Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, March 30, 2021 | Beaufort County Now | Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, March 30, 2021

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
Press Release:

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room  •  Washington D.C.  •  March 30  •  12:48 P.M. EDT

    MS. PSAKI: Okay. I have a couple of items of good news for the American people today to kick us off.

    Today, the President will sign an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program, which passed both the House and Senate with wide bipartisan majorities. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 400,000 small businesses have closed for good and millions more are struggling to stay open.

    In December, Congress provided an additional $284 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program. In just two months, we've approved over $200 billion worth of forgivable loans to more than 3 million small businesses. And in this round, we've distributed a greater share of relief to very small businesses.

    So today, the President will sign the Extension Act into law. We want small businesses to know that help is here, and they now have until May 31st to apply.

    As we do every week, Jeff Zients hosted a call with governors from across the country. He, of course, provided them an update on what the President announced yesterday: that, by April 19, 90 percent of adults in the U.S. will be eligible for vaccination and 90 percent will have a vaccination site within five miles of where they live.

    This will be made possible by increasing the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program from 17,000 to nearly 40,000 stores nationwide — a program that started out as a pilot and has been very successful.

    He also announced there will be an increase of supply to over 33 million vaccine doses across all of our channels, which is going to help meet the needs with the — moving forward — of the eligibility timeline.

    Another update in terms of our — getting the checks out to people: There have been — there are a significant number of Social Security recipients who do not file taxes. As we noted earlier — or a couple weeks ago, I should say — direct payments went out very quickly to those who file taxes every year, who do it via direct deposit. And thanks to collaboration between the IRS and the Social Security Administration, they will soon announce that we are on track to send those payments out this weekend. The majority of people should see them in the bank account — in their bank accounts on Wednesday, April 7th, which is obviously a very positive step forward.

    Finally, as many of you saw earlier this morning, the President announced his historic slate of judicial nominees of his administration — the first historic slate, I should say — with 11 candidates overall. This is an unprecedented fast start for any President in the U.S. history on judicial nominations.

    This is also a groundbreaking slate in many ways. It includes four nominees who have served as public defenders; four nominees who are members of the AAPI community; a nominee who, if confirmed, would be the first Muslim-American federal judge in history; nine of the eleven nominees are women.

    And overall, this group represents a paradigm shift in the type of people who can see themselves on the federal bench while still maintaining the President's absolute highest standards for the qualifications, integrity, and fairness of each individual being considered.

    So, lots of news. Go ahead, kick us off.

    Q:  Thank you, Jen. I want to start by asking on guns. It has been noted, actually, that 40 years ago today was the attempted assassination of President Reagan. But some gun safety groups have expressed disappointment in the President's sidestep of the issue in his news conference last week. Can you give an update on what is in the works in terms of a timetable for possible executive actions on guns?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say the President understands their frustration. He is somebody who has fought for gun safety measures since he was in the Senate himself. He did that in his effort to fight for the Brady Bill, in his effort to fight for a ban on assault weapons, and in his leadership getting — putting in place almost two dozen executive actions on gun safety when he was in the Biden — Obama-Biden administration.


    Right now, we're working on a couple of levers. One is working with Congress. There are two background check bills that have moved their way through the House. Many of you may have seen, this weekend, Senator Chris Murphy — clearly a leader on these issues, somebody who has been a leader since Newtown and even before — has — sees a path forward. We've seen an openness by even some Republicans to having a debate and a discussion. We'll take that.

    While that is moving, while there are discussions on that front — and the President will certainly be engaged in those — we are also continuing to review and consider what the options are for executive actions. We hope to have an update on that soon. I don't have an exact day for you at this point in time.

    Q:  Okay. And a follow-up on that and then one other matter. On the — on guns, does the President still plan to go to Colorado after the mass shootings there? And if so, when?

    MS. PSAKI: I don't have an update on a trip to Colorado. Obviously, that trip would be done in coordination with the leaders in the state community that was impacted by this terrible tragedy, but I don't have any plans to preview for a trip to Colorado at this point.

    Q:  And then one more thing. On another lighter matter, it's obviously a presidential tradition to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day, which I'm happy to report is Thursday. But the Nationals have said that the President declined their invitation to go to this year. Why is that? Why is he not going? Is this about crowds in the park? Is it about sending the wrong messaging? Why is he choosing not to be there on Thursday?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say I know the President is eager to get out to Nationals Stadium. Many beautiful days, many beautiful baseball games ahead this spring. It's not on his schedule this week, but I certainly expect that baseball fans will be hearing from him in the next couple days.

    Go ahead.

    Q:  Thanks, Jen. A question about your infrastructure proposal being released tomorrow. Is it going to focus more on shovel-ready projects that could get underway right away, or is it focused more on projects that might take a couple of years to get started but could ultimately have a bigger impact?

    MS. PSAKI: It's a great question, and I expect we'll have more to outline on how quickly things can happen once he delivers the speech tomorrow. But let me just say that the speech tomorrow is about making an investment in America — not just modernizing our roads or railways or bridges, but building an infrastructure of the future.

    So some of it is certainly infrastructure, shovel-ready projects. Some of it is: How do we expand broadband access? Some of it is ensuring that we are addressing the needs in people's homes and communities. So there are a range of components that will be — he'll talk about when he proposes his — his ideas tomorrow, when he lays that out in his speech in Pittsburgh.

    Q:  And how much more should wealthy Americans expect to pay? Will the top marginal rate go back to 39.6 percent under this proposal?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, I expect that tomorrow — again, the speech is really about his vision — his vision for creating jobs, good-paying union jobs, and really investing in the industries of the future. But he thinks it's responsible — it's the responsible thing to do to propose a way to pay for that over time.

    So — and he also believes that there's more that can be done to make the corporate tax code fair. And so I expect that will be the focus of his remarks on the — on taxes tomorrow.

    Q:  And what about the estate tax? Is that something you're also considering increasing?

    MS. PSAKI: Again, I'm not going to get too far ahead of the President's own speech and proposal, and I know we'll be previewing it more in the next 24 hours, but he believes that there's more that can be done to make the corporate tax code fair; to reward work, not wealth; to ensure that we can invest in the future industries that are going to help all people in this country.

    Q:  And one other topic. Twenty-three countries have signed on to the idea of this WHO treaty that would improve information sharing during future pandemics. Why hasn't the U.S. signed on to that?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, we believe it's vital in working with international partners and other countries and, of course, strengthening and reforming our international efforts as it relates to addressing pandemics and future pandemics.

    We do have some concerns primarily about the timing and launching into negotiations for a new treaty right now, and we believe that could divert attention away from substantive issues regarding the response, preparedness for future pandemic threats. And we believe that should be our focus currently, but we're certainly open to and looking for continued collaboration with the global community.

    Go ahead.


    Q:  Does President Biden believe that the millions of Americans who lost loved ones to COVID-19 deserve a better response than the one that they've gotten from the WHO?

    MS. PSAKI: In terms of looking into —

    Q:  In terms of the origins for COVID-19.

    MS. PSAKI: Well, I think he believes that the American people, the global community, the medical experts, the doctors — all of the people who have been working to save lives — the families who have lost loved ones — all deserve greater transparency. They deserve better information. They deserve steps that are taken by the global community to provide that.

    So there was an extensive statement put out by a number of countries, including the U.S. But let me highlight — and we're still reviewing the report, but let me highlight some of the concerns that have come up to date.

    The report lacks crucial data, information, and access. It represents a partial and incomplete picture. There was a joint statement, as I noted, that was put out. We also welcome a similar statement from the EU and EU members, sending a clear message that the global community shares these concerns.

    There are steps from here that we believe should be taken. There's a second stage in this process that we believe should be led by international and independent experts. They should have unfettered access to data. They should be able to ask questions of people who are on the ground at this point in time, and that's a step the WHO could take.

    Q:  And that statement says that the U.S. joins these countries in expressing shared concerns. But the statement, quite frankly, is pretty bureaucratic and perhaps does not meet the moment of the seriousness of the crisis here in this country in terms of the death toll. So what is the White House's actual reaction to this report from the WHO? Was it simply inadequate?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, the report is still being reviewed by our team of experts; 17 experts are reviewing it.

    Q:  But you know the headline of it, and it's not sufficient, you've said. So —

    MS. PSAKI: We agree. And we have long said, as I just stated, it lacks crucial data, information. It lacks access. It lacks transparency. It certainly — we don't believe that, in our review to date, that it meets the moment, it meets the impact that this pandemic has had on the global community. And that's why we also have called for additional forward-looking steps.

    And I will tell you that negotiating between 20 countries or so to get a statement out, sometimes it appears bureaucratic, but well-intentioned.

    Q:  When will the President speak on this?

    MS. PSAKI: On the WHO report? I expect we'll let our review conclude, and then we'll look for an opportunity for him to speak to it. But I can certainly confirm for you that he shares these concerns. They are coming directly from him and directly from our national security team, who has looked at what the report has presented to date. They're still reviewing and share the concerns issued in that statement that made those concerns clear.

    [ ... ]

    Read the full transcript HERE.

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