Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, April 9, 2021

Rose Hansen

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room 12:33 P.M. EDT MS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone.  Happy Friday.  Okay, so if it’s another day, we have another member of the Jobs Cabinet.  Joining us today is Secretary Buttigieg.  He served, as you all know, two terms as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, where he worked […]

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:33 P.M. EDT
 
MS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone.  Happy Friday.  Okay, so if it’s another day, we have another member of the Jobs Cabinet. 
 
Joining us today is Secretary Buttigieg.  He served, as you all know, two terms as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, where he worked across the aisle to transform the city’s future and improve residents’ everyday lives.  Household income grew, poverty fell, unemployment was cut in half.  He helped spark citywide job growth and facilitated innovative public-private partnerships, like a benefits program to improve the city’s transportation experience for workers.
 
One of the mayor’s initiatives, “Smart Streets,” led to benefits that included small-business growth along previously neglected corridors and hundreds of millions of dollars in new private investment in the once-emptying downtown.
 
He also served for seven years as an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, taking a leave of absence from the mayor’s office for a deployment to Afghanistan in 2014.  And he is the first openly gay person confirmed to serve in a President’s Cabinet.  I know you know a few things about him from the past. 
 
He will take a few questions at the end.  We kind of have a time limit, so, as always, I will be the bad cop.  With that, I will turn it over. 
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  Thank you.  All right.  Thanks a lot, Jen.  And thanks, everyone.  It’s a real honor to be here, especially at such an important and exciting moment for the country.  I’m convinced that this is the best chance in our lifetimes to make a generational investment in infrastructure, and that’s what the American Jobs Plan does. 
 
The need is clear.  It’s growing by the day.  After decades of underinvestment, we have fallen to 13th place globally in infrastructure.  Delays caused by traffic congestion alone cost over $160 billion per year, and motorists are forced to pay over $1,000 every year in wasted time and fuel. 
 
Americans are spending too much of their money on transportation in the wrong ways or don’t have access to it at all.  And the American people are making clear to all of us, regardless of party, that they want us to get it done and they are not asking us to tinker around the edges.
 
We’ve risen to this challenge before as a country.  In fact, building bold infrastructure has always been central to America’s story.  We built the Erie Canal, we connected east to west through the transcontinental railroad, and we developed the Interstate Highway System.  And each of those projects was audacious, was transformative, and — partly because it challenged the American people to expand our concept of infrastructure.  But in doing so, these projects have transformed our nation for the better, and they fueled the U.S. economy and way of life for the long run.  So now it’s our turn. 
 
The American Jobs Plan will again transform America’s roads and bridges, rail and transit, ports and airports for the better.  It’s going to help modernize our transportation infrastructure so we can compete in the 21st century and connect communities.  It will create millions of good jobs in communities across the country. 
 
I want to point out again that this is the biggest investment in American jobs since World War Two. 
 
But I think it’s important to demystify the kinds of jobs that this plan is going to create.  These are good jobs; they’re not mysterious or overly futuristic or inaccessible.  We are going to need workers who are good with steel to make the cars and trucks of the future.  We’re talking about building retrofits that are going to require union carpenters and insulators, painters, and glaziers.  We’re going to need electrical workers more than ever.  And we’re not going to be able to build the roads we need to build without construction workers, laborers, operating engineers.  Plumbers and pipefitters are going to be a huge part of the story of how we overhaul those lead service lines. 
 
So this is a jobs plan that is building America’s economy from the middle class out, coming at just the right time.  It’s meeting the challenges that we face today.  And it is fully paid for by making corporations pay their fair share. 
 
We think it’s unacceptable that there are major profitable corporations in this country paying less in taxes than a teacher or a firefighter, not in terms of a percentage, but in terms of dollars — specifically, in many cases, paying zero.
 
And there’s been a lot of talk at this moment, as you know, about what infrastructure is and isn’t.  I would argue that infrastructure is the foundation that makes it possible for people to live and work well.  And you can’t live or work or thrive without things like roads, clean water, electricity, broadband — yes, that’s infrastructure.  And investing in a full vision of infrastructure is how we build a safer and more prosperous America, and ultimately, I believe, critical to the American Dream. 
 
So that’s why I’m thrilled to be in this role, delighted by the American Jobs Plan announcement, and spending time every day speaking to stakeholders about how to make sure we get it through.
 
MS. PSAKI:  All right.  It’s time to kick us off.  Okay, Peter, go ahead. 
 
Q    Thank you.  President Biden says he wants $80 billion for rail.  And the other day he was talking about having trains that can go across the country as fast as a plane.  I’m curious, as the Transportation Secretary, do you see a big demand for that — for a high-speed cross-country train?
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  Well, there’s definitely a lot of excitement around America about ensuring that the American people can enjoy a high standard of passenger rail service.  Like the President, I don’t think Americans should settle for less than citizens in other countries enjoy as a matter of course. 
 
Now, the truth is, we have a backlog to deal with, in addition to making sure that we can create new routes and new capacity.  And what’s great about the scale of the American Jobs Plan is it’s going to support both of those things: maintenance that we’ve needed to do all along, and a chance to build new routes and expand what Americans can access. 
 
Q    And about how long away are we from something like a high-speed cross-country train?
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  Well, again, we need to add a lot — first of all — to what we’ve already got, but we can build new routes with the resources that are here.  It’s not the end of the story, but it’s a fantastic beginning for a new chapter in American rail.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Josh. 
 
Q    Thanks for doing this.  As you know, there’s been some criticism about the corporate tax hike.  Some people have said that user fees should fund infrastructure.  And I was curious because user fees often cover the costs of maintenance and repairs.  Does this administration have a plan to cover maintenance and repairs for all the infrastructure that’s being built?
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  So, as you know, the Jobs Plan envisions this being covered through corporate taxes.  And the President believes very strongly that this is not something that should burden ordinary American families at a time when we’ve got so many corporations that have paid literally zero. 
 
And I also would argue that there’s ample evidence that American corporations can be competitive at a tax rate like 28, for the simple reason that they were extremely competitive at a tax rate like 35.  If they could handle 35, surely they can handle 28, which was lower — of course, is lower — would be lower than it’s been for most of my lifetime. 
 
Now, we’ve heard a lot of different ideas on what the payfors should be.  I think this is a good time to take those inputs on board.  But for my dime, it’s pretty hard to beat the vision that the President put forward.
 
Q    Does there need to be a dedicated revenue stream?
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  Well, look, we’ll keep talking with Congress about this.  But as you know, for some time we’ve seen general fund dollars going into supporting maintenance.  So there are a lot of different ways to do this, but the best way I’ve seen — especially for these kind of capital improvements — is exactly what’s in the President’s plan.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Mike.
 
Q    Hi, Mr. Secretary.  Having covered local — state and local government for almost 20 years before coming here, I’ve seen the divisions that can erupt in — within the state, between regions of the state over — as they fight over limited pots of money to build these kinds of infrastructure projects. 
 
How involved do you think the federal government, the Department of Transportation, the Congress, the White House should be in making the inevitable choices that are going to have to be made, in terms of which bridge gets fixed first, which road gets widened? 
 
You know, there’s obviously not enough money to fix everything and to do everything.  And so, how much of a role do you envision playing?  Or is it up to the states to kind of wage the wars they normally wage over this stuff?
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  Well, I think there’s always been a push/pull here — right? — because communities often know what is most needed for them.  And we welcome that, and I think our program design recognizes that.  So I view our role as laying out the broad policy strokes. 
 
Even in the existing discretionary grant programs, you’ve seen this.  So, for example, with the INFRA — formerly known as FAST grants — we made sure that that first wave of calls for applications clarified that we’re looking for great projects that also bear on things like equity and climate that are important to this administration.  And you’ll continue to see that in the program design. 
 
Of course, there’s always going to be competition for limited funds.  But the other thing I would say is: That competition is most ferocious when the funds are most limited.  And so, part of what we’re trying to do here is make sure there’s an ample set of resources to go around so that some communities may be the most successful in rounds of competition, but that it doesn’t feel like other computies [sic] — communities are being left behind, because we’ve got to make sure there’s enough to raise the bar in the country as a whole. 
 
Q    And just one quick follow-up on that.  To the extent that then a lot of that decision making gets pushed to the local level because that’s where they know that the — you know, how to allocate the needs, how does the federal government retain oversight over what is an enormous amount of money — both in terms of, you know, just, sort of, waste, fraud, and abuse, but also in terms of making sure that — you know, that it adheres to those kind of broader equit- — equity, you know, issues that you guys have talked so much about?
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  Yeah, I mean, that’s a big responsibility for a department like mine that will be charged with carrying this out.  And the President has already made clear his very high expectations for us in the Rescue Plan dollars.  Right?  That’s about $40 billion, just out of the Rescue Plan, that we got to manage well.
 
But, you know, he also rightly takes pride in the remarkably low rate of waste, fraud, and abuse in the — in the Recovery Act that he led in the Obama administration.  I think now is the moment to make sure we double down on those principles to make sure that the dollars are well spent. 
 
And, yes, we got to make sure that they actually meet the public policy goals that are motivating us to do this in the first place.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Ed.
 
Q    Secretary, thanks for doing this.  Although with you and Chris here, I’m having like alternative universe flashbacks to — (laughter) — other times and other places.  Since you’re Transportation Secretary — travel, obviously a big part of what you have to worry about.  To Americans eager to get back overseas, whether it’s by plane or by cruise ship — as you know, there have been questions about the cruise industry, especially this past week.  
 
CDC issued some guidance; there’s concerns that it perhaps didn’t have enough specifics — or specific benchmarks, I guess.  Have you been in touch with the CDC about that industry’s concerns?  And to cruise industry leaders who say, “We should be treated more like the airlines,” what would you say?
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  Well, the bottom line is safety.  Right?  And we’ve — look, I’m the Secretary of Transportation; I can’t wait for us all to be on the move as much as possible in a safe and responsible way, but it’s got to be safe and responsible.  And airlines have — airplanes have one safety profile; cruise ships have another, vehicles have another.  And each one needs to be treated based on what’s safe for that sector. 
 
I’ll tell you, I certainly care a lot about seeing the cruise sector thrive.  And I know that CDC is hopeful that a lot of these operators will be in a position to be sailing by mid-summer.  And laying out these specific, kind of, gates that they need to get through is a very important step toward that.
 
Q    And to the industry leaders who say mid-summer is too late, to the governors who say that’s too late for our state economies, you would say what? 
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  We want to do this as soon as we responsibly can, but we also have to make sure that it’s safe.
 
MS. PSAKI:  All right.  Steve?
 
Q    Once you get the money from the Rescue Plan, is there a process for speeding the projects that you’re getting construction started?  Because there’s always delays and permitting and so forth.
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  Yeah, this is another thing that I was glad to see specifically discussed in the Jobs Plan release, which is the importance of efficiently delivering these dollars.  And we see that a lot of countries that have very rigorous standards around environmental and other concerns also have found ways to make sure the delivery is efficient.
 
So provided it does not entail cutting any corners on things that are fundamental policy goals and legal requirements like, you know, environmental standards — you know, provided we can do it without cutting corners, I think we can find ways to make sure that the process is more efficient, to look for duplication, and try to root that out. 
 
And that’s going to be an important part of making sure that these dollars do the most good economically.  Although I would point out this is not the same kind of stimulus pattern we were talking about in 2009.  Right?  We’re looking for shovel-worthy projects, but we’re also looking — or shovel-ready projects but also shovel-worthy projects that are still in that pipeline.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Jenny?
 
Q    To pivot, really quickly, to planes: There’s been problems discovered with the 737 MAX.  Dozens of them have been grounded, and this was months after the FAA said they were safe to fly again.  I’m curious if you still have confidence in the FAA’s decision to lift the grounding of the jet. 
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  So, my understanding — and we’re just looking at this — but my understanding is that this is different from any of those other issues and that — obviously, that we need to make sure that they are — that there’s full confidence before these specific aircraft return to the air.  And that’s what the FAA will be closely monitoring.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Patsy.
 
Q    Thank you.  Mr. Secretary, many administration officials, including Secretary Granholm yesterday, frame infrastructure in the context of competition with China.  So my question is: Why do that?  Why design and frame a policy based — or in the context of what an adversary is doing?
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  I think because it’s really important to understand that American competitiveness happens in a context.  And when you see other countries — our allies; also our strategic competitors — doing more than we are, it challenges that fundamental idea that American life is what it is partly because America is in first place in so many of these aspects of our national life.  Only America is not in first place in infrastructure.  Like I said, we’re in 13th. 
 
So when you have a strategic competitor, like China, investing sometimes multiples of what we are in forms of transportation, we have to make a decision about whether we’re content to be left behind or whether we actually want to remain number one. 
 
And for my dime, there’s no good reason why we should settle for less, why we should be content that — it’s nothing against Chinese citizens, but I’m not content that a Chinese citizen can count on a dramatically better standard of, let’s say, train travel than a U.S. citizen.  I think Americans should always have the best, and I think that’s the tone that the President sets every day.
 
Q    Just to follow up on that, is it partly also a messaging strategy to get more Republican support?
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  Well, I’ll say that I’ve heard a lot of voices from across the aisle also expressing concern about whether America is falling behind in any number of strategic and economic dimensions. 
 
And again, a lot of that depends on what we’re investing.  And this is nothing new.  Right?  I mean, part of what made the Interstate Highway System so important was an understanding that our national security, in the Eisenhower era, was well served by making sure that we had a more connected economy and country.
 
We’re not in the Cold War, and this is not the Eisenhower era, but that principle that national security is at stake applies, especially when you consider that, today, one of the biggest threats to our national security is the global security threat posed by climate change.
 
MS. PSAKI:  We have time for a few more.  Go ahead, Kaitlan.
 
Q    Have you personally spoken with Senator Manchin about this proposal?
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  I’m looking forward to speaking with him soon.
 
Q    This next week?  Or —
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  I don’t remember the date, but I think we got a conversation in the works.
 
Q    And he, of course, has an issue with the corporate tax rate going to 28 percent.  Is — in his proposal — his counter proposal — it’s been 25 percent.  Can this plan be successful with a 25 percent corporate tax rate?
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  Well, as you know, the — maybe the flagship piece that people are talking about most is the rate, but there’s a lot of other things alongside that — right? — in terms of what’s going on with loopholes, the offshoring incentives, and other things.
 
And I haven’t had a chance to get a sense of how he views those things adding up — whether he envisions another element that makes up for the gap between 25 and 28.  Those are the kinds of things I want to take up with him and get a — have a good conversation on. 
 
Because I think, you know, for anyone who is on board — and, by the way, I have yet to talk to anybody who — including in conversations with Republicans — who is against the idea of a big investment in infrastructure.  Right? 
 
So most of the dialogue we’re having is around how we’re going to pay for it, and we’re really eager to hear the alternative suggestions for how to pay for it.
 
Q    And have Republicans given you, so far, alternative suggestions for how to pay for it that you believe are viable?
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  Not in any detail, no.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Alana?
 
Q    Just to follow up on what Kaitlan said because she actually asked my question.  (Laughs.)
 
MS. PSAKI:  Some coordination.  (Laughter.)
 
Q    Not in coordination.  But you would be oppo- — so you would be willing to lower the corporate tax rate in exchange for maybe closing additional loopholes?  Or — like, the 28 percent, is that a fixed rate that you are dead set on?
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  Well, we’ve heard the President say that this is going to be a process of negotiation, that we’re going to take ideas on board, that there’s going to be refinement as we go.
 
I haven’t heard a proposal that I consider to be better than the one the President put forward, but it’s early in that legislative process.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Rob, make it a good one.
 
Q    Well, I’ve got a couple from people who can’t be here today because of COVID-19 restrictions, as their print pooler.  So, first of all, from Chris Megerian of the LA Times: To follow up on the high-speed train question, how about California high-speed rail?  Is that a project that could be funded through the infrastructure bill?
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  Potentially.  I mean, I think it’s important to recognize that communities of different types and in each part of the country can benefit from high-speed rail or even from raising the standards of what most other countries would consider regular-speed rail and their availability here in the U.S.  But this is not crafted in a way that’s targeting any one area; this is about lifting our game as a country.
 
Q    And, if I may, from Ben Gittleson at WABC in New York: Does the administration support congestion charging in New York City?  And will the administration do anything for drivers who will ultimately pay that premium?
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  So this is a decision for the different parties that are all involved in that.  Our responsibility mostly has to do with the environmental assessment process that goes on.  We’re certainly very interested to see that process unfold.  And, you know, we think different solutions work differently for different parts of the country.  It’s not an example of something that’s best designed here in Washington and then imposed on local communities.  But, obviously, there’s a real challenge with congestion there and a real revenue opportunity as well. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  Thanks very much.  Real honored to be here.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Appreciate you coming.  And we’ll have him — invite him back.
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  Sounds good.  Thank you.
 
Q    Thanks.
 
MS. PSAKI:  And thank you for Chris too, while you’re here.  (Laughter.)
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  (Laughs.)  You’re welcome.  I was a little concerned when I saw him deputized to be backup Easter Bunny — (laughter) — but I’m counting on — I’m counting on you all to treat him well.
 
MS. PSAKI:  That’s right.  The indoctrination we agreed upon.  Thank you so much.
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  Thank you.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Thank you for joining us.
 
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  Thanks.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  All right, Chris will always be the bunny in our eyes.  (Laughter.)
 
So, a couple of items for you just while we are wrapping up the week.  As you know, the administration has submitted to Congress President Biden’s discretionary funding request for fiscal year 2022.  I know we did a call this morning, but just to give you all a little bit more from here:
 
As Congress prepares to begin the annual appropriations process, the request lays out the President’s discretionary funding recommendations across a wide range of policy areas, and outlines a strategy for reinvesting in the foundations of our country’s resilience and strength.  The request, which represents only one element of the administration’s broader agenda, includes major investments — proposed investments, I should say — in K-through-12 education, cutting-edge medical research, housing, civil rights, and a range of other priorities that are vital to our future. 
 
Later this spring, we will release the President’s full budget, which will present a unified, comprehensive plan to address the overlapping crises we face in a fiscally and economically responsible way.  And that will also include a number of the proposals you’ve seen him introduce over the last — well, the big proposal he just introduced and other proposals that he will introduce between now and then.
 
Our country is confronting historic crises: a pandemic, an economic downturn, climate change, and a reckoning on racial injustice.  At the same time, we’re also inheriting a legacy of chronic underinvestment, in our view, in priorities that are vital to our long-term success and our ability to confront the challenges before us. 
 
So the President is focused on reversing this trend and reinvesting in the foundations of our strength.  And this process provides another opportunity to do that, and so the funding proposal is an indication of our priorities.
 
You may have also noticed another flag flying above the White House today.  In keeping with the President and the First Lady’s commitment to honor the sacrifices of all those who serve — including veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors — the President and First Lady have restored the POW/MIA flag to its original location on top of the White House Residence. 
 
In a true display of bipartisanship, Senators Hassan, Warren, and Cotton wrote to the President at the beginning of the administration requesting the POW/MIA flag fly high above the Residence.  This follows passage of a bipartisan — bipartisan legislation in 2019, led by those same senators, which requires the flag to be displayed whenever the American flag flies on federal buildings.
 
Today also happens to be National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day — a day when we remember and honor those who were in captivity in service to our nation and recognize those who awaited their return.
    
I have two more items; one of them is a week ahead. 
 
The Semiconductor Summit — of great interest to many of you, I know.  On Monday afternoon, following President Biden’s release of his Ameri- — let’s see.  Hold on.  On Monday afternoon, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and NEC Director Brian Deese will host a virtual CEO Summit on Semiconductor and Supply Chain Resilience to discuss both the American Jobs Plan, as well as steps to strengthen the resilience of American supply chains for semiconductors and other key areas — something we discuss in here quite frequently.
 
They will also be joined by Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, who has been one of the leading voices in the administration. 
 
We provided a list to the pool of the attendees or the companies that will be represented at that, which you should all have.  And if not, let us know, and we will give it to you directly, after the briefing.
 
Finally, for the week ahead, the President will, of course, continue making the case in public and in meetings with members of Congress for the critical need to pass the American Jobs Plan and make historic investments in infrastructure.
 
On Monday, he will meet with Democratic and Republican members of both the House and Senate to discuss the American Jobs Plan and the need for a bold, once-in-a-generation investment in America to put millions of people to work.  I expect we will provide that list on Monday, once attendees are confirmed.  It will be bipartisan and bicameral, that meeting.
 
As Speaker Pelosi’s office announced earlier today, on Tuesday, the President will pay his respects in a congressional tribute for U.S. Capitol Police Officer William Evans as he lies in honor in the Capitol Rotunda.
 
Later that day, he will meet with members of the Congressional Black Caucus at the White House.
 
On Thursday, the President will meet with members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
 
And on Friday, the President will welcome the Prime Minister of Japan.  As you all already know, this will be the President’s first in-person visit with a foreign leader, reflecting the importance of our bilateral relationship.  And I expect they will take some questions after that meeting.
 
With that, Josh.
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  Three things, real quick.  First, the discretionary spending proposal —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    — tries to make investments in the country that the administration says couldn’t be made because of the 2011 Budget Control Act and the caps on spending.  That deal had to be reached with Republicans.  Now, I’m curious, what gives you more confidence that an increase in discretionary spending can be reached with today’s Republicans than the Republicans of a decade ago?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would first say that any budgetary proposal, including a discretionary proposal that is not a full budget, is an opportunity to outline the priorities of the existing administration.  And it is a reflection of the President’s view that a number of these discretionary programs were underfunded over the last several years, and therefore prompted a plus-up and a proposed plus-up — because if we are going to address a range of issues where there is agreement among Republicans as well, that we need to work together to, you know, support additional funding to address these various crises in our country. 
 
So I will say we’re at the beginning of our process.  This is the beginning of what we know is a long journey.  It’s meant to give discretionary guidance so that officials and staffers on the Hill — the former — the people who followed in the footsteps of Shalanda Young — can get to work.  That’s exactly what it will do, and we’re looking forward to having those conversations.
 
Q    Two, does the President have any thoughts on the votes of Amazon workers in Alabama against unionization — something he, kind of, encouraged them to take that vote?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President has said that whether to organize a union is a worker’s choice.  And the National Labor Relations Board has a process for ensuring there’s an accurate count of the votes cast in selection so that we can know what choice the workers have made.
 
So the President is going to wait — just for your own planning — for the NLRB to finish its process and declare a result to make a further comment. 
 
But I will say, broadly, as you know and you alluded to in your question, we know it’s very difficult for workers to make the choice to form a union.  That’s why the President’s American Jobs Plan includes the right — protecting the Right to Organize Act, which would give more workers the ability to organize and bargain collectively for — with their employees.  And that’s a fundamental priority for him; something he’s fought for throughout his career.  But we will wait for further comment until the NLRB concludes their analysis.
 
Q    And then, North Korea’s leader said the country’s economic woes right now are the worst since the famine in the 1990s.  Does that create any additional security risks for the U.S.?  And are we under any obligation to deal with the humanitarian crisis? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, I would say that no actions that we are taking, as it relates to sanctions, are meant to be targeted at the North Korean people.  They are in the conditions and the circumstances they’re in because of the actions of their leadership.
 
We continue to work with international leaders and organizations to provide humanitarian assistance.  It’s something that we believe is important and vital to do from a humane standpoint, even while we have issues with their nuclear aspirations.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Is the — we looked at the Pentagon budget.  You’re proposing a modest increase.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.
 
Q    Is that enough to meet the priorities set out by the administration since you’re facing an increasingly assertive China, and Russia poses a threat to Ukraine?
 
MS. PSAKI:  You’re absolutely right, Steve.  And we’ve spoken, of course, about our concerns about exactly those issues.  I will say that, first, that this is a proposal for — to give guidance to the Hill, and hardworking budget staffers on the Hill, as they put together the 2022 — excuse me — budgetary plans.
 
The focus of the plus-up on defense is meant to address a couple of issues over that period of time: promoting diversity and inclusion in the armed forces; fulfilling our commitments to military families — part of it goes to military and civilian pay increases, or that’s what proposed — is proposed; prioritizing defense investments in climate resilience and energy efficiency.  We believe it provides a robust funding level for the military forces needed to deter war and ensure our nation’s security is grounded in the administration’s Interim National Security Guidance. 
 
But again, there will be a full budget later this spring that will be proposed by this White House.
 
Q    And, secondly, China has been conducting military exercises around Taiwan.  How do you interpret these moves?  Are you concerned that they might invade Taiwan?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, our — first, let me say that we’re not looking, as you know, for confrontation with China.  We are — our focus and our relationship is one based on steep competition. 
 
We have been clearly — publicly and privately expressed our concerns — our growing concerns about China’s aggression towards Taiwan.  China has taken increasingly coercive action to undercut democracy in Taiwan.  We’ve seen a concerning increase in PRC military activity in the Taiwan Strait, which we believe is potentially destabilizing.
 
So we are watching that closely.  I can’t make any other predictions from here.  Of course, the Department of Defense and others would be in the lead on making those assessments. 
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Jen, thank you.  The President’s commission on expanding the Supreme Court is out.  We know he’s going to wait for the results.  What is the President’s view on the — of the calls for Justice Breyer to step down?
 
MS. PSAKI:  He believes that’s a decision Justice Breyer will make when he decides it’s time to no longer serve on the Supreme Court.
 
Q    So should those groups pushing for him go back off?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I think I can just speak to what the President’s view is of the Supreme Court justice’s ability to make his own decision.
 
Q    And outside the inauguration, when he was sworn in, has he had any conversations with Supreme Court justices?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Not that I’m aware of.  I’m happy to check if there’s anything we can read out.
 
Q    Next week, Congress gets back.  You announced this bicameral, bipartisan meeting.  You’re entering an interesting phase where, in the House and the Senate, there is now a single vote margin between the two parties.  And, in essence, one, two, or three members of your own party could upend the President’s legislative agenda.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.
 
Q    How are you guys recalibrating to deal with this closer majority — or closer margin in both chambers, as you try to get these incredibly expensive and ambitious plans passed?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, I would say that that — what an interesting time to be in Washington and be all of you.  You know, our focus has long been working with Democrats and Republicans.  That is the President’s objective.  And obviously, the close margins make that a necessity. 
 
And so when we are inviting — when he is inviting members here, he’s inviting not just one wing of a party, not just one wing even of his own party; he wants to have the discussion about how we can work together to address our nation’s outdated infrastructure and rebuilding our workforce for the future.
 
Now, from our vantage point and from our viewpoint, we’ve seen there have been a number of Republicans in the Senate — I’ll give you more homework, but you probably know this off the top of your head, Ed — who have supported infrastructure bills; who have supported, you know, the WRDA bills; who have supported legislation that is consistent with what the President is proposing. 
 
And as Secretary Buttigieg just conveyed: In a lot of the discussions we’re having, most of the disagreement is about — some is about the size.  Some think it’s too small.  Some think it’s too big.  It’s like Goldilocks.  We’ll have those discussions.  But also about the payfors.  And so those are the conversations that we will have.
 
But, largely, the margins in Washington don’t change our approach, because the President was elected because he was committed to working with both parties, to working together to address the crises our country is facing. 
 
Go ahead, Peter.
 
Q    Thank you very much.  To follow up on Ed’s questions about the Supreme Court —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    — action today: President Biden once said, in 1983, he thought court-packing was —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Whoa.  A time-back machine. 
 
Q    Oh, yeah.  He said he thought that court-packing was a “bonehead idea” when FDR tried it.  So why ask a panel now to go and see if it is a good idea?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, he’s — the panel is being asked to do a number of — take a number of steps, including the pros and cons on exactly that issue.  But they will also be looking at the Court’s role in the constitutional system; the length of service and turnover of justice on the Court — justices on the Court; the membership and size of the Court; and the Court’s case selection rules and practices.
 
And the makeup of this commission, which was vital for the President, was — is there are progressives on the Court, there are conservatives on the Court.  People will present different opinions and different points of view, and then they’ll have a report at the end of 180 days.
 
Q    Okay.  And then, about immigration: The U.S. government is now reportedly spending $60 million a week to shelter migrant children; that adds up to $3.1 billion in a year.  Where is that money coming from?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, I would say that, as you may recall, the prior administration requested and received nearly $3 billion in supplemental funding from Congress for the UC program back in 2019.  That came after the previous administration had already made multiple transfers of hundreds of millions of dollars.
 
And our commitment is to ensuring HHS has the funds it needs now to safely and humanely care for children, which of course is resource intensive; we know that.  There are 200 permanent shelters around the country, and there are needs related to the pandemic, social distancing, enhanced ventilation, and testing that are additional needs given the time that we’re living in.
 
Q    And because of the time that we’re living in, is there concern, if this is HHS money, that it is — that these shelters — the Washington Post says the costs are going to rise significantly — that the shelters might be draining pandemic response elsewhere.
 
MS. PSAKI:  No, that is not what our concern is.  We — at all.  We have funding for the pandemic response.  I’m just conveying to you what we feel this cost is and why it is at the rate it is at this point in time.

Q    And then, just one more.  Texas Governor Greg Abbott says that he asked the Biden administration to shut down a temporary shelter for migrant kids at the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio because he says he’s gotten information that children there are being sexually assaulted.  Is that facility going to be shut down?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, we take the safety and the wellbeing of children in our care very seriously, hence our earlier conversation about the funding spent to keep them safe during the pandemic.
 
We are — his claims will be looked into and investigated by the Department of Health and Human Services.  Currently, we have no basis for his call to shut down the Freeman — the San Antonio Freeman Coliseum as an intake site, but we will — of course, we take these — this — these allegations seriously, and they will be investigated.
 
Q    And the last one would just be — you said this week that you guys are trying to make the processing more efficient and effective and that you’re addressing this in a humane way that keep these kids as safe as we possibly can.  If these allegations are true, how is that consistent with what you guys are trying to do?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, we are looking into these allegations; we take them seriously.  And our focus remains on the safety and wellbeing of children, hence we’re looking into them and taking it very seriously.
 
Go ahead, Kaitlan.
 
Q    Thank you.  On the commission for the Supreme Court, when President Biden first disclosed this idea — I believe he was still a candidate when he said this — he said he wanted recommendations as to how to reform the court system because, quote, “It’s getting out of whack.”  Yet this commission is not going to actually make recommendations.  So why —
 
MS. PSAKI:  They will be.  They’ll be doing a report 180 day — at 180 days.  That will be released to the public.
 
Q    But it’s a report, but it’s not them actually making recommendations to the President.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I’m sure he’ll take a look at that report that this diverse group of members are putting together, thinking through over the next 180 days, and it will impact his thinking moving forward.
 
Q    So, but it won’t explicitly say, “Here is a recommendation from what we’ve studied to do XYZ”?
 
MS. PSAKI:  It’s meant to be a report and a summary of their discussions and their findings.  I don’t know what it will look like, and I’m not going to get ahead of what their process will be.
 
Q    Okay.  And then, on the lawmakers who were being invited on Monday —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    — who picked the group of lawmakers that are being invited?  Was it the President?
 
MS. PSAKI:  The White House.  You know —
 
Q    Legislative Affairs?
 
MS. PSAKI:  (Laughs.)  These decisions are made in coordination between the legislative affairs team and, of course, with the approval of the President on who will be invited. 
 
And I will just say that whenever we have the final list, this will be the first of what we envision, as you can see by his schedule next week, to be many meetings and many of them bipartisan as well.
 
Q    And is it important for him to have Senator Manchin there on Monday?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I’m not sure if he will be a part of it or not.  He is somebody that we’re, of course, in close touch with and we look forward to working with as we move the American Jobs Plan forward.
 
Q    Okay.  And my last question on Johnson & Johnson — given just how much money the federal government has given them, and the President has ordered an additional 100 million doses from them — has he actually spoken with any of the executives at Johnson & Johnson, given these uneven numbers of doses that we’re seeing coming in and how slow they’ve been to get an even, steady supply of production?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say that our COVID Coordinator, Jeff Zients, and other members of our COVID team are typically the appropriate points of contact with leaders from any of these companies.  We always expected there to be — to be up and down — their production. 
 
We, of course — as you all know because we’ve been talking about it, they have taken steps and they’ve worked closely with HHS to work toward FDA approval.  That’s obviously up to the FDA for the Emergent facility, which will certainly enhance their production capacity.
 
But we see this as — you know, our role here is to take steps we can from the federal government along the way to help ensure that we are getting as much J&J supply and doses out to states, out to the American people, so that it can contribute to our recovery from the pandemic.
 
But we always knew — we’ve known for some time that there would be ups and downs on the road.
 
Q    But I think, also, we thought that they would have a lot more ready by now than what they have produced.  I mean, according to the initial federal contract (inaudible), it’s far different than what that was supposed to be.  Understandably, there are issues, but does the President feel that this rises to the level that he should make a phone call to someone at Johnson & Johnson to discuss what’s been going on?
 
MS. PSAKI:  He’s confident in the role that the COVID team plays.  And we’ve also been assured by Johnson & Johnson that they remain committed to meeting their contract of delivering 100 million doses by the end of May.
    
Go ahead, Mike.
 
Q    Two things.  First, to follow up on Kaitlan’s question about the commission —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    — it is my understanding that the commission has actively decided not to make any specific recommendations for or against the cou- — the issues that they’re examining, whether that be term limits on justices or expanding the size of the Court.  That does differ from what the President seemed to say as a candidate.  Is — are you suggesting that he wants the commission to change that direction and actually come to him with specific recommendations?
 
MS. PSAKI:  No, I’m only suggesting that he put together — he asked his team to put together this commission to reflect a diversity of viewpoints, which it certainly will.  And I’m certain that when that report is released in 180 days — their work has not even begun yet — he’s going to sign — once he signs the executive order, it can officially begin — that he will — that will, of course, impact his thinking, moving forward.
 
But he wants smart legal experts, people who have been thinking about these issues for some — for decades, to have a discussion and a debate about it and deliver him a report that we will, again, be delivering to the public and you all can read once it is completed.
 
Q    Okay.  And then, on Afghanistan, there are reports out about growing frustration among the commanders in the military and the President’s generals about the President’s indecision on the question of what to do by May 1st.  What do you — what do you say, what does the President say to, you know, his generals and the people that are dealing with the situation in Afghanistan as to why we’re now just weeks from this deadline and we still don’t have an answer as to which way it’s going to go — whether the troops are leaving or not?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I know there was a report with unnamed sources, so we don’t know who those sources are, of course — which I know is typically frustrating to all of you.
 
But the President’s commitment is to bringing a responsible end to the conflict, removing our troops from harm’s way, and ensuring that Afghanistan can never again become a haven for terrorists and would — that would threaten the United States or any of our allies. 
 
He wants to make that decision in close consultation with partners around the world, with the advice of his national security team, and do it in a way that ensures we are protecting our national interests and the safety and security of our troops — all at the same time, where there’s diplomatic negotiations with the Taliban.
 
So he has been clear — publicly, I think — that it is operationally challenging to get troops out by May 1st, but I certainly expect you will hear from him on what his decision is in advance of that period of time.
 
Q    But is it responsible for the — I mean, you talk about a “responsible management of the situation.”  Is it responsible to let a deadline like that come within a matter of days even perhaps, without — with the military not really knowing for sure what their posture is going to be?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I can assure you that the President’s approach is responsible and that he is taking the advice, the counsel, the consultations of members of his military leadership, members of his diplomatic leadership, and also our partners and friends around the world into — into consideration as he’s making his decision. 
 
And his view is that’s the responsible approach. 
 
Q    And one last thing that occurred to me — I wouldn’t want Friday to go by without asking —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Is it about the dog? 
 
Q    No.  No. 
 
Q    It’s about the cat.  (Laughter.)
 
MS. PSAKI:  It had a dog feeling in the air today.  (Laughter.)  
 
Q    The speech to Congress.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Oh, sure. 
 
Q    You know, you did a “week ahead.”
 
MS. PSAKI:  I know.
 
Q    Didn’t seem to have that included in there for next week. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  It will not be next week.
 
Q    It will not be next week.  So do you have any better — I think you said, yesterday or the day before, you’re still working with the Speaker’s office, but nothing new to add?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Nothing new to report.  And I would just remind you that whenever a date is finalized, the invitation would be officially issued — right? — from the Speaker’s office.  So — but we are —
 
Q    I mean, I guess the more serious question — part of the question about that would be, though, you’ve obviously now — you’re stacking up things that you need to sell — that you and the White House and the President need to sell to the American public.  You’ve got the Jobs Plan; now, you’ve got the budget that, you know, you’ve added on there.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    You know, Presidents typically use these moments of a speech to the Congress and to the public as a as an opportunity to sell this, to kind of make the pitch.  Are you guys depriving yourselves of some opportunities to do that by delaying this?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I promise you we will have something to sell in the speech, and we will use it for that — for that opportunity.
 
Q    Okay.  Thank you. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead, Patsy.
 
Q    Thank you.  Jen, my question is about the U.S. global response to the pandemic.  Now, we know that we’ve given $4 billion to COVAX, there’s the initiative with the Quad, some vaccine sharing with Mexico.  But what we haven’t heard from the administration is a kind of comprehensive and detailed strategy in terms of what the U.S. is doing to help the world recover from the pandemic not just in terms of vaccine sharing, but also supporting a financing mechanism or manufacturing, what have you.  And I know that you’ve just appointed the Global COVID Response Coordinator.  When can we expect her to be here to share the administration’s strategy with us?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’re happy to invite her.  She works out of the State Department.  Right?  So I would expect that she might speak there first, if you or a colleague is over there covering.
 
I would say, look, that our approach is that the President remains committed to playing a constructive role in the global effort to defeat the virus.  That includes contributing through COVAX; it includes, obviously, lending sup- — lending doses to Canada and Mexico; it includes considering a range of requests that are coming in from around the world. 
 
But as we’ve also seen, this is a very unpredictable virus, and his first priority is ensuring that the American people are vaccinated.  And that means we need to plan for supplies so that we can — when we know what’s most effective for kids, that we can plan around also, different things that come up — as we’ve seen over the last week or so with Emergent and Johnson & Johnson — that we have enough supply and enough capacity and we’ve done enough contingency planning for that. 
 
That’s our first priority, but we will continue to be — work to play a constructive role in the global community. 
 
Q    I understand that the strategy is to be oversupplied and overprepared for domestic needs, but at what point should the administration consider pivoting from just focusing on domestic needs and start responding to global needs, particularly at a time when China and Russia, as you know, is increasing, in terms of their vaccine diplomacy. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, when we are confident in our supply at home, we will share vaccines, including through COVAX.
 
Q    And I have one more on — 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Okay. 
 
Q    Yesterday, you mentioned that the administration is concerned about Russia’s increased military presence in the border with Ukraine.  Can you confirm reporting that the administration is considering to send warships as a show of support to Ukraine in the region?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I would point you to DOD for anything about our military assets. 
 
Go ahead, Jenny.
 
Q    Thanks.  On the climate summit, I think we’re now two weeks away, and I —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    — I asked a couple weeks ago if there was any plans to have a bilateral with the Chinese President on the sidelines of it.  So, first, has the White has made a decision on that? 
 
And then, two, do you plan any bilaterals on the sidelines to conduct any business outside of the overall climate summit that’s taking place?
 
MS. PSAKI:  It’s a great question.  We’re still figuring out what the additional components — or what the format of the summit will look like.  We’ve invited about 40 leaders from around the world, so there’s obviously a lot of scheduling to be done.  But I expect we won’t have a final update on that until we get to be probably within days of the summit.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Thank you very much.  Two questions if I might.  One, on Ukraine: So you’ve had a response to SolarWinds and the past election meddling pending for — well, ever since we’ve been doing this.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    Is there — is there any concern that the new challenges from Russia are kind of piling up now?  And is the administration, which is obviously still a new administration, ready for that? 
 
And, as an example, does the administration have, ready to go, a response if Russia were to send some of those troops or all of them into Ukraine, which is obviously, you know, not impossible?
 
And if you do have a response ready to go, have you communicated it to the Kremlin as a means of deterrence, you would hope? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, I would say that — of the actions that have already been taken, that we’ve had ongoing reviews about — we’ve been clear, but I will reiterate: There will be consequences, some unseen and some seen.  We will hope to have more about those soon.  I know you guys are tired of hearing that, but hopefully soon.
 
As it relates to the escalating Russian aggressions in Eastern Ukraine, including Russia’s troop movements on Ukraine’s borders, we are, of course, in close consultation and working with partners and allies in the region to assess, to share intelligence, to determine what’s happening, and what can be done about it.  But I’m not going to get ahead of that internal diplomatic process. 
 
Q    Have you — have you, you know, made that call, as it were, to the Kremlin to say, you know, “You do this; this is what’s going to happen” to try and put them off, or not?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I wouldn’t say that’s exactly how it goes down, but, you know, we —
 
Q    (Inaudible.)
 
MS. PSAKI:  — of course, communicate closely.  I will say, we communicate at many levels, as you know.  There was a call that was done at the defense-secretary level just last week with the Russians.  There was also a call done by our Secretary of State.  We, of course, communicate at many levels that are even far below that.  And, of course, the President spoke with the President of Ukraine just last Friday. 
 
So I can assure you there’s ongoing diplomatic engagement between us and a number of countries in the region, including Russia, including Ukraine, including our European partners and allies who share a number of our concerns about the aggression of Russian movements on the border. 
 
Q    Thank you.  And the other question — domestic.  On the infrastructure, where — on a scale of 1 to 10, if you could do that — does the —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Oh, probably not, but try me.  (Laughter.)  I always love yes-and-no questions. 
 
Q    I know.  Well, this is a 1-to-10, so —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Okay. 
 
Q    — you’ve 10 choices. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead. 
 
Q    Does the President, who is an avowed bipartisan guy, put getting one or more Republicans to support this — I know you’ve been saying consistently that it doesn’t — in a way, it doesn’t matter what they do on the Hill because the public supports what the President is doing, and you point to polls, and they do say that.
 
MS. PSAKI:  We don’t say it doesn’t matter; it’s just an impact.  And there’s a question that I hope your colleagues on the Hill ask a number of Republicans, which is: Why would they oppose investment in our nation’s infrastructure when the vast majority of the American public thinks it’s imperative we do?
 
But as the Secretary just said, the disagreement is not really about the need to modernize our nation’s infrastructure.  It’s about the size; it’s about the payfors.  And we absolutely understand there will be compromise, there will be debate.  That’s all a part of the process.
 
Q    Isn’t it a little dangerous to be always citing the polls though, as you’re — basically all your credibility rests in the polls?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Do you not think the American people’s view is important as it relates to what elected officials do on the Hill?
 
Q    Sure.  But don’t polls change a lot, whereas the elected officials are elected officials representing (inaudible)?
 
MS. PSAKI:  There’s been pretty consistent support for infrastructure.  And I think it’s an important point.  We feel like it’s an important point.  Because when we talk about bipartisanship, we’re talking about how we meet the needs of the American people — Republicans, independents, Democrats.  Rebuilding bridges is not a Democratic idea.  Ensuring kids don’t have access to — have access to clean water is not a Democratic idea.  Broadband access probably actually impacts more rural areas that might be leaning more Republican than Democratic, if you look at it — the maps across the country.
 
So our point is: This is addressing not a political issue; this is addressing a vital need in the country that’s not — that impacts all of the American people. 
 
Q    I think that’s a seven.  (Laughter.)
 
MS. PSAKI:  A seven?  (Laughter.) 
 
Q    (Inaudible.)
 
MS. PSAKI:  Okay, fair.  I don’t even know — I don’t even know what the rating numbers are about anymore. 
 
Rob, go ahead.
 
Q    We saw the statement earlier, but has the President been in touch with Buckingham Palace and Number 10 about the death of Prince Philip?  And does he have any plans to attend the funeral?
 
MS. PSAKI:  He has not been in touch directly himself, no.  We put out a statement in his name and the First Lady’s name earlier today.  I’m not aware of any plans at this point in time.
 
Q    And Hunter Biden’s book is out this week.  To what extent was the White House, the President, the transition — whatever that timing might have been — involved in vetting its contents?
 
MS. PSAKI:  We were not.  It was a book he wrote himself.  The President and First Lady put out a statement making clear — in February, I should say, when the book was announced — that they’re deeply supportive of their son sharing his account about his painful experiences with addiction, which is exactly what the book does, and that they’re hopeful that it can help millions of people who have struggled with the same challenges.
 
Q    And if I may, one for a reporter who can’t be here for the COVID-19 restrictions, Allison Harris of NewsNation.  A Blue Star Families report shows that almost half of active-duty troops won’t get vaccinated against COVID-19.  Members of Congress have sent a letter —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Because of their hesitation?
 
Q    Yes — or I believe so.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Okay.
 
Q    Members of Congress have written to the President, urging him to issue a waiver of informed consent so that troops would be mandatorily vaccinated.  Is that something the President is considering — would consider?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I certainly think he would refer to the advice and view of the Secretary of Defense, so I’d point you to them for any point of view on that letter.
 
Q    I think — okay, thank you.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Okay, go ahead, Alana.
 
Q    Thank you.  CBP data said this week that the number of unoccupied migrant children crossing the border — unaccompanied minor children, sorry — had increased 100 percent from February to March.  If these numbers continue to rise, is there a point that the administration would consider reversing or modifying the policy of accepting all unaccompanied minor migrants under — using Title 42 authorities?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Would be — would we no longer accept — just so I understand the question —
 
Q    Yeah —
 
MS. PSAKI:  — children who are under 18? 
 
Q    Mm-hmm.  Would you consider reversing or modifying?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I would say, one, our — the reason for accepting these children is that we feel it is not the humane step to send these kids back on their treacherous journey.  Our focus is on addressing the needs, opening up shelters, ensuring there is access to health and educational resources, expediting processing at the border.  And those are the steps we feel that are most effective from a policy standpoint at this point.
 
Q    And then, just one more question on Amazon.  The President supports the PRO Act, but how does he expect it to get through Congress, particularly if infrastructure is not
done under reconciliation?
 
MS. PSAKI:  How does he expect to get the PRO Act passed through Congress?  It is something that he certainly strongly supports, and it’s consistent with his advocacy for the ability and rights of workers to organize. 
 
I don’t have anything on the legislative strategy and how — what that will look like moving forward.  I’d certainly point you to the Hill on that. 
 
Q    Thank you.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead, in the back.
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  I want to ask you about the case of a 10-year-old Nicaraguan boy, who was — videos went viral when he was seen walking the desert by himself, saying that he had been dumped by the group that he was with.  Through our reporting, we now know that this child had been deported with his mom days prior.  His mom is kidnapped in Mexico.  He was able to free himself through a family member who paid ransom, and that’s how he ended up back in the U.S. 
 
So I have two questions for you on that.  One, why does the U.S. government continue to deport these people back to Mexico to dangerous situations and not to their countries of origin? 
 
And the second question is: The President, back in October of 2020, in a conversation with Univision, said that he would grant deportation moratorium to Nicaraguans, as well as Venezuelans and Cubans.  That happened for those two other groups and not for Nicaraguans.  Do you have an update on that, and why that hasn’t happened?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have an update on the second.  I’m happy to check and see with our diplomatic team what the status is and if there’s any particular update.
 
I would say, in terms of deportation, it’s handled, as you know, in a case-by-case basis.  I would have to look into the specific details of this case.  The Department of Homeland Security might have more specifics, if they can share them, on why they were sent back directly to Mexico.
 
Q    But it’s not just this family; all of the families are being sent right back to Mexico and not to their home countries. Do you know why?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any more information.  And they’re all handled on a case by case.  We don’t typically speak about each case, given privacy concerns, but I can see if there’s more we can share on this particular case.
 
Q    I want — and let me ask you what happened earlier in the week when the President of El Salvador did not welcome and did not want to meet with Mr. Zuñiga.  What do you make of that? And how can you work with that government if those relationships seem fractured in a way?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, you’re right that when Special Envoy Zuñiga was in El Salvador, he did not meet with the President, but he did have productive meetings with the Foreign Minister and other senior officials, such as the Attorney General, OAS representatives, members of civil society, private sector leaders, and others. 
 
So we felt it was still quite a constructive trip.  These meetings, in our view, lay the foundation to build on the already strong bilateral dialogue we have with the administration at all levels, and we’ll continue it from here.
 
Q    So can you move forward without the President being involved — the President of that country?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t think they’re predicting he won’t be involved.  They — he just didn’t have a meeting when Ricardo Zuñiga was in El Salvador, on the last trip.  But he had a number of other constructive meetings, which we feel are a strong basis and foundation for moving forward.
 
Go ahead, in the back.
 
Q    Thank you.  Do you see any changes in the Chinese behavior or approach, of which the Biden administration is asking China to do that?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sorry, the masks make it hard sometimes to hear, and I know you’re all the way in the back.  Do we see changes — do we — say it one more time.
 
Q    Yeah.  You have reached out to Chinese — even the President has spoken to the Chinese President.  They’re having several rounds of talks of — over the phone with the Chinese.  Do you see any changes in the Chinese behavior and approach to address your concerns?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say we’re less than 100 days into our administration.  What we can control is how we approach our relationship with China.  We see it as one that is about competition, not about conflict.  And our focus is also on approaching the relationship from a position of strength.  So that includes rebuilding, investing in our workforce at home.  Things like infrastructure investment, ensuring we have broadband access across our country, certainly fit into that category.  And also working very closely with our partners and allies in the region and also across Europe.  So that’s how we’re approaching it. 
 
In terms of assessments of their changes in behavior, I would leave that to all of you to assess.
 
Q    But how do you characterize the response from the Chinese in the first 100 days?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I’m not — I don’t have a new assessment from here.  We are approaching this from a position of patience; we’re not in a hurry.  We are working to strengthen our conditions at home, better support our workforce, ensure that we are approaching the relationship from a position of strength.
 
Q    In your week ahead, you said the Prime Minister of Japan will be coming here next Friday.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yep.
 
Q    This is the first foreign leader visiting this — the White House under Biden.  Can you give us a sense of what’s the, kind of, preparation you’re having?  Is there going to be a joint statement or joint press conference with the foreign leader?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I expect they’ll have statements and will take some questions, as well, while they’re here.
 
Q    Okay.  Just one more on Russia — follow-up on Russia: The — Bloomberg has said that the review is over and you — the administration is discussing potential retaliatory measures at this stage.  Can you confirm that?  Is the review over?  Are you considering some actions against Russia?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I can confirm there will be consequences — some seen, some unseen.  And we hope to have more on that soon.
 
Q    Thank you.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.
 
Q    Hi, thanks.  I wanted to ask about the infrastructure plan and climate — specifically, clean energy tax credits.  Treasury released a summary recently with a few more details on this, but I’m just wondering if you guys have — the White House has, kind of, a topline number for all those credits; how it affects the overall climate impact of the plan; and what role those might play in selling the plan to some Democrats on the left who have suggested they think the plan doesn’t go far enough on climate.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Well, I will say that the plan, we feel, reflects on the President’s view that there is a profound urgency and existential threat that we are facing from our climate crisis.  That the climate crisis is presenting an existential threat, I guess, is the more grammatically correct way to say it.  And we believe that he wants to take every opportunity we can to help address that.
 
So, the American Jobs Plan will position the United States to meet President Biden’s goals of creating a carbon neutral power sector by 2035 and a clean energy sector by 2050.  It will do that by building modern, sustainable, and resilient infrastructure; ensuring clean, safe drinking water is a right and available to all communities; revolutionizing electric vehicle manufacturing; mobilizing the next generation of conservation and resilience workers. 
 
This will not be the totality of what we do to address the climate crisis in the Biden-Harris administration, but it is certainly an important step and one that we’ve had positive response from, from a number of members.
 
Q    But specifically on those — on the clean energy tax credits, do you have any other, again, topline numbers or has it — or do you have any idea of when those may be forthcoming?
 
MS. PSAKI:  And just so I understand, the topline numbers in terms of the impact of the tax credits?
 
Q    (Inaudible) if you add it up, it describes some of the credits you guys want to extend, et cetera.  But does the White House have actual dollar figures for how many billions of dollars that represents, et cetera?
 
MS. PSAKI:  We did put out a 25-page factsheet.  If it’s not in there, we will certainly get you more specifics.  And we hope to have state-by-state details early next week. 
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.
 
AIDE:  Jen.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Oh.
 
Q    We have a — that’s the other question.
 
MS. PSAKI:  What?  We –
 
Q    Who’s this?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Oh, he’s a new member of our — I’m just kidding.   What we’re going to start doing is we are going to start taking a question from a regional reporter who does not live in Washington, can’t be here.  Many of you started your careers that way.  So thank you for reminding me because I was going to walk off. 
 
Hello, it’s very nice to meet you.  Thanks for — and you’re from Anchorage, Alaska — come to us from Anchorage, Alaska.
 
Q    Yes, I’m here at the state capital in Juneau today, though.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Great, thanks for joining us.  So this is the White House Press Corps.  They won’t ask you questions, but how can we help you?  What question do you have for us today? 
 
Q    Well, thanks for the opportunity.  The Secretary discussed the CDC limits on cruise ships, but here in Alaska, there’s a second block that applies because ships must stop in Canada on the way to Alaska, and Canada isn’t allowing cruise ships right now. 
 
Here in the state, Republicans and Democrats have requested a temporary waiver of that — of the law that requires that — (audio technical difficulties).
 
MS. PSAKI:  Uh-oh.
 
Q    Oh.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Oh no.
 
Q    Did you hit your mute button?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Uh-oh.  You didn’t hit your mute button, did you?  That may be on our end.
 
Q    Can you hear me now?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yes, apologize for that.  We heard the first part of your question, but you may have to repeat it so we can hear it.
 
Q    Okay.  So Republicans and Democrats here have requested a temporary waiver of the rule that blocks cruise ships from coming to Alaska without that Canadian stop.  And I was curious what the administration thinks of those requests and whether action is possible before the end of the summer tourist season.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, we heard about this earlier from some of your colleagues here in the White House Briefing Room — not specific to Alaska, but the cruise industry in general.  It’s certainly an industry that we want to thrive, and we just want to ensure it is — we are reopening capacity in a safe manner and doing that as quickly as we can. 
 
I will say that we have been working with Senator Murkowski and Alaska officials on engaging Canada and finding ways to assist the cruise ships.  That’s a process that’s ongoing.
 
Unfortunately, I don’t have more details, but it is something we are fully aware of, that we are working with your senators on to help address.  And we certainly recognize the importance of the cruise ship industry to the Alaska economy.
 
Q    Thank you.  Thank you.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Thank you so much for joining us — we appreciate it — from Alaska. 
 
Okay.  Well, thank you, guys.  Happy Friday.  Have a great weekend.
 
1:37 P.M. EDT

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