White House Washington D.C. February 3 1:44 P.M. EST
Good afternoon. I just have a couple of items for you all at the top. I was a little worried about getting that mask off with the earrings. Okay, successful. Good start.
Today, President Biden joined the House Democratic Caucus meeting by phone to discuss the American Rescue Plan. The President made clear that the American Rescue Plan was designed to meet the stakes of the public health and economic crisis. And the President and caucus agreed that a final package must address the crises facing working families, including housing and food insecurity and reopening schools.
President Biden said the cost of inaction and doing too little is greater than the cost of doing too much.
The President also had the opportunity to meet in the Oval Office just a few minutes ago with Leader Schumer and the Democratic chairs of the Senate committees with jurisdiction over the American Rescue Plan as part of his ongoing engagement with lawmakers with — from both sides of the aisle.
During the meeting, they had a productive conversation on the status of legislative proceedings on the package. They were in agreement over the need to move swiftly to ensure that we get $1,400 direct payments to middle- and working-class Americans as soon as possible; that we need to take steps to get immediate relief to the Americans who are struggling with food insecurity or facing eviction; and that we need to provide more resources to get shots into arms faster.
The President and the senators were also in agreement over the need to go big and to meet the challenges we face with a response that will get the job done: in beating this virus and in protecting our economy from long-term damage.
During the conversation, the President and Democratic leaders also agreed to continue working to find areas of bipartisan agreement in an effort to integrate ideas and make the process as bipartisan as possible.
There have been lots of questions from some of you and others about the differences between the President's plan — the Democratic plan — and the plan that has been proposed by 10 Republican senators. So I wanted to outline some of those specifics here for you.
The President's plan would fulfill his pledge to finish getting $2,000 checks to hard-hit Americans, and ensure that, for example, a kindergarten teacher making $60,000 a year isn't left without additional support. Their plan wouldn't provide that teacher with direct relief.
The President's plan would give Americans who are out of work, through no fault of their own, a $400 weekly supplement and the certainty that it would last through the worst of the pandemic. Their plan would give unemployed Americans less money and, therefore, less certainty.
The President's plan would keep hundreds of thousands of teachers, cops, firefighters, paramedics, and other public servants on the job. Their plan offers no money to state and local governments to keep people on the frontlines of this fight employed.
The President's plan would assist the millions of families who are faced — who are behind on their rent and facing potentional — potential eviction. Their plan wouldn't offer any support to these families.
The President's plan would provide targeted, immediate relief to families with children and essential workers through an emergency expansion of the Child Tax Credit and the EITC. Their plan would deny relief to 15 million lower-income essential workers.
The President's plan together would reduce the number of kids living in poverty by 5 million this year and cut child poverty in half. Their plan would likely leave millions of additional kids out.
Just as importantly, the President's plan would make sure we have every resource we need to defeat this virus and get life back to normal, including $130 billion to help ensure our kids can go back to school safely; $20 billion to mount a nationwide vaccination campaign; $50 billion for more and better testing; and critical funding to improve our ability to track and defeat emerging COVID-19 strains.
I know that was a lot, but there's a lot of interest in this issue.
Go ahead, Josh.
Thanks so much, Jen. Two questions. President Biden told House Democrats today that he considered the $1,400 direct payment a promise that he can't break. At the same time, a new analysis from the Penn Wharton Budget Model suggests that 73 percent of those payments would go into savings instead of be spent in ways that could boost growth. I'm wondering, what's more important: to keep the promise, or to ensure that the package does all it can to maximize growth?
Well, first, on the Penn Wharton analysis, we've seen that analysis, and I've talked to our economic team about it, and frankly feel it's way out of step with the majority of studies on this plan, including independent analysis from the Wall Street firm, Moody's; JPMorgan Chase; and the Brookings Institution. And the analysis concludes that our economy is near capacity, which would be news to the millions of Americans who are out of work or facing reduced hours and reduced paychecks. So this starting place means their model is way off.
So our view is we're going to listen to governors; we're going to listen to a broad range of economists; we're going to listen to health experts on what is needed, what the American people need at this point in time. And when one in seven American families don't have enough food to eat, it's clear that there is a great deal of need for assistance.
Secondly, the President is set to speak to the State Department tomorrow. How does he expect to change the tone with regard to refugees, China, and Russia, relative to his predecessor?
Well, first, I would say the President's visit tomorrow, which we rescheduled because of snow, is largely focused on his desire to thank the men and women who are us — who are Foreign Service officers, civil servants, who are the heart and soul of that institution and, frankly, our government. And I worked there for two and a half years; it's an incredible place. And they've had — many of them have had a challenging couple of years.
But he will also, of course, talk broadly about foreign policy — how could he not? — if he is there. This will not be a laydown of his vision for every issue and every foreign policy issue. He will have plenty of time to do that. So I just want to, kind of, expectation-set on what to expect for tomorrow.
But you were also asking about the difference between his approach on Russia and China. You know, I think, on Russia, you know, his call to President Putin is — a couple of weeks ago — two weeks ago? — is clear evidence of exactly that. When he called President Putin, he did not hold back. He made clear that while there are areas where we can work together — say, New START, which is in the interest of the security of the United States — he has concerns about a number of areas of their reported interference, whether it's in elections; in the hacking of the United States — the SolarWinds hacking, I should say; reports of bounties on American troops. There's an ongoing review that's happening, which he also stated in that — in that conversation.
So his engagement, even directly with President Putin, tells you a bit about the difference alone.
And on China, you know, the President's view and the administration's view is that we need to work with our allies, we need to work with our partners to align on how we're going to approach our relationship with China. And we need to approach that relationship from a position of strength. There are obviously key components of that relationship; there are economic, there are strategic.
And — but we are going to work closely with our allies — he's having those engagements now; we've done a lot of call readouts, of course — and also with partners on the Hill, Democrats and Republicans, on the best path forward.
Thanks, Jen. The Republican plan matches you guys up on the national vaccine top line and also the testing top line, but you ticked through some pretty significant differences between the two proposals. And I know we ask this seemingly daily at this point, but where is the —
It's okay. It's your job.
Where is the space for bipartisan agreement when the differences are that significant across major components of what the President wants?
Well, you know, an area where there's agreement to work together on is funding for small business, and that's something, of course, Democrats and Republicans want to do.
Our view is that this bill itself is bipartisan; 74 percent of the public support it — Republicans and Democrats, independents across the country. And there is agreement that it's important to work with many Republicans and Democrats who fall in different — different parts of the political spectrum to put their ideas forward and consider them. And that's part of the conversation and part of the process now happening on the Hill. We will see. We will see what proposals that improve the bill, that make it better. And there's certainly an openness to that.
Just one more on COVID relief. Several Republican senators have said publicly that they believe the President is in a different place than his staff on this issue in particular, and he's more willing to deal perhaps than his staff. Is there daylight between the President and his staff on the $1.9 trillion proposal?
Absolutely not. I've seen some of those reports. Some — many of them are ludicrous. I've sat in a lot of meetings with the President of the United States in the last few weeks and even before then. There is no one who's going to tell him what to do or hold him back from his commitment to delivering relief to the American people.
And I would point you to the fact that he talked about the importance of going big on a package, back to the campaign. He talked about the importance of meeting this moment, back to the campaign. So that is certainly his commitment, and that's exactly what he's working to deliver on.
And then, just one quick one on vaccines, and circling back to something you guys talked about last week, I believe: Defense Production Act. I know you've said all options are on the table, you guys are working through, and that it has been launched in at least a couple of areas.
On vaccine supply, is the Defense Production Act being utilized on that front? And if not, is there a timeline? Is that something that remains on the table right now to bolster, I think, one of the issues that you guys have identified as being the biggest problem right now?
Absolutely, it's on the table. And, you know, the reason the President invoked the Defense Production Act was because he wanted to have a range of options for any moment where there was a reduction in supply on — on, you know, materials on PPE, on syringes. And at the appropriate time, we can certainly use it for that.
But, right now, our focus is working with Pfizer and Moderna. We have confidence in their ability to produce the number of vaccines that the government has ordered on the timeline that we have committed to. And so — and that means that we would have enough vaccines here to be able to vaccinate every American by the summer.
So our focus is really more on evaluating our team, evaluating where there are needs for supplies and materials that would help deliver the vaccines into the arms of Americans.
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