First Lady Jill Biden`s office announced that her chief of staff will be working directly on the issue of reuniting separated families. Interview with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": That is "ALL IN" on this Thursday
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: That was my favorite story of yours in a very
long time, Chris. Particularly that story.
HAYES: I love -- I just -- I read that story, and I don`t know, man, it`s
been a rough period. It just filled me up in some way, those pictures --
God bless them.
MADDOW: When you said it was like I was having an anxiety dream about
something I didn`t even know I was supposed to have anxiety about, that`s
exactly right. Like at your car window, you want the shot? Um -- yes,
desperately. Also I want to call the police but maybe you`re the police.
MADDOW: Just incredible. Thank you, my friend. Well done. Well done.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Tonight, we are going
to be joined live this hour by the person who is fast becoming one of the
most familiar faces and voices of the new administration, Jen Psaki, White
House spokesperson, is going to be our guest tonight.
Even though we`re only one week into the administration, I can show you
this many pictures of her conducting different White House press briefings
because we have daily White House press briefings again. She does these
Under the Trump administration, the White House briefings started off bad
and got quickly worse before they ultimately disappeared entirely. They
seemed not to be able to handle talking to the press every day and bring
questions. But immediately from day one, the Biden administration brought
back the briefings. It`s led by Jen Psaki and she is here tonight live for
the interview. Very much looking forward to speaking with her.
It seems awkward to know it let alone talk about it but as the Biden
administration gets underway and in this first week, they start reversing
things that were undone or broken by the previous president, as they as
they set out to restore some of the government basics that went by the
wayside in the past four years, including things like daily briefings as
they set out to pass a whole bunch of ambitious policies and programs that
Biden campaigned on, that Democrats in Congress campaigned on, things that
are designed to deal with the myriad crises the last presidency left us
with, it is sort of awkward but I think unavoidable to realize that one
crucial thing that is going to make the life or death difference as to
whether or not the new administration and the new Congress are actually
able to get stuff done is a thing that we only have because of Richard
Nixon being such a terrible president, and specifically because of
something that Richard Nixon did right before he resigned.
And it seemed like nothing much at the time it got not that much attention
at the time but it very well may now determine if the Biden presidency and
the Democratic Congress under the Biden presidency is able to get anything
done or not.
It was July 1974 -- July 12th, 1974, President Richard Nixon`s top White
House aide was convicted on multiple felonies. John Ehrlichman, he was
domestic policy adviser to Nixon, top adviser to Nixon in the White House.
Ehrlichman was convicted of multiple felonies, convicted of conspiracy and
lying to the FBI, and lying to the grand jury.
Actually that day in July 1974, multiple Nixon guys were convicted but
Ehrlichman was a big deal. He was way up there in the hierarchy he was the
highest ranking person at that point convicted in the Nixon scandals. And
President Nixon had to be rattled by it.
Nixon`s White House press secretary at the time, Ron Ziegler, told
reporters there would be no comment from the president on Ehrlichman`s
conviction. But that conviction was, of course, the lead story in the news
all over the country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Good evening.
John Ehrlichman has been found guilty of three counts of perjury and one
count of conspiracy in the Ellsberg break-in case. The verdict against
Ehrlichman formerly President Nixon`s chief domestic advisor was returned
by a federal district court jury in Washington this evening after only a
few hours of deliberation. Ehrlichman who stood impassively as the verdict
was read could receive up to 25 years in prison.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Tom Brokaw on "NBC Nightly News" the night of that verdict that
was the opening story on "Nightly News" that night now we now know looking
back at the timeline that it was less than a month later that Nixon himself
would resign from the presidency in disgrace as the net of all the Nixon
administration scandals and accountability for Watergate just closed around
him as well.
But that Friday in mid-July -- remember Nixon resigned in August, right?
This was mid-July, the day that Nixon`s top aide was convicted while the
president was that much on the ropes. If you stayed past the lead story,
that night if you watched the whole evening news that night, beyond just
the lead about Ehrlichman facing decades in prison, right, and the
president having no comment on that.
If you got through the rest of the nightly news that night, you would
eventually, 17 minutes into that 30-minute newscast get to the thing that
now is everything to us and get to the thing that now 40-years, 40-plus
years later is really the make or break determinant as to whether or not
President Joe Biden is going to be able to do anything substantive in
Washington in his first term in office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROKAW: And at the White House, today, President Nixon signed a new budget
bill into law, the most significant reform of budget procedures since
Congress began. The bill gives Congress much more authority over the
national budget than it ever has had before. The president for example no
longer will be able to impound appropriated money without the approval of
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It was that same day right that`s the same day the president`s top
advisor gets convicted of multiple felonies.
So this story about the other thing that mattered about the president that
day that had to wait until minutes into the newscast that night. In the
newspaper the following morning, it only made it onto page six of "The New
But what that was, what Nixon signed into law that auspicious day or
inauspicious day back in July 1974 is something he probably never would
have signed had he not been in extremis, had he not been fighting to save
his own political life, had that not been less than a month before he was
going to have to resign the presidency in disgrace.
And it`s something he never would have been asked to sign had Nixon not
been such a terrible president. I mean, we remember Nixon in history now
because of all the people who got convicted, right, because of the
Watergate disaster, because of all that that scandal revealed about his
scummy administration and his failings as a person and the dramatic way his
presidency had to be brought to an end. I mean, remember all that about
Before Donald Trump, there`s a reason that Nixon is the standard bearer for
a scandal-ridden, disgraced president. But because of that, because of the
way it ended, we sometimes forget that beyond Watergate beyond all of those
marquee Nixon scandals, he was a pretty terrible president in other ways.
And one of the ways in which Nixon showed his sort of radical power mad
side is, you know, not just organizing break-ins and having that CIA try to
cover them up for him and all that`s all that cloak and dagger stuff, it`s
stuff that he did as president in the light of day, including him claiming
new power for himself as president that basically turned Congress off like
We all know how it works Congress passes laws, Congress passes a budget.
Congress appropriates money for the government to do stuff but Nixon when
he was president he decided forget that -- forget those constitutional
strictures. He instead would take control of that process himself.
And so, he started you -- you heard Tom Brokaw say this in that report from
July 1974 about impounding money. That`s what Nixon was doing. He started
doing something they called impounding money that had been appropriated by
Congress. This is something he did not just with small stuff but with
billions of dollars.
Congress would appropriate money for a purpose within the government they
would fund a program or an agency. But if Nixon didn`t like that program or
the agency, he decided that he had the power to just take all that money
and refuse to allow it to be spent. He would impound the funding that had
been appropriated by Congress. That`s irrigating to himself what they call
the power of the purse which is what Congress`s main power is.
I mean, like our country or don`t, that`s fundamental to who we are as a
republic. It`s Congress that gets to decide how money is spent in the
government and Nixon in his presidency took that power for himself and
Congress was very unhappy about it. And so, when President Nixon was on the
ropes, when he was embroiled in scandal, and on the precipice, we now know
of having to resign the presidency in disgrace, Richard Nixon signed a new
law that cut himself short.
Signed a new law that was designed to stop him from being able to do this
thing that he had been doing. He signed a new law that would prevent any
future president from bogarting the budget, from bogarting money
appropriated by Congress the way he had been. It gave Congress a whole
bunch of new powers when it came to the budget, to try to constrain a
president who was sticking his nose where it didn`t belong.
And that law which Nixon in extremis at the very end signed that law
included one tweak one little power that Congress gave itself with this new
law it`s a quirky little thing that they could do only once per budget.
Since Congress is supposed to do a budget once per year that meant Congress
could do this thing only once per year. It was originally designed in that
bill to give Congress a small window, basically a last chance, to make
after the fact changes once they had set their budget for the year, and
they could make those changes with just the majority vote in the House and
This was not intended from the outset to be a very big deal. This was not
intended from the outset to be a fundamental change in the way the country
does its business, in the way the various branches work together. But it
ended up becoming very important over the years.
I mean, this overall reform that Nixon signed in 1974 was to give Congress
the tools that they needed to set the budget, to oversee the allocations of
money as they saw it, without being locked down on the process or work
around by a president like Nixon who was trying to take those powers for
Nixon signs it in 1974, less than a month before he resigned, signs that on
the day his top aide was convicted on multiple felonies. It`s this sort of
-- it looks like a footnote to that much bigger news of that scandal at
But what Nixon signed went into effect for the first time in 1980 over the
ensuing 41 years, what that little tweak has turned into is something
that`s a very big deal. What it has turned into is a means by which the
Senate can pass stuff without needing 60 votes, that needing a super
majority to do it. It`s a means by which the Senate can pass some stuff as
long as it pertains to the budget with just 51 votes, and they can do that
once per budget, and it`s because of that Nixon reform that he signed in
And now, this year in 2021, with all the once in a lifetime craziness that
we are contending with as a country, with the outgoing president having
been impeached twice and with him due to go on trial again in the United
States Senate next week even though he`s already gone from office, with an
ongoing and indeed accelerating global pandemic having killed more
Americans in the past year than were killed in the whole length of World
War II, with an economy just squashed by the pandemic, putting more
Americans on the unemployment rolls every week than we have seen at any
time since the Great Depression, with the country having just voted out the
latest Republican president who made Nixon`s scandals look quaint and
having voted Republicans out of control of the House and the Senate too but
narrowly in each case.
Now, today, that you know page six of "The New York Times" 17 minutes into
the newscast footnote, that tweak in the way the budget gets done in
Washington is going to make all the difference in the world as to whether
or not now the Democratic Party having control of the presidency and the
house and the Senate is going to be enough for this new president to get
big lasting things passed to try to help the country in all of the crises
that we are in now. These are the policies roughly as shorthanded by me and
I take full responsibility for any of these things that aren`t that don`t
end up being proposed exactly this way.
But roughly, these are the priorities that the Biden administration and the
Democratic-led Congress have said they want to get done. First, it`s what
they`re calling the American Rescue Plan, the COVID relief. This is funding
for the national vaccination program and a stimulus check for American
families and another round of help to our suffering small businesses and
help for cities and states so the economic crunch from the pandemic doesn`t
force them to start laying off cops and firefighters and paramedics and
teachers and all the rest.
It extends the ban on evicting people from their apartments or foreclosing
on their homes during the pandemic. It extends the pause on people having
to repay their federal student loans it puts extra money in people`s
unemployment checks. It includes a really overdue hike in the federal
minimum wage. So that`s one. That`s the American Rescue Plan, that`s COVID
There`s also their jobs and infrastructure bill. This is basically an
economic rescue and infrastructure plan. It includes a big focus on
domestic manufacturing. There`s a lot in there about transportation lots of
investments and things that will both help the economy and help with
climate issues like emission standards and stuff. This is a lot of what
Biden campaigned on, Build Back Better.
They also want immigration reform, including an eight-year-long path to
citizenship for immigrants and reforms and rationalization on border
security and on applying for asylum and on the treatment of refugees very,
very, very long overdue immigration reform they want to do that.
And there`s democracy, voting rights and shoring up democracy. They`re
calling this one HR-1 in the House and S1 in the Senate, meaning
numerically, it`s the first bill in both Houses of Congress. This includes
the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
It puts a stop to partisan gerrymandering it makes it so every state has a
floor they can`t go below in terms of providing for early voting and same-
day voter registration and other things that open up the voting process to
make it easier for people to vote. It blocks states from messing with
voting by mail. It standardizes and makes voter registration the norm
nationwide instead of something that states tinker with and try to make
hard when certain parties see it to their advantage. And it`s got a whole
lot more into it. That`s in -- but that`s some of it.
In very rough terms, again, I`m -- I take responsibility for leaving out
some stuff and maybe overstating or understating some other things, but
this is basically how I understand it. These are the four things they are
aiming at from the outset. These are not you know executive orders or
resolutions or statements of intent or anything else that can be reversed
with this -- with the -- with the sweep of a pen by the next president.
This is law. This -- these would be big leaps forward in terms of law,
congressionally passed real durable legislation that will change and reform
things in big ways in the country, big moves to try to handle these
multiple crises that we have been struggling through and how they can do
it. This is all stuff that has to be done through Congress.
Now in the House, Democrats have a narrow majority, but they have a
majority and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi knows how to get things passed with
a Democratic majority. The issue is the Senate. In the Senate, Senate rules
say that the minority party can filibuster almost anything, which in effect
means that they can require 60 votes to pass legislation. There are only 50
Democratic senators in the Senate, and you know on some issues maybe a
Republican senator, or two or three. Hey, let`s be optimistic, let`s say
four or five or six Republican senators might cross over and side with the
Democrats on some piece of legislation maybe.
But come on, it`s just not going to happen on anything big. And even if
they could get one, two, three, four, five, six Republican senators to
cross over on something, it certainly never going to be 10 Republican
senators to cross over to vote with Democrats on anything at all, let alone
something big and substantive. Republicans just don`t operate that way
I mean, under their leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, you could not get
Republican senators to vote for a resolution that said moms are good and
ice cream`s cold and tasty. I mean, there`s just no way they would do it.
And so, Richard Nixon and that tweak that he signed in high summer 1974,
less than a month before he resigned, to basically clip his own wings after
the way that he had been trying to arrogate the powers of Congress to
himself. That tweak that he signed which was sort of a miracle that he
signed it, he probably never would have had he not been in such trouble but
he signed that tweet that gives Congress new ways to wrangle the budget,
including one neat trick where the Senate can pass stuff once per budget in
a way that gets around a filibuster and lets you just pass something with a
That`s heaven and earth right now. That is -- that is black and white, that
is night and day, that is up and down. That is going to be the difference.
Put back up that list of stuff that Biden and the Democratic Congress wants
to do again as we roughly understand it. And again, this is rough. Remember
this is just my shorthand and in most cases we haven`t seen the bills yet
so this is just sort of my expectations roughly based on conversations with
people who know these things what we`ve seen in the press and what the
White House and the Democrats have explained, four main things.
Well, that gift that we got from Richard Nixon, that gift -- that tweak
that says once per budget, you can pass something just with a majority,
just with 51 votes, once per budget, you can use the budget reconciliation
process to pass something with just a majority which Democrats have just on
their own, well, you can only do that once per budget resolution.
Here is the unusual wrinkle in the Democrats favor. It turns out there was
no budget resolution passed last year. They still didn`t do last year`s
budget resolution and, of course, they haven`t done this year yet either.
So even though that 40-year-old gift from Richard Nixon usually means you
can use this reconciliation process to pass stuff with 50 votes once per
year in the Senate, this year, they get two budget resolutions. They
actually get to do it twice, which is a windfall.
But put back up that list of things they want to do. That is still not
enough to pass this stuff that they want to do, right, with just a majority
vote, with just Democratic votes if they need to do it that way. Think
about it -- are they going to get Republican votes for any of these things?
Likely not, right? They can only use that one neat trick to pass things
with just a majority of votes twice. It`s amazing that they can do it
That inheritance from Richard Nixon is enough, we think, to pass two of
these two big ambitious legislative lifts the two that are highlighted here
are the ones that we think they`re going to go for. What does that do for
immigration reform? What does that do for voting rights and shoring up
democracy? What does that do with everything else they want to pass through
legislation in Congress?
And the other hurdle here is that anything they want to pass by this
process, they have to make the case to the Senate parliamentarian that
everything in that bill is materially related to the budget. If it`s not
budget related, they can`t do it with just a majority vote.
But bottom line, using the reconciliation process, they can pass two big
packages of legislation this year, if the Democrats hang together even if
they get zero Republican votes. If they want to pass anything else besides,
they only have two options. They`re either going to have to persuade 10
Republican senators to cross over, and again, 10 Republican senators likely
would not cross over to vote with the Democrats to proclaim kittens to be
soft right, let alone to vote with Democrats on something like immigration
reform, or COVID relief, or infrastructure, or voting rights. Are you
kidding me? Ten Republican senators? Seriously?
They can either persuade Republicans to leave their bodies and do something
that they are constituently incapable of doing in this era of the
Republican Party or their other option if they want anything passed at all
while Joe Biden is president if they want anything other than the two
things they can do for reconciliation to pass, the only other thing they
can do is to vote themselves, all the Democrats, to get rid of the
filibuster, to get rid of that in the Senate, to make it so a majority vote
carries the day on all legislation from here on out and there`s no more
They can do something, specifically we think they can do two packages of
legislation, all of which has to relate to the budget without the help of
Republicans. But that`s all they`re going to be able to do unless they can
kill the filibuster or unless Republicans suddenly have a massive change of
heart. Don`t bet on it.
And I know this seems like you know us government trivia, it seems like
marginalia. It seems like something vestigial we never noticed during the
cratering of the disastrous Nixon presidency. But it has become the one
thing that determines if we can do anything substantive to get our country
out of the mess that we are in if we can apply the power of government to
making lasting change to address the fundamental problems where we are, to
give a vaccination program funding nationwide to give the American people
relief from the economic and health disaster that we are in right now, to
shore up our democracy, to support and both buttress voting rights, to
finally reform and rationalize our absolutely broken immigration system,
If we want to do any of those things, that`s where we are now. And the
White House has so far been avoiding talking about things in these terms I
think because it`s a little too stark, right? It`s not the way that
President Biden in particular likes to talk about the differences between
the two parties and the prospects of the two parties working together. He
likes to project optimism on that front.
I think they don`t talk about things in terms of this stark because they
think it`s too negative in outlook in terms of what Republicans are like
now and what they`re likely to do even for a good cause and for the
country. But this is where we are, I`m telling you and it makes it very
simple in terms of how we think about the road ahead and the prospects for
getting stuff done, and it means that Democrats are running very, very,
very quickly into very hard decisions about how much they are willing to do
to get things done for the country.
And the new White House press secretary joins us live in just a moment.
Stay with us tonight. I think this is going to be good.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What happened -- parents were
ripped, their kids were ripped from their arms and separated, and now they
cannot find over of sets of those parents and those kids are alone, nowhere
to go, nowhere to go. It`s criminal. It`s criminal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was candidate Joe Biden at the final presidential debate this
past fall just excoriating President Trump for this -- the Trump
administration`s policies of taking little kids away from their moms and
dads at the border and then never reuniting hundreds of those families.
Well, the week after that debate, just a few days before the election, the
Biden campaign released a TV ad that featured that portion of the debate
and it said -- the ad said that if elected on his first day as president,
Joe Biden would create a federal task force to start the process of finding
and reuniting those hundreds of kids with their parents.
Well, now, Joe Biden is president and whatever is going to happen in terms
of immigration reform and the president`s immigration legislation in
Congress, there is still this very pressing issue of hundreds of kids taken
away from their parents by the Trump administration who still haven`t been
reunited with them. President Biden did not create a task force on this
issue on on day one as his campaign said he would but we have been told
that they are working on announcing something soon.
And we did get this interesting development this week when the first lady`s
office announced that her chief of staff will be working directly on the
issue of reuniting separated families. CNN reported that First Lady Jill
Biden herself will give input to the task force that they are setting up to
reunite these kids with their parents. That suggests this is both still a
high priority for the Biden administration and that this is going to be a
high profile thing, anything a first lady is involved in tends to be a high
But the question remains, how are they going to do this? Why has there been
a delay from something they said they do on day one?
President Biden had been expected to issue the executive order creating
this task force as of tomorrow, as of Friday. But now, it appears to have
been delayed again. Sources telling NBC News` Julia Ainsley, Jacob Soboroff
and Geoff Bennett that President Biden`s immigration executive orders,
including this task force to reunite separated families those orders are
being delayed, quote, by at least a few days. So, at least in our reporting
thus far, we don`t know what is causing these delays.
When should we expect the president to take action and what should we
expect from this task force that he`s promised that hasn`t yet
Joining us now is Jacob Soboroff, MSNBC correspondent. He`s the author of
the book "Separated: Inside An American Tragedy". Jacob`s really been at
the forefront of covering this issue from the beginning and he joins us
tonight from the border in Otay Mesa, California.
Jacob, it`s great to see you. Thanks for being here.
JACOB SOBOROFF, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: So you have been covering this for a long time, where do you -- I
mean, bottom line, where do you think we are in terms of getting some
action toward reuniting these families? What do you understand about the
pace at which the administration is working and why this rollout is slower
than they told us to expect?
I think if President Biden Rachel was able to launch his task force and
announce the plan on day one, he would have done it. But what I think the
Biden administration is now learning is that this is extraordinarily
complicated, and it`s complicated not just because of the cruelty and the
intentionality that went into this policy to separate 5,000 kids -- over
5,000 kids from their parents, including Miss L. who was separated and then
detained, the namesake of the lawsuit that won the reunification of all the
families right here in Otay Mesa, but also because after the separations,
there are so many different distinct groups of separated families and how
ultimately President Biden and his administration will deal with them.
What is the relief that they will offer? Will they bring people back from
that side of the border uh who were separated and their children remain on
this side? Will they bring parents deported with their children back to the
United States? Will they designate them victims of crimes? There`s all
kinds of questions they have to answer, and I`m not so sure that they`ve
answered them all yet.
MADDOW: Is part of the issue, Jacob, part of the complexity and
potentially the delay here, the issue of accountability? As you say, you
know, should they be defined -- these folks be defined as victims of
Is it possible that of government personnel, whether they`re people in
Washington or people who effectuated this policy on the border, may have
committed crimes in doing so and that this should be treated as something
for which individual people working for the Trump administration and
carrying out this policy on behalf of the Trump administration might find
themselves legally in trouble for what they did?
SOBOROFF: I think it`s a critical question and what vice president now
President Biden meant when he was a candidate, you know, saying it`s
criminal, it`s criminal. He told our colleague Geoff Bennett that he
intended for his Justice Department to conduct a, quote, thorough
investigation. Well, that Justice Department has provided a road map into
potential criminality with this inspector general report that by name
pointed out many key officials in the Trump administration for purposely
implementing this policy, including Gene Hamilton, a counselor to Jeff
Sessions, Jeff Sessions himself.
And they say in this inspector general`s report that now the Biden
administration has, that when they did this the plan wasn`t necessarily
just to separate and prosecute people here at the border but
administratively separate. So we talk about five thousand people being
separated. We now know that that number could be far higher tens of
thousands if not a hundred thousand in the time period had they separated
And so, now, it won`t be up to this task force which will be led by
Alejandro Mayorkas we understand, the secretary designated of Homeland
Security, in consultation with HHS and as well as State, but separately,
will this Department of Justice investigate this and ultimately pursue
MADDOW: Wow. Remarkable. Jacob Soboroff, MSNBC correspondent who again has
been on this story literally from day one, Jacob, thanks for your time
tonight. I really appreciate you joining us particularly from where you are
there on the border tonight.
SOBOROFF: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. As I mentioned, President Biden`s new White House Press
Secretary Jen Psaki joins us live next for the interview, very much looking
forward to speaking with her. That`s next.
MADDOW: By the time she joined then-Senator Barack Obama`s campaign as a
traveling press secretary in 2008, Jen Psaki already had a pretty
impressive resume under her belt. She`d already worked on a presidential
campaign. She`d served as a member of John Kerry`s staff during his run for
president in 2004.
Before that, she spent time as a communications director on Capitol Hill.
She`d done a stint at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Given that experience, it`s no wonder that when she joined the Obama
campaign in 2008, she quickly sort of became a fixture. When President
Obama ultimately was elected, Jen Psaki would go on to serve as White House
deputy press secretary and then as deputy communications director.
After working on the president`s reelection campaign in 2012, she shifted
to a role as State Department spokesperson where she did daily briefings
and she attracted whatever the opposite of a fan club is from the Russian
government in particular.
Jen Psaki would later finish out the Obama administration as White House
So, tonight, as she joins us, Jen Psaki is just eight days into this new
role as White House press secretary, the most visible communications role
in all of U.S. government.
But this is not day eight of Jen Psaki`s -- Jen Psaki`s responsibility in
jobs like this. This is a woman who knows what she`s doing. She`s been
through it already.
Joining us now for the interview is White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
Jen, it is really nice of you to come on the show tonight. I know you have
every option in the world. Thanks for being here.
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Oh, great to be here. Thank you.
Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: It is hard for those of us in the press and in the public to get
used to there being a White House press briefing every day again. We were
accustomed to it for so long and when it went away, we lost those muscles
immediately. And it feels actually even sometimes hard to keep up.
How is it going from your perspective?
PSAKI: Well, on the first day, I have to be honest, I got some texts from
friends who said things like, "the world is counting on you", "we`re
watching you, and hopefully it all goes okay."
And there`s a little bit of pressure on your shoulders, but, you know, I am
-- I am honored that I get to serve in this role and to serve for this
president who, you know, every day is willing to answer my questions and
wants to make sure that we`re on the same page about the tone we`re sending
and what he`s thinking about issues.
And, you know, the job is hard but that makes the job a bit easier. So, so
far, day eight, I haven`t started to worry (ph) yet, that`s good, and
hopefully, I`m starting to lay the groundwork for rebuilding trust with the
public. And that I think is really one of my primary goals at this point in
time for, you know, this job.
MADDOW: The trust with the public and not having such an adversarial
relationship with the press where the press feels like they are under
assault and put at physical danger because of your words, that`s also a
nice -- that`s also a nice change from the previous experience from the
But I have to say, like, I`m already feeling like, the presentation that we
are hearing from you in the briefing room already feels, it is -- I trust
it and I also feel like it`s too nice. I feel like the challenges that the
administration has on Capitol Hill are more stark than you have been
telling us in terms of the likelihood that Republicans are going to go
along with anything that President Biden wants to do.
And so, it`s not -- it`s not a trust issue because I believe you are
telling the truth but I believe -- and I`m just going to put it right to
you -- I believe you are being too nice about what Republicans are likely
Do you know something that we don`t or are you -- or is that a fair
PSAKI: Well, look, first I think, you know, you take -- you take your
guidance from the person you work for. And for me, that`s President Biden.
And he starts every day thinking I want to be able to work with Democrats
and Republicans and there`s a reason they should work with me because the
pieces that are in, for example, this COVID package that is the top
priority for him right now, are things the Democrats and Republicans across
the country support -- 70 percent of the public supports them.
Are Republicans now against reopening schools? Are they against getting
unemployment insurance checks to the American people? Are they against
getting vaccines in the arms of Americans?
So we want to lay this out and speak directly to the people out in the
public who are watching the briefing, too, sometimes or watching clips of
it, too, sometimes to really explain to them what we`re doing. So I promise
you I`ve been in this town long enough, so has President Biden, nobody is
naive in the White House about how hard, it`s going to be and none of us
think that Republicans are just going to lay down and work with us
overnight, but we feel like we have to try.
And we have to lay out for the public what we`re trying to do. And that we
are trying to work on in a bipartisan way. And then we have a range of
tools at our disposal to get relief to the public if that doesn`t work out,
and if they don`t take us up on it at every opportunity.
MADDOW: One of those tools, of course, is reconciliation. I tried to lay
out at the top of the show tonight some of the history of how we got the
budget reconciliation process and how weird that is, but the fact that
basically there`s probably two shots this year at being able to pass
something using that process, which would mean that you could pass
something would just a majority vote in the Senate, you wouldn`t need ten
Republicans to cross over, and beat a filibuster in order to do it.
If there are two shots at that and that is going to be the way that some of
this legislation moves, are we right to expect that that would be for the
COVID legislation, the American Rescue Plan, and also for the big jobs and
infrastructure bill, the building back better initiative?
PSAKI: Well, I know there`s been some reporting on this, we haven`t even
proposed. The president hasn`t even proposed the package yet, which he`s
going to do soon in coming weeks. But I would say on the COVID package, you
know, the challenge we`re facing right now, Rachel, as you know, and you
talk about this on your show, is there`s urgency here.
You know, if we don`t have certainty, if the American people don`t have
certainty about being able to put food on the table when we hit this
unemployment cliff in March, if we aren`t able to plan for how we`re going
to reopen schools, you know, this can`t be a game that`s played where we
wait and wait and wait and negotiate and negotiate and negotiate.
We absolutely want it to be bipartisan, but this is one of the tools that
we can use. As you explained on your show, it`s a parliamentary procedure
or step. Now, even if it goes to reconciliation, Republicans can still vote
for it. There`s no blood oath saying they can`t.
So, we`ll keep trying until the end. But there`s an urgency here, and
that`s really our priority right now.
MADDOW: And is it true that the president has been calling Republican
senators directly and trying to talk to them about their concerns and
trying to assess whether or not they might possibly be yes votes for
something like this?
PSAKI: Yes, it`s absolutely truth and having sat in the Oval Office with
him, you know, when he decides to make one of those calls, when he says he
doesn`t want to make one of those calls, he doesn`t really require a call
sheet, or, you know, it`s kind of a very Washington term, but a sheet that
tells him what to say to Congress and how to outline the bill. He knows.
He`s known a lot of these people for decades. He has relationships that go
way back, and it may feel foreign to people but his view is that it`s
working how it should work. He laid out his bill, he laid out what his
vision should be.
He listened to really smart policy experts in the health area and,
obviously, economists as well, and people are going to come back and say, I
don`t like this, I want this to be bigger, which some are saying, I want
this to be smaller, what some Republicans are saying. And he`s going to
hear them out and see what`s possible.
And there are areas, for example, on the targeting of checks and making
sure they`re going most to people in need, that -- he`s happy to have that
conversation on. At the end of the day, he also has his principles and is
not going to break this bill up. He wants pieces that address the vaccines,
pieces that address -- to ensure they`re getting checks to people to put
food on the table and money so we can to open schools.
He`s not going to break it up but he`s happy to have a discussion about the
components of it and the size, and things along those lines, and that`s
what`s ongoing. But yes, he picks up the phone. Sometimes he says, great,
I`ll call that, I`ll call senator so and so later today, or make sure I
call -- I call that senator, I call him back and have a conversation.
And I think that`s -- that gives you a sense of how he`s going to govern.
MADDOW: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, would you mind staying with
me for just a second? I have another couple of things I`d love to ask you
for. I have to take a quick break here.
PSAKI: Sure, I`d love to.
MADDOW: Right back with the press secretary after this. Stay with us.
MADDOW: We`re back with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
Jen, thank you again for doing this. I really appreciate you being here
One of the things you talked about today at the briefing was that we should
expect executive orders from President Biden next week in regards to
immigration. And that potentially includes what, for a lot of people, is a
long-awaited announcement about the reuniting of kids who were taken away
by their moms and dads by the Trump administration. We heard during the
campaign he planned to issue an executive order on day one forming a task
force that would take on that and start working on that immediately. Of
course, that did not happen on day one.
Can you give us an update on what we should expect on that front?
PSAKI: Well, this is something that the president`s absolutely committed
to, and you can expect you`ll hear more from him on it next week. And as
you`ve done reporting on and as Jake was just reporting on early in this
show, you know, this is an issue people have been waiting on for some time,
creating a reunification task force that can help finally bring some relief
to families who have been cruelly and immorally separated from -- as a
result of the policies of the last administration.
So, there will be more from the president on that next week. He has had a
flurry of executive actions and orders he has taken, including and also put
out -- put forward some legislation, including a comprehensive immigration
bill, an immigration bill that addresses and tries to provide a pathway to
citizenship. But I know this is something people have been waiting on. Tune
in next week.
And also next week, Rachel, if I may add, you know, one of the areas where
he is really focused is rebuilding institutions across government and
rebuilding trust not just, of course, at the podium -- I promise not to be
so nice tomorrow -- but also in the career public servants.
And next week, he`s going to go visit the State Department and thank them
for all of the work they do and really showcase how government works and
how incredible the men and women who serve and have been serving for
decades are. And that`s something that I know is close to his heart and
something we hope to highlight next week too.
MADDOW: In terms of the task force on reuniting kids, it`s been said that
possibly the new homeland security secretary, soon to be Secretary
Mayorkas, would be heading up the task force. It`s also been reported that
the First Lady Jill Biden and her office, her chief of staff, may be
involved in someway with that task force.
Can you just -- can you confirm that for us and tell us more about what we
should expect there? Obviously, this is something where the American
people, I think it`s fair to say, feel like this is a gaping moral wound
that needs to be fixed. There are questions potentially of criminal
liability for officials who effectuated this policy under Trump.
Can you give us a little bit more about how that will work?
PSAKI: Sure. And some I can give you and I will say, you know, when --
initially when reports of families being separated was happening, was
covering all the news, my son was a baby and I think watching as a mother,
it just still makes my heart hurt. So, I join many, many Americans who are
watching and others around the world.
You know, I think this is an issue that Dr. Biden has taken -- paid close
attention to. And as a mother herself, that certainly will continue to be
the case. She actually met her chief of staff currently -- her current
chief of staff when they took a trip to the border together -- or they met
prior to that, but they did take a trip to the border together. It will be
an issue she follows closely.
But we`ll see. She`s not going to be leading the task force or anything.
I`m sure she`ll be following closely as Dr. Biden will as well.
But I would expect Ali Mayorkas who will be confirmed soon will be playing
a prominent role, leading this effort, overseeing it out of the Department
of Homeland Security. And we`ll have more to share soon about the members
of the task force and how it will work as we look ahead to address this
really horrific challenge.
MADDOW: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, thank you so much for your
time this evening. It is fantastic to see you back at the podium every day.
And I know that it is not an easy thing to do. But even when people
disagree with you and even when you were describing things that were not
popular, the fact you were there doing it every day is really important
thing for our democracy.
And it`s just -- it`s -- it`s the Lord`s work, so go with God.
PSAKI: Thank you. Thank you, Rachel. Appreciate it. Thanks for what you do
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: I was as shocked as you were today to realize waking up that it`s
not Friday. Today wasn`t Friday. But it has come to my attention that today
the Friday eve. And that means more than you can possibly know.
We`ll see you again tomorrow night.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.
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