Briefing in brief: White House confident in health chief Becerra

Associated Press/Alex Brandon

White House press secretary Jen Psaki fielded questions from reporters on Tuesday for about 50 minutes and addressed President Biden’s confidence in Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, the role of Spotify using misinformation disclaimers, and N95 masks for Americans.

Here’s the White House briefing — in brief. 

Biden is confident in Becerra

Psaki said that Biden remains confident in Becerra amid reports of frustration from White House officials with the job the secretary has done during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would just reiterate that the president remains confident in the role of Secretary Becerra, he is somebody who is an important partner, he has been leading a range of efforts from the …Department of Health and Human Services,” Psaki said when asked if the president still has confidence in Becerra.

The Washington Post on Monday night reported that officials have openly discussed who might be better suited for Becerra’s role and that they have a poor relationship with Becerra.

Psaki called such reporting “palace intrigue.”

“We’re less focused on — not at all focused I should say — on palace intrigue as much as we are on vaccinating Americans, fighting the omicron surge, expanding testing capacity and getting more therapeutics out to the American people. And, that’s how we believe we, and the leaders of the cabinet, will be judged,” she said. 

Becerra has been under fire for what critics say is a lack of leadership in the COVID-19 response and outside health experts and former officials have accused him of taking a back seat during the crisis.

Spotify misinformation disclaimers are a ‘positive step’ 

Psaki said that all technology and media companies should be vigilant to ensure people receive accurate information, calling Spotify’s decision to put disclaimers that warn users about misinformation a positive step.

“Our hope is that all major tech platforms and all major news sources, for that matter, be responsible and be vigilant to ensure the American people have access to accurate information on something as significant as COVID-19, that certainly includes Spotify,” Psaki said when asked if the White House thinks companies like Spotify do more than put a label on content.

Spotify decided recently to not remove “The Joe Rogan Experience,” the highly popular podcast from controversial host Joe Rogan, but instead, issue warnings to users about problematic content in it.

“We want every platform to continue doing more to call out mis- and disinformation while also uplifting accurate information,” Psaki said. 

“Ultimately, our view is it’s a good step, it’s a positive step, but there’s more that can be done,” she added.

Rogan has repeatedly made comments on his podcast questioning the COVID-19 vaccines and has hosted guests who’ve done the same, including hosting Robert Malone, a medical doctor who is suspended from Twitter for posting false information about COVID-19. 

100 million masks have shipped

The White House has shipped 100 million N95 masks for Americans to obtain for free, Psaki said on Tuesday.

“We just announced this last week, but we’ve already cranked up our shipments. We’ve shipped 100 million N95 masks so far, which is incredible progress. They’re available at thousands of locations around the country,” she said.

The White House announced last month that it is making 400 million N95 masks available for free. The program intends to make high-quality masks available for pickup at thousands of local pharmacies and community health centers.

When asked if there is a way for Americans to know if there are masks available in their area, Psaki said people can visit the website for the Health Resources and Services Administration, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Resources. 

She also said the program to provide free masks will expand soon.

“The program, we’re working to expand it to make it available across all health centers in the coming weeks,” she said.

Tags COVID-19 HHS Jen Psaki Joe Biden N95 masks press briefing Press secretary secretary White House Xavier Becerra
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