White House press secretary Jen Psaki and Bloomberg News reporter Justin Sink got into a back and forth during Wednesday’s daily White House press briefing over the U.S. refugee cap.
Sink pressed Psaki on why President Joe Biden decided to oppose the initial recommendations of Secretary of State Antony Blinken on raising the refugee cap and attempted to get her to explain if the decision was politically related. (RELATED: Jen Psaki Pressed By Reporter On Biden’s Refugee Cap Backtrack: ‘What Changed?’)
Sink began by referencing reporting from The Washington Post and The New York Times that Biden overruled Blinken on raising the refugee cap to 62,500 after initially planning to raise it. He then asked Psaki if it was fair to say that the president changed his mind again to raise the cap after receiving criticism from Democrats and refugee groups.
“Well I can say that we have every intention of putting out an increased cap, and we hope to do that soon, in advance of May 15th,” Psaki responded, before saying she wasn’t going into detail on the conversations between Biden and his national security team.
She went on to say that Biden has been considering the challenge of resources in terms of processing refugees, and that he was concerned if the system was prepared for an increase on the cap. She added that they’re now sending the message for those in the process to “get your muscles back in action” so that the U.S. can welcome more refugees.
Sink followed by noting that the State Department is in charge of processing refugees, and that the secretary of state was encouraging Biden to increase the cap. He then asked her to explain why Biden didn’t think the cap could be raised if Blinken was saying that it could.
“He has every intention of raising the cap. The Friday announcement was not about the top level of the cap, and I think that’s an important thing for people to understand,” Psaki replied, before saying that Biden was also looking at assessments from people who are part of the agencies in the refugee process to see what was possible. “We’ll have more to say when we have a conclusion on that,” she added.
“I think we’re talking past each other, so I’ll just ask once more, and then we can move on,” Sink said. “The question is whether the president changed his policy on the 62,500 and if on Friday you intended it to be 15,000 and then changed the decision after the outcry.”
“Well his policy was on Friday, was months before, continues to be, to reach 125,000 refugees in the next fiscal year. 62,500 was a down payment. It will be slower this year than it will be next year,” Psaki responded. “The president wants an assessment of how far we can get. That’s what he’s looking for. The State Department has a component of that. HHS is a component of that. We’re going to look at all of that.”
She went on to say that the administration wanted to send a clear message that the U.S. is welcoming to refugees, and that they “reassessed” when they realized that wasn’t the message they sent by not increasing the cap. “It was not a change in policy,” she added, before concluding that they would have an updated cap soon.
Biden, who was on track to accept fewer refugees in his first year in office than Trump, was planning to maintain the the refugee cap already in place, The New York Times reported Friday morning. By Friday afternoon, following criticism from some Democrats advocating for an increased number of refugees, the administration backtracked on the decision and announced they would set a “final, increased” cap by May 15. Biden reiterated his position on refugees Saturday saying that the number of refugees coming into the U.S would be increased.