Press Secretary Jen Psaki took the podium today to discuss the rise in ransomware attacks, the assassination of the Haitian President, and the continued fight to get Americans vaccinated against COVID-19. Delaney Tarr reports on the press briefing.
1. Responding to Ransomware Attacks
President Joe Biden held a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin today in the wake of a rise in ransomware attacks on US groups. The RNC was the most recent attempted hit.
Psaki said that on the call Biden reiterated the United States will “take any necessary action to defend its people.” She denied requests to read out what Putin said in return.
The call comes after a detailed discussion between the two in their meeting in Geneva weeks ago, in which Biden provided a list of critical infrastructure off limits to ransomware actors.
In today’s remarks, Biden said the call went well, and that he’s optimistic but he didn’t shy away from the plan for action. When asked if there would be consequences, Biden replied with a resounding “Yes.”
Psaki clarified the infrastructure listed was not the only requirement for retaliation.
“He didn’t provide that list to say if the attack is not on critical infrastructure, we’re not going to take action,” said Psaki, “that was not the restriction he gave himself.”
The attacks may not be directed by the Russian government, but Psaki underscored Biden’s belief that the Russian government has a responsibility to disrupt the ransomware group.
Biden said he made it “very clear” that when a ransomware attack originates on Russian soil “we expect them to act.”
Psaki reiterated that the White House won’t “preview their punches” in retaliation to the ransomware attack, but that the President “reserves the option to take action.”
2. Sending Assistance to Haiti
The White House has remained in “close consultation” with Haitian partners in the wake of the Friday assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise in Port au Prince.
Psaki said the White House will be sending senior FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials to Port au Prince as soon as possible to assist with the ongoing investigation led by Haitian officials.
Two Americans were arrested in conjunction with the assassination, although a Haitian judge said the pair claimed they were not in the room when the President was killed and only acted as translators.
Psaki had no updates on American involvement, redirecting leadership on the investigation to Haitian authorities. She said the arrest of the two Americans will not affect the FBI and DHS assistance.
“The investigation is not going to impact the assistance we’re providing to the people of Haiti,” said Psaki. She then cited not just law enforcement, but financial assistance as a key form of support to the nation.
The financial measures include a $75.5 million commitment to assist Haiti announced in January, spotlighting the goal of strengthening Haiti’s law enforcement capacity even prior to the assassination. The White House will also provide $5 million to strengthen the Haitian National Police capacity to do community work.
The US will also provide Haiti with vaccines after assessing the state of the airport.
“Our assistance is to help the people of Haiti, and to help them get through what is a very challenging time,” said Psaki.
3. Vaccine Efforts At Home And Abroad
The White House announced their week ahead in vaccine distribution with plans to deliver doses to a number of countries. Psaki said today the US will send 3 million doses to Indonesia, 1.5 million doses to Nepal, and 500,000 doses to Bhutan.
With the addition of those shipments, the US will have sent nearly 15 million doses to countries worldwide. Psaki also announced increased assistance to Indonesia.
In addition to vaccines, Psaki said the US is also moving forward on plans to increase assistance for Indonesia’s broader COVID-19 efforts. The country currently finds itself with a surge of COVID cases.
G7 has also pledged 1 billion doses between nations, the lion’s share of which is coming from the US, but some humanitarian organizations say it’s not enough to get the world vaccinated. The administration has already pledged 580 million doses globally.
Psaki agreed with the humanitarian group, and said the US will “continue to contribute even beyond the billion doses.”
Some leaders have pushed back against the administration’s continuing efforts to get the US vaccinated, specifically areas with lower vaccination rates.
The Governor of South Carolina Henry McMaster expressed resistance to the administration’s targeted tactics today and threatened to prohibit the state health agency from implementing the strategy.
“Enticing, coercing, intimidating, mandating, or pressuring anyone to take the vaccine is a bad policy which will deteriorate the public’s trust and confidence in the State’s vaccination efforts,” said McMaster in a letter to the South Carolina Department of Public Health.
Psaki rebuffed the idea, saying the failure to provide accurate health information is “literally killing people, so they should consider that.” She then clarified that federal employees are not going door to door, rather, grassroots volunteers will work to raise vaccination rates in certain areas.
Psaki stressed that those who are vaccinated are safe, and do not currently need a third booster shot.