James S. Brady Press Briefing Room Washington D.C. April 19 12:19 P.M. EDT
Hi, everyone. Happy Monday. Okay, a couple of items for you all at the top.
Today is an exciting day; we enter a new phase of our vaccination program and our effort to put the pandemic behind us. Starting today, everyone 16 years and older, in every state, is eligible for the vaccine. Thanks to the aggressive action we have taken through our wartime whole-of-government response, we have enough vaccine supply for all adults to get vaccinated; thousands of vaccinators — we will have, I should say, thousands of vaccinators ready to get people vaccinated; and more than 60,000 places — convenient places — for people to get their shot.
So we have put up a couple of highlights here. More than half of all adults in America have now received at least one shot. More than 32 percent of adults are fully vaccinated. Eighty-one percent of seniors have at least one, and just about two thirds are fully vaccinated. At least 90 percent of Americans now have a vaccine site within five miles of where they live.
And in order to make sure people know that they're eligible, we're blitzing the airwaves, including local media, constituency radio and television, and also have a range of officials doing national interviews, especially health and medical experts. Google is providing information on its homepage to help people find a location near them. And there are notifications from Facebook and Twitter, as well as even a stat — Snapchat message from Dr. Fauci. Never too — never too young to Snapchat — too old, too young, either way.
There's also a bipartisan AJP meeting happening today — American Jobs Plan — happening today. This afternoon, the President — shortly after the briefing, I should say — and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg will host a meeting in the Oval Office with a bipartisan group of representatives and senators who are former mayors and governors.
There are, of course, more former mayors and governors than just this group; we will likely welcome them in the future as well. But the President is looking forward to tapping into their experience and expertise overseeing local communities and states. Hence, this is the group he'll be meeting with today.
They'll discuss the American Jobs Plan, the critical need for infra- — investment in our nation's infrastructure. And their state and local executive experience, combined with their legislative experience, provides, in the President's view, important perspective on how to invest in our roads, bridges, railways, and infrastructure across the country.
Two more quick items for you. Today, we congratulate the men and women of NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for yet again making history in outer space. The space agency's aptly named "Ingenuity" helicopter lifted off of Mars early this morning, performed the first-ever powered flight on a world beyond Earth. And this brief flight now paves the way for more extensive exploration down the road. Future Red Planet missions could include choppers as — as scouts or data collectors. Very exciting.
Finally, today the Department of Housing and Urban Development is announcing the obligation of $8.2 billion in Community Development Block Grant Mitigation funds for Puerto Rico, along with the removal of onerous restrictions unique to Puerto Rico that limit the island's access to these funds that were allocated following Hurricane Maria in September. And these actions are the latest in an ongoing, whole-of-government effort to support the island's recovery and renewal.
Jonathan, why don't you kick us off.
Thank you, Jen, and happy Patriots Day. I know you're a New Englander, so —
In terms of — two matters for you: one domestic, one foreign. Starting here at home: The nation is obviously watching right now the closing arguments in the Derek Chauvin trial in Minnesota, and I was hoping you could, please, walk us through what the federal level of preparedness is right now for a verdict that could be coming in a matter of days.
What sort of coordination is there with the states, not just in Minnesota but elsewhere, you know, if there indeed will be, perhaps, unrest one way or the other, after the riot? Could you walk me through conversations being had with local officials, mayors, governors, and so on?
Well, first, let me say, as you all know, the jury is deliberating, will come back with a verdict — or they will be deliberating, I should say. After the closing arguments today, they'll come back with a verdict, and we're not going to get ahead of those deliberations. I'm not suggesting you're asking that, but I just wanted to restate that.
We — what I can say is, broadly speaking, we are in touch with mayors, governors, local authorities. Of course, our objective is to ensure there is a space for peaceful protest; that, you know, we encour- — we continue to convey that while this country has gone through an extensive period — especially the Black community — of pain, trauma, and exhaustion, as we've watched these — not just the trial, but, of course, additional violence against their community over the past several weeks, we — it's important to acknowledge that and elevate that at every opportunity we have.
But in terms of your question, Jonathan, we're in touch with local authorities. We're in touch with states, with governors, with mayors. And certainly, you know, we will continue to encourage peaceful protests, but we're not going to get ahead of the verdict in the trial.
Is there recommendations about — in terms of the National Guard deployments? Have there been communi- — conversations about that?
There's a range of conversations about how to ensure that, no matter what the outcome, there is a space for peaceful protest. But, of course, we'll let the verdict — the jury deliberate, and we'll wait for the verdict to come out before we say more about our engagements.
Okay. And the other matter: Aleksey Navalny — obviously in a Russian prison. There are reports today that he has been removed to a hospital for medical treatment after the hunger strike he has been on.
Can you provide us the latest in terms of what the White House has heard about how he is doing and if you believe this is an acceptable motive — if this is enough care for him? And what sort of conversations are being had right now with the Russian authorities as to that situation?
Well, first, I expect today, if not now, our National Security Advisor is going to have an — a conversation with his counterpart, and we'll have a readout of that once that's concluded. That, of course, will cover a range of topics, but certainly the detention and treatment of Navalny will be a part of that.
Let me say that, as a reminder, in the President's first conversation with President Putin, he raised a range of concerns, including the treatment of Navalny. On March 2nd, we announced, in coordination with several key allies and partners, our response to Russia's use of a chemical weapon to poison Aleksey Navalny.
So our — we continue to reiterate our view that what happens to Mr. Navalny in the custody of the Russian government is the responsibility of the Russian government, and that they will be held accountable by the international community. As National Security Advisor Sullivan has said — he said just yesterday — we're not going to telegraph our punches. If Mr. Navalny dies, well, there will be consequences to the Russian government, and we reserve those options.
But, in the interim, our objective is, of course, continuing to call for, push for his release and reiterate our view that he must be treated humanely.
Thanks, Jen. Can you explain where things stand right now when it comes to the refugee ban? First off, the White House said on Friday that, actually, the 15,000 cap that was set by the Trump administration was — remained justified. But then later, you said, "Actually, no, the number is going to go up by May 15th."
I wouldn't — I would dispute that being our characterization on Friday, but let me walk you through what we did announce.
Last week's announcement — or Friday's announcement, I should say, was an effort — an important step forward, in our view — to reverse the Trump policy that banned refugees from many key regions of the world. So there were many parts of the Middle East, parts of Africa where refugees could not apply and could not come into the United States. And part — as a result of that, there were very limited number of refugees — in the low thousands — that had come over in a extensive period of time during the Trump administration. That was an important step, on — in our view.
In addition, there had been refugee flights that had not traveled, that had not been taking off to come to the United States, and we resumed those flights. This was always meant to be just the beginning.
In the announcement we made on Friday, we were clear in the emergency presidential determination that if 15,000 is reached, a subsequent presidential determination would be issued to increase admissions as appropriate. And that is certainly our expectation.
In addition, we also announced on Friday that the President — while we are assessing right now what is possible in terms of — given the fact that the processing — the asylum processing has been hollowed out from the State Department, and also the ORR — the Office of Refugee Resettlement — has also been hollowed out in terms of personnel, staffing, and financial and funding needs, we are — have every intention to increase the cap and to make an announcement of that by May 15th at the latest. And I expect it will be sooner than that.
The President also remains committed to pursuing the aspirational goal of reaching 125,000 refugees by the end of the next fiscal year.
And what role has the situation at the border, which the President called a "crisis" this weekend — what role has that played in decision making around the refugee cap?
Sure. Well, if I walk you back just a little bit — and hopefully this will be helpful to you — during the transition, our team was — made an assessment of what our refugee cap should look like.
And we looked back at the last few years and assessed that, because of the very low numbers — the restrictions I just mentioned that were in place, restricting refugees from coming from the Middle — parts of the Middle East — most of the Middle East, I should say, and Africa — we needed to go big and have a bold goal.
And so that's why we set the 125,000 cap objective by the end of fiscal year '22. 62,500 was a down payment — meant to be a down payment in this year. That was why we set that goal. Now, that's an a- — that was an aspirational increase of 10 times what was being led in by the Trump administration.
In that period of time — we came into office; the President made that announcement, made those — put those aspirational goals out there — there were a couple things that happened: One, as you alluded to, there was an increase of unaccompanied children at the border. Our policy was always going to be to welcome those children in, find a place where they can be sheltered and treated humanely and safely. That increase and that influx, as you all know, was higher than most people, including us, anticipated.
The second factor was that we did not — it took us some time to recognize how hollowed out these systems were. The Office of Refugee Resettlement, which oversees — while there have been different pots of money and different personnel — has both the resettling of refugees as well as unaccompanied children. And there is — there are questions and have been assessments about reprogramming of funds and how we can address both at the same time. And certainly, that ability and ensuring we can do that effectively has been on the President's mind.
And then, finally, on a somewhat related matter: The President has said that climate change is one of the factors that has created this surge at the border, but there are no Central American countries that have been invited to the Climate Summit that the White House is putting on. Is there — how did you decide which countries to invite? And has it been considered whether or not to invite some Central American countries?
Well, I'll say that engaging Central American countries, countries in South America, many other countries around the world in the climate crisis is certainly our objective and our plan. And you will see that play out through diplomatic channels, whether it's through former Secretary Kerry, who's now our Envoy; or Secretary of State Blinken; or the President himself.
There were 40 global leaders invited — this is our first summit of this kind — and obviously, a number of them will be speaking. So I think the decision was made about how to impact and invite — or how to invite, kind of, some of the largest economies in the world. That was the objective.
But engagement with these countries, having a conversation about the role many of them play in addressing the climate crisis is absolutely on our diplomatic agenda beyond this summit this week.
Go ahead. Go ahead, Kaitlan.
If it is a "not guilty" verdict, will the President be disappointed?
I think we're not going to get ahead of the jury — the legal process and the jury making their deliberations, Kaitlan. And when the jury makes their deliberations and concludes and a verdict is found, I'm certain the President will speak to that.
And you talked how the White House is preparing for whatever that verdict is. Congresswoman Maxine Waters said, over the weekend, that they need to — "We've got to stay on the street and we've got to get more active. We've got to get more confrontational. We've got to make sure that they know that we mean business." Does the President agree with what she said about getting more confrontational?
Well, I can speak to the President's view. He has been very clear that he recognizes the issue of police violence against people of color, communities of color is one of great anguish, and it's exhausting and quite emotional at times.
As you know, he met with the Floyd family last year and has been closely following the trial, as we've been talking about, and is committed to undoing this longstanding, systemic problem.
His view is also that exercising First Amendment rights and protesting injustice is the most American thing that anyone can do. But as he also always says, protests must be peaceful. That's what he continues to call for and what he continues to believe is the right way to approach responding.
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