Washington, DC..,Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us on this snow day. And we wanted to ensure we held a briefing today to, of course, keep our streak going and ensure we were being as transparent and open as possible to all of you and the questions you have on a daily basis. And as we like to do, we have also secured an excellent policy advisor. Today we are joined by Homeland Security Advisor and Deputy National Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall. She will discuss the administration’s continued efforts around the winter storm impacting Texas, Oklahoma, and other states in the central United States. And then she has time to take just a couple of questions before she needs to get back to her day job of, of course, monitoring the storm.
But a little background on Liz before I turn it over to her: She was the Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy from 2014 through 2017. Earlier in the Obama administration, she served as White House Coordinator for Defense Policy, Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction, and Arms Control. Prior to that, she was Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council. In the Clinton administration, she served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia. And she began her career working for then-Senator Joe Biden as his chief advisor on foreign and defense policy.
I’ll turn it over to Liz, she’ll take a couple questions, and then I will do a briefing after that.
So, Liz, the floor is yours.
DR. SHERWOOD-RANDALL: Thanks very much, Jen. And hello to everyone. I’m sorry we can’t be doing this in person. As we in the White House have continued to monitor the situation with the extreme weather in the South, I’m glad to share an update with you on what we’ve been doing and to provide you with some context for the beginning of this effort.
As the initial storm system began to bear down on the South, I reached out last weekend, on behalf of the President, to Texas Governor Abbott and then on Monday, also, to Louisiana Governor Edwards, Alabama Governor Ivey, Mississippi Governor Reeves, Oklahoma Governor Stitt, and Kansas Governor Kelly to offer any federal assistance that the governors might need to help their citizens to manage what we anticipated to be the brutal effects of the gathering storm.
Then, on Tuesday, February 16, President Biden called a broader group of governors, and there’s been extensive follow-up with respect to those governors’ conversations with the President on specifics they discussed during that call.
For example, we responded immediately to Governor Abbott’s request for a federal emergency declaration. Oklahoma Governor Stitt submitted a request yesterday, and it was approved last night for a federal emergency declaration. And late last night, we received a request from Louisiana Governor Bel Edwards, and FEMA is processing that request as we speak.
The President’s actions authorized FEMA to provide immediate assistance to alleviate the hardship and suffering that’s being caused by this emergency.
And let me just note there is a silver lining to the very dark cloud of COVID, which is that our FEMA teams have been deeply embedded for quite a long time with state emergency preparedness and response agencies across the country and in this affected region. And so there’s a great deal of familiarity among the people involved in needing to work these issues now, because they’ve been working together quite a while on COVID response.
This morning, I was also in touch with the leadership of FEMA and also with the Department of Energy, and our private sector partners in the electricity sector, to explore whether there is anything more that we can do to provide support for our citizens across this swath of territory who are suffering from the effects of this storm.
We know that there are still about a million or more people who are experiencing power outages in the hardest-hit areas of the country, though those numbers are declining significantly. In Texas in particular, we’ve gone from multiple millions of people without power, now to approximately 600,000 at the last data point that I received from FEMA earlier this morning.
It’s important to set expectations, however, that due to the nature of this storm, citizens will continue to experience rolling power outages in some communities. And that’s just part of the process of trying to get power online and to get it delivered where it needs to go.
In the meantime, FEMA is providing generators to support water treatment plants and hospitals and nursing homes in Texas. It’s also providing blankets and meals and other supplies as requested by the governor of Texas.
I want to express our deep thanks to all of the brave first responders who have continued to deliver essential aid to those in need in these very difficult circumstances. There are many infrastructure workers who are responding under extraordinarily challenging conditions to restore energy and water systems. And there are lots and lots of citizen volunteers who have selflessly extended themselves to help others.
We are urging all people affected by the storm to listen to public officials: to take precautions to stay indoors, not to get on the roads unless they absolutely have to.
I’m just going to step back and make a couple of more observations, which is that, more broadly, the extreme weather events that we’re experiencing this week across the central, southern, and now the eastern United States do yet again demonstrate to us that climate change is real and it’s happening now, and we’re not adequately prepared for it. And in particular, power grids across our country, particularly in Texas, are overloaded by the demands that are placed on them under these circumstances, and the infrastructure is not built to withstand these extreme conditions.
Going forward, we will be leading an effort to strengthen and harden our critical infrastructure so that it can be prepared to meet the full spectrum of challenges that we’re likely to face in the future. We know that we can’t just react to extreme weather events; we actually need to plan for them and prepare for them. That’s going to require the kind of technology, innovation, and close collaboration among the federal government, states, communities, and the private sector that enables us to incentivize the kinds of actions that need to be taken to build critically — to build the kind of resilient infrastructure that we will depend on in the future.
President Biden continues to pledge the full support of the federal government to these efforts and is demonstrating his commitment to serve all Americans in these difficult times, working across the states of the South to deliver any federal support that is requested by the leadership of those states.
Thank you. And now I’m glad to take a couple of questions.
OPERATOR: Zeke Miller, you’re open. Please go ahead.
Q Thank you so much for doing the call. In terms of — can you give us a rundown of the number — the resources that FEMA has sent to Texas? You know, the number of generators, the number of meals, or any of, sort of, data you have on that.
And then, to your point about hardening the grid, what role does the federal government have in making the Texas grid more resilient, given that it is largely separate from federal oversight?
DR. SHERWOOD-RANDALL: Let me start with FEMA. The update I have from FEMA this morning for what it has provided to Texas is, as I noted, it has moved water blankets, shelf-stable meals, and generators and fuel to help respond to this event.
Specifically in Texas, it has made 60 generators and fuel available to support critical sites like hospitals and water facilities. It has moved in 729,000 liters of water, more than 10,000 wool blankets, 50,000 cotton blankets, and 225,000 meals.
And it’s also deploying additional capabilities as we speak, trying to be postured for additional demands that Texas may place — additional requests that Texas may express to FEMA for needs that FEMA can respond to. So, for example, trying to figure out how to get more fuel, oil, and diesel oil in, if necessary, to power facilities in this emergency.
To the question about the Texas grid: You’re right, the Texas grid is islanded — that’s islanded. That is a deliberate decision that was made by Texas. But I do think, going forward, there’s an important conversation to be had around how we can enhance the resilience of our critical infrastructure to meet the needs of all our citizens. For now, we’re focused obviously on these days. The future will give us an opportunity to conduct that discussion at the federal, state, and local level.
OPERATOR: Next we have Jennifer Jacobs, Bloomberg News. You’re open.
Q Hi. Thanks, Liz. The Texas governor has ordered gas producers in Texas to sell their product within the state, effectively barring exports and potentially jeopardizing foreign allies that are reliant on those supplies. It raises some Commerce Clause questions and issues under the Natural Gas Act. Is there anything you can say about whether the Biden administration is okay with all that?
DR. SHERWOOD-RANDALL: So we’re aware of the decisions of the Texas state officials. This is an authority that is a state authority. And we’re in discussion with our Mexican partners, as well as with the state officials around the decision that the state officials are taking.
OPERATOR: And next, we have the line of Ken Thomas. Will you please press 1-0 again?
MS. PSAKI: And while we’re waiting for that, this will have to be the last question. Dr. Sherwood-Randall needs to go back to her day job of monitoring the storm, but we’ll invite her back when we are all back in the briefing room.
OPERATOR: And, Ken, you’re open. Please, go ahead. Ken, do you want to press — press 1-0 again. You took yourself out. Please press 1-0. You’re open. Please, go ahead.
Q Can you hear me now?
Q Can you hear me now?
Q Great. Dr. Sherwood-Randall, what additional steps can the federal government take to relieve the power grid in Texas? I understand that the Energy Department could use some kind of emergency authority to connect Texas to the national grid. Is that under consideration?
DR. SHERWOOD-RANDALL: So that’s — that is actually not something that is physically feasible at this time. We have already seen the Energy Department take the decision to enable Texas to use generation capabilities that otherwise would be constrained by regulation having to do with what is emitted by those sources of supply in those generation facilities. So, essentially, to relax some of the standards on — in an emergency for pollution so that they can generate sufficient power while some of their sources are offline or reduced.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, thank you. Thank you, Dr. Sherwood-Randall, for joining us. We appreciate you taking the time out of a very busy week for you, and we look forward to welcoming you into the briefing room when you’re next available. Thank you.
DR. SHERWOOD-RANDALL: It was a pleasure to be with you. Thank you. Bye-bye.
MS. PSAKI: So I have a few — just more additional updates to provide to all of you, and then we will take as many questions as we can in the time allotted.
First, the federal government is also monitoring the weather’s impacts on our vaccination efforts. We are experiencing delays in COVID-19 vaccine shipments and deliveries. CDC and federal partners are working closely with the jurisdictions, as well as manufacturing and shipping partners, to assess weather conditions and to help mitigate potential delivery days — delays and cancellations.
Our COVID response team is in constant communication with local officials, hearing about what’s going on on the ground. By doing so, we’re able to work to deploy the resources of the federal government, to the extent we can, to address issues related to deliveries, distribution, and vaccinations.
This week we’ve already had and will continue to field many one-on-one calls, correspond to email, and conduct Zoom meetings with states, tribes, territories, and key partners to remain in close contact about our vaccination efforts and the impact of the storm.
We’re also working with our partners to move up scheduled deliveries whenever possible and to surge shipment operations through the end of the week into the weekend. We’re in conversation about extended hours and additional appointments to try and reschedule shots, given the storm.
Our goal is to ensure vaccine distribution across all jurisdictions is as stable and equitable as possible through this program, and we continue to monitor and work closely with jurisdictions and pharmacy partners to achieve that goal.
And then, I would expect tomorrow that when you all have your — one of the three weekly updates from the COVID team, they will provide a more extensive update on this and also answer any questions you have about the work that they have been focused on.
Second is: Today, President Biden’s immigration bill, the U.S. Citizenship Act, will be formally introduced in Congress. This legislation modernizes our immigration system. It provides hardworking people, who have enriched our communities and lived here for decades, an opportunity to earn citizenship.
The President’s priorities, reflected in this bill, are to responsibly manage the border, keep families together, grow our economy, address the root causes of migration from Central America, and ensure that America remains a refuge for those fleeing persecution.
The President believes all of these require immediate action that is long overdue. Immigration reform is not historically a Democratic or Republican priority, but an American one. Modernizing it is long overdue — the system.
We expect elected officials from both sides of the aisle to come to the table so we can finally get this done.
I also wanted to note numbers out this morning on new unemployment claims. Jobless claims increased, and for 48 weeks in a row now, new regular unemployment claims have outpaced their pre-pandemic high. Combined with stalled job growth over the last three months, we have a clear picture of the trouble our economy is in and the financial pain being felt by millions of Americans.
Economists, experts, and leaders across the political spectrum have come out and supported the Rescue Plan because they know it’s the best tool we have to get us through this economic storm, create millions of jobs, and get Americans back to work.
Also, many of you have been asking for a preview of the President’s remarks and engagement remotely at the G7 Munich Security Conference tomorrow. So let me venture to do that, and then we’ll take your questions.
Tomorrow morning — or I will take your questions, I should say. Tomorrow morning, President Biden will join fellow world leaders at a virtual gathering of the G7. This will be the first gathering of G7 leaders since April of 2020. This virtual engagement with leaders of the world’s leading democratic market economies will provide an opportunity for President Biden to discuss plans to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic and rebuild the global economy.
President Biden will focus on a global response to the COVID pandemic, including coordination on vaccine production, distribution, and supplies, as well as continued efforts to mobilize and cooperate against the threat of emerging infectious diseases by building country capacity and establishing health security financing.
In January, on President Biden’s first day in office, he announced that the United States would reengage with the World Health Organization to strengthen global health. His first national security memorandum was focused on COVID-19 and the relationship between a safe and secure United States; defeating COVID-19; improving global health; and advancing domestic and global health security to prevent, detect, and respond to future biological catastrophes.
The administration has pledged the United States will join the COVAX initiative to purchase and distribute vaccines globally and through a multilateral mechanism. These global efforts reinforce the President’s progress to address the COVID pandemic at home, including increasing the pace of vaccinations, instituting public health measures for safe travel, and providing schools with scientific guidance for safe operations.
President Biden will also discuss the global economic recovery, including the importance of all industrialized countries maintaining economic support for the recovery and collective measures to build back better.
As we build back better, we must ensure that the recovery is inclusive and benefits all workers, including women and members of historically disadvantaged groups in all parts of our country.
He will also discuss the need to make investments to strengthen our collective competitiveness and the importance of updating global rules to tackle economic challenges such as those posed by China.
Finally, President Biden and other leaders will also discuss a robust agenda of measures to address the global climate crisis, a key priority for the administration.
The February 19th virtual engagement will be hosted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as part of this year’s UK’s G7 presidency and ahead of the planned G7 Summit in June of 2021.
Also — I will stop there. With that, I’m happy to open it up and take your questions. And we want to take — I want to take as many as possible. So we always love follow-ups, but we want to get to as many people as possible as we have an opportunity to do this virtually today.
So, Art, we’re ready to open it up.
OPERATOR: Zeke Miller, with the Associated Press, you’re open.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Zeke.
OPERATOR: Sorry, Zeke, press 1-0 again. You might have took yourself out. One moment. Once again, Zeke, if you’re still on, please press 1-0.
And we’ll move on. We have Jennifer Jacobs, Bloomberg News. Please, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Jennifer. (Inaudible) slightly —
MS. PSAKI: — but we’re trying.
Q Question about reports on the recovery package being about $3 trillion for jobs and infrastructure, as part of the President’s Build Back Better program. Is this $3 trillion about in the ballpark that you’re talking about?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Jennifer, let me first say that right now, the administration’s sole priority, our sole priority is getting the American Rescue Plan passed, which means getting shots in the arms of the American people, getting families urgent economic relief they need, ensuring communities have the resources they need in the fight against COVID.
I would not expect the President or any of us to lay out next pieces of his agenda until that package is through and signed, and that release is out — going out to the public.
So there have been a range of reports, but what I can confirm for you is that there are discussions that are ongoing about the President’s agenda. Looking ahead, no final decision has been made, and we’re certainly not at the point where we are either finalizing or previewing his future proposals.
OPERATOR: Our next question will come from the line of Andrea Shalal of Reuters. Please, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Andrea.
Q Thank you, Jen. Hi.
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to hear you. I was getting a little worried (inaudible).
Q I wanted to ask you about a little bit more on the technical (inaudible) infrastructure (inaudible), but I’m getting an echo.
MS. PSAKI: I can hear you (inaudible) in — in and out a little bit, but maybe, could you start your question from the top?
Q Yeah, I just put on a headset. I think that’ll make it easier.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q Okay, so my question is: What — we just heard about the forthcoming efforts to shore up the infrastructure grid in Texas. Do you have any idea whether that will be included in the recovery package that you’re talking about? Would that be a separate measure? Do you have any kind of sense of the price tag of that?
And I just have a separate question on the COVAX effort.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q There is a waiver that has been proposed by India and South Africa that would temporarily suspend intellectual property protections to ensure that vaccines can get to places in developing countries. Is that something that the United States supports? It was blocked by the previous administration.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say, on COVAX, that I suspect we’ll have more news on the — in the next 24 hours on our engagements and contributions to the overall global effort. But our commitment is to work with and through COVAX to ensure that we are both — there is equitable distribution of vaccines and funding globally, and also that there is a standard through which these vaccines are considered and distributed.
I’m happy to talk to our team about that specific waiver, but again, I just wanted to reiterate that we are planning — we are committed to working through COVAX, and we’ll have more on our global — on our contribution to the global effort in the next 24 hours. I believe there’s also going to be a call later this afternoon to outline that in more specific detail.
On your first question — and your first question, can you just say that one more time? I apologize.
Q Yeah, I basically was asking about the need to shore up the power grid that we’ve just seen now in Texas, and whether that is already part of the recovery; what you think about the recovery plan, whether it will be folded in; and if you have any estimates of what that specific component of (inaudible) infrastructure (inaudible) would entail.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would first say that, again, our sole priority right now is getting the American Rescue Plan passed. There are — there is still more work to be done on that front. We are — we have our foot on the gas, and we are remaining engaged with Democrats and Republicans on the Hill about moving that forward. It is not on the President’s desk, it is not signed, and it is not — that release is not in the hands of the American people.
At the same time, there are ongoing discussions internally and with stakeholders in consultation about what the agenda looks like — what the President’s agenda looks like moving forward. But no final decisions have been made, and so I’m not in a position, naturally, to preview that. But I wouldn’t expect that we will preview anything or you’ll hear the President talk about it until the American Rescue Plan is passed.
In terms of your question about Texas: As Dr. Sherwood-Randall conveyed, clearly, you know, there is a need to assess and take a look at how we protect and support critical infrastructure across the country, including our national energy grids, and ensure that we are better prepared in the future.
There is plenty of time to have that conversation. Right now, our focus is on working every lever that we have at our disposal through the federal government to get relief to the people of Texas.
So I don’t have anything to preview for you, other than to convey that our focus is the — on the emergency at hand, and that is what we are putting our internal and interagency efforts on.
Q And, Jen, can I just follow up?
MS. PSAKI: Yep.
Q Has the President reached out to Governor Abbott (inaudible) and asked him to try to stick to the facts in terms of (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I apologize, Andrea. You’re kind of coming in and out. Can you just start that again? I heard “Governor Abbott,” but I didn’t hear the rest of the question.
Q Okay. Has the President reached out to Governor Abbott to ask him to stick to the facts on the cause of the (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: The President spoke with Governor Abbott — I believe it was two days ago — and conveyed his commitment to helping utilize the resources available from the federal government to help the people of Texas.
We are engaged at many levels, as Dr. Sherwood-Randall conveyed, with governors, with members of their teams, with FEMA, with local authorities to ensure that relief is getting into the right hands and into the right communities. But I don’t have an additional call to read out for you now.
Q Thank you.
OPERATOR: Our next question will come from the line of Nancy Cordes at CBS News. Please, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Nancy.
Q Hi, Jen. How are you? Thank you for doing this remotely. My first question is about the immigration bill. And I know you addressed this a little bit yesterday, but what’s the White House take on the pros and cons of passing parts of the immigration plan instead of doing it in one fell swoop? A number of these congressional Democrats seem to be very open to the possibility of doing it in a piecemeal fashion.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, first, the bill being introduced today is — represents much as President Biden’s vision, which includes addressing some key components of what he feels needs to be modernized in our system, including providing an earned path to citizenship — which includes, of course, DREAMers; responsibly and effectively managing our borders; investing in smart security; and addressing the root causes of migration from Central America.
He feels these are — each of these components are vital and imperative to address our outdated immigration system.
Now, he also, having served in the Senate for 36 years, is no stranger to the process of a bill becoming a law, and he is looking forward to working directly with members, hopefully of both parties — immigration is not — immigration reform, I should say, has not historically been a Democratic or Republican issue — to determine what the path forward looks like.
And he is all too familiar — or very familiar with the fact that a bill proposed does typically not look like the final bill signed. But it is just being formally proposed today. We are eager to work with Democrats, Republicans, members of the CHC, others who have been working passionately on these issues for a long period of time.
And at this point, you know, he’s just looking forward to having a bill to sign at his desk.
Q Thanks. And then, what is the White House take on this concern that has been voiced by some House Democrats, like Henry Cuellar or Vicente Gonzalez, that if you put out something this ambitious this early, that it’s, first, going to motivate a surge of migrants to try to come here, and also open up President Biden to attempts by Republicans to try to paint him as soft on immigration?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you know, I would say on the — the fact that the President put forward — felt it was a priority to put forward an immigration bill on his first day in office just reflects his own commitment to modernizing an outdated system and also taking every step he can to move forward from the chaos, cruelty, and confusion that was created by the immigration policies of the last four years.
That’s not — that’s not a position or an approach that’s being done through a political prism, but through a moral prism: what is right for the country; what is right for the millions of immigrants who are living in the shadows; and, frankly, what is right for our security at the border; and what is right for addressing the root causes that led to the crisis at the border that — that we have seen over the course of the last several years.
At the same time, as we have done many times, we will continue to convey and repeat from (inaudible) level the need — the fact that this is not the right time to come. We have not — we don’t have the systems in place. We don’t have the policies in place. We don’t have the laws in place or the processing in place at the border to consider a wave of people fleeing their countries.
We are — this is a priority; we’re eager to get it through. And we’re also going to take additional steps, as you’ve seen from the Department of Homeland Security in their efforts to increase processing, through executive action, to inject some morality into this system. But this is not the time to come. We are eager to move forward this — with this as quickly as possible. And him proposing it on the first day, moving it forward within a month, is a reflection of that priority.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Nancy.
OPERATOR: Our next question will come from the line of Francesca Chambers of McClatchy. Please, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Francesca.
Q Hi, can you hear me?
MS. PSAKI: I can.
Q Okay, great. Thank you. Thanks, Jen, for doing this. So, two questions related to the disaster relief aid, and then something on another topic — I guess we can take them separately to make this easier.
Is there federal assistance or aid available to municipalities who previously paid or are paying high gas prices for natural gas, or does that assistance depend on a state request? For instance, the State of Missouri, would they have to make that request for a municipality?
And then, on a related topic: Liz Sherwood-Randall had mentioned a request from Louisiana for disaster relief aid, but what about the other states that have been affected and whose governors the President spoke with earlier this week, such as Kansas or Kentucky? Have they requested aid? And if so, when could they expect to get that?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, Francesca, I would say typically how it works is that states request — or in coordination, of course — a declaration of an emergency — you know, a disaster declaration, and we work closely with them at the federal level to do exactly that.
We have been sharing with all of you our engagements on a daily basis, so you all are kept abreast of those conversations. But I would certainly point you to some of the state governments on what their needs are and requests, and what they’ve been requesting specifically of the federal government to ensure it’s helping provide the assistance to the people in their states that’s needed during this difficult time of the storm.
It’s an excellent question about municipalities. I will have to follow up with our homeland security team on that specific technical question. A good one, but maybe we can connect you with them directly after the briefing.
Q Okay, and then on another topic. The Vice President said today that she views the number of women leaving the workforce as a national emergency. Does the President share the Vice President’s view on that? And if so, does he plan to make a national emergency declaration and take action to address the declining number of women in the workforce, aside from the stimulus package that he’s presented to Congress?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Francesca, I would first say that this is something the President and Vice President have discussed and he has raised with — in a number of meetings I have been in with him — his concern about the impact of the dual crises of COVID-19 and the economic downturn on women in the workforce.
As you well know, it is not just about women who are leaving the workforce now; it is about what the impact will be on future years if there are women taking themselves out of the running for moving up the corporate ladder; out of the running for seeking PhDs, for getting law degrees; you know, women taking themselves off of the frontlines of essential industries like healthcare work. That has an impact, of course, on gender equality. It also has an impact on the economy moving forward, and any economist will convey that to you.
So the President has conveyed, in many meetings I’ve been in, his concern about this directly, and I know he’s discussed it with the Vice President as well.
I would say the American Rescue Plan — the key components in there, some are meant to help address exactly this crisis, including funding to reopen schools.
As a mom myself, I can confirm for you, and many mothers across the country can confirm for you, that — the fact that schools still need additional resources to reopen. Obviously, the CDC guidelines give us a good guidepost — give school districts a good guidepost, but many still need funding. That having kids go back to school has an impact on many working mothers, of course.
Also, ensuring direct relief goes out through checks. That’s something who will help — that will help households, whether they are single-parent households or dual-income households, where one of the individuals was laid off. Ten million Americans have been laid off, so there’s no question many of them — as we know, statistically — are certainly women. And certainly, getting people vaccinated will help more people return to the workforce, more child — more kids go to childcare centers, and again, schools, as I said.
So I would say, the President recognizes the severity of this crisis, the impact on women. That’s part of the reason why he — why there are some of these key components in this package. And he certainly agrees with the Vice President’s assessment.
Q He agrees that it’s a national emergency?
MS. PSAKI: He agrees, certainly, that it’s an emergency and a crisis, Francesca.
But I think we’re going to move on because I want to take a few more questions. And we’ll certainly connect you with — on the municipalities question.
Q Thanks, Jen.
OPERATOR: Our next question will come from the line of Jeremy Diamond of CNN. Please, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hey, Jeremy.
Q Hey, Jen. Thanks for doing this. So on the immigration bill: You know, obviously, front burner for you guys right now is the coronavirus relief legislation, so I’m curious if you could explain, on the decision to introduce this today, you know, why now while there’s clearly a higher priority for you guys, as it relates to Congress.
And then secondly, you know, there isn’t much in the way of new funding for border security and enforcement in this bill. I’m wondering if the President is open to increasing funding for border security, including for more wall or fencing construction in order to get this bill through.
MS. PSAKI: Well, first let me say that the President introduced — or, I should say, announced his plans to introduce this package — to work with Congress to introduce this package on his first day in office, because he believes that modernizing our immigration system is an absolute priority for the country and that we are able to — members of Congress are able to move forward in negotiating the components of the package and what it will look like in a final package, even while we are pushing forward on our effort to get the American Rescue Plan passed.
And, as you all know, Jeremy, and many people on the phone know, there is — there are negotiations that will need to happen. This is — there was a reset that was really needed to get an immigration bill discussed and negotiated, and that is what our effort is to do here.
As you know, Representative Sánchez, Senator Menendez are starting this process. And we certainly are eager to have many more co-sponsors — Republicans — join that, given that this has historically been an issue Democrats and Republicans are committed to.
There is, of course, funding in here. One of the key components of the bill is investing in smart security at our ports of entry and doing it in a way that’s actually effective. The funding — the entire strategy of the last four years was to do funding for a wall that was not effective in securing our border. It was not effective in providing a pathway to citizenship. Obviously, it was not effective at addressing the root causes. That is not our strategy. But there will be a discussion and a negotiation.
We certainly understand that the sausage that comes out of the machine on the other side will look different from the sausage that’s introduced today. We’re supportive of that, and we’ll look forward to working with Congress to get the bill moving forward.
Q And just real quickly on another topic. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, yesterday, threatened to move a pop-up vaccination clinic after facing criticism from some county officials. He threatened to move it to another county. Would that kind of action by Governor DeSantis or any other governor affect federal government shipments of vaccines to Florida and prompt the federal government to take oversight of vaccination deliveries and administration in the state?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first let me say that our effort to vaccinate — get 100 million vaccines in the arms of American — 100 million shots in the arms of Americans, I should say, in the first 100 days, and exceed that goal, is not through a political prism. And we certainly would not support any effort to, you know, have the people of Florida or any state — Democrat or Republican, blue or red — impacted by the decisions of their leadership.
So, no, I would not see us taking action in those — in that — along those lines. We have increased, as you know, Jeremy, the shipments to states by 57 percent since the President took office. There are a number of ways that vaccines are being distributed in Florida, but, of course, in states across the country. But — you know, we remain committed to doing that. And I don’t have anything more on that specific report, which I had not had the chance to review before the briefing.
OPERATOR: Our next question will come from the line of Nikki Schwab of Daily Mail. Please, go ahead.
Q Hi, Jen. Can you hear me?
MS. PSAKI: I can.
Q Great. Just wondering if the President has any reaction to these reports that say Senator Ted Cruz flew to Cancun amid this giant winter storm in his home state of Texas?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any updates on the exact location of Senator Ted Cruz, nor does anyone at the White House. But our focus is on working directly with leadership in Texas and the surrounding states on addressing the winter storm and the crisis at hand — the many people across the state who are without power, without the resources they need. And we expect that would be the focus of anyone in the state or surrounding states who was elected to represent them. But I don’t have any update on his whereabouts.
OPERATOR: Our next question will come from the line of Joey Garrison of USA Today. Please, go ahead.
Q Yeah, Jen. Thanks for taking this call. Can you hear me?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I can. Hi, Joey.
Q Hey, how are you? Republicans increasingly are jumping on the reopening schools issue for the ’22 midterm elections and trying to blame Democrats and Joe Biden for the reason, you know, parents’ children aren’t in school. What’s your reaction to that? It’s pretty openly a line of attack right now. And do you think that’s a fair line of attack right now, you know, as you’re looking ahead towards the midterms?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say, on the political front, that no polling I have seen has shown that is effective. And there was actually a poll out yesterday that showed that President Biden and teachers were the most trusted entities in terms of determining when school should reopen. We obviously rely on science and rely on our health experts, and we think that reflects where most of the country want us to be. They want schools to reopen. We’re also committed to doing that.
So there are CDC guidelines that came out on Friday that provided a roadmap for schools to open safely. The President wants schools to open five days a week. He wants kids to be in school. Teachers want kids to be in school. And he also believes that teachers should be prioritized, as do — as does the Vice President.
So — but he also believes that there are a range of mitigation steps — or, I should say, he follows the guidelines, as we all do and should, that were put out by our health and medical experts that show there are a range of mitigation steps. Vaccinations are one of the additional steps that the CDC is recommending, but there are additional steps, including masking, smaller class sizes. And he is eager to have his Secretary of Education confirmed so that he can work with school districts across the country, lead that effort to reopen schools. And we remain committed to that.
Q Any concern about this issue though making Democrats vulnerable in 2022 if it’s not turned around and schools don’t start reopening here in the coming months?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that the President, the Vice President, and this White House don’t see reopening schools through a political prism. We see it as what’s in the interests of teachers, of students, of families, of parents, and we want to do it safely. And the President is committed to reopening schools five days a week as quickly as possible. He is committed to also following science and working with school districts, to having his Secretary of Education work with school districts to get that done.
And he has also — what is within his power is that we are working with Congress to get additional funding, which is essential to many school districts across the country, so that they can follow and take these mitigation steps recommended by the CDC, including ensuring masking, smaller class sizes, that there are more bus drivers hired, that there are more teachers hired if needed.
That’s within the President’s power — something he is focused on every day and night so that we can open schools, open them five days a week, within 100 days. And that’s where his focus is. We don’t see that through a political prism. Kids are not Democrats or Republicans. And their parents — I think this is an issue that all Americans care deeply about.
Q Thanks, Jen.
OPERATOR: Our next question will come from the line of Kayla Tausche of CNBC. Please go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Kayla.
Q Hi, Jen. Thank you for doing this. We appreciate it.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q I have two questions: one domestic, one foreign.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q The first is on the economy. This week, we saw retail sales and inflation data that were unexpectedly strong. I’m wondering how the White House is factoring that data into the size of the rescue package and whether $1.9 trillion would, as some critics say, “overheat the economy.”
And then my foreign question, which I’ll just go ahead and ask, is that Iran has said it will stop allowing snap inspections by the IAEA beginning on Monday if parties to the nuclear deal don’t take their own steps toward full compliance. Does the President see this as motivation to engage with Iran sooner rather than later?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me take the second question first, if that makes sense.
Iran is a long way from compliance. Our focus is on working with our partners and allies to engage and coordinate on a range of issues, including the future of the Iran nuclear deal. Secretary Blinken has a meeting with his E3 part- — counterpart later this afternoon, and I would suspect the State Department would have a readout from that meeting.
But certainly our — our focus is, of course, on preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear deal, but they are a long way from compliance and our — our focus is also on working with our partners and allies. On — our priority, I should say, Kayla.
On the economic question, I know a number of our economic experts, including Secretary — our Secretary of Treasury has answered the question. But I will say that most economists will tell you and most economic data will show that we are crawling out of a massive hole, and it’s — we’re crawling out too slowly, and that what is essential is to ensure that we have — we put in, you know, of course, stimulus into our economy to help expedite that.
And that is part of what this package will do, by providing direct relief to the American people; by reopening schools, which will have a huge impact on working mothers and parents across the country; by getting vaccinations in the arms of the American people. Most economic data and studies have shown that this package will have a significant impact on that, and that we still have a long way to go in our recovery, so it is essential at this point in time.
Q Thank you. Appreciate it.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
OPERATOR: Our next question will come from the line of Peter Alexander of NBC News. Please go ahead.
Q Hey, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Peter.
Q Thanks for hosting us. Sorry we can’t do it in person. You sort of hit on this a bit, but I just want to, sort of, drill down a little bit on the immigration announcement today and what specifically is the strategy for this White House to get this immigration bill passed right now. Will you bring Republicans here to engage them in the process? Would you do it through reconciliation? How are you going to get something this big done?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. All great questions, Peter. I think we’re not quite there, because today is the day that the bill is being proposed. Obviously, Senator Menendez, Congresswoman Sánchez will be key leaders on the Hill to determine, in coordination with us, the next steps forward.
But right now, we are eager to communicate about what is in the package, why the key components — why all of the components are pivotal pieces of the package. And, in terms of the mechanism or the timeline or the mechanics, you know, we’re — we’re happy to have that conversation in the weeks ahead. But today, we’re just — the bill is just being officially introduced.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Our next question —
MS. PSAKI: I’m just going to take two more questions. And we’ll, of course, do this again tomorrow, but I just have a bit of a hard out coming up. But go ahead, whoever is next.
OPERATOR: Our next question will come from the line of Matt Viser of The Washington Post. Please, go ahead.
Q Hey, Jen. Thanks for doing this in an unusual circumstance. We know, from earlier, that Biden spoke with governors on Tuesday about the weather conditions. Most of his visibility though has been on another disaster — of COVID.
Can you highlight a little bit just how hands on Biden himself has been with the natural disasters; if he’s briefed hourly, daily; if he has any plans to visit any of these states or plans to say anything more broadly about it at this time?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I will say that the President is kept abreast of the developments in Texas and the surrounding states and receives updates every day, but more than once a day. It is certainly a focus, and as — and ensuring that the people of Texas, the people of the surrounding states have the resources they need is something that he raises in meetings frequently and has over the past couple of days.
In terms of whether he will visit: You know, I think as you well know, Matt, one of the factors to consider here is what the impact is, the footprint — right? — of a presidential trip. It can take up resources. It can take up, you know, the time and energy of police and security. And so those are factors that we consider as we determine when and where he will visit.
But he is — does receive — he is in the White House today, of course — that’s where he lives. But he is, I should say, you know, working today, receiving updates today. I suspect he would receive several updates from his national security team. And he is focused on and has directed his team to provide him — ensure he’s updated, but also make rapid decisions and be responsive to the specific needs of the states as they come up during this difficult time.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, I’ll take one more question, then we’ll do this again tomorrow. Well, a different version of this, but —
OPERATOR: Our next question in queue will come from the line of Mr. James Rosen of Sinclair Broadcast Group. Please, go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen. Can you hear me all right?
MS. PSAKI: I can. Hi, James.
Q Jen, thanks for expanding the call today, and it’s nice to be back with you if only by telephone.
MS. PSAKI: (Inaudible.)
Q I just wanted to follow up on the comments of Liz. To have the Deputy National Security Advisor brief us on the Texas grid collapse — you know, it’s not just the immediate logistical issues that she’s grappling with. I want to ask about the nexus between energy policy and national security.
As you know, Republicans in Congress and in the energy sector have been pointing out that, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. achieved one of the core benchmarks of energy independence in 2019. That was the first year since 1957 that the U.S. produced more energy than the country consumed. And that’s one basic definition of energy independence. And they claim or they argue that the policies being pursued by the Biden administration will sacrifice those gains.
How do you persuade the American people that U.S. national security can be safeguarded by this transition to a green economy, which, of course, has never been fully developed anywhere relative to our scale?
MS. PSAKI: Well, James, you know, in this White House, we like to follow the facts and also rely on experts, as you know. And I would say that, you know, officials at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s power grid, has said that the failures in wind and solar were the least significant factor in the blackouts.
And there have been a range of reports that have suggested otherwise, inaccurately. But that’s not accurate according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
As Dr. Sherwood-Randall also conveyed, clearly there is a need to assess how we protect and support our national infrastructure to ensure it’s resilient and sustainable during storms, during any threats to it.
And there is, of course, plenty of time to do that, and it is a priority for this administration. But right now, our focus, her focus, the President’s focus is on ensuring that the millions of people, or the many, many people across these states that are impacted are receiving the relief and assistance they need.
So we’ll have those policy discussion, but we are focused on the emergency at hand at this point in time.
Thank you, everybody, so much for joining the briefing. I really appreciate your flexibility in getting through the technical details. And I’ll look forward to talking with all of you tomorrow.
END 1:33 P.M. EST