James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:45 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Friday. We tried to make this outdoors. It was not technologically possible yet. One day, maybe.
I have a couple of items for you at the top. Today, as a part of our “Help is Here” tour, the Vice President and Education Secretary Cardona are traveling to New Haven, Connecticut, to emphasize a bold and historic achievement of the American Rescue Plan: cutting child poverty in half. In Connecticut, they will hold a listening session at a Boys & Girls Club and visit a child development center.
The American Rescue Plan makes the single biggest investment in childcare since World War Two. This is hopefully going to help bring more women back into the workforce and address what the Vice President and the President have both called a crisis. It increases the Child Tax Credit from $2,000 to $3,000 per child and $3,600 for children under the age of six. It also gives families an additional tax credit to help out childcare costs for children younger than 13.
As you all have probably seen, there have been some tornadoes in the South. We are monitoring those closely — the severe weather outbreak that’s impacting, of course, the southeastern part of the United States. We extend our deepest condolences to the people in Alabama and Mississippi who lost loved ones as a result of the severe weather outbreak.
We continue to be in close communication with state and local officials and stand at the ready should a need for federal assistance be made or be required. We have not received requests at this point yet, but we stand ready to respond to those should we receive those requests.
Next week, this is a — we will update the week ahead. This does not have a lot in it, so — but next week, the President will continue laying out his vision for the future of our country.
On Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, he will not be traveling. He will be doing public events at the White House. We’ll have more details of those in the coming days. And on Wednesday, as all of you know, he will travel to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he will deliver a speech laying out more details of his plan to build the economy back better.
And, with that, Josh, go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. Georgia has signed into law new restrictions on voting. President Biden has expressed his moral outrage over that. There’s legislation in Congress, but does the administration plan to take any executive actions or file any lawsuits opposing these new laws?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the administration has taken executive actions on voting rights, and, of course, we will continue to review options in that regard.
I will say we expect to have a statement from the President on these — these voting laws — this voting law, I should say, that passed in Georgia. He’s worried about how this initiative — how this initiative sets in place allowing states to — preventing states, I should say, to bring water to people standing in line waiting to vote; deciding what you’re going to end vote — deciding to end voting at five o’clock when working people are just getting off of work — making it more challenging, not easier to vote; deciding that there will be no absentee ballots under the most rigid circumstances.
Like the late Congressman John Lewis said, there’s nothing more precious than the right to vote and speak up. The President certainly believes that.
There are pieces of legislation, as you noted, but — that he is watching closely, that he will be engaging with members of Congress on, including the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to make it easier for all eligible Americans to vote, to have access to the ballot box, and to prevent attacks on the sacred right to vote.
I’ll also note that when he was in Georgia just two weeks ago, he met with Stacey Abrams while he was there, and he will also continue to encourage and engage with outside leaders and activists on steps they can take.
Obviously, there’s a range of groups and organizations that may take legal action that will be leading in activism. Some of that is going to be more appropriate from outside of the White House.
Q And then two more questions. Japan’s Prime Minister has said he expects to invite President Biden to attend the Tokyo Olympics when he comes to the White House. That would be a big statement about the status of the pandemic worldwide. Does the President plan to accept that invite?
MS. PSAKI: He hasn’t received it yet. I want to go to the Olympics. Does that matter? (Laughs.)
As we’ve said, we respected the decision to delay the Games last summer. We understand the careful considerations that the Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee are weighing as they prepare for the Tokyo Olympics this summer. The government of Japan has stressed that public health remains the central priority as they plan to host the Games.
We, of course, look forward to welcoming the Prime Minister to Washington soon. The date has not been formally set yet. And beyond that, I don’t have any predictions on what the President’s travel will look like this summer.
Q And then there’s this ship stuck in the Suez Canal. Has the U.S. offered to help or provide any kind of assistance to resolve the problem?
MS. PSAKI: We are tracking the situation very closely. We understand that Egyptian officials are working to remove the tanker as soon as possible and continue traffic.
As part of our ap- — active, I should say, diplomatic dialogue with Egypt, we’ve offered U.S. assistance to Egyptian authorities to help reopen the canal. We are consulting with our Egyptian partners about how we can best support their efforts. So those conversations are ongoing, and hopefully we’ll have more to say about that soon.
Go ahead, Steve.
Q Thank you. We heard what the President said yesterday about Afghanistan. When do you think he will formally postpone the May 1 withdrawal date?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me convey the President has not made a decision at this point. As he said yesterday, it would be tough to meet the May 1st deadline for full withdrawal for logistical reasons. That’s consistent what — with what Secretary of State Tony Blinken also said in Brussels earlier this week. Any withdrawal plan will be informed by consultation with key leaders within the administration and the thinking of our partners and allies, which is, of course, what our Secretary of State is working on doing.
Our commitment is to bringing a responsible end to the conflict, removing our troops from harm’s way, ensuring that Afghanistan can never again become a haven for terrorists that would threaten the United States or any of our allies. But right now, we’re consulting with our allies and partners, and the President has not yet made a decision.
Q When do you think he will decide, Jen? Is it imminent? Or —
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, May 1st is coming soon, but I don’t have any timeline on when his decision will be made.
Q And, separately, on North Korea, when do you expect your review of that policy to be completed?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are in the final stages of our intensive multi-stakeholder North Korea policy review. And we’re, of course, discussing our review with national security advisors of South Korea and Japan at our trilateral dialogue coming up next week. And those consultations are an important part of our review process.
Q Thanks, Jen. First, I want to follow on the Suez. How concerned is the U.S. about the blockage and its effect on global commerce, trade, goods getting to the U.S. and other places?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we do see some potential impacts on energy markets from the role of the Suez Canal as a key bidirectional transit route for oil. And obviously, that’s one of the reasons we offered assistance from the United States, and we are in close consultation with the Egyptians about that.
We’re going to continue to monitor market conditions and we’ll respond appropriately if necessary, but it is something we’re watching closely.
Q And then, on the pandemic: Dr. Redfield, the former CDC director, said this morning that he believes that the virus originated from the lab in Wuhan. Does President Biden have any views on where the virus may have originated, or has the U.S. come to a conclusion on that yet?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, the WHO is examining this and will be releasing a report soon. We’ll review that report once it’s available.
We continue to learn more about the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, including its origins, so we can better prepare for future crises.
I know Dr. Walensky addressed this and I think Dr. Fauci did as well this morning, and we’ll look closely at that information when it’s available.
Q Are the President’s views being informed by that WHO report or his advisors? I mean, what is he —
MS. PSAKI: By his health and medical advisors, certainly. And so they’ll review — they will be, of course, the people reviewing the reports and more data when it becomes available.
Q And then, last one on the forced labor in Xinjiang, in China. Some companies have come under pressure from the Chinese government, and some retailers have actually dropped pledges not to use products made with forced labor from that region. So, you know, what is the U.S. doing to stop or deter China from making those kind of threats against companies that have resulted in this problem?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly have been watching this issue closely, as you well know, and we’ve taken our own strong actions in order to prevent China from profiting off of its horrific human rights abuses in Xinjiang and to stop imports of products made with forced labor in China.
American consumers and consumers everywhere deserve to know that their goods are — that the goods they are buying are not made with forced labor, and many companies are standing up for consumers’ rights.
The international community, in our view, should oppose China’s weaponizing of private companies’ dependence on its markets to stifle free expression and inhibit ethical business practices. So it is something we are watching closely.
We’ve, of course, taken our own action. I would expect that State and Commerce will have more to say on this later today.
Q And just one quick follow-up, though. It’s — because it seems like you’ve been having this message out there for the first couple months of this administration, but it’s — China only seems more emboldened to threaten these companies. So what more can be done from the White House to try to deter them from making these threats?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we can work with our international partners, obviously, as I conveyed, on how we’re going to push back on China’s efforts to weaponize private companies. And we can convey publicly, as we are now, and of course engage with private sector entities about these efforts.
But a lot of that action would happen from Commerce and, in some cases, the State Department. And again, I expect they’ll have more specifics to say later today on this.
Go ahead, Kaitlan.
Q A few questions. On the WHO investigation that’s coming out, Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor, said a few months ago that they had deep concerns about the way the investigation was being conducted. Do they still have those deep concerns?
MS. PSAKI: In part because there was a lack of transparency and there was a lack of — we weren’t ensured that we would have access to the data available, so there was a delay. They actually delayed the release of that report, which we were encouraged by. We’ll have to take a look at it and make sure we have access to the underlying information.
Q So what happens if the report comes out and President Biden is not satisfied with it?
MS. PSAKI: Not satisfied with the report?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve also — we’ve also called for an international investigation and look into what’s — what’s happened and the origin — not just the origin, I should say — the lack of transparency from the Chinese. We have reinstituted or reengaged with — through staffing of our — of our team on the ground in Beijing.
So we’ll see what the report says. Where we have concerns, we’ll look at the underlying data, if we have access to that. And then we’ll have to make a determination through an interagency process on what’s next.
Q And just to get some clarity on yesterday, are we — should we still be expecting executive orders from the President on gun measures?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Imminently? Or what’s — what do you — like a month from now? Or what do you think the timeframe on this is?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t give you an exact timeframe, in part because they have to go through a review process, which is something that we do from here.
You know, I will note that, you know, when we — when the President was the Vice President in the Obama-Biden administration, he helped put in place 23 executive actions to combat gun violence. It’s one of the levers that we can use — that any federal government, any President can use to help address the prevalence of gun violence and address community safety around the country.
At the same time, he continues to believe that there is an opportunity to engage with Congress. There are two background bill — background check bills that are — have been proposed, have been introduced, have been working their way through. There have also been legislation introduced to ban an assault weapon — ban assault weapons.
But he also believes that there is an opportunity — and sometimes that the best path forward is working through states. And there has been progress made. We’ve seen over the last several years: 20 states now have extended background checks, 19 states have red flag laws, 7 states now have assault weapons bans. We know they work.
And so we have to address this epidemic, address the threat of gun violence across many avenues. And he will — he’s committed to doing that.
Q Okay. And then also, does he have reaction to the Georgia state representative who was arrested overnight when knocking on the Georgia governor’s door as he was signing that election law?
MS. PSAKI: I think anyone who saw that video would have been deeply concerned by the actions that were taken by law enforcement to arrest her when she’s simply — by the video that was provided — seemed to be knocking on the door to see if she could watch a bill being signed into law.
The larger conc- — the largest concern here — obviously, beyond her being treated in the manner she was — which is, of course, of great concern — is the law that was put into place, which, again, the President will — we’ll have a statement from the President, I expect, later this afternoon on.
It should not be harder, it should be easier to vote. We should not put limitations in place. People should be able to vote from home. They should be able to use absentee ballots. There should be a range of restrictions that are undone, not put back in place. And so that’s of great concern — one he certainly shares with the — with the elected official who was arrested.
Q Does he plan to reach out to her?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any calls to preview for you. If he does, I will certainly provide an update to all of you.
Q Thank you, Jen. A couple follow-ups on yesterday. The President said he thinks the filibuster is a legacy of the Jim Crow era. Did he think that it was a legacy of the Jim Crow era in 2005 when he defended the filibuster and said, “Altering Senate rules to help…one political fight or another could become standard operating procedure, which, in my view, would be disastrous”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Peter, one of the things he talked about yesterday was the fact that between 1917 and 1971, the filibuster was used about 58 times. Last year — last year alone, it was used five times that many. It is not being used for the intended purpose. It is being abused.
And, yes, there are scenarios, as it as it relates to voting rights, where it is — it is oppressing; it is — it is allowing for systematic racism in the country. So that’s the concern he was expressing.
Q And a follow on that, there are some concerns on the right that if you get rid of the filibuster, it effectively means one-party rule. So is that what the President was getting at when he was asked about 2024 and he said, “I have no idea if there will be a Republican Party.”
MS. PSAKI: Well, that certainly wasn’t what he was getting at, given, as part of his answer, he conveyed that his objective and his hope is to work with Republicans. He wants to get work done for the American people. He wants to put in place solutions, put people back to work, get the pandemic under control, make voting easier and more accessible.
And it’s really on Republicans in Congress to decide if they’re going to be part of the solution or if they’re going to be part of obstruction. So he’s leaving it up to them to make the decision on what role they want to play in history.
Q On the border, the President said yesterday, “the vast majority, the overwhelming majority of people coming to the border and crossing are being sent back.” But only 13 percent of the 13,000 families that tried to cross last week were sent back, according to Axios. So where do we get a majority out of 13 percent?
MS. PSAKI: The vast majority of adults are being sent back.
Q Okay. So the family units, 87 percent of them are being taken into the United States to either be resettled or await — await their hearings. I’m just curious, 87 percent in the country of the family units is not a majority being sent back.
MS. PSAKI: A majority of adults, which every adult is not a part of a family unit, as I’m sure you’re fully tracking.
MS. PSAKI: And tens of thousands of people are coming to our border. We know that. And so the majority of adults are being turned away.
Our policy remains the same: We are implementing Section [Title] 42. As the President touched on and I touched on a little bit earlier this week, we — there are capacity issues in Mexico which we are in discussions with them about addressing. And they are not in a position to accept and take the families that they have in the past. So that’s part of the diplomatic discussions that we’re having.
Q Okay, and just one more about yesterday. We noticed, starting at the end of the campaign and then into the transition and here at the White House, anytime that the President has an event where he’s given a list of reporters to call on, Fox is the only member of the five-network TV pool that has never been on the list in front of the President. And I’m just curious if that is an official administration policy.
MS. PSAKI: We’re here having a conversation, aren’t we?
Q Yes, but the President —
MS. PSAKI: And do I take questions from you every time you come to the briefing room?
Q Yes, but I’m talking about the President.
MS. PSAKI: Has the President taken questions from you since you came in — since you — since he came into office?
Q Unfortunately —
MS. PSAKI: Yes or no?
Q — only when I have shouted after he goes through his whole list. And the President has been very generous with his time with Fox. I’m just curious about this list that he is given.
MS. PSAKI: So —
Q The only member of the five-network pool never on it, dating back to when he resumed in-person events in Wilmington during the end of the campaign.
MS. PSAKI: Well I would say that I’m always happy to have this conversation with you, even about your awesome socks you’re having on today — you’re wearing today — and have a conversation with you even when we disagree. The President has taken your questions. And I’m looking forward to doing Fox News Sunday this Sunday for the third time in the last few months.
I think we got to move on because we got limited time.
Go ahead, Kristen.
Q Jen, thank you. The President talked about the importance of kids going back to the classrooms.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q In many schools all across the country, they are not going back to the classrooms and there aren’t imminent plans to do so because teachers unions say that they want their teachers to be vaccinated first, even though the CDC says that’s not required. How are you going to deal with that? And are there any discussions about the saying to teachers unions, “You have to go back to the classrooms”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, actually, 76 percent of schools are — do have teaching, do have kids in the classroom for part of the week; and about 46 percent are back five days a week. And we expect that to continue to increase over time.
Q Right, but the President said, “the majority.” He wants the majority to be back —
MS. PSAKI: Right, by day 100. And we’re on —
Q — five days a week. Yes. Right.
MS. PSAKI: — track to meet that objective.
I will say that we took a step, in this administration, to prioritize teachers through our pharmacy program. We — that program is working; it’s effective. Teachers can go. They are prioritized at pharmacies. It’s something we had the power to take and implement, even without — even — and we feel it’s very much in line with the CDC guidelines because it is one of the mitigation steps. And it’s a step we had the power to take and put into place.
We actually don’t see an issue coming up with schools not reopening. They are reopening. More are reopening every single week. And we certainly feel we’re on track to meet our goal.
Q And when you look at some of the polling, as it relates to the vaccinations, still about 30 percent of adults say they don’t plan to get one. How do you get things back to normal with those types of figures? And when, specifically, do you plan to move forward with the vaccine campaign to try to improve education —
MS. PSAKI: It’s launching, Kristen. It’s happening. We are launching a public campaign. There are some details that have been out and reported, I believe, in the Wall Street Journal. We’ll get all that information out to all of you.
I will say that what we have learned from our own data is that part of our investment and focus needs to be in trusted voices and trusted partners. We’ve seen some improvement in confidence among a range of communities in the efficacy of the vaccine. That’s — that’s good news, right?
What we have seen concern about and what we still have concern about is access, and that is the big issue. Because now when we start to get to — get to the point where we are trying to reach more and more and more communities — of course, vaccinate adults, Americans in this country — a lot of people can’t take a day off to go get a vaccine. They don’t have the flexibility to be in the slot available. They maybe can’t drive three miles to their local pharmacy.
So our big investment right now is in access. That means increasing investments in mobile units, in community health centers, in mass vaccination sites, but it also means, in terms of the public campaign, investing in trusted voices and empowering local groups and organizations to have the funding, the information, and the assistance they need.
Q And just to follow up with my question with the President yesterday: I asked him about transparency and access for journalists into some of the facilities at the border. The President said, “I will commit when my plan…is underway” to have access. It sounded to a lot of people like he was saying, “I will let more cameras in once I’m satisfied with the conditions.” How is that consistent with transparency?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not actually what he meant. I’ll first say, we did allow access, including an NBC camera, exclusively, into the shelter facility on Wednesday. And we’re committed to increasing access and doing additional pools, making it available these facilities — including the Border Patrol facilities, as well as the shelters.
What he was conveying is, right now, his focus is on moving these kids out of these Border Patrol facilities — right? — and making sure it’s done in a way that keeps them safe and keeps everyone safe.
That does not imply that we are not going to allow access until that is done; it implies that is his first focus. So, thanks for asking the question. That was his — that was his intention.
Q And do you have a timeframe for when — I noted that NBC did go in as pool. Do you have a timeframe for when the next round of cameras might be allowed in?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, we’re working on it. Hopefully soon. It’s something we’re certainly committed to, and we’re just working with DHS and HHS on when we can make it possible.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q So, obviously — on guns — obviously, there’s lots of pieces of legislation the President —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — is advocating for. But when he spoke yesterday about priorities, some gun control groups felt frustrated. They felt like he was saying gun control is not a priority compared to infrastructure, compared to Build Back Better. What’s your response to groups who took that message away from the President’s comments yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, the President understands their frustration, and he understands it as one of the few people in government who ever beat the NRA twice by leading the fight to pass the Brady Bill and the Assault Weapons Ban. He understands it as a person who led the effort of President Obama’s request to strengthen gun measures after Sandy Hook and when that was voted down. Helped put in place 23 executive actions to combat gun violence.
You’ll see more executive action, as Josh and others were asking about — and that review is underway — and more efforts by him and the administration to move forward in the weeks ahead, whether that is on legislation; supporting efforts that are happening in states, which we have seen is very effective and impactful and largely due to the advocacy and activism of a lot of these groups.
But, you know, we would say that the frustration should be vented at the members of the House and Senate who voted against the measures the President supports. And we’d certainly support their advocacy in that regard.
Q And on the border: Secretary Mayorkas put out a statement saying this is the highest case of border crossings in 20 years. Yesterday, President Biden made it seem like this is not too unusual compared to other previous years; that, in terms of the number of people trying to cross the border, it’s about average. But those don’t seem to square. How does the administration view this, in terms of whether this is precedented or whether this is an increase?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President was making the point that we have seen increases at the border: in 2014, when he was the Vice President; 2018 and 2019. And he conveyed that, over the last six months of the Trump administration, there was an increase of about 31 percent. We’ve seen an increase of about 29 percent over the last several months since he took office.
So, the point is, we’ve dealt with this before. It is often seasonal. It is often cyclical. And he just wanted to convey that in his effort to communicate and be — provide educational information to the public. But that doesn’t change the fact that he is addressing this by putting forward every resource at our disposal in the administration.
Just in this past week, we’ve taken steps to bring a number of new facilities online, from Fort Bliss, where there are 5,000 beds; to Lackland Air Force Base, where there are 350 beds; San Diego Convention Center, 1,400 beds. These three sites alone provide, at peak capacity, an additional sixty — 6,750 beds.
One of our biggest issues, as we’ve talked about before, is moving these kids out of the Border Patrol facilities into the shelters. And we need to have places that are safe, that have educational resources, health resources, mental health resources, legal resources. This is a step toward doing that.
The other piece where he has been very focused, as we all have been, is on expediting processing at the border. And earlier this week, the Office of Refugee Resettlement also instituted a revised policy for certain children who have a parent or legal guardian in the United States. This will add more capacity and more swiftly unite kids with relatives and sponsors.
So, of course, there should be a difference if it’s a direct family member — a mother or father — and a different kind of adult. Right? So there are steps we are taking to try to expedite even the processing.
So, our focus is on actions and solutions. We certainly know this is a challenge. It’s something he is briefed on regularly and has — is pushing his team to take more rapid action.
Go ahead, Peter.
Q Thank you, Jen. The President has said he wants bipartisan support, I think, for an infrastructure package as well. Is that possible when Republicans are pretty adamant they don’t want tax increases? In other words, how can you achieve bipartisan support for infrastructure if Republicans are drawing the line — a hard line on taxes?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say, Peter, that I don’t think most Republicans think that the United States — one of the wealthiest countries in the world — should be 13th in the world as it relates to infrastructure. You know, roads that are broken down, infrastructure that isn’t working, a lack of access to broadband — that’s not a Democratic issue. And the President is going to continue to make that case.
Now, we don’t know what the votes will be. We haven’t proposed a package yet, and certainly what it will be tied to and the payfors will be a part of that discussion.
But he certainly believes there’s been a history of support for investing in infrastructure. He has had bipartisan meetings in the White House. He’s worked with Democrats and Republicans on getting legislation — you know, getting steps taken in the past. And he’s — he’s hopeful that — that there’s an agreement on that, moving forward.
Go ahead, Anita.
Q Thanks. Six former commissioners — FDA commissioners have called on the President to go ahead and nominate an FDA commissioner. You probably saw this week that the second in command there is — has announced that she’s leaving. I’m wondering what — when the President plans to appoint someone or nominate someone for the FDA.
But more broadly, I wondered if you could talk a little bit about why the President is behind Presidents Obama and Trump on appointing both at the FDA and a variety of other vacancies, including the Deputy Secretary at DHS and the Solicitor General.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ll also point out that the President is also the first President to have all 15 Cabinet nominees confirmed on this timeline and without a single one dropping out, if we’re just making comparisons between administrations.
He certainly wants to have an FDA commissioner in place. He wants it to be the right person. And, you know, there sometimes is a journey on personnel and determining who the right person is for the job, who’s willing to do the job, who’s available to do the job. And it’s a priority, but I don’t have a pre- — an update for you on when he will nominate someone.
Q And in general, just on some of these other positions? I take your point about the Cabinet. I’m asking about some others though.
MS. PSAKI: What was your question again?
Q Well, just more broadly why he’s behind on some of these other positions that are not the actual Cabinet that you referred to.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s a little bit of apples and oranges. We obviously have made a great deal of progress on, again, the people who are running and leading these agencies more than any administration since the Reagan administration. We feel very good about that.
We’ve also walked into a White — a presidency where he is dealing with a pandemic that is still killing 1,000 people a day; 10 million people out of work; racial injustice across the country; a climate crisis. So he’s got a few things on his plate. But he is committed to personnel, moving things forward, and certainly wants to have a full team across agencies.
Q And then, if I could just follow up on something: You mentioned Title 42, which closes the border to nonessential travel. Several — before President Biden was President, several lawmakers, including then-Senator Harris, now Vice President obviously, called it an unconstitutional “executive power grab” that had “no known precedent or clear legal rationale.” Why is that still something that is — that he has not rescinded? What is — is he reviewing that? What is the situation there? He clearly doesn’t agree with the Vice President on that.
MS. PSAKI: It’s in place for public health reasons, given we’re in the midst of a pandemic. And that’s why it’s in place.
I think we’re going to have to move on. Go ahead.
Q A couple other COVID questions, Jen. Since January, the number of Americans who have been tested for COVID has dropped off dramatically as more people are getting vaccinated. This is a real concern for public health officials who think that testing is a cornerstone to keeping the pandemic in check. So what is the administration’s plan to make sure that those testing numbers don’t fall off further as more people get vaccinated?
MS. PSAKI: You’re absolutely right, and testing is a key part of returning to normalcy, whether it’s schools or workplaces or businesses, especially as we still have a majority of the population that still needs to be vaccinated, although we’re working to expedite that.
There is funding in the American Rescue Plan. There is funding to also allow for that — institute — or give funding, I should say, to schools to also make that available there. So it’s something that we’ll continue to communicate about to governors, to school leaders, to businesses about the importance of testing. And we have resources now that have been passed in the American Rescue Plan to help alleviate some of the cost.
Q Okay. And one more. The NFL has announced that it is not going to require players, coaches, staff members to get the COVID vaccine if they want to play, practice, et cetera. Is that a mistake? And should this vaccine be required for athletes?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would certainly — I don’t know that we’re making NFL policy from here, but it is certainly recommended by public health officials, by officials from our federal government, because it’s how we can keep people safe and healthy, whether it’s our family members or our friends or people in the stands who are attending these games.
So certainly we would advise any entity to follow public health guidelines, to recommend that their players, the members of the NFL, follow those public health guidelines — whether it’s mask wearing, social distancing, washing hands, and certainly getting the vaccine when they have access.
Q So a question again about voting rights. The President has expressed support for H.R. 1. He’s going to put out a statement later today. What else does he have planned as far as travel or working with senators to push this legislation forward? And what other specifics can you share about his use of the bully pulpit to push that forward?
And I have one more question on behalf of another reporter.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. No problem.
First, as the President conveyed yesterday, he feels that voting rights are — pushing back on voting rights, making it harder to vote, is un-American. It is something that should not be a part of society in any regard. Even many Republicans across the country oppose the efforts that have been undertaken in states like Georgia to make it more difficult. He will certainly continue to vocalize that, as he did quite passionately yesterday.
He met with Stacey Abrams when he was in Georgia, and he will, of course, use his role as President to engage with and work with members of Congress and leaders to help to move these pieces of legislation forward in the Senate.
Q Okay. And the other question is: When children arrive at the border — migrant children arrive — and they’re not with their biological parents or with their aunts, uncles, grandparents, they are sometimes separated from them and they become an unaccompanied minor at that point. Is the administration looking at changing that policy to let (inaudible) stay together when they’re not a biological parent?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that there are steps that are taken to ensure, because there has been a history of child trafficking — right? — and we want to prevent that from being a risk that is children are — that is posed to children.
I’m not aware of any consideration of changes. I’m happy to check and see if there’s anything underway.
Q This obviously would decrease the number of unaccompanied minors if they can stay with an aunt, an uncle, a grandparent.
MS. PSAKI: That certainly is true, but I think you have to — we have to ensure that individuals are vetted, that they are who they say they are. And there have unfortunately been cases in the past where that has not been the scenario, so we are mindful of that as well.
Q I have a question about the Iowa Second Congressional District race. Four Republican senators, in a letter to corporations, are calling the battle for the — for Democrats to take back the seat “an unacceptable attempt to undermine a legitimate democratic process.” Does the President agree with their assessment?
MS. PSAKI: I believe that the process that is outlined by the House of Representatives is what’s being followed here to ensure every vote is counted. So, no, he wouldn’t agree with that.
Q And then just one more question. Will the White House comply with House Democrats’ request for documents from the last six weeks of the Trump administration, as part of their investigation into what happened on January 6?
MS. PSAKI: Those — a lot of those documents would be in the National Archives, I believe, so I’m not sure it would be White House documents. But if they’re White House documents, I can certainly ask our lawyers, but I think most of them would be in the National Archives, from a past administration.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Jen. Has the President been briefed or seen the images of migrants that have passed away at the border in the past couple of days, including a nine-year-old girl? And does he have any response to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say this is — he’s regularly briefed by his immigration team and kept abreast of all developments at the border.
I would say that those images are a reminder of how dangerous this journey is and why this is not the time to come. And it’s just — is a reminder of how important it is that we work together. This is not a partisan issue. This is an issue where we’re talking about people’s lives, children’s lives. And we’re focused on working with anyone who wants to be part of a solution to address the challenges we’re facing.
Q And when you and the President yesterday talked about negotiating with Mexico, what is Mexico asking for to take the migrants back?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’re going to get into private negotiations. I will just say that it’s not a question of “if” but “when” — when we work through with the Mexican government being able to have the capacity to take some of these families back.
Part of the discussion, of course, when Ambassador Jacobson and others were in the region was on exactly these issues, but it was just the first trip. As we announced just a couple of days ago, the Vice President will be playing an important role here. We have just announced an envoy, and these discussions will be ongoing. And we didn’t expect this first trip to be conclusive.
Q And as you make now the infrastructure package your next priority, where does immigration reform fall on the list of priorities for this White House?
MS. PSAKI: Any White House, including ours, has to walk and chew gum at the same time, move forward on a range of priorities, a range of crises facing the country. So we will continue to work with members of Congress, work with outside groups, continue to advocate for moving long-overdue immigration reform forward.
Q Yesterday, the President mentioned that — inviting an alliance of democracies “before too long.”
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Can you define when “before too long” might be, and whether it would be to the White House?
MS. PSAKI: (Sneezes.)
Q Bless you.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
Q Whether they would come to the White House, and how many countries does he envision inviting?
MS. PSAKI: That’s a great question. There’s not — it’s something he talked about broadly on the campaign trail. I don’t have any additional details at this point in time. I expect we’ll have some more on our climate summit soon, which is — would be the next summit-type of international engagement. But I don’t have anything to preview for you on that particular event.
Q Prime Minister Suga’s visit to Washington was announced, like, two weeks ago by the Japanese government, but I wondered what is — why is there a holdup in announcing the date?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, it’s not — it’s not — it’s — we’re working out the final date and logistics. We’re looking forward to welcoming the Prime Minister here. But I wouldn’t read anything into it beyond that.
Thanks, everyone. Happy Friday.
1:22 P.M. EDT