Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia L. Fudge
Source: The White House
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia L. Fudge, March 18, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:36 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: We have another great guest today. Joining us today is Secretary — our new Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Marcia Fudge, who was confirmed just last week. We wasted no time.
As you all know, Secretary Fudge served as U.S. Representative for the 11th Congressional District of Ohio for more than 12 years. She’s a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and earned a reputation of tackling the unique challenges of her district by working across political ideologies.
In 1999, Secretary Fudge was elected the first female and first African American mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio — a position she held for two terms. As mayor of Warrensville Heights, she adopted one of the first vacant and abandoned property ordinances in the state. Additionally, she brought new residential development to the city and addressed the city’s growing foreclosure crisis through the formation of a long partnership that helped residents maintain the financial security needed to buy or keep a home.
As Secretary Fudge has said, her first priority as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development is to alleviate the housing crisis and get people the support they need to come back from the edge.
She’s happy to take a couple of questions after she gives some remarks. Thank you again for joining us.
SECRETARY FUDGE: Thank you. Thank you very much, Jen. Good afternoon.
Q Good afternoon!
SECRETARY FUDGE: Oh, thank you. (Laughter.) I was wondering if I was in this room by myself. (Laughter.) Jen, thanks for inviting me to — to speak about the importance of the American Rescue Plan as it relates to the urgent needs — housing needs facing our nation today. What a way to complete my very first week as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
At HUD, we know firsthand the severe impact of COVID-19 on our nation’s housing crisis. HUD staff in every region of the country have worked tirelessly to assist grantees and recipients of HUD assistance in their response to the pandemic. We’ve helped nurs- — we’ve helped housing owners, housing authorities, and communities provide additional rental assistance and support new efforts to eradicate homelessness.
We’ve extended the Federal Housing Administration’s foreclosure and eviction moratoriums until June 30th to support the immediate and ongoing needs of homeowners.
Under the Biden-Harris administration, HUD is making greater efforts to keep Americans safe from COVID-19. We’re strengthening partnerships between recipients of HUD assistance and public health agencies and healthcare providers. Many of the people living in — living in federally assisted housing have risk factors that make them particularly vulnerable to COVID. These factors include disability, race, and low income — along with racial and ethnic disparities in access to response, care, and treatment.
We’re making sure that federal, state, and local efforts to reach those most at risk of COVID are linking those efforts to people living in housing HUD supports.
The American Rescue Plan is critical to our success in these efforts. Some of you may know that my last vote as a member of Congress was for the American Rescue Plan. I was proud to vote for this historic legislation to get help to the American people during this moment of great challenge.
I thank President Biden for the leadership that has gotten us to this point. The American people can be confident that help is here.
The President has described the American Rescue Plan as “shots in arms and money in pockets.” I would add — it relates to housing — the American Rescue Plan keeps people housed and brings people home.
And with that, I will take any questions that you would — that Jen is going to allow me to take. So you all make —
MS. PSAKI: Anytime. You’re invited —
SECRETARY FUDGE: Jen is in charge. I’m just here.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q If I can, Secretary Fudge, thank you for being here. We appreciate your time today.
SECRETARY FUDGE: Thank you.
Q The head of the National Housing Conference said that “HUD’s ranks have been gutted, morale has never been lower, and the challenges to HUD’s constituents have never been higher.” Just in simple terms, can you describe — describe the state of your department as you take it over today?
SECRETARY FUDGE: Well, I would say this to you — and I actually had the opportunity to talk to the President about it since I’ve been here. We are thousands of people short of where we ought to be. Our staff is outstanding. They are under-resourced, understaffed, and overworked. But we are going to make some major changes and very quickly.
The Rescue Plan is allowing us to do things that we may not have been able to do without it. So I’m especially pleased that the President had the foresight and the vision to give us a historic, maybe one-time opportunity to change what is going on in housing in this country.
Q You put out some new numbers today as they relate to homelessness in this country right now. Obviously, it’s a number that the whole country is dissatisfied by — thinks the number should be much lower.
I’ll ask this in two different ways. One, can you set a goal where you think that number should be? And then what timeframe do you think you can meet such a goal to reduce homelessness in country — in this country?
And specifically for some of the blue parts of the country that some Republicans have criticized — San Francisco, New York, where the homeless numbers have been high — what specific advice and what you can spe- — specifically do to target those communities to alleviate those — those high numbers?
SECRETARY FUDGE: Well, the first thing I’d say is that the President gave us a charge early on as to what he wanted us to focus on, especially in the first 100 days. Homelessness was at the top of the list. One was expanding vouchers. Thirdly, he wanted us to find ways to expand and put in the market new, affordable housing.
So with the $40 billion that has come that we have now, what we expect is this: We have $5 billion set aside to do nothing but address homeless issues. So we know that, with those resources, over the next probably 12 to 18 months, we know for a fact that we can get as many as 130,000 people off the streets.
We also know that our local partners are going to assist us in finding other rental opportunities. So we believe we can put a major dent in it.
But if nothing else, what we will let them know is that there is an opportunity to find a way off the streets. We are — we have more programs in place to assist people who are already in public housing to find a way to buy housing.
We know that affordable housing is a problem all across this country. I don’t know where my Republican colleagues live that don’t think that it — there is a problem, but there is. So many of us just choose to ignore it.
MS. PSAKI: Mary.
Q Thank you, Madam Secretary, for being here. The federal moratorium on evictions is set to expire at the end of this month. Are there plans to extend that? And if not, what do you say to families who are worried that they may be facing eviction?
SECRETARY FUDGE: Well, what I would say first is that the HUD moratorium expires on June 30th. The CDC is in the process of trying to determine what is the appropriate way forward, and I would hope that you would ask them that question.
Q And just one more, if I can. The experts tell us that that the December tranche of COVID relief is just now starting to come online. People that we’ve talked to are still seeing some big glitches, you know, when — when they try to apply. Are you confident that states and localities now have the systems in place to get this, as well as the next round of funding?
SECRETARY FUDGE: I’m very confident. I’ve talked with Secretary Yellen. The Treasury Department is up to the task. I mean, certainly it is a different Treasury Department, so I’m very confident that if they say that they can get it out in a certain period of time, they will.
Our job at HUD is just to give the kind of guidance and assistance once those funds are received.
MS. PSAKI: Zeke.
Q Thank you, Secretary. You mentioned earlier that housing prices are increasing. Also the supply of new inventory on the market is decreasing at the same time. What can the administration do to get more homes on the market or bring prices down? How concerned are you about — about that dynamic?
SECRETARY FUDGE: There are a couple of things that we know can happen out of this rescue package. One is: If you look at places like a Los Angeles, where they have actually purchased hotels and motels, et cetera, to give people an immediate place to go, there’s re- — there are resources in the plan to do that.
The other thing that we find is that part of the problem with the market is that credit is not available and accessible to people who actually do qualify. So, since FHA is certainly a part of what — what we do, we’re going to ensure that we can talk about down payment assistance. We’re going to talk about maybe some restructuring. We are going to make sure that people who qualify have access to credit.
We all know that there have been problems across this country for many, many years. That is why I’m so pleased that President Biden talks about equity. He talks about equality — closing the racial wealth gap, which is bigger today than it was 50 years ago.
So we know that we have the tools. I think it was just a matter of making sure that we have the will to use them. We have the — we now have the will.
MS. PSAKI: Ed.
Q Madam Secretary, thank you again. Back to the homelessness report that you guys put out this morning. The way that test is done, as you know, is you test over a few days in January of the previous year.
SECRETARY FUDGE: Correct.
Q So that was pre-pandemic, 2020. Do you have any —
SECRETARY FUDGE: Five hundred and eighty thousand people on the streets pre- — I mean “homeless” — pre-pandemic. Correct.
Q Exactly. A 2.2 percent increase from the year before. Do you have any sense of how much more homelessness may have increased once that pandemic began, say, April, May, into the summer?
SECRETARY FUDGE: I can’t give you numbers. We know that it increased; we just don’t know those numbers.
Q So really not until next January will we —
SECRETARY FUDGE: Correct.
Q — be able to get some sense of how it might have affected —
SECRETARY FUDGE: Correct.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, Nancy and Alex. And then we’ll have to let the Secretary go back to work.
Go ahead, Nancy.
Q Thanks so much for being here. Appreciate it.
SECRETARY FUDGE: My pleasure.
Q Two questions. One, does the Biden administration have any plans to restore or tweak that Obama-era fair housing regulation, which the Trump administration weakened in the summer of 2020?
SECRETARY FUDGE: We are looking at it. Certainly we know that fair housing is, in fact, the law of the land, and we want to use every tool that we have. I think that the prior administration did roll back some fair housing tools that we have. So, we’re looking at how we can go back and make those better and get them reimplemented, if possible.
Q And then, just a second question. What are your thoughts on whether or not there is a housing bubble right now in the U.S.?
SECRETARY FUDGE: Well, I would say that that’s a — kind of a tricky question. There are those who would say “yes.” I would say, at this point, that until I can get the kind of data that I need from the GSEs and from FHA, that’s not a — that’s not something that I could really give you an accurate answer on, but I know that there is a problem with the market today.
MS. PSAKI: Alex. Make it a good one, Alex. No pressure.
Q Well, I — I have two, so I’m going to be just a little bit greedy. One from our housing reporter, which is: Are there some parts of the COVID response, whether or not in ARP or generally, that are currently temporary that you would like to see permanent when the crisis eases?
SECRETARY FUDGE: Oh, I’d like to see most of it permanent. No question about it. I think that when we talk about housing needs, we can’t, at this point, come up with enough money to take care of all of the homeless people in this country. We cannot, through this package alone, repair and restore 50-year-old housing authorities across this country which are crumbling every day. We cannot abate lead in every single building we need to with these resources. We need at least another $70- to $100 billion to do those things.
So, yes, I’d like to see a stream of resources available to do this — not just in this package, but ongoing.
Q And the second question is — you may have seen that former Congressman Richmond weighed in on the primary to succeed him in his congressional seat.
SECRETARY FUDGE: Who?
Q Congressman Richmond. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Never heard of him.
Q I was wondering if you wanted to take the opportunity to weigh in on your race, and, you know, who you think can — should succeed you, and what you’re looking for?
SECRETARY FUDGE: No. (Laughter.)
Q How about the Senate race in your state?
MS. PSAKI: All right.
Q Is there a Democrat that should run?
SECRETARY FUDGE: Oh, absolutely.
SECRETARY FUDGE: Well, I have two friends that are thinking about it. Tim Ryan, of course, is thinking about it. I understand that Nan Whaley is thinking about it. I mean, I think we’re going to put a good person in that race, no matter who we choose. But they’re both friends.
I think we have a good shot at it. I know people have written off Ohio. I haven’t written off Ohio. I believe we can win the Senate race.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Secretary Fudge. Looking forward to having you back.
SECRETARY FUDGE: Thank you.
Q Thank you, Madam Secretary.
SECRETARY FUDGE: Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
Okay, just have a —
MS. PSAKI: What did you say?
Q We should have walk-off music for your guests. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: I mean, we can. Wait until month three. Wait until month three. We’ll be rolling it out with people’s second visits.
As we announced yesterday — I just wanted to give you a little bit more information on the schedule for next week. We — you may have seen we confirmed that the President will be traveling to Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday — the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act being signed into law. The trip will be a part of our Help is Here tour and will highlight how the American Rescue Plan will lower healthcare costs for many American families. And this is a component of the package that we’ve talked about, but we’re still working to ensure the American people understand how they can benefit from this particular piece.
The Affordable Care Act has been an important lifeline for Ohio families for 11 years. The law cut the state’s uninsured rate by half, dropping from 12 percent to 6 percent. It has also provided critical consumer protections for millions more by preventing insurance companies from discriminating based on preexisting conditions. And the American Rescue Plan makes coverage under the ACA even more affordable for Ohio families: Over 90,000 currently uninsured Ohioans can get a better deal on health insurance because of the law and premiums for people who have coverage under the ACA.
And the former Ohio governor was one of the first — if not the first Republican governor in the country to expand Medicaid access during that period of time, and that is certainly something we continue to note around here.
Another update on the schedule is, in the wake — well, a couple of updates, I should say, part on the schedule and part on the steps we’re taking as it relates to the horrific events in Atlanta earlier this week.
In the wake of the horrific shootings in Atlanta on Tuesday, the President ordered the U.S. flag to be flown at half staff as a mark of respect for the victims of these senseless acts of violence.
The President and the Vice President will also meet with representatives from the Georgia Asian American and Pacific Islander community when they travel to Georgia on Friday. They will meet with the state legislators and community advocates to hear about the impact of the incident on the community, and to get their perspective on the rise in anti-Asian hate incidents. The President will offer — also offer his support for the AAPI community in Georgia and across the country and talk about his commitment to combating xenophobia, intolerance, and hate.
As many of you may know — and I think we were — I’ve been asked about this in here previously, but Senator Mazie Hirono and Congresswoman Grace Meng have introduced legislation that calls for expanded DOJ review of COVID-19-related hate crimes, for guidance from DOJ to law enforcement for best practices in reporting hate crimes, and ensures that hate crimes information and reporting is more accessible to Asian American communities. The President applauds this — their leadership on this issue, including — along with Chair Judy Chu’s — and he strongly supports these crucial aims of this legislation.
He issued a presidential memorandum his first week in office, directing the Attorney General to support state and local agencies and AAPI communities to prevent hate crimes and expand data collection and public reporting. That is ongoing. The outreach and engagement from DOJ is already underway.
There’s also a role for HHS to play, which we expect can pick up more once Secretary Becerra — future Secretary Becerra is sworn in.
And as I noted yesterday, also from here, he’s asked Cedric Richmond — who, of course, we’ve all heard of; former congressman — and Susan Rice to lead an effort to engage with the community as well.
Last piece: Today, the House will also be voting on the American Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. President Biden and this administration support passage of both pieces of legislation. These bills would provide a path to citizenship for DREAMers, individuals with temporary protected status, and farmworkers. Both pieces of legislation passed the House last Congress with bipartisan support and have broad support from the American public.
These bills, in his view and our view, are critical milestones toward much-needed relief for the millions of individuals who call the United States home, and an acknowledgement that a path to citizenship for these essential workers is critically important to our economy and our nation’s food and agricultural sectors.
We also urge Congress to reform other aspects of our immigration system by passing President Biden’s Build the U.S. Citizenship Act — a package, a bill that he proposed on his first day in office — which would establish a new system to responsibly manage and secure our border, bring long-overdue visa reforms to keep families together and grow our economy, and address the root causes of migration from Central America.
With that, Zeke, kick us off.
Q Thank you, Jen. Just following up on a scooplet from our colleague, Jeff, over here.
MS. PSAKI: A “scooplet.” (Laughter.)
Q If you could —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t know that Reuters calls it “scooplets,” but —
Q If you could confirm that the U.S. plans to loan 4 million AstraZeneca vaccines to Mexico and Canada. What’s the timeline for when that transaction would take place? And why only 4 million of a stockpile that is several times that when — for a vaccine that isn’t authorized here?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. So, as I’ve noted here before, but worth noting again: Our first priority remains vaccinating the U.S. population. The reality is that — but the reality is the border knows no — the pandemic knows no borders. And ensuring our neighbors can contain the virus is a mission-critical step — is mission critical to ending the pandemic.
We have three vaccines approved, as you well know. And, of course, there’s a rigorous review process by the FDA. There are other vaccines, of course, including AstraZeneca, that are going through the approval process now. And we have been taking action here to get ready to get those vaccines to the American people if they are approved.
As we await FDA approval here in the U.S., many countries, as you know, have already requested — have requested the — have already approved AstraZeneca and also have requested our doses from the United States. That includes Canada and Mexico, but it’s certainly not limited to Canada and Mexico.
And balancing the need to let the approval process play out of the AstraZeneca vaccine as it’s taking place in the U.S. with the importance of helping stop the spread of the — of — in other countries — we are assessing how we can loan doses. It’s not — it’s — we are — that is our aim. It is not fully finalized yet, but that is our aim and what we’re working toward to Canada and Mexico. This is a complex process, and our team is working with the companies to move it forward.
And I want to — on your question about the number of doses: There have been a range of reports about the number of doses. I can confirm that we have 7 million releasable doses available of AstraZeneca. And as noted in Jeff’s “scooplet,” which I’m just going to keep calling it — (laughter) — 2.5 million of those, we are working to finalize plans to lend those to Mexico and 1.5 million to Canada.
Q And what’s the nature of that transaction? Would it just be for future AstraZeneca production? Or would there be —
MS. PSAKI: Meaning what’s in the loan?
MS. PSAKI: It could be for future AstraZeneca doses or other doses. Yes.
Q And on a different topic, I was wondering if you’ve seen — if you saw the comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin this morning responding to the President’s comments in the interview on Tuesday night. Is the President worried at all that he may have inadvertently started a little war of words, and that trading shots back and forth, that could get in the way of having — finding some common ground on various shared priorities?
MS. PSAKI: Well, President Putin — President Biden and President Putin certainly have different perspectives on their respective countries and how to approach engagement in the world. But where they agree is that we should continue to work for way — look for ways to work together, as was noted in part of President Putin’s comments.
And there are areas of mutual interest. New START, which we just extended for five years is an example of that. Obviously, Russia is also a member of the P5+1, as we look ahead to what’s possible there as it relates to, you know, preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
So we are confident that we can continue to look for ways where there’s mutual interest — mutual national interest. But the President is not going to hold back, clearly, when he has concerns, when he has — whether it is with words or actions.
Go ahead. I’ll go to you next. You have a scooplet. You can go after a few other people. (Laughter.) Go ahead.
Q Thank you. On that same topic: You know, obviously, you say that you want to work together on Russia on areas of mutual agreement, but Russia has now decided to recall its ambassador. I mean, is there a concern that the President agreeing that Russian President Putin is a killer could escalate tension even further?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our ambassador, Sullivan, remains in Moscow. We remain engaged and he remains engaged, as does our team on the ground, with the Russian people.
We continue to believe that diplomacy is the first step and should always be the first step, and should be our objective as we pursue all relationships, even with our adversaries. So, you know, we are hopeful that that will continue to be the case.
Q And just want to get your reaction to actually some of Putin’s exact words here, because he responded with a bit of a euphemism that translates roughly to “It takes one to know one” — pointing to slavery in America, treatment of Native Americans, the atomic bombing of Japan. Does the President have any response to that kind of language?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President believes that one of the greatest attributes of the United States is our honest self-reflection and our constant striving for progress. And there’s always more work to do, as he’s stated himself.
So, I can’t — I’ve been doing this long enough not to try to get in the mind of President Putin, but I can assure you that President Biden still believes there’s more work we can do here in our own country.
Q Just to follow up quickly, does — you’re talking about self-reflection — does President Biden regret calling Vladimir Putin a “killer”?
MS. PSAKI: No. The President gave a direct answer to a direct question.
Q So then how is that — how — you don’t want to escalate tensions. How is that constructive to the relationship when you talk about diplomacy being primary between the U.S. and Russia? How is calling Vladimir Putin a killer constructive to that relationship?
MS. PSAKI: Well, President Biden has known President Putin for a long time. They’ve both been on the global stage for a long time, worked through many iterations of a relationship between the United States and Russia, and he believes we can continue to do that.
Q Does the President believe that the leaders of — Mohammed Bin Salman, the — one of the — the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia — does he view him as a killer?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I need to add more “killer” names from the podium just today.
Q I won’t ask you about other countries then as well.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q But let me ask about immigration —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — if I can quickly.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.
Q The President has made it very clear in his recent interview that the border is not open, effectively that it’s closed, except for these unaccompanied minors right now, under humanitarian grounds —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — who are being welcomed into the U.S. But as we speak, crews from multiple outlets, including those from NBC News, are at the border and they’re seeing many migrant families being accepted — young families being accepted into the country right now.
So can you square those two — when the message was that families and individuals were being sent home but unaccompanied minors were being kept — why young families are, in fact, being kept here in the U.S. and detained?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve talked about this a little bit in here before, but — and we are still applying Section 42, which — and with — the exception is, of course, unaccompanied minors.
We are — there are limited scenarios, limited circumstances where we are — very limited, I should say — where families are coming across, going through proper protocols at the border — being tested and then having their cases adjudicated.
Part of this is that — part of the reasoning is that, of course, we’ve closed Matamoros and some — there has been some less participation in keeping some of these families in Mexico than in the past. And many of these policies we have supported.
But the vast majority of people — vast, vast majority — who come to the border are turned away. The border is not open. These are very limited scenarios.
Q (Coughs.) Sorry, I just swallowed some mask here, but —
MS. PSAKI: It’s okay. We’ve all been there.
Q — how — how limited is “very limited”? How many are being allowed in as it relates to families? And specifically, if the message that the President was sending this week is that the border is not open, what is the message to those families, given some are being allowed in right now?
MS. PSAKI: The message continues to be — I’d be happy to provide you the numbers. I think CBP has the most up-to-date numbers, so I’d point you to them, and they provide those regularly. We’d certainly support that. I don’t have them in front of me right now.
I would say the message continues to be, “Now is not the time to come.” The vast majority of families, of individuals are sent back, are not welcomed across the border. And that’s a message we will continue to convey clearly.
Q And just to follow up, you talked about how the President saw those photos in one of the recent briefings, as it relates to these shelters, detention centers, decompression centers. I’m not sure what specific photos he saw. We asked yesterday and we’ll ask again today: Can you provide those? Will you provide those to the American public to see what it looks like there right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say that the White House and we all in the administration support finding a way to grant access to the media to the HHS ORR facilities or the shelters where these children are staying for a temporary period of time before they’re placed with family members or with sponsored homes.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement is — has not been hosting, as you’ve noted, media tours of unaccompanied children facilities currently due to the COVID-19 pademic [sic] –pandemic. But we remain committed to transparency, and we’re considering potential options, and we hope to have an update on that soon.
Q So even if we didn’t get a tour, can you provide us the photos that the President was provided?
MS. PSAKI: They — there was a private briefing, an internal briefing from several weeks ago. We typically don’t provide those materials publicly, but we do want you to be able to — or a pool of media to be able to have your own visuals and get your own footage of these facilities.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Two things. Back to Russia for a second.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q There was the SolarWinds hack. There was the reported bounties on the heads of U.S. troops.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q The President said in this interview something on that is coming. What is the holdup? When is the response from the United States coming? Because he inferred in the interview, you know, “Stay tuned.”
MS. PSAKI: Right. Well, we also have already put forward sanctions on — in response to the poisoning of Aleksey Navalny. There’s already been a release of a report about their engagement in the 2020 Election. And we will have responses to each of these malign actions that we have expressed concern about and the President has offered a review of.
“Weeks, not months” remains still the policy. There’s, of course, internal policy decision making about — to assess and take a look at the review, but also to make decisions about policy engagements. Some of the responses may be seen; some may be unseen. And, of course, the President reserves the right to respond in a manner and time of his choosing, as any President would. But he did make clear that there — that the Russian government will pay a price.
Q On these vaccines going to Mexico: This comes, of course, as the United States is talking to Mexico about this border situation. Were there any strings attached regarding the situation on the border with this decision to give AstraZeneca doses to Mexico?
MS. PSAKI: There are several diplomatic conversations, parallel conversations, many layers of conversations with any — every country — Mexico, Canada, Europe, Asia, around the world. And certainly, being part of contributing to preventing the spread of a global pandemic is part of — one of our diplomatic objectives. Another one of our diplomatic objectives is working to address the challenges at the border. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that those conversations are both ongoing and happening.
Q So if I’m hearing you, the vaccine was given. Were there expectations set with the Mexicans that they help deal with this situation on the border?
MS. PSAKI: The — we —
Q Was there a quid pro quo?
MS. PSAKI: There have been ex- — there have been expectations set outside of — unrelated — to any vaccine doses or request for them that they would be partners in dealing with the crisis on the border. And there have been requests, unrelated, that they — for doses of these vaccines. Every relationship has multiple layers of conversations that are happening at the same time.
Q So we shouldn’t rule out — or the United States isn’t ruling out using our vaccine stockpile in terms of, sort of, to effect diplomacy?
MS. PSAKI: I’m actually try- — I’m actually trying to convey that with every country, there’s rarely just one issue you’re discussing with any country at one time. Right? Certainly that’s not the case with Mexico; it’s not the case with any country around the world.
And so I wouldn’t read into it more than our ability to provide, to lend vaccine doses of a vaccine that we have some available supply on to a neighboring country where there is a lot of traffic that goes back and forth between the countries.
Q Two other quick ones. One related to the Atlanta shooting. You’ve been asked this before, but, in February of last year, then-candidate Biden said that on his first day of office, he’d send a bill to Congress repealing the liability protection for gun manufacturers and closing the background check loophole. I know you’ve been asked about this.
There’s an Attorney General in place now. When, if any — when might we hear more about the administration’s plans regarding gun violence?
MS. PSAKI: It remains a commitment — a personal commitment of the President to do more on gun safety, to put more measures in place, to use the power of the presidency to work with Congress. And certainly there’s an important role, as you noted, for the Attorney General and the Justice Department to play on — in this regard.
I, unfortunately, don’t have any updates for you today, but it is an issue he remains committed to.
Q And one quick local issue. The House Oversight Committee on Monday is holding the hearing on D.C. statehood. The President is a supporter of this.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Does he think it could — if it passes the House, does it have a chance in the Senate, given the filibuster situation right now? And what would he or the White House say to the critics who suggest that this is designed to be a Democratic Party power grab just to get a few more seats in the House and the Senate?
MS. PSAKI: I think he would say that the half a million people who live in D.C. — am I getting that number right?
Q A little more than that now. Yeah.
MS. PSAKI: A little more than — it’s grown since I left and went to the suburbs. Would — would argue with that point, and so would he. I mean, he believes they deserve representation; that’s why he supports D.C. statehood.
Q Has the administration made any effort — this is just a Putin-related question.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Has the administration made any effort to find out what was said during the previous President’s two-hour-long one- on-one meeting with Putin in Helsinki?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a great question. Obviously there’s intelligence reports that may reflect that, but I’m not aware of any specific deep dive into that. I’m happy to check if there’s more on it.
And just — I’m sorry, one more question. The Chinese government has indicated that it wanted — it wants to meet with President Biden virtually in April before that climate summit. I’m wondering if the Biden administration is open to that and if there have been any talks about setting that meeting up.
MS. PSAKI: I know we’ll have more on the climate summit, which is just over a month away now. So it’s coming closer. And there are, of course, a range of international, global participants that we anticipate being a part of it, but we’re not at the stage where we’re discussing bilateral meetings at this point in time.
Go ahead, David. Oh, sorry, Jeff, I really — I’ll come back to you next. I’m not trying to give you a hard time.
Go ahead, David.
Q Maybe Mr. Scooplet should go first. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, maybe. (Laughs.)
Q Sorry to go back to the Russia question here —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — but the President now, by my count, has said that Russia would pay a price for SolarWinds.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q He has said that they would pay a price for Navalny —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — and as you pointed out, there have already been some sanctions there.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Yesterday, he seemed to suggest that they would pay a price, in addition, for the meddling in the 2020 elections. And yet, at the same time, your own colleagues seem to have sanctions fatigue out here. You’ve been —
MS. PSAKI: Who are my colleagues? In the government?
Q You were — your colleagues in the State Department, the West Wing.
MS. PSAKI: Oh.
Q I mean, you announced sanctions on Russia back when you were a State Department spokeswoman.
Is there any evidence that the method that we’re using so far — of sanctions — is actually affecting Putin’s behavior?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we would rely, David, on sanctions alone. We do think they have been effective modes. I mean, history — you’ve written many stories about it, about the role sanctions have played in moving global diplomacy forward, and we certainly are a believer in that.
But as you also know, there are a range of tools at any — at the disposal of any President, seen and unseen. And I’m just not going to get ahead of the process of what considerations are underway.
Q Okay. On China, obviously the meeting is yet to happen —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — today. But at the end of this whole process, once Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Blinken come back, what does the President think is the next right step? Is it further meetings at this level? Is it more direct conversation, like the one he had for several hours last month with President Xi? Is it a response to the Chinese-related hack that he’s also trying to deal with?
MS. PSAKI: I expect he’ll make a determination about that when they return and he has a chance to talk to Secretary Blinken and National Security Advisor Sullivan, in part because he doesn’t see this, nor do they, as a preset series of meetings like the traditional dialogues that we’ve seen throughout other administrations, including ones that he has previously served in.
You know, this meeting, we certainly anticipate, will have difficult components of the conversation. We expect it to be frank. They plan to cover areas where we have concerns, including human rights, Hong Kong. Obviously, we’ve — we’ve put forward some sanctions related to the anti-democratic actions in Hong Kong over the last couple of days. Technology, whether it relates to threft [sic] — the theft of IP or data protections. Military tensions in the region.
So it will cover, as will be no surprise to anyone here who follows China closely, a range of topics. And I think the President is eager to hear from them on how the conversation goes and work with them to determine what the next right step is.
I will say that, in his mind and in the minds of National Security Advisor Sullivan and Secretary of State Blinken, a big part of the strategy is approaching our relationship with China from a place of strength and strengthening our own economy at home, investing in the middle class, looking at it through the prism of competition, not conflict. And that means there’s also more work we have to do here.
Q From your answer, things like the economic and strategic dialogue which took place in the Obama administration and that continued some in the Trump administration — that’s over for now?
MS. PSAKI: I would simply say that this meeting is not a part of a series of meetings at this point in time.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sorry, Jeff. You’re kind of getting hazed for your scooplet. (Laughter.)
Q That’s all right. I can take it.
MS. PSAKI: Right. I know you can. Okay. He’ll just sit on his scooplet, and he doesn’t care.
Go ahead, Karen.
Q A couple questions on schools. Last month, the CDC released school guidance urging six feet of distance between students and staff, and now the CDC Director says she’s revisiting this. We’re reporting that this could come as early as tomorrow; that that will go from six feet to three feet. What does the White House say to teachers who are concerned that the science hasn’t changed in five weeks and that this is political, this change?
MS. PSAKI: I would say that the CDC is full of health and medical experts — including Dr. Walensky, who would be the last person to characterize herself as political. She is a medical health expert, and she has looked at this through the prism of how we can take steps to make it safe to reopen schools and is constantly evaluating how to ease some of the restrictions. And there are, of course, more that often you all have asked about in here, which are good questions: What about travel? What about masks?
You know, they take an approach that is purely through the science. So we’ll let her speak more about it when they’re ready to release those formal guidelines.
Q Will the White House direct states to do something with that guidance when it’s released, similar to what we saw when the President made the direction on vaccine eligibility?
MS. PSAKI: You mean, like, will we direct schools to —
Q Can you say, “You have to now to do this”? “The CDC has said this — six to three feet. You now have to follow this to push for reopening.”
MS. PSAKI: Well, social distancing is one of the mitigation measures — right? — in the CDC guidance. And I don’t know — I have not seen the CDC guidance, so I don’t know how it will be characterized in there.
But I would certainly say we’d have Secretary Cardona, who was just here yesterday, work with schools and school districts to implement — and social distancing is one of the steps; masking, testing, vaccinations — and see how it can help reopen schools more quickly.
Q And you want to see this, I mean, kind of, overnight go from six to three feet in the schools that are open right now, and possibly increase the number of students that can be in the classroom before the end of the year?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a timeline for it. I don’t anticipate we’d ask any school to do something immediately overnight. But it will just be additional guidance, which a lot of schools are looking for, from health and medical experts on how to safely reopen schools and ensure that the parents in the community, the teachers in the community, the students feel safe going to school.
And this just — as they’re considering options, this is one of the options that will — that — one of the mitigation steps a school can take.
Q Two quick questions, to continue with the scooplet theme.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. (Laughs.)
Q There was a report just about an hour ago that the President intends to nominate Bill Nelson as NASA chief. Can you confirm that?
MS. PSAKI: I have seen those reports. I don’t have any personnel announcements to make today. It seems like a cool job, though, that I’m not currently on the path to. But it’s fine.
Q You’re not auditioning right now?
MS. PSAKI: I am certainly not. I don’t have any personnel announcements to make. I’ve certainly seen the reports. As we have any updates, we’ll provide them.
Q And the second question: You know, the President said yesterday that he intends to try to raise taxes on anyone that was making over $400,000 a year. Does he think that that’s — does he intend to wait until the economy is out of the pandemic recession, or does he feel confident that by making it only on higher earners that it will not affect the broader economy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President is certainly focused on ensuring the economy is continuing to recover and that people are going back to work and able to put food on the table to feed their families.
When we’re talking about people — families making over $400,000 a year, that’s about 2 percent of households in this country. And this is a commitment that he talked about on the campaign trail. And his interest is in ensuring that people pay their fair share, whether it’s corporations or the highest income earners in our country. And he believes that, you know, hard work should be rewarded and that this is one of the areas where there could — where there is an opportunity to rebalance how our policies are currently.
But, you know, he would do this in coordination with, of course, members of Congress, members of his economic team. And we obviously don’t have a proposed plan at this point, but it is a — it is a policy that he talked about on the campaign trail, and he reiterated, as you noted, earlier this week.
Did you have a second question, too, or no?
Q Those were the two. The scooplet question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, okay. Got it. Okay.
Go ahead, Jeff.
Q All right. Yay!
MS. PSAKI: The man of the hour.
Q On AstraZeneca, you mentioned that the U.S. has 7 million doses — releasable doses — and the company itself —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q — has said it expects to have up to 30 million in April. Given that, will the U.S. consider lending, sharing more of these doses with the other countries that are asking, now that you’ve confirmed that you’re doing the same for Mexico and Canada?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t have anything to preview, but we have a number of requests from a range of countries around the world, and certainly we’ll continue those conversations.
Q Okay. But no commitment at this point to share, specifically, the AstraZeneca vaccine with others?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I will say, broadly speaking, we also anticipate having additional doses of Moderna, of Pfizer, of a range of vaccines, even as we focus on vaccinating, ensuring every American — every adult American has access to the vaccine. It’s just a matter of timeline. So I just don’t have a — an update or a preview on that, but certainly we’ll have those conversations, and we are open to receiving those requests and, obviously, making considerations.
Q All right. And just on one other issue: Your new U.S. Trade Representative will be ceremonially sworn in later today.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Ninety-seven [Ninety-eight] to zero —
Q That’s a big number.
MS. PSAKI: — I think was her vote. It’s pretty solid.
Q What — how soon will she start leading trade talks with the UK?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to preview. Obviously, that’s driven by the policies and the agenda of the President and the overall economic team. I’m sure we will be integrating her into all of the policy discussions as soon as she’s sworn in.
Let me just go to the — get to the folks in the back. Go ahead.
Q Thank you, ma’am. A couple of quick questions. When you were talking, a moment ago, about diplomatic negotiations between the United States and Mexico, you said “crisis on the border.” Is — was that a —
MS. PSAKI: Challenges on the border.
Q Okay. But, so, that’s not — that doesn’t reflect any change in the administration’s —
MS. PSAKI: No.
Q — view of things?
MS. PSAKI: Nope.
Q Okay. Well, another quick question then. On Monday, the President said it’s important to get the vaccine, and then, quote, “even after that, until everyone is, in fact, vaccinated, to wear this mask,” unquote. Was he speaking generally, or does he believe that we should all be wearing masks until everyone is, in fact, vaccinated?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what he’s reflecting is the guidance from our health experts that, even if you’re vaccinated — I am vaccinated; I still wear a mask because there hasn’t been conclusive studies yet on the transferability of the pandemic — or of COVID from those who have been vaccinated. He’s — and it continues to be the advice of health and medical experts to continue to wear masks.
Q Right. But every American? Is that the standard, “until every American has been vaccinated”? Or was he speaking generally?
MS. PSAKI: I think he’s speaking generally about the need to still observe measures like social distancing and wearing of masks so that, even when you’re vaccinated, you’re keeping your neighbors, your friends, your family members safe.
Q Good deal. And then, back in January, you noted that the administration was reviewing how unmarried couples were handled under travel restrictions. Have there been any developments on those restrictions — I know that there’s a lot on the administration’s plate —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — but in how unmarried, binational couples are treated?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update for you. The review is ongoing.
Q And can I ask you one more question?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Thank you. You’re very generous. The Equality Act, as it’s currently written, would eliminate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a defense for religious organizations against discrimination claims. Given that President Biden voted in favor of RFRA, does he support it being abolished now?
MS. PSAKI: I would have to check on the specific components of the package. I’m happy to — I’m happy to do that for you after the briefing.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you very much, Jen. Two East Asia questions and one Asian American question, if I may.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q On U.S.-China talks, can we expect the joint statement after talks?
MS. PSAKI: A joint statement between them? I don’t have anything to preview. I know that National Security Advisor Sullivan and Secretary Blinken will be speaking briefly after the talks conclude. But I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of a joint statement.
Q Okay. Another question is: According to Japanese media, Japanese Prime Minister Suga will meet President Biden on April 9th. Can you confirm that?
MS. PSAKI: I know there have been reports about a future meeting, and the President is certainly looking forward to meeting with the Prime Minister of Japan. I don’t believe a final confirmation has been made here of what that meeting will look like and what the format would be.
Q Okay. And one Asian American question on the unfortunate Atlanta shooting. We already see the half-staff outside. Yesterday, you blamed the prior administration about this, which some people agree. But as what Axios reports, quote, “The United States rivalry with China had already created unease about Chinese Americans and Asian Americans,” unquote. And Axios states we are going to see a huge jump in hate crimes against Asian Americans this year.
So it seems to be that President Biden is in this catch-22: On the one hand, he is trying to alleviate the hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans; on the other hand, he’s, kind of, escalates the tension. How can he really alleviate this situation?
MS. PSAKI: I would just refute the notion of that question. I would say that yesterday I was asked — which was a good question — if we thought that the former President’s rhetoric had contributed to the actions or the — the discrimination against Asian Americans, and I said, “We do.” Because rhetoric, certainly from the massive megaphone you have from the White House, is something that is heard across the country, and it’s important to then be thoughtful about the words you use and how you convey opposition to discrimination of any kind. That was the answer — the question I was answering.
The President is — and the Vice President are meeting with leaders of the Asian American community tomorrow. They — the President raised the rhetor- — the — his concerns about rhetoric, about attacks, about threats against the Asian American community in the country during his primetime address. He signs an executive order. He’s asked his members of his administration to listen, hear, think about policy solutions.
I would say his effort is to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. So I would just dispute your — your question.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thanks, Jen. A few questions for you. The President mentioned in his ABC interview his thoughts on potential changes to the filibuster. I wondered, does he support getting rid of the 60-vote threshold on the legislative filibuster?
MS. PSAKI: I think what he said is that he’d be open to hearing ideas about going back to the talking filibuster, which “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is the best reference that anyone can make on that front. Obviously that hasn’t been the law in the Senate for — since before I was born. So, many years.
But he — that is a — that is a proposal that had been put forward by Senator Manchin. And his whole point is that — and as he — as he said in his comments, you know, our democracy looks at moments like it’s broken, and it shouldn’t be so easy to block legislation.
At the same time, his preference and his priority is working with Democrats and Republicans to find a pathway forward on a range of issues where there has been a history of bipartisan support, whether it’s infrastructure, immigration, addressing — making our economy and our workers more competitive against — against the competition with China. There are a lot of ways we can work together. That’s his preference. And so he was just expressing an openness to hearing from members of the Senate on what their ideas are.
Ultimately, though, as President, he doesn’t get a — he doesn’t vote here. It’s not a law he signs into law; it’s a Senate rule. So you’ll have to talk to them about what their ideas are and what they have the votes for to move forward.
Q So he would defer to senators on whether they support scrapping (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: It’s not about deferring. He’s not in the Senate. He doesn’t decide what the Senate rules are. They do.
Q (Inaudible) influence if he were to voice an opinion.
MS. PSAKI: He’s going to have the senators decide what — what rules they want to abide by, moving forward.
Q Just a couple other quick ones. I wonder, there are a few key agencies that have yet to have Senate-nominated or confirmed leaders that are certainly in the news now — CBP, ICE, the FDA — during the pandemic. I wonder, does the administration have any plans or timetable for when it might put forward nominees to lead those agencies?
MS. PSAKI: All important agencies. I don’t have any update on the personnel process, but we’re working our way through and ensuring we have the right people we can nominate for each of those important roles.
Q And then, lastly, I wonder: This week, there’s a group of college basketball players, ahead of the NCAA Tournament, who started a protest on social media with the hashtag #NotNCAAProperty. And they’re looking for more financial freedom and personal protections from the NCAA.
I wondered: One of the things they’re asking for is a meeting with federal officials, and potentially the Biden administration, to talk about legislation on this. So does the President support college athletes being able to profit off their name and likeness? And would the administration be willing to meet with these players if they asked for a meeting?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to see if there’s any plans for a meeting and if they’ve received the request.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Questions on U.S.-China meeting. China has a poor record of keeping promises. So how would you characterize the level of trust that the current administration has with regard to China? And also, for the Chi- — for the bilateral meeting between President Biden and President Xi, what are the conditions that has to happen — what are the conditions for the meeting to happen? Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I’m here to set conditions today. There are — we haven’t even announced the specific details about the climate summit that’s happening in April, which I think was what the bilateral question was around. And we certainly haven’t made a final decision about any bilateral meetings around that meeting. As we do, I’m sure we can discuss it further.
And then, as it relates to the meeting today, I think one — or that starts today, I should say — it was important to our administration that the first meeting with Chinese officials be held on American soil and occur after we have met and consulted closely with partners and allies in both Asia and Europe. This is an opportunity to address a wide variety of issues, including ones where we have deep disagreements.
And so our focus is on having a frank discussion, raising issues where we have concerns, and of course, looking for ways and places where we can work together.
Q Thanks. While you’ve been briefing, President Putin has just extended an invitation to President Biden to continue their conversation, but this time he wants to do it live. He’s asking for a livestreamed conversation, an open, direct dialogue. Putin says he’s available tomorrow or Monday. Is this something that you would consider?
MS. PSAKI: I’ll have to get back to you if that is something we are entertaining. I would say that the President already had a conversation already with President Putin, even if — as there are more world leaders that he has not yet engaged with. And we engage with Russian leaders, members of the government at all levels, but I don’t have anything to report to you in terms of a future meeting. The President will, of course, be in Georgia tomorrow and quite busy.
Q One very quick, final question on the wall. On day one in office, I think it was, the President signed a proclamation —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — that was effectively putting a pause or halting wall construction. At the time, I think he directed federal agencies to formulate a plan within 60 days. Depending who’s counting, we’re on 58, 59, or almost —
MS. PSAKI: We have two more days.
Q Do we have? Okay. Some said 59. I thought it was one, but we’ll go with two more days — to redirect border fund — border wall funds and, quote, “resume, modify, or terminate” segments of the structure that remain under construction. Have those federal agencies provided you with their conclusions? Have you come to a conclusion? What is the status of that, with that remaining one or two days left?
MS. PSAKI: I will check and see if there’s an update. We are — of course, there is funding that was appropriated previously that is still moving forward. Money that has not been appropriated, as you noted, we’ve, kind of, pulled back on. But I will check and see. We have two more days — which is a lifetime in this place — and see if we have an update for you on this.
Q Thank you.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.
MS. PSAKI: It’s okay. Oh, it’s your first day. I’m sorry.
Q I’m sorry.
MS. PSAKI: Well, welcome.
Q So, a lot of my colleagues in this room and outside this room have been asking for a while now about the possibility of visiting these facilities where unaccompanied children are being held after arriving and applying for asylum at the border. And part of the pushback that we’ve received from you and from DHS and HHS is that there are privacy concerns about reporters potentially, you know —
MS. PSAKI: And COVID.
Q And privacy concerns and COVID. But specifically to privacy: Reporters have been allowed inside these facilities for years through multiple administrations, by multiple agencies, including by the last administration during the family separation crisis, where, I think, the risk of, like, further emotional damage to these kids is pretty acute.
So has there been, to your knowledge, any incident in which a kid’s privacy was violated by reporters who were there to cover the facilities in which they were being detained?
MS. PSAKI: During the last administration?
Q During, like, the long history of reporters being allowed to (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: I would say, as I noted in response to a question — or two questions that were asked earlier that were very similar, our big concern has been the pandemic and COVID and safety. Of course, there are privacy concerns that anyone takes into account — or, I would say, any administration should take into account, as it relates to members of the media visiting a facility where there are children, as I’m sure you would certainly agree on.
I can’t speak to what the approach was of the prior administration who was ripping children from the arms of their parents. So I can’t speak to what their policies were.
But we are working, and we are very committed here from the White House and from the government in finding a way soon — very soon — to ensure that there’s access by the media — not by us providing you with what we see, but by the media to these shelter facilities. We believe it’s important and vital, and we’re committed to it.
And we’re just working through — the pandemic is about the safety of staff, the safety of kids as well, and that’s — so that’s what we’re working through at this point in time. So hopefully I’ll have an update soon.
Q And one question from a colleague who can’t be here because of social distancing — speaking of.
MS. PSAKI: Yep.
Q The President said in the interview when he was discussing — going back to, you know, the talking filibuster — that the filibuster is (inaudible) because, quote, we’re almost “getting to a point where…democracy is having a hard time functioning.”
But my colleague points out that that dynamic has been true, specifically in the Senate, for a very long time — years, even. So was there anything specific to the current dynamic in the Senate that made President Biden, sort of, decide that, you know, now is a moment to change the filibuster rules?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, as I answered in response to the question just a few minutes ago, there are a number of ideas that members of the Senate have put forward. There — they range. Some are against changing the filibuster in the Democratic Party, some are for it. Some are for going back to a talking filibuster, back to the days of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” He’s watching it closely. He was in the Senate for 36 years. He’s happy to hear their ideas.
His preference remains working with Democrats and Republicans to get business done for the American people. So it’s a conversation, as you well know, that’s happening on Capitol Hill right now, and he’s certainly watching it as most other people are as well. Thank you, everyone.
1:34 P.M. EDT
Source: The White House