White House Washington D.C. February 2 1:48 P.M. EST
We have a few updates for you all at the top this morning.
First, today, the President is signing three executive orders to rebuild and strengthen our immigration system. These actions are centered on the basic premise that our country is safer, stronger, and more prosperous, with a fair, safe, and orderly immigration system.
Today's actions do a number of things:
The first executive order creates a task force, chaired by the Secretary of Homeland Security, to reunify families, which will work across government to find parents and children separated by the prior administration.
The second executive order develops a strategy to address the root causes of migration across our borders, and creates a humane asylum system, including directing DHS to take steps to end the Migrant Protection Protocols program, which had led to a humanitarian crisis in northern Mexico.
And the third executive order promotes immigrant integration and inclusion, and ensures that our legal immigration system operates fairly and efficiently by instructing agencies to review the public charge rule and related policies.
As many of you also may have been on the briefing call that we had a little bit earlier today, but for those of you who were not: We have announced — or Jeff Zients announced — our COVID coordinator, I should say — that starting on February 11th, the federal government will deliver to select pharmacies across the country additional vaccine that's coming online next week. This will provide more sites for people to get vaccinated in their communities and is an important component to delivering vaccines equitably.
More than 90 percent of Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy. And I don't know about you — my mother-in-law, my family calls me all the time, figuring out how they can call the CVS and find out when they can get their vaccine. This is a limited launch of the program, but supply will ultimately go up to 40,000 pharmacies nationwide.
Second, we continue to work to ensure states, tribes, and territories have the resources they need to turn vaccines into vaccinations. President Biden has already directed FEMA to fully reimburse states for the cost of National Guard personnel and other emergency costs.
And today we go further: by fully reimbursing states for the eligible services they provided back to the beginning of the pandemic in January of 2020. That means that states will be fully repaid for things like masks, gloves, mobilization of the National Guard, and they can use the additional resources for vaccination efforts and emergency supplies moving forward.
This reimbursement effort is estimated to total three to five billion dollars and is only a small share of the resources that states need to fight this pandemic, which, as we've talked about a bit in here before, includes testing, genomic sequencing, and mass vaccination centers.
Last, we announced that we would increase weekly vaccine allocation to the states for the next three weeks by an additional 5 percent following last week's 16 percent increase. So we have increased supply by more than 20 percent since the President took office just about two weeks ago.
These actions speak to the daily work we are doing to mount the coordinated, federal pandemic response Americans need and reserve — and deserve, I should say.
As you also know, last night, the President had a meeting with 10 Republican senators. He's meeting right now with the Senate Democratic Caucus, over video, to further discuss the American Rescue Plan. And we'll have a readout on that later this afternoon that we will send out.
He — last night, during the meeting, he welcomed the opportunity to have a constructive exchange of ideas over how we can improve the American Rescue Plan. He pledged that he would bring people together when he ran for President. And last night was an example of doing exactly that.
A new poll yesterday by Yahoo and YouGov showed that this plan has already garnered bipartisan support among the American people.
He also reiterated — or we would like to reiterate, I should say, the urgency of acting quickly on the package. You all asked yesterday about the CBO report's new analysis that came out by the CBO that, without action — that report showed also that, without action, our economy won't reach pre-pandemic levels until 2025. That's too long. So our goal with moving this package forward is making it faster.
I have a couple of additional readouts — or follow-ups, I should say, from some questions that have been asked in here over the last several days.
Somebody asked earlier — I think it was last week — about Puerto Rico. Today — there's an update I have — the administration is releasing $1.3 billion in aid allocated by Congress that — to Puerto Rico that can be deployed to protect against future climate disasters. In partnership with the Puerto Rico Department of Housing, the administration is also working to remove onerous restrictions put in place by the last administration on nearly $5 billion in additional funds.
Someone also asked yesterday about how President Biden keeps in touch. There's a number of ways, but he receives correspondence letters in his briefing book every night, as past presidents have done. He also regularly connects with Americans on the phone. We've put out some videos of that, and we'll continue to do that moving forward.
And as you also know, he attends — he has a routine of attending — typical routine, I should say — of attending public mass every weekend, which is something he did as President-elect and something he will do — clearly respecting COVID protocols — moving forward.
There was also a question — sorry, a couple of follow-ups here — about the President's engagement with the Capitol Police officer who lost — I think, Ed, you asked this question, perhaps — about the Capitol Police officer, Officer Sicknick, who had lost his life in the events of January 6th.
As you know — or many of you may know, the President spoke with members of his family shortly after his passing to express his condolences and sympathies to their tragic loss. I don't have anything to update in terms of his schedule tomorrow, but I expect we will have more of an update on that in the next 24 hours, certainly.
Finally — I think finally — I know this is a lot at the top — we can confirm that the President will visit the State Department now on Thursday — that was originally planned earlier this week; we had to move things around because of snow — where he will thank the men and women of the national security workforce for their service to our country and deliver remarks about reclaiming America's role in the world.
Sorry, I did actually have one more item.
And as you all have seen reports this morning of the FBI confirmation that two FBI agents are deceased and three are wounded in a shooting in Florida. The two wounded agents were transported to a hospital and are in stable condition, as some, I think, have reported.
President Biden was briefed this morning by Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall.
This is obviously a terrible tragedy. I expect you'll hear from the President later this afternoon when he speaks to all of you.
I know that was a lot. With that, let's kick us off.
Wonderful. Thank you, Jen. Two questions. Congressional Democrats are moving forward with COVID relief, with legislation set to hit the House Budget Committee by February 16th. What kind of timeline does that create for you with regard to talks with Republicans?
Well, as many of you who have covered Capitol Hill know, there is a process. The budget reconciliation process is a lengthy one. And because I suspected that people would want to talk about the meeting last night, today, I just wanted to take the opportunity to talk a little bit about that process and where we see there being opportunity.
So, first, as you know, once a budget — well, maybe you know, but a lot of people watching do not know — that once a budget resolution is passed, the House and Senate negotiators will work to develop a reconciliation bill that can pass through the House and Senate. At several points in this process, as we look to the weeks ahead, Republicans can engage and see their ideas adopted. At any point in the process, a bipartisan bill can pass on the floor. So just creating the option for reconciliation with a budget resolution does not foreclose other legislative options.
This is my "when a bill becomes a law" moment of the briefing today.
Second, Republican ideas can be adopted during the reconciliation negotiations, and it is likely that several bipartisan ideas may be — or we are certainly hopeful of that.
And, third, Republicans have the ability to offer amendments, both during the budget resolution and instruction phase of the process, and then later during the reconciliation phase, and in that way can ensure their ideas are heard.
And I did all of that because I think it's important — there's been some misunderstanding about how this process works. And I think there was some view that the vote — the final vote was this week. You all know that's not the case. There is some time. That's why the President is engaging — why he did with Republicans last night and Democrats today — and why he's conveyed that he would like to continue doing that in the days ahead.
Secondly, a Moscow court sends Alexei Navalny to prison for two and a half years for violating his probation for going to Germany to recuperate from being poisoned. Does the White House plan any additional steps in response?
Well, Josh, you may not have seen this because I think it just came out, but Secretary of State Tony Blinken put out a statement in response to the sentencing. I will — just let me reiterate some of the pieces from here:
We are "deeply concerned by Russian authorities'" efforts — "decision," I should say — "to sentence opposition figure Aleksey Navalny...Like every Russian citizen, Mr. Navalny is entitled to the rights provided in the Russian constitution, and Russia has international obligations to respect the equality before the law and the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
We reiterate our call for the Russian government to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Navalny, as well as the hundreds of other Russian citizens wrongfully detained in recent weeks for exercising their rights..."
I will say so — to your specific question, there is an ongoing review we announced — I think it was early last week — of a number of the, you know, reported — or concerning actions, I should say, by the Russian government, which includes the treatment of Alexei Navalny. It includes a full assessment of the SolarWinds hacks — hack. It includes a review of the reports around bounties on troops. It also includes reports of — an assessment of engagement in the 2020 Election.
That's an ongoing review by the national security team. When they conclude that, that will launch, you know, whatever pol- — a policy process to determine what steps we will take from here.
On the relief bill, Democrats are obviously moving ahead with this process. You all are still hopeful that you can get bipartisan support. But you've also made it clear that you're not going to slim down this bill significantly. So, where right now is the greatest potential for compromise to try and achieve that bipartisanship?
Well, you're right, Mary, that I think — and this was evident in the discussion last night. It was — as we said in our readout, and I think as Senator Collins also said, it was civil, it was constructive. This is how democracy should work. We should be engaging. Democrats and Republicans should be engaging with each other. But there certainly is a gap between where we are and where the proposal — the Republican proposal that was discussed last night was.
There are some, you know, bottom lines I think the President has — which he has conveyed in the meeting last night and reiterated to us this morning — which is, you know, to put it simply or accessibly for people: You know, he believes a married couple — let's say they're in Scranton, just for the sake of argument; one is working as a nurse, the other as a teacher — making $120,000 a year should get a check. That's in his plan. In the plan presented by Republicans, they would not get a check.
And his view is that at this point in our country, when one in seven American families don't have enough food to eat, we need to make sure people get the relief they need and are not left behind.
As was also part of our readout last night, there was a discussion. There's some technical follow-up where there's opportunity to discuss issues like small business, issues like COVID relief. Not — I'm not suggesting a reduction; I'm suggesting how to do it effectively. And those technical discussions at a staff level will be part of what's ongoing over the next couple of days.
But his bottom — the President's bottom line is that this is a package. The risk here, as he has said many times, is not going too big; it is going to small. That continues to be his belief, and that's why he supports the efforts by Senator Schumer — Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi to move this package forward.
Can I ask a question on impeachment? The impeachment managers have now laid out their case. Trump's team is leaving open the door, it seems, to arguing election fraud in the trial, to repeating the false claims that somehow Trump won the election — those same false claims that fueled the riot. Is this administration concerned that the former President's defense could incite further violence?
Well, certainly watching reactions in the country, watching the potential for violence is something that we will do closely from the White House across the country, no matter what prompts it. And that's something we will certainly keep an eye on.
But, you know, I think, in this case, as you know, there have been dozens and dozens of court cases that have been debunked. The President of the United States is sitting in the Oval Office engaging and governing the country, and obviously we have moved forward even more than we were prior to the inauguration in proceeding — in delivering on what the American people decided on in November.
And just one quick one on immigration. You know, some reform advocates have criticized these actions for being "reviews" of certain programs, like the Remain in Mexico program, rather than cancellations. Why "review" and not "reverse" some of these programs?
Sure. Well, part of our effort, Mary, is to assess the damage that has been done by the policies that were put in place by the prior administration. We want to act swiftly. We want to act promptly. But we also need to make sure we are doing that through a strategic policy process.
And the President's commitment to immigration is indicative in the fact that he announced an immigration bill his first day in office and that he has signed and — after this afternoon — a number of bills to overturn the immoral actions of the prior administration.
But we want to ensure that our team, led by the new — hopefully newly confirmed soon — maybe right now — Secretary of Homeland Security — has the ability to review the process and policies and make sure he's putting the right ones in place.
And do you have a sense of timing for these reviews — when the task force reunification, for instance, may actually put out their first finding?
We do. And it's important to us that there are markers to give updates to the American people on this and many other issues. So there will be a report issued within 120 days and then every 60 days thereafter on the progress being made.
As I think you all know from covering this issue, this is very difficult. It's emotional for a lot of people, for understandable reasons. And we need to find out first where all these kids are and figure out where their parents are. And so we are starting at, you know, square one here, but our team wants to ensure that we're providing an update on what progress were being made, how it's going to be approached, and what the task force will be able to get done.
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