Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, May 25, 2021 | Beaufort County Now | Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, May 25, 2021

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Press Release:

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room  •  Washington D.C.  •  May 25  •  12:48 P.M. EDT

    MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Tuesday. So, I know the COVID briefing is at 1:30, so I'm going to try to get through as many people as possible between now and then. I just have one item at the top.

    After an update from our COVID-19 team yesterday — you may have seen out there this morning that today the United States will hit 50 percent of adult Americans fully vaccinated. That number was around 1 percent when the President took office, so that's certainly a significant development.

    Alex, that's all I have for the top.

    Q:  Short.

    MS. PSAKI: Not to disappoint, but go ahead.

    Q:  Let's start with Russia.

    MS. PSAKI: Sure.

    Q:  Can you share any further details on the meeting? What's on the agenda? What does President Biden hope to get out of the meeting? And the choosing of Geneva — obviously, Geneva is an historic place, so was that part of the decision-making process in deciding to hold it in Geneva?

    MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let me start with — of course, you've seen the statement we put out this morning confirming that President Biden will be meeting with President Putin in Geneva, as you said, on June 16th.

    The leaders will discuss the full range of pressing issues as we seek to restore predictability and stability to the U.S.-Russia relationship. And to — more specific to your question, we expect they will spend a fair amount of time on strategic stability, where the arms control agenda goes following the extension of New START. Obviously, we're both members of the P5+1, as well, as those negotiations are ongoing.

    The President will also raise Ukraine, underscoring America's support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

    And he will also plan to raise Belarus and convey our grave concerns, as he has now done publicly — privately, as he's done — has now done pri- — publicly.

    It also is three weeks away, so there could be a range of issues that could be discussed during the forum — during the meeting. And we will, of course, provide a preview for you as we get closer.

    Q:  Can you respond to criticism from some Republicans that the administration is essentially rewarding Putin for bad behavior considering, you know, his sort of soft response to the Belarus situation, his treatment of Navalny, various other issues he's — he's had recently?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, we may have forgotten over the last couple of years, but this is how diplomacy works. We don't work together — we don't meet with people only when we agree. It's actually important to meet with leaders when we have a range of disagreements, as we do with Russian leaders.

    So we don't regard the meeting with the Russian President as a reward; we regard it as a vital part of defending America's interests.

    And President Biden is meeting with Vladimir Putin because of our country's differences, not in spite of them. It's an opportunity to raise concerns where we have them and, again, to move toward a more stable and predictable relationship with the Russian government.

    Q:  And then on the George Floyd Act: Negotiations on the Hill have been hung up on the issue of ending qualified immunity. Tim Scott has proposed a compromise that would allow individuals to essentially sue police departments and not individual police officers. Would the President sign a bill that included that compromise if it came to his desk?


    MS. PSAKI: Well, the President has had a principle from the beginning, which is that he wants to allow the negotiators the time and space to have those negotiations and those discussions.

    As you know, in a — in a statement they released together yesterday, they conveyed that while they are "still working through differences on key issues, [they] continue to make progress toward a compromise and remain optimistic about the prospects of achieving that goal."

    He has great trust in Senator Booker, who he spoke with just last Friday, as well as Congresswoman Bass, but we'll see what the final agreement looks like between the parties.

    Go ahead.

    Q:  The President obviously was hoping for more progress to be made by today — he had set this as sort of that unofficial deadline. We are seeing some movement on the Hill, but can you explain to us a little bit more what the President himself has been doing — conversations he may have been having to try and deliver on that goal?

    MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we have been closely engaged with the negotiators and a range of parties on the Hill. We have also been respecting the space needed for the negotiators to have these discussions about where they can find common ground and where they can find agreement.

    So we've been closely engaged. The President himself called Senator Booker to get an update last Friday. I expect he'll continue to get updates over the coming days. And we have also been — made it imper- — and made it a priority to leave space for the negotiators to have these discussions.

    Q:  We've actually gone back and have been talking to some of the police reform advocates, some of the victims' families who met with the President during the campaign to kind of get their perspective on — on action, or lack thereof, coming out of Washington. And some of them have expressed some real frustration that they feel that the President could be doing more here, that he could be putting more public pressure on Congress. Your response to that? And why aren't we seeing him — today, for instance — come out and speak publicly and try and urge more action here?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, we issued — or are issuing, if it hasn't gone out yet — a public statement from the President, in his name, commemorating the anniversary of the death of George Floyd — a moment that impacted him deeply, personally, as it did millions of Americans.

    As you know, he's meeting with the family today. He wants that to be a private discussion. He has a close relationship with them — or they've really impacted him in their courage and grace over the last year. And he felt it was important for that to be private.

    But, look, I think we may just have a disagreement in terms of what the right strategic approach is to these negotiations moving forward and getting to the final outcome, which we all want to see, which is a bill that the President can sign into law.

    I will say that we are very engaged with a range of groups around the country — civil rights groups, police reform groups and advocates — about what they think is going to work, and we've kept them abreast of what our strategy is.

    I'll also note though that the President has also — while we've been pushing for this legislation, he also, when he was running for office, pledged to appoint DOJ leadership that would prioritize pattern-or-practice investigations; emphasize the importance of the Justice Department, using the authority he spearheaded as senator, to investigate systemic police misconduct. That's something the Attorney General has already moved forward on.

    And we, also, in our initial budget call, we — in our initial budget calls that we put out several weeks ago, we called for increasing funding for the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division by millions of dollars in order to advonce — advance accountability and reform.

    So, I will say, we are continuing to press in the way we feel is most effective and most constructive in coordination with the negotiators, but we also are taking additional steps that we can take — and our administration can take — to move forward accountability and justice.

    Go ahead.

    Q:  Thank you, Jen. Just to follow up on Mary's questions: Why wouldn't the President use his bully pulpit today to call for police reform? Is it a missed opportunity?


    MS. PSAKI: Well, Kristen, he used the opportunity of his joint session address — which is the highest-profile moment any President of the United States has in their first year of office — to call for forward movement on police reform, to call —

    Q:  But today is the one-year anniversary —

    MS. PSAKI: — let me finish — to call for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to pass. And we put out a statement today, and he's meeting with the family.

    Again, I think this is a matter of what we feel is most constructive to move these negotiations forward and to get to the final outcome that everybody who advocates for justice, who advocates for — for reform wants to see, which is signing this bill into law.

    Q:  And when does he expect to see this bill on his desk? Is it this summer?

    MS. PSAKI: I'm not here to put a new timeline on it, Kristen. He's encouraged by the statement we saw the negotiators put out yesterday — that they feel there is an opportunity for progress, for forward momentum, for forward movement. That, certainly, is significant coming from Democratic and Republican negotiators.

    Q:  As you know, Congress works very well when they have a deadline. There doesn't seem to be a deadline anywhere in sight.

    MS. PSAKI: As soon as possible, he'd like to sign the bill into law.

    Q:  How does the President keep the pressure up?

    MS. PSAKI: As soon as possible.

    Q:  How does he keep the pressure up, though?

    MS. PSAKI: He remains closely engaged and closely in touch with the negotiators about what is most constructive and what role he can play and we can play to leave the space for them to negotiate and to move toward a place where he can sign the bill into law.

    Q:  And following up on Russia: What message does it send to the United States adversaries that the President would hold a summit with President Putin in the wake of all of these recent provocations?

    MS. PSAKI: That the President of the United States is not afraid to stand up to our adversaries and use a moment of in-person diplomacy to convey areas where he has concern and look for any areas of opportunity to work together in areas where we have mutual agreement.

    Q:  But why not wait until they've shown some good faith on some of these issues before setting up a summit? Is he not, in some ways, offering him a victory here?

    MS. PSAKI: We proposed the summit because we feel that it is an opportunity to move forward our national interests and our agenda. And the most effective me- — approaches to diplomacy are those where you seek opportunities to have tough conversations.

    We're not — we're not suggesting that at the end of this that it's going to be easy breezy from here. In fact, we continue to expect that we'll have difficult conversations. We will have confrontations at points about areas where we have disagreement, but this is an opportunity to move to — or toward a more stable and predictable relationship with Russia.

    [ ... ]

    Read the full transcript HERE.

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