Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, April 14, 2021 | Beaufort County Now | Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, April 14, 2021

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Press Release:

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room  •  Washington D.C.  •  April 14  •  12:37 P.M. EDT

    MS. PSAKI: Okay. Happy Wednesday. It feels like it should be later than Wednesday in the week. I may be the only one who feels that way.

    Okay, a couple of items for you all at the top. Today, the Department of the Treasury announced the establishment of a new department, the Office of Recovery Programs, to lead the Treasury Department's implementation of economic relief and recovery programs, including nearly $420 billion in programs from the American Rescue Plan.

    This new office, which will be led by the inaugural Chief Recovery Officer, Jacob Leibenluft, will be focused on efficiently establishing and administering Treasury's programs to support an equitable and swift recovery from the economic challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Jacob will also serve as the — will serve as the lead administrator of recovery programs and a principal advisor on recovery program implementation. And he, of course, will work closely with Gene Sperling.

    Another piece of good news: Today, the IRS, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and the Bureau of Fiscal Service announced they are disbursing nearly 2 million dollar [sic] — million payments from the American Rescue Plan, which brings the total disbursed so far to approximately 159 million payments, with a total value of more than $376 billion, since these payments began rolling out to Americans just last month.

    Over 320,000 payments, worth $450 million, went to Veterans Affairs beneficiaries who receive VA benefits but don't normally file a tax return and didn't use the Non-Filers tool last year. Hence, it took a little bit longer. These payments also include Social Security beneficiaries who didn't file a 2020 or 2019 tax return. And the latest batch of payments has a total value of more than $3.4 billion.

    Finally, yesterday, Microsoft issued new patches for additional vulnerabilities found in its Exchange servers. You all remember the hacking that we talked about just a few weeks ago. The White House urges all systems operators to apply these patches as soon as possible to ensure the security of systems.

    The federal government takes this vulnerability very seriously. We are leading by example and requiring all federal agencies to apply these patches and report to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

    With that, Alex.

    Q:  Thanks, Jen. Can you talk a little bit about the April 28th address to Congress — what we should expect to hear from the President? And also, logistically, we know that the attendance will be reduced. So how are you deciding who gets to attend? And then, are you working with Capitol Police on security, or are you monitoring any potential threats at this point?

    MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, on the second and third question, we, of course, are working very closely with the Speaker's Office, with the offices of leaders in Congress. The President was — is looking forward to — is excited to have accepted their invitation to address a joint session, something that he has been eager to do since he was inaugurated.

    In terms of a preview of what the speech will look like, we're just — we're a couple of weeks out for that, so I expect we'll have more to say as we get closer. But, certainly, you can expect that he will talk about all of the priorities and his commitment to building the economy back better, getting the pandemic under control, addressing the challenges we face around the world.


    But as we get closer and the speech is written, we'll have more of a preview.

    In terms of invitations, that certainly would be handled by the Speaker's Office, and so I'd point you to them.

    Q:  Sure. And then, Afghanistan. The intelligence community's annual report this year said, and I'm quoting, "The Afghan government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay" if the coalition withdraws its support. So what plans does the administration have to prevent this from happening and to maintain stability in the region with that withdrawal?

    And then, is there a potential for President Biden to change his mind or extend the deadline if there is a decline in the situation in Afghanistan in the coming months?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say that as a part of this process, the President asked for a review from his national security team. He asked them not to sugarcoat it. He welcomed ideas, welcomed differences of points of view, and he was provided with a clear-eyed assessment about the best path forward.

    So as a part of his assessment and decision making, you know, part of the discussion was around the fact that the terrorist threat has evolved. And we certainly saw the threat assessment and saw our colleagues testify yesterday.

    But part of what we have seen from the intelligence community also is that the threat has become more dispersed, it's metastasized around the world: al-Shabaab in Somalia, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Nusra in Syria. It's changed. We're not looking at the 2001 mindset. We can't look at things through the 2001 mindset; we have to look at things through the 2021 world.

    So we will be monitoring — our administration, our national security teams, in partnership with our NATO Allies and partners in the region. We will be monitoring, of course, and disrupting — and focused on disrupting terrorist networks and operations that have spread far beyond Afghanistan, but also continuing to monitor things in the region.

    We're not going to take our threat off of — the terrorist threat — take our eyes off, sorry, the terrorist threat or any sign of al Qaeda's resurgence. And we will reposition our counterterrorism capabilities in that regard. And the President will talk more about that in his speech in about an hour and a half.

    Q:  And could his deadline extend, or could he change his mind if you do see the situation in Afghanistan decline?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, I will say that the President made this decision after close consultations and close discussion with — and taking under — into account all of the — all of the difficult decisions — all the difficult factors, I should say, around that decision. So, no, he remains committed to the timeline that he intends to set out in the speech.

    Q:  And then one quick one on immigration. Vice President Harris just said that her first trip abroad, it looks like it's going to be to Mexico and Guatemala. But she suggested she won't be visiting the border. And so I'm wondering, first off, if the President is considering a trip to the border, and second, why it's not important for one of, you know, the President's main, sort of, people that he's tasked with dealing with this to visit the border.

    MS. PSAKI: Well, what the President has asked the Vice President to do is run point on the Northern Triangle and be a high-level conduit in having discussions with leaders in the region. That's exactly what she is doing and will do when she goes and visits countries in the region. And obviously, she's had discussions, that have been read out, as well, with some leaders in the region.

    Secretary of Homeland Security has visited the border. Our Secretary — other secretaries who run point on these issues will and, we expect, will in the future.

    I don't have any visits to preview for you of the President's. But his focus is on solutions, is on opening up additional facilities, which we have done a great deal of in the last couple of weeks; on moving kids out of the Border Patrol facilities as quickly as possible into these shelters, which we've seen some progress on in the numbers that have been released by the Department of Homeland Security. That's where his focus is on.

    I expect other senior officials, Cabinet members who are running point, will continue to do visits and come back and report back to the President.


    Go ahead, Steve.

    Q:  Yeah, was there a unanimous view among the President's national security advisors that now is the time to leave Afghanistan?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, Steve, I will leave it to them to speak to their viewpoints.

    But I will, again, reassert that the President asked for a review. He asked for that review not to be sugarcoated. He wanted to hear different points of views. He welcomed debate. And, ultimately, he made the decision that because the terrorist threat has evolved; because we have done exactly what we said we would do when we went to Afghanistan to deliver justice to those who attacked us on September 11th; because he believes that the more — that if — that more time does not — does — would not result in a military solution, that now is the time to leave.

    Q:  You saw where the CIA director said the U.S. government's ability to collect and act on threats will diminish when the time comes for the U.S. military to withdraw. Does that give you pause at all?

    MS. PSAKI: Does the — does it give us pause that the threat — look, obviously, the CIA Director, Bill Burns, is somebody who the President takes advice from, takes counsel from, and certainly listens to when he shares his point of view. And he's known him for quite some time.

    But I will again reiterate that he would say — and many of our intelligence officials have said publicly and in these hearings — that the threats have evolved, that we need to approach how we look at counterterrorism through the prism of what the threats are in 2021.

    And even if you look at al Qaeda, it is not — it is not being harbored in a safe haven in Afghanistan how it was 20 years ago. We have to have resources, we have to have assets to address the threat where we see it growing, and that is in places like Northern Africa, in the Arabian Peninsula. And even if you just look at the counterterrorism component of it, we need to make decisions through the 2021 prism.

    Q:  And lastly, just separately, the Kremlin is saying the summit — the proposed summit that the President proposed — would be contingent on U.S. behavior. What is your response to that? And I know you have some sanctions in the works here.

    MS. PSAKI: Well, you'll have to ask them what they meant by that. I know they are verbose in their thoughts on the United States. So they may have an answer to your question.

    I will say that the President — President Biden, I should say — had a constructive call yesterday, as is the case in his relationships with countries where we have had difficult discussions — where we need to have difficult discussions. He did not hold back on his concerns, including reiterating that there will be consequences to the actions that were taken. I expect you will know more about that soon.

    At the same time, our objective as the United States is to have a predictable relationship with Russia, to stabilize that relationship. And certainly, having a discussion, having a summit would be an opportunity to discuss areas where we agree and can work together, whether it's a continuation of nonproliferation efforts. Obviously, they're a partner in the P5+1, and those could be part of the forum for a discussion.

    Go ahead.

    [ ... ]

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