Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, February 8, 2022

7 months ago
AMERICA NEWS NOW

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:41 P.M. EST

     MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  Well, happy Tuesday, everyone.  As you all know — just a couple of announcements for all of you at the top.  As you all know, the pandemic-induced global supply chain backlog has strained our transportation industry and created a critical shortage of truck drivers. 

     Almost two months ago, the Biden-Harris administration launched a Trucking Action Plan to strengthen America’s workforce. 

     A key element of this plan is encouraging the trucking industry to recruit and retain well-trained drivers by creating a safe, welcoming, and stable career path with good-paying jobs and family-sustaining wages. 

     We can think of few Americans better prepared to take on this challenge than our nation’s veterans, since many have military trucking experience, are familiar with safety culture, and have maintenance skills. 

     On Friday, the administration met with veteran service organizations representing nearly 4 million veterans to discuss ways that we and the industry could attract, train, place, and retain veterans in trucking jobs. 

     And today, we’re pleased to announce the Departments of Labor, Transportation, Defense, Veterans Affairs, and the Small Business Administration will be raising awareness about 16 different federal programs that can — that can connect transitioning military personnel and veterans to rewarding careers in the trucking industry.  A highlight of these efforts is the Department of Labor’s Registered Apprenticeship Program. 

So, we see this as a win-win-win — getting more veterans to work, addressing the shortages in the trucking industry. 

     I also wanted to note that, as you’ve heard the President talk about a fair amount, he’s committed to using every tool at his disposal to bring down prices.  And you’re going to hear him talk and the administration talk a lot about this as the — as the week proceeds. 

     That’s why we’re working to ease supply chain bottlenecks and give consumers more choices.  That’s why we continue to push for legislation like Build Back Better and a competitiveness bill that will make our economy stronger, lower the costs of essentials, bring more manufacturing to the United States, and strengthen our supply chains. 

     This week, the President is also going to be meeting with business leaders and traveling in the country — to Virginia, as you know — to highlight his plan to address prices.  While we’re made — we’ve made remarkable strides with the fastest economic growth since 1984 and the most jobs created in one year ever, he knows there’s more work to do to keep prices down. 

     He will al- — he also talked this afternoon, as you just all heard him do, about how we can build more in America, bring down costs through making more in America, and rebuilding our supply chains. 

     And as I noted, tomorrow he’ll be hosting CEOs at the White House to talk about how Build Back Better can lower energy costs. 

     As you know, he’s going to Virginia on Thursday to talk about lowering the price of prescription drugs. 

     With that, Colleen, why don’t you kick us off?

     Q    Okay, a couple things.  Do you have any information about a possible security threat at Dunbar High School where the Second Gentleman was?  I think he was just taken from the event and it was postponed, but we don’t know —

     MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any updates on this.  We will venture to see if we can get to anything, even if it’s during the briefing. 

     Q    It just happened, yeah.

     MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  Excellent. 

     Q    And then, second, the remaining Child Tax Credit is — you know, the Biden administration is encouraging people to use what’s left of the remaining tax credit.  So, to what extent do you hope that you can show the benefits of the program to overcome skepticism about the program, kind of by getting this last bunch of money out there?

     And one more thing after.

     MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Well, one of the steps we’re trying to take here, which is — which is showcased by the fact that today the Vice President, Secretary Yellen, and Gene Sperling are hosting a Day of Action with over 100 nonprofits and community-based organizations to encourage all Americans to take advantage of critical tax credits, including the expanded Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit when they file their taxes this year. 

     Part of the reason we’re doing that is because we know how effective it is.  We know that it helped cut child poverty by 40 percent last year.  We know it helped give many families some extra breathing room at a time where the economy was still recovering.  And studies show that the Child Tax Credit also helps working families with development — with developments and opportunities for their children. 

     It’s important to remember — and this one of the things they’ll be talking about today — that Americans that qualify for the extended Child Tax Credit will still receive half of the entire benefit when they file their taxes this year. 

     And yesterday, we launched a new version of ChildTaxCredit.gov to help Americans get the full Child Tax Credit as tax filing season begins. 

     So, part of our effort here is to continue to talking about — continue talking about the benefits: how they’re helping working families; how they’re helping many women who need — who need an extra hand to cover childcare costs; and how they’re helping give people a little extra breathing room. 

     Q    And then lastly, if Dr. Lander — the President accepted his resignation last night, I think.  Right?

     MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

     Q    Or this morning.

MS. PSAKI:  Last night.

    Q    Last night.  I mean, not to go back to yesterday’s discussion, but should he have just fired him to begin with, if he was just going to offer his resignation anyway, and spare all of the criticism from yesterday?  I mean, I don’t know, should there have been things done differently, I guess?

     MS. PSAKI:  Well, let me reiterate something I said yesterday, because I think it’s important for people to hear that, from the outset, Dr. Lander’s behavior was unacceptable.  Senior White House officials conveyed that to him directly at the conclusion of the investigation.  And, of course, we talked about that yesterday. 

     And what happened here is we took — we — as a part of the implementation of the Safe and Respectful Workplace Policy — something that we implemented and announced last May, or put out there last May — we implemented a process — including an investigation, including a meeting that Dr. Lander had with senior White House officials — to convey the severity of his actions and what steps he was expected to take and the fact that there would be complia- — he would be expected to be compliant. 

     As you saw, we released Dr. Lander’s note last night to all of you — or his letter of resignation, I should say.  It was made clear to him — through the course of the day yesterday, I suppose — that he could no longer lead OSTP effectively.  And he conveyed that in his letter.  The President accepted his resignation. 

     So, I think we’re now focused on looking forward.  There’s obviously a lot of important work that OSTP will do, continue to do, and continue to lead on moving forward.  And the President is eager to continue working with them. 

     Go ahead.

     Q    Thanks, Jen.  A couple on Ukraine.  President Macron says that he believes that he achieved this objective of preventing an escalation after his day with Vladimir Putin.  What have the French shared with the White House about that meeting?  And does the White House believe that we are, today, closer to seeing de-escalation as a result of this meeting than we were yesterday?

     MS. PSAKI:  Well, the meeting and the press conference, as you may have seen, ended very late last night.  So, obviously, we are — will continue to be in very close contact with our French counterparts at a range of levels.

     The President has spoken with — with President Macron twice in the last week.  I expect he’ll be engaged with him soon, which we will, of course — to go back to Kelly’s question yesterday — make you all aware of.

     I would just say we encourage and we’re encouraged by any efforts at diplomacy.  We can’t — we still don’t have any prediction of what President Putin will do.  We can’t control what Russia will do next. 

     What we can do and what I think President Macron played a role in doing yesterday is making clear with our Allies and partners that there will be massive consequences should Putin choose to further invade Ukraine. 

     But in terms of an assessment, we don’t have any new information or new prediction about where President Putin’s head is.

     Q    Has the White House not received a readout from the French on this?

     MS. PSAKI:  We — we are — we remain in close touch with our counterparts, but I don’t have an update on any specifics of behind-the-scenes diplomatic talks.

     Q    And one more one Ukraine.  We heard the President and the Chancellor yesterday emphasize this united front.  We did not hear the Chancellor mention the phrase “Nord Stream 2.”  What assurances did this White House get from Germany — the German government — about Nord Stream 2 and the future of that pipeline if Russia invades?

     MS. PSAKI:  Well, as you heard the President very definitively say yesterday at the press conference: If Russia further invades Ukraine, there will no longer be a Nord Stream 2 and we will bring an end to it. 

     You heard the German Chancellor also convey yesterday that we are working in lockstep and that we are very coordinated in our efforts. 

     In terms of the specifics, we’ll let those conversations happen through diplomatic channels. 

     But I would also reiterate that Nord Stream 2 is not currently operational.  We agree that it is a point of leverage with President Putin and the Russians.  German regulators have suspended certification of the pipeline.  And we have been very clear privately, as we have been publicly, about the fact that it would not continue should Russia invade. 

     Q    And I have just one last one.  Your reaction to the RNC declaring what happened on January 6th as “legitimate political discourse”?  And Democrats on the Hill today are being very vocal about this.  Hakeem Jeffries says the “C” in “RNC” stands for “cult.”  Does the White House agree with that?

     MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think it’s clear to Americans that what happened on January 6th was not “legitimate political discourse.”  Storming the Capitol in an attempt to halt the peaceful transition of power is not legitimate discourse, neither is attacking and injuring over 140 police officers, smashing windows, and defiling offices. 

It’s telling to all of us that some leading Republicans have rejected that characterization, including the former President’s National Security Advisor and the Chief of Staff to the former Vice President, who, as he put it, had a front-row seat that day, including as rioters chanted for the former Vice President to be hanged. 

So, again, we certainly reject the notion that that was “legitimate political discourse,” as we think very — a large number of Americans would as well.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  I want to ask you about this Army after-action investigation into the Afghanistan withdrawal that was obtained by the Washington Post.  First of all, is this is a report that the White House has had an opportunity to review and absorb?  And if so, were there any lessons that were learned from it?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I know, obviously, our national security team, as we said at the time, was going to conduct after-action reports as they would as it relates to the end of any conflict or any engagement of that sort. 

You know, we have always believed that the end of a 20-year war was always going to have significant challenges.  We — as you know and we talked about at the time, through the summer, we were pressing our system hard on whether we were meeting previously established tripwires that would require us to adjust operations at Embassy Kabul.  That’s how we looked at it and evaluated it at the time. 

The NSC led that process and convened regular interagency discussions.  And, of course, earlier in the summer, we prepositioned U.S. forces in the region to be ready to facilitate a NEO in preparation of exactly that scenario.

I know I — I reiterate all of that because I know we haven’t talked about this in great detail in some time, so I just wanted to lay it all out there.

All that work, of course, took months of planning.  But we always look at and assess — that’s why after-action reports are so important and so essential.  In terms of additional reports out of any of these findings, I don’t have anything to report from here.  I’d really point you to the Department of Defense. 

Q    But has the White House had an opportunity to review this particular report?  (Inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, internal — internal discussions and internal reviews of any — of any after-action reports, I don’t have any updates on or assessments from here.

Q    Among the criticisms from military commanders in the document is that, as late as early August of last year, the NSC, quote, “appeared to lack a sense of urgency” about planning for an evacuation because “it would signal [that] ‘we have failed.’”  What’s your reaction to that criticism?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say, again, earlier in the summer, we prepositioned U.S. forces to be ready to facilitate a NEO if needed — meaning an evacuation, if needed, of our embassy there.  That is fact in terms of what was planning, what was done at the time. 

And that — in advance of that, that required months of planning to ensure there were a range of contingencies planned for, as we always do, through the national security team and through the military team.

And as we prepared in the early summer to leave Afghanistan, we prepositioned military assets in the region that enabled us to execute one of the largest airlifts in history.

So, I would just say, if you look back at the specific planning steps we took, we did plan for a range of contingencies even while, as we talked about at the time, there wasn’t an anticipation that — that the Afghan National Security Forces would fall as they did or as quickly as they did.  And that was not anticipated by anyone.  But we still had done a range of contingency planning.

Q    So, broadly then, do you reject the assertion that was made by various military commanders in this report that they were trying to convince members of the administration of the urgency of planning for the evacuation, but that they were rebuffed?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, there was a range of contingency planning that was done in close coordination by all of the players on the national security team at the time to prepare for a range of options and a range of outcomes. 

No one predicted, as we know and as we talked about a lot during the period of August and September, that the Afghan National Security Forces would fall at the pace they fell.  But if you look back at the history of what we actually did and what planning was done, there was a range of planning — including positioning military forces, including ensuring that we had a plan for a NEO operation for evacuation at the time should that be needed. 

So, we always look back and assess, but I would say the facts of what was planned for at the time show that we were preparing for a range of contingencies.

Go ahead.

Q    Following up real quick on this last exchange.  That report did paint a pretty damning picture of the NSC and the State Department pretty much having blinders on while generals sounded the alarm over Afghanistan. 

But we’re hearing sort of the same bleak, blunt assessments right now from the Pentagon about Ukraine.  So, is there — I guess, any — is there any closer relationship between the White House and Pentagon — are the generals being listened to differently now — post Afghanistan, post this report?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think it’s really important to separate the two.  Because, first, we are not in a 20-year war with U.S. troops in Ukraine.  That’s a very different circumstance.  I would say that we believe and we continue to view our relationship — both from the White House, from the diplomatic team, and from the Defense Department — as one where we are closely coordinating, where there are healthy disagreements as there can be, and the President certainly welcomes them.

And the after-action reports are very important because you can look at and make assessments about anything you would change moving forward. 

But Ukraine and the circumstance — the situation on the border of Ukraine with Russian troops building up is not the same as ending a 20-year war.  That is something the President had talked about for some time, where we were spending an enormous amount of not just money but blood of American service members for the — over the course of decades.  That’s a different circumstance.

Q    And then on this meeting between Putin and Macron yesterday, it sounds like the White House does not have a clear idea yet about whether there was in fact a deal or not for Russia to de-escalate or pledge, rather, not to go — give any further escalation.  Obviously, the Kremlin denied reports that the French put out about having struck a deal.

If the U.S. is not aware of where things stand, doesn’t that signal that there’s a separate negotiating track happening between the Europeans and Russia right now that could put the U.S. at risk of being sort of shut out from that discussion?

MS. PSAKI:  Not in any way.  I completely disagree with what you just conveyed. 

First of all, there are a range of diplomatic conversations happening all the time.  And that’s been the case for many weeks.  The United States is a key player in the vast majority of those negotiations. 

At the same time, there are important formats, whether it is bilateral leader-to-leader engagement, which President Macron was a part of yesterday; or the Normandy Format, which is something we fully support, which is the format that the Minsk agreement would be discussed through, which includes Ukraine, Russia, 

Georgia

 [Germany], and France.  That’s another format that we fully support.

Those are conversations that have been happening.  And typically, through a diplomatic process, there are a range of conversations that are happening at the same time.

Again, as I noted a little bit earlier, the President spoke with President Macron twice over the last week — including on Sunday, the day before he spoke with President Putin.  And I expect to speak with him soon again.

But it’s also important to note that there are others — German — the German Chancellor, who was just here yesterday, is also meeting with President Putin tomorrow.  And certainly, if there is diplomatic progress, we would welcome that.  But we will believe it when we see it with our own eyes at the border.

Q    On the warships that moved into the Black Sea, there are some people who are fearing that this is another invasion force potentially targeting the city of Odesa.  Obviously, the Kremlin is saying it’s just exercises.  But is there a concern in the White House that, you know, while we’re buying time for this diplomatic push, that Putin is just bolstering his forces, building his forces while we’re all talking?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Well, I know that my colleague, John Kirby, has spoken to this from the Pentagon, so I’d point you to his comments.  But I would say that we are not — we are always going to leave the door to diplomacy open because we think as long as we don’t know what President Putin is going to do — and we don’t; and he has not invaded Ukraine at this point — then it is important to always keep that door open because that’s always the preferred path. 

At the same time, we are not just talking; we have built, through 200 engagements — talking is engaged in part- — is an important part of it, I guess.  But to build a — an agreement with our partners and allies in Europe about putting together a severe set of economic consequences should they decide to invade. 

We have provided an enormous amount of security assistance to Ukraine to make sure they are prepared.  So, we are working on a number of paths, as you should do, but diplomacy is always going to be the preferred path.

Q    One last one on masks.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    When are we going to hear from the CDC on this guidance?  California yesterday changed their guidance.  Randi Weingarten — teachers union — is vocally asking for the White House and the CDC to weigh in.  So when are we going to hear from the CDC about updating the guidance on masks?

MS. PSAKI:  You’ll have to ask the CDC.  The CDC moves at the pace of data and science.  I would note that our goal remains continuing to ensure that there is guidance that helps school districts stay open.  That’s our goal.  We want kids to be in school.  Ninety-eight percent of schools are open.  That’s a very —

Q    Do —

MS. PSAKI:  Let me finish.  That’s a very good sign. 

Q    Do you believe —

MS. PSAKI:  We know what works.  The CDC is always going to be reviewing their guidance, including mask guidance.  But in terms of when they will provide additional new guidance, that is up to them.

Q    Do you believe then that the Democratic- led states who are breaking with the CDC on this guidance, that they’re not — that they’re throwing science away and that the CDC is — has access to different science somehow?

MS. PSAKI:  We don’t look at it through that prism.  These states, I think it’s important to note, they still allow for decisions to be made by local school districts. 

Where we come up with concern — where we have great concern is if a kid or a parent chooses to wear a mask or a school district decides they should keep mask guidance in place and there are leaders who are preventing them from doing that.  That is the place [case] in some other states.

But our hope is that states, leaders will look at the science and data about what’s going on, they’ll make decisions about local school districts.  Local school districts have always made these decisions.  That remains the case.

Go ahead.

Q    I wanted to ask about Supreme Court process.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    About three weeks left before the President’s —

MS. PSAKI:  Who’s counting?  (Laughter.)

Q    We are.

MS. PSAKI:  I know.

Q    Has any of this process moved to a point where you are requesting documents, background materials directly from those women who are among the potential choices? 

And also, how are you facilitating the President in getting advice from allies and so forth, on the outside, who may want to pitch their favorite contenders?  We’re certainly seeing lawmakers and others speaking publicly.  That’s a little different than speaking directly to the President.  How is that information getting to him? 

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Well, let me start with the second part, and then I’ll come back to the first, to the best of my ability.

So you all have seen that the President has met with, very publicly, both Chairman Durmin [sic] — Durbin and Ranking Member Grassley.  The Chairman and the President and Vice President have also spoken with a number of members to engage with them, get their feedback. 

I had also noted, I think yesterday, that the President has also spoken with a wide range of outside legal experts, as he’s seeking to consult and to get feedback and advice from them. 

So, he is receiving and engaging with a range of people as he considers this process.  I would note also that as he’s looking at the process, he’s reviewing not just bios, but he’s also reviewing cases.  And he is looking at binders of cases because he is very — taking this approach very seriously.  He’s taking a very thorough approach to it.

In terms of the process, that is — that is a part of the process, as you know, from covering these, Kelly — vetting documents — and that requires engagement with individuals. 

I’m not going to get into specifics about where that sits.  What I would reiterate from the — and those of you who’ve covered this know this well — is that we — later in the process — the very end of the process is typically when the President would interview candidates.

We remain — we remain on track to announce a nominee by the end of the month.  But that is typically the very end of the process. 

Q    Can you say that the field has narrowed a bit from the dozen or so that we were originally talking about?

MS. PSAKI:  That is a natural part of the process, but I’m not going to get into specifics of the numbers. 

Go ahead.

Q    Going back to the after-action report on the Abbey Gate investigation: It’s incredible what is in this report.  Some of the military officials say things such as, “[The Department of State] did not get one message right to the Afghans during the NEO.”  “Marines at Abbey Gate were forced to play God by identifying who would be allowed into the airfield.”

One of the reasons you do an after-action report, as you said, is to go back and assess.  But isn’t it also to allow for accountability?  Does he President intend to seek any accountability?

MS. PSAKI:  I think we’re going to allow a discussion internally to continue about any after-action report.  I have no predictions beyond that at this point.

Q    Speaking of accountability — last night, accepting the resignation of Dr. Lander.  It’s been postulated here in town that perhaps Dr. Lander would still be working for this administration if POLITICO hadn’t reported the story yesterday morning and if reporters in this room hadn’t asked about it yesterday.  Is that a fair assessment?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think, again, given that Dr. Lander made the decision himself to submit his resignation, that would be a question best posed to him.

Q    So the President was not involved?

MS. PSAKI:  No, he was not.

Q    And he did not seek Dr. Lander’s resignation?

MS. PSAKI:  He did not.  He made that decision himself.

Go ahead.

Q    Frontier has announced plans to buy Spirit Airlines.  Is there any concern in this administration about reduced competition?

MS. PSAKI:  You know, broadly speaking, we always have a concern about reduced competition.  But in terms of this potential merger, I don’t have any specific comment from here.

Q    Is it under discussion, at least?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, you know, that would be reviewed by the Department of Justice and not from here.  So I don’t have any additional comment from here.

Q    China, as has been widely reported, has largely missed its phase one purchase commitments.  There’s been talk about administration officials voicing, this week, its disappointment over that and frustration.  What is the President prepared to do on that front?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say first that — hold on, I have some update on this.  Let me just make sure I have the most up-to-date information.  One moment.  Thanks for your patience. 

So, as you know and have been following this closely, Alex, the USTR has been in conversations with China about its performance regarding purchase commitments under phase one, which they did not meet in 2020 and did not meet in 2021. 

And they have conveyed — and I would just reiterate on their behalf, the USTR officials — it is on China to show up and follow through on its commitment.

So, our — again, this is under the purview, as you know, of Ambassador Tai.  We have expressed our concerns; we have them.  In terms of specifically what the President would be prepared to do, we’re going to continue to engage with Ambassador Tai and the trade team to determine next steps.

Q    Well, just to be clear, what is the President prepared to do though?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, the USTR, our — Ambassador Tai is the one who runs point on this.  And I would point you to her for any additional comment on the current status.

Q    Finally, there’s some talk on Capitol Hill about congressional staffers unionizing.  Does the President support that?

MS. PSAKI:  He does.  He supports the right of any individual to seek to join a union, to collective bargain.  And of course, Capitol Hill staffers are certainly individuals who are pursuing that.

Q    Has the staff been in touch with those folks? 

MS. PSAKI:  Our staff —

Q    Yeah.

MS. PSAKI:  — been in touch with them?  I would really point you to congressional leadership.  I know Speaker Pelosi and her team have spoken to this as well.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  So, truckers in Canada last night shut down the Ambassador Bridge, which carries about a quarter of U.S.-Canada trading goods.  So what’s the administration’s response to this action?  And what steps are being taken to ensure the free flow of goods?  And also, any preventative steps being taken to address a possible blockade on the Michigan side of that bridge?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, let me first start by saying: I know there’s been some suggestion — not by reporters necessarily at all — but that this congestion is related to the vaccine requirements.  It’s not.  I mean, I — I’m saying — I’m going to get to the protests.  But the protests going on across Canada, which have spread to a bridge, are leading to sporadic congestion and blockages. 

I would — just to go back to my point I was trying to make is that across — what we’ve seen with these requirements is, across indus- — a range of industries, vaccine — vaccination requirements have been implemented with no disruptions, have helped increase vaccinations.

These requirements help protect more people from COVID.  And there’s been zero indication across these industries that they would lead to disruptions, including on this policy. 

We, of course, support, as you know, the right to freedom of speech and protest.  But we — and while we do see some of these congestions due to protests, this is clear that these disruptions have broadened in scope beyond the vaccine requirement implementation. 

We — beyond that, we are, of course, in touch with our Canadian counterparts, but I don’t have any updates in terms of specific steps.

Q    And on Ukraine: So, yesterday — in yesterday’s briefing, you mentioned that the Minsk Agreements would possibly be a part of these Macron and Putin talks.  And now that it’s over, is the U.S. discussing directly with any of the parties the use of the Minsk Agreement as a possible way out of the conflict, as President Zelenskyy has suggested?  Do you see that as, sort of, a fruitful pathway toward a diplomatic agreement?

     MS. PSAKI:  Well, we see the Minsk Agreements — which are discussed through the Normandy Format, which I was talking about a little bit earlier — as certainly a format to move things forward.  And we stand ready to support these sincere efforts.  And, again, we welcome calls for a diplomatic resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and the Minsk Agreement is a format that those could take place through.

     Q    Well, I guess, you know, there’s been some suggestions that the Minsk Agreement would be unfavorable toward Ukraine if implemented in the way that the Russians want it implemented.  So, is the U.S. coming down in any way on one side or the other?

     MS. PSAKI:  We are not.  We just seem them as a format through which there could be discussion and continued engagement.

     Q    And then, lastly, quickly on competition.  You know, Tyson Foods’ stock went up very high yesterday — I think its highest in about two years — on the back of record profits on rising meat pri- — partially on rising meat prices.  So how is that posing a challenge to your administration’s efforts to address competition in that industry?

     MS. PSAKI:  Well, just four large conglomerates control the majority of the market for beef, pork, and poultry products.  And the data shows — and I think their record profits are evidence of this — that there have been increases in meat prices while the companies have generated recent record profits.  And that’s a good example of it.

     Q    And I would just note, just if you look at historical precedent here: Fifty years ago, ranchers got over 60 cents for every dollar a family spent on beef; today, they get about 39 cents.  Fifty years ago, hog farmers got 40 to 60 cents for each dollar they spent; today, it’s about 19 cents.  And the big companies are still making major profits.

     It certainly shouldn’t work that way.  And as the President has said many times: Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism, it’s exploitation.  And we have continued concern about the lack of competition in these industries. 

Go ahead, Mara.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  I have a Lander and Ukraine question.  First of all, will Rachel Wallace get her job back?

MS. PSAKI:  I will have to check and see in the internal HR process.  I’m happy to do that.

Q    Okay.  And then, since you’ve made it clear that he was — he resigned, he was not fired, how does this comport with President Biden’s pledge to fire you, quote, “on the spot” if he found about any kind of mistreatment of employees?

MS. PSAKI:  So, what we did early in the administration, after he made those comments — which I think that were the first or second day in office — was: Our team — our HR team, our legal team, others — worked to put in place a Safe And Respectful Workplace Policy. 

And that policy, which is about a six-page document — I think we made it available to all of you, and we’re happy to reshare it if useful — that was the process through which there was an investigation into these allegations.  There was a conclusion of that investigation.  At the conclusion of that, Eric Lander — Dr. Eric Lander met with senior members of our officials who made clear what steps needed to be taken and that he would be required to be compliant with those.

So that was actually an implementation of the President’s commitment and in an effort to create a process for a large administration to maintain a healthy work environment and create a channel to address issues as they come up.

Q    So, “on the spot” meant “on the spot after an investigation”?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think in any workplace and one where — like the White House, you need to have a process and a process through which employees can present any concerns they have, any allegations they have, and that there’s a process that those can be seen through.  And that’s exactly what happened in this case.

Q    On Ukraine, if you could explain to ordinary Americans who find the domestic politics of other countries very mystifying, why couldn’t Chancellor Scholz say the words “Nord Stream pipeline”?  He was asked numerous times, not just in the press conference yesterday, but also later in interviews.  Why?  Why can’t spit out the words that President Biden said?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, here’s what I can speak for, which is the U.S. government, of course, and President Biden and our commitment and agreement that if Russia invades, Nord Stream 2 will not move forward.  It is still not operational at this point in time.

Q    Right.  We know your position.  I’m just asking if you can give us any insights into why Germany can’t say that.

MS. PSAKI:  I — you are a very industrious reporter, Mara, and I’m sure you can pose that question to the Germans as well.  But I can only speak for our government, and I can — you heard the President say and reiterate many times yesterday how, you know, strong our relationship and our alliance is; how Germany is one of the most important alliances — allies we have in the world; how we have full confidence and faith in their commitment to implementing a strong outcome — or strong consequences should Russia invade.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  If I heard you correctly, earlier you were saying that President Biden was not involved in directly seeking Dr. Lander’s resignation.  But can you clarify if he accepted the resignation because of the investigation or because of the public outcry around it?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say, if you go back to the letter that Dr. Lander submitted — this is very small type; I don’t know if this means I’m getting older — but, you know, what he conveyed in that letter was that he did not feel that it was possible to continue effectively in his role.  He conveyed that, and he felt — and he also conveyed that he felt the office –the work of his office was too important. 

And the President — that was — was that the result of the public response or the response of his team?  You’d have to ask Dr. Lander that question.  But the President accepted the resignation letter he submitted last night.

Q    But it sounds like the investigation was completed in December.  So —

MS. PSAKI:  Actually, it was it was completed — the full process was completed at the very end of January. 

Q    And so, why was it — why did it not occur that there was any repercussions until after it became public?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, there was an entire process that was — went — was underway, including a meeting with Dr. Lander conveying exactly what steps he would take, would be required to take, that he would be expected to be compliant with those requirements, and that his actions were absolutely unacceptable and would not be tolerated in this White House, and we wanted to prevent them from happening again.

So that process had under — had been undergone.  It’s standard.  And, of course, these things are reported sometimes, as they were — but to keep HR processes private, in part because you’re protecting the range of officials who came forward.  And that is — that is the standard process.  Sometimes officials speak publicly, as they did in this case, and that’s their prerogative.

Q    And then, can you say when the President learned of the internal investigation and if he was briefed on it before this became a more public subject yesterday?

MS. PSAKI:  He was made aware in advance of the — after the conclusion of the investigation.  But beyond that, I don’t have any updates on the timeline.

Q    Okay.  And just one more.  A few weeks ago, the President had talked about in his press conference about the desire to get out of Washington.

MS. PSAKI:  Yes. 

Q    Since then —

MS. PSAKI:  He’s still trying.  He’s trying to get on that plane.

Q    That’s my question, I guess.  He’s had a trip to Pittsburgh.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    He’s had a trip to New York.  As you alluded earlier, he’s going to Virginia.  Is this the robust kind of schedule that he’s looking for?  Or is there something that’s keeping him in Washington?  Can you talk a little bit?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think there are a couple things that, obviously, every president juggles, and including this president is juggling right now.  If he could spend every day on the road, he probably would do that.  And, you know, any — when you’re traveling as president, you know, the world comes with you a bit. 

But there’s certainly an open Supreme Court spot that he needs to fill and he takes very seriously.  He wants to approach that very thorough — with a thorough approach.

Of course, he’s getting regular updates on Russia, Ukraine, from his — Russia and Ukraine and the buildup of troops on the border.

So there are a number of, of course, important priorities that, at times, can keep a president here and are — maybe are keeping the President here.

However, I think we’ll be getting out there more; he’ll be getting out there more in the country.  Otherwise, maybe he’ll fire one of us — I don’t know.  But he’s eager to do that.  He wants to be out in the country.

And I think as we get to the period of time post State of the Union, I think you’ll see more of that.

Go ahead.

     Q    Thanks, Jen.  Just a quick follow-up on Kelly.  Has the President spoken with Congressman Clyburn about his advocacy that has been very prominent for Judge J. Michelle Childs for the Supreme Court?

     MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any updates on specific members he’s engaged with beyond the ones I’ve — we’ve read out or you’ve seen publicly, though I would say members of our Supreme Court team — you’re very familiar with — have been engaged with a range of members, including Mr. Clyburn.

     Q    Okay.  And back on Ukraine: What was the President’s response to this U.S. assessment that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could kill 25- to 50,000 civilians and cause a humanitarian crisis that would end up with 5 million refugees?

     Q    On Nord Stream 2: The President was pretty confident yesterday that it would not go forward if Russia invaded Ukraine, even though the German Chancellor would not say that.  So, I guess, logistically speaking, how would the President ensure that that would not happen?

     MS. PSAKI:  I’m just not going to get into more specifics from here.  But I can assure you that that is a commitment and one we will deliver on.

     Q    But would that include sanctions on anyone or any company that does business with the pipeline?  What does that look like?

     MS. PSAKI:  I understand why you’re asking, I just don’t have more details I can outline from here at this point.

     Q    In hindsight, does he regret waving sanctions on the company behind Nord Stream 2, as the administration did last year?

     MS. PSAKI:  Well, Nord Stream 2 is not operational at this point in time.

     MS. PSAKI:  And it remains a point of leverage.

     Q    But it could quickly become operational.

     MS. PSAKI:  Well, it’s not — the German regulators have not approved it.  So, it’s not operational.  It hasn’t been.  So, I don’t think we’re looking in the rearview mirror; I think we’re looking at it as a point of leverage with the Russians.

     Q    But I guess the question is that Putin has been quite aggressive in his stance with Ukraine.  He’s amassed over 100,000 troops on their border.  He clearly is seeking to use leverage over them.  So why let the pipeline go forward at all, regardless of invasion, given the tactics that he’s been using?

     MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, I would say that we — there’s a disagreement — I’m not sure this is what you’re asking, but — between us and some in Congress who suggest that sanctioning Nord Stream 2 now would be effective.  We don’t agree.  We believe that it is a point of leverage and that making clear it will not proceed if Russia invades is a point of leverage.  And that’s why we’re proceeding on the path we are.  We don’t think that approach would work.

     Go ahead.

     Q    There’s been some reporting that President Biden has kind of refused to mention Tesla when he’s talking about electric vehicles.  There’s kind of been some reporting around that.

     Today, he mentioned Tesla when he was talking about electric vehicles.  Anything noteworthy there?  Any change in how he approaches this?

     MS. PSAKI:  I would just note: I think we all know that Tesla is a major producer of electric vehicles; I think that’s fair to say, factually.  And, certainly, the electric vehicle industry is one that we feel is a huge opportunity for the United States to move towards our clean energy goals and objectives, and a range of auto- — of automobile makers are a part of the effort.

     Q    Sure.  The House version of the China competition bill includes a measure that would require a broad screening process of outbound international investments into China — not in the Senate one.  Does the White House support that particular measure?  I know National Security Advisor Sullivan has discussed that in general. 

     MS. PSAKI:  Yeah, so, right now, as you know, they’re in conference, or they’re discussing.  And we are looking at the impact of outbound U.S. investment flows that could circumvent the spirit of export controls or otherwise enhance the technological capacity of our competitors, which is something I think our National Security Advisor has touched on, in ways that would harm our national security, which we would certainly be concerned by.
We are in touch with Congress about the proposal and also our efforts broadly in this regard.  But again, we’re going to keep working that through Congress, and that’s with leaders there.  And that’s where the focus is at, at this point.

     Q    Last question.  Does the climate of high oil gas prices influence how the White House, the administration approaches sanctions on Iran and Venezuela with an eye at getting more supplies into the market?

     MS. PSAKI:  Well, let me just outline for you — and I know — I don’t know if Edward is here.  Oh, there you are.  He asked me this question yesterday, and I just wanted more detail, so I’m just coming back to it a little bit.

     You know, the President is focused on doing everything we can to address the squeeze that we know gas prices can have on families.  As he has said, supply of oil around the world should be keeping up with the demand as we’re exiting the pandemic. 

     So, there’s a couple of areas that we are focused on, and you’re familiar with them, but let me just outline them from here.

     We’re engaging, one, internationally, both with oil-producing and oil-consuming countries.  These discussions are happening right now; they’re ongoing.  With oil-producing countries, we’re talking about prod- — proposed production increases.  With oil-consuming countries, we’re talking about releases from strategic reserves.  Of course, we’re not going to outline every conversation, but that’s largely how we’re approaching it.

     Two, the President is going to continue to use every tool at his disposal to reduce prices.  We’ve already announced a historic release from the strategic petroleum reserve last fall 40 — of 50 million barrels.  Forty million barrels of those barrels are contracted for delivery, including a num- — thirteen million that we just released in January.

     We’re looking at every legal and regulatory authority we have available to ensure consumers are protected.  That means responding to any sign of manipulation in the oil commodities markets or 

gauging

 [gouging] at the pump.

     So, we are looking at it.  We are approaching it through all of those forums.  And the President’s overarching view on prices, of course, is that he wants to address the squeeze on consumers; is that nobody — now that we — that even with barrels — even with those barrels released, prices are rising, and that’s because supply is not keeping up with the demand.  We know that is the issue — the core issue. 

     Nobody should hold back supply at the expense of the American consumer, particularly as the recovery from the pandemic continues, and oil producers around the world have the capacity to produce at levels that match demand and reduce the high prices.  That is what we are going to continue to convey.

     Q    Just one real quick point of clarification?

     MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

     Q    You announced that the — the cooperative releases are ready.  And in a statement, you suggested that maybe those conversations are ongoing. 

     MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

     Q    Should we assume then there may be future cooperative releases then?

     MS. PSAKI:  All options remain on the table, but I don’t have anything to preview at this point in time. 

     Go ahead.

     Q    Yeah, Jen, following up on the trucker question from earlier.  Inspired by the so-called “Freedom Convoy” in Canada, a group of U.S. truckers say they’re planning a similar protest in Washington, D.C., possibly for March 1st, to oppose COVID vaccine mandates.  That date is obviously — would coincide with President Biden’s State of the Union Address. 

     As you know, the trucker convoy in Ottawa has been very disruptive and paralyzed parts of the city’s downtown.  Is the administration making preparations to be ready for an upcoming “Freedom Convoy” planned for D.C.?  And does the White House have any concerns about this similar — a similar protest happening here in the nation’s capital? 

     MS. PSAKI:  And do you mean, by “preparations,” like security preparations?  Or do you mean — 

     Q    Yeah, security preparations.  Or is it on your radar?

     MS. PSAKI:  I’d have to check with our team on security preparations.  I think what I would just reiterate here is that we know that requirements work.  We have not seen a disruption as it relates to requirements to the industry.  Where we have seen disruptions has been related to these convoys and protests.

     Now, everybody can peacefully protest; we fully support that.  But it’s important to note where the disruption is occurring.

     Q    So, on a different topic — and forgive me if I missed this earlier — does the White House plan to fill Dr. Lander’s position?  How quickly would you want to nominate somebody? 

MS. PSAKI:  We do.  I don’t have an update on the timing.  But certainly, the President is confident in the expertise of the OSTP team and their ability to move forward on key components of the agenda they are responsible for.

Q    And my final topic: The White House has recently held kind of local ECD announcements here — with the Intel project two weeks ago in Ohio, today with the electric vehicle station facility in Lebanon, Tennessee.  And so I’m trying to — I’m curious, what is the federal government’s role been in these sorts of announcements versus the governors of these two states, in terms of getting these projects? 

MS. PSAKI:  So, just so I understand your question, what are we — in terms of how do we get them the mon- —

Q    Yeah, these are traditionally the kind of projects you might expect the governor to announce.  Instead, we’re seeing them here in the White House.  What kind of role is the Biden administration have — I mean, are you working in tandem with these governors?  Or is it —

MS. PSAKI:  Typically — yes, exactly.  And if the governor can attend, we typically invite them.  And sometimes they’ve taken place in states.  And, you know, I think it’s important — the President believes it’s important to lift up the ingenuity of American businesses and companies, and especially companies that are creating jobs here in the United States and putting people back to work.  

Go ahead, Katie.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  As most people in this room have asked about, the President said yesterday that he would shut down Nord Stream 2 if there was a military invasion.  He kind of defined it traditionally as “tanks on the ground.” 

So if Putin attacks but doesn’t send massive forces over the border, perhaps through cyberattacks or through paramilitary forces, does the President feel the Western alliance could still present a united front, given his conversation with the Chancellor yesterday?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure, we have a range of contingency.  I certainly understand your question, but I don’t have anything more to detail here.  Obviously, we don’t think Nord Stream 2 is a good deal or a good project; we’ve been very clear about that. 

And I think, right now, what we’re focused on is what we think the right diplomatic tactic is, as it relates to deterrence, which is part of approach.  And that includes making clear that Nord Stream 2 will not proceed, given, of course, President Putin and the Russians want it to proceed. 

But we have a range of contingencies should Putin invade, should he take other additional steps, and we’re going to continue to work to be lockstep with our partners.

Q    Just to clarify: So, if it’s a cyberattack or paramilitary or anything besides tanks, would he pull — well, I know it’s not operational, but would he stop Nord Stream from going forward?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, I don’t have anything more to update you on.  We have a range of contingencies, depending on — if any steps that President Putin takes.

Q    And then would he still keep the science advisor post — would that still be Cabinet level?  I know that was a first —

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

Q    — with him.  Okay.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead, Karen.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  The President said yesterday he believes President Putin still has a diplomatic off ramp — that de-escalation is still possible.  But last month at the press conference, less than three weeks ago, the President said, about Putin, “My guess is he will move in.  He has to do something.”  Does he no longer believe that President Putin has to do something?  And if that’s the case, what has changed in those couple of weeks?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I mean, he either has to de-escalate or invade.  Obviously, our preference is that he de-escalates.  So, I’m not sure — I think that’s what the President likely meant in the time.  We still — we didn’t at the time, nor do we now have an assessment of him making a decision.  Our — and we can’t control what Russia will do next. 

What we can do is we can prepare.  And we can prepare for a range of contingencies, and we can stay coordinated with our partners and Allies.  And that’s what our focus has been.

Q    You mentioned at the top that the Thursday event in Virginia is prescription drugs.  Can you tell us more about that?  Where he’s going?  Why Virginia?  And will we have an announcement on prescription drugs? 

MS. PSAKI:  I expect we’ll have more tomorrow as we get a little bit closer, but he’s going outside of Richmond to Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger’s district.  I think she’s — she will be at the event as well, as I understand it.  And certainly talking about the need to — to reduce the cost of prescription drugs, something that is bearing a lot of weight on seniors, on families across the country.  It’s something that is still a initiative — a priority that we still have more work to get done. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  On that Thursday trip, has the President invited the Republican Governor of Virginia to join him? 

MS. PSAKI:  Let me check and see if we have more details on the specifics.  It’s still all final — getting finalized.  And I expect we’ll have more as we get closer to tomorrow, but I’ll see if we have any more we can get you after the briefing.

Q    And if so, would he plan to talk to him about their, sort of, differences in opinion on masking at schools? 

MS. PSAKI:  Let me just see who’s been invited to the event and who’s planning to attend.  And we’ll get you more details from there. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  Another one on Ukraine.  Yesterday, after meeting Putin, President Macron said that one of the options for Ukraine would be to get a status like the one Finland had during the Cold War — a status of strict neutrality.  Is that also an action the President would consider? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I saw that President Macron said this morning that was not a formulation he used and that ending NATO’s “open door policy” would be a problem.  We agree with that.  And as we’ve said previously, we’re committed to the right of sovereign nations to make their own decisions about their security. 

Q    And maybe — we see there is a very intense diplomatic battle going on around Moscow.  And does the President believe that it is really helpful or maybe that it creates, like, uncertainties around the situation and could ultimately benefit the Russians?

MS. PSAKI:  You mean President Putin engaging in diplomatic conversations?

Q    In a lot of diplomatic conversations.  And after every encounter, there is a press conference and there are new questions about “are the Allies really aligned?”  Is there maybe concern that there is maybe too much going on? 

MS. PSAKI:  I think what you hear from the Allies time and time again is that we are aligned and we — there will be severe consequences.  And that does not mean that consequences will be identical from every country.  It means we agree that invading Ukraine, a sovereign country, is — violates global norms.  And we have worked hard, through more than 200 engagements, to — it doesn’t happen by accident, I guess is my point — to ensure that we remain coordinated and closely working together.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  Two topics.  The first one is going to be the truckers and then Russia, but first the Canadian — the movement in Canada — the truckers.  So, the Ottawa mayor has asked for 1,800 additional police officers to quell what he called the “insurrection.”  You know that it’s been a rallying cry for the far right — this movement.  And Prime Minister Trudeau yesterday accused the protestors to — of trying to blockade Canada’s economy and democracy.  Does the White House share this perspective on the movement? 

MS. PSAKI:  That’s not how we’ve described it.

Q    Do you — you said yesterday, just again, that the CBP was not impacted by the movement at the moment.  Now with what happened at the bridge, it has had an impact.  Isn’t that — considering that now trade is concerned, shouldn’t the White House give more emphasis — put more emphasis on what’s going on on the other side of the border?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t think we’ve ever deemphasized.  I just think I was trying to convey that while there was kind of a view by some that it was related to vaccine requirements, it wasn’t; it was related to congestion created by the protests, which I think is for — important for people to understand.

In terms of what’s being done, of course we’re closely engaged.  The Department of Homeland Security would be the right entity to talk to.

Q    Thank you, Jen.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

Q    Just the last question on Russia.  Sorry.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    The Russian President yesterday with Emmanuel Macron commented, and I quote, “They’re trying” — “they” being the West, the U.S., NATO — “trying to calm us down with assurances that NATO is a peaceful and defensive organization.”  But then he cited Iraq, Libya, Belgrade as counterexamples.  What do you say to that?

MS. PSAKI:  NATO has always been a defensive alliance.  It is Russia that is —

Q    In Libya —

MS. PSAKI:  Let me finish my answer.

Q    Yes.

MS. PSAKI:  It is Russia that is building up tens of thousands of troops — troops at the border, not NATO.  We are working to plus-up support for our partners.  They have the ability to deescalate, and we certainly hope they do that.

Go ahead.

Q    Hi, Jen.  This afternoon, the White House issued a statement criticizing Florida legislation that would restrict classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity.  It’s relatively rare for the White House to weigh in on state-level legislation.  So can you speak about the decision to weigh in on this particular bill and why this issue rose to the level that the White House wanted to put something out there?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, for those of you who weren’t following this — maybe all of you were — but let me first say that every parent, as one myself too, hopes that our leaders will ensure their children’s safety, protection, and freedom.  And today, conservative politicians in Florida rejected those basic values by advancing legislation that is designed to target and attack the kids who need the support — support the most: kids from the LGBTQI+ community who are already vulnerable to bullying — and we’ve seen that in study after study — and violence, just for being themselves and just for being who they are. 

Make no mistake: This is not an isolated action in Florida.  Across the country, we’re seeing Republican leaders taking action to regulate what students can or cannot read, what they can or cannot learn, and most troubling, who they can or cannot be.  This is who these kids are.  And these — these legislators are trying to make it harder for them to be who they are.

So, we felt it was important to speak out against this action and speak really — and felt it was important to do that today.

Go ahead.

Q    What’s the White House reaction to the Supreme Court, late yesterday, restoring an Alabama voting map that a lower court ruled was discriminatory? 

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.  This is a very important story.  So I would say that we need to make sure, as you’ve heard the President say, that our sacred voting rights are fully protected.  We should be moving forward, not backward.  That is always the view of the President, the Vice President, and this White House. 

     That means ensuring fair election maps that protect the rights of Black voters to have an equitable and meaningful opportunity to elect candidates of their choice as the Voting Rights Act and Supreme Court precedent have guaranteed for decades.

     It is deeply disturbing to us that the Supreme Court gave Alabama a free pass to use a map that — in 2022 — that three federal judges found to discriminate against Black voters.  This is exactly what the Voting Rights Act is in place to prevent and what — and one of the reasons it’s so important to pass a reauthorization into law.  Without — and they did this without the Supreme Court finding any reason to doubt that conclusion.  That is concerning to us. 

And certainly protecting people’s rights — not taking steps backward — is our objective.

Q    The administration, as you know, through the Justice Department took legal action against Texas.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    They challenged those maps perceived as being discriminatory.  Given that voting rights legislation here in Washington has basically been put on pause for a number of reasons, has the White House considered any sort of unilateral or preemptive actions against states that might try to take similar steps as Texas and Alabama did?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, I understand the question.  I would point you to the Department of Justice.  As you know, but for others, we’re not a party to this lawsuit, but I would point you to the Department of Justice.

Go ahead.

Q    Hi, thanks.  A couple on Dr. Lander.  I want to be precise, first, I guess on his resignation, because you said it became clear to him yesterday.  Was — did the President or anybody else in the White House encourage him to resign, or was this 100 percent totally voluntary?

MS. PSAKI:  This was a decision made by Dr. Lander.

Q    Okay.  And what does it say to the staff, I guess, in the administration that the President appeared happy to keep him in his role until essentially this became public and became untenable, at least in Dr. Lander’s mind?  What does that say to the staff?

MS. PSAKI:  I wouldn’t say that’s an accurate depiction of how the President feels or we feel.  And so, I appreciate the opportunity to restate that Dr. Lander’s behavior was not acceptable at all, and the President did not view it as acceptable either. 

There was a full process that was undergone; that was an implementation of the policies put in place last spring — the Safe and Respectful Workplace Policy.  That included a thorough investigation.  It included a meeting of Dr. Lander with individual — senior officials from the White House team.  And it included specific steps he had to take to prevent this from happening ever again. 

And I think what people should be assured of in the White House is that the President is committed to maintaining a healthy work environment, to creating a channel also to address any issues that come up, and that channel was created through this policy last May.

Q    And lastly, are there any other senior White House staff or Cabinet members who have been subject to investigations like this?  And can the White House commit to making them public in the future, given that it was a public scrutiny here that ended up in a resignation?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, I certainly understand the question, and we want to create an environment here that’s safe and people feel comfortable and they also the know the channel where they can express concerns as they have them.

But this is an HR process, and an internal process because of that, and we typically keep those processes private to respect the individuals — the privacy of the individuals who come forward, if individuals come forward.  And that’s how we would proceed moving forward.

Q    So, you can’t say “yes” or “no” whether there are other investigations similar to this?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, those are private processes and HR processes.  And if individuals choose to speak publicly, that, of course, is their prerogative.  But as is true of any HR process in any company, we would certainly keep that process private as a policy.

Q    Is there any reevaluation of the workplace policies and goals here, given this — given everything that’s happened, I guess, here?  Is there any feeling needing to go back and revisit whether those are effective and not effective?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think, again, our objective is to prevent this behavior — unacceptable behavior from ever happening again. 

And the Safe and Respectful Workplace Policy, which was implemented in this case, provides a channel for any individual to come forward if they have concerns, where their concerns can be addresses through a thorough process.  And hopefully people know that.  And it is part of an effort to maintain a healthy work environment. 

Go ahead.

Q    Hey.  Thanks, Jen.  Immigration reform seems like a nonstarter in the current Congress.  But today, freshman Republican Congresswoman Maria Elvira Salazar presented an immigration reform bill that would legalize millions of undocumented.  And she’s calling it a starting point.  She’s got Republican backing.  Will the President agree to invite her to the White House, listen to her ideas and incorporate them somehow?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President proposed an immigration bill on his first day in office, and certainly he’s eager to work with anybody who wants to put in place compr- — immigration reform policies that would create a safer system, a more effective system, a more humane system at the border.  I’m not familiar with all of the specific details, but certainly we engage with a range of members about their policies.

Let me just do one last one here.  Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  I wanted to ask for an update on how many COVID-19 rapid tests you’ve received from the President’s pledge to provide free testing.

MS. PSAKI:  Have been sent out?

Q    Received to you and then sent out to Americans.

MS. PSAKI:  Oh.  Sure.  I know there’s a COVID briefing, I think tomorrow or Thursday.  Let me check with them and see.  I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I can see if they’re in a position to provide an update on that.

Okay, everyone. 

Q    On the Olympics —

MS. PSAKI:  I’m sorry.  I think we’ve got to wrap up, but more tomorrow.  Let’s do this again.

Q    Jen, can you finally take a question on Africa?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m often answering questions on Africa.  I’m happy to do some more tomorrow.

Q    We didn’t (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI:  I’ll look forward to talking to all of you tomorrow.   Thanks, everyone.

Q    Thank you.

3:40 P.M. EST

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