MS. PSAKI: Good afternoon. Happy Monday to everyone. A couple of announcements at the top: First, as a part of this administration’s accessibility and inclusion efforts, starting today, we will have an ASL — an American Sign Language — interpreter for our daily press briefings. Today’s interpreter, Heather, is joining us virtually. The President is committed to building an America that is more inclusive, more just, and more accessible for every American, including Americans with disabilities and their families.
Next, I wanted to share a few updates from the COVID response team. First, today, the President will sign a presidential proclamation to reduce the spread of COVID-19 through travel, especially as we see faster-spreading variants emerging across the world. This proclamation is part of the Biden administration’s whole-of-government, decisive, and science-driven response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of particular note, on advice of our administration’s medical and COVID team, President Biden has decided to maintain the restrictions previously in place for the European Schengen area, the United Kingdom, Republican — Republic of Ireland, and Brazil. With the pandemic worsening and more contagiant [sic] variant — contagious variants spreading, this isn’t the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel. And in light of the contagious variant B1351, South Africa has been added to the restricted list.
Additionally, beginning tomorrow, international travelers to the United States must provide proof of a negative test within three days of travel to airlines prior to departure. The President is taking these steps on the advice of his COVID-19 and medical team.
And we’re already working as a real partner to the states to address their needs to vaccinate the public. This weekend, West Virginia asked the Biden administration for assistance at an understaffed vaccine distribution center. At the President’s direction, FEMA was deployed to help support the vaccination site. This comes as part of the President’s order last week that directs FEMA to stand up vaccination centers and support states’ vaccination efforts. We look forward to continuing to be the partner of the states moving forward.
Last, on the COVID — last update on COVID, I wanted to briefly preview the first of our public health briefings, which will begin this Wednesday and will be done regularly for the foreseeable future. These will be science-led briefings, featuring our public health officials and members of our COVID-19 response team. These briefings will typically happen three times a week to provide the American people with key updates on the virus and our government’s response. They’re a reflection of our commitment to being transparent and honest with the public about the pandemic and the work our whole-of-government team is doing every day, and you will all be able to participate within those, of course, as well.
Finally — I think — finally, this morning, President Biden issued an executive order setting the policy that all Americans who are qualified to serve in the armed forces of the United States should be able to serve. Today’s action revokes the Presidential Memorandum of March 2013 , 2018, and also confirms the revocation of the Presidential Memorandum of August 25th of 2017.
Today’s action fulfills another campaign promise. With this EO, no one will be separated or discharged from the military or denied reenlistment on the basis of gender identity. And for those transgender service members who were discharged or separated because of their gender identity, their cases will be reexamined.
President Biden believes that gender identity should not be a bar to military service and that America’s strength is found in its diversity. America is stronger at home and around the world when it is inclusive.
Last thing — sorry, I said it was the last, but a lot — a lot going on here. This afternoon, the President will sign an executive order that takes an important step to support American manufacturing. With this “Buy American” executive order, the President is already making good on his commitment to building a future that is made in America by all of America’s workers.
Through the Buy American executive order, the President will put to work the early $600 billion in taxpayer dollars that goes toward federal contracting in support of American manufacturing and good-paying jobs for America’s workers. The EO directs agencies to close loopholes in how “Made in America” products are measured so that we can close loopholes and ensure — increase the amount of a product that must be made in the U.S. for it to qualify under Buy American law.
He will also appoint a senior White House official to oversee this policy to ensure it’s actually enforced and that all agencies are seeking small- and medium-sized American businesses to make the products they need.
The EO will also tighten and make public the waiver process so that American workers and manufacturers can see how federal dollars are spent and where they’re going.
So I will stop there. And, Jonathan, why don’t you kick us off?
Q Thank you, Jen. We know you have to leave at two o’clock, so we’ll just get started right now. Two topics for you, please: one foreign and one domestic.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Overseas first: Over the weekend, there were dozens of significant protests in Russian cities over the arrest of Alexei Navalny, which were put down harshly by police there. What sort of U.S. response is being considered? What sort of actions or sanctions could occur? And when does the President plan to speak to President Putin?
MS. PSAKI: First, I’d like to point all of you to a statement that was released this weekend by the State Department, strongly condemning the use of harsh tactics against protesters and journalists in cities throughout Russia. These continued efforts to suppress Russians’ rights to peacefully protest and assemble and ex- — and their freedom of expression and the arrest of opposition figure Alexei Navalny and the crackdown on protests that followed are troubling indications of further restrictions on Russian civil society.
So I’ll just reiterate our call from here on Russian authorities to release all those detained for exercising their universal rights and for the immediate and unconditional release of Alexei Navalny. We also urge Russia to fully cooperate with the international community’s investigation into the poisoning of Alexei Navalny and credibly explain the use of a chemical weapon on its soil.
And last week, we announced that the President issued a tasking to the intelligence community for its full assessment of a range of activities, including of course the SolarWinds cyber breach, Russian interference in the 2020 election, its use of chemical weapons against Alexei Navalny, and the alleged bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. That is ongoing. That review is a 100-day review, so we’ll have an update on that when it concludes.
Actually, let me — I apologize, I may have misstated that. It’s not — I don’t have a timeline for the timeline of the review; it’s something that’s ongoing. There’s — it’s a priority, of course.
Q And has a call been scheduled with President Putin?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any calls to predict for you at this point. But obviously, the President is picking up the phone, engaging with a range of foreign leaders — Europeans and others. There’s more planned in the next couple of days, and we’ll have readouts as those occur.
Q Okay. And one on here at home: The President has repeatedly stressed the urgency of the COVID relief package, the need to get something done now. With that in mind, you know, considering the reaction of Republican lawmakers to outreach that was done over the weekend, should there be a more narrow focused on the virus and vaccine that could be done sooner?
And while we know that these White House officials have talked to the Hill, can you please speak to the President’s personal involvement? Who has he spoken to?
MS. PSAKI: The President has been personally engaging and engaging with Democrats and Republicans. We’re not going to read out all those calls for you because those are private conversations, and we feel that’s the most effective way to get this package moving forward. As you know, there was a call that occurred yesterday that we did a brief readout on from that call — part of our ongoing engagement to talk with Democrats and Republicans.
And I’ll convey this is how, in the President’s view — and we talked about this, this morning — this process should work. He puts his policy forward, his vision forward, and then Democrats and Republicans can engage and give their input and feedback on what they think is going to work and how to move this package forward. So, in our view, this is working exactly as it should work.
And — but, in terms of the — is there concern — Democrats themselves — Senator Sanders has — an independent, of course — and Speaker Pelosi have suggested that reconciliation should be considered now, that time is wasting; there isn’t time for this sort of back — legislative back-and-forth.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President himself has conveyed the urgency of moving this package forward, and that’s certainly something he has also conveyed privately to Democrats and Republicans.
And it’s not just him; there’s urgency to the American people for this package to move forward because we are going to hit a cliff — an unemployment cliff — unemployment insurance cliff, I should say — in March, where millions of people won’t be able to have access to unemployment insurance. We’re going to hit a point where we won’t have enough funding for vaccine distribution. Nobody wants to have the conversation — no member of Congress — in May or June when there — we don’t have the funding to put back — to reopen schools, I should say.
So, there’s an urgency he has conveyed. I will say, as it relates to reconciliation, just to take a step back. Everybody watching is not as in the weeds on the Senate process as all of you. So let me just take a moment to explain.
Reconciliation is a mean — a means of getting a bill passed. There are a number of means of getting bills passed. That does not mean, regardless of how the bill is passed, that Democrats and Republicans cannot both vote for it.
So, the President obviously wants to make this bipartisan. Hence, he’s engaging with members of both parties, and he remains committed to that moving forward.
Go ahead, Kaitlan.
Q Just real quick. You were talking about the cliff in March. Does he think it will get passed by March?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s an urgency to moving it forward, and he certainly believes it needs to be — there needs to be progress in the next couple of weeks.
Q So he thinks by March it could get passed?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t want to give a deadline on it, Kaitlan, but I think we are all mindful and looking at that timeline in March as to when we will hit the unemployment cliff. And it’s — it’s vital to get things done quickly and rapidly, as quickly as possible.
Q So you said, last week, he wants it to be bipartisan. Of course, we’ve already seen the Republicans pushing back on the price tag, the $15 minimum wage, and who is qualifying for these stimulus checks. So is he willing to come down on any of that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to negotiate from here, not that you’re expecting me necessarily to do that. But again, the President feels this is working as it should. He proposed his package. He’s getting feedback. We’re having conversations. We don’t expect the final bill to look exactly the same as the first bill he proposed.
I will remind you, though, that the — the bipartisan package that passed in December had the same thresholds for the checks — $150,000, about approximately that amount for families; about $75,000 for individuals — in terms of who would have access to that — those checks.
And each component of this package is vital to get us through this period of time. So that’s how the President looks at the package: that each of them are essential — not just vaccine distribution money, but funding to ensure that people can make sure they are putting food on the table, that their kids are eating, that they can get — that they have the bridge needed to get to the other side of the pandemic.
Q Okay. And then just quickly: Yesterday, the CDC Director said she could not say how much vaccine there was left to go out. I know it’s complicated what’s being shipped and distributed and actually injected, but is there at least a ballpark amount that officials are aware of, of how much vaccine there is?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our team is working right now. We’ve been here for five days to evaluate the supply so that we can release the maximum amount while also ensuring that everyone can get the second dose on the FDA-recommended schedule.
So the confusion around this issue — which we acknowledge there is some confusion — is — speaks to a larger problem, which is what we’re inheriting from the prior administration, which is much worse than we could have imagined.
So we are assessing now what we have access to and ensuring that we have more of a rapid engagement with states so that they have more of a heads-up on what to expect in the weeks ahead.
Q But just to button this up: Gus Perna still works here, right? And he’s in charge of the logistics. So could he say how much vaccine there is, since they’re in charge of where it’s going?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, there is a new CDC Director in charge (inaudible) spoke to this. And I think what we’re trying to do now is fully assess what we have access to, what the status of the vaccine supply looks like, and ensure that we’re communicating that accurately and effectively with the public.
Q Thanks, Jen. Acknowledging the confusion around the lack of clarity about the vaccine availability, give us a sense of just how stunning that revelation is. I mean, what was President Biden’s reaction to learning that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I will say, having sat in a lot of meetings with President Biden about COVID and his efforts to get the pandemic under control, he asked a lot of detailed questions about the status of supply, the status of distribution, the status of states when there’s reporting from all of you on states not having the information they need. Those are specific issues he raises.
We’re eyes wide open, all of us, including the President, with the knowledge that we were not walking into a circumstance where there was going to be a concrete assessment or plan presented to us when we walked in, and there wasn’t. That’s why he put forward his 200-page vaccine distribution plan last week, and that’s why he hired an experienced and talented team to get to the bottom of exactly what we’re looking at so that we can have that assessment moving forward.
Q When does the administration expect to have a better sense of the available inventory?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I noted at the top, we’re going to be doing regular briefings — three times a week. We’ll start those on Wednesday. I don’t know what assessment they’ll have by Wednesday, but what our objective is is to be providing clear and accurate information to the public.
Q And what’s the White House’s message to Democrats, to President Biden’s supporters who take him at his word and say, as it relates to COVID relief, “We are in a national emergency and we should act like it,” and they want action now. They don’t want any sort of delay, and they don’t want to experience the opportunity costs that might come from a delay in waiting for Republicans to get onboard.
MS. PSAKI: You mean with the COVID package?
Q With the package. Yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Well, he — he agrees. He doesn’t want there to be delay either. And I would note that 70 percent of the public agrees with what you just said, according to the Ipsos poll this weekend, that the components of this package — the funding for vaccine distribution, but also funding to ensure people can apply for unemployment insurance, put food on the table, money to reopen schools — the public supports that. And we anticipate that the public will be conveying to the leaders who are elected to represent them exactly that.
Q Can I just ask you to clarify the travel requirement, or the testing requirement?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hm.
Q That applies to all people boarding planes into the U.S., including U.S. citizens? Anyone getting on a plane needs to test negative?
MS. PSAKI: From overseas?
Q From overseas into the U.S.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Regardless of citizenship.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Okay, great. I also want to ask a couple of things that the Trump administration did in the final stages that I’m wondering whether you folks are going to intervene. One is that they issued a license to an Israeli billionaire named Dan Gertler to allow him to access the U.S. financial system. That license is in place through the end of January 2022. Will the Biden administration intervene at all? Or does that stand?
Another one is that he began the delisting — or issued an executive order that triggered the delisting of several Chinese companies, in particular three telecoms that sought a review of that. Do you plan on tweaking or rescinding that order — in other words, stopping the delisting process for these three Chinese telecoms?
MS. PSAKI: On the first question: Fortunately, we’re about to have a Treasury Secretary confirmed, and I’d send you to them to speak to any reviews they may overtake in those sanction — undertake, I should say — in that sanctions review.
And then, on the Chinese, I know there was some reporting, perhaps from your outlet, of course, this morning on that particular issue. As you — as we’ve noted in here previously, we — there are a number of reviews, complex reviews — interagency reviews, I should say, that we’re going to undertake as it relates to a range of our — sorry, let me start again here — a range of regulatory actions and a range of relationships with companies as it relates to Chinese investment and other issues as well.
Those complex reviews are just starting. And as I — as I noted, they will need to go through the interagency, so the State Department, the Treasury Department, a number of others, who will review how we move forward. We’re starting from an approach of patience as it relates to our relationship with China. So that means we’re going to have consultations with our allies, we’re going to have consultations with Democrats and Republicans, and we’re going to allow the interagency process to work its way through to review and assess how we should move forward with our relationship.
Q Is it possible that those reviews could lead to a change in this delisting process down the road?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of any review, but certainly we’re taking an overarching look at all of our — all of it. And as we have more to report, we’ll report back to you.
Q Finally, can I just ask broadly what the President believes President Trump’s legacy is with regards to China, in particular around the tariffs he imposed? Does President Biden like those tariffs? They remain in place on quite a large sum of Chinese goods.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q Is that under review at all, or are those appropriate at this time?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as is the case with other areas of our relationship with China, he will take a multilateral approach to engaging with China, and that includes evaluating the tariffs currently in place. And he wants to ensure that we take any steps in coordination with our allies and partners, and with Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well.
So nothing to report at this point in time, but we’re committed to — the President is committed to stopping China’s economic abuses on many fronts, and the most effective way to do that is through working in concert with our allies and partners to do exactly that.
Q I wanted to follow up a little bit on some of the China issues. I know that there was an executive order requiring the sale of TikTok’s U.S. business, and I wondered if there were plans to revoke it or enforce it, or what is the current thinking on that matter?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a great question. I haven’t had the opportunity to speak with our national security team about it. I’m happy to take it and see if we can get to you more — something more specific.
Q Thank you so much. Two questions for you. The first is, sort of, stepping back for a minute at what the administration’s goals are. Unity is something that President Biden spoke about quite a bit on the campaign trail. He talked about it during the transition. Could you talk a little bit more specifically about what unity will mean to this administration, whether there are any kind of benchmarks that you are — you’ve identified to show that unity has been achieved?
And I just — sort of, to contrast with the, you know, the coronavirus task force — of course, you’ve got very detailed, you know, benchmarks about what that — what you want to achieve, sort of, moment by moment. But with unity, are you talking about bipartisanship? Are you talking about something that’s wildly popular in the United States? Can you, sort of, go through what Biden is thinking about when he says that he wants to achieve unity?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, the President came in to lead the country, obviously at a time of great division where there was a great need for healing, in his view. And he spoke about that in his Inaugural Address just last week.
So, “unity,” to him, means, of course, approaching our work on legislative issues through a bipartisan lens, working with Democrats and Republicans, trying to find a path forward on how we can work together to address the problems the American people are facing. That’s part of it. But it also means projecting that he is going to govern for all people and address all the issues that the American people are facing.
So, for example, that means talking about how the COVID pandemic impacts not just Democrats, but Republicans; not just blue states, but red states; ensuring that he is reaching out to Democratic and Republican governors, Democratic and Republican mayors; and conveying, in every opportunity he has, that this is a problem that we’re all facing together.
So I think it’s a little bit different than how you can mark, of course, achieving 100 million shots in the arms of Americans in the first 100 days. But unity is about the country feeling that they’re in it together, and I think we’ll know that when we see it. But he’s going to be working on that and committed to that every opportunity he has to speak to the public.
Q I have just one other question. The Trump administration — or the Obama administration initially had wanted to put Harriet Tubman on the 20-dollar bill. The Trump administration dragged their feet on that. I wanted to just see if the Biden administration has a, sort of, view of the timeline on whether or not she should be on the paper currency.
MS. PSAKI: I was here when we — when we announced that, and it was very exciting. It hasn’t moved forward yet, which we would have been surprised to learn at the time.
The Treasury Department is taking steps to resume efforts to put Harriet Tubman on the front of the new 20-dollar notes. It’s important that our notes — our money, if people don’t know what a note is — reflect the history and diversity of our country, and Harriet Tubman’s image gracing the new 20-dollar note would certainly reflect that. So we’re exploring ways to speed up that effort, but any specifics would of course come from the Department of Treasury.
Q Another one on China. China’s Xi Jinping spoke earlier today. I’m wondering if there’s any official White House reaction to his comments. He talked about unity, as well, and also talked about cooperation on coronavirus and other issues. Is that likely — is that kind of statement today likely to change or affect the stance that the U.S. — that the Biden administration has toward China on trade and technology?
MS. PSAKI: No. I think our approach to China remains what it has been since — for the last months, if not longer. We’re in a serious competition with China. Strategic competition with China is a defining feature of the 21st century. China is engaged in conduct that it hurts American workers, blunts our technological edge, and threatens our alliances and our influence in international organizations.
What we’ve seen over the last few years is that China is growing more authoritarian at home and more assertive abroad. And Beijing is now challenging our security, prosperity, and values in significant ways that require a new U.S. approach.
And this is one of the reasons, as we were talking about a little bit earlier, that we want to approach this with some strategic patience, and we want to conduct reviews internally, through our interagency — even though I stumbled over that; I needed a little more coffee before I came out here, I guess. We wanted to engage more with Republicans and Democrats in Congress to discuss the path forward. And most importantly, we want to discuss this with our allies.
So, no, the comments don’t change anything. We believe that this moment requires a strategic and a new approach forward.
Go ahead. Hopefully, if I answer your question — I’m sorry, we’ll go to you next.
Q I was going to pile on a little more on China while we’re on this topic. But I wondered — Huawei has been on the entity list for, like, two years now. Just before the Trump administration left office, they initiated a new policy to basically revoke and issue intents to deny licenses for even more innocuous items that U.S. companies were selling to Huawei. Does the Biden administration plan to keep Huawei on the entity list and continue to enforce this much more stringent blanket ban on U.S. goods sales to China — to Huawei?
MS. PSAKI: Well, technology, as I just noted, is, of course, at the center of the U.S.-China competition. China has been willing to do whatever it takes to gain a technological advantage — stealing intellectual property, engaging in industrial espionage, and forcing technology transfer.
Our view — the President’s view is we need to play a better defense, which must include holding China accountable for its unfair and illegal practices and making sure that American technologies aren’t facilitating China’s military buildup.
So he’s firmly committed to making sure that Chinese companies cannot misappropriate and misuse American data. And we need a comprehensive strategy, as I’ve said, and a more systematic approach that actually addresses the full range of these issues.
So there is, again, an ongoing review of a range of these issues. We want to look at them carefully, and we’ll be committed to approaching them through the lens of ensuring we’re protecting U.S. data and America’s technological edge. I don’t have more for you on it. As we do, we’re happy to share that with all of you.
Q President Biden — now-President Biden condemned protests and violence on the far left and the far right before he was President. Why haven’t we heard anything directly from him about the riots in Portland and the Pacific Northwest since he was inaugurated?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he’s taking questions later this afternoon, so perhaps he will. I will say from here that President Biden condemns violence and any violence in the strongest possible terms. Peaceful protests are a cornerstone of our democracy, but smashing windows is not protesting, and neither is looting. And actions like these are totally unacceptable, and anyone who committed a crime should be prosecuted to the fullest extent. Our team is, of course, monitoring it very closely.
Q And as he pushes for federal help to businesses affected by COVID, should we expect to see any kind of federal assistance for these businesses up there that are affected by COVID and riots?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think you know his — because we’ve had this conversation in here already a few times since I joined the team — that his focus is on getting the American people through this period of time and pushing forward on a relief package that will get them the assistance they need as it relates to the pandemic and the impact of the pandemic.
So I don’t have anything more for you on that.
Q And just one more about the announcement you made off the top about the travel restrictions. When President Trump was imposing travel restrictions in March, specifically on China, then-candidate Biden called it “xenophobic” and “fearmongering.” So now-President Biden is putting travel restrictions on people coming in from other countries. What word do we use to describe that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think that’s quite a fair articulation. The President has been clear that he felt the Muslim ban was xenophobic. He overturned the Muslim ban. He also, though, has supported — and himself, even before — or we did, I should say, even before he was inaugurated — steps, travel restrictions in order to keep the American people safe to ensure that we are getting the pandemic under control. That’s been part of his policy.
But he was critical of the former president for having a policy that was not more comprehensive than travel restrictions. And he conveyed at the time, and more recently, the importance of having a multifaceted approach — mask wearing, vaccine distribution funding in order to get 100 million shots in the arms of Americans in the first hundred days, not just travel restrictions.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Yes. Two questions: one domestic and one foreign, please. The first is that Bill Pascrell, a congressman from New Jersey, just about an hour ago suggested firing the entire Postal Board of Governors, and he sent a letter to the President to that effect. Is there any plans to make changes, given what happened at the Post Office over the last couple of years, to try and remove the Postmaster General?
MS. PSAKI: It’s an interesting question. We all love the mailman and mailwoman. I don’t have anything for you on it. I’m happy to check with our team on it and see if when we have any specifics. I’m not aware of anything, but we’ll circle back with you.
Q And on a foreign policy question: It’s my understanding that the previous administration did not release the War Powers Act resolution report before they left office. Is there any plans for — I know there’s a new Secretary of Defense as of —
MS. PSAKI: As of a few — well, I guess, Friday, but —
Q Technically Friday —
MS. PSAKI: Technically Friday.
Q — but ceremonially today.
MS. PSAKI: Yes, exactly.
Q Is there any plan to either release the Trump administration letter on the troop levels in various countries overseas, or to update that more quickly than might be required by the statute?
MS. PSAKI: It’s an excellent question. I would send you to the Department of Defense and my old friend, John Kirby, who I’m sure would be happy to answer your question.
Go ahead in the back — with the excellent mask on. I can’t even tell what’s on it.
Q (Laughs.) Flamingos.
MS. PSAKI: Flamingos? All right, we’re getting creative with masks. I like it.
Q After one year.
So just back to Russia: Given the many unsolved deaths over the years of President Putin’s opponents — or near-deaths, in the case of Navalny — would President Biden be holding President Putin personally accountable for the continued health of Navalny while he’s in prison?
And just one other thing, which is different but related: What’s the position of this administration on Paul Whelan? Because his family and some of his supporters said, basically, the previous administration just, you know, forgot about it. What’s going on with Paul Whelan, and what’s your position? Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me take the second question and talk to our national security team and get you something more comprehensive. And certainly we don’t plan to follow the same pattern of the last administration.
But on the first question, I would say this is the reason why the President tasked his national security team, his intelligence team with assessing a range of issues as it relates to our relationship with Russia, including the SolarWinds breach, including the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, which we have been quite outspoken about — from our National Security Advisor to the State Department, and we’ll continue to be.
We want to see that review conclude, but as has always been the case, the President reserves the right to respond in the time and manner of his choosing, and I’m not going to take options off the table from here.
Q Hi, I’m the print pooler today, so if possible, can I ask a question also on behalf of one of my colleagues who couldn’t be here —
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.
Q — due to social distancing? Okay.
So I’ll start with my question. New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced today that the city is delaying the opening of large COVID-19 vaccination sites at Yankee Stadium, at Citi Field. Governor Cuomo has said the state has the capacity to vaccinate up to 100,000 folks a day, if there was supply.
As the administration is, you know, analyzing and reconfiguring its distribution plan, how heavily is infrastructure being weighed? In other words, does New York get first dibs because it has the capacity to do this right away?
And then the second question would be on — kind of, on the same COVID note. There are seniors who don’t have access to websites, don’t have folks vouching for them. Is there anything the administration is doing to ensure that seniors who don’t have, you know, anybody to assist them with scheduling these appointments, that they don’t fall through the cracks?
And then I have a second question from another reporter.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. So, on the first question, this is a really important one. Infrastructure is pivotal. It’s not just about the science. Scientists, medical experts, they’ve — what they’ve done over the last year in moving this vaccine forward has been a Herculean effort, but now it is about ensuring that there are more vaccinators and there are more places to actually distribute the vaccine.
And clearly, cases — scenarios where there are large facilities, whether they’re football fields or others, to do that can be quite efficient. There are other places around the country where we are seeing developments along those fronts, and we’re certainly encouraging that.
But this is a multifaceted challenge. It’s not just about having supply, which is pivotal, of course. It’s also about having more people who can physically put the shots into the arms of Americans, and it’s about ensuring we have places that that can be done.
I don’t have anything for you on the prioritization. That’s something, of course, that our team is working through, and we want to ensure that we are working closely with governors across the country to effectively do that.
Tell me your second question again. And I know you have one after this, but —
Q Well, the second part to that question was just: Will there be any federal assistance to support states in reaching out to seniors who may not have access to, you know, Internet or even phone to schedule these appointments? That’s been a complaint that’s emerged a lot.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, it’s a really important question because what we’ve discovered and what our team has discovered is that the farther you get into vaccinating Americans, the harder it becomes. There — for a couple of reasons. One is vaccine hesitancy, which Dr. Fauci talked about as an issue that was of great concern to him and some other health and medical experts, and it’s more predominant in communities of color.
But, as you noted, there is also an issue with communicating with a range of people in the public — some in rural communities, for different reasons, but also seniors and others who don’t — who aren’t picking up their phone and looking at information on Instagram every day and not receiving information in the same way that young adults would be.
So part of our effort is to use an across-the-board public communications campaign, an effort to meet people where they are. And certainly thinking about how to reach seniors — doing it in a way where it is being done locally by trusted authorities and trusted figures locally, we found to be a key — a key, effective approach to that. But we will continue to be working on that, and it is definitely one of the challenges that we’re facing.
Q Okay, great.
This question is from Ross Palombo from ABC in South Florida. He asks: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has blasted part of the President’s COVID plan, specifically saying, quote, “FEMA camps are not necessary in Florida.” Has or will the President be reaching out to DeSantis? What is his reaction to comments like these?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President is a pretty even-keeled guy. So I would say that he doesn’t have much of a reaction, other than he wants to ensure that the vaccine is distributed to people across the country, including, of course, the millions of people living in Florida.
And I will note — because we’re data first here, fact first here — they’ve only distributed about 50 percent of the vaccines that they have been given in Florida. So, clearly, they have a good deal of the vaccine. That supply will need to continue to increase as they are able to effectively reach people across the state.
But part of the challenge, as we were just talking about, is not just having the supply — that’s pivotal — but also having vaccinators and having vaccine distribution places, and doing it in a way that’s reaching people where they are and meeting local communities. And the President is going to be focused on that in a bipartisan manner, regardless of what any elected official may have to say.
Go ahead, all the way in the back. All the way in the back.
MS. PSAKI: And then I’ll come to you. Sorry, go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. In an executive order that the President signed last week, he also suspended a Trump administrative — administration executive order that was particularly aimed at keeping foreign countries, specifically China, from interfering in the U.S. power grid. But he suspended that for 90 days in that executive order last week. Given what you said about China today, why did he do that, especially related to something so critical to our national security as the power grid?
MS. PSAKI: I’ll have to — I think the President’s view on our relationship with China I tried to do my best to convey to all of you. I’ll have to check on that specific piece, and we’ll — we’ll circle back with you directly.
Q Thank you. The administration said that the “Remain in Mexico” policy from the prior administration would not be enforced anymore, but there are thousands of people who are stuck now as a result of that policy, and the administration has not said what you will do with them and how to process these migrants. What is the answer to that?
MS. PSAKI: In terms of migrants at the border? Well, in -–
Q Yeah, who are struck as a result of the Remain in Mexico. You know, there are many thousands of people.
MS. PSAKI: Well I think there’s a couple of steps that we -– we’re working to convey, and convey more effectively to people directly living in many of the countries who are — who have large populations who are coming to the border.
One is that this is not the right time to come. We have proposed a number of policies that we are working to implement, including a pause on deportations, as you know, for people who are in the United States. That is something the Department of Homeland Security would be working to implement. We’ve also proposed an immigration bill, something the President put forward on day one. And we’ve also proposed funding to help address the circumstances and the challenging conditions that are on the ground in a number of these countries.
Q If I may, I’m talking about those people who are in limbo at the moment — not discouraging new people from coming and not applying it to new people, but those people who were specifically turned away by the Trump administration.
MS. PSAKI: I’d send you to the Department of Homeland Security on that for a more specific assessment.
Q Okay. And for the second question, I just wanted to press you a little harder. You said earlier that the President had been speaking with members of the Senate —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hm.
Q — but you wouldn’t say who they were and anything about those conversations because they were private. I mean, they were, presumably, discussing the people’s business. Is that a matter -– you know, why should those be private? Why not be more revealing of who the President is speaking with that is in the government?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the — what I said is that the President is speaking with Democrats and Republicans, as are a number of senior officials from the current White House. And we’ll continue to do that.
And what I meant was those conversations — getting their feedback about what they think about bills and legislation, how they feel about the COVID package that the President put forward, where they have concerns, where they have agreements — that some of those conversations are private. They can speak publicly about their conversations, of course, as many of them have done. But what I was confirming is that he personally is involved and will continue to be involved in moving this package forward.
Q I guess I’m asking: Why not release the names of the people who the President is speaking with to negotiate on this bill? I mean, I know you want to have more transparency in this administration; you’ve talked about it a lot already. Why not make that a part of the transparency effort?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, he’s speaking with members of both parties. A number of them would like to have those conversations private as well. A number of them have also spoken publicly about conversations they’ve had with the administration. So — and that perfectly — is perfectly fine by us.
Q Can I ask a -– going back to COVID: Do you know when Americans will be able to be widely vaccinated?
MS. PSAKI: Well, of course, we defer to our health and medical experts, as you all know. And Dr. Fauci spoke to this briefly last week, and I expect it’s something that our health and medical experts, who will be doing a briefing later this week, will be able to speak to more specifically.
We obviously have set out our bold goal of 100 million vaccine –- or 100 million shots in the arms of Americans in the first 100 days. We will build from there, and we are looking forward to building from there.
But I don’t have an assessment — a new assessment for you on when a broad popular — a group of the population.
Q But anyone can get it if they want it, is essentially what I’m asking. The previous administration said it would be sort of mid-year. They said that regularly.
MS. PSAKI: You know, our — the CDC and other health and medical experts have — from our team — have given assessments leaning towards the summer and fall, but I don’t have a new assessment for you from here. But I encourage you to ask them that, and that’s why we’re putting them out to answer questions to all of you.
Jonathan, go ahead.
Q The Trump administration, in its final weeks, rushed through a number of federal executions. Has the President directed a moratorium on capital punishment? And does he plan to?
MS. PSAKI: The President’s position on the death penalty — I think you’re probably familiar with, others may not be: He’s opposed to the death penalty. I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of what steps he may take.
Go ahead, Kaitlan.
Q You said that these coronavirus briefings are going to start. President Trump did not attend a lot of the corona- — or some of the coronavirus briefings at the end. He did not attend a lot of the coronavirus task force briefings. Is President Biden going to attend those task force meetings within the group that’s working on this?
MS. PSAKI: He will be briefed regularly — I suspect, far more regularly than the past President was briefed — on COVID and the developments and progress the team is making. I wouldn’t expect he attends every task force meeting — no — but he expects and requests regular briefings from the team, and I expect he’ll get them.
Okay, go ahead.
Q If the whole point of impeaching somebody is basically to get rid of them, and Trump is already gone, would President Biden support maybe the Senate censuring him just so that lawmakers can move on with the people’s business?
MS. PSAKI: I really appreciate your creative way of asking this question, which has come up a few times in here. The President is — was in the Senate for 36 years, as you all know. He is no longer in the Senate, and he will leave it up to members of the Senate, Democrats and Republicans, to determine how they will hold the former President accountable.
Q On quickly —
Q All right, thank you, Jen. Last one. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, last one. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q Yeah, I’m sorry, I just wanted to ask really briefly, on Afghanistan, if you guys foresee further troop reductions there and what kind of numbers would we be talking about.
MS. PSAKI: It’s an excellent question. We’re on day five, so I don’t have anything new for you on, specifically, Afghanistan troop production, but I’m hoping to get Jake Sullivan out to the briefing room soon to answer a lot of your questions on a range of issues.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.
Q Thanks, Jen.
Q Jen, you haven’t taken my question.
MS. PSAKI: All right, one more. I’m sorry about that. We don’t — we don’t want to leave you hanging.
MS. PSAKI: You’ve been very patient in the back.
Q I represent for the foreign press group.
MS. PSAKI: Of course.
Q I have two foreign policy issue: one on China and one on the UK.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q On China, we just — you just mentioned about competition. And President Biden’s Asia czar, Kurt Campbell, says he hopes for a “stable competition.” Is that what the White House is looking for? And you just mentioned about this comprehensive strategy. When can we expect that?
MS. PSAKI: I appreciate all of those questions. I have no — I don’t have any preview for you on when we will have more specifics on our strategy. I’ve tried to convey overarching — the President’s overarching approach.
But again, this is a relationship that we are going to be convey- — communicating with and working with partners and allies on. Those are — there are a number of calls that will happen over the coming weeks with key partners and allies — I’m sure this will be a topic of discussion — as well as Democrats and Republicans on the Hill, and we’re going to approach it with patience.
Q And on the UK, we know, over the weekend, President Biden had a phone call with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Mr. Johnson said they talked about the free trade deal. However, from the White House readout, we don’t see that. Does the President support the free trade deal with the UK?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t talked to him or Jake Sullivan about that. I’ll venture to do that and see if I can get more for you on it.
END 2:01 P.M. EST
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