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White House Press Secretary Holds First Briefing; WH Holds First Briefing; Biden's First Cabinet Nominee Confirmed By Senate; Avril Haines For DNI; The Inauguration Of Joe Biden. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired January 20, 2021 - 19:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: He and his Vice President Kamala Harris already at work and we are standing by for the administration's first press briefing. It's expected to begin any moment now, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Let's see if it's on time. It will be, Erin. The new Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, who will be taking reporters' questions, I assume she'll open with a statement. This is something we had not really seen in the final weeks, indeed months of the Trump administration.

BURNETT: All right. So we're joined now by our new Senior White House Correspondent, Phil Mattingly. So Phil, obviously, reporters are in there. Coronavirus restrictions on the spacing and how many can be in. What are you learning, though, about what we can expect tonight from the Press Secretary, Jen Psaki?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think a lot of what we're going to see, at least, up top is going to be a reiteration of the points that the President made today, not only in his speech, but also in terms of taking action. We obviously saw the 15 executive orders and agency actions that have already been signed by the President today regarding a number of different issues, whether it be COVID-related, whether it be environmental-related or racial inequities, issues like that.

But I also think you're going to see Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary attempt to do something that we've seen from the administration throughout the course of the day and that is set a new tone. This is a turn the page moment. This is a new era moment and I think the White House press operation is attempting to match up with their boss when it comes to trying to present that to the American public in the wake of how their predecessors at times operated.

Now, we'll see whether or not that's effective. I want to say Biden advisors have made very clear over the course of the last several weeks that they are going to tell the hard truths, that they are going to make clear that things are going to get worse before they get better. This will be a test of that position, because there are certainly no shortage of challenges that this administration faces.

I think the other thing you're going to have to get used to a little bit here as well is there's not going to be a lot of divergence of message. The message is what it's going to be for each day.


MATTINGLY: And I think today, that message is obviously starting big on day one with executive actions with the knowledge that this isn't as big as legislation, Congress is going to be necessary. And then each day after, we're being told over the course of the next week or two, Erin, you're going to see one issue per day.

Tomorrow, it's very clear, they're going to be doing COVID-related executive actions COVID-related messaging. They will also talk about immigration in the days ahead, health care in the days ahead, foreign policy in the days ahead.

So a very laser focused operation and message that you will hear from the President on down and I think you will see that shown from the White House Press Secretary today.

BURNETT: Right. And as you point out, the stark contrast. I mean, we all remember with the Trump administration, they had infrastructure week. They didn't do it by day, they did it by week. But then they were never actually able to have any of them or any discussion about it, because the President of the United States was not on the same page. He would he go off and do something completely different.

But you're making the clear point here that this is from the top down, very, very planned and coordinated.

MATTINGLY: Yes. And somebody told me something a couple days ago that I thought was interesting where there were conversations about - we don't want any of our people tweeting their own thoughts throughout the course of the next couple of weeks inside the administration and the general response was, there's no way that's actually going to happen because of kind of the tone that's being set from the top down. And so I think you make the point that the top down matters here.

But there's also a reality here and that's that no matter how buttoned down a press operation is, no matter how buttoned down a White House is, they don't get to control absolutely everything that's going on. There are going to be problems that arise. There are going to be issues that no one can see coming over the course of the next days, weeks and months.

And the challenge for them will be whether or not they can try and control those and maintain the message. The challenge for us, as reporters, is to get answers to those issues that have arisen that maybe fall out of the bailiwick or out of kind of the prepared response that the White House had in advance of any briefing.

BURNETT: Right. They have a plan on a day of X, but the press wants to know about why. So our Chief White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins is also standing by here. As I know, Kaitlan, you and Phil, both of the White House here are awaiting this press conference. What are we expecting in the next few moments in terms of how many questions we think Jen Psaki is going to take or sort of the length of press conference we're really going to get today?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think if we've learned anything from today it's that they are trying to do things the opposite of the way that Trump administration did them. I mean, that is what Joe Biden signaled with those executive orders. He is basically trying to conduct this assault on what the President was trying to do well until late last night with some of those executive orders that came out.

And so I think that this press briefing could be part of that, where they are trying to hold a press briefing on day one with reporters. They want to cool down the temperature. I am told that we just got a two-minute warning to Jen Psaki coming into that room and we'll see if it's actually two minutes. Sometimes these things slide a little bit.

But I do think that they are trying to take a different approach on a big scale level when it comes to what the President's agenda was and what President Trump's agenda was. But also on a smaller scale, when it comes to these briefings that we are told they're going to do. We should expect them to hold them on a daily basis to take our questions so that we should not expect them to be as combative as they were when it was Kayleigh McEnany at the lectern or, of course, her predecessors there.


So I think that's something to watch as well because as we learned with Sean Spicer, you can really set the tone for the relationship between a White House and a press corps on day one. And Sean Spicer did that. He set that tone for his entire tenure and so we'll be looking to see what tone it is that Jen Psaki wants to strike here as she comes out for the first time to brief reporters in the White House Press Briefing Room.

BURNETT: Yes. And of course, by its nature, it's an adversarial relationship. It's questions they don't necessarily want on days they don't necessarily want them. But I think it's interesting something you just said there, Kaitlan, which is that they're intending to do this on a daily basis. That is a complete break from what we had had from the Trump administration.

I know you were saying once Kayleigh McEnany had coronavirus they essentially stopped. But even before then, it was sporadic. It was combative. You never knew who was going to show up when they actually had one. But you're saying they're indeed going to do them daily?

COLLINS: Yes, daily. And you're right, sometimes even when we would get a press briefing from the Trump administration, they wouldn't actually take questions or they would be really selective about which reporters they would call on. And as you can see there, we've got coronavirus restrictions in place, so there are not seats filled.

So you've only got about 12 to 15 reporters in the room, so there is time, of course, to go around to call on everyone and so we didn't often see that. So that's another thing to look for is how that operates. So you can see there, that is so unusual from how over a year ago what type Briefing Room used to look like. It used to be filled on the sides, every seat was taken, people in the back, near where the photographers are. And now, of course, it is a limited group.

So there is time to get to everyone to ask questions, to ask follow- ups about really what the Biden administration is going to look like, what they are hoping it's going to look like on day one. And, of course, the pandemic we are told is their number one priority and also handling it differently than what we saw from the administration that just left earlier today.

BURNETT: And obviously, Kaitlan, as we're waiting on the Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, coming out, I mean, there will be questions on all of those issues, their legislative agenda, the executive orders. But also, I'm sure questions, perhaps, on the impeachment trial in the Senate and what role that will play and whether they can be doing that at the same time as these legislative things. But that no doubt is up - here comes Jen Psaki, so let's listen in to the Press Secretary.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good evening, everyone. Thank you for joining us on this historic day. It's an honor to be here with all of you. When the President asked me to serve in this role, we talked about the importance of bringing truth and transparency back to the briefing room and he asked me to ensure we are communicating about the policies across the Biden-Harris administration and the work his team is doing every single day on behalf of all American people.

There will be times when we see things differently in this room, I mean, among all of us. That's OK. That's part of our democracy and rebuilding trust with the American people will be central to our focus in the press office and in the White House every single day.

So we had a very busy and active day today, as you all know, but I wanted to take a moment to go through the 15 executive actions or highlights of them, I should say. And some of the steps that the President asked agencies to take today. You should have all received copies of the executive orders as well as the accompanying fact sheets.

But I want to take this moment to highlight them for the American public who are watching at home. To combat the deadly virus, the President launched his hundred-day masking challenge. Asking Americans to do their part and mask up for 100 days. He's doing his part as well, issuing a mask mandate that will require anyone visiting a federal building or federal land or using certain modes of public transportation to wear a mask.

He signs an executive order reversing Trump's decision to withdraw from the World Health Organization. This will strengthen our own efforts to get the pandemic under control by improving global health. And tomorrow, we're not wasting any time, Dr. Fauci will participate remotely in the meeting of the World Health Organization as the U.S. Head of Delegation.

President Biden also officially appointed a COVID-19 response coordinator, a position and team we had already previously announced, but made it official today to create a unified national response to the pandemic. And he reestablished the National Security team responsible for global health, security and biodefense. The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an almost unprecedented housing

affordability crisis. He took immediate action to confront the crisis and asked relevant agencies to extend nationwide moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures.

The pandemic has also increased the hardship on millions of Americans who owe federal student loans. In response, the President asked the Department of Education to extend the pause on student loan payments and interest.


He rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement putting the United States back in a position to exercise global leadership and advancing the objectives of the ambitious agreement.

Sorry. I hope you're comfortable. There's a few more.

And a second broad executive order will roll back harmful regulatory reversals made by the previous administration to protect public health and the environment. This order protects our nation's treasures by reviewing the boundaries for several national monuments, places a temporary moratorium on all oil and natural gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and reestablishes the interagency working group on the social cost of greenhouse gases.

He also launched a whole of government effort to advance racial equity and root out systemic racism from federal programs and institutions. He directed the Secretary of Homeland Security in consultation with the Attorney General to take all appropriate actions to preserve and fortify DACA, which provides temporary relief from deportation to dreamers, young people who are brought to this country as children.

The President also put an end to the Muslim ban of policy rooted in religious animus and xenophobia. He signed a proclamation effective immediately halting further funding or construction of the previous administration's border wall and terminating the so-called national emergency used to wastefully divert billions for wall construction.

Also, today, President Biden sent an immigration bill to Congress, the U.S. citizenship act modernizes our immigration system. It provides hardworking people who've enriched our communities and lived here for decades and opportunity to earn citizenship. The President's priority reflected in the 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 can remain a refuge for those fleeing prosecution.

With that, I'd love to take your questions. Zeke (ph), why don't you kick us off?

QUESTION: Thanks, Jen. First off, congratulations. And one question about your role, you touched on this a little bit of a topic. When you're up there, do you see yourself your primary roles for promoting the interests of the President? Are you there to provide us the unvarnished truth so that we can share that with the (inaudible) ... PSAKI: Well, let me first say, Zeke (ph), that I come to this podium

having served both in the White House and at the State Department as the spokesperson there. And I traveled the world on trips to promote democracy, where I saw the power of the United States and, of course, the power of this podium, and the power of truth, and the importance of setting an example of engagement and transparency. So I will just state because you gave me the opportunity, I have deep respect for the role of a free and independent press in our democracy and for the role all of you play.

As I noted earlier, there will be moments when we disagree and there will certainly be days where we disagree for extensive parts of the briefing, even perhaps, I believe we have a common goal which is sharing accurate information with the American people.

If the President were standing here with me today, he would say he works for the American people. I work for him, so I also work for the American people. But his objective and his commitment is to bring transparency and truth back to government to share the truth even when it's hard to hear and that's something that I hope to deliver on in this role as well.

QUESTION: And then Jen I just want something (inaudible) I know we're short on time, when will President Biden begin making some foreign leaders call? Who's on that initial list? And during the transition, he didn't speak with President Putin, does he plan on doing that? And is he going to discuss retaliation for the SolarWinds hack on federal government?

PSAKI: Sure. Let me try to get to those and I'll just note since Zeke (ph) mentioned it, I know some of you have another event this evening, because we're not fully done with the day. So we will have longer briefings in the future, but we'll try to get to as many questions as possible.

So his first call, foreign leader call will be on Friday with Prime Minister Trudeau. I expect they will certainly discuss the important relationship with Canada, as well as his decision on the Keystone pipeline that we announced today.

I don't have any plans or any plans to read out for you in terms of a call with President Putin. I will note for you that I would expect his early calls will be with partners and allies. He feels it's important to rebuild those relationships and to address the challenges and threats we're facing in the world.

On SolarWinds, we've spoken about this previously a bit prior to his inauguration, I should say today. We are, of course, we reserve the right to respond at a time in a manner of our choosing to any cyber attack. But our team is, of course, just getting on the ground today. They're just getting onto their computers, so I don't have anything to read out for you or to preview for you at this point in time.

Peter (ph), go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. I have a question for you on policy. First, a quick housekeeping question, a short time ago President Biden said that he received a very generous letter from President Trump.


Of course, he said it was private. He said I will not talk about it until I talked to him. Is President Biden planning to call now former President Trump and is this White House working in any way to try to put the two in touch?

PSAKI: Well, I think, Peter (ph), that was a reflection of President Biden's view. And I was with him when he was reading the letter in the Oval Office right before he signed the executive actions, was that this is a letter that was private, as he said to you all. It was both generous and gracious. And it was just a reflection of him not planning to release the letter unilaterally. But I wouldn't take it as an indication of a pending call with the former president.

QUESTION: Let me ask you on policy, if I can quickly. You talk, obviously, your role is sort of in terms of delivering the best information to the American people on behalf of this White House. The battle for truth may be as tough a fight right now as is the battle against coronavirus. How do you and President Biden plan to combat disinformation that in many ways led to that assault we went just two weeks ago today on the Capitol?

PSAKI: Well, I think Peter (ph), there are a number of ways to combat misinformation. One of them is accurate information, and truth, and data and sharing information even when it is hard to hear. And even when it is not meeting the expectations of people at home who are desperate for this crisis to be over.

We'll have more to share with you in the next few days, hopefully before the weekend. But what we plan to do is not just return these daily briefings, Monday through Friday, not Saturdays and Sundays, I'm not a monster, but also to return briefings with our health officials and public health officials. We want to do those regularly in a dependable way of baked with data, shared with all of you and with the public so that they can also track the progress we're making on getting the pandemic under control.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) relates to the cabinet, if I can quickly. We know President Biden's beginning without a single member of his cabinet confirmed, what is your understanding on how quickly those confirmations will happen and when should we expect additional nominations in ambassadorships to be announced?

PSAKI: Well, Peter (ph), the desire to get his cabinet in place and get his team confirmed is front and center for the President. It is an issue, a topic he discussed with members of Congress from both the Republican and Democratic Party today during the course of the day and the course of events. I think as we were coming out here, Avril Haines should be on her way to confirmation. I don't know if it's officially voted - it didn't happened yet, but she's on her way.

We have prioritized getting our National Security team in place, given the crisis we're facing, given the importance of keeping the American people safe at this time. But we are eager for those to move forward quickly in the coming days. Ideally, tomorrow by Friday, we'd like to move them quickly. It's something that he is raising in his conversations as we all are with members of Congress on our team.

QUESTION: Thank you.

PSAKI: Thank you. Karen (ph).

QUESTION: Jen, has President Biden invited congressional leaders to sit down and talk about the COVID relief measure that he introduced?

PSAKI: Well, he has been discussing the COVID relief measures, the entire package that has, as you know, unemployment insurance, it has relief and assistance for the American people. It also has money to reopen schools, which I know as a mother impacts all of us. But he has been discussing that with Democrats and Republicans since long before he was sworn in today.

Today was a day where he had conversations about working together on terms of getting his team in place, on his agenda moving forward, but I expect he will be picking up the phone in the coming days and having more of those conversations in terms of when he will meet in person. I will say soon and we hope to have more of an update on that for you soon as well.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) do you expect him to play in these negotiations? There was a lot of comments today about his familiarity with the Senate. How involved will he be in that process?

PSAKI: He will be quite involved. There is the issue that he wakes up every day focused on is getting the pandemic under control. The issue he goes to bed every night focused on is getting the pandemic under control. This package is a pivotal step to doing that and it has assistance for the American people to make that bridge financially. It also has essential funding for vaccine distribution.

He will be very involved. He will not be the only one. We have a whole team here of senior staff, of course. But as you noted, he is not a stranger to the Senate. He served there for 36 years. Many of the members on both sides of the aisle he served with over that time and I expect he will be quite involved in the process. Go ahead, Jen (ph).

QUESTION: So on this COVID relief package, Sen. Romney was already saying to reporters today that he doesn't see a need for another virus relief package and he's the kind of Republican vote you're likely going to be trying to get.


So how long are you willing to try and work to get Republican support before you decide to go through the budget reconciliation process and stuff?

PSAKI: Well, as you know because you all cover it and then as I've stated a couple times here today, we are in the middle of an urgent crisis in this country. It's not just impacting Democrats, it's impacting Republicans. It's impacting red states and blue states. And this plan is intended to address the suffering of the American people.

So we hope and frankly we expect Republicans in Congress and Democrats too will support assistance that will bring relief to the people they represent. This is a conversation. He, of course, gave a primetime address, as you all know, last week, it seems like a long time ago, but it wasn't, to announce his specifics. And he has already had a number of conversations with Democrats and the Republicans. Those will continue.

His clear preference is to move forward with a bipartisan bill. There's no question about it. But we're also not going to take any tools off the table for how the House and Senate can get this urgent package done. So we are only less than a day. Has he been President of the United States, but he is going to continue to work with members of both parties to get it done.

Francesca (ph), go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jen. I do have a question about reopening schools, but I just want to pick up where she left off on that note that Republicans including Lindsey Graham who's expected to be the Senate Budget Committee ranking member have already said that the price tag on the President's proposal is too high for them. So is there any wiggle room on that number and has he already begun negotiations with Mitch McConnell?

PSAKI: Well, first, the package wasn't designed with the number 1.9 trillion as a starting point, it was designed with the components that were necessary to give people the relief they needed. So what's challenging is what are you going to cut? Are you going to cut funding for vaccinations? Are you going to cut funding for unemployment insurance? Are you going to cut funding for reopening schools?

But it was laid out as his proposal based on recommendations from economists, recommendations from health experts and as you've also seen, there have been also an outpouring of support from everyone from Bernie Sanders to the Chamber of Commerce for the package and the components in it. But this is a discussion, it's a conversation and he is no stranger to the process of bill making.

So we're at the beginning of the process. And as we continue, there'll be conversations with members of both parties of what will be in a final package. And rarely does it look exactly like the initial package that is proposed.

QUESTION: With regards to reopening schools, what level of vaccination in teachers or students or level of testing. Does the administration think it would be appropriate in order to meet the target date that the President has said?

PSAKI: This is a great question and as I noted at the beginning and as a mom, myself, I want to know all the details as well. We're going to have more to share from our health experts in the coming days and I will venture to get them in here to give you all a briefing on the specifics, but we really want to lean into them on their expertise on that front. Go ahead. I'll come right to you right next. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So President Biden promised to end all new oil and gas leasing on federal lands when he was a candidate. The order that you just mentioned that he signed today was much narrower than that. It's a temporary moratorium and it only applies to Anwar (ph) and there's some debate about whether he has the legal flexibility to even follow through with his full promise. Does the administration still have that commitment today to end that lease?

PSAKI: We do and the leases will be reviewed by our team. We just have only been in office for less than a day now and I will just, since you gave me the opportunity, just also confirm for all of you, all of our executive actions that we released today were reviewed by the career staff at the LLC. We went through that process in advance of releasing them. That took a great deal of work from our policy teams, but that was a vital part of the process for us as well.

QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit just about the kind of the preparations for getting the White House ready and safe for the new president, it's been reported that you did $500,000 worth of deep cleaning. Could you talk about the measures that you took to ensure that the President is safe?

PSAKI: Well, I would refer you to the General Services Administration who oversees any steps like that. What I can speak to if it's of interest of the steps we're all taking to make sure that we are safe, he is safe, you're all safe, those include daily testing, when we're in the White House, it includes wearing N95 masks. I wore out of course here today and will continue to do that.

It includes stringent rules about social distancing and abiding by that in the building. That keeps us safe, but we're also, the President has asked us to also be models to the American people and that's vitally important to us as well. So there are a number of new COVID steps, precautions that we put in place as of today.

Go ahead all the way in the back.


QUESTION: Thank you so much, Jen. Thanks for doing this innovative (inaudible), so climate change being one of the priorities, how does President Biden plan to work with Brazil? During the campaign, Biden criticized Brazil on the first station and then the Brazilian President criticized Biden back and he was the last one to congratulate President Biden on his election. What is the expectation for their relationship and does he plan to speak with the Brazilian President?

PSAKI: Well, I don't have anything to predict for you or advance for you in terms of a call or conversation. What I can convey on climate change, of course, and addressing the climate crisis, it's one of the four crises that he's identified will impact his administration, is impacting not just the American people, but the global community, is that rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement is a vital step toward doing that. The United States was one of the only countries in the world, as you all know, that has not had a seat at the table in the last few years.

A little technical step there is we have submitted that to the UN Secretary General and it will take approximately 30 days for that to take place. But I use that as an example because that's one-step, but we also know that we need to be models here at home as we are addressing an issue like this. The United States continues to be one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases and we need to put in place policies and take steps here to address that as well. But I'm sure we'll have more to discuss on Brazil in the coming months.

Go ahead, right there.

QUESTION: What are the next steps when it comes to Iran and does the President have any plans to rejoin the nuclear deal?

PSAKI: Well, the President has made clear that he believes that through follow on diplomacy, the United States seek to lengthen and strengthen nuclear constraints on Iran and address other issues of concern. Iran must resume compliance with significant nuclear constraints under the deal in order for that to proceed. I will say that, as I noted a little bit earlier, we would expect that some of his earlier conversations with foreign counterparts or foreign leaders will be with partners and allies and that we would certainly anticipate that this would be part of the discussion.

QUESTION: And then can you just give us some color about what it was like for him going into the Oval Office? He's been waiting for this for so long. What was his reaction?

PSAKI: Well, I spent a little time with him earlier and he had an incredible sense of calm and sense of some joy, of course. He spent the day with his family and his grandchildren and his children and that always has an impact, I think.

But he also said he felt like he was coming home. Remember, he spent eight years here as the vice president playing an important role as a partner to President Obama. And that was the emotion that overtook him today. He's also eager to get to work. He was asking questions about policy and COVID and what's next, and so that also reflects his desire to roll up his sleeves and get going.

Let's see. I'm sorry, I told you I was going to ask you and I just skipped over you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: That's all right. I'll take them now. So if President Biden wants a theme of his presidency to be unifying the country, does he think that Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer should drop a potentially divisive Senate impeachment trial?

PSAKI: Well, he spoke today, as you all saw, about unity in his inaugural address and the importance of unity and bringing the country together and the resolve of the American people and helping to get through this moment. We are confident, though, that just like the American people can, the Senate can also multitask and they can do their constitutional duty while continuing to conduct the business of the American people. And his view is that the way to bring the country together is to address the problems we're facing.

And so that means getting this COVID relief package through having Democrats and Republicans take a serious look at that and have conversations with each other about how to move it forward. And he's going to leave the mechanics, the timing and the specifics of how Congress moves forward on impeachment to them.

QUESTION: And a quick follow up, on President Trump's inauguration day, he filed paperwork to run for re-election same day, same day. Does President Biden have any plans to do that today late or in the coming days?

PSAKI: I will say having talked to him today, his focus is not on politics. It is on getting to work and solving the problems of the American people.


And as he noted on the campaign, he will wait until sometime into his first term to speak more about his political plans moving forward.

Go ahead.

REPORTER: Yeah, thank you, Jen.

The president pledged to repair alliances. Has he planned his first foreign trip yet?

PSAKI: We're only seven hours in here. You're ready for the foreign trip. I'm ready, too.

I don't have any details on a foreign trip to lay out for you, at this point in time. Hopefully, we will at some point in time.

Go ahead all the way in the back.

REPORTER: Hi, congratulations your new position.

Owen Jensen with EWTN Global Catholic network.

Two big concerns for pro-life Americans: the Hyde Amendment, of course, keeps taxpayer dollars, as you know, paying for abortions, Medicaid abortions and the Mexican City policy which I know the previous administration expanded to keep the tax dollars from overseas paying for abortions.

So, what are President -- what is President Biden planning on doing on those two items right now?

PSAKI: Well, I think we'll have more to say on the Mexico City policy in the coming days. I will take the opportunity to remind you he's a devout Catholic and somebody who attends church regularly. He started his day attending church with his family this morning, but I don't have anything more for you on that. Go ahead.

REPORTER: Yeah, as president-elect, he talked about the possibilities of using the Defense Production Act to ramp up the production of vaccines.

PSAKI: Uh-huh.

REPORTER: Having looking at more data, does he feel it was necessary? Was that included for example in anything that he signed today?

PSAKI: Well, stay tuned we'll do it again tomorrow and there may be more specifics to share on plans on COVID tomorrow. I expect there will be, including more details on the Defense Production Act. He absolutely remains committed to invoking the Defense Production Act in order to get the supply and the materials needed to get the vaccine out to Americans across the country and remains committed to his goal of getting 100 million shots in the arms of Americans in the first 100 days.

Go ahead.

REPORTER: Thank you very much.

The president talked about unity today. I've heard from people who say, well, that's just talk. They want to know what kind of action we're going to see to show that kind of unity. I mean, Peter mentioned impeachment.

Can you tell us what kind of action we can see that will ensure people he wants to reach out to people who voted for him and people who did not.

PSAKI: Sure. First, I think anybody who covered President Biden for some time or worked for him or spent time with him knows he is somebody who always sees the optimistic side of working with people who may disagree with him. People across the aisle, and that's long been his commitments and desire through his many decades in public service.

So his own history tells you how committed he is but, you know, part of it is his words, which he shared today with the American public on quite a big stage.

Also his actions. He reached out to not just Democratic members of Congress but Republicans. Not just Democratic governors but also Republicans. Not just Democratic mayors but also Republicans.

And he said today in his speech the biggest platform most presidents have through the course of their presidency that he will govern for all Americans. And, you know, that, of course, has to be backed up by actions, as you conveyed, but he's going to venture to do that in every policy he pursues, every engagement he has because he feels if we can come together, we'll be a stronger country.

Go ahead. REPORTER: Jen, would we see a death penalty moratorium under this


PSAKI: The president, as you know, has stated his opposition to the death penalty in the past. He remains -- that remains his view.

I don't have anything more for you in terms of future actions or mechanisms, though. I can circle back, if there's more I can share with you.

REPORTER: On lighter note, will he keep Donald Trump's Air Force One color scheme change?

PSAKI: This is such a good question. I haven't had the opportunity to dig into that today, given the number of executive actions orders the inauguration, a few things happening. I will venture to get you an answer on that, and maybe we can talk about it in here tomorrow.

REPORTER: I just follow on Peter's question, does President Biden think that president Trump needs to be held accountable for the insurrection a couple of weeks ago? And does that accountability required that President Trump be barred from holding future federal office?

PSAKI: Well, Zeke, you know, he has spoken very firmly and fiercely publicly about his views of the horrific events on the horrific events on January 6th. And he's also, of course, spoken with members of Congress about that, as you all know.


But he is going to leave it to members of Congress to carry out their constitutional duty and determine what the path forward is and what the mechanisms are going to be, what the process will be, and what the timeline will be.

And, certainly, he ran against Donald Trump because he did not think he was fit to serve in office, long before the events of January 6th. He is here today because he decided to run against him.

But we're focusing on moving forward. We're focusing on addressing the issues facing the American public. As you know, that means we're focused on our COVID package.

Go ahead.

REPORTER: If I can follow up on that a little bit, Jen, is the president being updated, first of all, on the progress of the FBI investigation? Do we know the FBI is leading the investigation into the assault on the Capitol? Does President Biden have confidence in the FBI Director Wray?

PSAKI: Well, Peter, as you noted, there's an ongoing investigation which we certainly support. I'm not sure he has received an update today on anything about the investigation, but we certainly support those ongoing and we will, I'm sure, be receiving updates in the day ahead.

REPORTER: Does he have confidence in the FBI director?

PSAKI: I think -- I have not spoke within him about specifically FBI Director Wray in recent days, Peter, but I'll circle back if there's more to convey.

REPORTER: Jen, the president did not mention the word "Trump" in his inaugural address today.

PSAKI: Uh-huh.

REPORTER: What was the intention behind not making any direct address to the predecessor in that speech?

PSAKI: Well, I think the intention was not to make the speech about any individual, elected official, any current president, former president, but make it about the American people. And the moment we're facing in history right now, the struggles that millions of Americans are facing who don't have jobs. The fear people have about the health of their grandparents and their cousins and their brothers and make it more about the strength of the American people when they come together, and not about any individual.

But as you saw, it was forward looking. It was not meant to look back on the past.

Go ahead.

REPORTER: How does President Biden plan to recover the United States' image around the world? And what is his priority globally?

PSAKI: Well, his priority is, first, we building our partnerships and alliances around the world and regaining America's seat at the global table. And you can see that as evidenced in his rejoining the Paris climate agreement, rejoining the World Health Organization, his plans to engage with partners and allies and work together to address many of the threats and issues we're facing around the world. But I think that is what you will see as his focus in the weeks ahead.

Thank you, everyone. Let's do this again tomorrow.

REPORTER: Thank you, jen.

BLITZER: All right. So, there it is. The first White House press briefing, the new White House Press Secretary Jean Psaki, with some significant news there.

I want to get to all of it but, John King, let's get to the major headline now. The Senate confirmation of the first cabinet pick, the Senate has just voted 84-10 to confirm Avril Haines as director of national intelligence. She will become the first woman to head the U.S. intelligence community, 84-10. I think that's a significant development itself the first confirmation.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely and a sign of bipartisan on day one of the Biden administration, 84 votes for a Biden nominee. That's significant. Tom Cotton, the Republican senator from Arkansas held it up because he want a question answered about past CIA policy. He said the nominee and she answered the question and now, she will be the director of national intelligence, historic as the first woman.

So, you're seeing scenes at least on personnel on the Biden team -- when they were in the majority, there seems to be an effort to say, okay, we're going to move your team forward. It doesn't mean all the policy conversations to come about climate, about the COVID relief package and others will be kumbaya, but it is important on the first day, especially on these national security posts that the new president get his team as soon as possible.

BLITZER: And it looks like the incoming of the -- at least the designated secretary of the treasury, Janet Yellen, that she's going to be confirmed probably significantly. Tony Blinken who's been named as the secretary of state designate, he looks like he's going to be confirmed. So, they're moving ahead. There will be other controversies but these are significant developments.

Let's go through some of the headlines that we just heard. She did say as far as the Senate impeachment trial is concerned, she did say the Senate can multitask. Meaning they can do a trial but also do other critically important issues on the economy and on the coronavirus.

KING: That was one of the many very cautious answers from Jen. And, look, she's a pro. She has White House experience. She has State Department experience.


Very cautious answers on several questions. She said, yes, the Senate can multitask. Reporters are going to feel out their relationship with her, as well. How best to ask her questions.

We went through it in our days covering the White House. So, the follow up was, should the president be held accountable? Does President Biden believe President Trump -- former President Trump now needs to be held accountable? She again punted and said it's up to the Senate. That he has spoken how abhorrent he found the attack on the Capitol and now, the process is up to the Senate.

She -- that's a punt. It's a deflection. It's an age-old practice. Jen Psaki is not the first secretary to use it. She also punted when asked about the question very important to both conservatives and progressive Democrats. She was asked about federal taxpayer policy, the Hyde Amendment, the Mexico City policy.

That's taxpayer money going to organizations that support abortion rights. She stressed Joe Biden's Catholic faith not the support for abortion rights. Some progressives not like that answer.

So, we're in the early days of the relationship. But the one thing that was so different, number one, you saw her binder. We covered the White House. It's a difficult job. Democrat, Republican administrations, speaking for the entire United States government. She came prepared from all the agencies on day one.

The other thing, she spoke, Wolf, the most -- the four most important words she spoke when it comes to this relationship, can you trust what she says? I was with him.

During the Trump administration, whether it was Sean Spicer or Kayleigh McEnany, they often went out there and winging it. They did not have access to the president like Jen Psaki has to President Biden. They would try to translate Trump tweets.

So, in terms of trust and transparency in the government, again, if you're watching, you have your own prism, do you like what she's saying, do you support what she's saying? That's up to you at home.

But in terms of does this person have access to the president? Does she speak for the president? There's no question. Jen Psaki has that vital relationship with the president of the United States.

BLITZER: Yeah. She got a lot of experience, too. She comes into the White House briefing room formerly with the communications department in the Obama White House and also the State Department, as well.

Kaitlan Collins is with us.

Kaitlan, she did process -- she opened up by saying she promises truth and transparency in the briefing room. She says it's a major deployment rebuild trust with the news media. I expect we won't hear the president or the aides speak about the news media as the enemy of the American people which we had to hear over the past four years.

She did say as far as this letter that President Trump left for President Biden, she did repeat what the president said earlier, President Biden was gracious and generous but it was private. She wasn't going to go into details. She did suggest that there was no impending phone conversation, no impending call to Trump that the new president was going to make. I thought that was significant as well.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. And that happened because Biden said earlier, he didn't want to reveal what Trump had written in the letter unless he had spoken to him, of course.

First, we know they have not actually spoken yet. She seemed to be saying that Biden was being polite saying he's not going to go out and unilaterally release the contents of the letter and it didn't sound like there was any call set up between the two of them, which of course is remarkable given the precedence that was broken by Donald Trump as he left office today. So, it doesn't appear any call there is happening.

She did say that Biden is going to start calling other foreign leaders. He's going start with Canada's Trudeau on Friday. That's something to watch as he makes his way into office.

Two other things I want to point out, Wolf, when you were talking about no attacks on reporters. That's rare given what we've been dealing with for the last four years and how Sean Spicer came out and announced the calls that Donald Trump was going to have with foreign leaders, he first attacked reporters. So I do want to note that. A very different tone there in that briefing.

But one other thing I have to take note of before we go, Wolf, is that at the end she was asked if Joe Biden has confidence in the FBI director. She was asked that twice. She did not say yes. She did not say no either.

But it does appear that potentially Chris Wray's fate could be unclear at this point. She said she has to talk to President Biden about that. We know Donald Trump wanted to fire him by the end of his term. It remains to be seen what is going to happen and whether he will be staying at the FBI.

BLITZER: And she did stress repeatedly that priority number one for this new administration, Kaitlan, is dealing with the coronavirus pandemic one. The president signed a new executive order allowing the United States to become a member of the World Health Organization and gave us this headline. She said Dr. Fauci is going to be participating in a conference call as the head of the U.S. delegation with the World Health Organization right away.

She wants the whole world, obviously, to get involved and help the United States deal with this pandemic.

COLLINS: And, also, bringing up Dr. Fauci's name, knowing what credibility ratings he has with the American people. I do think, also, it was notable given we often saw the White House try to discredit Dr. Fauci and bring up things he said in the past about coronavirus. That is something that seems to be a different page that they are taking here in the Biden administration.

She said there are going to be more answers on their pursuit for coronavirus, including whether or not they're going to use the Defense Production Act.


And she did seem to reference those coronavirus briefings that President Trump became famous for. The one that lacked in science and data by saying they'll be relying on data when they have the briefings, Wolf.

BLITZER: It was about a half hour briefing that she just had, John. Half an hour. She promised there would be daily, Monday through Friday. She said she's not going to do it on Saturdays and Sundays. She said I'm not a monster.

Monday through Friday, she's going to have the briefings. She promised they would be regularly scheduled health briefings, meaning on coronavirus.

KING: That's critical as we go through the vaccine rollout, as the administration tries to keep the promise not just to vaccine rollout but surge resources to states. Some is just advice. Some is an army to help with the vaccine rollout, and other steps in the public health crisis.

And she also said, I think, it's important. She said they're going to tell the truth. And these are my words, not hers, but even when it hurts, even when they have difficult things to tell the American people.

Now, again, they're laying down a marker on day one and this relationship and the accountability between the press, the media, and the administration, we're going to watch this play out. I would say, you know, the fact she came in, she could have said I'll see you tomorrow. It's a big day. She wanted to make a statement on day one. We'll be assessable.

You saw some tension there. I think Kaitlan raised an important point about Christopher Wray. Again, that was another punt. You know the question is coming. You know that question is coming about anyone who's holding over in a senior position from the Trump administration. They decided not to answer it today.

That's a question Jen knows and the new president will know, you can't leave it hanging out there too long, because the FBI -- the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations is so critical to this moment.

BLITZER: And she also punted on the very sensitive issue whether the U.S. would once again rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, which President Trump walked away from. She said there's work to do and he's going to be talking to world leaders involved in that to decide what is going to happen, but she made it clear that the U.S. would strongly oppose any nuclear ambitions that the Iranians might have.

We have a lot more on all of these developments. Up next, the vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris, making history tonight as the first black and South Asian-American to hold that office.

One great source of support for her over the years is her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, the oldest black sorority.

Up next, two of her sorority sisters are standing by. They'll join us. Look at them! They're beaming with pride as they should be.

We'll be right back.



BURNETT: Welcome back to our special coverage of the inauguration of Joe Biden.

Moments ago, the first White House briefing from the new press secretary, something so normal in past administrations but something. We haven't seen in a long, long time, so it felt very abnormal.

David Gregory, Jen Psaki started about the importance of bringing truth and transparency to the briefing room. She took questions for about half an hour. How did it go in your point of view as you look at this is something

that's now going to be daily from the press secretary?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, let's talk about something that's the biggest picture point which is a commitment to truth. The reality is Jen Psaki, President Biden and others in Washington understand that our institutions are in disrepute, that Americans are losing faith in politics, institutions, the media across the board.

It it's a reason why Donald Trump happened as a political figure and the fact he lied so often, others within the White House lied gave an opportunity for this new administration to say, no, we're going to stand up for telling the truth for dealing with the press and the press is not always right and the press has baggage and makes mistakes.


GREGORY: But to have a representative of the government say look, I'm going to level with you and level with the American people and therefore you can hold us accountable. It's very important because we're living in an age with so much misinformation and so many lies in the bloodstream of the country and we have to pull it back.

BURNETT: Well, it's also interesting that they came -- you know, it comes across as a breath of fresh air when, of course, Joe Biden himself has been around a long time and many of the people working for him are also very well familiar with the White House and the orders of government, yet, it feels very fresh.

GREGORY: It does, right? I mean, he's not like he's a picture of the future, you know? At 78 years old, and yet, it does feel so much different.

I mean, I just think the whole day, I'm sorry, the absence of nastiness is something that we should just take a moment to comment on, because it's different. There are public discourse is different.

I used to be in that room and when there were life and death circumstances on the line during the Iraq war and post-9/11 covering the Bush White House, but there was never the toxicity that I have seen that our colleagues have been dealing with in the past four years.


GREGORY: And I think it's very difficult to watch, it's very destabilizing for people who are just viewers and citizens around the country. I don't care your politics or how you judge this administration, that is a great thing. The absence of toxicity we should celebrate that.

BURNETT: Right, right.

And David Gregory, thank you very much. There are so many more events this evening for the president and vice president. We'll see them both much more ahead.


BURNETT: So, tonight, history has been made. Kamala Harris now the first woman and first black American and South Asian American to be sworn in as vice president. It was an emotional and powerful moment for so many and we're joined by two women who know Vice President Harris extremely well, Jill Louis and Monique Poydras, sorority sisters from Alpha Kappa Alpha, the oldest black so sorority in this country.

Thank you for being with us.

All eyes were on the vice president today and it was a moment that meant so much for so many. Both of you have known her for a long time during her college years at Howard.


Today, a big moment for women, for people of color, for children, all of these landmarks at these records being set.

Jill, what is the significance for you of seeing her in this role on that stage today?

JILL LOUIS, ALPHA KAPPA ALPHA SORORITY SISTER TO VP HARRIS: This is the product of a lot of work, and not just the work that it takes to be elected into office, but the work that each of our ancestors did through civil rights and into the future, and this is just such a wonderful culmination of what --

BURNETT: So, Jill, you know, you've all been together for a long time, right? Decades. And a friendship that lasts decades, you've known her for a long time. When we look at pictures, Monique, you as well.

You know, what qualities does she bring that you have seen in her over decades? Monique, you first.

MONIQUE POYDRAS, ALPHA KAPPA ALPHA SORORITY SISTER TO VP HARRIS: Well, Kamala -- certainly, characteristics are she's a leader. She's sincere. She's authentic. She -- those are all qualities throughout her time and her career as a public servant we've seen her working for people that are most vulnerable or marginal marginalized. Those are characteristics I'll see she will carry on as the madam vice president and work for all people of the United States.

BURNETT: Jill, there is one thing about her, you know, she's watching on the Senate floor swearing in the new senators. When she had to announce Senator Padilla replacing herself, she laughed. She said that feels weird.

You know, amidst the controversy of "Vogue" cover. She's on the cover in sneakers. There is a cause wellness to her and having interviewed her I noticed it, as well. A casualness that is genuine and has not been squelched, and that is something a lot of people respond to very positively. Tell me about that. Do you think she can retain that as she is in this

very formal role, Jill?

LOUIS: It's certainly my hope for her, for her to keep her joy. She has been since the beginning of time, you can see baby pictures of her that still have that bright smile and when she hit the public stage, that's the thing that we sorority sisters noticed immediately, her laugh and her smile and ability to be relatable, she can't be anyone but her authentic self.

But I think she will because it's hard wired her ability to see joy and irony in all of those things in life.

BURNETT: So, Monique, you know, I'm looking now. You both have on your necklaces, your pearls. Harris had her pearls on today, which are also very much a part of her brand it seems when we see her.

Is there a significance to this? Tell me.

POYDRAS: Absolutely. So as a member of alpha kappa alpha sorority incorporated, our pearls represent our founders. It also represents wisdom and refinement. And with that, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated promotes excellence, scholarship, high ethical standards, service to all mankind.

It's all relevant. These are all characteristics of Madam Vice President Harris and, you know, we look forward to the country seeing all of those various qualities as she carries out her role as vice president.

BURNETT: You know, Jill, today the bells at Howard University of usually her alma mater rang 49 times to honor her. She's the 49th vice president of the United States.

What does this mean? For you it's personal but what does it mean more broadly?

POYDRAS: Well, it means that HBCUs have a seat at the table. When people are choosing colleges and wanting to know those places that can really enrich them and take then tom to their highest heights, they know HBCUs are a place for that.

BURNETT: Jill, Monique, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much for tells us about your friend.

LOUIS: Thank you.

BURNETT: And thanks so much to all of you for joining us tonight, but the night is still young. There is so much still to come. The inaugural events continue with remarks from the president and vice president and, well, performances by Bruce Springsteen, Justin Timberlake, John Legend, many more.

An historic night begins soon, Wolf.

BLITZER: I love them -- I love all those people. Bruce Springsteen, can't wait, Jon Bon Jovi -- want to hear Jon Bon Jovi.