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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki

Press Release:

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room  •  Washington D.C.  •  January 29  •  10:02 AM

    MS. PSAKI: Early morning briefing. We'll see how this goes; you guys can give feedback on the time of day.

    Okay, I have several announcements for your today. To begin, I know many of you and the American people are interested in the news coming from Johnson & Johnson's trial data. The President is encouraged by positive data on a potential new vaccine. He also knows that this is just new data, and now is the time for the FDA to do its job of evaluating the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. In the meantime, he continues to urge all Americans to mask up and follow public health guidelines until it's their turn to get vaccinated.

    Now, I know there may be a lot of questions you have for us about the trial data or Johnson & Johnson. I'm here to tell you that I'm not going to get ahead of the experts, who you will all get to hear from in the next hour in our public health briefing from the COVID-response team. They will discuss this more with you and what everything means then.

    At Wednesday's briefing, I also shared some of the engagement and outreach the White House is doing to move forward the American Rescue Plan, from the President and the Vice President on down. That work has continued and accelerated.

    Yesterday, senior staff spoke again to governors about the challenges they are facing and the importance of relief. Today, National Economic Council Deputy Director David Kamin will meet with the Council of State Governments. The Office of Public Engagement will also brief black civic groups, anti-hunger and nutrition advocates, and key progressive groups and invite their feedback. These conversations are, of course, critical to building support and moving the President's bill forward.

    According — but we also saw evidence this week that the American people overwhelmingly want their elected leaders to work with the President to confront this pandemic and put people back to work. According to a Monmouth poll released Wednesday, 71 percent of the American people want Republicans in Congress to work with President Biden. That number is up nearly 10 points from right after the election, meaning the trend of support for working in a bipartisan manner with the President is only growing.

    Finally, the President is committed to getting relief to working families. Hence, he is also meeting this morning with his economic — members of his economic team with Vice — the Vice President and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen for a briefing on the cost of inaction and the impact of a delay in moving forward with a relief package. Millions of Americans don't have enough food to eat, and millions more have lost their jobs, but interest rates are at historic lows, and that means it's the right time to make smart investments.

    Moody's — a Wall Street firm — has said that we could end up with 4 million fewer jobs this year if we don't act on the President's plan. That's 4 million Americans who would — who could get back to work. And I'm sure they will discuss all of that at their briefing later this morning.

    Last thing: We are venturing to provide a "Week Ahead" to all of you — or return to providing a "Week Ahead" to all of you. So, a quick preview:

    Next Monday, the President will meet with the Secretary of State at the State Department.

    On Tuesday, President Biden will deliver remarks and sign an executive order advancing his priority to modernize our immigration system.

    And Friday is, of course, Jobs Day, and the President will deliver remarks about the economy.

    We'll have hopefully more over the next couple days, but we wanted to provide as many details as we could.

    With that, Zeke, why don't you kick us off?

    Q:  Thank you, Jen. One foreign policy, just to get going: With violence surging in Afghanistan, is the President still committed to wind down operations there and bringing troops home this year?

    MS. PSAKI: The President — I have not spoken with our national security team about this in particular, but his commitment remains.

    Q:  And then, at the top, you mentioned that Americans should follow public health guidance. One of the challenges is it has been, over the course of last 10 months — is that public health guidance, from state to state, varies. Some states have mask mandates, others have indoor dining open, and others have schools open; others don't. Should — what guidance should the American people follow: their governor's guidance or should they follow the President's?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, first, what we're venturing to do is provide more concrete guidance from the federal government, from the CDC, from health and medical experts on the important steps all of the American people can take to keep themselves safe. That includes the importance of mask wearing, of course, and how vital that is to keeping us safe.


    It also includes the importance of hand washing, of restricting travel. These are all guidelines that have come in recent days and weeks, I should say, from the President of the United States and from our medical and health experts.

    But in addition, as we discussed yesterday, there are guidelines, including the safe — for the safe reopening of schools that he signed an executive order on, directing both the Department of Education and HHS — and the CDC, I should say — I'm sorry — to produce those guidelines to give more specific advice and markers to states and local school districts on what they should follow.

    So it will ultimately be up to states, to governors, to local school districts, and others to make determinations. But we do want to provide more clear guidance from the federal government, based on the expertise of health and medical experts, on what people should follow and what will help keep the American people safe.

    Q:  I just want a quick follow-up on that one. The CDC study that was discussed here a couple of days ago — one of its recommendations, as part of reopening schools immediately, was to close indoor dining, restaurants, and bars. Is that a part of the federal guidance that we should be expecting to see from the CDC and the Department of Education soon?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, the good news is you get to hear from our Director of the CDC — I believe, in about 45 minutes — and our medical and health experts, and you can certainly ask them if there's going to be any updated guidance.

    Go ahead.

    Q:  Dr. Fauci says the U.S. may not be able to meet that goal of reopening most K-8 schools in 100 days because of the trajectory of the pandemic. Given that, is the President going to adjust his goal of trying to get all these schools reopened in 100 days?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, as we talked about a little bit yesterday, the President wants to not only reopen schools, he wants the schools to stay open. And — but he does rely on the guidance of his health and medical experts, and obviously he's not going to do anything that is not safe and doesn't keep teachers, students, and our school districts safe.

    But a key part of this is the guidelines, as we mentioned — the executive order he signed to ensure that school districts are getting the information they need and clarity they need on what steps that they should take to keep their students safe and teachers safe, of course.

    But it is also funding, and we've talked about this quite a bit in here. And the American Rescue Plan is pivotal for a number of reasons, including ensuring that Americans have food on the table; including that we can get shots into the arms of people across the country; but also that school districts, especially public schools, have the funding they need to take steps on everything from ventilation, to PPE, to testing. And the longer that's delayed, the harder it's going to be to meet that goal.

    Q:  Got it. And has President Biden spoken to former President Trump since taking office? And if so, can you give us any update on what President Trump said in his letter to President Biden?

    MS. PSAKI: I don't have any update. I don't have any calls to report on. There are no calls to report on, I should say, and I don't have any update on the letter. And as I said when we talked about this about a week and a half ago — it seems longer than that, I'm going to acknowledge — the President of course thought the letter was gracious and generous, but he plans to keep it private.


    Read the full transcript HERE.

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