Press Briefing By Press Secretary Jen Psaki, April 15, 2021 | Beaufort County Now | Press Briefing By Press Secretary Jen Psaki, April 15, 2021

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
Press Release:

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room  •  Washington D.C.  •  April 15  •  12:52 P.M. EDT

    MS. PSAKI: Hi everyone. All right. Okay, I have a couple of items for you — all of you at the top. Today we are announcing the release of $39 billion of American Rescue Plan funds to states, territories, and Tribes to address the child care crisis caused by COVID-19. These funds are a critical step to pave the way for a strong economic recovery and a more equitable future.

    These funds will help early childhood educators and family child care providers keep their doors open and make sure every state has a strong child care system that provides families with what they need.

    Since the start of the pandemic, as we've talked about a bit in here, roughly 2 million women have left the workforce. That is disproportionately due to caregiving needs, and we are hopeful that this will help.

    As you know, later this afternoon, the President and Vice President will meet with key members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. The meeting will broadly focus on their priorities, their shared — our shared priorities, I should say — including critical issues such as combating anti-Asian hate, the American Jobs Plan's impact on shared infrastructure priorities, and immigration.

    Last night, we also announced the appointment of Erika Moritsugu as Deputy Assistant to the President and Asian American and Pacific Islander Senior Liaison. She will bring her experience and expertise to the Biden-Harris administration, where she will be a vital voice to advance the President and the administration's priorities.

    And we'll have a readout after that meeting, of course, as well. And, as you know, the President will be making some brief remarks at the top.

    Also, an update on our COVID-19 vaccination progress: Today we reported over 3.5 million COVID shots — sorry, today — it was reported from yesterday, of course — but we had 3.5 million COVID shots yesterday. This is a new Thursday record. So certainly a step — a good — a piece of good news.

    One more scheduling update: President Biden looks forward to welcoming President Moon of the Republic of Korea to the White House in the second half of May. We're still finalizing the date for that. But this visit — following the recent two-plus-two visit to Seoul by Secretaries Blinken and Austin, and the National Security Advisor's trilateral meeting in Annapolis — will highlight the ironclad U.S.-South Korea alliance and the longstanding ties and friendships between the people of our two countries.

    And, with that, Aamer. It's been a week. It's been a lot going on this week, so go ahead.

    Q:  And it's not the end of the week yet, either.

    MS. PSAKI: It's not the end of — we have more to come. Go ahead.

    Q:  With Prime Minister Suga coming tomorrow, and now you've just announced President Moon coming — I guess, just looking ahead to both of these visits, what message is the President trying to send? And, in a sense, is elevating — particularly with tomorrow's visit the Japanese Prime Minister, is he sending a message to China by who he is picking first?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, first, the President is looking forward to welcoming — welcoming the Prime Minister tomorrow. And it is significant that our first bilateral meeting, in person, is with Japan. It emphasizes our important relationship and all of the cooperative work we have to do together.

    I will say that, of course, our approach to China and our shared coordination and cooperation on that front will be part of the discussion, as will our joint commitment to the denuclearization of North Korea. Security will be a prominent issue — regional security — as well.

    So I would say these relationships have a range of areas of cooperation. It's an opportunity to discuss those issues in person, and I would anticipate that China will be a part of the discussions.

    Q:  And if I could ask just a question on the Russia sanctions today — in a statement, the White House noted reports that Russia had encouraged Taliban attacks against U.S. coalition personnel in Afghanistan. The word "report" seems to leave some ambiguity. Does the White House believe Russia placed bounties on American troops?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, that we felt the reports were enough of a cause of concern that we wanted our intelligence community to look into those reports as a part of this overall assessment. They assessed — with low to moderate confidence, as you alluded to — that Russian intelligence officers sought to encourage Taliban attacks against U.S. and coalition personnel in Afghanistan.

    The reason that they have low to moderate confidence in this judgment is in part because it relies on detainee reporting and due to the challenging environment — and also due to the challenging operating environment in Afghanistan. So it's challenging to gather this intelligence and this data.

    I will say that we assess — our intelligence community, I should say, assesses that General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate — GRU, also known as — manage interaction with individuals and Afghan criminal networks. We have high confidence in that assessment, and the involvement of this GRU's unit is consistent with Russia's encouraging attacks against U.S. and coalition personnel in Afghanistan.

    So while there's low to moderate assessment of these reports, we felt it was important for our intelligence community to look into it. And we, of course, will not stand by and accept the targeting of our personnel by any elements, including a foreign state actor. This information really puts the burden on Russia and the Russian government to explain their engagement here.

    Go ahead.

    Q:  Jen, given that assessment, does the President have any regrets for how many times he attacked President Trump on the campaign about this issue for not taking action related to the Russian bounties?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, I'm not going to speak to the previous administration. But I will say that we had enough concern about these reports and about the targeting of our men and women serving — the men and women who are proudly serving around the world — that we wanted our intelligence community to look into it.

    Now, again, there are several factors that — that contributed to the low to moderate confidence in the judgment, including the difficulty of — of the operating environment and, of course, the reliance on detainee reporting. At the same time, we still feel there are questions to be answered by the Russian government.

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    Q:  And then, another one on foreign policy: With the Russia decision, with the Afghanistan decision — I'm just trying to get a sense of how the administration operates here. There's still Americans unjustly detained in Russia. I believe there's an American who was kidnapped by a Taliban-aligned group in Afghanistan. What level does the administration look at those, you know, hostages, I guess, as they think through broader foreign policy decisions? Do you have a team working on that? Did that play any role in any — either of these decisions?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, every relationship we have, even with it — when it's — when it's adversarial or even when it's not, we raise issues of the detainment of American citizens or even sometimes citizens of our partners and allies around the world through those diplomatic conversations.

    Typically, those conversations are led by the State Department and officials that are working at the State Department. Typically, we don't read out too much detail because our focus is, of course, on bringing Americans home.

    Q:  And just one more: I think we ask you this every week but — on the refugee cap.

    MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

    Q:  You know, we hear a lot of concerns from your allies on Capitol Hill. And I think the big concern is not necessarily, right now, when is the President going to sign the directive; it's what are the issues that are holding it up. And I feel like Democratic senators we've spoken to don't have answers to that, even though they said they've reached out to you guys. We don't have answers that either. Are there actual, tangible reasons why this has not been signed yet?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, I can assure you and I can assure anyone who has concerns that the President remains committed to this issue. He is somebody who believes that refugees, that immigrants are the heart and soul of our country, and they have been for decades.

    And that is why he has proposed, you know, a comprehensive immigration reform bill. That is why he wants to improve the — the processing of those seeking asylum at the border. And it certainly is an issue he remains committed to. That's why he — he stated that. But I don't have an update on the timeline of the signing.

    Q:  I didn't ask about the timeline. The reasons though — what is the holdup here? Is it -

    MS. PSAKI: It remains — it remains an issue. The President remains committed to raising the refugee cap, and I can assure anyone who has concerns that that remains the case.

    Go ahead.

    Q:  Jen, the U.S. has been leveling sanctions on Russia for its behavior for years, as you know well. It hasn't deterred them in the past. Why should we expect that these new sanctions will do something that past sanctions have not?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say, Peter, that our objective here is not to escalate; our objective here is to impose costs for what we feel are unacceptable actions by the Russian government.

    Some of these are done in coordination with our European partners and allies in the past. And our view is that when there are actions that are taken that are unacceptable; that are not aligned with our interests; that we feel go beyond what should be acceptable from any country you have a partner- — a relationship with, then there should be consequences.

    We can't predict what the impact will be, but we still believe that when there's unacceptable behavior, we should put consequences in place.

    Q:  Let me ask you about Afghanistan, if I can, quickly. The President's own CIA Director, William Burns, yesterday warned that there is a, quote, in his words, "significant risk" that al Qaeda and other terrorist groups could fill that vacuum that exists when the U.S. and its allies leave that region. I have the quote for you, but you saw the testimony as well as I did.

    Why not leave a small residual force behind? And, knowing that he addressed this in some form, to deal — to support the intelligence community there to gather information, why not leave a military force there to help protect them and their ability to collect intelligence?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I will say that we believe we have the means to keep our eye on any terrorist threats or any sign of al Qaeda's resurgence without having a persistent footprint on the ground. And the evaluation and the decision made by the President was that — based on the recommendations, the advice from national security advisors, from his team across the administration — is that the threat against the homeland now emanating from Afghanistan can be — from Afghanistan can be kept to a level that can be addressed without per- — that persistent footprint.

    Now, at the same time, because obviously our capacity and our capabilities have dramatically increased and improved over the last 20 years or even the 10 years, we can — we are going to reposition our counterterrorism capabilities. We'll retain significant assets in the reso- — in the region, as he talked about over-the-horizon capabilities, to counter the potential reemergence of a terrorist threat. That's — that's our focus and how we'll approach any rising threat.

    Q:  I know we're going through a bunch of different topics. On the vaccine and J&J, obviously -

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    MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

    Q:  — the task force or the response team doesn't brief on Thursdays. The single shot, as you know, was particularly attractive to those populations that are harder to reach right now. What specifically is the White House doing now to redouble its efforts to improve equity or to attain equity in the distribution of these vaccines?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that if we take a step back, which we sometimes like to do, our focus has been on ensuring that equity and addressing any — any issues related to confidence was central to our strategy. So we have had a robust strategy in place, long before the announcement by the FDA a couple of days ago.

    We've also seen, so far, that — by the number of shots that we were able to distribute yesterday, some data and polling that's been out there — that — and we'll have to see as time goes on — that we've not seen, to date yet, an impact on confidence in the vaccines, writ large.

    But there are a number of steps that we've taken over the course of time that we feel will continue to pay dividends and be impactful, because we are over-preparers here. One is the launching of the Community Corps — our program to get fact-based messages into the hands of local messengers. More than 6,000 organizations are participating in that effort.

    We also launched a $3 pillion [sic] — $3 billion effort to — providing to states and community-based organizations funding and support to strengthen vaccine confidence. And we also have public health officials who have been out on your airwaves, across the board, communicating with local organizations, to reassure and confirm that we have enough supply to meet the demand that is coming.

    Q:  The First Lady had a common medical procedure yesterday. Any update on how she is doing?

    MS. PSAKI: I think we put out a note yesterday that she returned to the White House and resumed her daily activities, so that should give you a sense -

    Q:  She's still well. Good. Thank you.

    MS. PSAKI: Yes, absolutely.

    Go ahead, Kristin.

    Q:  Thanks, Jen. Does the President support the bill just introduced by the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to add four seats to the Supreme Court?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, just last week, the President signed an executive order creating the bipartisan commission on the Supreme Court of the United States — a bipartisan group of over 30 constitutional and legal experts who are examining a range of questions about proposed potential reforms to the Supreme Court.

    And one of the issues they'll look at is, of course, the size of the Court, but they'll also look at the Court's role in the constitutional system, the length of service, the turnover of justices, and they're going to come back to the President with a report on what their discussions are and what their findings are.

    So he's going to wait for that to play out, and wait to read that report.

    Q:  So, I mean — I mean, this isn't just coming from some obscure member of Congress; this is coming from the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. So is the President — is the White House frustrated that Chairman Nadler, perhaps, didn't wait for this report from the commission that President Biden just called for last week?

    MS. PSAKI: No. The President believes that it's important to take a look at a range of points of view, whether they are progressive or conservative, at different — different sets of legal opinions to — and he would like — he looks forward to assessing that himself. And I expect he will not have more to convey about any recommendations or views he'll have until he reads that report.

    But he certainly understands that members of Congress have a range of views and they're going to propose legislation. He may or may not support it.

    Q:  So, I just want to be clear here: The President does or does not think that this — this bill is premature?

    MS. PSAKI: He believes that members of Congress have the right to put forward legislation on issues they support. His — his view is that he wants to hear from this commission that has a range of viewpoints.

    Q:  Okay, and one more question. Senator Ed Markey, he just said this: "We must expand the Court, and we must abolish the filibuster to do it." Is the White House comfortable with a Democratic senator explicitly linking those two ideas from the steps of the Supreme Court?

    MS. PSAKI: The President believes that — in freedom of speech and that members can come forward and share their points of views on a range of issues, including the future of the courts. He has his own view, and he looks forward to seeing their — the recommendations from — and — that comes out of this Court commission.

    [ ... ]

    Read the full transcript HERE.



You can visit a collection of all White House posts by clicking HERE.


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