April 15, 2021

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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, March 22, 2021

32 min read

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:10 P.M. EDT

MS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone.  Happy Monday.  I just have a couple of items for you at the top. 

The “Help Is Here” tour continues today with the Vice President and Second Gentleman traveling to show how the American Rescue Plan provides help to put food on the table. 

The Vice President will travel to Jacksonville, Florida, to visit a vaccination center and convene a listening session at a food distribution center.  And the Second Gentleman is traveling — I say “is traveling,” not “will travel,” because it’s happening today — to Des Moines, Iowa, where he; Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack — former governor; and Congresswoman Cindy Axne will visit a food relief organization.

The American Rescue Plan will reduce hunger, strengthen the food supply chain, and provide support to underserved, socially disadvantaged farmers.  It will:

  • Extend the 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits through the end of September — about $28 per month per person.
  • Provide $888 million to deliver expanded access to more fruits and vegetables to moms and babies participating in WIC.
  • $37 million for senior nutrition and $1 billion in nutrition assistance for the territories.
  • It will support farmers of color with $4 billion toward debt relief for socially disadvantaged farmers to pay off burdensome debts, and $1 billion in funding to USDA to create a racial equity commission and address longstanding discrimination.

Tomorrow, the “Help Is Here” tour will continue with the President — with President Biden traveling to Columbus, Ohio, to highlight how the American Rescue Plan will help to lower healthcare costs.  He will deliver remarks on the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act being signed into law — of course, something he had a major role in — and encourage Americans to sign up for insurance at HealthCare.gov during the special enrollment period his administration opened amid the pandemic.

Additionally, Health and Human Services Secretary — newly confirmed Secretary Xavier Becerra will travel to Carson City, Nevada, and the Second Gentleman will be in Omaha, Nebraska, talking about how the Rescue Plan lowers healthcare costs.

And then, on Equal Pay Day, Wednesday, the President and the First Lady will host an event at the White House, and the Second Gentleman will travel to St. Louis, Missouri.  They will showcase how the Rescue Plan provides help for women and families by increasing the Child Tax Credit and expanding childcare assistance.  And we may have some special guests in the briefing on Wednesday, who, of course, will be women — just to give you a little preview.  But go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Two subject areas.  In the spirit of transparency to rebuild public trust, when will reporters be allowed to tour facilities holding children who crossed at the southern border?  And are there any concerns that the images from those tours might show that there’s a crisis?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, we are working to finalize details, and I hope to have an update in the coming days.  We are working through, with the Department of Health and Human Services and also the Department of Homeland Security, to ensure privacy and ensure we’re following COVID protocols.  We remain committed to transparency, and, of course, as I noted last week, we certainly want to make sure that the media has access to these sites.

And your second question — sorry, your second question was what?

Q    Oh, uh —

MS. PSAKI:  Your first question?  I can’t remember which one you asked.  Go ahead.

Q    Yeah, sorry.  Two subjects areas.

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

Q    The second subject area is the Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  The Supreme Court is are now reconsidering the death penalty.  President Biden has said he opposes the death penalty.  What is the administration’s stance on Tsarnaev and executions going forward?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, President Biden has made clear, as he did on the campaign trail, that he has grave concerns about whether capital punishment, as currently implemented, is consistent with the values that are fundamental to our sense of justice and fairness.  He’s also expressed his horror at the events of that day and his actions — Tsarnaev’s actions, I should say. 

As Vice President, he spoke to the people of Boston on the one-year anniversary of the horrible crime.  As he said then, “We are Boston…We are America…We own the finish line.”

Of course, any process for the death penalty policy moving forward, I don’t have any updates on that.  As it relates to this specific case, I would refer you to the Department of Justice.

Go ahead, Steve.

Q    We saw the statement about the trip of Roberta Jacobson and Juan Gonzalez to Guatemala and Mexico.

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

Q    Are they going to specifically ask those countries to help stem the tide of the migrants?

MS. PSAKI:  Absolutely.  Part of our objective, as Roberta Jacobson conveyed — Ambassador Jacobson — when she was in here just a few weeks ago, was that we need to work in partnership with these countries to address the root causes in their countries, to convey clearly and systematically that this is not the time to travel.

If I may, I wanted to — I actually had a little bit of an update or just something I thought would be of interest to many of you, which is what some of the steps are we’re taking in these countries to communicate.  And a lot of this is through, of course, the State Department and embassies.  And so here’s a few things we’re doing — and this will obviously increase over time, but just to give you a sense of our investment:

The State Department continues to — we’ve placed an estimated 17,118 radio ads in Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras since January 21st in Spanish, Portuguese, and six indigenous languages.  These ads played on 33 radio stations reaching an estimated 15 million individuals.

The department has also worked with Facebook and Instagram on an advertising campaign that put out — put our migration messages in the social media streams of millions of individuals who fit the profile of intending migrants.  These are very targeted, of course.  A total of 589 digital ads in paid search, display, and social media supporting the ongoing migration campaign in Northern Triangle countries have reached more than 26 million people since Inauguration Day. 

These ads created over 73 million impressions in the targeted countries, and we’re also taking creative approaches in different countries to make sure we’re reaching people, meeting people where they are; in some ways, how we try to do things in the United States. 

So, as an example, Embassy San Salvador — “Oscuro” comic book and animated show seeks to deter irregular migration by addressing violence as a driver.  Content focused on violent [violence] reduction reached 240,000 young Salvadorans in the targeted audience.  The two animated episodes in this past year have been viewed by 3.6 million individuals. 

So each country is taking different approaches.  Our embassies on the ground are obviously the experts working with countries — to your point, Steve — to figure out how to communicate clearly in languages that are — will be received by the people in these countries and communicate clearly, “This is not the time to come.  Our borders are not open.”

And we will continue to pick this up in the months — weeks and months ahead.

Q    So — excuse me.  Is there any indication that this is working; that these ads and all this — whole campaign you’re running?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, let me say, it is difficult to note the people who do not come.  That is never a number we will have a mark on.  So this is just part of our effort to send a clear message.  But there’s no question that funding is needed to address the root causes in these countries.  That’s why the President has proposed funding in his immigration bill.  That is an issue he has worked on in the past, for many years, including with Republicans, of course, to try to provide funding to a number of — not directly to the governments, because we want to avoid corruption in some cases, but to organizations that can help address the root causes in these countries.

So it is not the only step we’re taking, but a number of you have asked very good questions about specific communications that we are doing in these countries, so I wanted to venture to provide an update.

Go ahead.

Q    Now that the public is seeing some of the images because the congressional delegation provided some photos and descriptions about what they witnessed — children who are frightened and crying, overcrowded conditions — now that the public has seen that, is that not a crisis?  And what conditions or situation — what metrics would have to be in place for the administration to call it that?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, children presenting at our border who are fleeing violence, who are fleeing prosecution, who are fleeing terrible situations, is not a crisis.  We feel that it is our responsibility to humanely approach this circumstance and make sure they are treated with — treated and put into conditions that are safe. 

I will say that, you know, these photos show what we’ve long been saying, which is that these Border Patrol facilities are not places made for children.  They are not places that we want children to be staying for an extended period of time.  Our alternative is to send children back on this treacherous journey.  That is not, in our view, the right choice to make.

And so our focus now is on putting in place — is on solutions and putting in place policies, including expediting processing at the border, opening up additional facilities — something that you’ve seen developments on over the past several days, and there’ll be certainly more on — restarting our Central American Minors program, which was stopped in 2017.  Thousands of kids should be eligible to apply for that so they’re not making this journey.  So our focus is on solutions and implementing them as quickly as possible.

Q    The President said he is open to going to the border at some point.  Do you have any sense if, during this current situation, he would consider it valuable to go there, see for himself the conditions, talk to people on the ground?  Is that something we should expect?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any trips to preview for you.  I can tell you that the President is briefed regularly on the situation at the border.  And every step that he is pushing his team to take — that his team is taking to put in place actions, to put in place solutions, that will expedite processing, get kids into shelters more quickly.  And he is regularly briefed.  But I don’t have any — anything to preview for you on a trip.

Q    He also said one of the changes that could take place is allowing a process where those seeking asylum can do it from their home countries.

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

Q    But there are a lot of advocates who say that just extends the period of exposure to poverty, violence, all of those conditions, and don’t support that. 

So how is the President going to deal with that factor?  And, clearly, the border is not closed, given the flow.  So that seems like a message that is not in tune with what people are actually seeing, based on we’re now up to 15, 16,000 kids in U.S. custody and so forth.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, factually, the vast majority of people who come to the border are turned away.  Adults, families, single people who are coming to the border are turned away. 

So that is a message we will continue to convey through a number of the means I have outlined for you.  And the President has also conveyed that directly, as has our Secretary of Homeland Security.  And as was noted earlier, there’s obviously a trip to the region as well.

And to — what — sorry, what was your first question?

Q    Well, is the President frustrated his message isn’t getting through? 

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t think the President sees it that way.  The President, the Secretary of Homeland Security have all conveyed that there are a number of factors at play here, including the fact that a number of the people who are making this treacherous journey are fleeing circumstances that are difficult on the economic front, to hurricanes, gang violence.  There are smugglers who are making their own pushes about how this is the time to come. 

So we understand we’re working against a lot of push factors that are pushing people to come to the region — come to the — come to the border.  But what we are conveying from our end is that the border is not open.  The majority of people are turned away. 

And we are — as — we’re talking about children here, and with children, our focus is on expediting the processing at the border and ensuring they can get to shelters as quickly as possible.

Go ahead, Peter.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  So now that Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley are letting adult migrants go without even issuing notices to appear, is the Biden immigration policy just becoming more of, like, the honor system?

MS. PSAKI:  That is an inaccurate depiction of what’s happening at the border.  So there’s no change in policy.  The border remains closed.  Families and single adults are being expelled under Title 42 and should not attempt to cross illegally. 

In the narrow, narrow circumstances in which families can’t be expelled, the family is tested and quarantined as needed and placed in immigration proceedings to commence. 

In some cases, families are placed in removal proceedings further along in the release process.  So if families are going to be — going to be deported and they’re awaiting deportation, they don’t need a court date and they don’t need a notice to appear because it has already been determined that they will be sent back to their home countries.  Sometimes that takes a minute to ensure there is proper transportation and steps in place to do that.

Q    But if Secretary Mayorkas says the border is secure, the border is closed, how is that the case if these migrants are being processed on this side of the border and then put on a bus to points unknown on this side of the border?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, there are limited cases where there are families — because they can’t be held in Mexico — who are processed, tested, considered at the border.  Most of them are sent back to their home countries.  Those are very limited cases, and it’s certainly not a depiction of the overarching policy. 

Q    Okay.  Two years ago, President Biden said, “We are a nation that says ‘You want to flee, and you’re fleeing opposition, you should come.’  They deserve to be heard.  That’s who we are.”  Now he says, “I can say quite clearly, ‘Don’t come over.’”  So why was his position different campaigning than it is governing?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think that sometimes there are — there’s language that is used by some that is not complete, including the full context of his comments. 

I will say that he still believes that he wants our country to be a place where there is asylum processing at the border, where people are considered and go through a proper process — who are fleeing prosecution, who should be considered for immigration status. 

That is a process that is broken; it was broken by the last administration.  And he wants to put in place a process — through an immigration bill, through steps taken by the Department of Homeland Security and HHS — to improve that process and make it safe, efficient, and effective.  We’re going to need some time to do that.

Q    And the President says — he told us yesterday, “I know what’s going on in [these] facilities.”  You say that he’s been briefed with photos from the inside.

MS. PSAKI:  Multiple times.

Q    Multiple times.

MS. PSAKI:  I mean, he’s been briefed multiple times about immigration and often has a number of — and has regular sets of questions for his team.

Q    So what is his concern about this being a super- spreader event, where you’ve got 400 kids stuffed into a pod built for 260? 

MS. PSAKI:  These kids are tested.  If they need to be quarantined, they are quarantined.  We also follow CDC guidelines to ensure that they are kept safe.  One of the reasons that it took us some time to have some of these facilities or some of the shelters open to larger groups of kids is because we wanted to follow those CDC guidelines.  So we certainly don’t see it through that prism.  We actually took the steps we did to keep these kids safe.

Q    But where else in the country would it be okay to have 400 people in a space for 260 during the pandemic?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, Peter, we are closely following the CDC guidelines.  That’s why we’re opening up additional facilities, why they’ve been at limited capacity in a number of these shelters.

Q    But if I may, I don’t know that there are CDC guidelines that say you can be open with 400 —

MS. PSAKI:  Are you talking about the shelters, or are you talking about the Border Patrol —

Q    No, at the Border Patrol facilities. 

MS. PSAKI:  Apologies. 

Q    Yeah.

MS. PSAKI:  I was misunderstanding your question.

Q    Yes.  Yes. 

MS. PSAKI:  Look, I think our objective is to move — this is one of the reasons this is such a focus every single day for the President and this administration.  We want to move these kids as quickly as possible through these facilities and into the shelters where they — where there is safe spacing, and then move them into homes where there is safe spacing. 

And we are concerned about the public health impact.  That’s why we’re putting in place a number of policies to expedite these processes.

Q    But at that first stop, it’s just not happening.  And that is part of the federal government that you guys are in charge of. 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, I think I’ve outlined, for you specifically even, a number of steps that we have taken and we are taking to expedite processing at the border to ensure we’re expediting the timeline, because these Border Patrol facilities are not made for children.  We want to move them in part because of COVID, in part because they’re not places that have the educational, the health resources, and other resources that we believe these children should have access to.

That’s where all of our focus is on and why we’re working to expedite things.  We have a plan for implementing it, and we’re confident we’re going to be successful. 

Q    Yeah.

MS. PSAKI:  We just have limited time, so I just want to — go ahead.

Q    A couple questions on the vaccine, Jen.  Assuming that AstraZeneca gets the green light from the FDA, what’s the administration’s plans for distributing that vaccine?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we don’t want to get ahead of the FDA approval process, which I’m sure you certainly understand.  And certainly for any vaccine that’s approved, we would integrate it into our distribution process, you know, equitably.

Q    Is there the sense that the U.S. would have enough supply from the other three vaccines that the AstraZeneca supply could all be shipped overseas?  Would that be a plan from the administration?

MS. PSAKI:  I wouldn’t jump to that conclusion at this point.  There are obviously a number of factors, including the fact that these variants are unpredictable.  We’re still at war with the virus.  We don’t know which one is going to work best with children.  And so that’s one of the reasons the President and this administration wanted to be as prepared as possible and ensure we had a range of options at our disposal.

Q    You had said on Friday that plans were not finalized yet on sharing vaccines.  Do you have anything more to update on that today?

MS. PSAKI:  No.  I — you know, first, we are committed to — the U.S. has been — as you know, because you’ve covered it closely — one of the hardest-hit countries in the world.  More than 500,000 people have died; 1,400 people continue to lose their lives every single day. 

As I noted, we are — there are still a number of factors that are unpredictable that we need to plan for to the best of our ability, including the variants and the impact and what will be most effective, as well as what will work best with children.

We are — as we get increasing confidence that we have enough vaccine, we will explore options for sharing more broadly.  We want to, largely, be a part of the global solution here.  We recognize fully that in order to defeat the pandemic globally, the community — the global community needs to be vaccinated.  But there’s a shortage of supply, at this point, around the world, but also including around the country still.

And, as you know — because you all talk to governors and other elected officials — they are still looking for supply. There are still people who want the vaccine who don’t get the vaccine.  We are not sitting on a secret dose of supplies.  We are focused on getting these out the door as quickly as possible at this point.

Q    And one more.  The President, on Friday, seemed to suggest that he thinks you could double the goal.  A hundred million shots in the first hundred days already hit.  And he said, “We hope we can keep the pace…two and a half million a day…May be able to double it.”  Is the new goal now 200 million shots before day 100? 

MS. PSAKI:  We don’t have a new goal to set.  Our team is looking at that.  We certainly want to put one out publicly, once our health and COVID team has taken a look at what’s viable.  And hopefully we’ll have more on that soon.

Go ahead, Josh.

Q    Can I ask a follow-up?  The meeting over the weekend — last week, with the Chinese (inaudible) —

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    — the Chinese delegation in Alaska.  Did the President get what he wanted out of that meeting?  Does he have any response to what came from it?  And where does it leave the countries now, going forward?  For instance, is the prospect of some sort of bilateral meeting between President Biden and President Xi now more or less likely?  Is there anything you can give us on that?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we expected tough and direct talks with the PRC on a wide range of issues, and that’s exactly what happened.

And I know there has been a lot of focus on some of the public theatrics or, you know, more dramatic public piece, but I can assure you from talking to our national security team that it was a substantive meeting.  It was a two-day meeting.  They covered a range of issues, from our concerns about human rights abuses; to aggression in Hong Kong, Taiwan — our concerns there; economic — our concerns about economic and intellectual property.  And we also, of course, talk about ways we can work together.

So we’re taking stock of where we are.  This is where we are now.  I expect the President will certainly be talking with his national security team — well, Jake Sullivan and Tony Blinken, our Secretary of State and National Security Advisor who traveled.  And we will have close consultation with allies and partners on the way forward.  We’ll continue to work with China, of course, going forward, where it’s in the interests of the American people.

But in terms of next steps, Anchorage was a standalone meeting, and we don’t have anything more to determine about what’s next.

Q    And today, the U.S., EU, and other countries announced new sanctions on China —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — with respect to human rights abuses.  Did anything happen — that happened in Anchorage affect that?  In other words, would the U.S. have not participated in that had certain conditions been met?  Is there any link between the two? 

And what next steps do you think — China has retaliated against the EU.  Do you expect U.S. retaliation?  And is there any more sanctions that you would do if they don’t act to change course with respect to the treatment of these minority groups?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, on the first question, I’m not aware of any linkage or plans to pull that back.  Obviously, this was a reaction to what we felt were serious human rights abuses — and, obviously, the Europeans felt this as well — against members of Xinjiang’s ethnic and religious minority groups.  And no meeting would change our concerns related to that.

And we took action, as you noted, in unity with the United Kingdom, Canada, and the European Union, who also acted against human rights abusers in connection with these atrocities.  You know, this demonstrates our ongoing commitment to work multilaterally to advance respect for human rights, and we continue to have grave concerns about China’s crimes against humanity and genocide on Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

But I don’t have anything to predict for you on future sanctions.  Obviously, this is an issue that was raised in this meeting last week and was an issue that was raised by the President in his conversation with President Xi just a few weeks ago.

Q    What will the U.S. do, if anything, if China doesn’t change its approach?  Is this, sort of, a one-stop sanction?  Or down the road, will this be revisited and are further sanctions possible?  I mean, they’ve given no indication that they would change approach; in fact, they have more or less doubled down that they’re doing nothing wrong with respect to these minority groups.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, clearly, sanctions are meant to deter behavior, but I’m not going to rule in or rule out any actions when we’re at — not even day 60.  What day are we at?  Sixty-two?  I’m not even sure — of the administration. 

I can assure you that, obviously, this is — again, we will be evaluating what the appropriate next steps are in close coordination with our partners and allies around the world.  And as Secretary of State noted in his comments after this meeting, we are certain that the Chinese are noting that we are working much more closely with our allies and partners than had happened over the last four years, that we are focused on taking steps to invest in and improve our economic competition here at home.  Those are all steps we are certain they’re taking note of.

Q    Sorry, very briefly —

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

Q    — on the Guatemala trip: The President’s proposal for $4 billion in aid for the Northern Triangle has made allusions to conditions that might be placed on it — reforms, anti-corruption effort, that sort of thing.  Is this something that Ambassador Jacobson will raise at all?  In other words, are you going to be seeking changes in exchange for any funding — aid funding that might go to the region during this trip?  Will you specify any particular asks in that regard?

MS. PSAKI:  It’s a great question.  I will also note that there’s also — a part of the — part of the trip delegation is our new Special Envoy for the Northern Triangle, who I’m certain will be playing a prominent role in leading these efforts and negotiations moving forward. 

Obviously, addressing issues like corruption, violence in the region and in these countries is something that is often raised with the government because we need to work through this funding mechanism through the immigration proposal with our own Congress.

I can’t — I don’t have anything to, kind of, detail for you in terms of what those conversations will look like, but I’m sure, when they come back, we will do a robust readout of their conversations.

Q    Thank you.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  Why hasn’t the administration sought, as supplemental funding, to send resources to the border to help the migrant children — the unaccompanied minors?  Is that something that’s in the offing? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, from — I know Secretary Mayorkas has spoken to this exact question, which is a great one.  And what he has conveyed is that the funding is not the root issue here, that there are larger issues or issues that we have been focused on working through, including processing, identifying additional facilities that we think will help address the challenges we’re seeing at the border.

Q    Okay.  On vaccine distribution: I know that there are these two bilateral deals with Mexico and Canada.  I know that you aren’t ready to talk about lots of vaccine sharing around the globe.  But do you — is the administration planning to emphasize bilateral agreements on vaccine sharing globally?  Or are you expecting to ultimately put doses into COVAX?

MS. PSAKI:  We, of course, remain committed to working through COVAX.  We provided the most funding to COVAX of any country in the world, with $4 billion. 

Mexico and Canada, as you all know, are our neighbors, and so it’s — and there is a great deal of traffic that can go back and forth between these countries.  So it made sense, in those scenarios, to do “bilateral lending agreements,” for lack of a better phrasing.  But in terms of the future, I expect it will be a combination, but certainly, we will continue to be a contributing, supportive member of COVAX.

Q    And just one follow-up on the Tsarnaev question and the Boston Bombing.  Will the President — I guess I — we’re trying to understand why the Department of Justice continued to move forward with this appeal if President Biden’s position is that he has grave concerns about the death penalty.  And has President Biden or will President Biden talk to the Attorney General about this case — possibly DOJ consider changing its appeal?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have anything to preview for you on that front.  The President also believes that the Department of Justice is an independent institution.  And, of course, there are times where it is appropriate to have conversations, but I don’t have any conversations to preview for you with the Attorney General.

Q    Thanks.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

Q    As has previously been discussed, there are some families who are being released from facilities into the United States.  They’re not being given court dates or paperwork about how to complete the legal process.  How is the administration going to ensure that they can follow that legal process and can be tracked down to make sure that they show up in court or apply for asylum?

MS. PSAKI:  Are you talking about the limited families who are already in removal proceedings or who are — have al- — it’s already been determined that they are going to be sent back to their countries?  Or which — there are some — there are very limited numbers of families — very limited — who are tested.  They are — but I’m not sure which families you’re talking about, so maybe tell me a little more.

Q    Sure.  You said “very limited”; what numbers are we talking about here?

MS. PSAKI:  It’s a great question.  I’m not — I would just point you to CBP and DHS for the specific numbers.  They released that data, and they have it more at hand.

Q    Sure.  I mean more so when there are certain capacities at some of these facilities on the border that they’re being released and not being given paperwork about when to, you know, show up.  And the migrants who have spoken to our reporters in the border are confused about how to push forward their asylum claims and how to, you know, pursue staying somehow.

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not familiar with the exact case.  I mean, I’m not sure if this is one case, five cases.  I’d be happy to connect you with the officials there who can go — deeper dive on it with you.

Q    Okay.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay, go ahead.

Q    So it’s been a year since the U.S.-Mexico border and the U.S.-Canada border has been closed.  Are there any plans on reissuing guidelines, especially with, you know, the vaccine distribution and partnerships we have with both Canada and Mexico?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have anything to preview for you.  It’s constantly, of course, reevaluated.  We look at it through the prism of COVID and safety — and, obviously, diplomatic relationships, too.  But I don’t have anything to predict for you on that front.

Go ahead.  Oh, go ahead.  Alex, go ahead.

Q    Oh, thank you.  Thank you. 

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah, sorry.  I was (inaudible) pointing.

Q    Is the Secretary Austin going to — will Secretary Austin brief the President on his trip?  And secondly, the Taliban has threatened the U.S. on specifically about some sort of action if the U.S. does not meet the May 1st deadline.  So what is the President’s plan for that?

MS. PSAKI:  The Secretary sees the President on a — several times a week as a part of the PDB.  Obviously, we don’t preview what topics are discussed, but I’m certain he will discuss his trip with him, given he was in Afghanistan just over the weekend.

In terms of the May 1st timeline, the President spoke to this during his interview last week with ABC, where he conveyed it would be tough.  But there are ongoing policy discussions and decisions right now, and I don’t have anything to preview for you on that front.

Q    What is the President’s message tonight for Senate Democrats?  Is he going to get into his — his thoughts on the filibuster, for example?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, he’ll take some questions from them.  So I’m certain they can ask a range of — a range of topics.  I think he certainly wants to convey to them his gratitude for working with him on the American Rescue Plan, and commit to them that he is — he is not done yet, he has more work to do, and he looks forward to working with them on continuing to build the economy back better, work to increase American competitiveness at home, and have a conversation with them.  He’ll take their questions as well.

Q    But does he expect to get into the fili- — naturally, I would assume that’s going to come up.  Is he —

MS. PSAKI:  It may.  We’ll see.  I’m sure if they have questions about it, I’m sure he’s happy to discuss it with them.

Q    And then, just lastly —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.  Go ahead.  Oh, go ahead.

Q    — we expect that there is going to be a number of judicial nominations coming soon.  Can you give us an update on that?  And secondly, when will we hear more about the Bob Bauer commission and what will come from that?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have — soon, there will be judicial nominations.  I don’t have a timeline for you or anything like that.  It is something the President remains committed to.

As maybe we’ve talked about in the past — I can’t remember — he obviously wants it to be representative of our country.  And, you know, I think that’ll be reflected at the appropriate point in time.  And then, in terms of the judicial commission, I don’t have a timeline on that for you either. 

Go ahead.

Q    I have two questions, including one from people who can’t be here today.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    First of all, just on the border, right at the start of the administration when President Biden signed the executive orders overturning President Trump’s orders and so on — I mean, with hindsight, does he regret not speaking more clearly and more forcefully, saying, “Do not come to the border”?  Was a message sent that President Biden’s America would be more welcoming?

MS. PSAKI:  We’ve been conveying the messages that I’ve just conveyed from the beginning.  Did you have a second question?

Q    President Obama is taking part, I think within the next hour, in an event with Protect Our Care, talking about the Affordable Care Act.  Has — has he — the question is: Has he visited the White House yet?  Or, indeed, are there any — do you know how often he has spoken to President Biden?  And are there any plans for him to take part in advocacy at administration events going forward?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I will say, having a unique view of this question, they are not just — they were not just the President and Vice President; they are friends, and they consult and talk about a range of issues.  And, you know, I would expect that continues through the course of President Biden’s presidency.

That can be done over the phone, it turns out.  And I don’t — I think if President Obama had been here, you would all know; he’s a recognizable figure. 

But I expect, given former President Obama’s work on the Affordable Care Act, President Biden’s commitment to expanding access to healthcare throughout his presidency, that, you know, it’s an issue they’ll talk about.  But in terms of what he’ll be involved in, I would point you to his team.  Eric Schultz — I can give you his phone number if you need it.

Q    Do you know how many times they’ve spoken since Inauguration Day?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have an exact number for you.  You know, they keep in regular touch and our teams are in regular touch about a range of issues.

Go ahead, in the back.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  First off, before I get to my other questions, just checking on the President.  He fell going up the steps to Air Force One on Friday.  Is he doing okay?

MS. PSAKI:  He’s 100 percent fine.  I don’t know if you’ve been up those steps.  They’re a little tricky sometimes.  But he’s doing great.

Q    Not on Air Force One.  I have not been up those.  Then, did he see a doctor?  Did he have to see a doctor over it?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not aware of that being required.  There’s, of course, a doctor who travels with the President — any President of the United States.  But I’m not aware of it needing actual extensive medical attention.

Q    Okay, great.  And then, on the border, of course —

Q    That’s not “no,” though.

MS. PSAKI:  Hmm?

Q    That wasn’t “no.”

MS. PSAKI:  It wasn’t “no”? 

Q    Yeah.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I’m not trying to be — there’s a doctor who travels with him.  He was walking around, as you all saw, by the end of the day.  So I’m just trying to be completely transparent.  He’s absolutely fine, as he was on Friday, was this weekend.  He spent the weekend at Camp David.  He’s good. 

Go ahead. 

Q    Okay.  On the border, you’ve said a few times today that the majority of migrant families are turned away.  DHS said, last month, that number was 42 percent.  That’s down significantly from, say, last October, when it was over 90 percent.  So what’s your threshold for the majority?

MS. PSAKI:  The majority of people, families, everybody who comes to the border — if you look at those overarching numbers — is turned away.  DHS is the right authority for specific numbers and data on all that front, so I’d certainly encourage you to keep talking to them.

Q    So, also, you are opening up new facilities.  One of the options that’s being reported over the weekend is spending $86 million on hotel — hotel rooms for some migrants and feeding them. 

How do you square that with the National Guard troops who were sleeping in parking garages and, you know, some of them got sick from having contaminated food?  That’s the disparity a lot of people are pointing out: that our National Guard was treated one way, and then illegal immigrants are going to be put in hotel rooms.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, let me say that, at the time when we became aware of the conditions, National Guard troops were in — in parking garages, as you noted.  The President called the head of the National Guard that day and offered his assistance, offered to play any role that he could play: boosting morale, asking for more aid, making sure they had the right — were treated in the way that they deserved for the incredible role they’ve played. 

So, I know that was some time ago, but that was the reaction he took at the time.

Q    And then, if I may, one more on Rachel Levine.  Her confirmation has gotten a lot of opposition from Republicans, specifically about the COVID nursing home scandal. 

She’s implicated in Pennsylvania for signing a directive on May 18th while taking her own mother out of the nursing home.  There was over 12,000 senior deaths.  That’s half of the deaths — COVID deaths — in Pennsylvania.

This is the same scandal that Cuomo is facing in New York, and the Governor of Pennsylvania is under investigation.  So why does the — why does your administration feel that Rachel Levine should get a pass on this and get such a high official position at the Health and Human Services Department?

MS. PSAKI:  I’d have to look into more specifics of the details because your — it does not sound at all to me like the — similar — that her scenario is similar to the scenario in New York.  But we’ll follow up with you if we have more to offer.

Go ahead, in the back.

Q    Thank you.  Just — first, to follow up on Alex’s question about the remarks to the Senate Democratic Caucus tonight: Is there a reason why the press pool was allowed into the remarks to the House Democratic Caucus and that is not the plan for the Senate Democrats?  Was that something that was a White House decision or something that Senator Schumer and company decided?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m happy to check on the access question.  I certainly know that you guys like to have access to these comment — or to the — these events.  I will check and see what’s possible.

Q    And then a question on a foreign policy topic which I think you’re familiar with through the years.  Senator Menendez is leading a group of senators who are pushing for the White House to recognize the events of the Armenian genocide as a genocide rather than as atrocities of some general form.  Is there any update on the planning on that?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t — we’re certainly aware of Senator Menendez’s efforts, but I don’t have any update on our — our policy.

Go ahead, in the back.

Q    President Biden said yesterday that he regrets Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul convention concerning violence against women.  Is it to say that he has no capacity to make the difference on values with this ally?

MS. PSAKI:  That President Biden has no capacity?

Q    Yeah.

MS. PSAKI:  Certainly, we hope that’s not the case.  Turkey is a longstanding and valued NATO ally.  We’ve shared interests in countering terrorism, ending the conflict in Syria, and deterring malign influence in the region.  We seek cooperation with Turkey on common priorities and, as with any ally, engage in dialogue to address disagreements, as this was a case and evidence of. 

Okay.  Two more and then I got to go.  Go ahead.

Q    Dr. Walensky, in the briefing just now, raised a warning that cases are starting to tick up again.  Of course, we’re seeing footage of people outside — big parties, et cetera; governors who have been lifting measures.  Are you — is the White House and the President concerned that we’re going to have a new wave in the U.S. before vaccinations get in arms? Is this a question of the trajectory we’re on or could be on (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I’d certainly defer to our health and medical experts, including Dr. Walensky.  But I think one of the messages she has been sending very consistently, as the head of the CDC, is that we need to remain vigilant and we are not — this is not over.  We are still at war with the virus. 

People — 1,400 people are still dying every day.  That requires mask wearing.  It requires hand washing.  It requires social distancing.  It requires getting a vaccine when you have access.  And we are going to use every opportunity to continue to convey that.

And we understand, as human beings, that people are starting to feel better — the weather is warmer, there’s toilet paper on the shelves, whatever it may be.  But we — if we are going to get to the point of defeating this virus, we need to remain vigilant.

So I think it’s a reflection of that, and I would certainly defer to them on any predictions of — of the trajectories.  But, as you noted, we’ve seen in the data that we’ve seen an uptick in some places, and we wanted to reiterate that, given the opportunity.

Q    Is the President speaking with mayors or governors, asking them to hold off on lifting restrictions like we’ve seen in other places?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Jeff Zients has a weekly call with governors that takes place every Tuesday.  The President also engages with a range of elected officials, and I’m certain he will convey exactly that message when he speaks publicly about this issue again.

Q    You said that you were finalizing details for press access —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — on these border issues.  Can you commit to that happening this week? 

And since the administration, the President’s brief, lots of different people at different staff level have access to many kinds of photos.  Can you provide — although we would prefer independent press coverage, can provide photos to show the public now so we can have more than relying on the congressional delegation?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we are working on independent press coverage.  We believe that that should happen and that should be the case. 

And I don’t pull the levers here.  I wish I was that all powerful; I am not.  But I can just reiterate our commitment to transparency.  And I certainly hope to have an update for you very soon, but I can’t give you a deadline on that.

Q    And — but photos you already have possession of could be shared with the public.  Why not?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’re going to give you access to the facilities so that the press can have access themselves. 

Thank you, everyone, so much.

12:51 P.M. EDT