditional communities in protecting -- protecting standing forests and biodiversity, and with his recognition of the important role of the private sector in helping us find solutions.

We look forward to continuing to work with Brazil, to continuing the dialogue. And we feel that his announcement yesterday was a good step forward.

Q: So isn't that -- does it change this perspective about a possible sending assistance? Bolsonaro also asked for assistance to protect the Amazon. So --

MS. PSAKI: I have nothing to preview in terms of that, but certainly his announcements and pronouncements were received positively here. I expect there'll be a great deal of follow up, lots of discussions from our climate envoy and others who are leading this effort from the administration.

Q: So would now be a good time to call the Brazilian President -- to have a call between the two Presidents?

MS. PSAKI: For a -- I don't have any calls to preview for you. There's a lot of -- there are a number of officials, including our special envoy, who are leading the efforts for a follow-up from the summit. It certainly is significant that we had 40 global leaders, some of the world's biggest economies and emitters, here over the last two days -- well, virtually here -- discussing this, and there'll be a great deal of follow-up from here.

Q: Jen, one more. So today, the discussions at the Summit were around clean energy, a lot of discussions about solar energy. Would President Biden consider bringing back the solar panels here in the White House?

MS. PSAKI: At the White House?

Q: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, that's a good question. I will have to check with our -- probably the GSA? I will have to see who makes that determination. But we are pro-solar panel around here, so I will see where things stand on that front.

Q: A last one. We didn't hear much about the connection between epidemics and the deforestation during this summit. And science shows that about 70 percent of epidemics starts with deforestation. So what is the Biden administration doing to reduce the risk of future pandemics emerging from areas that experience high deforestation like the Amazon?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly addressing deforestation is not just a climate issue. It's a big climate issue; it's also a health issue. And, you know, we are encouraged again, by the announcements made by the President yesterday, and we will continue to work with a range of countries around the world and through international forum to -- to ensure the world is preparing for preventing the next pandemic.

Q: There are discussions here in Washington about creating a global fund for these specific points. So is -- would the White House support a Global Conservation Fund to stop deforestation in order to prevent future pandemics?

MS. PSAKI: Again, there'll be ongoing discussions with the Brazilians, with many of the leaders who attended yesterday -- at the level of our climate envoy and others who are running point on this. And I'm certain there are a range of issues that will be brought up, but I don't have anything to get ahead of on that.

Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Jen. Does the President still plan to issue a statement on Armenian victims tomorrow?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have anything to predict. I expect he will have a statement, but -- marking the day, but I don't have anything to confirm for you or predict about the content.

Q: And another question. The Israelis are sending a high-level delegation here to Washington next week to discuss the administration's efforts to rejoin the nuclear deal and also to stress their objection to -- to (inaudible). How does the White House view this visit? And is it likely to change the -- this administration's position in rejoining the nuclear deal?

MS. PSAKI: No, but I will say that, one, there are ongoing discussions -- or negotiations, I should say, that are happening now -- they're indirect, of course -- on the potential for a diplomatic path forward on the new -- on a nuclear deal.

While we knew they would be challenging, we're encouraged that there are still conversations between all parties and that they are still -- they're still happening.

As it relates to Israel, we have kept them abreast as a key partner of these discussions -- or of our intentions, and we will continue to do that on any future visits.

Okay. Oh, I have one ques- -- oh, hello. As we've been doing in our tradition, every Friday, we welcome in someone who can't be here physically with us in the briefing room.

So this is Natasha Lindstrom of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. And I understand -- not to embarrass you, Natasha, but today is your birthday? Is today your birthday?

Oh, we can't hear you. Uh-oh.

Q: I got it. Sorry. It is my birthday today, so it's a neat opportunity to -- to be here. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

MS. PSAKI: Well, happy birthday. Thanks for spending a few minutes with us here today.

So how can we help you -- or what questions do you have for me? I was going to say "to the press corps" --

Q: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: -- but that's not actually how this works. But go ahead. (Laughter.) That would be great.

Q: So the pandemic shined a spotlight on many longstanding problems plaguing nursing homes across Western Pennsylvania and nationwide, including facilities that have gone understaffed and demonstrate a history of poor infection control and ineffective management long before COVID.

There's also been the trend of historically poor-performing operators owned by complex webs of private-equity investors and shell companies increasingly snapping up cash-strapped facilities across our state and around the country. The setup can make it hard to figure out who's in charge and where the money is going. It also can allow owners to shirk accountability should anything go wrong. And it makes it tough to follow the money, even though the majority of the budgets are federal taxpayer dollars via Medicare and Medicaid payments.

Legislation, in various forms, to improve nursing home quality and transparency has been -- has bipartisan support, including bills put out by the likes of Pennsylvania Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey, but much of it has stalled for years.

Now, during the pandemic, we have seen an increase in scrutiny by the likes of HHS and CMS. In one of the more egregious cases, a federal grand jury investigation is underway, linked to some of the operators here in Allegheny and Beaver Counties in our region.

Can you elaborate on what concrete actions are being taken or will be taken moving forward on regulatory, legislative, investigative, or other fronts to ensure accountability and transparency in the long-term care sector? How can we make sure the federal government, states, and owner-operators are all doing what they should be doing to improve the level of care, even beyond COVID?

MS. PSAKI: Great. Well, thank you, Natasha. And I think there's no question that -- from the President's standpoint, that the impact on seniors -- what we've seen happen in facilities around the country -- especially in the early days of the pandemic when there clearly weren't the preparations in place, when there weren't the systems in place, when loved ones couldn't even engage with or reach their members who were staying in these senior care facilities -- it exposed what a problem we have on our hands.

As you noted, there's legislation that's in Congress. And certainly, we will look forward to taking a look at that more closely. And I expect as we are getting to the stage where we -- the pandemic is hopefully under control -- that's our objective in the coming months: that we will all take a look at and reflect on what changes should be made for the future to be better prepared, to take better care of our seniors, to take better care of our communities in the future.

In terms of regulatory actions, I just can't -- I'm not in a position to get ahead of that. I'm happy to see if there's anything underway that we would be able to speak to from here. But I think you have clearly identified a challenging issue that's not only a problem in Pittsburgh, in Western Pennsylvania, and parts of Pennsylvania, but we're seeing in states across the country as well.

Q: There's a lot of blame game that gets thrown around, you know, so that the states blames the owner-operators. Owner-operators say they don't have enough resources. The feds blame the state. Do you -- whose responsibility is it to really make sure meaningful change happens even beyond the pandemic? Because a lot of these problems that were exacerbated by the pandemic but have existed for many years -- especially with the lack of transparency element --

MS. PSAKI: You're right. I mean, it's really -- it's really both. It's not just one or the other. I mean, there are responsibilities that the state has because there's certain funding that goes to the state to deploy in a lot of these areas.

But there's also responsibilities of the federal government to look across at different states and see these challenges that are happening, what we can do better by our seniors, what we can do better for the standard of care in these caregiving facilities. And, you know, I think it's really a partnership and both moving forward.

Well, thank you so much. Happy birthday. I hope you have a wonderful celebration this weekend, and thanks again for joining us.

Great. Well, thank you, everyone. As I promised yesterday -- I promised snacks. I did not bring them in here, but my mother-in-law made homemade chocolate chip cookies for you guys. (Laughter.) So, there's one for each of you in here. We will do it in a COVID-safe way.

But thanks, everyone, and have a great weekend.

12:46 P.M. EDT

Jen Psaki, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/349638

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