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New White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Biden’s first 100 days

On the first full day for the new Biden administration, there's no shortage of crises or challenges. Jen Psaki is the new White House press secretary. She joins Judy woodruff to discuss President Biden's plans to address the pandemic and the nation's economic crisis.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    On this first full day for the new Biden administration, there is no shortage of crises or challenges.

    Jen Psaki is the new White House press secretary. And she joins us now.

    Jen Psaki, congratulations on the position. Welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    It is not a slow day…

  • Jen Psaki:

    No.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … by any means.

  • Jen Psaki:

    Certainly not.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we just heard from Dr. Michael Osterholm, who is considered one of the leading figures in public health on the question of this pandemic, it sounds as if we are far in this country from getting this pandemic under control.

    We heard him say at the very end he thinks it's very possible for the U.S., to do that, there are going to have to be extreme restrictions placed on the country, as Europe had to do. Is President Biden, is he able to rule out that there will be extreme restrictions, like a lockdown?

  • Jen Psaki:

    Well, the president doesn't want to lock down the country. He's been clear about that, and his point of view on that has not changed, including with the advice of his medical experts and health team, Judy.

    But he did announce a number of steps today that do put some serious restrictions in place, including masking on airlines and federal transportation, on federal property, requirements about testing before individuals come over from overseas.

    We have also — we're also, of course, stepping up our vaccine distribution and supply production efforts, which will help get it into the arms of more Americans. But he's hopeful that we can take all of these steps and help expedite this process.

    But you're absolutely right. And he said today — and I will repeat here — it's going to take months and months. And it's our responsibility here in the Biden administration to be honest with the American people about not just the sacrifices that will be required and that Americans will have to continue to take, but also the length of time that it's going to take to really get this pandemic under control.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, speaking of leveling or being direct with the American people, the president is promising 100 million doses in the first 100 days.

    But it's our understanding that there were — there are going to be twice that many doses available, because there are already, what is it, 300 million that have been promised that are on track right now.

    So, are you underplaying, underestimating what can really be done in the first 100 days?

  • Jen Psaki:

    Well, the goal we set, a bold goal, it was called at the time and still continues to be, is 100 million shots in the arms of Americans in the first 100 days.

    And, certainly, we welcome the expanded production and expedited production of more vaccine supply. But we also need ensure that Americans know how to get the vaccine, where they can go to get the vaccine, that we do a great deal to address vaccine hesitancy, something that you heard Dr. Fauci talk about today.

    So, it's not as simple — we wish it was — as lining everybody up on their way into a football stadium. It requires a much greater, Herculean operational effort than that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So you're saying it's more than just about the number of doses available.

    But I do want to ask you about the period beyond the 100 days, because what manufacturers and others, federal and state health officials, are saying is that there just won't be vaccine available until April or later for the vast majority of Americans.

    Is that — is the administration acknowledging that?

  • Jen Psaki:

    Well, Judy, the reason that we laid out all these steps, or the president laid out these steps today and yesterday, is because, if we don't take steps now, it is going to slow not just the supply, but slow distribution in a couple of months.

    And we have, as you noted, supply, a vaccine supply now. But it's something we need to look ahead, we need to look down the horizon to April, May, June, to ensure that we're able to continue to get shots into the arms of Americans.

    So, this is a long-term effort. We set this goal for the first 100 days because we feel it's important to hold ourselves accountable and hold ourselves to a bold goal. But it is going to continue beyond that. And we need to keep looking in the months ahead, beyond the first 100 days, to make sure we're prepared when we get there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So much else to ask you about, Jen Psaki.

    Certainly, the pandemic has affected the economy. The president is talking about an economic relief package. But, as you know, Republicans are already pushing back, saying it's not targeted enough, especially these $1,400 direct payments.

    Is President Biden prepared to compromise, as necessary, in order to get some more help out there?

  • Jen Psaki:

    Well, Judy, the package was designed — it is a large package. Nobody is denying that, certainly not the president.

    But it was designed with the advice of economists and the advice of health experts on what was required for this moment in the crisis the country is facing. As you noted, it's the pandemic. It's also the economic crisis.

    And about half of the package is for unemployment insurance. There's money in there for vaccine distribution, for reopening schools. And the tricky question here is, what exactly do you want to cut? Because nobody wants to be having a conversation in May or June about why schools aren't reopening, as an example.

    So — but he's doing what — how he thinks the process should work, and, frankly, how it hasn't worked in some time, which is, the president of the United States lays out his proposal, lays out the parameters of what he thinks should happen, based on the advice of policy experts.

    Then he has a discussion with Congress. They have a discussion with each other. And rarely does the sausage look exactly like it does coming out of the machine as is it did going in.

    And he's certainly prepared for that. But we're at the early stage. And we will continue to have those conversations in the days ahead.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    At the same time, you have — again, this is coming from Republicans, who are saying it's all well and good, the president's early days, but these first executive orders, what is it, 16, 17 of them, look like a wish list, a progressive wish list, something that doesn't sound very much like the president's outreach for unity.

    If he — in other words, they're saying, if he really wants to work with us, why is he putting such an agenda out there that we can't go along with?

  • Jen Psaki:

    Well, I think the question there, Judy, is, what exactly are they opposed to? Do they not think there is a climate crisis, or do they not think — the critics, I should say, not all Republicans, far from it.

    Do they not think that Americans should wear masks? I mean, you look at polling, and that's not what it says.

    So, I think the president's outreach and success in engaging with members of the Republican Party is going to be judged by his words and by his actions. And that is going to be whether he can work with them, listen to them, hear from them, take feedback from them on legislation, and find a path forward.

    But the executive actions that he proposed were what he felt are essential actions to take immediately to bring relief to the American people and overturn some of the most detrimental steps of the prior administration.

    But he's pretty confident there's still a path forward with Republicans.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One other thing, Jen Psaki.

    And that is, the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, is saying today, late today, that he believes the impeachment trial for former President Trump should be delayed until the middle of February to give President Trump time to pull his defenses together.

    Is President Biden prepared to see that wait?

  • Jen Psaki:

    Well, Judy, the president's focus is primarily on the COVID relief package that he announced just a week ago. And that's what he's having conversations with members of both parties about.

    We're going to leave the mechanics and the timing and the process of how an impeachment trial will proceed to leaders in the Senate. And we're certain that Senator McConnell and newly — new Leader Schumer are going to have some interesting discussions about that.

    But we will leave them — we leave it to them to determine what the path forward is.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, the president isn't objecting to a delay?

  • Jen Psaki:

    Well, there's a lot of proposals out there that have been out there even over the last two weeks, and we will see what members of Congress of both parties agree on.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, on, what, a very slow first day.

    (CROSSTALK)

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Jen Psaki:

    Very slow around here, Judy. Very slow. No news at all.

    Thanks for having me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Not at all.

    Thank you so much for joining me.

  • Jen Psaki:

    My pleasure.

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