Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, March 15, 2021 | Beaufort County Now | Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, March 15, 2021

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
Press Release:

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room  •  Washington D.C.  •  March 15  •  12:46 P.M. EDT

    MS. PSAKI: Happy Monday. Okay, just a couple of items at the top. And I know there is a hard out here for a gather time, so we'll work to get through as many people as possible. And if our friends in the front row could help with that so we can get to the back row, we'll come circle back around if that works.

    Okay. A couple things at the top. As you all know, the President is launching his "Help Is Here" tour to communicate directly with Americans about how the Rescue Plan is helping them and their families. The tour will make clear that help is here and that we are on the path towards crushing the virus and rebuilding our economy.

    A number of these pieces you know, but just to add a few more details: So, tomorrow, the President will travel to Delaware County, Pennsylvania, to highlight how the Rescue Plan invests in small businesses — a key component of the package — including minority-owned businesses, so they can rehire and retain workers while keeping them safe. The Vice President and Second Gentleman will be in Denver, also meeting with small-business owners. That will be a big piece we're highlighting tomorrow.

    On Wednesday, the First Lady will travel to Concord, New Hampshire, to underscore how the Rescue Plan provides $130 billion to help schools reopen. The Second Gentleman will convene a listening session in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with working women, including teachers. And Education Secretary Cardona will do a remote local media tour to talk about school reopenings. And I think you can see what the theme is of that day.

    On Thursday, the administration will showcase how the American Rescue Plan provides emergency aid to cover back rent, to help homeowners catch up on their payments, and provide funding for families recovering from homelessness.

    And then, on Friday, President Biden and Vice President Harris will travel to Georgia, as you all already know, to underscore how they and congressional Democrats fulfilled their promise in delivering $1,400 checks to finish the job of $2,000 in direct relief to millions of Americans.

    The second piece of — just the last piece, I should say, at the top: As many of you saw — the news out this morning that Gene Sperling will be joining the team here to run point on the implementation of the Rescue Plan.

    I've known him for a long time, worked with him previously. But to give you a few highlights, Gene has spent more than a decade at the highest level of government, including as a senior Treasury official and as the only person to serve as NEC Director twice. As we've talked about a bit in here, there are a number of economic officials who will be playing roles in implementation, so he has especially an interesting and relevant background in help pull all those levers.

    Gene also played a key role in helping steer Detroit out of bankruptcy and on the path to renewal, and he quarterbacked support for small businesses and economic assistance for unemployed Americans.

    He will work with the heads of the White House policy councils and key leaders at federal agencies so we can get funds out the door quickly, maximize its impact, accelerate the work the administration is doing to crush COVID-19, and rescue our economy. And as I've noted in here before, the President felt it was important to have a point person who could, of course, pull all of these levers.

    With that, go ahead, Zeke.

    Q:  Thanks, Jen. Millions of Americans started to receive direct deposit checks over the weekend. Has the President given any thought to how he wants Americans to use that money? Does he clearly want them to spend it to stimulate the economy?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, it's a great question. I think that the President believes that this relief will help Americans get through this difficult period of time, and they will use it for different means. Some Americans will use it to ensure they can put food on the table; that certainly is a form of stimulus. Some will use it to ensure they can pay their rent; that's also a form of stimulus. Some will use it to, you know, pay back some loans they may have taken out. It's — it's really up to family to family.

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    He wants them to have the discretion on how they're utilizing these funds, but he pushed for this additional $1,400 check and was adamant about that because he knows people need a bridge to get to the other side of this economic downturn.

    Q:  On a different subject: The Vatican today said it would not bless same-sex unions. The President is a devout Catholic. Does he have a personal response to that?

    MS. PSAKI: I don't think he has a personal response to the Vatican, no. He continues to believe and support same-sex unions, as you know, and he's long had that position.

    Q:  And then, finally, does the President — the President is the head of the Democratic Party. What message is he sending by not calling on the New York Governor to resign, number one?

    And, number two, tomorrow's the usual weekly call with governors. Governor Cuomo is still the head of the National Governors Association; usually he attends. Is he still welcome on the White House-convened call?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that, like everyone who continues to read stories, new developments seem to happen every day. We find them troubling. The President finds them troubling, hard to read. And every woman who steps forward needs to be treated with dignity and respect.

    The New York Attorney General is pursuing of course an independent investigation against Governor Cuomo, and that is appropriate. And the President believes that's appropriate, as does the Vice President. The investigation needs to be both quick and thorough, consistent with how serious these allegations are.

    And of course, our objective, though, here continues to be to get the COVID pandemic under control, and we don't want the people of New York or any state to be impacted negatively. We will continue to work with a range of governors — including Governor Cuomo, who I would expect to join the call tomorrow; we'll leave that up to him, but — but in order to continue to coordinate on getting the pandemic under control and economic assistance out the door.

    Go ahead. Oh, we'll go to Steve next. Go ahead.

    Q:  Thanks. Just two quick ones, Jen. Given how fast moving the situation has been, does the President believe that his administration has a handle on what's happening on the southern border right now?

    MS. PSAKI: We certainly do. And let me just give you a bit of an update on a couple of the steps that we're taking. You know, first, let me say that, like COVID — obviously a different issue, but we recognize this is a big problem — the last administration left us a dismantled and unworkable system. And like any other problem, we are going to do everything we can to solve it.

    So our focus here is on solutions. Let me just walk you through a couple of the steps — and we've done this a little bit, but there's always, of course, developments on considerations that are underway.

    So, first, we've updated — or we have not, but CDC has updated guidelines to return to full capacity. This will help expand capacity to move children more quickly out of CBP facilities. That's an important step. The implementation of that is of course ongoing.

    We are — there has — there is now an embedding, at the President's ask, of HHS and ORR with CBP, which will allow government to more quickly I.D., vet, confirm sponsors and family members of the unaccompanied minors and will lead to quicker placement. Because, as you know — as all of you know, big issues here are expediting what's happening at the border. None of these Border Patrol facilities are made for children, and we want to move them as quickly as possible into shelters and then into homes.

    FEMA — this was an announcement over the weekend — is now supporting — providing support at the border, adding extra capacity to HHS for quick processing to avoid overcrowding. This will hope — we hope this will help quickly get children into HHS and ORR facilities, and placed with vetted sponsors and families. The President is very focused on expediting what's happening at the border at every step in the process.

    And then this happened on Friday, but it didn't receive a lot of — there was a lot going on, so I just wanted to highlight: We rescinded the 2018 MOU between DHS and HHS, which we believe will encourage families and sponsors to come forward without fear of additional immigration enforcement. And we've seen this as an issue, where family members or even sponsor families are worried that this will mean they will be tracked. And this over- — rescinds that.

    We're also looking for additional facilities, and this remains a focus.

    So, we recognize this as a problem. We're focused on addressing it. That's just five steps we're taking, and we're continuing to evaluate what additional steps can be taken to address the situation at the border.

    Q:  Okay. Just one more, real quick. For the $130 billion in education funding, one of the big issues with past pots of ed funding is it will be obligated, but getting it spent takes time. Will that be part of Gene's mandate: ensuring the money is not just obligated, but it actually goes out the door to make the fixes that the schools need to actually get students back into place?

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    MS. PSAKI: He'll absolutely be coordinating with the Secretary of Education, Secretary Cardona, who's going to be holding an education summit soon. I believe it might be next week. I'm not sure if they've announced it yet, so hopefully I'm not getting ahead of them.

    And part of that is working with schools and school districts on identifying best practices and sharing them, figuring out how to ensure that the schools who need funding get the funding. There will be a requirement that schools who get funding have to do a report within 30 days of how they will reopen their schools.

    So a big part of the implementation — of course, it will be led by the Department of Education, but that is a pivotal part of the Rescue Plan and one that Americans strongly support. And, certainly, Gene would have a role in coordinating that.

    Go ahead.

    Q:  Jen, is Mexico doing enough to stem the flow of migrants across their territory?

    MS. PSAKI: Across the territory from South America into Mexico?

    Q:  Yes.

    MS. PSAKI: You know, I think we are — we work extremely closely with the country of Mexico on — on addressing what is a challenge for us and certainly a challenge for them.

    There's always more that can be done, Steve, and I think part of our engagement is having those diplomatic conversations and having discussions about what more can be done at all the borders.

    Q:  And, secondly, on North Korea: Have you reached out to them and tried to engage in dialogue? And have they responded in any way?

    MS. PSAKI: I know there were some reports over the weekend on exactly that. And so I can confirm that we have reached out. We obviously have a main — a series of — a number of channels, as we always have had, that we can reach out through.

    We also are focused on consulting with many former government officials who have been involved in North Korea policy, including from several prior administrations. And we have and will continue to engage with other Japanese and South Korean allies to solicit input, explore fresh approaches. We've listened carefully to their ideas, including through trilateral consultations. Our goal is — of course, diplomacy is always our goal. Our goal is to reduce the risk of escalation. But, to date, we have not received any response.

    Q:  Are you surprised by that, that they haven't responded?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, Steve, as you know, because you follow this issue closely, and I know — and have covered past administration — this follows over a year without active dialogue with North Korea, despite multiple attempts by the U.S. to engage.

    So diplomacy remains our — continues to remain our first priority. We have — I think you can all anticipate that there will be a continued expansion of engagement with partners and allies in the region, and this will, of course, be a top- — a topic of discussion.

    [ ... ]

    Read the full transcript HERE.


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