Fri. Jul 30th, 2021

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:40 P.M. EDT
 
MS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone. 
 
Q    Hello. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Hello.  Okay, a couple of items for all of you at the top.  First, welcome Andrew Bates, our new deputy press secretary.  Anyone who covered the Biden campaign knows Andrew quite well.  And he just joined our team after being — staying on the transition for the last two months.
 
Okay, this Wednesday, the President will be laying out the first of two equally critically — critical packages to rebuild our economy and create better-paying jobs for American workers.  He’ll talk this week about investments we need to make in domestic manufacturing, R&D, the caregiving economy, and infrastructure.
 
In the coming weeks, the President will lay out his vision for a second package that focuses squarely on creating economic security for the middle class through investments in childcare, healthcare, education, and other areas.  Throughout this process, we look forward to working with a broad coalition of members of Congress to gather their input and ideas, and determine the path forward, create good jobs, and make America more competitive.
 
I’ll also note that he’s doing this in Pittsburgh, where he launched his campaign for the presidency just two years ago.
 
Today, the CDC also announced a 90-day extension of the federal eviction moratorium.  The news was out earlier today.  The moratorium was scheduled to expire on March 31st and is now extended through June 30th.  The President is committed to supporting renters and small landlords through the COVID-19 crisis. 
 
Essential to that effort is, of course, the American Rescue Plan, which delivers an additional $21.5 billion in emergency rental assistance to help millions of families keep up on rent and remain in their homes.  This, of course, is an act that included coordination from the Treasury Department, from HUD, from the USDA, the CFPB, and the FTC.  They’re all coordinating efforts. 
 
Today, the White House convened leaders from across the administration and is taking coordinated steps to announce a set of bold actions that will catalyze offshore wind energy and create good-paying union jobs.  The President recognizes that a thriving offshore wind industry will drive new jobs and economic opportunity up and down the Atlantic Coast, in the Gulf of Mexico, and in Pacific waters. 
 
We just released a factsheet on this announcement — pretty detailed.  The Department of Interior — Interior, Energy, and Commerce announced a shared goal to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind in the United States by 2030, while protecting biodiversity and protecting ocean co-use.  Meeting this target will trigger more than $12 billion per year in capital investment in projects on both U.S. coasts, create tens of thousands of good-paying union jobs with more than 44,000 workers employed in offshore wind by 2030, and nearly 33,000 additional jobs in communities supported by offshore wind activity.
 
It will also generate enough power to meet the demand of more than 10 million American homes and avoid 78 million metric tons of carbon emissions. 
 
Additionally, the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Maritime Administration today is announcing a Notice of Funding Opportunity for port authorities and other applicants to apply for $230 million for port and intermodal infrastructure-related projects through the Port Infrastructure Development Program.
 
Last item is, I have a — some — an update for you on the flooding that has occurred in the Tennessee Valley.  The Department of Homeland Security and media sources report four fatalities and over 150 rescued in the Tennessee Valley as heavy rainfall swamped the area, flooding homes and roads, including parts of Nashville.  The President and the White House continue to monitor the situation very closely and stand at the ready, should any federal — federal assistance be requested or required.  At this time, no request for federal assistance have come in. 
 
The National Weather Service reports over nine inches of rain has fallen over the past 24 hours, of course causing this massive flooding.
 
Jonathan, why don’t you kick us off?
 
Q    Thank you, Jen.  The CDC director today delivered an impassioned warning against a rise in COVID cases and said it filled her with a sense of, quote, “impending doom.”  We’re seeing cases rise in many states.  My question is: Does the President plan out to reach directly to governors, including the Democratic governors in states like New York, New Jersey, in Michigan that are seeing real rises?  And does he plan to ask them to slow down or pause them reopening their states?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, Jonathan, we are in very close touch with governors of those states and states across the country, not only through our weekly governors call that is led by our COVID coordinator, but through calls and engagements that happen through the course of the week and through the course of every day. 
 
And the President has not held back in calling for governors, leaders, the American people to continue to abide by the public health guidelines, whether they are mask mandates on federal land and buildings or on interstate travel; whether it’s, you know, encouraging people to hand wash and abide by social distancing.  He will continue to do that through all of his engagements and, of course, through calls he has with local officials.  But we are in very close touch with leaders across the country. 
 
Q    So, my follow-up to that is — but this is probably the most precarious moment the country has had, in terms of the virus, since the President took office.  This was according to CDC direct- — CDC director today.  Will the President not take that additional step to get — to talk to governors and ask them to slow down reopenings?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, Jonathan, the President uses every opportunity he can, whether it’s public — publicly, through every interview, through nearly every public engagement he has.  He has remarks later this afternoon, as you know, on COVID, providing an update on our effort to defeat the virus.  He also does that through private engagements as well. 
 
But there are a range of officials at very high levels who are in touch with governors and leaders across the country who will continue to emphasize the need to abide by public health guidelines.
 
Q    And one other topic.  Earlier, Majority Leader Schumer is making the case that budget reconciliation can be used once more in the Fiscal Year 2021.  If the Senate parliamentarian agrees with his argument, this could be used a couple more times over the next year or so.  Does the White House support that move?  And what would it mean for the President’s agenda? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, the White House and the President will leave the mechanics of bill passing to Leader Schumer and other leaders in Congress.  Our focus is on proposing an agenda — an ambitious agenda to invest in infrastructure, to help caregivers across the country, to ensure that we are doing more to help Americans get through this challenging period of time.
 
Go ahead. 
 
Q    Thank, Jen.  On infrastructure, since the President is set to unveil his proposal in a couple of days now, what is his current thinking or his economic advisors’ current thinking on how much of this package needs to be paid for with tax revenue?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President has a plan to fix the infrastructure of our country.  We’re currently 13th in the world; no one believes we should be there.  And he has a plan to pay for it, which he will propose.  But, right now, once he proposes that, our focus is also on having that engagement and discussion with members of Congress. 
 
If they share a goal of building our infrastructure for the future but don’t like the way he’s going to propose to pay for it, we’re happy to look at their proposals.  If they don’t want to pay for it, I guess they can propose that too.  Maybe they don’t support infrastructure spending. 
 
So the President has an ambitious goal.  The most important thing is to figure out how to invest in — put forward the investments in our much-needed — that are much needed in our infrastructure.  What’s irresponsible is not to address the urgent needs of that investment.  But the means and mechanisms of paying for it — we look forward to presenting his plans but also hearing proposals for others who may have a difference of view.
 
Q    Is there a concern that if you don’t pay for enough of it, that it’ll have a drag on the economy, specifically by increasing the debt and deficit?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, he’s going to have a plan to pay for it.  I’m sure that if there are proposals out there that are differing from his, in terms of what they will cover, we’ll have that discussion.  But he, of course, believes that investing in our infrastructure, continuing to create good-paying union jobs is front and center, but he also believes that we have an opportunity to rebalance, to take — to address our tax code that is out of date, and — and some could pay more in our country that are not currently. 
 
Q    And on that front, just a clarification: Last week, you said the tax increase threshold for the President is $400,000 a year, both for individuals and households.  Is that correct?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.  Yep.
 
Q    And what does the White House say to moderates who might be concerned that hiking the corporate tax rate to, say, 28 percent will be a drag on growth?
 
MS. PSAKI:  We haven’t seen evidence in that from economists, but if they have alternative proposals to how to — for how to pay for investing in our nation’s infrastructure, rebuilding our roads and our railways, and putting Americans back to work, we’re happy to hear it.
 
Q    And then finally, on the vaccine, Andy Slavitt talked about the idea of a “vaccine passport” in the COVID briefing this morning.  He said it’s primarily going to be spearheaded by the private sector.  But what’s the President’s position on whether, once the vaccine is more readily available, businesses should be able to tell employees who don’t want to get the vaccine for whatever reason that they can’t come back into the workplace, or that airlines could reject people from getting on the plane if they have decided not to get a vaccine?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’re going to provide guidance, just as we have, through the CDC.  There’s currently an interagency process that is looking at many of the questions around vaccine verification.  And that issue will touch many agencies as verification is an issue that will potentially touch many sectors of society, as you have certainly alluded to.  That’s guidance we’ll provide. 
 
We expect — as Andy Slavitt, I think, alluded to — that a determination or development of a vaccine passport, or whatever you want to call it, will be driven by the private sector.  Ours will more be focused on guidelines that can be used as a basis.  And there are a couple key principles that we are working from.  One is that there will be no centralized, universal federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential. 
 
Second, we want to encourage an open marketplace with a variety of private sector companies and nonprofit coalitions developing solutions. 
 
And third, we want to drive the market toward meeting public interest goals.  So we’ll leverage our resources to ensure that all vaccination credential systems meet key standards, whether that’s universal accessibility, affordability, availability — both digitally and on paper.
 
But those are our standards.  It’s currently going through an interagency process.  We’ll make some recommendations, and then we believe it will be driven by the private sector.
 
Q    And when do you anticipate those guidelines will come out? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have a timeline to provide you at this point, but it’s obviously something we’re working through.  And we want to provide that clarity to the public. 
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    I want to talk about George Floyd.  Will the President be watching or receiving updates on Derek Chauvin’s trial today?  And has he been in touch with George Floyd’s family in the lead-up to trial? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, he certainly will be watching closely, as Americans across the country will be watching. 
 
You know, at the time of George Floyd’s death, he talked about this as being an event that really opened up a wound in the American public, and it really brought to light for a lot of people in this country just the kind of racial injustice and inequality that many communities are experiencing every single day.
 
And he’ll be watching it closely.  He’ll certainly be provided updates.  Obviously, this is a trial that’s working its way through a law enforcement — or a legal process, so we wouldn’t weigh in further than that. 
 
But these were events that, at the time, he spoke about as being just a reminder of also the need to — and it certainly impacted how he’s thought about, in his own government, making equity central to what we do, instituting and putting in place — racial injustice and addressing racial injustice as a priority — one of the key crises that he believes he is facing and we are all facing as a country. 
 
So it will continue to be central to what we do, and he will of course be watching the trial closely.
 
Q    And has he spoken to the family of George Floyd in the lead-up to the trial?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Not — I don’t have any calls to read out.  He obviously spoke to them — or not “obviously.”  For those of you who didn’t follow this closely, he did speak to them last spring, and spoke at the time and commented at the time about their grace.  And I know he conveyed that, and he was just impressed by their courage, and he continues to believe that.
 
Q    You said it redoubled his commitment to advancing racial justice in this country.  He also committed to creating this national police oversight commission during his first 100 days in office.  Has that been created yet?  Is that still on track to being created? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’re encouraged, first, by the interest and engagement by members of the House and Senate in the George Floyd bill, which is making progress, and there’s discussions that are active at this point in time.  That’s really where our focus is going to be at this moment. 
 
We believe that — and he believes, I should say — that it is imperative to put in place — in order to rebuild trust among communities, that there needs to be accountability and there needs to be systems in place to ensure that — and laws changed to ensure that that can be carried out. 
 
So that is where our focus is.  The President supports that piece of legislation.  And we’re hopeful that he will be able to — he will receive a landmark reform bill on his desk.
 
Q    So will the commission still be established in his first 100 days in office?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any update on it other than to convey that this bill is an opportunity to put in place a number of the actions that — that he, that many in the advocacy community feel are imperative at this point in our country’s history. 
 
Q    So it’s still kind of an open question here.  No firm commitment to —
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any update on the timeline, but I think what’s important to note is that the George Floyd bill, which would put in place and make law a number of the accountability measures and actions that he and so many who watched these events in horror feel are imperative at our — this point our country.
 
Q    One last question, if I could, Jen.  Thank you.  I want to just turn to immigration really quickly here.  President Joe Biden has said that surges like this happen every year.  We know that these cycles do happen.  Axios is reporting that they have received documents that show the surge of minors coming to the southern border is expected to last seven or more months.  I just got back from the border; I spoke with Texas state troopers who said they have never seen this many unaccompanied minors crossing the United States border.  Are you guys tracking that timeline for this current surge — that it’s going to last seven months or more? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, what we’re working to do is put in place steps and actions to help address the situation at the border, including, of course, expediting processing and opening up additional shelters, but also reinstituting policies like the Central American Minors Program to encourage young people to apply in their country and not make that treacherous journey. 
 
We are also in a circumstance where we are digging out of a broken system over the past four years — not just the inhumane policies, but the fact that there were never efforts put in place to look for and seek shelters where these children could be safely and humanely housed.  They had a different policy than the President has, of course, but also there was a hiring freeze at ORR in the Refugee Resettlement Office, which made it something that we had to also dig out of when we started.
 
So that’s where our focus is on.  We are hopeful that, as we put these in place — these measures — we can help to address and stem the challenges at the border.
 
Q    Just a quick follow-up, just firm answer here: Is the administration expecting a surge in unaccompanied minors over the next several months?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any predictions.  Those would certainly come from CBP or the Department of Homeland Security.  But our focus now is on ensuring that we have enough shelters, facilities to house unaccompanied children.  We just opened three last week that would allow for almost 7,000 additional beds. 
 
So that’s what our focus is in at this point in time.  We’ll leave the projections to other agencies.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  Just a couple of follow-ups.  On the commission, there was some talk that that would be among the first things that he did in his first week or two in office.  Did something happen that, kind of, took that off the table and took your focus more towards the legislative efforts? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  No, I think it’s just a reflection of our — I just don’t have an update on it, but we are working with — very closely — with outside advocacy groups, with many who have been passionately fighting for greater accountability and greater reforms to be put in place.  And we’re looking for the most effective means to get that done.  And the George Floyd Bill is an opportunity to do exactly that, so that’s where we are putting our energy and efforts at this point.
 
Q    And then, one follow-up on Nancy’s first question.  Are you saying the entirety of the President’s proposal laid out on Wednesday, you will have payfor mechanisms, dollar for dollar, across the board?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Certainly.  Yep.
 
Q    Okay.  And then, the forthcoming WHO report — I know some people have drafts of it — do you put — does the administration put any stock into it whatsoever, given how it was put together?  And also, is the U.S. working in a parallel way via its intelligence community, its public health officials, to produce its own conclusions about the origins of coronavirus? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, it’s a little early for that last piece right now, but let me give you an update on kind of where we are. 
 
The report — under embargo, of course — is now in the hands of U.S. government experts from the CDC, FDA, NIH, HHS, USDA, DHS, and USAID — that is a lot of acronyms.  Seventeen experts, longstanding leaders in the fields, including epidemiology, public health, clinical medicine, veterinary medicine, infectious disease, law, food security, biosafety, biosecurity — we have a lot of experts in government — will be reviewing this report intensively and quickly, and we have some of our best people in government focused on reviewing it right now.
 
We are also communicating closely with our partners and allies around the world to share our ongoing concerns, which we have stated in the past, of course, about the process and our scientific analysis of the report itself once these individuals have concluded their review. 
 
We will wait for that review to conclude.  We have been clear that an independent, technically sound investigation is what our focus is on.  And once this is reviewed, we’ll have an assessment about the steps forward.
 
Q    Okay.  And then, last one.  A number of House committees last week sent letters to, I think, 16 different agencies and the White House about sending over documents of any communications in the lead-up to January 6th and the lead-up to the joint session.  Do you guys plan to cooperate with that inquiry?   And will you be responding both from the White House side and on the agency side with that inquiry?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I’m sure we will be cooperating with Congress, but I also know there are many documents that some believe we have here that may not be here; they might be in the archives.  So I think we’ll have to look and see what documents they are, and I’ll talk to our counsel’s office and see what our expectation is at this point in time. 
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Two questions, Jen.  On the campaign, the President talked about how — and his aides held the view that spending on traditional infrastructure, like roads and bridges, did not necessarily have to be paid for because it created jobs.  And I’m wondering if you could just talk about if he still has that view and how the package unveiled on Wednesday will balance that view of spending versus tax increases.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think we’ll have more to say about it once we actually roll out the package.  But I think what I wanted to note today and what we want to make clear is that the President has a plan to fix our infrastructure and a plan to pay for it.  But we are also open to cont- — having that discussion, and we certainly expect to have the discussion with members of Congress, as we move forward, about areas where they agree, where they disagree, where they would like to see greater emphasis or not. 
 
So we’ll look forward to having that conversation once the plan is announced on Wednesday. 
 
Q    And just one more thing.  On Friday, the White House announced that it was nominating Gayle Manchin, Senator Joe Manchin’s wife, for the job of federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission.  This is a group responsible for steering millions of dollars in states like West Virginia.  That nomination came as a surprise to some people on the Hill, and I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about the process and how the White House settled on Gayle Manchin for that job, and what type of input Senator Manchin had on that.
 
MS. PSAKI:  I’ll have to follow up with our personnel team on the exact process there, but we can do that for you after the briefing.
 
Go ahead, Jeff.
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  The ship that was stuck in the Suez Canal has been freed.  I’m sure the White House has been monitoring that.  Do you have any sense of what economic impact that weeklong — a little bit more than weeklong event is going to have?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, my understanding is it’s been freed, but it’s not yet open — right? — the canal.  And that will still happen, and there are, of course, ships waiting to pass through the canal.  We, of course, are monitoring and will be assessing the impact, but I don’t have anything to update you on that from here.
 
Q    Okay.  Wonky question alert.
   
MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  I like the — I like the preview.  (Laughter.)
 
Q    The stocks are falling today because — on Wall Street — because of the default of a hedge fund.  Is this something that the White House is monitoring?  And do you have any concerns about it?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I would send you to the SEC on that for any further comments.  But we, of course, are monitoring as an administration.
 
Q    Less wonky.  Do you have any updates on the White House’s thinking about sanctions against Myanmar and reaction to the latest deaths and killings there?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Let me — let me give you a reaction and also — because we haven’t talked about this that much in here recently — an update on some of our recent actions. 
 
We’re deeply concerned by the recent escalation of violence against peaceful protestors in Burma.  Burmese security forces are responsible for hundreds of deaths in Burma since they perpet- — perpetrated a coup on February 1st.  We condemn this abhorrent violence against the Burmese people.  The Burm- — the Burmese junta continues to use lethal force against its own people.
 
Last week’s killing of children is just the most recent example of the horrific nature of the violence perpetrated by the military regime.  We continue to make clear that we will impose costs on the military regime for the deadly violence against peaceful protestors and the suppression of human rights.
 
Today, USTR announced the suspension of all U.S. engagement with Burma under the 2013 Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, effective immediately.  This suspension will remain in effect until the return of democratically elected government. Additionally, the sanctions on military-owned holding companies, MEC and MEHL, were — we announced last week are the most significant action since the February 1st coup to impose costs on the military regime.
 
We’ve also announced a number of actions by the Department of Commerce: new export controls on Burma, and added four Burmese entities to the entity list in response to the military coup and violent crackdowns. 
 
We, of course, continue to work with our allies and partners and like-minded institutions as we condemn the actions of the military, call for the immediate restoration of democracy, and hold those who seize power accountable.
 
Q    And very last one — also as a follow-up to the CDC and White House briefing this morning on COVID: They made very clear that they’re urging Americans to continue to take action to prevent a fourth surge, including nonessential travel.  Is the warning against nonessential travel something that the White House is taking into consideration with regard to upcoming travel by the President and Vice President, both for business and for personal reasons?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say the President travels, as does the Vice President, on a private plane.  That is the purview of every President and Vice President throughout American history.  That is, of course, different than traveling on a commercial flight and going to mass events.  As you know, we don’t — the President is not hosting rallies, nor is the Vice President.  We take the role of sending — being models quite seriously.  But I think most Americans would recognize the difference.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  Just on — a clarification on the payfor question.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.
 
Q    When you said that it would be paid dollar for dollar — that the infrastructure component will be paid for dollar for dollar, were you applying that also to the entirety of the package that will be released both Wednesday and in April?  Or — I just want to make sure we’re understanding what’s — what will be paid for.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think we’re focused right now, I should say, on the Wednesday proposal.  Obviously there’s still more that’s being worked through, but I can — for the proposal later in the month — I should say, “next month,” which is still being worked — working its way through our economic team.  But I can assure you that when the President lays out his infrastructure plan, he will also lay out a plan to pay for it, but is, again, open to ideas and proposals from members of Congress if they have a difference of view.
 
Q    And there was an op-ed in the New York Times today by a well-known virologist with the title, “We Can’t End the Pandemic Without Vaccinating Kids.”  The argument is basically that, over time, there’ll be mutations that can be more dangerous for children.  What is the administration doing to prepare for the possibility of vaccinating children?  And does the President have a specific time period for when he would like to see children begin to get the vaccine?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, we leave that to our health and medical experts and the FDA process — and CDC, I should say, process of outlining guidelines for when it is safe to utilize the three approved vaccines, or which one is the best for children.  So we will rely on the advice and counsel of our health and medical experts on that front.
 
Q    And just one more: When should we expect the President to announce his next slate of judicial nominees?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have a preview or an update for you.  Stay tuned.
 
Q    And can you just say — can you give us any insight into the process behind the scenes about, you know, who’s leading that process internally?  How are you coming up with this slate?  I think there are 68, or so, vacancies right
now. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  You know, I can convey that the President wants to nominate people who have — who are qualified, who have a breadth of experience, who bring perspective to these roles.  And obviously he seeks to meet his own bars of diversity when he’s nominating any individuals to serve in his administration. But we’ll look forward to discussing further at the point when we’re ready to announce nominees.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Yeah, if I could just quickly follow up on Jeff’s question.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.
 
Q    Is it the White House position that the CDC travel guidelines don’t apply if you have a private plane?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I think the President — he was asking me specifically about the President’s travel and the Vice President’s travel.  And the specifics of the guidelines — you can certainly ask the CDC for further clarification. 
 
But what I’m conveying is that the President — and as any President does — travels on Air Force One, whether he is traveling to visit a community in this country or whether he is traveling to go to his home state of Delaware.  And I think most people recognize that as being a difference.
 
Q    But if I could ask a foreign policy question actually —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.
 
Q    — on Ethiopia.  Senator Coons recently traveled to Addis on behalf of the President.  Since then, we’ve seen Prime Minister Abiy announce plans for the withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Tigray.  Do you have some reaction on that?  And is that something that President Biden was demanding?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, we are grateful to Senator Coons for traveling to Ethiopia on behalf of President Biden.  We appreciate the time and the deliberation of the president — the Prime Minister, I should say.  We’re encouraged by the Prime Minister’s announcement that the government of the State of Eritrea has agreed to withdraw its forces from Ethiopia.  The immediate and complete withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Tigray will be an important step in deescalating the conflict and restoring regional peace and stability.
 
We hope both governments will make good on this commitment on the ground urgently.  Certainly it was a part of the discussion that Senator Coons traveled there to communicate about.
 
Q    And if I may, just quickly, on the President’s health: He last released a comprehensive health report in 2019 during the campaign.  Can we expect him to make a trip to Walter Reed soon for his physical?  And will you commit to releasing a comprehensive health report in the near future?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Absolutely.  I don’t have a timeline, but absolutely we will do that.  And I’ll check and see when he’s due to go back to the doctor.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Hi, Jen Psaki.  Rachel Sutherland, Fox News Radio.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Hi, Rachel.
 
Q    Hi.  I just wanted to follow up on Juan Gonzalez’s recent trip to Guatemala.  What kind of progress has been made?  I understand that Ambassador Jacobson also went to Mexico and maybe to Guatemala as well.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.
 
Q    What kind of progress on addressing the root causes of mass migration can you give us?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think this was their first trip.  We just announced an envoy, as well, to the region which shows our focus and emphasis on addressing the root causes.  And, of course, the Vice President of the United States will be helping lead that effort — specifically, the root causes, not the border.  There is some confusion over that.  
 
They — I don’t have — I know we did a readout after the meetings and the trips last week.  I don’t have additional — an additional readout for you other than to convey that we know this will be a diplomatic process.  Our view isn’t — it’s not “if,” but “when” we work through with these countries — the best ways we can work together to address root causes. 
 
And the President has also proposed an immigration bill that includes $400 billion in funding to help address the root causes, as well, and help ensure that families and individuals who are making this trip are incentivized to stay in their countries.
 
Q    Just one more here.  I’ve heard some talk about the sponsor families for the children who are in the care of HHS.  Any idea of how that’s going to be set up?  And the vetting process for some of these sponsor families — some of them may be family members, as we’ve heard, but it’s been the question as to: Who are the sponsors that would take them in, and how will that work?
 
MS. PSAKI:  So, one of the issues we’ve been trying to address is that they shouldn’t all be treated exactly the same.  And obviously if it’s a mother or a father or a biological family member, that’s different.  There are a number of steps — vetting steps that are taken.  Is that what you’re asking about?
 
Q    Yeah.  Who are these people that are going to be taking in the children?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, it really differs.  Sometimes there are community groups, there are religious organizations, there are individuals who have been sponsor families in the past.  Again, it doesn’t mean that these children stay in the country; this is a safe place for them to be while their cases are being adjudicated. 
 
But vetting is an important part of this process because in the past there have been scenarios where there has been trafficking.  We want to, of course, avoid that. Sometimes that’s why it takes a little bit longer and why we’re working to expedite the processing wherever we can.
 
Q    Continuing to follow up, if someone wants to sponsor a child, any place to go for that if, say, they’re interested?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I’m sure we can get you the information for the Department of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and the program that they are running.  And a lot of it is through local organizations and community groups as well.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  On Georgia’s new laws restricting voting, President Biden called them, last week, the — I think the “most pernicious thing.”  Does the White House believe, now that the laws have been signed, that companies or individual consumers should boycott Georgia or Georgia businesses?  And what should people do who don’t have a voting Congress to vote on these voting laws?
 
MS. PSAKI:  The people of Georgia?
 
Q    The people of Georgia, people across the country.
 
MS. PSAKI:  They should elect new leaders.  They can take steps like any — any individual can take as an American citizen to have their voice heard and exercise their — their democratic right.
 
Q    But does he believe that’ll — that people should boycott?  There are increasing calls for them. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  That’s not a call we’re making from here.
 
Go ahead. 
 
Q    Thank you, Jen.  The Vice President has said before that the exodus of women leaving the workforce during the pandemic is a “national emergency.”  The President has said that we’re dealing with an “acute, immediate childcare crisis in America.”  I know that childcare is a part of his infrastructure initiative, and Wednesday we will hear more about his physical —
 
MS. PSAKI:  In April, you’ll hear more.
 
Q    Well, I guess that’s my question.  Why aren’t we hearing more about this first before the physical infrastructure needs, given that it’s such an emergency and given that we’re in a situation right now where women are in desp- — or families are in desperate need of childcare assistance?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President and the Vice President agree.  That’s why they pushed so hard to get the American Rescue Plan passed that ensured that millions of families could get funding through the Child Tax Credit; could get $1,400 checks out to a large number of families across the country, 100 million which have already gone out; why the earned income tax credit was something he fought to have in there as well. 
 
But he believes that that’s not enough and we need to do more.  And so he’s looking forward to, in a couple of weeks, laying out more specifics of his plan to do exactly that. 
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Thanks.  So the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced this formation of a task force to investigate past tampering with science decisions in the White House.  And I’m wondering: What was sort of the thinking behind forming that taskforce, and what do you guys hope to find or accomplish with it?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President issued a memorandum on Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking, directing agencies “to make evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data.”  And so, this task force will be taking the whole-of-government approach to reinstate science across federal agencies and ensure that it is part of how decision making is made.  They’re going to examine policies that were antithetical to that mission over the last four years, and also look ahead and ensure it’s integrated as we move forward.
 
We’re just starting — we’re just inaugurating that process.  And it’s just as — evidence that the President believes that scientific integrity matters and it should be central to how we approach governing. 
 
Q    Is there a punitive aspect to it?  Like are you trying to find wrongdo- — wrongdoers and punish them in some way or —
 
MS. PSAKI:  I think the focus is on ensuring that our policies, moving forward — that policies that are not meeting that bar, that are still in place, are changed, and that we institute this as central to how we approach policymaking in our agencies across government, moving forward.
 
Q    Okay.  And one more: Do you have an update on whether the Vice President plans to travel to Central America or to the border as part of her looking into the root causes of the immigration problem?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have an update on her travel.  But since you gave me the opportunity, it’s important to understand and know that she is focused on addressing root causes in the region.  And so, travel, I would expect, would be there.  The border and expediting processing at the border, opening shelters, ensuring we’re moving kids out of Border Patrol facilities — that is really under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security and HHS.  And they will all work together, but the Vice President’s focus is on the region, root causes, and engaging with governments directly.
 
Q    So if she were to travel, it would be to Central America or something like that?
 
MS. PSAKI:  That would be my expectation, but I don’t have any travel to preview at this point in time.
 
Go ahead, in the back.
 
Q    To bloodshed in Myanmar: What is China’s role in the crisis of Myanmar?  And what do you expect Peking, or Beijing, to do?
 
MS. PSAKI:  What do we expect Beijing to do?  Well, certainly, when we engage with partners in the region, China is one of those — one of those countries, of course, in the region.  I don’t think I have anything more in terms of calls for action, other than we have worked through the National Security Counc- — or through the U.N. Security Council, I should say — through several global entities to ensure we are sending a clear message as a global community about the actions in Burma, and that we are taking sanction steps as a coordinated global community as well.
 
Go ahead, in the back.
 
Q    Thank you, Jen.  Two foreign policy questions —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.
 
Q    — and a third one for a colleague.  On Yemen, U.S. Envoy Lenderking is currently in Oman and having discussions in order to promote a lasting peace and ceasefire in Yemen.  How are these discussions have been going?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I know that he’s spent a fair amount of time on these discussions and working on addressing and stemming the humanitarian crisis, but also working toward some element of a ceasefire, of course, in the region.  I would point you to the State Department where he works directly for any update on the discussions.  We’re, of course, receiving updates here as well.
 
Q    And the second one is on Iran.  Now that they’ve signed this long-term agreement with China, does the administration still have the same policy towards Iran, especially in terms of returning to the nuclear deal?  And is the President willing to partially lift some sanctions on Iran in exchange of its return to the nuclear deal?
 
MS. PSAKI:  That’s not under consideration.  We remain hopeful and focused on returning to a diplomatic approach in partnership with members of the P5+1.  China is, of course, a member of that.  And we, of course, will take a look at and ensure that any sanctions that need to be implemented would be, as it relates to this package.  But we haven’t looked at the specific agreement yet at this point in time, so our approach remains the same and nothing has changed about our approach.
 
Q    The President said that he’s been concerned about it for years.  What did he mean by that, and how concerning is this for the administration?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Concerned about — I know he was asked a question yesterday.
 
Q    Between China.  The 25 — apparently 25 years long-term agreement between China and Iran.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, China has been a member of the P5+1, an important partner as it related to getting the deal passed to begin with.  Certainly it would be an important partner as we look ahead to a diplomatic approach.  At this point in time, we’re still working through those steps and don’t have an update on the engagement.
 
Q    Thank you, Jen.  And my colleague’s question is on North Korea.  Now that the President said that he’s, quote, “prepared for some form of diplomacy” with North Korea, does this include sitting with President Kim Jong Un?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I think his approach would be quite different, and that is not his intention.
 
Q    Thank you.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Thank you.  Thanks, everyone.  Okay.
 
1:19 P.M. EDT