Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, February 12, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:31 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Today, we have two very special guests joining us who were just meeting with the President and Vice President, hence we delayed the briefing a few times today — I apologize for that — about the vital need to pass the American Rescue Plan.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan was first elected in 2013 and reelected in 2017. He spent his career solving some of the most complex issues facing Detroiters, including crime, blight, and access to jobs.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez was elected in 2017 after serving as Miami Commissioner for fi- — eight years, sorry; I cut off your amount of time served. He is a former chair of the U.S. Conference — you’re over here — of Mayors’ Environment Committee and vice chair of the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization.
With that, I’m going to turn it over to you. Oh, I think I’m going turn it over to you, Mayor Suarez, sorry. And they are — they’ve been kind enough to take a few questions. And as usual, I will be the bad cop when they need to go.
MAYOR SUAREZ: Don’t worry, every single one of those years were dog years. (Laughter.) It was a wonderfully productive meeting in the Oval Office. First of all, it was an honor to be invited with this select group of mayors and governors. It was an incredibly spirited conversation. I felt that it was a very bipartisan conversation. I think the President is very interested in having a bipartisan solution, obviously understanding the needs of the residents of America and certainly the needs of the residents of the city of Miami.
We are — and we expressed to the President and I expressed to the President our readiness to increase the ability to vaccinate our population. We would love to have those vaccinations given directly to us as a city.
We also talked about funding, of course. The city of Miami, during the first CARES Act, just barely missed the 500,000 population threshold. And so instead of the city getting approximately $80 million, which we would have received and is, sort of, correspondent to our population, we ended up getting $15 million. So we tried to put that money to good use to the most needy in our community — feeding people; helping them with mortgage assistance, with rental assistance, small-business loans and grants. And obviously the people of our city and of America are still hurting. I mean, we need this assistance to get through until the vaccine has gained wide acceptance.
So that’s what the conversation was based on. The President was extremely thoughtful; listened to every single one of the elected officials — both governors and mayors from both parties; listened to our comments and concerns. We had a reflective conversation back and forth, and I think he’s going to use our input to make the bill better and to hopefully get it passed for the benefit of the American people.
MAYOR DUGGAN: Good afternoon. I’m Mike Duggan. I’m the mayor of Detroit. And it was a special experience to sit in the Oval Office with four Republican governors and mayors, four Democratic governors and mayors, talking and sometimes debating with the President and the Vice President. Everybody just focused on how to solve the problem. And I really hope this is the way conversations are going to go.
But the biggest thing that we focused on is the need to pass America’s Rescue Plan. And probably, for a lot of folks in this country, the images of Detroit you remember were the ones that were portrayed nationally during the bankruptcy. But if you haven’t been to Detroit in the last seven years, there has been enormous progress. We had billions of dollars in investment from General Motors, from Ford, from Fiat Chrysler, which is now Stellantis. Huge numbers of jobs in the fintech industry, with Quicken. And the tech companies have finally discovered Detroit. We’ve been pleased to see Amazon and LinkedIn and Google move into the city.
And across the city, entrepreneurs have pulled down the plywood off of shuttered storefronts, and largely black and brown business owners have started to open up our commercial corridors.
And we did all this on a bipartisan basis. In Lansing, we’ve had Republicans and Democrats working together to support Detroit’s comeback because Detroit being an economic engine for the state is good for everybody.
And so, we know that we haven’t gotten to everybody; we’re not kidding ourselves. But here’s what I do know: The unemployment rate in Detroit, at the start of bankruptcy, was 21 percent, and a year ago, it was down to 7 percent. We had moved 80,000 people from poverty to the middle class — the largest reduction in poverty.
It was going the right direction; we certainly had a long way to go to make sure it included everybody. And then when COVID hit, we’re back up to 20 percent unemployment. And the question is: What do we do about it?
And so when we got hit in Michigan — and Michigan came right after New York last year, being hammered with COVID — we went from having no COVID to our hospitals overrun with patients on gurneys and in hallways. We were losing 50 people a day. But we did not, in Detroit, curl up. We fought back.
We quickly set up one of the largest testing centers in the country. We masked up, distanced ourselves. And for the last six months, the city of Detroit has had a lower infection rate than the rest of Michigan and the surrounding suburbs. Detroiters did what we were supposed to do. And if you go to the city now, you will see people masked up, distancing. The folks in Detroit did what we were supposed to do.
And now that the vaccines are out, we have a major center at our convention center where we’re vaccinating 15,000 a week in an indoor parking structure of the convention center. And we’re very anxious, as I told the President today, to get up to 25,000 a week, because that’s going to be the key.
But when we solve the health issues, there will still be other issues facing us. And this is where America’s Rescue Plan makes such a difference. The people who were working in Detroit a year ago — a lot of them, right now, are unemployed because businesses are shut down. They’re sheltering in their houses. And they are worried that, as the landlord-tenant courts open up, they may be facing eviction and have no place else to go. They’re looking for help.
Those businesses that opened up their storefronts with such optimism are now very afraid, if they don’t get help, that plywood is going back up and we’re going to have boarded commercial districts, as we did seven or eight years ago. And in the city of Detroit, we had an immediate $350 million hit to our budget. A thousand Detroit employees are still on partial layoff. And the problem is going to get worse in the summer.
So we have a national problem that needs national response. And the most interesting thing was: If I thought it was unique, what Mayor Suarez and I heard is every governor and every mayor is talking about exactly the same situation; that it took us seven years to get from 20 percent unemployment to 7 percent. Now we’re back at 20. Are we going to get our folks back to work in a matter of months, or is it going to take years?
And I think the one message we all had — and we loved the President’s leadership on this — is: We aren’t — we don’t kid ourselves about the atmosphere in Washington. We know it’s partisan. But we’re really hoping that for the next couple months, on this national issue, that they can set partisanship aside. And the President made it clear he really wants bipartisan support for America’s Rescue Plan. And I can tell you that all of us who were in that room were strongly supportive.
And with that, I guess we’ll turn it over to you for questions.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. Go ahead, Zeke.
- Q Mayor, I was hoping you could answer — the criticism we’ve heard from Republicans of late has been that states and cities have received several rounds of funding so far that they haven’t spent, so why do they need billions more from the taxpayers now. So what would be your response to that?
- MAYOR SUAREZ: Well, my response, as a Republican mayor, is — first of all, for cities like Miami, we actually didn’t get a lot of the money from the first CARES Act. As I said, since we were under 500,000 — by the way, almost all cities were under 500,000. I think there’s only 30-something cities that got direct payments. Many of them had very, very bad experiences in terms of receiving the full allotment that they should have received based on their population. It was a big fight down in Miami. So our residents got a fraction of the help that they needed.
In terms of the budgetary issues going forward, we just don’t know. It’s uncertain as to what our budget is going to look like in this year. A lot of the things that affect local governments are lagging indicators, so we won’t know for sure. But certainly, we’re going to put the money to good use, and I think we’ve demonstrated that with the — with the funding that we did receive under the first CARES Act.
If I can just say a few things in Spanish. Is that okay?
- MS. PSAKI: Of course. Please.
- MAYOR SUAREZ: Yeah. (Speaks in Spanish.) (No translation provided.)
- MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
- Q Could you talk to us about the variants in Florida, and specifically in Miami? Miami has been so open, but we’ve seen more and more cases of the variants. Is there — what’s the plan to prevent a surge with the variants popping up?
- MAYOR SUAREZ: Well, you know, I’ve been a big proponent of masks in public rule in the city, and there is a pretty broad acceptance of that rule, whether it’s been able to be mandated or not. We have seen a decline — a significant decline, both in case — in cases, in percent positivity, and also in hospitalizations. Our hospitalizations during the summer were at a peak high of 2,300; they’re slightly under 1,000 at this particular juncture.
So we’re hopeful that — that those measures that we’ve taken, and sort of how we’ve inculcated the population to — you know, we’ve hammered home, you know, distancing, wearing masks, washing your hands. And those things will continue to drive the numbers down.
- MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
- Q Thank you.
- MS. PSAKI: Oh, go — did you want to say one more? Go ahead.
- MAYOR DUGGAN: So, in — in Detroit, we have seen the first two cases of the B117, the British variant, and we’ve been just very honest with our residents. The evidence is that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine are effective against it, and we’ve used it to encourage folks. We have a very low infection rate in Detroit right now, so we’re taking it seriously. Now, when the other variants get there, it’s going to be a different issue, but I think it has actually encouraged an increase in vaccine rate.
- Q Do you feel like you have enough visibility into exactly how many vaccines you’re getting each week, each month, at this point?
- MAYOR DUGGAN: I have visibility into it. I don’t like the visibility I have. (Laughter.) But, you know, you have — you have a racial equity issue in this country. And if you just look at the way hospital distribution has worked: Even hospitals in urban areas, the folks who have access — the electronic health records — have been predominantly upscale individuals. And so, in Detroit, literally, we took the convention structure, and we are just moving thousands of folks through.
Jeff Zients was good enough to get us from 5,000 a week to 15,000 a week. I had to appeal directly to him to get to that. We really ought to be at 25,000 a week, and I raised that with the President today. And I think they are doing everything they possibly can. I know they shared numbers with us; by April, that will look good. We’re certainly hoping before the end of February it picks up. But I — with what Jeff Zients is doing, I just have complete confidence in this administration.
- Q To follow up on that: You know, one big complaint we heard a lot from states and local jurisdictions under the Trump administration was that there was a lack of coordination, a lack of communication. Can you point us to specific examples of how that has changed?
And also for you, Mayor Suarez, you mentioned that the vaccine needs to be widely accepted, which is different from a supply problem.
- MAYOR SUAREZ: Sure.
- Q Did you talk about hesitancy with President Biden?
- MAYOR SUAREZ: Well, let me answer the first question, which is, I’ve spoken to the President and the Vice President more times in the short time that they have been in office, and previous — prior to them being in office, than I had spoken to the prior administration in the entirety. So that’s — I think that’s — to me, it’s an intentional desire on their part to really plug in with mayors.
And, you know, it’s also symptomatic of the fact that now I’m the vice president of the Conference of Mayors. Next year I’ll be the president of the Conference of Mayors. So certainly that’s — that’s a part of it.
But I do think that there’s an intentionality on the part of this administration to get advice from the mayors and from the governors, because they are the boots on the ground. And, frankly, you know, it’s not just on — on vaccination; we’ve talked about climate and a variety of other issues.
The second part: We’re — you know, for us, it’s not so much acceptance — and maybe if I used the word “acceptance,” maybe — maybe it wasn’t the right word. We certainly have — whatever — whatever vaccine we have, we administer, in other words. We vaccinate about 7,000 people per week at Marlins stadium in Miami, and there’s no one that’s not getting vaccinated.
Sure, there are times when there are subpopulations in particular areas where acceptance of the vaccine is an issue, and we try to message that. I think what’s interesting is as the vaccine has taken hold more and more, and we start to see some of the cases start to drop, I think people are starting to realize that it works and that there’s a correlation between getting — vaccinating and potentially getting back to some sense of normalcy. So that message is certainly resonating.
- Q Thank you.
- Q Can both of you weigh in on whether or not you believe the $15 minimum wage should be included in this relief bill?
- MAYOR DUGGAN: I certainly support it. The question is — I’ve learned more about the rules of reconciliation in the last week than I ever wanted to know. (Laughter.)
- Q Haven’t we all.
- MAYOR DUGGAN: So I — you know, I’m going to defer to the President’s political judgment on that, whether it’s part of the America Rescue Plan that it gets adopted or whether it’s separate legislation. But I certainly support it.
- Q And do you support the $15 minimum wage being included —
- MAYOR SUAREZ: Yeah, I’ll —
- Q — in this bill?
- MAYOR SUAREZ: I’ll echo Mayor Dooggan’s [sic] — Duggan’s — sorry — statements. The President said something interesting. He said, you know, his — he relies on his policy advisors to give him advice on policy, but he handles the politics. And I think he is an expert in managing the politics of Washington, D.C., which is foreign to many of us. So I’ll let him handle that part of it.
- Q Did he bring up the $15 minimum wage during your meeting?
- MAYOR SUAREZ: It did come up very briefly, but it came up more in the discussion that we’re — in the context that we’re discussing now, in terms of understanding how to get, potentially, a bipartisan bill passed and understanding that there are tension points in something like that.
- MS. PSAKI: I’ve been told they have to go, but you’re invited back anytime. So thank you for joining us. And really appreciate it.
- MAYOR SUAREZ: Thank you.
- MAYOR DUGGAN: Thank you very much.
- Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Happy Friday. I just have a couple of things for all of you at the top.
We had announced this maybe two weeks ago, but now it’s almost mid-February. So, on Monday, as a part of the President’s commitment to expanding healthcare to all Americans, the ACA Special Enrollment Period begins and runs through May 15th. In accordance with the President’s executive order on healthcare, the Department of Health and Human Services is opening this Special Enrollment Period so that all Americans can have access to quality, affordable care. During this pandemic and over — and after four years of attacks on the ACA, this enrollment period is more important than ever.
A $50 million education campaign will also launch on Monday, including broadcast, radio, and digital advertising. This campaign — out of HHS, I should say. This campaign will focus most on increasing awareness among the uninsured that there’s a Special Enrollment Period — that’s always been part of the challenge, making sure people understood how they can do it and when they can do it — available now and raise awareness about affordable options for coverage and the availability of assistance to pay for premiums.
On Monday, consumers who want to enroll in coverage can visit Healthcare.gov to view 2021 plans and prices, and enroll in a plan that best meets their needs.
I wanted to also highlight some news coming out of the Department of Homeland Security this morning. That’s another step in the administration’s process to reform our nation’s immigration system. Beginning on February 19th, the Department of Homeland Security will take steps to begin processing individuals who, under the previous administration, had been forced to remain in Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocol. I will note this news should not be interpreted as an opening for people to migrate regularly to the United States; only eligible individuals will be allowed to enter through designated ports of entry at designated times.
Through a whole-of-government approach, DHS, the State Department, and the Justice Department will collaborate with international partners to safely process, under the strictest COVID-19 parameters, eligible individuals to pursue their cases in the United States. And again, this begins on February 19th.
Finally, in our venture to get you all a “week ahead” as detailed as possible, next week, the President will continue his engagement with both parties and with people across the country about the need to pass the American Rescue Plan and get relief to working families and more vaccines into arms faster. He will also continue his outreach to our allies around the world as he restores American leadership and advances our foreign policy for the middle class.
On Tuesday, he will travel to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he will participate in a CNN Town Hall and take questions from Americans about the issues they are facing every day, including the pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis.
Later in the week, the President will convene meetings at the White House about the critical need to pass the American Rescue Plan to support workers and struggling communities. I expect we’ll have some more details on those over the coming days.
And as I announced yesterday, at the end of next week, the President will deliver remarks at a virtual event hosted by the Munich Security Conference. He will speak on the importance of our transatlantic ties and the need for the United States and Europe to take on global challenges together.
With that, Zeke, kick us off.
- Q Thank you, Jen. The governor of Montana announced that he was lifting the state’s mask mandate, saying enough vulnerable individuals have already been vaccinated. Has the President had any direct outreach to governors — Governor Gianforte there — but others about mask wearing and mask mandates? And why not, if he has not?
- MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any calls with the — specifically with the governor of Montana to read out. So I can check and see if he’s engaged with him directly.
The President has been very clear about the impact of wearing masks. He’s obviously put in place a federal mandate, as you’ve referenced, that will ensure that they need to be worn on planes and certain public places as well, because it could save 50,000 lives.
He is open to engaging with Democrats and Republicans — as you all know, governors, mayors — as he did just today about any issues they have. But I don’t have anything to read out on a conversation with the mayor — governor of Montana, I should say.
- Q And so if you’re a citizen of Montana right now and your governor says you don’t need to wear a mask, the President says, “Wear a mask,” what should they do?
- MS. PSAKI: Well, the President’s guidelines are based on — they’re not even the President’s guidelines, I should say; they are guidelines that are driven by health and medical experts — by the CDC, by doctors and medical professionals — who are trying to give clear guidance from the United States federal government on how people can be safe in this difficult time. So we’d certainly encourage people to follow federal guidelines.
But again, the President knows this is no easy time, and he is more than happy to engage with mayors and governors who — even those who disagree with him, as is evidenced by the fact that he had a meeting today in the Oval Office.
- Q And in that meeting, he had Governor Cuomo with him. Governor Cuomo is in hot water at home for withholding information, statistics about nursing home fatalities related to the COVID pandemic.
You know, the President yesterday talked about the importance of having clear, open, transparent communications with the public. Does the President have confidence in Governor Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic? And did they discuss this today?
- MS. PSAKI: Well, the President hosted Governor Cuomo and a bipartisan group of governors and mayors to the White House today to get their perspective from the frontlines, not to give anyone a stamp of approval or to seek their stamp of approval, and to discuss the urgency of passing the American Rescue Plan.
And he’s committed to partnering with governors and mayors. The governor — Governor Cuomo is, of course, the governor of one of the largest states in the country, one of the places where the pandemic hit hardest, the earliest; where there are still many Americans who are continuing to struggle to get vaccinated, to make ends meet. And so it was important to have him as a part of the meeting.
- Q Thanks, and just one last one. NSC has suggested that the administration was starting a review of Guantanamo Bay, the prison there. That was a promise back in 2008, 2009 of the Obama–Biden administration, and it was never fulfilled. Will Guantanamo Bay be closed by the time President Biden leaves office?
- MS. PSAKI: Well, that certainly is our goal and our intention. And we are three weeks in. I realize at a certain point I can’t say that anymore, but we are still just three and a half weeks in. So we are undertaking an NSC process, which is how it should work, through — to work with the interagecy [sic]– interagency, I should say, to assess the current state of play that the Biden administration has — well, we’ve inherited from the previous administration.
I would note that in order to see this process through completely and thoroughly, there are a number of key policy roles that still need to be filled within the interagency, including sub-Cabinet policy roles at Defense, State, and the Justice Department, because there are many players from different agencies who need to be a part of this policy discussion about the steps forward. And there will be a robust interagency process, but certainly having those individuals in place will help move it forward.
Go ahead, Steve.
- Q At the meeting today with airline executives, did they reach any conclusion as to whether all air passengers should be tested for COVID before flying?
- MS. PSAKI: Well, that would be done through an intera- — through a policy process internally. But as I conveyed yesterday, reports that there is an intention to put in place new requirements, such as testing, are not accurate.
- Q Okay. And did they discuss another bailout for the airline industry?
- MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more of a readout of the — of the engagement with the airline CEOs, so I’m not sure we’re going to have one from here. I’d certainly send you to any of them to see what they raised or what they wanted to talk about in the meeting. It was a brief meeting, I should say; it wasn’t that lengthy.
Go ahead. Go ahead, Josh.
- Q Can I ask also about another meeting that happened with Yellen? She spoke with her G7 counterparts. A bit of a thorny issue came up. There was a file in the previous administration over taxation of digital companies; many, of course, are American. France tried to apply a tax. So there’s a big question right now on how and if you tax those.
Does the administration have a position on this? I expect Secretary Yellen will brief the President on the call this afternoon. What is your position on other countries or the globe, sort of, writ large taxing digitals giants?
- MS. PSAKI: Sure. And just to catch some others up: So, Secretary Yellen spoke this morning with G7 finance ministers, so I think that was the conversation you were referring to. And he’ll meet with her — the President will see her later today.
The President believes that the largest corporations should pay their fair share in taxes. That’s something, of course, he talked about on the campaign trail. That’s when — why, when he was running for office, he called for a strong minimum tax. That would mean that companies could no longer get away with shifting profits and jobs overseas in order to pay rock-bottom tax rates.
He also recognizes this is a global problem and requires a global solution, and he wants to work, on a multilateral basis, to achieve reform that will strengthen the U.S. economy and benefit U.S. workers. So it’s something, obviously, he remains committed to, but in terms of the next steps forward, obviously that will include a policy process internally, but also working with counterparts around the world.
- Q What would that mean, though, if other countries seek to impose these levies that would affect American companies? President Trump had threatened retaliatory tariffs, for instance, on France. Does Biden have a view on — would President Biden, excuse me, have a view on that, about whether he would retaliate if other countries went down this road unilaterally?
- MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think what I was — that’s why I was referring to it as a multi- — as a kind of global problem. Right? It’s not just a problem here in the United States of us just adjusting our own policy. Right? It’s something that there needs to be agreement internationally, and obviously a conversation among the G7 finance ministers. I’ll defer to Treasury to read that out, but it’s certainly an appropriate forum to have a range of these discussions.
But I don’t have any new policy proposals to read out for you — only to convey to you the President is committed to this. He wants to work, obviously, through an interagency process here, with key members of his economic team, but also through consultation with global partners around the world.
- Q Just on the mask issue — because we’ve asked, of course, as you know, many times, both this discussion of whether to ship masks —
- MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
- Q — to Americans. Could you pull back on what the downside would be there? Is it just they’re widely available? Could it actually discourage folks wearing a mask if the federal government plunks them in their lap? What’s — why not do that? — I guess is the other way of asking that question.
- MS. PSAKI: Well, you know, I think it is an option under consideration, as we’ve talked about a little bit in here. And I think there are some underlying questions about how you target them — the masks — where they go to first; obviously, it couldn’t happen immediately. There hasn’t been a final policy decision to actually ship the masks, but those are some of the pieces that are being discussed. And obviously there’s a cost to everything, as you all know, and so that certainly is a consideration.
But, you know, you’re right in ensuring that the American people know that wearing masks, even when you’re vaccinated — right? — is going to be an important part of keeping people safe, keeping your neighbors safe, keeping communities and workplaces safe. And so we’re — we’re looking at a range of options for how we can convey that.
- Q I want to ask about schools, but quickly: It’s Friday afternoon. The Senate trial has been, you know, the bulk of all of our coverage this last week. I was struck by one quote from the lead House manager, Jamie Raskin, who said he thought this was a “moment of truth for America.” So, Friday afternoon, what do you think Americans should have learned from this week, with the impeachment trial?
- MS. PSAKI: Well, we talked about this a little bit yesterday, but certainly for any Americans watching, they learned about the power of some individuals in the House they may not have known before. They certainly saw some — some powerful footage. That was a reminder of the shocking events that happened on January 6th. And, you know, I think they saw, as the President has said, that that day was an assault on our democracy, and it was a reminder of why it can never happen again.
But, you know, I think otherwise you’d have to speak to many Americans about what they concluded and what they digested from the events of this week.
- Q Okay. And we’re expecting, right now, we’re getting those CDC guidelines for schools. You know, we’re expecting that it’ll include the recommendation that if a school wants to stay open five days a week, there’s really regular testing. When do we think that that’ll be available for teachers and students? Is that part of the goal for the first 100 days, to have regular testing available to all schools?
- MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I am eager to see them. As a parent, I have not seen them or reviewed the test — the guidelines that will be released. I think there’s a briefing from the CDC a little bit later this afternoon. So that’s an excellent question, and I certainly encourage you to ask it.
- Q What are your — your criteria, the White House’s criteria for what counts as a school being open?
- MS. PSAKI: The President’s goal is to have schools open five days a week, kids in school learning, teachers in school, and to do it safely. And the CDC guidelines that will be released this afternoon — I’m eager to learn more about them as well — those will be an important next step.
And then, his Secretary of Education — future Secretary, I should say — Miguel Cardona — this will be his top priority, as he has said. And the President will, of course, task him with looking for ways to work with our health experts in the CDC to open schools safely, as quickly as possible.
- Q Yeah, I guess I just mean, like, as you’re ramping up now — that’s the ultimate goal, but as you’re ramping up right now, what counts as a school being open as you’re trying to get to 100 percent? Like, you — does it not — it doesn’t count as open unless it’s all kids offered a seat, every day?
- MS. PSAKI: You know, again, I think that what the President is focused on and what he’s very mindful of, having raised many children — “many” — that makes it sound like he has 10 — (laughter) — several children himself, being a very engaged and active grandparent himself, being the husband of a teacher who knows how valuable it is to be in person, is to return how schools were before the pandemic.
But we are also going to be guided by science. We are going to be guided by our medical experts. We are going to be guided by the guidelines of the CDC. You’ll all know more about that, as will we, later this afternoon. That will be an important next step in the process.
- Q Jen —
- MS. PSAKI: We’re not in a rush here, so go ahead. Go ahead.
- Q Thanks, Jen. First, to follow up on schools: The guidance coming out is for K-through-12 schools, but when you talk about the White House’s goal to reopen the majority of schools, it’s K through 8, from what I understand. So what is your goal for high schools to reopen in the next 100 days?
- MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to set a new goal today. What I will convey to you is that, when Secretary Cardona is confirmed, you know, this will be his top priority. And we will leave it to him and his team at the Department of Education, working in close partnership with the CDC and others, to determine how quickly and efficiently it can be done.
- Q Is there a reason that, you know, the White House’s goal for schools doesn’t include high schools?
- MS. PSAKI: I would defer — I would ask — I would suggest you ask the CDC about whether there are differences between the schools. I’m sure that’s a question that might come up, but we’ll see. And hopefully you’ll get a question if that’s the one you want to ask.
- Q Okay, thank you. And then, on impeachment: This morning, President Biden said he was “anxious” to see what his Republican friends would do and if they “stand up.” Was he signaling for them to vote to convict Mr. Trump? And if not, what else did he mean by “stand up”?
- MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, the President was in the Senate for 36 years. And he watched, as many Americans did, as the very institution he defended for decades was under assault on January 6th. And this week, he watched new videos — we all did — that was a reminder of how shocking that assault on our democracy was.
We talked with him about this this morning, and he was just — for everyone’s context, he was out in his — having his morning coffee, just looking at the new hearts on the front lawn when he was asked this question, which of course you all have every right to ask him. But, you know, he means that the Senate should take the responsibility seriously in how they view and pay attention to the trial this week.
And he was watching the trial — bits of it, I should say — like everyone else. Not as — not much, because we keep him busy, but that’s what he was conveying.
- Q But how can they “stand up,” in the President’s eyes?
- MS. PSAKI: They can take the role they have — they can take respons- — their responsibility seriously. They are all jurors there. They’re — he said a number of times that, of course, the Senate will make the decision; the jurors in the Senate will make the decision. There has been several days of compelling testimony.
But he has been very clear — and he would have been this morning too, but that wasn’t a part of the conversation — that his role is to be President. He’s no longer in the Senate. They are the ones who will vote.
He also conveyed during the conversation this morning that he is not making any calls or asking anyone to vote a certain way. But, you know, he was just certainly conveying that, like many Americans, he’s watching.
Go ahead, in the back. Go ahead.
- Q I appreciate that you haven’t seen the guidelines from the CDC, but is the White House working in consultation — or White House officials — with the CDC to, sort of, make sure that these guidelines are done correctly, they’re easy to understand, easy to implement, and consistent with the President’s goals?
- MS. PSAKI: Well, they — as we’ve said, we want to be led by health and medical experts. As of this morning, no one on our senior staff call had seen the CDC guidelines. They are tho- — they are theirs to determine and to release. There are, of course — the President receives regular updates, as does our senior team, as does our COVID coordinator, about the status of work in progress.
But these guidelines are their guidelines. They’re based on the health and medical experts working at the CDC and certainly under the leadership of Dr. Walensky.
- Q So there’s — so there’s been no, sort of, consultation? Because this was a big question in the previous administration, whether or not the CDC was just doing the White House’s bidding.
And I guess what I’m offering you is an opportunity to say there’s been absolutely no discussion, it’s totally independent, and these guidelines were organic within the CDC.
- MS. PSAKI: I can assure you, and you can ask them the same question, that if none of us had seen the CDC guidelines this morning, that would be a strange way of coordinating. But there are updates provided, of course, by members of the health team, including the CDC, on the status of their work and the issues they’re looking into and how they’re planning to address a range of the challenges, as it relates to the pandemic and — and COVID-19.
- Q I guess what I’m getting at is: Is there a firewall?
- MS. PSAKI: As in —
- Q Is there a firewall between the White House and the CDC in terms of direction that the White House may want to give the CDC?
- MS. PSAKI: I can assure you the White House is not directing the CDC on how they’re to determine their guidelines, and we did not give a approval for their guidelines that will be released later today. They’re CDC guidelines.
Go ahead, Kaitlan.
- Q Thanks, Jen. I have a few questions for you.
- MS. PSAKI: Sure.
- Q One
- Yesterday, President Biden was confirming that they have actually signed the contracts for those additional doses of vaccine. He says they’ll have enough for 300 million Americans — all Americans, virtually — by July. But that doesn’t mean every American will actually have gotten it by then.
- MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
- Q So what is that timeline for when all 300 million of those doses will actually have been administered?
- MS. PSAKI: Well, what the President was referring to, and what Dr. Fauci and others have referred to, is our awareness that a vaccine is not the same as a vaccination. As we know and you all have reported on, there are high percentages of vaccine hesitancy in certain communities across the country. We are — have our eyes wide open about the challenge of addressing that and ensuring that as we get to the point of — we’re focused on — we are focused now on reaching these communities, but it doesn’t mean that just because we have the vaccines, everybody will be vaccinated.
So I can’t give you a prediction of when everybody will be vaccinated. It really depends on how effective the effort is — not just from here, but locally and in partnership with local public health officials and through the massive public campaign we’re going to run — is on ensuring we’re making — making sure the American people know it’s safe, it’s effective, and where they can get their vaccine.
- Q And to follow up on the CDC guidance, it says the vaccines are not a prerequisite for teachers — the guidance that just came out. So does the White House agree teachers do not have to be vaccinated for schools to reopen and to go back to schools?
- MS. PSAKI: I have not reviewed any of it. As I noted, this is — I’m learning it as we as we talk here. But again, the CDC guidelines are going to be the guide through which we work with our policy teams, led by the Department of Education and our health experts, to reopen schools. That’s what we’ve long said, and so we trust the scientists and certainly trust the guidelines.
- Q So you do concur with the CDC guidance?
- MS. PSAKI: I have not reviewed them yet, nor has our team, so let — give us a moment to do that. But again, we trust the science. We trust the scientists. We trust Dr. Walensky and the team leading the CDC. We’ve long said that. We haven’t reviewed them yet, so it’s hard for me to do this in a piecemeal way. But we certainly believe they will be an important step to moving the process forward.
- Q Okay. And one more question. A deputy of yours has been suspended for a week without pay for comments he made to a female reporter, bullying her after she reached out for requests for comment on a story. Whose idea was the one-week suspension, instead of a potential resignation or firing? And how can you keep this person in a public-facing press relations role, dealing with female reporters, when he made such sexist comments to this female reporter reaching out for a request for comment?
- MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say, obviously, Kaitlan, that I take this very seriously. I’m a woman, obviously, but I’ve been in this town, working in press and communications for nearly 20 years — almost 20 years. And I think many of you know me and have worked with me closely, and many of you know many people in this building, including the President, who take these allegations quite seriously.
TJ Ducklo, who is the deputy who you’re asking about, has apologized to the reporter — apologized to the reporter quite shortly after the comments were made. He had a heated conversation about a story related to his personal life. I’m not saying that’s acceptable, but I just want to be clear that it was not about an issue related to the White House or a White House policy or anything along those lines.
He’s the first to acknowledge this is not the standard of behavior set out by the President, nor is it the standard of behavior set by me, and I’m his direct supervisor.
In addition to his initial apology, he sent the reporter a personal note, expressing his profound regret. The ask — he has been placed, as you noted, on a one-week suspension without pay. That is a significant step. I’m not aware of a history of that step being taken; you all can check me on that.
And in addition, when he returns, he will no longer be assigned to work with any reporters at Politico. I don’t — we don’t want — no one wants anyone to feel uncomfortable, to be put in an uncomfortable position, and that’s not behavior that we will tolerate.
So those were the steps that were taken, and we felt it was a serious punishment.
- Q But he’ll still be working with female reporters. And it wasn’t just a hostile conversation. I think we’ve all probably had plenty of those and vice versa. Those happen. But, you know, the language that he is alleged to have used, according to this report, is arguably — or even not arguably — sexist. So what are you doing to deal with that part of it?
- MS. PSAKI: It’s completely unacceptable. He knows that. We’ve had conversations with him about that. That is why we have also contacted — not long before today, but immediately following their conversation, my colleague Kate Bedingfield reached out to an editor at Playbook to convey our apology. We’ve reached out at every level there to convey our apology and been clear this will never happen again. And it is not going to be tolerated here at the White House.
- Q Sorry, can I just follow up on this. This is not —
- MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Go ahead, Josh.
- Q This is not to belabor the point, but —
- MS. PSAKI: It’s okay.
- Q — the President, on Inauguration Day, spoke to people that he was, I guess, swearing in new staff. And he said, “I promise I will fire you on the spot — no ifs, ands, or buts — if they speak down to or disrespect their colleagues.”
Now, it’s not a colleague being questioned here, but isn’t this, sort of, well short of what he pledged on Inauguration Day?
- MS. PSAKI: As I’ve said, Josh, it doesn’t meet our standard. It doesn’t meet the President’s standard. And it — and it was important that we took a step to make that clear. And that included not just an apology directly from him and apologies directly from us at the highest levels there, but also a step to suspend him for one week without pay. And that, in our view, was a — was an important step to send the message that we don’t find it acceptable.
- Q Jen, a follow-up. Jen, was the President involved in this discussion at all? Was this —
- MS. PSAKI: No, I have not discussed it with the President. It was a decision I made, and with the approval of the Chief of Staff.
- Q Jen, if you knew about this conversation for weeks, why wasn’t TJ suspended until after the article dropped? He was here up until last night.
- MS. PSAKI: You’re right. He — there were conversations that occurred with the reporter, as well as editors at Politico, immediately after the conversation occurred. That was how we engaged in a private manner. And, you know, that was — that was what we felt was appropriate at the time.
Go ahead, Anne.
- Q Couple questions on ambassadorships. Can you say when you expect the President to begin naming ambassadors — political ambassadors? And I don’t think as a candidate he said the same thing that Elizabeth Warren said about barring big donors from those plum ambassadorships. Do you expect him to name donors, friends — you know, basically people who — with whom he has a personal or donor relationship to any of those jobs?
- MS. PSAKI: Well, I will say that there has not been a conversation with the President at this point about who he would like to name for any ambassadorship roles. That may be tough news to hear for people who are interested in ambassadorship roles, but he has not had a conversation about that, nor has there been a memo presented to him to make decisions.
So, you know, he, of course, is somebody who has worked for some time and values experience, and values, you know, as you know, foreign policy experience. And I’m sure that will be reflected in some roles. But I don’t have any, kind of, qualifications to outline for you from here.
- Q How about — how about a timeline when we might begin to see some of those names come forward?
- MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a predicted timeline. I will note that under the Obama administration, it was around March. I’m not sure we will or won’t meet that timeline. But we’re not behind it, is kind of my point.
- Q Okay, separate issue: Is any update on whether the President has called or plans to call Prime Minister Netanyahu?
- MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an update. He is looking forward to speaking with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I can assure you that will be soon, but I don’t have a specific time or deadline — or time or date for when that will occur.
- Q As I’m sure you know, there’s a narrative in Israel that this is an intentional diss. Is it?
- MS. PSAKI: It is not an intentional diss. Prime Minister Netanyahu is someone the President has known for some time. Obviously, we have a long and important relationship with Israel, and the President has known him and has been working on a range of issues that there’s a mutual commitment to for some time. It is just a reflection of the fact that we have been here for three and a half weeks, he’s not called every single global leader yet, and he is eager to do that in the weeks ahead.
- Q But he has called every other major ally in Europe and in Asia.
- MS. PSAKI: He’s called many of them. That is true. Some would argue they haven’t received calls yet, and they are still eager to receive them. But I can assure you he will be speaking with the Prime Minister soon, and he’s looking forward to doing that.
- Q Just to follow up on Anne: Are you talking about days or weeks as the timeframe of the President speaking with Netanyahu?
- MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an exact timeline to give you, other than he’s looking forward to having the conversation. They’ve known each other for some time. There are certainly areas of mutual interest. And as soon as he makes that call, we will let you all know.
- Q Can you give us further details about the conversation that National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had with his Israeli counterpart, I believe to discuss Iran, yesterday?
- MS. PSAKI: I don’t have additional details on that. I’m happy to talk to Jake and see if there’s more we can read out for all of you.
- Q Yeah, that would be really great. And still on the issue of the Middle East, I mean, I know that you’re saying that, you know, things are still under review, including policies like the Abraham Accords, but can you please just give us a broad sense of what the administration is trying to achieve in the Middle East? For example, does the administration still consider the Saudis and the Israelis important allies?
- MS. PSAKI: Well, you know, again, I think we — there are ongoing processes and internal interagency processes — one that we, I think, confirmed an interagency meeting just last week — to discuss a range of issues in the Middle East. We’re — we’ve only been here three and a half weeks, and I think I’m going to let those policy processes see themselves through before we give, kind of, a complete laydown of what our national security approaches will be to a range of issues.
- Q Just to follow up on another issue — I have two more questions actually, if that’s okay.
- MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. It’s okay. Go ahead.
- Q So the sister of the Saudi activist, Loujain al-Hathloul, said that President Biden’s victory helped secure her sister’s release.
- MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
- Q Did the administration have any role in securing her release?
- MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly thought it was a very positive step and one that National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke to on Twitter. I hate for that to be the reference, but that is where he put out a comment on it. I don’t have any more specific details to read out for you, but when I follow up with him on your other question, I’m happy to ask him about that.
- Q Just one more. Can you make a comment or give a response on China’s banning of the BBC World?
- MS. PSAKI: Certainly, our view is that the freedom of speech, the freedom of media is something that should be prevalent around the world, and it’s something that we aim to project from here and we raise at every opportunity with our counterparts around the world as well.
Go ahead, in the back.
- Q Jen, a report has emerged: Russia has, this week, arrested and detained two gay men and forcibly returned them to Chechnya, where they were escaping persecution. Will the President — consistent with his bringing up the SolarWinds hacks, the election interference, bounties on U.S. troops — confront Vladimir Putin on anti-LGBTQ human rights abuses?
- MS. PSAKI: Well, the President is not afraid to make clear to President Putin areas where he has disagreement, areas where he has concern. I would suspect that because he spoke with President Putin a week or two ago, that the next contacts with the Russians would be at a lower level, either at the State Department or other officials. So I’d point you to them for a more up-to-date response or on our engagement there on that particular issue.
- Q What about sanctions? Would that be on the table for anti-LGBTQ abuses in Russia or elsewhere?
- MS. PSAKI: There’s a review that’s ongoing about a range of problematic actions that have been taken by the Russians, and I’m not going to get ahead of that process.
- Q Thank you, Jen.
- MS. PSAKI: Oh, sorry. I will get to everybody, but why don’t you go here in the front so I just don’t lose track?
- Q Sure.
- MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
- Q The President has been especially quiet on Iran since taking office. Time is running out for —
- MS. PSAKI: He answered a question last Sunday about it.
- Q Well, yeah —
- MS. PSAKI: It’s been a long week.
- Q Well, that was one question, one short answer. But he didn’t talk much about his strategy, and time is running out for nuclear diplomacy. The European allies are voicing their concern. When can we expect to hear from the President about his strategy towards Iran, beyond just asking for compliance?
- MS. PSAKI: Well, I think a primary step here, as the President noted, is if Iran comes back into full compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA, the United States would do the same and then use that as a platform to build a longer and stronger agreement and also address areas of concern.
This is also a topic that is discussed in his conversations with key European partners and allies as well, given their important role in the P5+1. That would be the negotiating body, of course, if we were to move to this step again. But the ball is in their court, and he has spoken to that. I’m not sure there’s a lot to add at this moment in time.
Okay, go ahead, in the back.
- Q Thank you, Jen. I just want to bring you back to the President’s speech at the State Department last week.
- MS. PSAKI: Sure.
- Q He talked about a “Summit of Democracy” early in his administration to “defend democracy globally.” When would — will this happen? Early — what does “early” mean? And what form would it take? How do you defend democracy?
- MS. PSAKI: How do — what will the — what form will the summit take?
- Q Yes, what form the summit would take, but how would you do this? Yes, first, what form the summit will take, and how do you defend democracy, otherwise than sending a message that you want to defend democracy?
- MS. PSAKI: Well if it’s anytime soon, I suspect it will be a remote summit, but I don’t have a date for you or a format of what that summit will look like. I certainly understand your interest, but we don’t have any more specifics at this point in time.
- Q And when you talk — other topic — when you talk — and it’s a bit of follow-up about global posture review led by Secretary Austin so that the military footprint will be aligned with the foreign policy. Does the President want to bring back troops — the troops? Simple. As simple as that. Does he want to —
- MS. PSAKI: Are you —
- Q — bring back the troops?
- MS. PSAKI: Are you referring to in Afghanistan, or where?
- Q Everywhere.
- MS. PSAKI: In the world?
- Q Yes, in the world. Does he want to bring back the troops? Like, the previous administration kept insisting — President Trump kept insisting on, “I want to bring back the troops.” Does President Biden want to do the same?
- MS. PSAKI: Look, I think the President looks at our engagement in the world through each circumstance, and certainly there are troops serving around the world in different capacities. He spoke about his commitment, as it relates to Afghanistan, on the campaign trail. But I don’t think I can give you a — or I don’t think it would be responsible to give you a sweeping point on that particular question.
- Q Yeah, so Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema came out and said she opposes passing a $15 minimum wage through reconciliation. So that about shuts the door on that route. And there doesn’t seem to anywhere near enough Republican support to pass it through the normal legislative route. So is there any path forward on raising the minimum wage? What is it? Or is it something the White House has to abandon as an idea?
- MS. PSAKI: Well, it was, of course, in the President’s original proposed package because he is committed to and believes it’s important to raise the minimum wage. This is the messy legislative ongoing process working its way through.
As you know, Speaker Pelosi has been clear it will be in the House bill. The next stage, after it works its way through the House, is that it goes through a Senate process where the views of senators, like Kyrsten Sinema, will certainly be prominent and considered. There’s also a parliamentary process that has to consider whether the minimum wage can be a part of the bill.
So I would say we’re, kind of, smack in the middle of the sausage-making of legislating, and we will see where it ends up on the other side. But the President remains committed to raising the minimum wage and, you know, he will continue to advocate that at every opportunity.
- Q And right now, in the Senate, of course, there is the impeachment trial of President Trump — former President Trump that will be wrapping up. It looks overwhelmingly likely that he will be acquitted. And Speaker Pelosi has thrown out the idea of a 9/11 Commission-type inquiry into what happened on the 6th, how these people were able to breach the Capitol. Is that something that President Biden would support or enact himself? Or is this, after the impeachment trial, a time to move on and heal a divided nation, et cetera, et cetera?
- MS. PSAKI: Well — (laughs) — “heal a divided nation, et cetera, et cetera.” The — I’m not making fun of you. I think we’re all — it’s a Friday afternoon.
You know, the President — that is up to Congress to determine if they want to put together a commission to look at the events of January 6th. Obviously, there are ongoing investigations out of the federal government and the Department of Justice and the FBI, which we certainly support, but we will leave it to Congress to determine if that’s a step forward — if that’s a next step, I should say.
- Q And I have a border wall question that a colleague sent in.
- MS. PSAKI: Okay.
- Q You know, President Trump somewhat famously invoked his emergency powers to repurpose billions of dollars towards border construction. There’s about, I believe, $500 million outstanding now that have been committed to construction companies and the like but has not actually been spent. And I’m wondering if this is something that the administration is attempting to claw back — something that is possible to claw back without spending on further border construction.
- MS. PSAKI: It’s a very good and specific question. I’m going to try to answer it, but if — I will follow up with you if this doesn’t answer it.
There was a formal follow-up issued in the form of a letter from the President’s executive order that he issued on day one on the administration, when he announced he would halt the emergency declaration.
So as he said all along, “The declaration of a national emergency [on] our southern border was unwarranted.” He took formal steps to follow up on his executive order to end the declaration so that no more American tax dollars could be wasted on a border wall that does nothing to address or reform issues in our immigration system.
So it’s halted now. I think you’re asking though about if there’s money in a — or tell me more about your question.
- Q Money that’s been committed but not yet actually spent, and whether those, I guess, contracts could be canceled or (inaudible).
- MS. PSAKI: I suspect that’s going to be a specific question for the Department of Homeland Security to answer, but let us see if there’s a specific answer we can get for you on that pot of money.
- Q Okay, if I can — this will be my last one.
- MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
- Q I just want to throw one out for the Canadians.
- MS. PSAKI: Okay.
- Q The purchase of more vaccines from European suppliers. We’re in this global race for supply. And this was from a Canadian reporter who asked this. And Canada is struggling to procure a vaccine because they have no domestic capacity; the U.S. does. And I’m wondering whether President Biden has faced any pushback from world leaders about essentially hogging the global supply.
- MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the President has been clear publicly and certainly privately when — if the conversation comes up, that his focus now is on ensuring that the American people are vaccinated.
We’ve obviously rejoined the World Health Organization. We recognize, and the President feels, that it is vital and essential to ensure that as many people around the world are vaccinated. That will keep everybody safer. But his first priority is ensuring vaccines are in the arms of Americans, including 100 million shots in the first 100 days.
Go ahead, in the back.
- Q Thank you, Jen. Sticking with vaccines, some states have been reporting that COVID doses are going to waste. Is the White House discussing a plan or even a proposal to mitigate this and to reduce the amount of discarded doses?
- MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly those reports are concerning to us. There was a report, I think it was overnight or this morning, about — I think — I don’t know if it was wasted masks. Now I’m, kind of, speaking out of turn here.
I’ll — what I’m trying to say is, when we get reports like these from states or localities, we work to address them as quickly as possible — right? — to ensure that whatever prompted that — you know, whether it’s a delivery issue, a supply issue; is it an issue of not having enough vaccinators — it can differ from state to state. So we work to address those issues as quickly as possible, and certainly it’s concerning when we hear about doses that are wasted.
- Q Thanks, Jen. Just two quick ones, sorry.
- MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.
- Q I’ll pick up on that question about Canadian vaccine distribution. Russia and China have developed homegrown vaccines that they have distributed globally. What steps is the President taking to ensure that the U.S. position on the geopolitical stage is not diminished by its refusal to share some of these vaccines abroad right now?
- MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we’ve seen attempts by other countries — China and Russia — to use vaccines as a means of making progress diplomatically.
You know, the President is engaged with a range of leaders around the world, conveying how he wants to return the United States to have a central seat on the world stage, and we’re working to do that through a range of actions. But we are — we watch those actions with concern. I can see if there’s more to report from our national security team.
- Q Okay, (inaudible) separately — one, a discussion about phone calls with — potentially with Bibi Netanyahu. But is the President willing to even pick up a phone and talk with MBS of Saudi Arabia? Is that even on the table, in the cards, given his involvement in the Khashoggi murder?
- MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, there’s a review of our policy as it relates to Saudi Arabia. There’s not a call planned that I’m aware of, but I can speak with our team if there’s something more significant than that to report.
- Q Jen, just to follow up —
- MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
- Q Does he also plan to talk to the Palestinian leadership, to more rebalance that relationship?
- MS. PSAKI: To get involved in a Middle East peace process, perhaps?
- Q Yes.
- MS. PSAKI: You know, I don’t have any calls to predict for you or read out. These are all excellent questions. I’ll see if there’s more we can get from our national security team on planned future calls, which I know there’s a great deal of interest in.
- Q Just to bounce around a little bit — on the global response to the pandemic.
- MS. PSAKI: Sure.
- Q The IMF is urging the Biden administration to reverse a previous decision to not boost resources to help developing nations who have been, of course, battered economically, as well as health wise, by the pandemic. Do you have any view on that? Should the IMF be doing more to help, you know, nations worldwide who are feeling the financial brunt of this and don’t have the resources of their own the way the U.S. does?
- MS. PSAKI: It’s a great question. I just want to talk directly to our international economic team about it to make sure we get you a very comp- — specific answer, I should say.
- Q Thank you.
- MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
- Q One is on vaccines.
- MS. PSAKI: Sure.
- Q Following the announcement yesterday, when will we have an update on how much of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will get out the gate? Because I know an EUA is, you know, likely to come at any moment.
- MS. PSAKI: You mean what a federal order would be of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine? Or —
- Q Yeah, because we’re in that window —
- MS. PSAKI: — if it’s — if it goes through the full approval?
- Q Correct. Because, you know, we’re in that window of three weeks. So I know, previously, the administration wanted to give those figures out to states so they could plan ahead.
- MS. PSAKI: That is certainly our objective. Remember that we have, though, enough of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine to vaccinate every American by the summer. So we will continue to be in a position where we’re giving states a heads up of a couple of weeks on our — to — or in order for them to better plan. We’ll wait for the approval process to see itself through before additional announcements are made.
- Q If I can — a quick one on —
Jen, I wanted to follow on your statement about what Zeke — sorry.
My second quick one on — my second quick one — sorry — on vaccines and herd immunity is: The President and you keep saying the hope is to get shots in arms by the end of the summer —
- MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
- Q — which would put us at normalcy, or the hope of herd immunity, around seven to eight weeks after that. Is that a realistic timeline that you’re talking about internally?
- MS. PSAKI: I’m going to let Dr. Fauci and others speak to a timeline for herd immunity. I think we will have enough vaccines to provide — to vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of the summer. We obviously announced yesterday that we moved that capacity up a month earlier, which is certainly a positive development.
But again, part of this goes to Kaitlan’s question earlier about vaccine hesitancy and our effectiveness and our ability to convey to many communities that this is safe, this is effective, this is how they can get their vaccine. And we don’t have an assessment of that yet.
- Q Can I ask about COVID-19 and the border?
- MS. PSAKI: Yeah, go ahead.
- Q You said that — in the change of policy announced yesterday — that asylum seekers coming in will be tested.
- MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
- Q Is widespread testing available for Customs and Border Patrol agents? And do you know what percentage of frontline DHS border agents have been vaccinated?
- MS. PSAKI: You’d have to — I’d send you to the Department of Homeland Security for that specific question, who oversees those Border Patrol agents.
- Q Just to follow up on your statement to Zeke, I just want to make sure I understand. You said that the administration is looking with concern at vaccine policy being done by China and Russia.
- MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
- Q But do you find the idea that there are countries who are able to help developing nations access vaccines — do you look at that with concern as well, or are you separating the actual (inaudible)?
- MS. PSAKI: I’m separating them.
- Q But, I mean, how can you separate it? I mean, this is —
- MS. PSAKI: Well, you’re familiar with global — with issues around the global stage. I think what Zeke, or whomever asked the question, was asking about was countries like China or Russia who have at times used aid to bring other countries their way in a way that controls them, a way that okays unacceptable behavior — whether it’s violations of human rights or media freedoms. We wouldn’t find that to be acceptable.
At the same time, we’ve obviously joined the — rejoined the World Health Organization. We believe, as I said earlier, that it’s important and makes the country safer, the world safer to — for more people across the world to be vaccinated.
So we certainly separate them, and that is hence, as you all know, you know, how you have to view global diplomacy. But I think the question was specifically about those countries for a reason.
- Q Thank you, Jen.
- MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone. Thanks so much. Have a —
- Q Jen, I have a question from a Japanese colleague, quickly.
- MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.
- Q He’s asking if the White House has a reaction to the resignation of Yoshiro Mori, the head of the Tokyo organizing committee, who had sexist comments on the fact that women talk too much in meetings.
- MS. PSAKI: Let me — well, we certainly didn’t approve of those comments. Let me work to get you a more specific reaction from our team.
Thanks so much, everyone.
2:34 P.M. EST
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).