In a wide-ranging interview hosted live on TikTok — a first for the White House press secretary — Jen Psaki told Yahoo News she agreed with Dr. Anthony Fauci’s assessment that gun violence in the United States is a “public health issue.”
“There’s no question it’s a public health emergency, it’s a public health crisis,” Psaki said. She remarked that she has young children, and that the daily news of mass shootings “impacts mothers and parents as well.”
“There’s no reason anyone needs to have an assault weapon,” Psaki said. “There’s no reason that there shouldn’t be universal background checks to ensure guns don’t get in the hands of people who should not have those guns.”
Psaki’s comments follow a spate of mass shootings in the last month, including attacks in a grocery store in Boulder, Colo., and a FedEx facility in Indianapolis.
President Biden wants to work with young activists on gun control measures, Psaki said. She said one of the reasons the president cares deeply about the issue is that he has witnessed the trauma of families and children affected by gun violence.
For young people, who have lived through a time when school shootings have become commonplace in the U.S. and who participate in active-shooter drills at school, gun control can be an especially emotional issue.
“[Biden] believes we need to address this and address the mental health impact that we’re seeing in young people by putting reform measures in place,” Psaki said. “Some of that may be in states; he’s going to keep pushing on the federal level.”
Psaki also pushed for federal legislation to drive police reform, calling the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act a “first step.” The act would implement a wide range of reforms on a federal level, such as banning chokeholds and eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement officers.
Psaki also acknowledged that watching the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in the death of George Floyd, has been emotionally exhausting for communities across the U.S.
“Even as the trial has gone on, we’ve seen additional deaths and losses of life at the hands of law enforcement authorities that never should have happened,” she said. “So it’s really hard to watch, and I think we recognize that and how it’s impacting young people and people of all ages across the country.”
When speaking about young people entering the workforce, Psaki highlighted the environmental aspect of the Biden administration’s American Jobs Plan, including the proposed investment in green jobs and electric vehicles.
“A big thing people are thinking about who are just starting their careers is, what industries are going to be around?” Psaki said. “If you look at a field like electric vehicles, the future is electric vehicles and industries like that.”
Biden is expected to unveil a new U.S. goal for cutting emissions at the upcoming global climate summit this week. The virtual event is an important opportunity for the U.S., as one of the world’s largest carbon emitters, to once again take the lead on the climate crisis, Psaki said.
As the U.S. continues to fight the coronavirus pandemic, she said the administration is focused on ensuring that vaccines are accessible. This week, the country met the president’s goal of making vaccines available to any U.S. adult. Now the Biden administration has begun to encourage young people to get vaccinated.
“We’ve seen in data that access for young people and figuring out where to go and when to go is a big barrier,” she said. A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed that vaccine hesitancy is highest among adults ages 18 to 34, with 36 percent of that group not planning to get inoculated for COVID-19. Only 27 percent of all adults don’t plan to get a vaccine, the poll shows.
During her interview with Yahoo News, Psaki also described what it’s like to serve as the White House press secretary. She said she typically wakes up around 5 a.m. — “like a farmer,” she joked — but isn’t above using the snooze button from time to time. To get through the busy days, she will occasionally snack on sweets like licorice, calling herself a “gummy-candy fiend.”
“I’m kind of like Will Ferrell in the movie ‘Elf,’” she said. “I love sugar. I would eat sugar with every meal.”
For young people who are interested in a high-profile job in politics, Psaki’s advice was simple: “Keep at it,” she said. Though she now holds the powerful White House press secretary title, she was twice runner-up to the role. “Jump through the door when it opens,” she said.
“It’s not more complicated than find a local person running for office, go work for them, see if you’re bitten by the bug, and go from there,” Psaki said. “Maybe one day I’ll work for you.”
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