Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, February 25, 2021

The White House

MS. PSAKI: All right. I will tell you masks are a little tricky with earrings on, so just bear with me here. Okay.

So, just have a couple of items at the top. Okay. Learned my lesson on earrings. All right.

Today, the President will deliver remarks to mark the 50 — mark 50 million shots that have been administered since he entered office. In his remarks, he will provide an update on the strong progress we’ve made across our pandemic response to date. He will commend the COVID Response Team’s extraordinary whole-of-government effort to get shots in the arms of Americans, as well as the work of so many Americans who have stepped up to the plate in this moment.

He will also remind Americans that now is not the time to let our guards down, especially in the face of new variants. He will continue — he will encourage people to continue wearing a mask and get vaccinated when it is their turn.

I also have some brief updates on the winter storm that affected a few states last week. As many of you saw, last night the President approved the State of Oklahoma’s Major Disaster Declaration request. This action will authorize FEMA to provide both public and individual assistance, including grants for temporary housing and home repairs; low cost loans to cover uninsured property losses; and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.

Power and water restoration continue across Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. Accelerated vaccine shipments are occurring. And vaccination appointments are being rescheduled and expanded to accommodate those canceled last week.

And as you all know, the President is, of course, traveling to Texas tomorrow.

Today, the Vice President also visited a local Giant Pharmacy in Washington, D.C., that is participating in the administration’s federal Retail Pharmacy Program. The program is increasing access to COVID-19 vaccines across the country. The Biden-Harris administration is committed to ensuring Americans have access to vaccine in their own communities, including at local pharmacies. And last week alone, the administration doubled our allocation to pharmacies to over 2 million doses across 7,000 pharmacies.

With that, Darlene, why don’t you kick it off?

Q Great. I have a question to start off with about Neera Tanden. So when she tweeted that, quote, “a vampire has more heart than Ted Cruz,” when she compared Senator McConnell to Voldemort, and when she called Senator Collins, quote, “the worst,” did those comments meet the President’s standard of treating everyone with dignity and respect?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first I’ll note that when Neera Tanden testified just a few weeks ago, she apologized for her past comments and that she would be joining an administration where, as we’ve noted in here, there’s an expectation of a high bar of civility and engagement, whether that’s on social media or in person. And we certainly expect she would meet that bar.

Q Did the President and the transition team underestimate how much of a problem her tweets would become?

MS. PSAKI: The President nominated Neera Tanden because she is qualified, because she is experienced, because she has a record of working with people who agree with her and disagree with her, with — and she has decades of experience, and plus, she has lived experience of her own, having benefited from a number of the programs that she would oversee, as a daughter of a single parent and somebody who benefited from food stamps at certain points in time. She would bring a new perspective to the role. That’s why he nominated her to the job and why we’re continuing to fight for her confirmation.

Q On the 50 millionth shot, this afternoon, does the White House — is the White House able to say where and when that shot was administered, what state, even some characteristics about who may have received it?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, it’s a — it’s a great question. I think the challenge is that we get data in from so many different sources on a daily basis — from states, from pharmacies, from mass vaccination sites — that we hit that point — hit the 50 millionth shot sometime yesterday, if not a little bit before, but we can’t fine-tune exactly the person who hit that point — hit that shot.

Q Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.

Q Any update on the President’s phone call or scheduled phone call with King Salman of Saudi Arabia?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an update. As I noted yesterday, as soon as that call happens — we expect it to be very soon — we will, of course, provide a readout to all of you.

Q And you said, when they do talk, that the President won’t hold back. Will he be following up this talk with actions? Are sanctions on the table?

MS. PSAKI: I think there are a range of actions that are on the table, but the first step is — the next step, I should say, is for the President to speak with the King. We expect that to happen very soon. As you know, we’ve committed to the release of an unclassified report that would come out from DNI and not from the White House. And, of course, our administration is focused on recalibrating the relationship, as we’ve talked about in here previously, and certainly there are areas where we will express concerns and leave open the option of accountability. There are also areas where we will continue to work with Saudi Arabia, given the threats they face in the region.

Q What’s the holdup to the phone call? Is the King avoiding your calls?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s the characterization. The President has a busy schedule. The King, obviously — I can’t speak to his schedule — I’m not his spokesperson — but we expect the call to happen very soon. I think there was some inaccurate reporting about it being confirmed when it wasn’t a confirmed call yet.

Q And you have made clear that the President is going to be speaking with his counterpart, with the King, not with the Crown Prince. But given the Crown Prince’s role in the future of the Kingdom and that he is expected to be implicated here, why not speak to the person expected to be responsible?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the President’s conversation will cover a range of topics with the King. There’s obviously a lot to discuss with Saudi Arabia and with the leaders of Saudi Arabia. And as I noted — previously noted — the Crown Prince has been engaged with his appropriate counterparts. The President will be engaged with his appropriate counterparts. And we’re engaged at many levels with leaders in Saudi Arabia.

Q So will the Crown Prince’s counterparts here (inaudible) — speaking to him about this issue, though?

MS. PSAKI: He spoke with him last week; they did a readout. I don’t think I have anything more about their call to read out.

Go ahead.

Q Hi, thank you. I just want to ask about the Post Office — a couple of questions. You said earlier today that there was some concerns, I guess, with the leadership. Quote, “It’s clear that the leadership can do better, and so that’s our hope.” Can you clarify whether you want a change in the Postmaster General, now that you’ve named new members to the board?

And, secondly, they’ve announced the purchase of a new fleet. The President, of course, announced on January 27th a study pursued — aiming at electrifying the government fleet, including the Post Office. Only 10 percent of the fleet, (inaudible), will be electric. Do you plan to change that order or seek changes to it at all?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. The second question, I’ll have to follow up on more specifics on it. That is certainly something that presidents committed to. I don’t have an update on it, but I can venture to get one for you.

On the first question, some people may not be following this as closely as you and I have, so let me just give a little more context. Of course, the President is committed to the Post Office — the Postal Service’s success, which is why yesterday he nominated three extremely qualified individuals to fill the empty spots on the Board of Governors: Anton Hajjar, Amber McReynolds, and Ron Stroman.

And the American people highly value the Postal Service and the men and women who deliver our mail every day. And we’re working hard to do exactly that.

But I think we can all agree, most Americans would agree, that the Postal Service needs leadership that can and will do a better job.

Now, as you know, and — but not everybody knows — it’s up to the Board of Governors, of which we just nominated three individuals to serve, to determine the future of leadership there. And we certainly leave it up to their discretion.

Q It sounds like you’re signaling that the board could take a look at it. Does the President have confidence in the current Postmaster General?

MS. PSAKI: I think the President is certainly familiar with the process. He believes the leadership can do better. And we’re eager to have the Board of Governors in place.

Q Okay, can I ask on a slightly separate subject? You may have seen that GameStop is spiking again, as are similar stocks — or “stonks” dare I call them. Do you have views on whether the SEC or the administration — the Treasury Secretary will weigh in if we continue to see these sort of “meme” stocks fluctuating and spiking like this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, the SEC had been — had had over- — has oversight, I should say, and certainly has been watching it closely, monitoring it closely. The Treasury Secretary also convened a meeting just a few weeks ago, but I would certainly send you to them on what their plans are for monitoring engagement or speaking to it.

Q But there’s been no update since that meeting?

MS. PSAKI: I would send you directly to them to give any update on their progress and how they’re monitoring it.

Q Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.

Q The President is going to Texas tomorrow. He’s obviously going to show empathy for victims of the storm. Does he have a message for the leadership in Texas on how to better prepare for winter storms? And what can the federal government do to kind of coerce private industry there to better prepare?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that he’ll be traveling for most of the day with the governor, and he’ll be — they’ll be surveying the damage, and I’m sure he’ll be getting an update and briefings from him directly.

The President doesn’t view the crisis and the millions of people who’ve been impacted by it as a Democratic or Republican issue. He views it as an issue where he’s eager to get relief to tap into all the resources in the federal government, to make sure the people of Texas know we’re thinking about them, we’re fighting for them, and we’re going to continue working on this as they’re recovering.

There’s plenty of time to have a policy discussion about better weatherization, better preparations, and I’m sure that’s one that will be had. But right now we’re focused on getting relief to the people in the state, getting updated briefings, tapping into all of the levers of federal government.

Q Sure. There’s a lot of hearings on the Hill about how the Capitol Police responded or prior to the January 6th events. Mike Pence and his family were there that day. Secret Service had intelligence briefings, presumably. Is there any concern or review about how the Secret Service assessed intelligence briefings and whether there was any missteps on their part?

MS. PSAKI: Review by the —

Q Secret Service. I mean, Mike Pence and his family were at Capitol Hill that day. Clearly, there was intelligence out there that suggested things could happen. I’m curious to whether there’s been any review by the Secret Service, or ordered about the Secret Service’s actions that day, and how they handled (inaudible).

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