Psaki announces new White House effort to combat domestic extremism in wake of Capitol riot

Brittany Shepherd
·National Politics Reporter
·4 min read

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that President Biden has asked the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to complete a “comprehensive threat assessment” on domestic violent extremism in coordination with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.

“The Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol and the tragic deaths and destruction that occurred underscored what we have long known,” Psaki said. “The rise of domestic violent extremism is a serious and growing national security threat. The Biden administration will confront this threat with the necessary resources and resolve.”

She added that any moves to counter domestic extremism would be done with “respect for constitutionally protected free speech and political activities.”

In the wake of the deadly violence at the Capitol, which was carried out by militant supporters of former President Donald Trump, the Biden transition team’s website said the incoming administration would “work for a domestic terrorism law that respects free speech and civil liberties, while making the same commitment to root out domestic terrorism as we have to stopping international terrorism.”

Jen Psaki
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Some free speech and civil rights groups, however, have warned that a new domestic terrorism law would be both unnecessary and dangerous.

On Friday, Psaki described a multipronged approach to combating domestic extremism. She said that Biden would task the Office of the Director of National Intelligence with doing a threat assessment concerning domestic extremism, with information gleaned from both governmental and nongovernmental groups.

“We want fact-based analysis upon which we can shape policy,” Psaki said. “So this is really the first step in the process.”

The National Security Council will build a “new capability” to fight extremism and to better disseminate information on domestic terrorism in tandem with other members of the intelligence community, Psaki added. She said an NSC-convened process would also address domestic violent extremism by looking to stop radicalization.

Biden’s pick for director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, was installed on the first day of his presidency, confirmed in the Senate by an 84-10 vote. In her confirmation hearing, Haines said she would support lead agencies in combating domestic extremism, “in particular looking at any connections there are between folks in the U.S. and abroad.”

Pro-Trump protesters
Pro-Trump protesters storming the Capitol on Jan. 6. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

These new moves from the Biden administration come just weeks after the insurrection at the Capitol. The House of Representatives subsequently voted to impeach Trump for his role in encouraging the rioters, charging him with “incitement of insurrection.” Trump’s post-presidency impeachment trial could begin as early as next week.

Friday’s briefing also featured White House National Economic Council director Brian Deese, who walked reporters through two executive actions that will be signed by Biden in the afternoon. The orders direct agencies including the Department of Agriculture to punch up aid to families who qualify for EBT and SNAP benefits. They also suggest that federal contractors pay workers at least a $15 minimum wage by the end of Biden’s first 100 days.

Deese conceded that the White House would have to lean on Congress to provide supplemental economic legislation, though Friday’s executive orders were a good starting point.

“Our economy is at a very precarious moment,” said Deese, adding that “these actions are not a substitute for comprehensive legislative relief, but they will provide a critical lifeline to millions of families.”

Brian Deese
National Economic Council director Brian Deese. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Deese also spoke broadly of Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package. The package may face significant headwinds in Congress, which recently passed a $900 billion coronavirus stimulus package. But Deese argued that passing the administration’s economic agenda is necessary in order to pull the country out of its economic spiral.

“Without decisive action, we risk falling into a very serious economic hole, even more serious than the crisis we [currently] find ourselves in,” he said.

Deese said he and other officials will speak with a group of bipartisan senators on Sunday to help coax the legislation through a schedule that is also burdened with impeachment proceedings. He did not specify what kind of wiggle room the administration might have in negotiations, given expected Republican pushback.

“The risk of undershooting far outweighs the risk of doing too much,” Deese said, who later added that senior members of the team were engaging with members of Congress in both parties in order to push their agenda through.

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