James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:21 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi. Good afternoon. Okay. Joining us today is another member of the President’s Jobs Cabinet, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. As you all know, the Secretary was the first woman to be governor of Rhode Island, where she kick-started the state’s economy and achieved a record number of jobs and the lowest unemployment in a generation thanks to investments in infrastructure, education, and job training.
As governor, she prioritized creating jobs, supporting workers, and improving the quality and availability of services in the care economy, including supporting wage increases for care workers.
She also chair — served as chair of the Democratic Governors Association in 2019. In 2010, she was elected General Treasurer of Rhode Island, receiving the largest number of votes of any statewide candidate. When she took office as General Treasurer, she tackled the state’s $7 billion unfunded pension liability.
The Secretary is focused on a simple but vital mission: to spur good-paying jobs, empower entrepreneurs to innovate and grow, and help American workers and businesses compete.
As always, she can stay for a few questions. I’ll be the bad cop. And with that, we’ll turn it over to the Secretary.
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: Thank you, Jen. Good afternoon, everybody.
Q Good afternoon.
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: Nice to see all of you. And it’s an honor for me to be here to talk a little bit about President Biden’s American Jobs Plan.
At its core, the American Jobs Plan is about making sure every American has the opportunity to get a decent job. A decent, well-paying job, with dignity and has opportunity.
It’s a historic investment in America, intended to create tens of millions of jobs, rebuild our country’s infrastructure, and position the United States to outcompete China.
Many have commented that it’s large, it’s bold. It’s necessarily large because, frankly, we’re behind, and we’ve neglected for too long important investments in our infrastructure.
We need to ensure that investments in infrastructure, advanced manufacturing, workforce development, and our care economy are made — are made at the scale we need and are made in every single community in America.
And as the President has — has led us to — is leading us to build back better, that means we need to do so more inclusively and ensure that these investments that we are making — in broadband, in housing, in the care economy, in water — are in every community in America: rural, tribal, urban, communities of color, and reaching everyone across America.
The fact is, we have failed for a long time to invest. And as a result, we have fallen behind. So why does that matter? It matters because it makes it harder for small businesses to compete. It makes — it matters because it makes it harder for American companies to compete, and it makes it harder for the average American to get a decent job and to get the skills they need in order to get a high-paying job in the industries that are growing today and tomorrow.
And the fact of the matter is, we know that lack of investment, particularly in public transportation, transit, water, housing, has hurt low-income folks and people of color the most. And it’s time to finally rectify that systemic inequality and build back better and more equally.
As Jen said, my job as the Commerce Secretary is to do everything I can to enable American businesses of all sizes to compete. And at its core, the American Jobs Plan is about investing in American competitiveness, strengthening our workforce, rebuilding infrastructure, and leveling the playing field so all Americans have a shot at a good job.
Now, prior to being Commerce Secretary, I was governor for six years. Prior to that, I was in the private sector. And so over the course of my career, as an entrepreneur and as governor, now as Commerce Secretary, I have had many, many, many discussions with businesses, from the biggest to the smallest. And over the years, there is something that we all seem to agree on, which is that we need to make massive investments in our infrastructure if we are going to compete and ensure America’s global competitiveness.
And most recently, I have spent a lot of time in the past few weeks talking to business leaders, and I can report to you that there’s a broad level of enthusiasm for big investments in infrastructure. And I think there is a recognition that President Biden is doing the right thing in pushing us to conceive of infrastructure as broad, as including investments in STEM, research and development, investments in basic research, investments in broadband, investments in training our workforce. And the truth of it is, that’s what it’s going to take to compete.
A key component of the American Jobs Plan is training our workforce. This is a reality. The changes in the American economy, many of which have been massively accelerated by COVID, are very scary for millions of Americans. It’s a scary place to be to need a job and not have the skills to get a good job.
And so that’s why this package calls for big investments in training our workforce. Now, as Jen said, this was a priority of mine when I was governor, and I saw it work. I know it works. We saw it work.
When I ran for governor, my state, Rhode Island — if you haven’t been, I want you to go — had the highest unemployment rate in the country. Number one in America. It was sad — very sad. The unemployment rate in the building trades when I took over was over 20 percent. Think about what that does to a community.
When I — before COVID, after a lot of our work, Rhode Island had more jobs than at any time in our state’s history, because we leaned into it in a broad fashion, similar to what this package calls for: investments in infrastructure, working with business, and big investments in work or training.
So, the fact of the matter is, in order to compete, we have to have investments in apprenticeships, community colleges, STEM education, job training.
My view is: If you have the guts, in the middle of your career, to go out and get some job training to retrain yourself to get a new job, then we need to be there for you to provide high-quality, demand-driven, affordable — if not free — job training.
The American Jobs Plan also is about strengthening our supply chains, making things in America, making critical goods in America, creating good jobs in the process, and increasing the security that we have, knowing that we aren’t overly dependent on other countries for critical supplies. We saw that on full displaying in COVID. Every governor knows what it’s like to be up in the middle of the night — can’t get your hands on PPE or ventilators or medicine because they aren’t manufactured in America.
We also need to invest in domestic manufacturing, particularly for critical industries like semiconductors. We all know semiconductors are the building blocks of our future economy. And as we go through the data and digital revolution, semiconductors underpin so much of the new technology where we’ll see job creation.
So we’ve — we are living through now a global chip shortage. We’re seeing that hurt businesses in every sector, and so we need to strengthen our domestic supply chains. The American Jobs Plan calls for a $50 billion investment in semiconductor manufacturing and research, as it’s called for in the bipartisan CHIPS Act.
Finally, we need strong investments in our broadband infrastructure. We’ve seen more clearly than ever before that high-quality, affordable broadband isn’t a luxury, but it’s a necessity for education, jobs, and healthcare. But millions and millions of Americans don’t have access to broadband, particularly in rural communities.
I finally want to address one last component, which is the investments in the care economy. You might say to yourself, “Why is the Commerce Secretary talking about investments in the care economy?” Because it matters. It is core to our competitiveness. In order for you to be able to go to work, you need to know that your loved one is being taken care of.
And also, we have millions and millions of women, mostly women of color, working full-time, caring for our loved ones, living in poverty. It’s time to make those investment so they can have a dignified job and so that we can shore up our communities.
As Jen said, I did a lot of work of this as governor. And it’s something that I’m very proud of President Biden and to be on the team of a president who’s investing in the care economy.
So, fundamentally, this plan invests in American workers and businesses, small and large alike, so they can compete and win in the global marketplace. And I’m psyched to talk to you about it and proud to be on the team that’s going to get this done.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Kristen.
Q Thank you, Jen. Thank you, Secretary Raimondo, for being here. As you know, some Republicans have looked at this plan and said: If you increase the corporate tax rate overall in the long run, jobs could be eliminated. They cite one study, the Tax Foundation, that says that increasing the corporate tax rate will eliminate 159,000 jobs over the next 10 to 30 years. How do you respond to that criticism that in the long run this plan kills jobs?
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: I don’t agree with that assessment. So, a few — a few points.
First of all, every business leader I talk to, big and small, agrees we must make these investments in infrastructure in order to compete. If we don’t invest in semiconductors, we’re going to fall further behind. If we don’t invest in job training, we’re not going to have the workforce that businesses need to compete. So it’s essential that we make these investments.
With respect to taxes, there is not a shred of evidence to show that the cuts in 2017 increased growth or productivity. Actually, very little of it went into additional R&D.
So, the fact of the matter is, the corporate structure today is broken. Many, many companies don’t pro- — large profitable companies pay no corporate taxes. So I’d like to think we can all agree that it needs to be improved, level the playing field, close the loopholes, and have a discussion around how we do this together to improve competitiveness.
Q If it is raised to 28 percent, though, that would put the U.S. at one of the highest in the world. Does it have to be 28 percent? Would you go lower? Could you accomplish the same thing if the tax rate weren’t raised to 28 percent?
SECRETARY RAIMONODO: So, there is room for compromise; that is clear. The President has said a few things: We have to get this investment done. He’s charged us to work across the aisle and in a bipartisan way, and to — and we need to pay for what we’re doing. Like, our proposal is to invest in 8 years and pay it back over 15.
Now, we can have a discussion about that. Should we pay it back over 20 instead of 15? Is the rate not quite 28? Is it something, you know, lower? So we’re — we want to compromise.
What we cannot do, and what I am imploring the business community not to do, is to say, “We don’t like 28. We’re walking away. We’re not discussing.” That’s unacceptable. Come to the table and problem-solve with us to come up with a reasonable, responsible plan.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Mario.
Q Thank you, Madam Secretary. Two questions for you. On the infrastructure side, how do you target and make sure that those projects help minority communities? I’m thinking of the situation in Jackson, Mississippi, for example; Flint as well.
And then my other question is: How do you make sure that minorities are the beneficiaries of these jobs. Right? There’s been a long history of programs that were built to help minorities — I’m thinking of Opportunity Zones with the last administration — that didn’t ultimately help minorities.
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: Yeah, really good question. Two things. So, again, the President has been very clear in this; this is about equity in everything we do. And I’m going to — I can promise you as Commerce Secretary — like, right now, we have $3 billion from the rescue package to invest in communities — I promise you now, equity is front and center. And that’s why I was saying we have to get the money everywhere — rural, tribal, urban — and prioritizing those who have been left behind.
With respect to the job training — you know, I can fall on my own experience — we did a back-to-work Rhode Island job training initiative, and we said we’re going to tar- — we’re going to make sure it’s equitable. More than half of the people trained were women; more than 25 percent were people of color. If you commit yourself to it, which is what we will do under the President’s leadership, we will make sure to make up for the fact that, as you say, in the past that hasn’t been done.
MS. PSAKI: Alex.
Q Thank you. What is the status and direction of the China tech policy review? And more specifically, what about TikTok?
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: Yeah. So, this — I’ll say quickly: We need to play offense and defense. The jobs package is offense: invest in America competitiveness so we can play offense. A lot of the tools that Commerce has are defense: the entities list, tariffs, et cetera.
So we are — you know, led by Jake Sullivan and our team interagency review — we’re in the process of doing it now. A lot of people have said it’s probably going to stay on the Entity List. I have no reason to believe that they won’t, but we’re kind of in the middle of the overall review of the China policy.
Q How close is that to being completed?
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: I would actually defer that more to the White House. But I would say we’re — we’re in the thick of it right now. Like we’re working as aggressively as we can. We’re not wasting time on it.
MS. PSAKI: Zeke.
Q Thank you, Secretary. I was hoping to draw on your experience as governor, with regard to the virus. The White House and the President have been calling on governors across the country not to roll back virus restric- — virus restrictions, business capacity limitations, and the like. Yet, many, including many Democratic governors, have rolled back those policies steadily, even as cases have risen. You faced some of these struggles as governor. Can you speak to a little bit of what those governors are facing? And how would you advise them to balance their, you know, maybe their pressures at home versus the federal guidance here to keep those restrictions in place?
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: So it’s a tough spot. To be a governor in America today is a challenge, and everyone is, you know, trying hard. I would say, first of all, they are so lucky that President Biden is in office now, after what we went through last year.
Secondly, follow the President’s lead around vaccinations. The administration is doing a fantastic job getting vaccinations out the door. And I think that it’s a balance. Listen, every governor knows what’s going on in their community. And I think we have to respect that. They — you know, they see what’s going on in their community.
Having said that, I would say, you know, the administration — the Biden administration is focused heavily on vaccinations. It has a fantastic strategy. And I would just encourage governors to lean into that, vaccinate people as quickly as possible, and don’t — just don’t jump the gun. I am not going to tell governors what to do. I just have lived it, and every time you jump the gun, you live to regret it.
So, vaccinate. Put the pedal to the metal on vaccinating more than lifting restrictions.
MS. PSAKI: Ed.
Q Madam Secretary, thank you for being here. You oversee a big department — everything from the Weather Service to the Fisheries and the Census. Have you been briefed on the status of getting the results of the 2020 Census?
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: Yes, I have.
Q When’s it coming?
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: Well, we think — we have said that the redistricting data will be available no later than September 30th. If it’s available before that, in a — you know, when we feel comfortable about it, we’ll put it out then, but we need a little bit more time.
Q To state elections officials, secretaries of state who are sitting there, you know, scratching their head over which lines they should be using for elections this year —
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: Yeah.
Q — and next year, what do you say to them?
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: I say: I know it’s tough, but be patient. You know, last year was a — was a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. The Census professionals had to do the Census in the middle of a global pandemic with COVID, civil unrest through the summer. So, we’re behind. You know, we are behind.
But my direction to the team is: We have to get it right. So I — having been a local politician, I hear — look, I hear them. But the fact of the matter is, it is so much better to wait a little longer and have accurate data that we all can trust. So I — we’re — rest assured, if it’s ready before the 30th, we’ll put it out. But we are prioritizing accuracy over rushing it out.
Q There’s one wonky bit of this, though, and it’s the subject of lawsuits — differential privacy, where the idea of using essentially funky math to sort out some of this. Have you been briefed on that? And do you think that was a good idea at this point to have done it that way? Would you just recommend doing it that way in the future?
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: So, in this regard, I have to rely on the experts. The experts at the Census Bureau are top-notch — career, top-notch statisticians and demographers.
Here’s the reality: That — what you’re referring to is a statistical technique that is intended to protect people’s privacy. It’s the first time we’ve used it.
Today, the way quantum computing and computing is such that we — there can be privacy hacks today that weren’t technologically available 10 years ago. So in order for us to keep up with that and protect people’s privacy, we have to implement new techniques, and this is one of those new techniques. So, yes, I think it’s justified.
MS. PSAKI: Cecilia, you’re going to be the last one.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: But we’ll invite her back. We’ll invite her back.
Q Thanks, Madam Secretary. Two quick ones on infrastructure for you. A friend of this White House, Senator Chris Coons, said today that he thinks it’s more likely that Democrats ultimately will end up with a less robust — this is his words — infrastructure package. He says it’s — could end up looking one that’s — like one that’s more directly targeted at what he’s calling “hard infrastructure.” Is that an accurate prediction to you at this stage?
And then, my second question — I’ll just tack it on here: The President — you’re one of the five Cabinet secretaries that President Biden tapped to, kind of, go out and sell this — his words — to engage the public. What has that entailed at this point, specifically as it relates to getting these Republicans on board with this plan?
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: Talking to them. You know, sitting down, listening, engaging them. As I said before, we have put forth a bold proposal and a reasonable way to pay for it. There are other ideas.
So what I’m going to do — and all the Cabinet is doing and the White House — is sitting down with our Republicans friends and Democrats and business leaders and saying, “Okay, if you don’t like this, what’s your idea? How do you think we ought to pay for it?” If we — you know, “We are proposing paying for it over 15 years. What do you think?”
So I think, again, it’s all about finding that compromise and actually delivering for the American people. So that — anyway, I think broad engagement.
Q How many Republicans have you had face-to-face conversations with?
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: If you include Zoom as face-to-face —
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: — I would say very many. Only a few actually face-to-face, but a lot. You know, a lot. And I plan to do even more of it. Like, we’re serious about this. We want to get this done. There’s a lot of different ways to do it. The President does what a leader does: puts forth his ideas. Now let’s get to work. Let’s talk about it. Where do we tweak it? Where do we change it?
With respect to Senator Coons, I am not going to disagree with his assessment because he’s been up here longer than my four weeks. But, look, I think it’s early to say. The President put his plan out a week ago. Let’s give it a shot; let’s go big.
I can tell you this: Every single business leader I’ve talked to applauds the fact that this package is more than just roads, bridges, and water. Like, come on, 35 percent of Americans in rural areas don’t have broadband. You cannot have a modern economy without that. We have a crisis in semiconductor manufacturing. You cannot have a modern economy without that.
So I hope that that isn’t where we settle because we’d be shortchanging the American people — workers and businesses.
Q Could you take one more?
MS. PSAKI: All right, Jeff. You’re so convincing.
Q Thank you. Secretary, just to follow up on Alex’s question about TikTok: Can you just clarify what your position is on whether TikTok needs to be sold by the Chinese company ByteDance that owns it now? And can you also give us a broad view of your advice to President Biden on tariffs with regard to China?
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: So, I would say — here’s my broad view, and I don’t want to get into details on any particular company. My broad view is: What we do on offense is more important than what we do on defense.
To compete in the long run with China, we need to rebuild America in all of the ways we’re talking about today — and, by the way, do that with our allies. You know, we have to work with our allies and find common ground where we can.
With respect to tariffs, there is a place for tariffs. You know the 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum have, in fact, helped save American jobs in the steel and aluminum industries. So what do we do with tariffs? We have to level the playing field. No one can outcompete the American worker if the playing field is leveled.
And the fact is China has — China’s actions are uncompetitive, coercive, underhanded. They’ve proven they’ll do whatever it takes.
And so I plan to use all the tools in my toolbox, as aggressively as possible, to protect American workers and businesses from unfair Chinese practices.
MS. PSAKI: Yamiche, I don’t want to leave you hanging. And you were the last one hanging. At the risk, Yamiche.
Q No, this is great. (Laughter.) Thank you, Madam Secretary.
MS. PSAKI: Hopefully the Secretary will come back after this, but go ahead.
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: It depends what she asks. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. (Laughs.)
Q Right. (Laughs.) Now it’s a lot of pressure. But thank you for taking my question, Madam Secretary.
What do you say to a business owner who’s looking at the U.S. and wondering, “Why should I start a company here when I could possibly do so in another country more cheaply?” How do we stay competitive, as the United States, for that business owner’s company?
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: So, I’d say a few things. One, you cannot get better than American workers, American ingenuity, American innovation. Two, this Jobs Plan will enhance American competitiveness. You know, I know from being governor, businesses want to locate in communities with good infrastructure, good public transportation, clean water, excellent public schools. That’s where businesses want to be. That’s where their employees want to work.
So, if we pass this package, it will massively — businesses will want to be here — will want to be here more than they do now.
Also, the whole point of the tax reform as proposed by the administration is to get rid of the loopholes, level the playing field between big businesses and small businesses. I don’t know any small businesses in Rhode Island who are shielding their profits in tax havens around the world. Like, it’ll level the playing field, raise more money, and allow us to invest in job creating, infrastructure, and job training.
So, as a former business owner and as a former governor who recruited businesses, I think it’s a winner for business.
Q Is there an alternative other than the 28 percent? It sounds like it’s a little open.
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: Yes.
Q What else could the White House come up with to pay for the infrastructure bill?
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: Let’s have the discussion. Let us have the discussion. We put a plan out. Tell us what you think is an alternative, reasonable plan. But I would say: Don’t shortchange America. Don’t come back and say we only need a half a billion dollars of infrastructure, because we don’t; because if we do that, we’ll be in the same place or a worse place 10 years from now.
So, yes, we’re wide op- — reasonable people can disagree; we’ll find compromise. But let’s go big, and let’s do what’s required.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Thank you so much for joining us.
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: Thank you. Bye. I can’t believe that you do this every day. (Laughter.) I always wanted to know.
Q You don’t. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: You’re here, right. Lots of questions about COVID and Iran.
A couple of other items for you all at the top. A new survey, just yesterday, from Invest in America and Data for Progress found that 73 percent of voters backed the American Jobs Plan. That includes the support of 57 percent of Republican voters. Dig into — digging into the numbers shows just how broad the support is: 68 percent of independents, 64 percent of Republicans back the President’s proposed investment in the care economy — something the Secretary just talked about quite a bit. And all of the investments the survey looked at — from roads and bridges, to housing, clean energy, and manufacturing — have the support of over 60 percent of voters and a majority of independents.
The evidence is unanimous that the American people support the President’s vision of rebuilding our economy and his plan to pay for it by asking big corporations to pay their fair share.
A Morning Consult poll, just last week, showed that 2-to-1 registered voters back a hypothetical $3 trillion infrastructure package. And an earlier Data for Progress poll showed that by a 35 percent margin, voters want to pay for this plan by asking the wealthy and big corporations to pay their fair share.
Another update: Today, we can proudly say that in addition to the 150 million shots in arms, we have successfully sent over 150 million relief checks to the American people. The fourth batch of the American — of the economic impact payments from the American Rescue Plan totals more than 25 million payments, which brings the total dispersed so far to more than 156 million payments, totaling $372 billion since the plan was signed into law less than a month ago.
The largest block of these latest payments went to Social Security beneficiaries who didn’t file a 2020 or 2019 tax return and didn’t use the non-filers tool last year, which is consistent with our, you know, view that it would be more challenging — the easiest would be those who had information that the IRS had, and it would become more challenging. So this is a more challenging group, but this is certainly good news.
Within two weeks of the American Rescue Plan becoming law, the IRS and Treasury had started dispersing 170 million payments. At a similar point during the first round of economic impact payments authorized a year ago, the first payments had yet to be completed. So just to give you a point of comparison.
It’s also important to note — and I know there’s been some coverage of this — the IRS has consistently underfunded — has been consistently underfunded with 20,000 fewer staff available to help Americans. That’s over the last 10 years — 20,000 fewer. And our commitment is also to working on this problem and hiring more personnel at the IRS.
The President’s Rescue Plan secured an additional $1.5 billion to help the IRS get checks out — out checks and modernize. And we are pleased that, since the beginning of this administration, the inherited backlog of 2019 returns has been cut in half.
One other update — two others, sorry. “Good news you can use” — I’ll put it in that category. Health and Human Services Secretary Becerra announced that more than 500,000 Americans have already signed up for coverage on Healthcare.gov since the beginning of the Special Enrollment Period. Nearly 15 million Americans who currently lack health insurance and many current enrollees are eligible. An average of four out of five consumers currently enrolled in Marketplace coverage can now find a plan for $10 or less a month after the tax credits.
Finally, the First Lady announced earlier today — was joined by — virtually by U.S. military families, advocates, and stakeholders from around the world, as she set forth the priorities of Joining Forces. She spent the last few months hearing directly from military families, caregivers, survivors, and visiting military installations across the country.
The mission of Joining Forces is to support those who also serve. The work and priorities of Joining Forces will center on the needs of military families in the areas of employment and entrepreneurship, military child education, and health and wellbeing. It was important that she relaunch this initiative within the first 100 days.
With that, Zeke.
Q Thanks, Jen. A couple foreign policy ones to get started. First, there was some confusion yesterday about the U.S. policy with regard to the Beijing Olympics next year. Is it the U.S. policy now that American athletes will participate in those Olympics? And is the U.S. government going to encourage American spectators to travel to China to view those games?
MS. PSAKI: Well, these are the Winter Olympics of next winter, I should say. So some time away, as it relates to the second part of your question. And certainly our hope is that we are at a point where enough people across the country — and hopefully around the world — have been vaccinated. But we will rely on health and medical experts on that particular piece.
Our position on the 2022 Olympics has not changed. We have not discussed and are not discussing any joint boycott with allies and partners. We, of course, consult closely with allies and partners at all levels to define our common concerns and establish a shared approach, but there’s no discussion underway of a change in our plans regarding the Beijing Olympics from the United States’ point of view.
Q Thanks, Jen. Two questions on timelines: One, with regards to the ongoing talks in Geneva right now regarding the JCPOA. What is the time — timetable for bringing Iran back into compliance in terms of the breakout time for the (inaudible) potential of nuclear weapon?
MS. PSAKI: The timeline for getting them back at the table for direct —
Q Yeah. What is the ultimate timeline in terms of getting them back to the table? Not the timeline for this specific round of talks, but longer-term timetable to get them back into compliance.
MS. PSAKI: Well, look, first, I would say, you know, the talks are continuing today in Vienna. It’s only the second day of talks.
You may have seen a tweet from one of the European officials attending who called this — said, “There’s unity and ambition,” and that was their description of the conversations.
This is just a constructive early step. We’re at the early part of the process here. The primary issues, as you know, that will be discussed are both steps that would need to be taken for Iran to come back into compliance and the sanctions relief steps that the United States would need to take.
But we expect this to be — these conversations to be difficult. We expect this to be a long process. And we’re very much at just the beginning period.
Q There is time, from the U.S. perspective, for these talks to continue. Is that months? Is that years? What’s – you know, what are we ta- — what scale are we looking at?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t put a timeline on it, Zeke. We do feel, of course, that diplomacy is the right way to approach this — this — these challenge — this challenge; that doing that in coordination and close cooperation with our partners is also exactly the right approach. That’s what we’re doing and what we’re focused on now.
It is a good sign and a good step that we are engaged in, even though these conversations are not direct at this point in time. But, again, we’re at the beginning of the process. I expect they may have more to read out once they complete this round of talks.
Q And a second timetable question. We heard the President talk a lot about when Americans will be eligible to get vaccinated. What is the President’s timetable by which point all Americans should have already been vaccinated? Is it — what is his goal, his deadline for Americans to actually get the shot in arms?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s a role that the federal government can play — led by the President, of course — increasing the number of vaccine supply we have. He’s done his job in that regard. We’re going to have enough vaccine to vaccinate — more than enough, I should say — every adult American by the end of May.
He has increased and invested in the number of people we have as vaccinators, increased the number of vaccination sites around the country, more than doubling the number of pharmacies, investing in mass vaccination sites, investing in community health centers.
It is now incumbent upon the American people to do their job and continue to mask up, get the vaccine when they’re eligible.
We, of course, just launched a massive public campaign that is both paid media as well as investment in community organizations, but I can’t make predictions for you here. That is going to be determined in large part by the American public.
Q And so is the President’s timetable of July 4th activities, gatherings in the backyard, independent from the rate of vaccination of the American public?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what you were asking me is when he expects — if I heard the question correctly — the vast majority of the American public to be vaccinated. And what I’m conveying to you is that there’s a role for the government to play — many roles for the government to play.
We are moving forward on all of those fronts. But there is also a role for the American people to play, and that question will be answered in part by whether people get the vaccine when they are eligible.
As it relates to July 4th barbecues, I mean, you can see the numbers that are reported regularly on vaccinations, the percentage of the public that’s vaccinated, where we’ve seen success in different communities; those are all numbers that are reported.
What he’s talking about is the ability to have a barbecue in your backyard with other people who have been vaccinated. That is not mass gatherings. That’s not the same as having the entire public vaccinated.
Go ahead, Jeff.
Q Jen, can you confirm the Biden administration plans to restart aid to the Palestinians?
MS. PSAKI: I expect the State Department is going to have more specifics on this later this afternoon or right about now, so I will leave it to them to lay out the details for you.
Q Okay. We talked a little bit about taxes with the Secretary.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Amazon said yesterday that it supports an increase in corporate taxes, which was interesting because the President had singled Amazon out specifically. Has the White House reached out to Amazon and/or has it reached out to other companies in corporate America to try and boost support for this plan?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have certainly reached out to a range of groups — obviously, elected officials; large businesses; small businesses; rural and agricultural stakeholders; climate groups; local chambers of commerce; faith leaders; Black, Latino and AAPI leaders; community college groups; and more. We’ve done a lot of calls — a lot of Zooms around here and across the administration.
It’s my understanding Amazon did join a call with 20 other groups, carriers, and businesses as part of our outreach to a range of companies of many sizes across the country about what was being proposed and about the specifics of our proposal to pay for it.
Q Okay. Last one, which is a little wonky.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q A South Korea company called SK Innovation is threatening to pull its construction of a battery plant in Georgia over a trade dispute — if you’re familiar with that. The President has an April 11th deadline to intervene, and I’m curious if he plans to.
MS. PSAKI: I will probably have to take that question and talk to experts. I love wonky questions, but I will talk to the people who know more about it than I do.
Go ahead, Kristen.
Q Thanks, Jen. Reports popped just before the briefing started that the President is going to announce a series of executive actions on guns tomorrow. Can you confirm that? And anything that you can preview?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to preview. I can convey that I expect the President will have more to say tomorrow.
Q Okay. And will it involve those ghost guns — potential extended background checks on ghost guns?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to preview more from here. I expect we’ll have more — we will probably do a background briefing call for all of you later today.
Q Okay. Just a follow-up on something Secretary Raimondo said. She was very clear that there is room to compromise on increasing the corporate tax rate to 28 percent. As you know, Senator Manchin is saying he wants it to be as low as 25 percent. Is there a scenario where the President would go that low?
MS. PSAKI: Well, look, here’s — here are our principles: Debate is inevitable, compromise is inevitable, changes are certain, and our main bottom line is inaction is not an option.
And so we see it as a positive that Senator Manchin, that others — Republican members, other Democrats — have come forward and said, “I like these pieces. I like a different — I propose a different component on the tax piece.” We’re happy to have that discussion.
And what we are seeing, though, is broad agreement about the need to invest in and modernize our infrastructure.
Q Could you get everything you wanted in the bill at 25 percent?
MS. PSAKI: Well, just like any discussion or negotiation, there’s lots of factors. It’s like a Rubik’s Cube; I don’t know if that’s the right analogy. But if you are proposing a lower tax rate, then you have to make some decisions.
Q What would you compromise on that? What would you be willing to cut?
MS. PSAKI: We’re going to have — we’re going to have those discussions with members of Congress. Expect the President will welcome members of both parties here when they return next week, and he’ll have those discussions with them. We’re having them with committee staffers, with staffers on the Hill, to see what the push and pull can be.
Where there is agreement, let’s start there. Where there are alternative ideas, additional ideas — remember some — some members are proposing to make the package smaller. Some are proposing to make it larger. That’s all a part of the discussion.
Q And you said yesterday, Jen, “The President continues to believe… that there is a bipartisan path forward.” Is that realistic given the backlash that you’ve seen so far from Republicans? And if the President can’t win over any Republicans, is he staying true to that promise of ushering in a spirit of bipartisanship?
MS. PSAKI: Well here’s how the President sees it: Democrats and Republicans will have ideas about what they like or don’t like about the plan. That’s a good thing. That’s democracy in action. That’s the American way.
Our view — his view is we don’t just fix what is broken today, we build for tomorrow. And his idea of infrastructure is evolving — is that it should evolve to address the needs of the American people. We believe there is a fair amount of opportunity for agreement — that we are open to compromise, we welcome the debate, and we’ll look forward to having those conversations when members return.
Q But you would pass it along party lines if you needed to?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’re quite there yet. The President believes there is an opportunity to work with Democrats and Republicans — that there is agreement on the need to modernize our infrastructure, there is agreement that we need to do more to compete with China. Let’s start with areas where we agree and have a discussion from there.
Q Two things. And thanks for confirming the timing on guns specifically. First, in a COVID-related matter, there are reports that during the transition, the incoming administration received a June 2022 report from Trump officials concluding that Emergent BioSolutions — that plant in Baltimore than spoiled some J&J vaccine doses — had oversight and quality assurance issues. Is that accurate? And if you guys had this report before taking office, why were steps not taken sooner regarding that facility?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first let me say that the facility is not approved by the FDA. That’s, in fact, the process working, in that the FDA is taking a look at whether any manufacturing facility meets the standards that would be required to produce and put out doses that will go into the arms of the American people. There are not a broad swath of options for manufacturing facilities across the country.
So HHS and others can give you more specifics of what the options are that are available, but our focus is on getting vaccines produced, distributed, in the arms of the American people, and to relying on the process that is in place by the United States government.
We have one of the most stringent set of review processes in the world. So, in our view, this is the process working. We remain on track to have the number of doses — enough doses to vaccinate the entire — all adult Americans by the end of May. This has not impacted that.
Q I don’t hear you though confirming or denying that report?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on the specifics of the receipt of a report. But, again, it was — it’s still not approved by the FDA — the manufacturing facility and the site.
Q And then, Amnesty International says that Aleksey Navalny is being incarcerated in conditions that amount to torture and may be slowly killing him. Is there any reaction from here regarding that?
Also, you said on February 23rd — I think you said it a few times since — that it would “be weeks, not months” before the Biden administration responded to the SolarWinds hack, and other Russian misconduct. I also recall you telling us some of it would be seen, some of it would not.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q Any updates on all that?
MS. PSAKI: “Weeks” — there’s lots of ways to define it. It’s still weeks.
Q There are lots of ways (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: It is still — it is still weeks, not months away. I don’t have an update on the exact timeline.
I will say, on the reports you referenced of Mr. Navalny, we are disturbed by reports that Mr. Navalny’s health is worsening, that he is on a hunger strike to demand — demand access to outside medical care. We urge Russian authorities to take all necessary actions to ensure his safety and health. So long as he is in prison, the Russian government is responsible for his health and wellbeing. We will continue to mon- — monitor the situation closely.
I would also reiterate that we consider Mr. Navalny’s imprisonment on trumped-up charges to be politically motivated and a gross injustice. And we stand with like-minded allies and partners in calling for his immediate release, as well as an end to the persecution of his supporters.
Q Thanks, Jen. Quick one on Senator Coons’s comments from this morning. He also said today that if it’s clear by Memorial Day that Republicans aren’t willing to get on board with this, that, at that point, Democrats perhaps just roll this into a big package and move on.
So, is that the timeline for this White House as well? That Memorial Day is the decision — the deadline to sort of make this decision to fish or cut bait?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not here to set a new deadline from here. We would like to see progress by Memorial Day. We would like to see the bill passed this summer, in order to get this — these vital investments out into our economy and out into, you know, rebuilding our infrastructure across the country.
I will note that there are a range of points of view, as I said in response to Kristen’s question. Some feel this package should be smaller, some are calling for a larger package, some believe that it should be paid for in different ways.
Senator Coons is one of — one of those individuals who will certainly have a role to play in having these discussions, but it’s important that we allow the process to play itself out, have those ideas put forward, have debates, have those discussions, and we’ll see where we go from there.
Q I have a couple of questions on immigration, if I may.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Is the administration considering restarting some construction on the border wall to plug in holes in gaps of areas where the construction — construction stopped after the President took office?
MS. PSAKI: Well, wall construction remains paused. There is a review in underway taking a look at the funds that had been allocated.
When the administration took office, as you know — but funds had been diverted from military construction projects and other purposes toward building the wall. That was not something we, of course, supported. There are some components of the wall that had already been allocated — the funding to continue building by Congress. So we’re working within what is allowable.
But our focus is not — we don’t believe the wall is an answer. We have never believed the wall as an answer to addressing the challenges — immigration challenges at the border. That’s why we’re proposing an investment in smart –investments in smart security at the border, why we’re driving 20 — what we see as 21st century solutions for border management, and why we believe we should build a functioning immigration system.
There’s a review underway of, kind of, where this funding had been allocated and not, but it’s currently paused and — for the most part.
Q But the President had said he wouldn’t build one more foot of the wall, but you’re saying some monies could still be used to fill in the gaps on construction on the wall?
MS. PSAKI: No, I’m saying that some had been allocated already, previously. We’re working within what our limitations are by law. But we believe — we — we have never believed that putting — building more of a wall — the President doesn’t believe — is a way to address our immigration challenges at the border.
Q Okay. And then a quick clarification on Special Envoy to the Northern Triangle Ricardo Zuñiga, who is in Guatemala right — was there yesterday talking about this. He said, “The White House is looking to create legal ways for Central American migrants to reach the… U.S.” Is that what — could you explain more on, if you know, what he was talking about? Is that what President Biden has said — has talked about allowing folks to apply for asylum in their home countries? Or is — are there other options being considered?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the — more immediately, we’ve reinstituted the Central American Minors Program, which I would — I would think he is likely referring to — which, when it was stopped in 2017, there were about 3,000 kids who could have applied. I don’t have an updated number on how many might be eligible now. That’s one piece: so that kids can apply from country and won’t take the treacherous journey.
But we also believe that there needs to be reforms to the whole process: Make it more efficient, more effective, in terms — when families, when children come to the border. That’s part of what we want to disgruss [sic] — discuss through legislation. So he could have also been referring more broadly to the longer-term changes that need to take place.
But more immediately, there, of course, is the Central American Minors Program.
Go ahead, Mario.
Q Thanks, Jen. The UK variant of the virus is now the most common in the U.S. We’re seeing things like outbreaks in high school sports. Does the White House consider that to be more dangerous for schools and kids? And also, what does that mean for the goal of reopening schools?
MS. PSAKI: Well, in terms of the impact of the variant, I would refer to our health and medical experts to give their assessment of that.
We remain focused on and committed to our objective of reopening schools five days a week and having kids in school, learning. We believe that the mitigation steps that have been put out by the CDC give a good guideline for doing exactly that.
There was actually some data that was put out that is a little outdated, as these things sometimes go — because it’s more from February — that showed that we are close to, even at the end of February, reading [sic] — reaching that mark of 50 percent of schools open five days a week.
Q And then, kind of similar to that, we’re seeing people, who work in the retail industry, increasingly afraid for their lives, their health and safety, as customers refuse to mask up. What’s the White House looking to do to protect them? Are you looking at revisiting, you know, legal authority for a national mask mandate? I mean, what’s, kind of, in the toolbox there to help these workers?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say one of the steps we can take from the federal government is ensuring there is vaccine supply available across the country to ensure Americans are vaccinated; that these individual workers, that these employees in these businesses, in stores, every one of them will be eligible on April 19th to get a vaccine. That is, they will get — be able to get in line at that point in time. That provides clarity and hopefully it provides some certainty on their own safety.
We also, of course, work with businesses and convey directly to businesses, just as we do to leaders across the country, about the importance of abiding by public health guidelines, and whether that is ensuring that masking up, hand washing, are seen — are used as models in these locations. You know, these are also entities and businesses that we’re in touch with around the country as well.
Go ahead, Ayesha. This is your first time in the briefing room — right? —
Q This is my first time.
MS. PSAKI: — since the Biden administration.
Q Yes, since the Biden administration.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. Yes.
Q And it’s my wedding anniversary, so it’s (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Oh, happy anniversary. (Laughter.) And here you are with us. (Laughter.)
Q And here I am with you guys.
MS. PSAKI: Ed brought you a cake. That was so nice of Ed.
Q I know you’ll allow me a lot of questions (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Yeah, of course.
Q So, starting off on the issue of North Korea: Think tanks like Beyond Parallel and other North Korea watchers have observed yesterday that North Korea moved a submersible missile test stand barge. And along with that, there has been activity at other sites, related to weapons, in North Korea. Is the administration concerned that North Korea may be ramping up for more testing, more provocative actions? And if so, what would be the response to that?
MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen those reports. I would send you to the Department of Defense. I’m just not going to be able to get into more details from here.
Q Is there — with sanctions already in place — very heavy sanctions already in place on North Korea — is the U.S. limited in how it could respond to potential provocations from North Korea?
MS. PSAKI: You know, again, I would send you to the Department of Defense for that if you’re asking about specifically military action or military considerations.
I would say, broadly speaking, we have a clear objective as it relates to North Korea, which is denuclearizing the North Korean Peninsula — the Korean Peninsula, I should say. We’re, of course, continuing to enforce sanctions. We’re consulting with allies and partners. We are prepared to consider some form of diplomacy if it’s going to lead us down the path toward denuclearization.
So that is broadly how we view. There’s also a review that’s underway within the administration. But on the specific reports, there’s just not more I’m going to be able to convey from here.
Q On a separate issue, President Biden, when he was a candidate, pledged that within the first 100 days, there would be a commission on policing oversight set up. I know that we still have some more time in the first 100 days, but what is the status of that? And, you know, where do things stand with that commission?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an update on the commission, but I would convey to you that from our consultation with Congress, with the groups, our focus right now is on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. We believe we must continue to press ahead to pass meaningful police reform.
The President would love to sign a piece of legislation; would love to have it on his desk. We’re encouraged by some of the engagement we’ve seen — pleasantly surprised in some cases with — in the Senate. And that is where we feel we can have the most impact at this point in time.
Q So is the commission still on the table, or is that something that is not being thought of right now?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have an update on it. But we are focused on working with members, with advocates on many sides of this debate on how to move things forward, and we feel the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is the most constructive, effective, impactful way to do that.
Q And just really quickly, the President is talking more openly about sharing vaccines with the rest of the world. Why is that? And how soon does he think that the U.S. will be at a point where he feels confident sharing more of the vaccines — vaccine doses with the rest of the world?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that our focus remains — his focus remains on ensuring that adult Americans are vaccinated. We also plan for contingencies, including the fact that there’s ongoing research. We’ve seen some reporting, of course, on which vaccine is most effective with children. As we’ve seen in the rece- — even in recent weeks, things happen and we have to plan for contingencies as well.
But when we are confident about our supply, about our ability to provide for the American public, the President is absolutely committed to playing a constructive role in being a part of the global community’s efforts to get the pandemic under control. That includes through COVAX. It also can — it could include direct conversations with countries. You’ve seen we’ve already lent doses to Canada and Mexico.
So we remain committed to that. I can’t give you an additional timeline at this point in time.
Q Back to immigration and particularly the Northern Triangle. The Vice President’s assignment to try to, you know, address the root causes of migration, what — how do you get a measure of success?
MS. PSAKI: How do we measure success?
Q On that issue, yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that we know that addressing the root causes means working with these countries to help create a collaborative and a cooperative approach to addressing what the circumstances are on the ground, whether that is economic challenges, a response to challenges related to hurricanes that have impacted a lot of these communities.
And what we’re trying to do is work with them to determine how we can get to these root causes to reduce — to disincentivize travel from the region.
Q But, I mean, will you have a numerical measure, any kind of tangible measure of success, benchmarks, that sort of thing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as everybody who’s followed this for some time knows, this is about addressing these causes over the long term. Unless we address root causes in these countries, we are going to see the same cycle of rushes to the border year after year, as we have seen in 2014, in 2018, in 2019.
So we’re going to look to how we can work with these countries through diplomatic means. The President has also proposed $4 billion in assistance and aid through his immigration package. And, of course, the Vice President and our diplomats will be engaged with these countries to determine how we can best help to prevent these rushes at the border in the future.
Q But there’s no benchmark specifically, like, you know, “We curved by X or Y percent over some…” — a timeline period?
MS. PSAKI: We’re talking about how we address this over the long term and how we reduce the incentivi- — incentiviza- — disincentivize travel over the long term to the border.
Q And you mentioned the money.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Can you work with these governments? There’s a — you know, one of the major issues —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — is a lack of rule of law and corruption.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. And the President has talked about this as well, and the need to sometimes work with organizations, work with local groups, find ways to avoid getting the funding in the hands, in some scenarios, of corrupt governments. And that will certainly be part of our approach.
Go ahead. Yeah, go ahead. Yeah, go ahead.
Q Depending on what poll you look at, about half of Republican men say they won’t be getting the vaccine. Experts say that a major reason that any group would be hesitant — vaccine hesitant would be because of trust. I think it’s probably fair to say that President Biden and the administration has a long way to get this, kind of — this group to trust him.
Two questions: What has the administration’s research found about why this group is so entrenched in vaccine hesitancy? There’s a lot of talk about Black and brown people. We found that that’s not exactly true; they’re not more hesitant than anyone else.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q And outside of the “We Can Do This” campaign, how does the administration plan to reach this group?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, we recognize that the President, that all of us may not be exactly the right messengers for some of these audiences. And what we’ve actually seen through our data and research is that it’s not always famous people — and often not famous people — like the President or athletes or former elected officials who are going to reach any group who are hesitant or have concerns about the vaccine — hesitancy or safety.
So this is the reason why a big part of our funding and our approach to our public campaign is actually for local groups and organizations. Some of those may be civic groups, some are clergy — there’s a role that clergy and different faith groups and organizations can certainly play — and some of these are just simply local doctors and medical experts who are more trusted voices in different communities.
So what we’re working to do is empower local sources, empower local authorities, medical experts, civic leaders, clergy, in some cases, to be the communicators about the effectiveness and the efficacy of the vaccine.
I will say one of the things that is sometimes not understood, or people don’t see in the data but we’ve seen in the data, is that the issue — we’ve seen a reduction in hesitancy as it’s defined. And you referenced Black and brown communities — certainly a reduction in hesitancy.
The issue is now access. This is true in whether you’re talking about conservative white people or you’re talking about communities of color. It’s now at the point where people are saying, “Look, I — I’m confident in — or I feel comfortable in taking the vaccine.” In many cases, “I can’t take a day off of work.” “I don’t know where to go.” “I don’t know what health center to go to to get the vaccine.”
So we’re looking at that, and our focus is on addressing the access issue — mobile clinics — making it easier and more accessible to get the vaccine.
Q And you’ve also said the President is being updated on the trial of Derek Chauvin. We’re probably weeks away from a verdict. But regardless of the outcome of the trial, does the President plan to address the country upon its conclusion?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we would never — and not that you’re asking me this, but we would never, of course, prejudge the outcome. The President has spoken about the death of George Floyd, the impact on him personally, quite a bit over the course of the last year. It certainly impacted his own — redoubled his commitment to addressing racial injustice in the country and throughout the government.
I certainly would expect we’d have a statement, but I’m not going to get ahead of what the outcome may be or the timeline. We just don’t have insight into that.
Q Thank you, Jen. I’d like to pick up the line of questioning on immigration and the border —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q — and ask you two rather quick follow-up questions about some other topics.
MS. PSAKI: You always like “yes” or “no” questions. I don’t know if they’re “yes” or “no.”
Q Well, I’m —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Answer as you will.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q So on immigration and the border, as we discussed here today, Vice President Harris has been put in charge of addressing the root causes of the border crisis. Last Tuesday, she spoke with Guatemala’s president, but she hasn’t visited the border or Central America or spoken to the leaders of El Salvador or Honduras.
She was traveling this week. Took time to visit a bakery in Chicago. I’m wondering, is she still working on this? And can you address the perception that she’s, kind of, quietly backing off while Secretary Mayorkas is pursuing some Trump-era policies, such as potentially building new border barriers and potentially prosecuting people who illegally cross multiple times?
MS. PSAKI: There was a whole lot packed in there, so let me just see what I can do here.
First, I would say the Vice President was visiting Chicago actually to talk about COVID and the importance of communities getting the vaccine when it’s available and accessible to them. And so, while she was there, like many Americans, she got a snack. I think she’s allowed to do that.
But she was there to talk about COVID and play a role — as she’s playing a significant role on our efforts to address vaccine hesitancy, communicate with the public about how we can do this, and it’s — it’s imperative to get the vaccine once available.
Second, I would say that yesterday — and this was actually a statement put out by her team — USAID announced the deployment of a DART team — we only have these in a couple of places in the world, so this is fairly significant — to respond to urgent humanitarian needs in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. This is meant to help address the immediate humanitarian needs, whether it’s drought, food insecurity, ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. And this is in communities that are still recovering. So that is actually an announcement made by the Vice President’s team earlier today.
This is absolutely an issue that she is — remains committed to, is in the lead on. The Northern Triangle, which I’m sure you’re aware of, but is not the same as the border. They’re all related to each other, but addressing the North- — being responsible in the lead on the Northern Triangle is working with these countries in the region, addressing the root causes, working with them on how we can address issues like long-term food insecurity, drought, the COVID-19 pandemic, hurricanes, et cetera. That’s what she’s focused on.
I don’t have an update on when she’ll travel. I’m sure it will be soon.
Q But she’s still working on this issue very much?
MS. PSAKI: Well, they wouldn’t be putting out a statement this morning if she wasn’t, would they?
Q And my two other questions — I’d like to circle back to something that a colleague asked in this room a few weeks ago.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q They asked about a request by about three dozen Democrats in Congress for President Biden to relinquish unilateral nuclear launch authority. I believe, at the time, you weren’t aware of that request, and I was wondering if you’ve been able to get an answer from the President on that.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more for you on that.
Q And my third question, if I could.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q According to a report yesterday in Axios, we may soon have a prominent transgender gubernatorial candidate. It would be a Republican, Caitlyn Jenner, in California. And I’m not asking —
MS. PSAKI: Are you announcing her run?
Q No, no. I’m just announcing an Axios report.
MS. PSAKI: Are you working for her?
Q I am not.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q I’m not. But — and I’m not asking you to endorse anyone, but I was wondering if the White House welcomes this appearance, a LGBT milestone.
MS. PSAKI: We certainly would welcome the freedom of any — any human be participating in the democratic process to run for office, of course, and including, of course, transgender members of our society.
Q Thank you. I just want to ask if the budget rollout is still going to happen this week. And secondly, is it accurate that debate or discussion about defense spending is what’s holding it up?
MS. PSAKI: That is not accurate. We know you all are eager to have the discretionary guidance, and it certainly will give some insight into the President’s priorities and the priorities of this administration. We hope to have that out very soon this week, but I don’t have an exact date for you quite yet.
Q It sounds like it could possibly slip into next week. Is that — is that (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’re hopeful it will be out this week.
Q And then, just to follow up on the Olympics issue: Understanding what you said, the U.S. position, however, is still that China has committed genocide.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Doesn’t that demand some sort of response or action from the U.S.? And what will the U.S. need to see before it fully participates in the Olympics?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, just to be very clear and reiterate: Our position has not changed in our planned participation. However, we are working, of course, on — as we would be on any issue, in coordination with our partners and allies about a range of concerns we have with China’s behavior and their actions, including the genocide of Uighur Muslims in China, including actions that China has taken as it relates to economic and security steps.
And so that is something we would do in partnership and coordination with our partners in the region. Just like any relationship, there are areas where we feel we can work together; areas where we have great concerns. We voice those. We don’t hold back on those as the President did in his call with the President.
Q There’s — I have a couple questions. The first is, there are some studies that show that Black Americans have half of the vaccination rate of white Americans, and I wonder why the administration is not setting hard numbers with their equity goals. How do you measure success if you don’t put actual numbers next to the goals?
MS. PSAKI: I would have to check those numbers. I’m not challenging them, I just would have to talk to our COVID team about those. As you know, equity is central to what we do — COVID and addressing the pandemic. And ensuring we are taking steps to address getting the vaccine out to communities around the country is central to our focus.
We are constantly monitoring where the vaccine doses are going and that they’re equitably distributed. That’s something — every vaccine is marked in boxes. It’s — we saw this at Pfizer. It’s very cool actually. We monitor that closely.
We monitor the uptick in outbreak and COVID rates in communities and see how it’s being — how it’s impacting different communities. We work directly with governors to help address where there are upticks in communities and where we see there are communities that are not getting ready access to the vaccine.
And we’ve actually adjusted, in some cases, our approach and our strategy. That’s why we’ve increased our investment in community health centers massively over the course of the last several weeks; why we’ve increased our investment in mobile clinics. Because one of the issues we’re seeing is access. Right? Access and the ability to — many people can’t take a day off of work, especially if they’re working in jobs where it doesn’t allow for that. We want to bring the vaccine to people as frequently as we can.
So what I would tell you is that we are constantly adapting and adjusting our strategy to areas where we see that we are not effectively addressing distributing the vaccine equitably. That is central to our focus and will continue to be.
Q Just to reiterate, the question was: Why not set hard numbers? There’s 100 million for the first 100 days, then 200 million. Why not say, “We want to see 20 percent or 30 percent of Black people, Hispanics…”? Why not put numbers by your equity goals?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check with our team. We may have internal goals along those lines, but I would just convey to you that we look at it as our objective is to vaccinate every adult American. That includes, of course, every adult American who is white, Black, brown, Asian American — and that we look closely at where we are — where there are communities where there is an uptick, where there are communities —
So I was trying to actually address your question on actually what we’re doing about it, which I think is the most important information people might be looking for.
Q And then, related to racial equality, the infrastructure bill has $400 billion focused on home healthcare aides — a lot of them are women, women of color. How is that infrastructure? Explain why you see home healthcare workers as part of infrastructure.
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, this is essentially a jobs bill. Yes, there’s a lot in here that is infrastructure. But as the Secretary just conveyed, our workers, our workforce is part of the backbone and the infrastructure of America’s economy and communities.
And if you have home health workers, as you noted, who are predominantly women of color; they are predominantly workers who are paid often $11 an hour, about, on average — these are communities and individuals who need greater assistance and need greater help.
In addition, the people who are impacted most by the need for caregiving are women. We see that statistically: About 2 million women have left the workforce as a result of the pandemic.
And so, our objective and our focus is on addressing physical infrastructure, the infrastructure that is going to help us compete, including broadband.
I had — oh, here. This is a broadband map. I love maps. Don’t you guys? This shows where there is not great broadband around the country, which I think is so interesting and shows you how much we need to do — what we need to do to address it.
But if we’re going to get women back in the workforce, this is an area where we need to address. And so the President felt it was an important and imperative part of the package. And as the Secretary noted, it’s something that many businesses are also welcoming.
Q If I could add two quick questions that are very — one is a yes-or-no question.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q President Biden has indicated that Beau Biden’s cancer was likely caused or linked to burn pits. This is a question from our foreign team: Does President Biden and the White House support the bill Senator Gillibrand and Senator Rubio have sponsored related to burn pits?
MS. PSAKI: I’ll have to look more specifically at the bill. He has talked about this quite frequently, including when we were in — I can’t remember what state, where he visited the hospital — I don’t remember.
MS. PSAKI: Ohio. Thanks. It’s like a phone-a-friend. When we were in Ohio, he talked about this as well. But I can check with our legislative team.
Q (Inaudible) if he supports the bill?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t looked more deeply into the specifics of the bill.
Q And then my last question is on immigration. The Family Reunification Task Force, as of now, is saying that it hasn’t reunanified [sic] — it hasn’t reunited any families because they’re still sorting through the system.
I wonder, can you talk a bit about why they haven’t been able to reunite families, and what are the concerns and challenges that maybe are even more — even more pronounced than you would have thought they were going to be?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. First, we can’t overstate how complex this challenge is. The prior administration did not have a system in place to track the children and parents who were separated. They also, of course, separated them themselves.
But the task force has been in place, as you know, for about two months. The focus right now, in this period of time, has been reviewing thousands of records, and a significant number of issues have come up in these existing files, including incorrect dates and names.
We’re working — they are working to establish a database of families who were separated and working to find previously unidentified separated families who are eligible to receive benefits through the task force. And they’ve also identified over 5,600 new files that were not reviewed and have begun the process for reviewing and crosschecking those files.
The task force is also working very closely with the ACLU to process identified families so we can reunite them as swiftly as possible. They’ll have a full report; that’s due on June 2nd.
Q So you’re saying — but what’s the delay in it being so — what’s — what makes it so hard to reunite families while they’re doing that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the biggest challenge is that there’s a lot of inaccurate information. There wasn’t accurate — there was not an accurate database. We’ve seen inaccurate names, inaccurate dates.
Again, we’re working very closely with the ACLU, and we’re working to move it as quickly as possible.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you, Jen. You said earlier that the White House recognizes that some of you may not always be the right messenger to some of these individuals who are reluctant to take the President’s —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — advice on getting vaccinated.
The President said yesterday there was a category he didn’t exactly identify, but he gave Senator McConnell credit for talking to those people. Did the President ask his friend, Senator McConnell, to help him out on trying to make a pitch to those people who are not — who are reluctant to follow the President’s lead on this? And has he asked other Republican pals of his to do the same to help out?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any calls to read out or asks from the President, but I would just reiterate: We certainly do think it’s a good step that Senator McConnell conveyed the importance and the efficacy of taking the vaccine.
But also, across the board, all of our data shows that the most effective voices are local doctors, civic leaders, clergy, others who are trusted in communities. And that’s really where our primary focus and the President’s primary focus is.
So, one in the back.
Q Thank you. Will President Biden appoint a special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian portfolio? If so, when? And if not, why?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any personnel announcements to make here. Of course, the President believes that the only — the most — the only solution is a two-state solution, but I don’t have any personnel or specifics to outline for you from here in addition.
Q Thank you, Jen.
Q Just real — one quick thing —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — that happened here while we were sitting here. I don’t know if you guys have this yet or not, that — apparently, the President called King Abdullah of Jordan.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q Can you — have we — have you guys confirmed that yet or no?
MS. PSAKI: I think it’s been happening — it sounds like — as we’ve — here. We’ll have a robust readout, and we’ll get that out to all of you guys.
Go ahead, Kristen.
Q Thanks. Jen, has the President seen the video of the boy who came here from Nicaragua, abandoned, alone, crying to Border Patrol agents? If so, what was his response?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any response from the President directly. What I can convey is: For any of us who have seen that video, it is heartbreaking. It’s a reminder of how treacherous the journey is. And it is a reminder of how important and impera- — imperative it is that we put in place reforms to our immigration system; that we convey clearly how dangerous this journey is; and that we take steps — like the Central American Minors Program — to make it possible to apply from within the country.
Q And given what’s happening at the border, why hasn’t the President — why hasn’t the Vice President visited yet?
MS. PSAKI: Visited the border?
Q The border, yes.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any trips to outline or preview. What our focus is on is solutions — and ensuring we have more beds, we’re making the processing more efficient and effective, and that we are addressing this in a humane way that keeps these kids as safe as we possibly can.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.
1:36 P.M. EDT