White House Washington D.C. March 3 12:38 P.M. EST
Okay. I have a couple of items for all of you at the top. Yesterday, I discussed the President's announcement about the historic partnership between Merck and Johnson & Johnson to produce more COVID-19 vaccines. And, of course, he laid out more details yesterday afternoon.
He also directed states to prioritize teachers for vaccinations in an effort to treat in-person learning, like essential — the essential service it is. He challenged all 50 states to get teachers, school staff, and childcare workers their first shot by the end of this month.
To help states do that, starting next week we will be using the federal pharmacy program to prioritize vaccinating teachers, school staff, and childcare workers during the month of March. This is a part of the President's effort to urge states to prioritize vaccines for all essential workers.
The Special Enrollment Period, which we talked about a couple of weeks ago — I have an update on that and the number of people who have enrolled. On February 15th, the Biden-Harris administration opened HealthCare.gov for three months to provide all Americans the opportunity to sign up for health insurance through a Special Enrollment Period. In the two weeks since, more than 200,000 Americans have gotten covered. These numbers are encouraging, but we can't slow down until every American has health coverage.
There is plenty of time left to sign up. And, of course, people who need health insurance can go to HealthCare.gov to sign up before May 15th.
Today, also — and there's been a little bit of reporting about this, so I just wanted to go through this to provide some clarity — the President will issue his Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, laying out a vision for how the United States can seize what we view as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to renew America's advantages at home and abroad.
The Guidance is designed to communicate the administration's strategic approach and central priorities for national security policy. It describes the changed strategic landscape the United States faces today and affirms our enduring core national interests, including protecting the security of the American people, expanding economic prosperity and opportunity, and realizing and defending the democratic values at the heart of the American way of life.
The Guidance will provide direction to departments and agencies in advance of a new National Security Strategy, which we expect to release later this year, as many past presidents have done. And we will post this ISG on the White House website later this afternoon.
I would also encourage everyone to tune into the remarks of Secretary Blinken delivered this morning, "A Foreign Policy for the American People," which touched on a number of the same pillars.
This afternoon, the President and Vice President will also meet with members of Congress, which we announced last night, to begin working together in a bipartisan way to end cancer as we know it.
Defeating cancer is of significant personal importance to the President, the First Lady, and the Vice President. And cancer is, of course, a disease that impacts — affects many Americans, no matter their political affiliation. This has been a priority of the President's, as we all know, for many, many years. And this is his first engagement with members of Congress in the Oval Office about it.
One last piece, just to make sure you all are all following the activities of the Vice President: The Vice President will be visiting a woman-owned small business in Alexandria, Virginia, later today, called Fibre Space. The Vice President heard how the small business has been impacted by COVID-19 and how they had to adjust their business model. She also will discuss the importance of passing the American Rescue Plan — of course, as you've heard us all talk about a few times — while she is visiting this small business.
With that, Alex, go ahead.
Thanks, Jen. I want to start with your OMB nominee. Yesterday, the last outstanding Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski, said that she did not tell the White House her stance on Tanden. What eventually did Tanden's nomination end? Why was she withdrawn? And can you talk a little bit about who you're looking at for a replacement, particularly Shalanda Young? Pelosi, Hoyer, and Representative Clyburn came out in support of her today. Is the White House looking at her as a potential replacement?
Well, let me first say that given Neera Tanden withdrew her nomination just last night, I would not expect — or you should not expect any announcement on a future nominee this week. Obviously, the President's schedule is quite full. His focus remains on the American Rescue Plan and the range of meetings and engagements he has already planned and scheduled.
Of course, he has nominated Shalanda Young to serve as Deputy OMB Director, and that nomination, along with about a half a dozen nominees who are — have been nominated to serve as heading agencies, are still sitting and waiting to be confirmed. And so we would certainly encourage and urge action — and urgent action on moving those forward.
In terms of the nomination, Neera Tanden, as we've talked about for some time in here, is someone who's been — has been leading a — still leads, I should say — a think tank in Washington, D.C. She certainly saw that the path to her own confirmation was — was narrowed and did not look like there was a path forward.
I'm not going to get into the details of who was or wasn't against her, or for her, or was or wasn't going to vote for her or against her. We can leave that to members of the Senate to speak to on their own. But it was a recognition that Neera Tanden made. We certainly, of course, as we noted in the statement last night, accepted her decision to withdraw her nomination. And when we have an announcement about the new nominee, we will make that. But again, as we noted in the statement, the President is looking forward to finding a place for her in the administration, and values her experience and her talents, and is looked for — looking forward to utilizing them.
And then, the threats against the Capitol tomorrow, is the President monitoring those? Has he been briefed? And has the administration directed law enforcement to prepare any better than they were prepared, considering the January 6 activities at the Capitol?
Well, we certainly have been watching the hearings that have been happening on Capitol Hill over the last two days — our team has been. I know the President has caught clips of those, but, of course, he has a full schedule, as you all well know. And we are ready and eager to work in partnership with leaders in Congress with — on any recommendations that are made to ensure their safety and security and to prevent the events that happened on January 6th from ever happening again.
If I can, quickly, a little homework around here as it relates to the COVID relief bill. I know we'll see you speaking — the President speaking to the House Democratic Caucus later today. Can you confirm that the President has signed off on these reduced income thresholds as it relates to those direct payments?
Well, let me — let me provide a little context here, because some of the reporting — it's all coming out, so some of the reporting is aligned with accuracy and some is not; no one's fault.
That's the true story.
First — (laughs) — so, one — I talked to the President about this this morning — he's pleased with the progress that is being made on the rescue plan. As someone who served for 36 years in the Senate, he is certainly familiar with the journey that it takes from a proposal to a bill being signed. And, in every instance, in the final stage, which we feel we were in — we are in now, there are suggestions, there are changes, there are negotiations between even different member — different parts of one party. That's what — that's what's happening now. And he is open to — has always said he's open to good ideas and to proposals that will strengthen the package.
What he has been firm on is that the package needs to be large enough to meet the scope of the twin crises we're facing: COVID and the economic downturn. He has been firm on the importance of the $1,400 checks going out to Americans, and that — and he has fought for that tooth and nail and is — that is a — that is a bar for him. And he's also been firm on the thresholds at which Americans should receive those checks.
So, as we've seen in the reporting, it's 75K and 150K. He has been clear that those are important thresholds to him. What we're talking about here — and I realize you didn't actually ask this, but just for clarity for everyone — is where the — where is the — is the ramp-up and how far the ramp-up goes.
Where it ends.
Where it ends, I should say. Where it ends. And he has also been open from the beginning for those — that being more targeted and for there to be a steeper — steeper cliff at which that ramp down ends.
So for clarity, is he — does he support — I know he's okay with — what you just said out there — is he okay with it ending at $80,000 for individuals, $160,000 for couples, and $120,000 for heads of households?
He is comfortable with where the negotiations stand. Of course, there are going to be ongoing discussions. We don't have a final bill, as you know. There will be ongoing discussions. He is comfortable and knows there will be tweaks at the margin. What his firm viewpoint is, is that it needs to meet the scope of the challenge, it needs to be the size he's proposed, it needs to have the core components in order to have the impact on the American people.
And he's confident that he'll have 50 Democrats that'll all support where it stands based on those changes to which you just referred?
He is — he is certainly. That's one of the reasons why he's meeting with members of Congress. You can — you can define them any way you like — moderates, progressives, Republicans — because he's not taking anything for granted, as we work to get this past the finish line.
Let me ask you about these new rocket attacks that took place in Iraq. Obviously still no formal assessment on who's responsible here. A lot of suspicion Iran is behind this. The President said to me last week — he said to them, "You can't act with impunity, be careful [here]." What do you do about this? What is the response we should expect from this administration following this new round of attacks?
Well, just to confirm some of the pieces you mentioned, we are still assessing the impact of this latest rocket attack, including determining precise attribution. Of course, it just happened over the course of last night.
As you noted also, we responded to recent Iranian-backed attacks on coalition and U.S. forces in a manner that was calculated, proportionate, and fully covered by legal authorities. That will be our model moving forward.
If we assess that further response is warranted, we will take action, again, in a manner and time of our choosing. And we reserve that option.
The President was briefed by his national security team this morning, who was, of course, monitoring the details overnight. What we won't do is make a hasty or ill-informed decision that further escalates the decision or plays into the hands of our adversaries.
Let me ask one last question, given the news that came out last night about Texas and Mississippi. The President was in Texas, met with Governor Abbott just a matter of days ago. They have now, in both of those states, removed their mask mandates, and they're reopening at 100 percent, even as this White House says, "Now is not the time for that." How do you characterize those decisions? And what do you say to the governors of those two states that are making them?
Well, first, the President's position on mask wearing is based on the recommendations of health and medical experts and their views that it could save 50,000 lives. That is why he asked the American people to wear masks for 100 days.
For nearly a year, we've been dealing and navigating and coping with this pandemic across the country. And this entire country has paid the price for political leaders who ignored the science when it comes to the pandemic.
We talked a little bit yesterday about how people are starting to feel a little bit better in some cases. You go to the grocery store, and there's Clorox wipes available. And a year into this that feels better, but there's still more work that needs to be done. We need to remain vigilant, and he believes that, and he's hopeful, that people in these states will continue to follow the guidelines that have been set out and the recommendations made by health and medical experts.
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