Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, May 21, 2021 | Beaufort County Now | Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, May 21, 2021

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
Press Release:

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room  •  Washington D.C.  •  May 21  •  2:02 P.M. EDT

    MS. PSAKI: Happy Friday. Okay, I only have one item for you all at the top: a brief preview of the President's schedule for next week.

    On Monday, he will visit FEMA headquarters in D.C. to receive a briefing on the Atlantic hurricane outlook and preparedness efforts.

    On Tuesday, he will mark the anniversary of the death of George Floyd. We'll have more details on what the plans are for that day soon — maybe later today, maybe — maybe later this weekend.

    On Thursday, the President will travel to Cleveland, Ohio to deliver remarks on the economy.

    And on Friday, his budget will be released and he will also travel to Wilmington, where he will remain over the Memorial Day weekend.

    With that, Darlene, why don't you kick us off?

    Q:  Thank you. I wanted to start with Israel. Does the President or the White House have any concerns that the extent to which the Israeli Prime Minister continued the war will affect the President's own ability to continue to defend Israel's right to defend itself? I know that's a little circular, but —

    MS. PSAKI: You mean domestically here or —

    Q:  Yes. Yes.

    MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that the President has set a clear objective from the beginning, which was to end the war — play any role we can ending the war and bringing it to a conclusion as quickly as possible. And at the beginning, that seemed highly unlikely, given there were thousands of rockets falling on Tel Aviv and the Israelis were on a war footing and preparing for — by many reports — a ground invasion.

    So I would say: What's important to look at and reflect on here is historic precedent and the fact that the conflict in 2014 — many more lives were lost; also it went on for 51 days.

    So the President's view is that — and his view from the beginning — was that through disciplined, intensive, and qui- in a disciplined, intensive, and quiet campaign of diplomacy, and one where we would lead coordination in the region, we could bring an end to the conflict more quickly than it was intended to be.

    And it's also important to remember that Hamas is a terrorist organization, that Israel, of course, continues to have the right to defend itself. But what's most important from now forward, in his view, is to — to contemplate where we go from here, Darlene.

    And, certainly, he talked yesterday about replenishing support for the Iron Dome. And our view is that saved hundreds of lives, maybe more than that, given the effectiveness. Also, to support — through the United Nations — continued additional assistance in rebuilding Gaza.

    We've already, of course, restarted our assistance that was ended in 2018 through UNRWA through the United States, but we'll work through the — through the U.N. and we also will remain engaged deeply with diplomatic conversations with leaders in the region.

    So, you know, obviously anyone here domestically will have to make their own decisions, but I would say that, you know, it's important to convey what our intention was, what we feel — that we feel this was concluded as a result of the President's engagement and — and, frankly, discipline from the beginning, much faster than these conflicts have been in the past.

    Go ahead. Oh, go ahead. Darlene, go ahead.

    Q:  We also heard this week a lot of Democrats shifting their tone on Israel. So, is it time for the President or the White House or the United States to also perhaps start thinking about shifting the approach — its approach to Israel?

    MS. PSAKI: Shifting — what are — shifting in what way?

    Q:  You had a lot of Democrats who were frustrated that the President didn't call for a ceasefire immediately — that was one thing that a lot of people were upset about.

    So — and the, sort of, I don't want to say knee-jerk, but the U.S. position is that Israel has a right to defend itself. And there are a lot of Democrats who, I think — from what we heard them say this week — they don't necessarily buy into that. And so the thinking is, is there some shift in the approach to Israel (inaudible)?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, Darlene, I think the reason I answered it the way I did is because obviously we all shared an objective of bringing an end to the conflict.


    The President's view and his strategic approach and that of his team was that the best way to do that was not to call out our allies and partners, but was to remain closely coordinated and to work in lockstep and, at the right moment, to convey it was time to wind it down. And that's exactly what he did.

    And now the conflict is concluded in 11 days. And frankly, he resisted calls to take an alternative approach that, in his view, would have had an alternative outcome. So that's why I answered it the way I did.

    Go ahead. Oh, one —

    Q:  I have one final question.

    MS. PSAKI: Sure.

    Q:  Yesterday, we had a ceremony here — the bill signing — a large group of lawmakers —

    MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

    Q:  — came. We had the Medal of Honor ceremony —

    MS. PSAKI: Yes.

    Q:  — today —

    MS. PSAKI: We're back.

    Q:  — the meeting with the Kennedy Center Honors that we were told the President and First Lady had. I've seen handshakes, hugging, kissing.

    MS. PSAKI: Yes.

    Q:  Is the White House open again? Can you talk about some of the considerations that went into these events over the past couple of days? And is this the norm — the new norm?

    MS. PSAKI: Yes.

    Q:  The new "new" norm going forward?

    MS. PSAKI: I can confirm we are a warm and fuzzy crew, and we like to hug around here. But we were waiting for that to be allowed by CDC guidelines, which we certainly abide by.

    So, we are — as many organizations and companies are — working to implement these guidelines here at the White House. And so what you've seen over the last coveral [sic] — couple of days is efforts to do exactly that, and that includes welcoming back and having a full briefing room very soon.

    It includes having more events with more people and, certainly, continuing to open the White House up — the People's House — up to the American public.

    Go ahead.

    Q:  Thanks. Back to Israel for a moment: One of the other examples I think that would fit into Darlene's question is this pressure from lawmakers over the $735 million pending sale of precision-guided missiles to Israel.

    I know the President said yesterday he's committed to replenishing the Iron Dome. But is he also committed to making sure that sale goes through?

    MS. PSAKI: We have no plans to change our security assistance that we're providing to Israel. But I will say that the President's view is through — is that we need to do — we need to move forward on a couple of fronts. Certainly, supporting the security of Israel is one of them.

    But another front is rebuilding — playing a constructive role in rebuilding Gaza; providing assistance and funding through the U.N. efforts to do exactly that; ensuring that it is not Hamas, but is the Palestinian people who benefit from that assistance. And doing that through the U.N. is, in our view, the best way to do that.

    It also includes continuing to have engaged diplomacy with leaders in the region, continuing discussions with officials across the Middle East — Egyptians, Israelis, Palestinian leaders, Qataris, others — about how we move forward from here.

    Q:  And then, one on police reform: It looks like this, sort of, soft Memorial Day deadline is going to slip without legislation being passed. Is the White House losing some confidence in the bipartisan talks that are going on on Capitol Hill? And also, how does President Biden plan to address that issue on Tuesday when he speaks about the anniversary of George Floyd's death?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, that the President used the occasion of his joint address — one of the highest-profile moments any President has — to speak about, reiterate his view that police reform is long overdue, that the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is exactly the right forum and bill that could help get that done, rebuild trust in communities.

    What we've seen from the negotiators — and we've been in close touch with the negotiators as well — is that they still feel there is progress being made.

    Yes, it's unlikely, as they've conveyed as well, we're going to meet the timeline that the President outlined in his speech, which he did because he felt it was important to lift it up, to be gold [sic] — bold and ambitious in how we're talking about such an important piece of legislation.

    But we have confidence in the negotiators, and we've seen them convey publicly that they feel the vibes are good and they're continuing to make progress.

    Go ahead.


    Q:  Thanks, Jen. Is the President confident that this ceasefire will hold? And if so, can you explain a bit why? Did he receive any kinds of assurances from Prime Minister Netanyahu?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, we have strong assurancens [sic] — assurances — sorry, I don't know why that was a hard word. Let me try again: We have strong assurances from the relevant parties that they are committed to the ceasefire. And obviously, this is something we will be watching extremely closely in the coming days.

    And I think what's important to note is: In the final 24 hours leading up to the ceasefire — obviously, the President was deeply engaged before that, but he was very — he was especially deeply engaged in that period of time, as were high-level senior officials here. And they were back and forth on the phone between many different parties — the Israelis; the Egyptians, who were in touch with Hamas; and others — about the importance of not violating, even pre-violating the ceasefire in the hours leading up to it, as we see did not happen.

    So we will be in close touch with all parties. We clearly will be watching it. But we do have assurances from the relevant parties that they are committed.

    Q:  And yesterday, before this was announced, you said you expected Israel to start winding down their operations because they had achieved significant military objectives. So how much of the timing of this do you think is because of the President's diplomatic approach? And how much of this is simply because the Israelis had exhausted much of their targets in Gaza?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what's, again, important to remember is to point back to how these conflicts have worked in the past. And we have seen these conflicts last for weeks and weeks — many, many more lives lost.

    Now we certainly know there were lives lost in this 11-day conflict; every one is a tragedy. But certainly, because of the President's deep engagement; his long relationships; the fact that he set a clear objective from the beginning that we were going to put out the noise and focus on our strategy of deep, intensive, quiet diplomacy; have conversations, not call out our partners and allies and do that — do it — do our engagements through — through one-on-one conversations, we certainly think that had an impact.

    Now, of course, we also were watching closely where — and were in touch with them closely — about — about their military successes. And certainly, that was a part — a factor, but a part of the discussion as well.

    Q:  And, sort of, a scheduling question here: There had been an expectation that there was going to be a conversation of some kind today between Republicans on the Hill, some officials here at the White House about the status of infrastructure and the Republican counterproposal. Is that meeting still happening today? And can you give us, kind of, an update on where things stand, and any movement that may or may not be happening?

    MS. PSAKI: Sure, it is happening. It may be ongoing as we speak, but it started shortly before one o'clock over video conference this afternoon.

    Our team, including Steve Ricchetti, Louisa Terrell, Brian Deese, Secretary Raimondo, and Secretary Buttigieg, put forward a reasonable counteroffer that reduces the size of the package from $2.25 trillion in additional investment to $1.7 trillion.

    And, in our view, this is the act — the art, I should say, of seeking common ground. This proposal exhibits a willingness to come down in size, giving on some areas that are important to the President — otherwise they wouldn't have been in the proposal — while also staying firm in areas that are most vital to rebuilding our infrastructure and industries of the future, making our workforce and our country more competitive with China.

    We actually have every intention to share the complete totality of the counterproposal with you all. We'll just wait for the meeting to conclude to do that.

    Q:  Until then, can you say any more about what was taken out to lower that price tag?

    MS. PSAKI: Sure, let me give you, kind of, some topline details. And then, again, what — the counterproposal that we'll put out is very detailed, so you'll see all of the specifics for yourself. But, again, I noted the topline number that offered.

    It — our proposal also involved a shifting — shifting investments in research and development, supply chains, manufacturing, and small business out of the negotiation and into other efforts, such as the Endless Frontier Act and the CHIPS Act — which, as you know, there's ongoing discussions and negotiations on a bipartisan level about those, as well.

    The President — the proposal also agreed to reduce the funding request for broadband to match the Republican offer and to reduce the proposed investment in roads, bridges, and major projects to come closer to the number proposed by the senators. This is all in the spirit of finding common ground.

    Now, at the same time, as I alluded to, we also — the counteroffer also reflects our view that the Republican offer excludes entirely some proposals that are key to our competitiveness — key to investments in clean energy and in industries of the future, in rebuilding our workforce, including critical investments in our power sector, building and construction, workforce training, veterans hospital construction, and the care economy.

    So, we push for increased funding levels for critical transportation infrastructure, like rail, especially considering China's level of investment in such projects, as well as the elimination of lead pipes that poison drinking water, and resilience projects as extreme weather events — as we've seen around the country — continue to become more common as a result of climate change.

    [ ... ]

    Read the full transcript HERE.

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

Go Back

Back to Top