September 17, 2021

Alexandra Beer House

The Real Estate Experts

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, March 30, 2021

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:48 P.M. EDT

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  I have a couple of items of good news for the American people today to kick us off. 

Today, the President will sign an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program, which passed both the House and Senate with wide bipartisan majorities.  Since the beginning of the pandemic, 400,000 small businesses have closed for good and millions more are struggling to stay open.

In December, Congress provided an additional $284 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program.  In just two months, we’ve approved over $200 billion worth of forgivable loans to more than 3 million small businesses.  And in this round, we’ve distributed a greater share of relief to very small businesses.

So today, the President will sign the Extension Act into law.  We want small businesses to know that help is here, and they now have until May 31st to apply.

As we do every week, Jeff Zients hosted a call with governors from across the country.  He, of course, provided them an update on what the President announced yesterday: that, by April 19, 90 percent of adults in the U.S. will be eligible for vaccination and 90 percent will have a vaccination site within five miles of where they live.

This will be made possible by increasing the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program from 17,000 to nearly 40,000 stores nationwide — a program that started out as a pilot and has been very successful.

He also announced there will be an increase of supply to over 33 million vaccine doses across all of our channels, which is going to help meet the needs with the — moving forward — of the eligibility timeline.

Another update in terms of our — getting the checks out to people: There have been — there are a significant number of Social Security recipients who do not file taxes.  As we noted earlier — or a couple weeks ago, I should say — direct payments went out very quickly to those who file taxes every year, who do it via direct deposit.  And thanks to collaboration between the IRS and the Social Security Administration, they will soon announce that we are on track to send those payments out this weekend.  The majority of people should see them in the bank account — in their bank accounts on Wednesday, April 7th, which is obviously a very positive step forward.

Finally, as many of you saw earlier this morning, the President announced his historic slate of judicial nominees of his administration — the first historic slate, I should say — with 11 candidates overall.  This is an unprecedented fast start for any President in the U.S. history on judicial nominations. 

This is also a groundbreaking slate in many ways.  It includes four nominees who have served as public defenders; four nominees who are members of the AAPI community; a nominee who, if confirmed, would be the first Muslim-American federal judge in history; nine of the eleven nominees are women.

And overall, this group represents a paradigm shift in the type of people who can see themselves on the federal bench while still maintaining the President’s absolute highest standards for the qualifications, integrity, and fairness of each individual being considered.

So, lots of news.  Go ahead, kick us off.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  I want to start by asking on guns.  It has been noted, actually, that 40 years ago today was the attempted assassination of President Reagan.  But some gun safety groups have expressed disappointment in the President’s sidestep of the issue in his news conference last week.  Can you give an update on what is in the works in terms of a timetable for possible executive actions on guns?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, let me say the President understands their frustration.  He is somebody who has fought for gun safety measures since he was in the Senate himself.  He did that in his effort to fight for the Brady Bill, in his effort to fight for a ban on assault weapons, and in his leadership getting — putting in place almost two dozen executive actions on gun safety when he was in the Biden — Obama-Biden administration. 

Right now, we’re working on a couple of levers.  One is working with Congress.  There are two background check bills that have moved their way through the House.  Many of you may have seen, this weekend, Senator Chris Murphy — clearly a leader on these issues, somebody who has been a leader since Newtown and even before — has — sees a path forward.  We’ve seen an openness by even some Republicans to having a debate and a discussion.  We’ll take that.

While that is moving, while there are discussions on that front — and the President will certainly be engaged in those — we are also continuing to review and consider what the options are for executive actions.  We hope to have an update on that soon.  I don’t have an exact day for you at this point in time.

Q    Okay.  And a follow-up on that and then one other matter.  On the — on guns, does the President still plan to go to Colorado after the mass shootings there?  And if so, when?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have an update on a trip to Colorado.  Obviously, that trip would be done in coordination with the leaders in the state community that was impacted by this terrible tragedy, but I don’t have any plans to preview for a trip to Colorado at this point.

Q    And then one more thing.  On another lighter matter, it’s obviously a presidential tradition to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day, which I’m happy to report is Thursday.  But the Nationals have said that the President declined their invitation to go to this year.  Why is that?  Why is he not going?  Is this about crowds in the park?  Is it about sending the wrong messaging?  Why is he choosing not to be there on Thursday?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, let me say I know the President is eager to get out to Nationals Stadium.  Many beautiful days, many beautiful baseball games ahead this spring.  It’s not on his schedule this week, but I certainly expect that baseball fans will be hearing from him in the next couple days. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  A question about your infrastructure proposal being released tomorrow.  Is it going to focus more on shovel-ready projects that could get underway right away, or is it focused more on projects that might take a couple of years to get started but could ultimately have a bigger impact?

MS. PSAKI:  It’s a great question, and I expect we’ll have more to outline on how quickly things can happen once he delivers the speech tomorrow.  But let me just say that the speech tomorrow is about making an investment in America — not just modernizing our roads or railways or bridges, but building an infrastructure of the future. 

So some of it is certainly infrastructure, shovel-ready projects.  Some of it is: How do we expand broadband access?  Some of it is ensuring that we are addressing the needs in people’s homes and communities.  So there are a range of components that will be — he’ll talk about when he proposes his — his ideas tomorrow, when he lays that out in his speech in Pittsburgh. 

Q    And how much more should wealthy Americans expect to pay?  Will the top marginal rate go back to 39.6 percent under this proposal?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I expect that tomorrow — again, the speech is really about his vision — his vision for creating jobs, good-paying union jobs, and really investing in the industries of the future.  But he thinks it’s responsible — it’s the responsible thing to do to propose a way to pay for that over time. 

So — and he also believes that there’s more that can be done to make the corporate tax code fair.  And so I expect that will be the focus of his remarks on the — on taxes tomorrow. 

Q    And what about the estate tax?  Is that something you’re also considering increasing?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, I’m not going to get too far ahead of the President’s own speech and proposal, and I know we’ll be previewing it more in the next 24 hours, but he believes that there’s more that can be done to make the corporate tax code fair; to reward work, not wealth; to ensure that we can invest in the future industries that are going to help all people in this country. 

Q    And one other topic.  Twenty-three countries have signed on to the idea of this WHO treaty that would improve information sharing during future pandemics.  Why hasn’t the U.S. signed on to that?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we believe it’s vital in working with international partners and other countries and, of course, strengthening and reforming our international efforts as it relates to addressing pandemics and future pandemics.

We do have some concerns primarily about the timing and launching into negotiations for a new treaty right now, and we believe that could divert attention away from substantive issues regarding the response, preparedness for future pandemic threats.  And we believe that should be our focus currently, but we’re certainly open to and looking for continued collaboration with the global community. 

Go ahead.

Q    Does President Biden believe that the millions of Americans who lost loved ones to COVID-19 deserve a better response than the one that they’ve gotten from the WHO?

MS. PSAKI:  In terms of looking into —

Q    In terms of the origins for COVID-19.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think he believes that the American people, the global community, the medical experts, the doctors — all of the people who have been working to save lives — the families who have lost loved ones — all deserve greater transparency.  They deserve better information.  They deserve steps that are taken by the global community to provide that. 

So there was an extensive statement put out by a number of countries, including the U.S.  But let me highlight — and we’re still reviewing the report, but let me highlight some of the concerns that have come up to date. 

The report lacks crucial data, information, and access.  It represents a partial and incomplete picture.  There was a joint statement, as I noted, that was put out.  We also welcome a similar statement from the EU and EU members, sending a clear message that the global community shares these concerns. 

There are steps from here that we believe should be taken.  There’s a second stage in this process that we believe should be led by international and independent experts.  They should have unfettered access to data.  They should be able to ask questions of people who are on the ground at this point in time, and that’s a step the WHO could take.

Q    And that statement says that the U.S. joins these countries in expressing shared concerns.  But the statement, quite frankly, is pretty bureaucratic and perhaps does not meet the moment of the seriousness of the crisis here in this country in terms of the death toll.  So what is the White House’s actual reaction to this report from the WHO?  Was it simply inadequate? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the report is still being reviewed by our team of experts; 17 experts are reviewing it.

Q    But you know the headline of it, and it’s not sufficient, you’ve said.  So — 

MS. PSAKI:  We agree.  And we have long said, as I just stated, it lacks crucial data, information.  It lacks access.  It lacks transparency.  It certainly — we don’t believe that, in our review to date, that it meets the moment, it meets the impact that this pandemic has had on the global community.  And that’s why we also have called for additional forward-looking steps. 

And I will tell you that negotiating between 20 countries or so to get a statement out, sometimes it appears bureaucratic, but well-intentioned.

Q    When will the President speak on this?

MS. PSAKI:  On the WHO report?  I expect we’ll let our review conclude, and then we’ll look for an opportunity for him to speak to it.  But I can certainly confirm for you that he shares these concerns.  They are coming directly from him and directly from our national security team, who has looked at what the report has presented to date.  They’re still reviewing and share the concerns issued in that statement that made those concerns clear.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  I just want to piggyback off of that as well.  World Health Organization Director General Tedros — one of his primary concerns was that the report may have glossed over, if you will, the possibility that the — that the virus escaped from a lab.  Is that a central concern of the White House as well?  And then, when you talk about cooperation, has China not cooperated enough, in the White House’s opinion? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, they have not been transparent.  They have not provided underlying data.  That certainly doesn’t qualify as cooperation.  You know, the analysis performed to date from our experts — you know, or their concern is that there isn’t additional support for one hypothesis.  It doesn’t lead us to any closer of an understanding or greater knowledge than we had six to nine months ago about the origin.  It also doesn’t provide us guidelines or steps — recommended steps on how we should prevent this from happening in the future.  And those are imperative.

Q    And so that centers on the hypothesis that would involve the lab? 

MS. PSAKI:  Again, it doesn’t — it doesn’t lead to — it doesn’t — it doesn’t provide us greater understanding of the origin of the virus. 

Q    And the second question, just on the next legislative package: Has the President started to reach out to moderates, to centrist Republicans as well, and — to kind of woo them to get ahead of, you know, some of the things that we saw with the last package? 

MS. PSAKI:  “Woo” them?  I like it. 

You know, the President will be, of course, directly engaged in this effort to move this package forward.  I will say that what he views his role as — is laying out what a vision is: a broad vision, a bold vision for how we can invest in America, American workers, our communities. 

We’re also, though, very open to hearing ideas and proposals from members of Congress — Democrats or Republicans.  We know that 80 percent or more of people in this country — Democrats and Republicans — support investing in infrastructure, and of course they will.  Of course they do.  We’re 13th in the world as it relates to infrastructure.  We’re with the one of the wealthiest countries in the world.  That doesn’t make a lot of sense to most people across the country.

More than one third of bridges in this country need repair; that’s 231,000.  That’s a lot of bridges.  One in five miles, or 886,000 miles of our highways and major roads are in poor conditions.

Those aren’t issues where Democrats just have concerns; Republicans have concerns; independents; people who don’t see themselves as political.  And he believes that investing — we can’t afford not to invest in improving our infrastructure.

There are questions about — people may have different ideas about how to pay for it.  We’re open to hearing them.  So hopefully people will bring forward ideas.

Q    And last question.  The skinny budget is due out this week.  What programs or agencies should we expect to see a boost in funding? 

MS. PSAKI:  I know people love the term “skinny budget,” but is actually just a discretionary guide.  So it should be out soon, and we’ll wait for it to come out, and then I’m sure we’ll have an update from our budget — our OMB team.

Go ahead, Kristin.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  Could you provide a bit more insight into why the White House has felt the need over the last few days to really clarify the Vice President’s role at the border?  Was that something that she requested a clarification on? 

MS. PSAKI:  I actually think that members of the media deserve to have an understanding of what her exact role was.  And the President, when he was the Vice President, played a very specific role too, where he was running point on the Northern Triangle.  He told the story at the press conference last week about how the President called him back from Turkey, I think it was. 

And he wants the Vice President to play a similar role.  And engaging with these countries; engaging with their leaders; figuring out how to invest best, how to work in partnership, how to prevent corruption from taking over; to put in place steps that will make the journey less desirable — that is certainly a big assignment and one the President is confident the Vice President will take on and do well.

Q    So was the plan always for her to focus on the Northern Triangle countries, the root causes, as opposed to the border?  Or did something change?

MS. PSAKI:  That was always the plan, and that was the announcement. 

Q    Okay. 

I’d like to find out what the White House thinks about what’s happening in San Diego, where some public school teachers are providing in-person instruction at the San Diego Convention Center to migrant children before their own public school students.  And these kids, of course — about 130,000 of them — have been at home doing online learning for about a year now.  So what does the White House think about that? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I know you guys have done a fair amount of reporting on this, so maybe you’ll have more details.  As I understand it, San Diego Public Schools are opening in early April.

Q    April 12th, to hybrid learning. 

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  And students will be back in the classroom.  And as I understand is, this is related —

Q    Part-time.

MS. PSAKI:  Part-time.  And certainly, you know our objective from the White House — opening up five days a week, a majority of schools across the country.  And they’re on spring break right now.  And this is related to volunteering or being paid — I’m not even sure; you’d have to ask the local school district — during spring break for these migrant kids?

Q    Yeah, so the San Diego County Supervisor, Jim Desmond, he says, you know, “I think it’s great that there’s in-person learning for unaccompanied minors from Central America, but I wish every child in San Diego County was allowed the same opportunity for in-person teaching.”

So I guess the question is, you know: Does the White House think that this sends the right message to these 130,000 kids in San Diego and their parents, who’ve been stuck at home for the last year?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I’m just saying that context is important.  And these kids are going back to school for hybrid learning.  We, of course, want that to be five days a week, and we’re confident we’ll get there early next month.  And I believe they’re also on spring break right now, so these teachers are — would be vo- — I’m not sure if it’s volunteer or paid; you’d have to ask the local school district — while the kids are on spring break, which I think the context is pretty important.  Okay.

Q    Okay, and I’ve got one more question, sorry —

MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.

Q    — about space.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

Q    You know, the Biden administration, they just announced its intention to retain the National Space Council, and this is on top of the White House voicing its support for the Space Force —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — NASA’s Artemis program.  I mean, these are three programs or policies that President Trump and the Trump administration put in place.  So would it be fair to say that space is one of the — and space policy is one of the few areas where President Biden actually agrees with his predecessor?

MS. PSAKI:  I think that — that sounds accurate to me. Look, I think the President believes that the National Space Council, as you just conveyed or just asked about, provides an opportunity to generate National Space Policy strategies, synchronize on America’s space activities at a time of unprecedented activity.  It’s also an opportunity to — generated by America’s own activities in space. 

So it’s certainly a program — or a council, I should say — he’s excited to keep in place and one, I think it’s fair to say, he agrees with the past administration’s maintaining the program. 

Go ahead, in the back.

Q    The White House has been talking about a lot of different types of infrastructure over the last few weeks leading up to the announcement tomorrow.  Can you give us a sense of what the general breakdown is going to be on, you know, clean energy and climate-type projects versus roads and bridges?

MS. PSAKI:  I know we will have an extensive factsheet that will break down everything for you.  It is quite —

Q    I’m giving you the opportunity to get out ahead of the President on this.

MS. PSAKI:  — quite long.  It is quite long.  And I don’t want to get too far ahead of the President, but I will — let me — let me see if I can give you a little bit more of a breakdown — not in terms of the numbers, but —

So, certainly investing in — we’ve talked about this a little bit — roads, rails, and bridges is part of it.  The President believes that we can do that in a way where we can create good-paying, clean energy jobs — union jobs.  That’s part of his vision for investing in industries of the future. 

He also believes there’s more we can do on broadband and ensuring that the far-too-large percentage of the American people who don’t have access have access and we invest in that.  There’s a lot of ways to do that, I will say though, and he’s very open to the ideas coming from Congress on how to do it.  And they may have different perspectives on how to do it, the right way to invest and to do it.  But he sees, you know, clean energy and clean energy jobs as central to his own vision and his own objectives.  You’ll certainly hear him talk about that tomorrow. 

And this is — but the speech is really about — it’s about jobs, it’s about investing in the industries of the future, and it’s about rebuilding parts of our communities that have long been forgotten. 

Q    And does the White House have a response to this new Chinese law finalized earlier today that essentially allows them to vet parliamentary candidates in Hong Kong for so-called “non- patriots” to not be allowed to run for office?

MS. PSAKI:  I know we have certainly expressed concerns about the undemocratic steps of the Chinese government in the past.  I’ll have to check with our national security team.  I had not asked them about this specific piece, but we will get back to you shortly after the briefing. 

Go ahead, Chris.

Q    So Chuck Schumer is urging people to write an email to the President, the White House in hopes that he will cancel up to $50,000 of student loan debt.  Why do you think that Schumer has such a fundamentally different reading of what the President can and should do?  And if you could answer yes or no: Is this — has the President ruled out taking unilateral action on this yet?

MS. PSAKI:  No, he has not.  I will say that I do have some good student loan news for you, which you didn’t even know you were going to tee up for me.  But we will be expanding the pause on student loan interest and collections to the more than 1 million borrowers who are in default on a loan that was made by a private lender in the old bank-bac- — based loan program known as the Federal Family Education Loan Program.  This step particularly protects 800,000 borrowers who are at risk of having their tax refunds seized.  That’s actually a pretty significant step.

The President continues to call on Congress to cancel $10,000 in debt for student loan borrowers.  That’s something Congress could take an action on, and he’d be happy to sign.  We’re still taking a closer look at our act- — our options on student loans.  This includes examining the authorities we have, the existing loan forgiveness programs that are clearly not working as well as they should.  This includes borrower defense, total and permanent disability charges.  There’s a lot of steps we’re looking at, and we’ll continue to review those and be in touch, of course, with Leader Schumer about our process.

Q    Do you have a sense of the timing on that — how long those reviews might take?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have an update on the timing.  There’s a legal and a policy review.

Go ahead.  Oh, Trevor, did you have a question?  I didn’t mean to skip you.  Go ahead.

Q    Yes.  I always have a question.

MS. PSAKI:  Of course.

Q    So, first, just on the infrastructure questions that we were talking about.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    You said yesterday that there would be dollar-for-dollar accounting of how the measures would be paid for.

MS. PSAKI:  Yep.  Paid for over time.  Yep.

Q    Paid for over time.

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

Q    Is the President willing to sign a bill that does not pay dollar for dollar for all of the proposals that he has?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President believes it’s responsible to propose a way for paying over time for his vision for investing in infrastructure and our economy and American workers.  There will be a range of views, including how to pay for it.  People will be for or against.  Some people may not want to pay for it.  And he’s open to having those discussions.

So — but the focus of his speech, of his proposal is on investing in America.  We’re talking about tax reform proposals that would help pay for it over time.  But the reason he is putting this forward is because he thinks it’s responsible to put forward a plan to pay for it as a means of discussing that.  But it’s really about investing in workers.

Q    But he is open to deficit financing in a final package.  Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, I think — we haven’t even proposed the speech yet.  There’ll be a range of views on Capitol Hill, as we all certainly know.  He’s proposing a way to pay for his proposals over time.  We’ll look forward to hearing from members of Congress on how they want to approach it, given there’s such strong support for infrastructure investment across the country.

Q    Okay.  And just on — a quick one on foreign policy: Iran has come out and basically already rejected a proposal that you haven’t even put on the table yet about relaxing some of the sanctions against them to get them to come to the table.  They say all of the sanctions need to be relaxed before they’ll consider any changes on enrichment. 

Is there any point to putting a proposal on the table if it’s already going to be a nonstarter?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we remain committed to pursuing a diplomatic process to determine a way forward.  Sometimes that takes some time, and we certainly have found that in the past as it relates to negotiations with Iran. 

We remain ready to re-engage in meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA commitments.  And that offer to discuss and engage is on the table. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  One quick follow-up on space, and then two others. 

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    So, Vice President Pence had a pretty public-facing role with National Space Council.  He was, kind of, involved with policy-making.  I know it’s a new — new thing here, but will Vice President Harris have a similar involvement with the Space Council on her end?

MS. PSAKI:  It’s a great question.  I know it’s — the Space Council technically falls under the Vice President’s team and office. 

Q    Right.

MS. PSAKI:  I’d have to talk to her team about her public-facing role, and I’m happy to do that.

Q    Gotcha.  One on the ambassadors.  So there is yet to be an appointment for the U.S. Ambassador to China.  There’s been some reporting of these rumors about who’s jockeying — of who that person might be.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    Any updates on the appointment time, timeline, or even a shortlist for that posting?

MS. PSAKI:  I know — I’ve seen a lot of names reported out there — some of which would be great choices — but I don’t have an update on the timeline for announcing the nomination of ambassadors. 

Q    Maybe even before the summertime?  Anything broad?

MS. PSAKI:  Certainly hope so, but I don’t have an update on when the President will make any decisions.

Q    Okay.  And one quick one on the Supreme Court.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

Q    So, about a year ago, I would say, President Biden — then-candidate Biden committed to putting a black woman on the Supreme Court.  Of course, today’s appointments and news kind of generates some buzz on who those folks might be.  Is there any update — anything you could advance for us on Vice — President Biden’s efforts to put a black person on the Supreme Court?  Any kind of shortlist situation to that end?

MS. PSAKI:  It would require there being an opening on the Supreme Court, of course.

Q    (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI:  There is not an opening on the Supreme Court. 

Look, I think there is an incredible group of nominees the President announced today.  You know, as someone who served for 17 years on the Senate Judiciary Committee as chairman and ranking member, he has a long history on judicial appointments. This is a priority for him. 

But our focus is on getting the Senate to confirm these group of nominees and to continue to build a pipeline of additional highly qualified nominees who’re going to reflect the values the President has outlined.

Q    I guess, is that commitment still on the table?

MS. PSAKI:  Of course.  To nominate an African American woman to the Supreme Court? 

Q    Correct.

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, absolutely.  It certainly is.

Yeah.  Go ahead.

Q    Yes, one more follow-up on the WHO.  Is the President disappointed with the WHO?  Does he believe they’re not up to the task?

MS. PSAKI:  I think what the statement makes clear is that we remain — that — that was issued by the State Department today — is that we remain confident in the role of the WHO.  We look to be a contributing member of the WHO.  We have some concerns as we — as I’ve expressed about the analysis that’s been done so far about the report, and we think that steps can be taken moving forward in the second stage of the review to ameliorate some of those.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  I wanted to ask a few questions. First, I want to follow up on something President Biden said Wednesday when he tasking Vice President Harris with managing root causes of the border crisis.  He said that in addition to doing that, she has, quote, “about five other major things she’s handling.”  Could you clarify what those are?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, some of it is — is we have not yet announced yet, so I won’t get ahead of those.  Vice President Harris is playing an imperative role out there connecting with the American people about the American Rescue Plan.  She’s been traveling across the country.  She’s done a number of trips and taken steps — she’s going to be involved in our effort to communicate with the public about COVID and the importance of the effectiveness and efficiency of the vaccine, and we’ll have more to say soon.

Q    And a quick follow-up on a question asked last week about the White House and the marijuana policy that impacted some fired staffers.  You indicated that things might be different if marijuana was federally legal.  Actually, the Democrats in the Senate, led by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, are preparing the bill to end federal prohibition of marijuana.  Does President Biden support that?

MS. PSAKI:  He spoke about this on the campaign.  He believes in decriminalizing the use of marijuana, but his position has not changed.

Q    Descheduling them — federally descheduling and an end the federal prohibition?

MS. PSAKI:   That’s been his position.  Nothing has changed. 

Q    And regarding the WHO, former President Trump has accused the WHO of being, quote, “a puppet of China.”  Does this report confirm that claim?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think we’ve expressed our concerns about the role — the lack of transparency, the lack of data that has been provided broadly to the global community.  We believe there are steps that can be taken moving forward to ensure that an independent investigation — that global experts are involved in the next stage of this process.  But we also believe that the WHO is a body that the United States should be a part of — that in order to make changes happen, we need to have a seat at the table, and that’s why we rejoined the WHO.

Go ahead, in the back.

Q    Thank you very much, Jen.  I have one question on Asia and one question on Asian Americans.  We know the Japanese Prime Minister is coming to visit, and also both NSC and State Department are said to host the — their Japanese and South Korean counterparts.  As the representative of a foreign press group, I got a question from NHK.

The Japanese media asks: Your administration has focused on working closely with East Asian allies, like Japan and South Korea, to counter to China.  But these countries have a different relationship with China than the U.S. has with China.  So how will you and your Asian allies cooperate with you when they sit on different interests than the U.S.?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not sure I completely understand your question.  Are you asking if we — how will we discuss China and our relationship with China when the President and others in the administration see leaders from Japan?

Q    No.  I — the East Asian countries have different interests than the U.S. has with China. 

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    So how will — how will you have your Asian allies cooperate with you if you have different interests?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think, just like the U.S. relationships with any country, there are areas of mutual interests.  There are areas where we can communicate, work together on, even sometimes have disagreements, whether it is economic cooperation or security in the region.  And certainly we’ll — I expect that those conversations should cover a range of topics.

Q    Okay.  On Asian Americans, a question.  We just saw the factsheet that you released earlier —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — but it does not address the demand from AAPI communities for more representation on leadership levels. 

But what’s more concerning, during yesterday’s interview, Senator Tammy Duckworth, said she — she is pushing for this representation, and the White House said to her, quote, “You have Kamala.  You don’t really need any other Asians in the Cabinet.”  And Duckworth said, quote, “That’s really offensive.  You wouldn’t say, ‘We have white male President.  There shouldn’t be any white male members of Cabinet.’  Why would you say that to someone from the Asian community?”  End quote.  What is your reaction to her statement?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, we’ve had a range of conversations with Senator Duckworth since that call which happened about a week ago, including a commitment to naming a high-level Asian American member of the AAPI community to a position in the White House.  And that’s something we’re working to do through consultation with a range of officials and elected officials as well. 

And that person will be a commissioned officer and will be working on both policy and outreach.  And as soon as we have a name, we will share that with all of you.  But a big part of our effort has also been on taking actions to address the rise in anti-Asian violence and bias, and underscoring the commitment of our entire administration to working in partnership with the AAI — AAPI community. 

We announced — the President announced that DOJ has launched an agency-wide initiative to address anti-Asian hate crimes and acts of violence.  DOJ is taking steps to strengthen hate crimes data, reporting on AAPI violence, improve law enforcement training so that local law enforcement agencies can better identify anti-Asian bias. 

In the coming weeks, the administration will meet with AAPI leaders to hear their input in how we can play the most constructive role possible in the community.  And the President raised — because he felt it was imperative to elevate — the continuing threats, the hate speech, and the violence against the Asian American community in his speech he gave during a primetime address a week ago.

Go ahead.

Q    Yeah, I — actually, it’s a good follow-up from what —

MS. PSAKI:  Sure. 

Q    — Ching-Yi just asked.  So thank you, Jen. 

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    So as you know, we’ve had a spike in carjackings in Washington, D.C., and there’s been a huge uproar, of course, about the carjacking and killing of a Pakistani American by two teenage girls.  Does the President plan any outreach to the AAPI community of Washington, given — given this uproar?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President and his administration — he’s asked members of his team — senior levels of his team to be engaged in a broad swath of leaders from the AAPI community from across the country.  I can certainly check if there will be individuals from the D.C. community as a part of that outreach.

Q    Okay.  And given that there’s been this spike in carjackings here in Washington, has the White House put any gui- — out any guidance to staff who, of course, work in Washington — many live in Washington?  Has there been anything on that?

MS. PSAKI:  I think we would certainly defer to local law enforcement and guidance along those lines.  I’m not aware of any additional guidance being put out.

Let me just go around to make sure I get to everybody.

Go ahead, in the back.

Q    Yeah, well, during his press conference last week, the President was very stern and expressive when it came to expressing his opinion about the so-called “voter suppression laws” in Georgia and elsewhere.  But what tangible action will the President take to turn that tide, particularly when you’re talking about a federal bill facing an uphaul [sic] — uphill climb in the Senate?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, there’s a number of actions.  One, I wouldn’t call it “so-called bias,” because we know that in communities across Georgia there have been polling places that have been closed; those are in predominantly African American communities.  So I think that is real bias. 

Second, I would say that we don’t see these — we certainly know there’s an uphill battle for lots of legislation, but we are encouraged by the conversations that are happening about moving legislation forward to make voting more accessible, more available to people across the country.  The President believes it should be easier, not harder, to vote.  And he will look for opportunities to help push that legislation forward. 

He also signed a number of executive orders just a couple of weeks ago, because he believes that, you know, this is a central cause and equity issue in his mind, and he wants to take — take steps from the White House — steps any President can take to also make voting more accessible. 

But we also need to continue to work with local leaders.  He met with Stacey Abrams when he was in Georgia just a couple weeks ago.  A lot of the power and the activism is going to come from the grassroots and incredible leaders, like Stacey Abrams, who are ensuring people have the facts they need, the information they need to vote, and that they push back against oppressive efforts to make voting more difficult. 

Q    How is the White House engaging the faith community when it comes to gun control?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, many members of the faith community have been quite outspoken historically about — about the threats of gun violence that have impacted communities across the country.  Certainly, that would come from our Office of Public Engagement, who would lead these efforts to outreach to a range of communities.  I can check with them and see if there’s any specific meetings with the fai- — with faith groups in recent days. 

Q    And lastly —

MS. PSAKI:  Oh, go ahead.

Q    Yeah, is there anything to be read into, sort of, the rebranding of the Biden administration’s — the Biden-Harris administration?  Has —

MS. PSAKI:  Is it a rebranding?

Q    Well, when you look on the website, it’s, you know, not — it’s “Biden-Harris,” and that’s not been necessarily the norm in the past.  Is there any message being sent by that?  Or what’s meant to be — what can be extrapolated from it?

MS. PSAKI:  I would take from it that Vice President Harris is an important partner.  She’s the first in the room and the last in the room on most occasions, if she’s in town and not traveling around the country.  It’s a reflection of the important role that she will play moving forward.

Go ahead.

Q    In speaking with several governors’ offices that were on the call with the White House this morning, it’s come to our attention that there were not a lot of questions or, really, any questions or pushback on the comments yesterday from both the President and Dr. Walensky, you know, advising state and local governments against rolling back mask mandates. 

Just given the fact that there were no questions or really any dialogue — at least according to our reporting right now — what is the level of concern from the White House at the effect 24 hours after the President raising his voice on this?  Dr. Walensky is certainly raising her voice on this.  I mean, are governors sort of going their own way and ignoring you all?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t think we see it that way, Jeff, but I would say that one of the ways we can impact people across the country is by acknowledging this is hard.  We’ve been at war with this virus for a long time.  And to reiterate, as the President did yesterday, as Dr. Walensky did yesterday, that we continue to be at war with the virus.  But the way we feel we can be most impactful is not just through words but is through actions. 

And so, as we have seen an uptick — we’ve also taken an accelerating threat, I should say — we’ve also accelerated our response, and we’ve moved up the universal shot date for most Americans by two weeks, increased vaccine supply to states, doubled the number of pharmacies getting supply — more than doubled — opened more vacc- — mass vaccination centers.  We know that the more people who can get vaccinated, the more accessible it is, the more effective we are going to be, and that’s where we’re putting our efforts.

Q    Is there enough concern from governors, based on the call this morning, do you believe? 

MS. PSAKI:  I was not on the call this morning.  I think the President is speaking not just to governors but to people across the country, to business owners, to local elected officials.  There are — even in some states where governors have been pulling back the restrictions, there are local leaders and local businesses or bigger businesses who have kept them in place. 

And it’s important for people — it’s a tough message.  Important for people to hear that we’re still in a war with this virus, and people need to still be vigilant in order to return to normal. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Today, Canada halted delivery of the AstraZeneca vaccine.  What does that mean for this administration’s posture towards that particular vaccine and the vaccine’s prospects of approval here in the U.S? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, approval would, of course, be through the FDA, and they have a rigorous and thorough process for doing that.  So I will leave that to them to undergo that process.  And I don’t have anything to predict about the approval likelihood.

Q    Thank you, Jen.

MS. PSAKI:  Thank you.  Want to go one more?

Q    Sure.  One more vaccine question.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

Q    Given the increased urgency and the fact that millions of Johnson & Johnson vaccines are on the near-term horizon, is the White House considering changing the way it deploys those vaccines, since those kick in so much quicker than the other vaccines out there?

MS. PSAKI:  The Johnson & Johnson vaccines?

Q    Yeah.  Are you sticking to the same per capita distribution, or is there any thought about changing the way those are distributed?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we think a lot about how to ensure vaccines are distributed equitably across the country.  But our message continues to be: You should take any vaccine that is available to you.  There are three approved.  They’re all safe; they’re all effective.  So we’re not changing our approach at this point in time.

Thank you, everyone.

1:28 P.M. EDT