Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, March 29, 2021

The White House

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:40 P.M. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.

Q Hello.

MS. PSAKI: Hello. Okay, a couple of items for all of you at the top. First, welcome Andrew Bates, our new deputy press secretary. Anyone who covered the Biden campaign knows Andrew quite well. And he just joined our team after being — staying on the transition for the last two months.

Okay, this Wednesday, the President will be laying out the first of two equally critically — critical packages to rebuild our economy and create better-paying jobs for American workers. He’ll talk this week about investments we need to make in domestic manufacturing, R&D, the caregiving economy, and infrastructure.

In the coming weeks, the President will lay out his vision for a second package that focuses squarely on creating economic security for the middle class through investments in childcare, healthcare, education, and other areas. Throughout this process, we look forward to working with a broad coalition of members of Congress to gather their input and ideas, and determine the path forward, create good jobs, and make America more competitive.

I’ll also note that he’s doing this in Pittsburgh, where he launched his campaign for the presidency just two years ago.

Today, the CDC also announced a 90-day extension of the federal eviction moratorium. The news was out earlier today. The moratorium was scheduled to expire on March 31st and is now extended through June 30th. The President is committed to supporting renters and small landlords through the COVID-19 crisis.

Essential to that effort is, of course, the American Rescue Plan, which delivers an additional $21.5 billion in emergency rental assistance to help millions of families keep up on rent and remain in their homes. This, of course, is an act that included coordination from the Treasury Department, from HUD, from the USDA, the CFPB, and the FTC. They’re all coordinating efforts.

Today, the White House convened leaders from across the administration and is taking coordinated steps to announce a set of bold actions that will catalyze offshore wind energy and create good-paying union jobs. The President recognizes that a thriving offshore wind industry will drive new jobs and economic opportunity up and down the Atlantic Coast, in the Gulf of Mexico, and in Pacific waters.

We just released a factsheet on this announcement — pretty detailed. The Department of Interior — Interior, Energy, and Commerce announced a shared goal to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind in the United States by 2030, while protecting biodiversity and protecting ocean co-use. Meeting this target will trigger more than $12 billion per year in capital investment in projects on both U.S. coasts, create tens of thousands of good-paying union jobs with more than 44,000 workers employed in offshore wind by 2030, and nearly 33,000 additional jobs in communities supported by offshore wind activity.

It will also generate enough power to meet the demand of more than 10 million American homes and avoid 78 million metric tons of carbon emissions.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Maritime Administration today is announcing a Notice of Funding Opportunity for port authorities and other applicants to apply for $230 million for port and intermodal infrastructure-related projects through the Port Infrastructure Development Program.

Last item is, I have a — some — an update for you on the flooding that has occurred in the Tennessee Valley. The Department of Homeland Security and media sources report four fatalities and over 150 rescued in the Tennessee Valley as heavy rainfall swamped the area, flooding homes and roads, including parts of Nashville. The President and the White House continue to monitor the situation very closely and stand at the ready, should any federal — federal assistance be requested or required. At this time, no request for federal assistance have come in.

The National Weather Service reports over nine inches of rain has fallen over the past 24 hours, of course causing this massive flooding.

Jonathan, why don’t you kick us off?

Q Thank you, Jen. The CDC director today delivered an impassioned warning against a rise in COVID cases and said it filled her with a sense of, quote, “impending doom.” We’re seeing cases rise in many states. My question is: Does the President plan out to reach directly to governors, including the Democratic governors in states like New York, New Jersey, in Michigan that are seeing real rises? And does he plan to ask them to slow down or pause them reopening their states?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Jonathan, we are in very close touch with governors of those states and states across the country, not only through our weekly governors call that is led by our COVID coordinator, but through calls and engagements that happen through the course of the week and through the course of every day.

And the President has not held back in calling for governors, leaders, the American people to continue to abide by the public health guidelines, whether they are mask mandates on federal land and buildings or on interstate travel; whether it’s, you know, encouraging people to hand wash and abide by social distancing. He will continue to do that through all of his engagements and, of course, through calls he has with local officials. But we are in very close touch with leaders across the country.

Q So, my follow-up to that is — but this is probably the most precarious moment the country has had, in terms of the virus, since the President took office. This was according to CDC direct- — CDC director today. Will the President not take that additional step to get — to talk to governors and ask them to slow down reopenings?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Jonathan, the President uses every opportunity he can, whether it’s public — publicly, through every interview, through nearly every public engagement he has. He has remarks later this afternoon, as you know, on COVID, providing an update on our effort to defeat the virus. He also does that through private engagements as well.

But there are a range of officials at very high levels who are in touch with governors and leaders across the country who will continue to emphasize the need to abide by public health guidelines.

Q And one other topic. Earlier, Majority Leader Schumer is making the case that budget reconciliation can be used once more in the Fiscal Year 2021. If the Senate parliamentarian agrees with his argument, this could be used a couple more times over the next year or so. Does the White House support that move? And what would it mean for the President’s agenda?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the White House and the President will leave the mechanics of bill passing to Leader Schumer and other leaders in Congress. Our focus is on proposing an agenda — an ambitious agenda to invest in infrastructure, to help caregivers across the country, to ensure that we are doing more to help Americans get through this challenging period of time.

Go ahead.

Q Thank, Jen. On infrastructure, since the President is set to unveil his proposal in a couple of days now, what is his current thinking or his economic advisors’ current thinking on how much of this package needs to be paid for with tax revenue?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the President has a plan to fix the infrastructure of our country. We’re currently 13th in the world; no one believes we should be there. And he has a plan to pay for it, which he will propose. But, right now, once he proposes that, our focus is also on having that engagement and discussion with members of Congress.

If they share a goal of building our infrastructure for the future but don’t like the way he’s going to propose to pay for it, we’re happy to look at their proposals. If they don’t want to pay for it, I guess they can propose that too. Maybe they don’t support infrastructure spending.

So the President has an ambitious goal. The most important thing is to figure out how to invest in — put forward the investments in our much-needed — that are much needed in our infrastructure. What’s irresponsible is not to address the urgent needs of that investment. But the means and mechanisms of paying for it — we look forward to presenting his plans but also hearing proposals for others who may have a difference of view.

Q Is there a concern that if you don’t pay for enough of it, that it’ll have a drag on the economy, specifically by increasing the debt and deficit?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, he’s going to have a plan to pay for it. I’m sure that if there are proposals out there that are differing from his, in terms of what they will cover, we’ll have that discussion. But he, of course, believes that investing in our infrastructure, continuing to create good-paying union jobs is front and center, but he also believes that we have an opportunity to rebalance, to take — to address our tax code that is out of date, and — and some could pay more in our country that are not currently.

Q And on that front, just a clarification: Last week, you said the tax increase threshold for the President is $400,000 a year, both for individuals and households. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Yep.

Q And what does the White House say to moderates who might be concerned that hiking the corporate tax rate to, say, 28 percent will be a drag on growth?

MS. PSAKI: We haven’t seen evidence in that from economists, but if they have alternative proposals to how to — for how to pay for investing in our nation’s infrastructure, rebuilding our roads and our railways, and putting Americans back to work, we’re happy to hear it.

Q And then finally, on the vaccine, Andy Slavitt talked about the idea of a “vaccine passport” in the COVID briefing this morning. He said it’s primarily going to be spearheaded by the private sector. But what’s the President’s position on whether, once the vaccine is more readily available, businesses should be able to tell employees who don’t want to get the vaccine for whatever reason that they can’t come back into the workplace, or that airlines could reject people from getting on the plane if they have decided not to get a vaccine?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re going to provide guidance, just as we have, through the CDC. There’s currently an interagency process that is looking at many of the questions around vaccine verification. And that issue will touch many agencies as verification is an issue that will potentially touch many sectors of society, as you have certainly alluded to. That’s guidance we’ll provide.

We expect — as Andy Slavitt, I think, alluded to — that a determination or development of a vaccine passport, or whatever you want to call it, will be driven by the private sector. Ours will more be focused on guidelines that can be used as a basis. And there are a couple key principles that we are working from. One is that there will be no centralized, universal federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.

Second, we want to encourage an open marketplace with a variety of private sector companies and nonprofit coalitions developing solutions.

And third, we want to drive the market toward meeting public interest goals. So we’ll leverage our resources to ensure that all vaccination credential systems meet key standards, whether that’s universal accessibility, affordability, availability — both digitally and on paper.

But those are our standards. It’s currently going through an interagency process. We’ll make some recommendations, and then we believe it will be driven by the private sector.

Q And when do you anticipate those guidelines will come out?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a timeline to provide you at this point, but it’s obviously something we’re working through. And we want to provide that clarity to the public.

Go ahead.

Q I want to talk about George Floyd. Will the President be watching or receiving updates on Derek Chauvin’s trial today? And has he been in touch with George Floyd’s family in the lead-up to trial?

MS. PSAKI: Well, he certainly will be watching closely, as Americans across the country will be watching.

You know, at the time of George Floyd’s death, he talked about this as being an event that really opened up a wound in the American public, and it really brought to light for a lot of people in this country just the kind of racial injustice and inequality that many communities are experiencing every single day.

And he’ll be watching it closely. He’ll certainly be provided updates. Obviously, this is a trial that’s working its way through a law enforcement — or a legal process, so we wouldn’t weigh in further than that.

But these were events that, at the time, he spoke about as being just a reminder of also the need to — and it certainly impacted how he’s thought about, in his own government, making equity central to what we do, instituting and putting in place — racial injustice and addressing racial injustice as a priority — one of the key crises that he believes he is facing and we are all facing as a country.

So it will continue to be central to what we do, and he will of course be watching the trial closely.

Q And has he spoken to the family of George Floyd in the lead-up to the trial?

MS. PSAKI: Not — I don’t have any calls to read out. He obviously spoke to them — or not “obviously.” For those of you who didn’t follow this closely, he did speak to them last spring, and spoke at the time and commented at the time about their grace. And I know he conveyed that, and he was just impressed by their courage, and he continues to believe that.

Q You said it redoubled his commitment to advancing racial justice in this country. He also committed to creating this national police oversight commission during his first 100 days in office. Has that been created yet? Is that still on track to being created?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re encouraged, first, by the interest and engagement by members of the House and Senate in the George Floyd bill, which is making progress, and there’s discussions that are active at this point in time. That’s really where our focus is going to be at this moment.

We believe that — and he believes, I should say — that it is imperative to put in place — in order to rebuild trust among communities, that there needs to be accountability and there needs to be systems in place to ensure that — and laws changed to ensure that that can be carried out.

So that is where our focus is. The President supports that piece of legislation. And we’re hopeful that he will be able to — he will receive a landmark reform bill on his desk.

Q So will the commission still be established in his first 100 days in office?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on it other than to convey that this bill is an opportunity to put in place a number of the actions that — that he, that many in the advocacy community feel are imperative at this point in our country’s history.

Q So it’s still kind of an open question here. No firm commitment to —

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on the timeline, but I think what’s important to note is that the George Floyd bill, which would put in place and make law a number of the accountability measures and actions that he and so many who watched these events in horror feel are imperative at our — this point our country.

Q One last question, if I could, Jen. Thank you. I want to just turn to immigration really quickly here. President Joe Biden has said that surges like this happen every year. We know that these cycles do happen. Axios is reporting that they have received documents that show the surge of minors coming to the southern border is expected to last seven or more months. I just got back from the border; I spoke with Texas state troopers who said they have never seen this many unaccompanied minors crossing the United States border. Are you guys tracking that timeline for this current surge — that it’s going to last seven months or more?

MS. PSAKI: Well, what we’re working to do is put in place steps and actions to help address the situation at the border, including, of course, expediting processing and opening up additional shelters, but also reinstituting policies like the Central American Minors Program to encourage young people to apply in their country and not make that treacherous journey.

We are also in a circumstance where we are digging out of a broken system over the past four years — not just the inhumane policies, but the fact that there were never efforts put in place to look for and seek shelters where these children could be safely and humanely housed. They had a different policy than the President has, of course, but also there was a hiring freeze at ORR in the Refugee Resettlement Office, which made it something that we had to also dig out of when we started.

So that’s where our focus is on. We are hopeful that, as we put these in place — these measures — we can help to address and stem the challenges at the border.

Q Just a quick follow-up, just firm answer here: Is the administration expecting a surge in unaccompanied minors over the next several months?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any predictions. Those would certainly come from CBP or the Department of Homeland Security. But our focus now is on ensuring that we have enough shelters, facilities to house unaccompanied children. We just opened three last week that would allow for almost 7,000 additional beds.

So that’s what our focus is in at this point in time. We’ll leave the projections to other agencies.

Go ahead.

Q Thanks, Jen. Just a couple of follow-ups. On the commission, there was some talk that that would be among the first things that he did in his first week or two in office. Did something happen that, kind of, took that off the table and took your focus more towards the legislative efforts?

MS. PSAKI: No, I think it’s just a reflection of our — I just don’t have an update on it, but we are working with — very closely — with outside advocacy groups, with many who have been passionately fighting for greater accountability and greater reforms to be put in place. And we’re looking for the most effective means to get that done. And the George Floyd Bill is an opportunity to do exactly that, so that’s where we are putting our energy and efforts at this point.

Q And then, one follow-up on Nancy’s first question. Are you saying the entirety of the President’s proposal laid out on Wednesday, you will have payfor mechanisms, dollar for dollar, across the board?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly. Yep.

Q Okay. And then, the forthcoming WHO report — I know some people have drafts of it — do you put — does the administration put any stock into it whatsoever, given how it was put together? And also, is the U.S. working in a parallel way via its intelligence community, its public health officials, to produce its own conclusions about the origins of coronavirus?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s a little early for that last piece right now, but let me give you an update on kind of where we are.

The report — under embargo, of course — is now in the hands of U.S. government experts from the CDC, FDA, NIH, HHS, USDA, DHS, and USAID — that is a lot of acronyms. Seventeen experts, longstanding leaders in the fields, including epidemiology, public health, clinical medicine, veterinary medicine, infectious disease, law, food security, biosafety, biosecurity — we have a lot of experts in government — will be reviewing this report intensively and quickly, and we have some of our best people in government focused on reviewing it right now.

We are also communicating closely with our partners and allies around the world to share our ongoing concerns, which we have stated in the past, of course, about the process and our scientific analysis of the report itself once these individuals have concluded their review.

We will wait for that review to conclude. We have been clear that an independent, technically sound investigation is what our focus is on. And once this is reviewed, we’ll have an assessment about the steps forward.

Q Okay. And then, last one. A number of House committees last week sent letters to, I think, 16 different agencies and the White House about sending over documents of any communications in the lead-up to January 6th and the lead-up to the joint session. Do you guys plan to cooperate with that inquiry? And will you be responding both from the White House side and on the agency side with that inquiry?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure we will be cooperating with Congress, but I also know there are many documents that some believe we have here that may not be here; they might be in the archives. So I think we’ll have to look and see what documents they are, and I’ll talk to our counsel’s office and see what our expectation is at this point in time.

Go ahead.

Q Two questions, Jen. On the campaign, the President talked about how — and his aides held the view that spending on traditional infrastructure, like roads and bridges, did not necessarily have to be paid for because it created jobs. And I’m wondering if you could just talk about if he still has that view and how the package unveiled on Wednesday will balance that view of spending versus tax increases.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ll have more to say about it once we actually roll out the package. But I think what I wanted to note today and what we want to make clear is that the President has a plan to fix our infrastructure and a plan to pay for it. But we are also open to cont- — having that discussion, and we certainly expect to have the discussion with members of Congress, as we move forward, about areas where they agree, where they disagree, where they would like to see greater emphasis or not.

So we’ll look forward to having that conversation once the plan is announced on Wednesday.

Q And just one more thing. On Friday, the White House announced that it was nominating Gayle Manchin, Senator Joe Manchin’s wife, for the job of federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission. This is a group responsible for steering millions of dollars in states like West Virginia. That nomination came as a surprise to some people on the Hill, and I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about the process and how the White House settled on Gayle Manchin for that job, and what type of input Senator Manchin had on that.

MS. PSAKI: I’ll have to follow up with our personnel team on the exact process there, but we can do that for you after the briefing.

Go ahead, Jeff.

Q Thanks, Jen. The ship that was stuck in the Suez Canal has been freed. I’m sure the White House has been monitoring that. Do you have any sense of what economic impact that weeklong — a little bit more than weeklong event is going to have?

MS. PSAKI: Well, my understanding is it’s been freed, but it’s not yet open — right? — the canal. And that will still happen, and there are, of course, ships waiting to pass through the canal. We, of course, are monitoring and will be assessing the impact, but I don’t have anything to update you on that from here.

Q Okay. Wonky question alert.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. I like the — I like the preview. (Laughter.)

Q The stocks are falling today because — on Wall Street — because of the default of a hedge fund. Is this something that the White House is monitoring? And do you have any concerns about it?

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