Joe Biden

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jen Psaki

February 19, 2021

Aboard Air Force One en Route Kalamazoo, Michigan

12:57 P.M. EST

MS. PSAKI: Good afternoon. Looking forward to our trip to Kalamazoo. At the Pfizer facility, President Biden will see where most -- much of the nation's COVID-19 vaccine is being manufactured. He will meet with those on the frontlines producing these vaccines and get an update on how his administration is working with them to increase output.

The President is working closely with manufacturers like Pfizer to get more vaccine supply out to the American people. Specifically, the President used the Defense Production Act to allow Pfizer to receive priority for orders of lipids, bags, and filters to manufacture the vaccine.

He engaged -- the administration engaged with Pfizer suppliers to obtain the equipment needed to expand manufacturing capacity, including at the facility in Kalamazoo.

As you know, Pfizer is on track to provide the U.S. 120 million doses by the end of March and 200 million doses by the end of May -- two months ahead of schedule.

Pfizer will also deliver an additional 100 million doses, helping put us on track to have enough vaccines for all Americans by the end of July.

Hold on. I have a few more tiny things for you all.

On the week ahead: Next week, the President will continue to bring the American people together to acknowledge the losses suffered during the pandemic, contain the virus, and protect American workers.

On Tuesday, he will engage in a discussion on Black History Month. On Wednesday, he will receive a briefing from his COVID-19 Response Team. On Thursday, he will deliver remarks virtually to the National Governors Association Winter Meeting. And on Friday, he will receive an economic briefing with the Treasury Secretary. As always, we will provide additional details on his schedule as those are finalized.

One last piece: The President, as you know, spoke late in the evening with Texas Governor Greg Abbott -- we put out that readout late last night -- about the severe storms facing central and southern parts of the United States, including Texas. He reiterated that the federal government will continue to work hand in hand with state and local authorities in Texas to bring relief and address the critical needs of the families affected.

As you heard him convey this morning, he will have a call with the Acting FEMA Administrator later this afternoon, which we will provide you all a readout of. He has asked his team to expedite the request made by the leaders in Texas.

The process -- how it works is that they send that request to FEMA, FEMA does an assessment; it then goes to our team in the White House under Dr. Liz Sherwood-Randall. He's asked for that to be expedited, and we will look to approve that and get them the relief and resources as quickly as possible.

We expect that the initial focus will be on the counties that are most impacted and prioritized by FEMA, but we will see as it goes through and is expedited through the process.

Okay, with that, your questions.

Q: Why is now the time to engage with Iran? Does the President plan to raise issues along the lines of Iran's malign interference in the region? This is the coming days after the missile attack in Erbil. Why is now the time to sit down with them?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first, we share a goal with our P5+1 one partners, which is preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. What was announced yesterday, and what the President reiterated today, is an openness to having a diplomatic conversation.

The Europeans, who are hosts of that, have offered to host that, and we have accepted. But that is about having a conversation at the table. We don't anticipate taking additional steps, as in snapback -- snapping back of sanctions in advance of that. This is about having a conversation about the path forward. And, yes, part of that, as we look ahead, would be a desire to have a conversation about their role in the region, their use of ballistic missiles, and that certainly is the administration's objective.

Go ahead.

Q: So Zarif said that the -- he, kind of, responded to the offer by saying that the U.S. had to pull back on sanctions before they would agree to talk. So what's the administration's response to that?

MS. PSAKI: There's no plan to take additional steps in advance of having a conversation -- a diplomatic conversation.

Q: And that includes a potential executive order promising to go back to the negotiating table for the JCPOA? Like, the administration would not be willing to consider that an executive order?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Europeans have invited us. And, as you know, the readout was put out through the State Department, through Secretary of State Tony Blinken, after his conversation with his E3 partners. And it is simply an invitation to have a conversation -- a diplomatic conversation. We don't need additional administrative steps to have that -- to participate in that conversation.

Q: Are there plans to have direct talks between Washington and Iran, or just through this channel with Europe?

MS. PSAKI: This is the channel that we have used in the past, working in partnership with our P5+1 partners. That's the diplomatic channel we anticipate taking moving forward.

Q: So no direct talks between Washington and Iran for right now?

MS. PSAKI: Iran is a long way from compliance. This is simply the next step in the diplomatic process.

Q: Does he have a timeline on Iran? Did he set some sort of a timeline on Iran, in terms of weeks, months, where he wants progress? Or --

MS. PSAKI: Tell me more about what you mean. About when there'd be a conversation? Or --

Q: Both. Yeah, when there would be a conversation and when, you know, does he expect results so that we can move forward. Did he set up some sort of a timeline?

MS. PSAKI: I would certainly send you to our colleagues at the State Department who would obviously be on the frontlines of the diplomatic process.

Q: Does the White House still believe that the breakout time for Iran is now measured in a matter of months? And how concerned is the President that Iran could try to further enrich uranium to try to, sort of, shorten that time and gain more leverage while these talks progress?

MS. PSAKI: Well, part of the challenge of -- and part of the mistake of the prior administration's decision to pull out of the JCPOA was that we no longer had the visibility into what was happening on the ground. So I would send you to the IAEA and others to provide an assessment.

But certainly, you know, we have ongoing concerns about our lack of visibility and any path they would have to acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Q: Changing gears to the President's speech this morning. He laid out a choice, sort of said democratic governments have to -- are in this competition with autocratic ones. Could you square the circle here? While, you know, we've seen autocratic governments -- like the Chinese, like the Russians -- give out vaccines and engage in vaccine diplomacy while a very notable democracy, the United States, is not sharing its vaccines even with the Canadians. The President is going to a plant where Justin Trudeau is begging for vaccines to come from this Kalamazoo plant, and we're not sharing them.

MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I will say we also made an announcement in the last 24 hours about our engagement and contribution to COVAX because we do feel that we make -- by making the global community safer, we make the American people safer. And we feel that COVAX is the right organizing mechanism for that to ensure that vaccines are equitably distributed, that they are fairly distributed, and that also there is high-quality vaccines distributed around the world to countries who need that assistance.

We have certainly not taken options off the table, but our plan and our priority right now is on ensuring that 300 million of -- you know, that -- it's less than that -- so that hundreds of millions of American people are vaccinated. That's where our priority is. But we remain committed to looking for opportunities, in addition to what we announced on COVAX, to contribute to the global effort to address COVID.

Q: So he is giving some of these Pfizer vaccines to the Canadians?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I think we are focused now on vaccinating the American people. But we made this contribution to COVAX. We are committed to working through that organizing mechanism. And all -- you know, there are a range of options on the table for how the United States can contribute to expand our contribution to the global effort to fight COVID.

Q: What's the threshold for donating surplus vaccines? How many Americans need to be vaccinated before the U.S. will do that?

MS. PSAKI: You know, it's a great question, Kaitlan. We're not at that point yet. Obviously, we're contributing a significant amount financially to COVAX, which is the internation- -- the international organizing mechanism that we feel is most effective, has the most quality control, and is going to help distribute the vaccine equitably. But we -- there are a range of options that remain on the table, but our priority and our focus is on vaccinating the American people.

Q: There was some reporting from, I think, Bloomberg and the FT about China considering export control -- export bans on rare earth minerals to U.S. defense companies. Is that something that's on your radar? And how would the Biden administration react if they did end up doing that?

MS. PSAKI: I'd probably have to talk to our national security team about that. It's not an action that I've seen that they have taken to date. So I will venture to do that and see if we can get you something more specific.

Q: And I think that Biden said in his remarks earlier today that everyone needs to "play by the same rules. U.S. and European companies are required to publicly disclose corporate governance structures and abide by rules to deter corruption and monopolistic [companies]. Chinese companies should be held to the same standard[s]." And I was wondering if he's indicating some policy shift there. Does he plan on, you know, pulling out of the MOU of -- with China over, like, accounting standards or something like that?

MS. PSAKI: I'm just not going to get ahead of our ongoing process. I will say that, obviously, China's -- you know, China and our approach to China, and certainly China's -- you know, seeing China as a source of competition is a prominent topic of discussion with our European partners, our partners in Asia. And I expect we will take a coordinated approach to addressing their -- you know, their approach to corporate governance.

Q: Did he tell governors during their meeting that the minimum wage raise will not be in the coronavirus bill?

MS. PSAKI: He said what he had said publicly about a week and a half earlier during a CBS interview, which is that, you know, he is looking at -- he was in the Senate for 36 years, he knows it has to go through a process -- through the parliamentarian in the Senate. He put the minimum wage -- an increase in the minimum wage in his bill because he hopes that it is -- because he feels that it is long overdue for that to be raised for American workers. But he also knows it's got to go through a process. And he also conveyed in that meeting, which was in the report, that he believes -- that he hopes that it is -- that it does stay in there. That remains his view.

Q: If you're saying he repeated what he said in a CBS interview, so he did repeat that he doesn't think it's likely it will survive?

MS. PSAKI: I think he was reflecting on the fact that it has to go through a Senate parliamentary process. So we have to see that that process has to work its way through. He obviously leaves it up to Congress. The bottom line is: His focus and his desire is to have the minimum wage increased. He thinks it should happen over a period of time. But he thinks workers -- American workers are long overdue in getting an increase.

Q: Why is he raising that doubt about the parliamentarian when this certainly seems like the easiest way for the $15 minimum wage to become law? Why is he even making -- raising those doubts to the public? Why hasn't -- why didn't he just hold back on that until he saw what the parliamentarian decides to do?

MS. PSAKI: He was in the Senate for 36 years. I think he just follows closely what happens in Congress. But he would not have put it in the bill if he did not want the minimum wage to be increased. That's what he wants to see the outcome as, but he also knows, through many, many decades of working through legislation, that the bill that comes out the other end may not look exactly the same as the bill coming in. And there's several steps.

Q: But does that have to do at all -- does it have to do at all with the fact that there are a couple of Democratic senators who are not warm to that idea, and that's why he's putting some of the doubt there -- because he wants to keep them on board?

MS. PSAKI: I would say there are also many Democrats who feel very, very strongly it should be in there. He certainly understands that there are a range of views about different components of the package. That's legislating. That's how democracy should work. He was simply explaining to them that this has to go through a process, because it's going through reconciliation, and that's all it was a reflection of: an explanation of the process, not a reflection of his commitment to raising the minimum wage.

Q: But Senator Sanders has said that he's assembling a team of aides to make the argument to the parliamentarian though. How aware or involved is the White House in that process of the argument that's -- will go before the parliamentarian?

MS. PSAKI: We're certainly aware that Senator Sanders is doing -- is taking that process and has hired a number of, I think -- or working with, I should say, a number of very qualified and experienced people to work through the parliamentary process. We're kept abreast of it. I wouldn't say we're involved in it directly.

Q: And is he -- as he prepares his arguments, is he keeping the White House abreast of how likely he thinks they are to pass, et cetera?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, we're in regular touch with Senator Sanders and his team, and many other senators and members on the bill, and certainly on this issue as well.

Q: Does the White House have plans to mark 500,000 dead from the coronavirus? Do you know how you guys would mark that occasion?

MS. PSAKI: We are -- we are looking for ways to mark that moment and ensure that, you know, the American people -- that the President uses his own voice and platform to take a moment to remember the people whose lives have been lost, the families who are still suffering, you know, at what is still a very difficult moment in this country. I don't have additional details yet, but we hope to have them in the coming days.

Q: Does the President have any specific policy announcements that he's going to be making at the Pfizer factory? Or is it mostly just a "rally the troops" sort of event to highlight the use of the DPA?

MS. PSAKI: You know, he wanted to visit a factory that is not only an important employer in Michigan, but also one that is producing a large swath of the Pfizer vaccines that are going out to the American public and see it in action. So that's why we're going.

Q: And has the President been involved in any of the discussions with manufacturers or shippers with these winter weather delays of these vaccines, or has he left it all to his COVID team?

MS. PSAKI: It's really been handled primarily by the COVID team. I know there was a COVID briefing update earlier today. Did you all have the opportunity to listen to that?

Q: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: I mean, basically -- excuse me -- what they talked about was our efforts underway to -- of course, we can't control Mother Nature, but to take steps working with USPS, FedEx, and others to get the backlog of vaccined -- vaccines out next week, and that we anticipate you can not only get the backlog out, but we can stay on pace with what we had been planning to distribute to states already for next week.

So we're expecting we're going to be able to catch up next week, and we've been working with, of course, a number of shippers, but also working directly with different jurisdictions on their preference for when they want the deliveries to happen, because as we all know, there are certain temperature requirements with some of the vaccines. So that's -- that's what they gave an update on this morning.

Q: You were saying -- you said you expect the shipments to be back to normal next week?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q: Let me just clarify.

MS. PSAKI: And to catch up.

Q: Okay. And when is the administration releasing the report on the death of Jamal Khashoggi? Is that coming next week?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have an update on that. We are -- we remain committed, of course, to working to release the unclassified report, but I don't have an update on the timeline.

Q: When it's released, will there be a briefing by the DNI on it? Should we expect that?

MS. PSAKI: That's a good question. I'm happy to talk to the intel team and see what they're planning to do at the point when it's released. I don't know.

Q: Have you talked to the President at all about how Senator Cruz has been handling the situation in Texas and, sort of, the backlash around his travel to Mexico and back?

MS. PSAKI: I can assure you that with millions of people in Texas still suffering, we're not spending any time, energy, or breath analyzing Senator Cruz's whereabouts or his -- or his group chat.

Q: On the chip front, I know that there's an executive order coming on supply chain that's going to call for reviews. Is there anything more concrete in the short term? I mean, there was reporting on a letter that was sent out to Taiwan. I know there's been contact with some of the chipmakers. But, you know, would the administration consider invoking the DPA for the chips, or is there something else more concrete?

MS. PSAKI: I expect we will have more on that soon. It will be a big day for you and others who are very excited about this issue, as are we. You know, there was reporting on a letter. I can confirm there was a letter from the NEC Director, Brian Deese. We have been doing a range of outreach to international folks in the international community about this issue as we work to address the shortage. We've also been working directly -- our economic and national security teams have been engaged directly with manufacturers, as you've said.

So that's really the work that's underway, but I can assure you, we'll have more to update you on, on the executive order, soon. Not today, but soon.

Q: The President talked about wanting to engage in the -- in the Afghanistan peace process. Is the President open to meeting or speaking directly with Taliban leaders himself, personally? That was something, obviously, the last administration looked at with that potential Camp David summit, even. Is that something -- would the President keep the door open to that sort of direct engagement with the Taliban?

MS. PSAKI: You know, I have seen those reports. Obviously, as you know, there's an ongoing peace process. I have not spoken with the President directly or with Secretary Blinken or Jake Sullivan about our intentions on direct engagement and what level.

Q: Would he invite them to Camp David?

MS. PSAKI: I think that I have the same answer to that question. I think we're -- right now, there's an ongoing peace process, as you know. You obviously follow it and track it closely. But I don't have anything -- any other updates or previews for you on additional levels of engagement.

Q: But would he be open to it, or is that not something he would consider?

MS. PSAKI: I think that's getting way ahead of where we are in any process.

Q: Going back to Iran for a second: When the President spoke with the Israeli Prime Minister, I think -- I don't remember what day it was, excuse me -- did he make him aware of this change in policy regarding the JCPOA?

MS. PSAKI: I don't -- obviously, this is a topic of interest to Prime Minister Netanyahu and certainly one that, you know, even as there -- if there are discussions moving forward, they'd be a key partner in the region to keep to be kept abreast of. But I don't have anything more to read out from the call.

Q: Any plans to fly somewhere warm in the coming weeks?

MS. PSAKI: I was just saying that this morning in the car. There must be some people in a warm state who want to see the President. (Laughter.) I will raise that.

Q: When it warms up in Texas, any plans there? I know the President addressed this, but any firmer plans now about a visit?

MS. PSAKI: You know, we are certainly, as he said this morning, of course, keeping the option open. As you all know from traveling with presidents in the past, it is a significant footprint for a president to travel to a state, especially a state that is still recovering from a disaster. So we are taking all of that under consideration before we make specific plans.

Q: Is he disappointed that Johnson & Johnson, if they're authorized -- their vaccine -- that they're going to have fewer doses available? Is he disappointed by that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the FDA has not even approved Johnson & Johnson yet. We have ordered enough Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to vaccinate the entire public, so that's where our focus is on. We'll see as it moves through the process.

Q: What was the mood in that G7 meeting this morning? Was he -- I mean, what was his mood? Was he happy to be back in the (inaudible) game, if you will, since it was his major first engagement?

MS. PSAKI: You know, I would say that foreign policy is one of his -- his loves. And working with the global community and engaging on these issues that he's been working on throughout his career is something that he's eager to continue to be very involved in, which naturally he would be as President.

But I think he was -- he is looking forward to retaking America's seat at the global table and rebuilding trust with our partners and allies around the world. And while he's had a number of individual calls with his counterparts around the world, this was an important opportunity to take a step forward in doing exactly that.

Q: Is he planning to go to the G7 in person? What are the discussions about that? Informal?

MS. PSAKI: That's in June. I think it's too far away at this point to make an assessment of whether we'll be traveling internationally yet.

Q: Can I ask -- you know, putting it on the record, because we got it from the last administration that there was an invitation for Russia to join the G7. Does that invitation still stand?

MS. PSAKI: An invitation from the United States to join the --

Q: For Russia to join the G7.

MS. PSAKI: I don't think we're making new invitations to Russia or reiterating new invitations to Russia. Obviously, an invitation would be done in partnership with our G7 partners.

Q: Thanks, Jen.

MS. PSAKI: All right. See you guys on the ground.

1:20 P.M. EST

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

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