White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki (Photo by Cameron Smith)

Press Secretary Jen Psaki talks about COVID-19 vaccines, cybersecurity, and student debt. Delaney Tarr reports on the most important news from today’s press briefing. 

1. Biden announces “Month of Action” to get Americans vaccinated 

As of today, 63% of the country has been vaccinated. 72% of people age 40 and older have been vaccinated, both statistics lending to a significantly lower rate of COVID-19 cases. 

To continue the effort against COVID-19 Biden is introducing a “Month of Action” to get more people vaccinated by July 4. Access to vaccines will be widely expanded in what Biden calls an “all of America sprint.”  Measures like free childcare while parents get their shot of 24-hour pharmacy access on Fridays to adjust to the working American’s schedule. Vaccines will be made available at barbershops, baseball games, and NASCAR races. 

Psaki stressed the need for local action, with 230 colleges and universities taking a pledge to get students and communities vaccinated, and a “Mayor’s Challenge” where cities nationwide can compete to increase vaccination rates. 

Vaccine access has increased, but it’s not universal. Only about 7% of the ICE detainee population is vaccinated. Psaki said vaccines are being allocated by local and state health departments, and that it’s not federal government jurisdiction. Still, she said some eligible unaccompanied children have already received the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“If you’re not vaccinated, you’re not safe,” said Psaki. The White House emphasized that despite the fall in case numbers, the vaccine is still essential to moving past COVID-19. 

2. Ransomware and the Russia Summit 

The White House reporters hammered on the continuing ransomware attack situation, especially with the upcoming summit between President Biden and President Putin in Geneva, Switzerland on June 16. The ransomware attack on meat producer JBS sparked concern surrounding national cybersecurity. The attack came from a criminal organization likely based in Russia, a fact that has raised questions on Russian cooperation with the ransomware attacks. Biden has said he thinks Putin and the Russian government play a role in stopping future attacks.

Psaki doubled down on the previous Biden action plan, namely the international coalition to review nations harboring ransom actors, expanding cryptocurrency analysis, and reviewing U.S. ransomware policies. 

While the White House has yet to take any definitive stance on future actions, Psaki said “We’re not taking any options off the table” in terms of retaliation. Still, she turned the focus back to the upcoming summit with President Putin, where Biden will discuss the prominent issue.

3. Silence on Student Debt

In Biden’s Tulsa remarks yesterday, there was no mention of student loan debt cancellation, especially after his campaign promises to do so. The NAACP recently criticized Biden for this silence, and many have raised questions on whether it’s still a part of his plan. 

Rather than discuss student debt cancellation, Psaki pointed towards his budget as proof of his “desire and commitment to level the playing field.”

The budget includes 2 years of free community college, increased Pelle grants, and $47 billion in investments to HBCUs. 

Student debt has been a large driver in economic and racial inequality. While Psaki wouldn’t commit to any executive action, she said Biden would sign a bill into law to cancel $10k in student debt if it was on his desk.