Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, May 21, 2021

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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, May 21, 2021

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room 2:02 P.M. EDTMS. PSAKI:  Happy Friday.  Okay, I only have one item for you all at the top: a brief previe

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

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.

Q    And lastly, any changes to how you would like to pay for all of this?

MS. PSAKI:  We also reiterated — or the intention is to reiterate the fact that the President is not willing to raise taxes on Americans earning under $400,000 a year through a gas tax or through user fees.  He believes that the extraordinarily wealthy, the companies that, many of whom have not paid taxes in recent years, can afford a modest increase to pay for middle-class jobs.

Go- — did you have another question, or are you good?  Okay.  Go ahead.

Q    Just heard you describe the infrastructure negotiations as the “art of seeking common ground.”  At some point, does that become the “The Art of the Deal”?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t know.  You’re the professional, here, Peter. 

Q    It was a joke.  That was a joke.

MS. PSAKI:  You’re the TV star —

Q    (Laughs.)

MS. PSAKI:  — you know?

Q    Um —

MS. PSAKI:  What’s the FOX chyron going to be?

Q    “Art of Seeking Common Ground” does take a lot of characters —

MS. PSAKI:  It does.

Q    I’ll check with the control room.

MS. PSAKI:  “The Art of the Deal” — we’d be okay with that.  Yeah.

Q    With “The Art of the Deal”?  I think that’s a headline.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, there you go.  An art of a different kind of deal — a deal for the working people. 

Q    Got it.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  Go ahead. 

Q    So, on —

MS. PSAKI:  Glad we could work that out.

Q    Thank you very much.

On Israel, how much credit does President Biden think he deserves for this ceasefire that was negotiated by the President of Egypt?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first of all, the President’s focus was on one objective, which was bringing an end to the conflict as quickly as possible.  As you know — and as our briefing day-in-and-day-out was evidence of, there was criticism — and as Darlene’s question was evidence of — there was criticism coming from many sides. 

We kept our head down, focused on our strategic objective, focused on intensive, quiet diplomacy to bring an end to the conflict as quickly as possible.

Our engagements with the leaders of Egypt were — was — the leader of Egypt was a key part of that discussion and a key part of bringing an end to the conflict, given their important relationships with Hamas.

Q    And I — because we are just trying to understand all these — the dozens of calls and who played what role —

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

Q    — the President extended his “sincere gratitude to President Al Sisi and the other senior Egyptian officials who played a critical role in the diplomacy.”  So, if their role was critical, how does the White House describe President Biden’s role?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, Peter, I think what I can do here — what the President was conveying is that this was an effort — much of it coordinated by the United States, much of which he was involved in personally — engagements on the phone, engagements with his team, a commitment and a driving desire to keep the strategy aligned with what we knew would help bring an end to the conflict as quickly as possible. 

He’s also someone who wants to give credit where credit is due, and that includes the role the Egyptians played, and the role many countries in the region played in — in working to bring an end to the conflict.

Q    And then, quickly —

MS. PSAKI:  And also his team.  I mean, he called out Secretary of State, Tony Blinken.  He called out his National Security Advisor, and also our UN Ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who played an important role here as well.

Q    Quickly on immigration: The governor of Tennessee says that he was asked and he declined a Biden administration request to house unaccompanied minors.  And in coming days — or in recent days, there have been some reports that at least four planes filled with unaccompanied minors landed in his state, some in the middle of the night.  Can you explain what’s going on there?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, as we have been very clear about: Children — our objective is to unite these unaccompanied children — children under the age of 18 — with families, with sponsor families.  So children traveling — were traveling through — have been traveling through Tennessee. 

They’re simply on their way to unite with relatives and sponsors — to meet sponsors in the state, or just traveling through Tennessee until they reach another destination to unite with family members or legal sponsors. 

As you know, geographically, it’s right in a place where it — you know, there’s a lot of states around it, so it’s a place where some flights have gone through as children are moving to other destinations.

Q    And since this was something that the governor of the state said he didn’t want, this is not a case of federal officials trying to sneak something past the state-level officials.

MS. PSAKI:  I think I’m confirming here that Tennessee is a state that is right near in the middle of the country and some kids have to travel through there to get through [to] their destination.  And we’ve been very clear that our objective is to treat these kids humanely, get them to safe homes, especially homes of loved ones and sponsored families.

Go ahead.

Q    A point of clarification: You mentioned — detailed some of the cuts to the counterproposal.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    Did I hear you right — you said they’re going to find a home in other Senate legislation that’s currently through now, like the (inaudible) bills are — while they’re coming out of your counterproposal, they are going to find a home somewhere?

MS. PSAKI:  There are some components, yeah, where there is some overlap in the Frontiers bill, in the CHIPS bill, where there is opportunity to still move forward on some of the President’s ideas.

Q    Gotcha.

Republican governors in some 22 states have rolled back those expanded unemployment benefits.  What is the White House or the Biden administration doing to — to preserve those benefits, if anything, at the state level?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Jarrett, it is up to, of course, these governors to make a decision about what assistance they want to provide to the people of their states.

Our view continues to be that unemployment insurance, of course, at a federal level — which is something we advocate for and would work to pass through Congress, or have worked to pass through Congress — is something that can help people — during a time where there are still more than 8 million people out of work — make ends meet.  And that — there is not overwhelming data that suggests that it is a driving factor in people not reentering the workforce, especially at a time where we’re continuing to recover from the pandemic.  But it’s ultimately up to governors to make those decisions.

Q    And there’s nothing the federal government can do, just to be clear?

MS. PSAKI:  We can continue to convey what we see in the data, what we advocate for, in terms of what we think will help get people back on their feet, and we use every opportunity to do that.

Q    Sure.

The Washington Post just reported some details on the upcoming budget, specifically that the — the public option to create a government run health insurance program and a pledge to cut prescription drug costs are not going to be in that budget proposal.  Anything you can comment on that?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’ll be announcing and rolling out the President’s proposed budget a week from today.  Buckle up.  I know it’s a big day for Reuters those days.  And I’m not going to get too far ahead of that.

But what I will tell you is that what it will outline is how we’re proposing to pay for a range of the proposals the President has put forward.  And he’s clearly talked about and remains committed to his campaign pledge of pushing for a public option to doing something to address the rising cost of prescription drugs — something he talked about in his joint session address.  But every entity may not be reflected in this budget. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Back to the Middle East: Prime Minister Netanyahu seemed to ignore President Biden’s requests for a de-escalation of the violence over several days, and then a truce was struck once Egypt stepped in.  So, I guess, the question is: Why should people have confidence that President Biden will be able to work with him for a de-escalation should there be another flare up?

MS. PSAKI:  Through — with Prime Minister Netanyahu?

Q    Prime Minister Netanyahu.

MS. PSAKI:  I would just have to say, Kristen, that I don’t think that’s how any of the parties involved — the Prime Minister, the Egyptian President, or this President — would characterize what happened over the last 11 days.  And obviously, some of this is going to remain — continue to be — remain behind the d- — behind the scenes through what — what was quiet diplomacy over the course of 11 days.

But there’s no question that the President’s engagement, both with the Israeli Prime Minister, both with the — with the President of Egypt, with leaders in the region, our commitment to staying disciplined and remaining focused on our overarching objective of bringing an end to the conflict as quickly as possible, was contributed to — to the ceasefire we saw last night.

Q    Well, I guess what I’m asking about is, based on your own readouts from the White House, President Biden pressed Prime Minister Netanyahu to de-escalate the violence.  And then, in later phone calls, urged a ceasefire, and that didn’t happen until recently.

MS. PSAKI:  And there was a ceasefire last night, and he urged for a ceasefire about two days in advance of that.  And, again, I would say that the President’s objective from the beginning was to have these conversations quietly, to work in close coordination with the Prime Minister about how we could bring an end to the conflict, recognizing fully that at the same time there were thousands of rockets coming into cities in Israel from Hamas.  And that was something the Prime Minister was going to work to defend.

Q    And the President said yesterday that he told Prime Minister Netanyahu he would replenish the Iron Dome system.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    Did he offer that as a promise in order to reach the ceasefire?  And were there any concessions made a as part of this deal?

MS. PSAKI:  First of all, the President did that because — conveyed that because he felt that the effectiveness of the Iron Dome helped save hundreds of lives.  And it remains — the President remains steadfast, of course, in his support of Israel’s right to defend itself, but also believes that the effectiveness of the Iron Dome is something that we should continue to support, and we will continue to support as United States.

Q    Any concessions made —

MS. PSAKI:  By the United States?

Q    in order to broker this deal — by the United States in order —

MS. PSAKI:   No.

Q    Okay.

Let me ask you, domestically: You just said it’s unlikely they will reach a deal on the George Floyd Policing Act by next Tuesday.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the negotiators have conveyed that.

Q    Correct.  Yes, they have conveyed that.  What will the pressure point be if not this one-year anniversary?  How does President Biden make sure this gets done?  And if you speak to civil rights groups, interest groups — they want it done this summer.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first of all, with the — all of the negotiators are continuing to press forward on working to find common grand — ground to get this done.  The President wants to sign it into law.

And, of course, the anniversary of George Floyd’s death — something that impacted the President personally and deeply, as it impacted millions of Americans, was a moment to call for action, to call for forward movement.  But the negotiators, by all accounts, are continuing to make progress.  They’re continuing to have good discussions, and that is a positive sign.

So, you know, we are not going to slow our — slow our efforts to get this done, but we can also be transparent about the fact that it’s going to take a little bit more time — that sometimes that happens and that’s okay.

Q    By the summer — does the President want this done by the summer?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President wants to sign it into law as quickly as possible.

Q    To follow up on something that Mary was asking you — this counterproposal.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    Can you tell us, specifically, about the corporate tax rate?  Has there been any change to the corporate tax rate?  Has it come down to 25 percent — something that Democrats were asking for?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, our counterproposal was primarily focused on the areas of investment, as you’ll see when we provide the specific details.  And what I reiterated to — which is the President’s bottom line, about not raising taxes on people making less than $400,000 a year — encouraging the Republican ranking members and leaders to take a fresh look at the fact that many corporations can afford to pay a little bit more in taxes and so can many in the highest income, that was really what was in our counterproposal.  In terms of what was discussed in the meeting, I don’t have a readout of that quite yet.

Q    No change yet to the corporate tax rate, that you’re aware of?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I mean —

Q    From the proposal of the corporate tax rate?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not a mathematician — otherwise, I wouldn’t be here — but, obviously, we proposed a package that was $500 billion less expensive, so it needs less payfors.  But what that looks like will have to be a part of the negotiation. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  I’m hoping you can give us an update on international inbound travel.  I’m wondering if the administration —

MS. PSAKI:  I wish I could.  It’s a very popular question.

Q    Well, I was going to ask if the administration feels any urgency, ahead of the summer high season, to make any new policy moves.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we certainly understand the desire of many Europeans to come travel to the United States and vice versa.  And people — that’s part of returning to normal and part of what will make people feel good about the efforts to fight the pandemic.

But we can’t respond to public pressure or even emotion; we have to rely on the health and guidance — the guidance of our health and medical experts, which is exactly what we’ll do.

Q    But in terms of that guidance, at this point, the CDC is saying, for vaccinated individuals, they can go in and outside — large crowds, small crowds.  You know, they said that vaccinated individuals can travel internationally.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah, and — and they’re still required to wear masks, and airline travel is a little different.  And, again, I’m not a doctor, but we rely on their advice, and they obviously are continuing to consider and update guidance as information becomes available.

Q    And in terms of possibly requiring, you know, proof of vaccination for non-U.S. citizens, is there any further consideration of that that you could share?

MS. PSAKI:  A vaccine passport?

Q    I didn’t use that term. 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, yeah, you mean the same basic thing: the federal government requiring vaccines —

Q    (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI:  — vaccine — proof of vaccination.

Q    Proof of vaccination.

MS. PSAKI:  That is not in our intended plan.

Q    Just — on a different topic, on Colonel Puckett, Jr.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    Why was — maybe you could take us a little bit —

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    — into the decision to have him be the first recipient of a Medal of Honor from the President.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, clearly, he has an incredible personal story and is part of what the President feels is one of the greatest generations in history.  And he also has a great deal of support for the sacrifices he made and the incredible story we just heard the President tell at that event. 

You know, it’s — and the President, I think, felt it was important to honor him, recognize him, you know, as one of the first people, given the service that he paid to the country and, you know, the fact that he is still a young man, but someone we want to recognize while his family can celebrate with him.

Go ahead, Anne.

Q    Thanks.  Let me try a different version of Kristen’s question on Israel.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay. 

Q    So, on Wednesday, the readout of the President’s call with the Prime Minister was pretty blunt in saying that the President had told the Prime Minister he expected to see a significant de-escalation that day — Wednesday.

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

Q    The ceasefire didn’t come until more — well more than 24 hours later to — well, 36 hours later — 2:00 a.m., Friday, local time.  Was the President concerned?  And was there a — at a cert- — was there any consternation around here as the day wore on on Wednesday and moved into Thursday that the Prime Minister was blowing him off, not listening to him, not doing what the President had asked him to do? 

MS. PSAKI:  No.  And that is not a reflection of what happened behind the scenes either.  Clearly, the President felt it was important to convey, even in a public readout, that his view and the view of the United States was it was time to move toward a ceasefire.  And just over 24 hours later, there was an agreed ceasefire, and that required additional conversations behind the scenes, many of which the President was involved in himself, as you well know because we did readouts of them. 

It required also an agreement, as you know — and from the other side — and required an agreement from Hamas that they also would engage in the ceasefire.  Hence, the conversation the President had with President Al Sisi on Thursday — just yesterday morning — that was an — a factor that led to that agreement on that side.

So it was the moment in the discussions and negotiations where the President felt it was important to convey that publicly.  Obviously, he was careful about what he conveyed publicly, what he said publicly, what we said in readouts publicly, but it was a reflection of that.  But over — the last 24 to 36 hours were clearly pivotal in bringing an end to the conflict.

Q    But it’s unusual for a President to throw a flag like that and to say to a foreign leader, effectively, “The U.S. President is setting a deadline for a specific action.”  If that specific action isn’t met in the deadline the President sets — even though I completely take your point that there was a ton of other stuff happening, and it wasn’t a terribly long — much longer time period than the one that President has set — is there a risk that the President looks, in any way, weak or ineffective in having set the deadline to begin with?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first of all, there was a ceasefire in 11 days.  That was one fifth of the length of time of the 2014 conflict, with far fewer lives lost. 

This was accomplished, in part, because of intensive, quiet diplomacy where we did not make him or leaders in the United States the centerpieces of this effort because we felt that was not — that the most important thing we could do was play a role behind the scenes.  That’s exactly what we did.  The conflict has now ended.  There is a ceasefire just over 24 hours after that call was made, and that was an important point to convey publicly.

But, no, that is not our view from here. 

Q    On one other topic.  This month, the Justice Department had informed Washington Post reporters —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah —

Q    — and then this week, a CNN reporter, that the previous administration had obtained their — their phone records as part of investigations into presumed leaks that lead to news stories.  What is this administration’s view of the appropriateness of seeking reporters’ phone records?  And do you plan to continue those investigations?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, I will say that I learned of this issue for the first time after CNN’s report yesterday.  And I know similar sentiments have been expressed from many parts of this government.

As I understand it, the records sought and the legal process to obtain them began, as you noted, during the prior administration.  We, of course — this President is committed, strongly, to the rights of the freedom of press, as you have seen for decades, and to standing up for the rights of journalists.

And the Justice Department conveyed yesterday that they intend to meet with reporters to hear their concerns about recent notices.  And they, certainly, intend to use the “Holder model” as their model — not the model of the last several years.

But, really, these decisions would be up to the Justice Department.

Q    Well, the Holder model included pretty significantly aggressive leak investigations.  The specific question, though, is the appropriateness of seizing — seeking and seizing personal phone records from journalists.  Do you — does this administration believe that’s an appropriate tactic?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, it was done by the prior Department of Justice; I would send you to the Department of Justice for any comment on what their intentions are moving forward. 

Go ahead. 

Q    There was a Marist Poll that came out earlier weighing race relations in the U.S., with 17 percent of people saying that they did not believe that things had — sorry, 17 percent believing — only 17 percent — things had changed. 

Earlier, you talked about police reform and what the administration is doing.  You mentioned building trust in communities.  But what does that actually mean?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think — the reason I referenced that is because, obviously, passing — or our view, I should say, is passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act into law, ensuring that there is more accountability, more requirements and restrictions in place for departments across the country.  And also, it would be a contribution to rebuilding trust in communities.  Obviously, there’s more that needs to be done beyond that; that’s not the only step — far from it.

But I think our view and the President’s view is that signing this bill into law would make a contribution. 

Q    Also, what concerns — with concerns among parents about potential long-term effects on children associated — if they’ve gotten the vaccine — what type of — any type of surveillance, outside of the two-year plan that’s been described by Pfizer, has the administration considered to help kind of quell the concerns of parents?

MS. PSAKI:  Just so I understand your question, you mean surveillance of the impacts on kids?

Q    Mm-hmm.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, I would say that the most important thing we can say — message we can convey from this administration is: It’s okay to have questions and concerns, and your primary care physicians and doctors are the — absolutely the right people to answer these questions now and a year from now and three years from now. 

And, certainly, there has been a great deal the — the process of approving vaccines in the United States is the gold standard.  We have the highest standards in the world.  And our health and medical experts are confident in that.

But we also know — I’m a parent, many of us are parents — parents have questions about what this means for their kids.  And that’s okay; that’s valid.  That’s one of the reasons why we are trying to fund and empower local leaders, civic leaders, medical experts, partnering with primary care physicians so that parents feel like they can ask these questions to people they trust — right? — who they’ve been taking their kids to for years. 

Q    Lastly, the Department of Agriculture, today, published the first notices of the funding available.  And so, for Black farmers who’ve been talking about — they have felt like there’s a lot of racism within that system.  We know that the banks had sent a letter to Secretary Vilsack earlier, pushing back on those funds being available, and many farmers took it as a threat.  What is the administration prepared to do if we start to see that then banks don’t offer any loans to Black farmers because of that decision?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I know this is very much on the mind of Secretary Vilsack, in terms of ensuring equity and how these funds are being distributed and delivered around the country.  I’d probably have to check with the Department of Agriculture on, kind of, the status of this letter; I haven’t been following this as closely.

Go ahead, in the back.

Q    On infrastructure, you mentioned some of the items removed in this newest counteroffer kind of migrating to other proposals that are pending legislation.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    Could some of those then be included in the Families Plan?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, look, I think the reason I referenced the — the CHIPS proposal and, of course, the Frontiers proposals is because, as you know, those are negotiating and working their way through in a bipartisan fashion at this point in time.

But as I’ve also said from here, but I’ll restate: What the President’s put forward is a — is a bunch of large, bold ideas.  Right?  The mechanisms and the mechanics of how they move forward, we’re very open to working with Congress on what that looks like.

So, there is some overlap in some of the pieces proposed in the Jobs Plan with some of the components in the CHIPS plan and the Frontiers plan, hence, there’s an opportunity to move those ideas forward.  But beyond that, you know, obviously, he’ll continue to press for these in the months ahead. 

Q    And the original proposal had pretty ambitious plans for electric vehicles.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    You referenced this a little bit before, but — a lot of GOP skepticism about some of those plans.  So, any counterproposal?  Or are you guys ratcheting back on those at all?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, absolutely.  And again, you’ll see the specifics when we put out the — our entire counterproposal.  But certainly, investments in the electric vehicle industry, charging stations, industries of the future — which, in our view, are going to be the backbone of communities around the country; including communities like Dearborn, where the President was earlier this week — are areas where we feel we need to continue to invest to be competitive with China and boost our workforce.

Go ahead, in the back. 

Q    Thanks, Jen.  The administration has said that it wants to work with Japan and South Korea to stand up to China’s aggression.  But, as you know, South Korea and China, they’re heavily dependent on — South Korea and Japan economies are heavily dependent on China.  And there’s also been some reports about the South Korean side being reluctant to add any language that might upset the Chinese in today’s joint statement. 

So, how is the administration going to work with South Korea and Japan when it comes to standing up to Beijing when their economies are so closely tied to China?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, let me say that it is — should send a clear message about the importance of these partnerships and alliances that the first two bilateral meetings the President had — has had, after today, are with Japan and South Korea. 

And, obviously, there are a range of means we can (inaudible) coordinate and communicate with both of those countries, including through our trilateral discussions that we’ve already participated in, in a very high level from the federal government, with our National Security Advisor and our Secretary of State.

We certainly recognize that, fundamentally, our two countries — the United States and South Korea — may look at aspects of our relationship with China similarly and some aspects differently, and that will be a part of our discussion and a part of what we understand, going into these discussions that are ongoing now.

But, you know, at the end of the day, we feel there’s areas of cooperation and partnership with South Korea.  As you know, there was a big announcement that was made today which we welcomed, which is significant investments in the United States by South Korean companies totaling more than $25 billion — which that reflects the longstanding close economic ties between the United States and South Korea.  And we expect there to be continued opportunities for those type of economic engagements and cooperation. 

Q    Just one more.  There’s — as you know, there’s ongoing tension between South Korea and Japan.  Will the President — will he urge President Moon Jae-in today to improve its relationship with Japan?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, we continue to promote expanded trilateral U.S-South Korea-Japan cooperation.  Again, you’ve seen that through the trilateral meetings that we’ve had at a very high level.  We not only want to strengthen America’s relationship with our allies, but also between our allies.  And nowhere is that more important than between South Korea and Japan. 

So, certainly, there’s a range of topics they’ll discuss, and they’ll have a press conference to talk about all of it. 

Go ahead. 

Q    Thank you.  I want —

MS. PSAKI:  Oh, I’m sorry.  I’ll go right to you next.  I’ll go right — I will not forget you.  Sorry, I was jumping around.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  I wanted to ask about President Biden’s conversation with Rashida Tlaib on the tarmac in Michigan.  What was his reaction to what she said, which was reported to be that she told him, “The U.S. can’t continue to give the right-wing Netanyahu government billions of dollars to commit crimes against the Palestinians”?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President spoke about how impressed he was by Congresswoman Tlaib at the event he had after he had the conversation with her.  So I think he spoke to that already.

And, certainly, he understands that there are a range of viewpoints as it relates to the conflict in the Middle East, which we were in the heat of over the last several days.  And he felt it was important to have a discussion with her on the tarmac so he could convey his point of view, certainly hear hers, and — you know, he’ll look forward to continuing to engage moving forward. 

Go ahead. 

Q    Thanks, Jen.  I’m following up on Darlene’s question about the White House being open.  Of course, now we’re all masks off, at least in the press.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah. 

Q    But I — you know, I can only speak to our experience here: It seems to be on the honor system if we’re vaccinated or not.  So, now that the White House is having these events — maskless hugging today and yesterday and, I assume, you know, kind of, forthright from here — how is the White House tracking vaccinations beyond the folks who got vaccinated — (someone sneezes) — God bless you — on TV, like Pelosi?  For the folks who we haven’t seen vaccinated on TV, how is the White House tracking who is vaccinated and who is not vaccinated? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, what the guidance provided was information so people could take steps to protect themselves: either to get vaccinated — which every American is eligible who’s over the age of 12, at this point in time — or to mask up if they’re not yet vaccinated. 

So, the steps we’re taking here — so that means every individual in the White House, members of the press corps, can do exactly that: either get vaccinated or wear a mask. 

So, the honor system is really about — I don’t actually even like that term because I think it’s confusing.  I’m not saying you’re intending to do that. 

But the real question is: How will people who are not yet vaccinated protect themselves?  Right?  Because people who are vaccinated — what the CDC guidance is saying is that, “You’re protected.”  So, people who are not vaccinated — the guidance is, “You should wear a mask.” 

Q    Okay.  But the White House is not going to go out of its way to necessarily verify this individual — or, like, “I’ve been vaccinated or not, so she’s cleared to wear a mask.”  That’s not the plan.  That’s — 

MS. PSAKI:  That’s not the role we’re going to play.

Q    Okay, awesome.  Just wanted to clarify.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    And then a quick follow-up on the budget proposal coming out next week.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    A couple of things that were not included were very progressive ideas, like prescription drug reform and student debt relief.  And you touched on this a little bit earlier —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — but I just want to get clarification.  A message to progressives who might feel a little bit gypped or let down that, you know, they voted for Biden to get these specific things through in the first 100 days of the first year, and they feel like, well, maybe that’s not going to be accomplished for them.  Is there any message directly to those people?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, I would say — again, we’ll roll out the totality of the budget.  You’ll have more paper and factsheets than you know what to do with a week from today. And so I don’t want to get too far ahead of that. 

But what is important for people to remember is that the President talked about his commitment to lowering the cost of prescription drugs in his joint session address.  He remains committed to continuing to make healthcare more affordable and more accessible for Americans.

Is the totality of everything he wants to accomplish in his presidency done in the first 100 days?  Clearly not, because we’ve passed that period of time.

And will every single thing he wants to get done in his presidency be reflected in the budget?  It won’t.  But that doesn’t mean he’s not committed to it, and it doesn’t mean that he do- — doesn’t have a desire to move all of these agenda items forward that he talked about in his joint session address, and that he talked about when he was running for President.

Go ahead, in the back.

Q    Good afternoon.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called for a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics.  Does President Biden agree with that urging?

MS. PSAKI:  Our position hasn’t changed.

Q    At all?

MS. PSAKI:  Nope.

Q    Human rights and all — and as much as this administration forcefully defends human rights, and treating people (inaudible) —

MS. PSAKI:  We are quite outspoken on human rights, the values of the United States in our conversations with the Chinese government and leaders, and any country where we have concerns — as was clear in the readout that — from the President’s call with President Xi, and as has been clear in every engagement we’ve had with the Chinese leaders.  But our position on the Beijing Olympics has not changed. 

Q    Okay.  And a follow-up, if I can.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    In light of the Israeli-Palestinian fighting, genocide against the Uyghurs, the plight of the Rohingya, persecution of Christians across the globe — this is the big question here: Going forward, how is the Biden —

MS. PSAKI:  That’s a lot wrapped up.

Q    — administration going to foster international religious freedom?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, there was a lot wrapped up in there.  What I will tell you is that, broadly speaking, the President and the administration and the Secretary of State will continue to advocate for freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of media around the world when they have engagements diplomatically, when we have bilateral meetings, through public and private conversations.

Q    And closer to home, finally, we’ve seen gas prices rising — this a much different topic, here — gas prices rising significantly, and we all know that they’ve hurt poor people — they hit them the hardest.  I mean, every — every dollar that comes in —

MS. PSAKI:  Which is why it’s so perplexing that some are proposing user fees, but that’s another topic. 

Q    Okay.  All right.  Well, do you want to continue on your —

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.  I don’t know — you had a question. 

Q    Okay.  (Inaudible.)  Well, my question is, is: Has the Biden administration considered — does it have any plan or any sort of action it can take to try to bring down prices or at least somehow make the cost less — whether it’s a tax or something to help impoverished people?  Otherwise, the money that’s going to them — in the form of the Rescue Plan and the other money — is really money going back out the door to pay for higher gas, isn’t it?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, I would say that the President’s plans, his proposals — whether it was the American Rescue Plan, his American Jobs Plan, his American Families Plan — have all been proposed through the prism of what he can do to help working people, help people trying to make ends meet, help people trying to put food on the table.  His proposals have helped cut childhood poverty in half by this — this year.  It’s helped bring — put 1.5 million people back to work; has helped ensure that families and parents have a little bit of extra assistance so they can cover the cost of childcare.

So that has been the prism through which he’s made all of his proposals.

I have to wrap this up in a minute here.

Q    Just a quick point of clarification? 

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    What did you mean when you said that this — when it comes to spying on journalists, this DOJ is going to follow the “Holder model”?  Because Eric Holder was the attorney general when the DOJ was spying on the Associated Press and was obtaining phone records for bureaus and individual journalists.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the question that was asked, which was a good question, was about the — the records that were taken or seized or whatever — however you want to characterize it –during the last administration.  And we’re not going to follow the “Barr model.” 

And I would say our — I would point you at our Department of Justice to how they will approach that issue.

Q    But you said the “Holder model,” and Eric Holder did monitor the phone records of journalists.

MS. PSAKI:  I think I would point to the Department of Justice here.  This — all these decisions would be made by our attorney general and the Department of Justice. 

And again, they are going to be meeting with journalists to hear their concerns.  And certainly, we will continue to advocate for freedom of press, freedom of expression in the United States, of course, but also around the world. 

Thank you everyone. 

Q    You got to get the —

MS. PSAKI:  Oh, I’m sorry.  I always — I don’t intend — I unintentionally forget.  It’s my favorite part of the week.

Go ahead.  Hello.  How are you? 

Q    I’m good.  Thank you, Jen, for the opportunity.  My name is Andrew Peng.  I’m with the Yappie, a publication, dedicated to tracking Asian American and Pacific Islander activism. 

I have two questions.  The first one is on anti-Asian hate.  In addition to the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act that the President signed yesterday, the administration also announced plans back in March to re-establish the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.  The White House also said that the President would appoint a permanent director to lead that initiative.

Do we have any announcements or can we expect an update on an executive order reauthorizing the initiative? 

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Well, thank you.  It’s very nice to meet you.  Thanks for all the reporting you do. 

I will first say that reinstating and expanding the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders and ensuring that it is successful is a top priority for the President. 

He is committed to reestablishing the initiative, as he talked about early on in his presidency.  We hope to have more on that soon.  So, “soon” — coming weeks — on more specifics and an update.

As you noted, he signed into law a bipartisan bill — the COVID Hate Crimes Bill legislation yesterday.  First big event here at the White House with bipartisan support.  Welcomed people to the White House.  That just conveys how important that legislation was to him. 

And he also committed to appointing a senior member of his White House team — which he has done — who has a seat at the table both on policy and personnel, to speak to the — the initiatives that are important to the AAPI community.

But, hopefully, we’ll have more soon.  Maybe if we we’re having this conversation next week I’d have more of an update, but it could be that soon.  But it’s very nice —

Q    Awesome.

MS. PSAKI:  — to meet you.  Thanks for joining us in the briefing room. 

Thanks, everyone, so much.  And have a wonderful weekend. 

2:51 P.M. EDT