Briefing in brief: Biden will say more on voting rights after Jan. 6

Julia Nikhinson

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday spent roughly an hour briefing a press corps reduced by the surging COVID-19 pandemic.

Psaki previewed President Biden’s forthcoming speech on the anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection, fielded questions about the Chicago Teachers Union’s refusal to do in-person learning amid a rise in COVID-19 infections, and how the administration is approaching potential relief as the pandemic persists.

Here’s the White House briefing — in brief.

Voting rights speech may be coming

Psaki offered some additional details on what Biden will say when he addresses the nation Thursday on the anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection.

The president is expected to focus on the historical significance of the attack, where pro-Trump rioters stormed the complex to try to halt the certification of Biden’s 2020 electoral win, and he will call out his predecessor for trying to whitewash what happened that day.

Psaki said the president may touch on the importance of protecting voting rights in the context of the insurrection, but she hinted Biden may devote a standalone speech to the issue as pressure from advocates ramps up ahead of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“He’ll have more to say tomorrow, past tomorrow, in another format, about voting rights,” Psaki said.

Biden wants schools open as Chicago goes virtual

The White House has stressed in recent days that it is safe for children to be in schools for in-person learning, despite a spike in COVID-19 cases with the spread of the omicron variant.

That messaging has faced a test in Chicago, where the teachers union in one of the largest public school districts in the country voted to return to virtual learning. The decision led to a cancellation of school on Wednesday for more than 300,000 students.

Psaki was asked multiple times about the situation in Chicago. While she did not directly comment on the demands of the teachers union or its decision to call off in-person classes, she reiterated that the administration believed in-person learning should be the norm at this point.

“The president wants schools to be open,” Psaki said. “He believes we have the tools for schools to be open, and we’re going to continue work to ensure that students are in classrooms, they are in classrooms safely, and they are for the foreseeable future.”

No expectation for new relief bill

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that lawmakers in both parties have held preliminary talks about another potential bill to provide relief funding to businesses and other sectors hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with the country seeing record-setting infections in the middle of the omicron wave.

The White House appeared open to the idea of additional relief funding for businesses and Americans in need amid the latest wave of coronavirus cases, but Psaki indicated nothing imminent was happening.

“We did a major relief package that included helping restaurants just last year,” Psaki said. “We are in constant discussions with Congress and leadership about the needs of the American people, whether they are small businesses or restaurants or people sitting in their homes as we continue to fight the pandemic, but don’t have any new pending request or specifics requests and wouldn’t predict that at this moment in time.”

Democrats in March passed the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion relief package that included funding for testing, direct payments to Americans, money for businesses and other measures meant to strengthen the country’s economic recovery as it worked its way out of the pandemic. 

Tags Chicago Coronavirus COVID-19 Jen Psaki Joe Biden

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