Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, May 11, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:13 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Good afternoon. We have three guests joining us today: Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, and Deputy Security of Energy David Turk.
I — since Secretary Granholm and Mayorkas have been here before, I will skip their introductions. But I do want to note that Deputy Secretary Turk was previously the Deputy Executive Director of the International Energy Agency during the Obama-Biden administration. He coordinated international technology and clean energy efforts at DOE, and served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director at the National Security Council.
They obviously have a lot on their plates today but have agreed to stay for a few questions. With that, I will turn it over to Secretary Granholm.
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Thank you. Great. Thanks, Jen. So the White House and the Department of Energy have been leading an interagency response to the Colonial Pipeline hack and, fortunately, the interagency response is bringing a lot of expertise and resources and authorities from across the federal government.
We’ve been working around the clock since Friday to help Colonial — Friday night, when we learned, of course, to hope — to help Colonial return the pipeline to normal operation as quickly and as safely and as securely as possible.
I would note that, last night, one of Colonial’s major lines resumed operation under manual control while the existing inventory is available, along with some of the smaller lines that are spurs off of the major lines. They are getting those up and running.
Many of you are aware that Colonial announced yesterday that they fully expect to substantially restore operations by the end of this week.
Now, I’ve had several conversations with the CEO of Colonial and — who has indicted that by close of business tomorrow, Colonial will be in a position to make the full restart decision.
But even after that decision is made, it will take a few days to ramp up operations. This pipeline has never been shut down before. It travels great distances. There is fuel in the pipe and then there is fuel — the offtake from the refineries that have to be added. So it will take a few days to be up and running.
But our interagency effort is going to be on it all the way. And let me tell you what that has looked like so far: Starting this weekend, my team began multiple daily calls with Colonial’s senior executives — Dave Turk leading those — and those calls have enabled us to share information across the federal government to keep us fully in sync with their progress and to let them know what resources we can bring to bear.
We’ve spoken today with — and yesterday with several governors’ offices in the affected areas from the South and the Mid-Atlantic. They’re are obviously, understandably concerned with reports of gas stations running out of fuel, and they want this pipeline restarted — restarted, as do we all.
We are going to continue to assess impacts along the East Coast and, in particular, the parts of the Southeast, using the information and analysis from the Energy Information agency, which is part of the interagency combined effort — and other federal partners.
We’re using these conversations and that information to inform the federal decision making with our federal partners around steps to mitigate these supply impacts and disruptions.
So on Sunday afternoon — some of you are aware that the Department of Transportation issued a issued an “hours of service” waiver, which provides greater flexibility to drivers who are transporting gas and diesel and jet fuel across 17 states as well as the District of Columbia.
DOT also moved to temporarily relax some of its workforce requirements and monitoring so that we can make sure that we have the personnel online in these — in these places and with the drivers.
This morning, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a waiver of the blend of fuels for the affected states to allow us to use noncompliant fuel and boost available supply where it’s needed.
Further, the Department of Transportation’s Federal Rail Administration is working to enlist rail operators in an effort to transport fuel from ports inland — to and from.
And I spoke, as well, with Chairman Glick of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — of FERC — this morning. He is positioned to issue — FERC is positioned to issue orders quickly to direct the pipeline to prioritize fuel to the areas that are most in need once the pipeline is up and running.
So, in short, we’re looking at every option we have across federal govern- — the federal government and all of the agencies.
And in the meantime — I do want to say this — that we expect that gas station owners are — are and should act responsibly. We will have no tolerance for price gouging.
Federal and state officials will be investigating those actions if they see price gouging. And we are urging consumers to report any price gouging to their state attorneys general.
And still, I want to be clear that these states who are impacted, even with the — the turning on of the pipeline system — they still may feel a supply crunch as Colonial fully resumes. So — but the American people can feel assured that this administration is working with the company to get it resumed as soon as possible.
And as — one other warning, I guess: Let me emphasize that, much as there was no cause for, say, hoarding toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic, there should be no cause for hoarding gasoline, especially in light of the fact that the pipeline should be substantially operational by the end of this week and over the weekend.
So, at the same time, it certainly is a reminder that we need to take a hard look at how we need to harden our necessary infrastructure, and that includes cyber threats.
And as Anne Neuberger, who was here yesterday and told you: This administration is taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to enhancing our cyber defenses.
And Secretary Mayorkas is here to tell us a bit about what he’s doing on that front.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Thank you very much, Secretary Granholm. And let me — let me pick up on something that the Secretary said that I think is very important to emphasize.
On Friday, this ransomware attack became public. Saturday morning, the President was briefed and immediately directed an all-of-government effort, and immediately we executed on the President’s direction — the Department of Energy; the Department of Transportation; DOD — in terms of its logistics capabilities; the EPA; and, of course, the Department of Homeland Security; and — and others.
The — the direction was to bring our capabilities and our resources to bear, our expertise and whatever we can do to be poised should any of those capabilities be called upon, or be able to deliver much-needed resources.
We in the Department of Homeland Security, for example, began working immediately with the Department of Transportation to be ready should any request for a Jones Act waiver be made to us, to allow a foreign-flag vessel to deliver fuel should that need arise. And, of course, that need is not necessarily yet confirmed, but we wanted to be poised, at the President’s direction, to be ready and to be able to act immediately.
The — the attack that Colonial Pipe suffered is a ransomware attack. That threat of ransomware is, certainly, by no means new. As a matter of fact, last week I spoke at an event sponsored by the United States Chamber of Commerce about the gravity of the threat. More than $350 million in losses are attributable to ransomware attacks this year. That’s a more-than-300 percent increase over last year’s victimization of companies.
And there’s no company too small to suffer a ransomware attack. We are seeing increasingly small- and medium-sized businesses suffer a ransomware attack. And we are bringing in the Department of Homeland Security — our capabilities to bear through the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency — or “CISA”, as it is commonly known.
We are in the lead in the public-private partnership in an all-of-government effort to raise the cyber hygiene of private industry and, of course, within the federal “dot-gov” environment as well.
We share information between the public and private sectors. We share best practices. We have cybersecurity directors to actually be onsite at a company’s facilities to assess it, to make recommendations, and to direct it with respect — to voluntarily direct it to raise its cyber hygiene and how we can best do so.
This threat is not imminent; it is upon us. The Colonial Pipe ransomware attack is a stark example of what we have been saying for some time now. And quite frankly, when I served as the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security in the second term of the Obama-Biden administration, we were focused on it then.
And so we are bringing our all-of-government effort, at the President’s direction, to not only address the situation that is upon us today that is galvanizing our attention, of course, but to really focus on critical infrastructure and what we can do to strengthen that critical infrastructure across our government and to make it more resilient to these types of attacks and to raise awareness so that everyone understands the need to prevent and be in a position to respond to these attacks.
And I’ll turn it over to Jen.
MS. PSAKI: And I’ll just say, we may pull up our Deputy Secretary here, too, in case we need him.
Go ahead, Peter.
Q Secretary Mayorkas, I’ll follow up on what you just said a moment ago: The FERC Chairman, to whom the Secretary referred to a moment ago, said yesterday there should be “mandatory” cybersecurity standards for pipelines. Do you agree? And is this administration going to try to put those in place?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, our conversations within the administration are ongoing and have been underway with respect to what measures we need to take — both administratively and, of course, in a companion effort, the legislature — to see how we can raise the cyber hygiene across the country.
Q On a separate issue, Secretary Mayorkas, we have cameras today in Texas that are showing humongous groups of dozens or hundreds of migrants walking right into the country. So, I’m curious what you meant last week when you said, “The border is closed.”
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: The bord- — what I meant is precisely that: The border is closed. We are expelling single adults and families under the Title 42 authority that rests with the Center for Disease Control. And we decided, as an administration, in furtherance of the President’s direction to administer our immigration laws of this country in an orderly and safe and humane way, that we will not expel unaccompanied children.
Q Secretary Granholm, you just acknowledged the possibility of a supply crunch. Can you give us, sort of, more of a reality check here? What kinds of shortages should Americans be bracing for? What kind of disruption on gas prices can Americans expect?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: First, let me just be really clear: The crunch is in the areas that are affected by the pipeline — the main spurs of the pipeline. So, that really is the Southeast. About 70 percent of the supplies of North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and especially southern Virginia are impacted the most.
And so those are the areas that — where we have the greatest concerns with. And because of the — the fact that there’s not a whole lot of other supply — now this particular pipeline also supplies other states, but there are other pipelines that supply their states as well, so there’s more diversity.
In this particular region, that’s where we’re going to see the crunch, and this is why we are — we know that we have gasoline; we just have to get it to the right places. And that’s why these next couple of days, I think, will be challenging.
And we want to encourage people: It’s not that we have a gasoline shortage, it’s that we have this supply crunch, and that things will be back to normal soon, and that we’re asking people not to hoard. And know that every — we are all over this.
MS. PSAKI: Aamer.
Q Thanks. What does this say about the fragility of our national infrastructure that one hack could do this and could have been worse if the hackers have gotten into the operational system?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Attacks on our critical infrastructure are not new. There are different levels of strength and resilience across the critical infrastructure enterprise, and that is why we are so focused on making sure that the cyber hygiene across the entire enterprise is strengthened.
And remember, in cybersecurity, one is only as strong as one’s weakest link. And therefore, we are indeed focused on identifying those weak links; working with those weak links — in the critical infrastructure enterprise as well as throughout the private sector; and strengthening our country as a whole. This is not unique to the United States.
MS. PSAKI: Nandita.
Q Thanks, Jen. Secretary Granholm, can you give us a sense of the timeline on the Jones Act waiver that we just heard from the DOT about? And when will it go into effect?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Actually, you’re the —
SECRETARY MAYORAKAS: So —
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: This is the Jones Act guy. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Yeah. Yeah, so — so if I may, when we receive a request for a waiver, the Department of Transportation engages in an ana- — an analysis to determine whether any U.S.-flagged vessels are available to deliver what is needed.
And if in fact they are, then, of course, they are called upon under the Jones Act statute to deliver accordingly. But if there are U.S.-flagged — if there are not U.S. flags available, then we analyze the need for foreign-flagged vessels and apply the statutory requirements correctly.
And, of course, in a situation such as this, the work we already began precisely for this reason, at the President’s direction, to be ready and to be responsive with the urgency that the situation would require. So we are on it as fast as possible.
Q So is there — is there a timeline, Secretary? I know you’re — I know you’re conducting a review, but what is the timeline?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So we’re going to move in — in lightning speed.
MS. PSAKI: Matt Viser.
Q I had a question for Secretary Granholm on behalf of a colleague who couldn’t be here — not about the Colonial Pipeline, but a different one. The state of Michigan has ordered a closure of a pipeline called “Line 5” with a deadline tomorrow.
The question is: Has the White House or the Biden administration or the former governor of Michigan, current Secretary Granholm — if there’s any position on the Line 5, if you guys are urging the state of Michigan to do anything one way or the other?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Yeah, we don’t weigh in on that, and it’s in court right now, so that’s where it sits. It will be decided in court.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Yeah. Can you tell us what is the feasibility of using rail cars to transport fuel into the affected areas? I know that’s being looked at.
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Yeah. The DOT is looking at that, and so we’ll have to wait until their analysis is done. These — these are not easy solutions because there may or may not be the right rail cars; there may not or may not be the deep-water ports available for the Jones Act to be able to respond.
So this particular area of the country there — this is why we have doubled down on ensuring that there’s an ability to truck oil in — gas in. But it’s — the pipe is the best way to go. And so that’s why, hopefully, this company, Colonial, will, in fact, be able to restore operations by the end of the week as they have said.
MS. PSAKI: We’re going to do that last one, in the back.
Q Yeah. I just have a question for each of you. I’ll start with you, Secretary Granholm, because ladies first. Obviously, we have the acute issues with the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack. But looking more holistically in a macro view, how does this speed up the efforts at DOE to move in more of a renewable direction since this is going to have an impact on people at the pump?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Yeah, I mean, we obviously are “all in” on making sure that we meet the President’s goals of getting to 100 percent clean electricity by 2035 and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. And, you know, if you drive an electric car, this would not be affecting you, clearly.
But it’s just — it’s another — it’s — I don’t want to — this company is acting in a responsible way. They took their pipeline down so that the ransomware would not spread. And so, up to this point, they have — they’re carefully reviewing so that they’re doing this in a responsible way.
The broader issue is a very important issue. It’s an issue for the President’s priority and the American Jobs Plan — the issue of investing in a transmission grid, for example, so that you don’t have the cyber issues associated with it. So there’s a lot of broader questions in this, and we hope that we’ll be able to see that investment in infrastructure that will facilitate clean and renewable energy.
Q Secretary Mayorkas, for you: Are you having any issues filling some of these critical infrastructure jobs? I know this has been, sort of, a historic problem in finding people who are qualified to take on mass-scale cybersecurity? For the federal government, that’s a huge undertaking. Are you still having some of the issues that we’ve seen, sort of, on and off throughout history — really in the history of DHS — filling those positions with qualified applicants?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So it’s a very interesting question. So, let me say, we — we launched this series of cybersecurity sprints several weeks ago. Our first cybersecurity sprint was on ransomware, precisely because of the threat — the gravity of the threat that that poses.
Our second sprint is precisely on recruiting and retaining top cybersecurity talent — (someone sneezes) — bless you — top talent. And we’re very focused on that.
And we’re very focused on also achieving one of the President’s critical directives to reflect a critical value, which is that — which is that our cybersecurity talent will achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, both.
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: All right, thank you.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Thank you very much.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. I have a hard stop at three o’clock, but I wanted to, of course, bring the two Secretaries here, and I know there’s other things going on in the world, so we will get to as many questions as we possibly can.
A couple of items at the top: The President announced this morning — or we announced this morning that 1 million people have signed up for health insurance during the 2021 special enrollment period since it started in February. The President highlighted this milestone early this morning, and that Americans have until August 15th to gain affordable, quality health coverage through Healthcare.gov. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, four out of five people can buy a plan for less than $10 a month.
Also, today, as just wrapped up before this, in our coder [COVID] response team’s call — well, there — I guess that was before that — with our nation’s governors, Jeff Zients announced that jurisdictions will receive close to 28 million doses this week, with two thirds going to states and the remainder to federal channels.
He also announced additional efforts to get America vaccinated, many of which you’ve seen out there: free rides for Americans to vaccination sites from Lyft and Uber by May 24th and through July — starting May 24th and through July 4th; a new partnership with our federal pharmacy partners to support on-campus vaccination clinics at some of the nation’s largest community colleges; more resources immediately available to states and jurisdictions to fund on-the-ground vaccination education efforts, including personnel costs — and this money can go to things like phone banking, door-to-door canvassing, pop-up vaccination sites in workplaces and houses of worship, which is especially pivotal at this stage we’re in.
And as we await hearing more from CDC and its recommendations, the team has also reiterated that the administration has already been working to prepare for youth vaccinations and ensuring we can get supply out as quickly as possible.
Final item for all of you on the situation in Jerusalem and Gaza. The President has been briefed daily on developments in Jerusalem and Gaza. He just received another update before I came out here from the National Security Advisor. Since last week, he has directed his team to engage intensively with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials, as well as leaders throughout the Middle East. His team is communicating a clear and consistent message in support of de-escalation, and that is our primary focus.
The President’s support for Israel’s security, for its legitimate right to defend itself, and its people is fundamental and will never waver. We condemn ongoing rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, including against Jerusalem. We also stand against extremism that has inflicted violence on both communities. Jerusalem, a city of such importance to people of faith around the world, must be a place of coexistence. It is up to the officials, residents, and leaders to restore the city to a place of calm.
The President and his team will continue to pursue the conditions for diplomacy, dialogue, and de-escalation, and protection of civilians, even as we work together with our friends to deter acts of violence and terrorism.
We will also continue to support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That is the only way to ensure the just and lasting peace that two peoples have struggled to achieve.
We believe Palestinians and Israelis deserve equal measures of freedom, security, dignity, and prosperity. And U.S. officials, in recent weeks, have spoken candidly with Israeli officials about how evictions of Palestinian families who have lived for years, sometimes decades, in their homes and of demolitions of these homes work against our common interests in achieving a solution to the conflict.
In the coming days, as Muslims gather with family and friends to celebrate Eid and Jews join together to mark the beginning of Shabbat, let us affirm that all people of faith deserve to enjoy these important celebrations without fear of violence and work toward peace and calm for all.
With that, Aamer, go ahead.
Q Thank you. There’s a new AP poll that shows that just 11 percent of people who remain unvaccinated say they definitely will get the shot, while 34 percent say they definitely won’t. Are we getting to the point where the well of persuadable folks is running dry? And what does this mean for the goal of 70 percent by July 4th?
And then, more broadly, what does it say about our country that a meaningful share of Americans don’t want the vaccine, even as so many other countries are so desperate for it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say that the good news — and what we’ve seen in the data over the past several months — is that the more people get vaccinated, the more confidence increases and the more people then want to get vaccinated.
So we are still at war with this virus. We have a lot more work left to do. We set a goal, as you noted — a new goal — of getting to 70 percent of adults with at least one shot by July 4th, and we’re trying to build on the lessons we have learned along the way.
So our primary focus is on helping make it easier to get vaccinated — helping workers get — get time paid off — get paid time off; more pop-up units and walk-up sites, including to be able to walk into pharmacies and get vaccines; launching Vaccines.gov.
And we’re also working to increase vaccine confidence, and this is — goes to the heart of what you’re talking about here. Now, if you look back to December, January — just when people were just starting to get shots — the percentage of people who were willing to get shots or in- — incited [excited] about getting shots in the country was below 50 percent.
You know, we have made great strides since then, great progress. And that is not, as we look at the data, just by political persuasion or by demographics or even geography; we’ve seen increases in confidence across groups.
We knew that it would continue to get harder as we proceeded along — right? — as we got to a point where the demand — the supply exceeded the demand.
But our focus has been on investing $3 billion in state and community-based organizations, ramping up targeted paid media efforts in multiple languages, building a grassroots network of family and friends. So a lot of what we were talking about — about being able to have door knockers and people making phone calls, canvassing — you know, it reminds me a lot of what you do as a grassroots organizer, because that’s the phase we’re in and what we’re going to need at this point in ensuring equity — deploying more mobile units, expanding our community health center program, providing transportation.
Long story short: Our — we have always known we would reach this point where it would become more challenging. That’s why we’ve been preparing to put all of our resources — many of our resources in addressing that and reaching the hardest-hit, and meeting people where they are.
Q And just to briefly follow on that: I know you — the President has said he might not be the best spokesperson for some of these groups. But now is this — the unvaccinated is getting smaller. Is now the time to use his weight and for the White House to be more out there in pushing people that haven’t gotten their shots to get their shots?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think — I — you all hear from the President quite frequently on the importance of getting vaccinated and the efficacy of the vaccine, and the — the benefit of getting vaccinated. And you also hear multiple times a week from our health and medical experts.
So the point he’s making is not that he should hold back or pull back — in fact, I think we’ve had him out there quite frequently. It’s that we can’t become so dependent on having it be only the voice of a President or even the voice of famous people out there — people we think of as famous — as being the ones who will magically turn the switch to increase confidence.
What we’ve seen in nearly every study — internally, but also externally — is that it is local doctors; it is local medical professionals; it’s primary care physicians, which is why we’ve increased our partnership there, that is going to increase confidence in communities — which is also similar to grassroots organizing, right?
If your neighbor says, “I got the vaccine. I had a little bit of a headache, but I feel pretty good, and now I’m vaccinated. Now I can go have dinner outside and, you know, go to a restaurant.” That’s going to be more impactful than seeing an — a television ad, and that’s where we’re putting our resources.
Go ahead, Nandita.
Q Thank you, Jen. How is the White House responding to states that are planning to end those special unemployment benefits? Are you just going to let that happen?
MS. PSAKI: The special enrollment benefits?
Q Unemployment benefit.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sorry. I didn’t hear the last part of what you were saying. Look, ultimately, it’s up to states to make that determination. What we’ve seen in the data, and I’ve seen the — we’ve seen the explanations that have been put out there by some leaders in states and some leaders even in Washington — and they have blamed $300 checks that are going out to Americans as the reason for a — an unemployment — unemployment report — unemployment report that was lower than expectations.
We’re not actually seeing that in the data as the root cause. And what we’ve seen in the data as the root cause are a range of issues, including primarily the fact that we’re continuing to fight a pandemic, and there are a lot of implications of that. One of them is people being fearful about being safe if they’re not vaccinated. One is childcare. These are a lot of issues that we’re working to address.
But in our view, we still have a disproportionate number of people in a range of communities — a high level of unemployment among African Americans, Latino Americans. We still — there are still people who need assistance, and we’re not seeing this as a root cause or a major factor in people not seeking work.
Q Would you be specifically telling states that are looking to end these benefits — is there a specific message to such states?
MS. PSAKI: I think I just conveyed it’s up to the states, but again, we’re not seeing this as the root cause driver of people not seeking work.
Of course, we’re going to see anecdotal examples; we certainly recognize that. But what we’re seeing across the board is that the cause is largely the pandemic and the impacts of the pandemic — whether that is people being concerned about their health and safety if they’re not yet vaccinated, childcare challenges — and that’s what we’re working to address.
Q And just one more on the President’s trip to Michigan next week. And we understand he plans to visit a Ford electric vehicle plant. Both General Motors and Ford are planning to build electric vehicles in Mexico, as you’re aware. We’re just — we’re curious to know if the President agrees with the United Auto Workers union that government subsidies for such vehicles should not really go to cars that are made overseas.
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that we’re honored — that we’re looking forward to going to visit the Ford Motor Company and to preview, see the F-150 Lightning and the exciting technologies that make it possible.
And the President is going there because electrifying America’s best-selling vehicle — or electrifying America’s vehicles is an important part of his priorities, an important part of his focus. That’s why he’s going to visit the site, but I don’t think I’m going to weigh in on that further.
Go ahead, Peter.
Q Jen, let me ask you: The state of California right now is projecting a budget surplus of roughly $76 billion, such that the governor of that state is now wanting to hand — to deliver checks of roughly $600 to everybody making less than $75,000.
As you know, this all comes against the backdrop of those $350 billion from the American Rescue Plan being handed out to states and local governments. So did the White House overestimate how much money would be needed? California itself gets $42 billion out of the deal.
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say that the way that the money was determined is by statute. It requires Treasury to allocate funds to states based in part on the average number of unemployed people in states in the last three months of 2020. So that’s how the determination was made from state to state.
So, for California or any state across the country, it was based on the final three months of unemployment in 2020 [and the latest available unemployment data as of March 2021]. Here’s what we still know: that there’s a broad and flexible list of guidelines for how these funds can be used, including to put public servants back to work, ramp up the effectiveness of COVID response and vaccination programs, help workers train for and secure good-paying jobs.
Those are all needs that exist in California and exist in states across the country. And as I noted in response to the earlier question, there are still millions of people out of work in this country and still millions of people who are serving in jobs like police officers, firefighters, educators who could benefit from this assistance that’s going out.
Q But given that, based on those numbers, obviously we now recognize that California has much more money than you anticipated, should that raise any questions for critics of how much money the President wants to spend on the upcoming proposals, including the infrastructure plan, as it relates to social programs?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that a core of the infrastructure — or the American Jobs Plan is on rebuilding infrastructure around the country that we all know is outdated — whether that is bridges across the country, whether that is roads and railways that have long — there’s agreement around — among Democrats and Republicans, including some in — many in Congress, that that needs to be invested — those investments are necessary. Things like redoing our lead pipes around the country, which will ensure kids have clean drinking water, will also create jobs.
So what that proposal is about — is about modernizing outdated infrastructure, doing it in a way that brings us to the 21st century and helps us compete with China. That is a big, long-term investment, and one that, you know, the President certainly stands — stands by.
Q I want to let other people ask a question, so let me ask one last one, which is that there’s a big vote — (laughter) — there’s a big — there’s a big vote here in Washington, though, that’s going to take place tomorrow morning among the House Republicans, right? Do you believe that Elise Stefanik’s likely election to House leadership will diminish or will help the prospects for bipartisanship in Washington?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Peter, as probably won’t surprise you, we’re not spending much time here determining an outcome of or — predicting an outcome of, I should say, or analyzing the impact of intraparty fighting within the Republican Party. We will leave that to them to work out among themselves.
Q But will it or will it not affect your — you guys are fighting for bipartisanship. So will her likely new position help or hurt that effort?
MS. PSAKI: At no point is our effort to fight for bipartisanship about being an arbiter or a mediator between interparty fighting in the Republican Party.
You know, the President has invited tomorrow — same day as the vote — he has invited bipartisan leaders to come to the White House to have a discussion about where we can find common ground and how we can work together. And that’s an example of how he feels he can represent the American people, pursue an agenda that would help benefit people, whether their vote — they voted for him or not.
So we’ll let the interparty squabbling happen at the table over here. And at the table over here, or — or a smaller table in the Oval Office, we’re going to have a discussion about how we can work together.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thank you. Two topics. I’ll move quick. Is the White House rethinking their opposition to new pipeline projects since one really important one goes offline and gas stations start running dry?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t say we look at it as in — through that prism, Peter. We look at it — we analyze both the impact — the economic impact as well as the environmental impact. And that will certainly remain the case, but we look at different — each pipeline project individually.
Q And you mentioned the environmental impact. If the solution for this pipeline going offline is for oil producers to start using rail cars and oil tankers as “floating storage” and for the EPA to start letting gas stations sell lower-quality fuel that is not as clean burning, how is the President showing clim- — U.S. climate leadership?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Peter, I think what the President is trying to do in this moment in time is ensure that the American people know that we’re going to work to address this current challenge, and that he is going to use all of the assets and resources at his disposal in Departments — and you saw that as evidence from what our Secretary of Homeland Security talked about, what our Secretary of Energy talked about — to agress –address these current challenges.
And he doesn’t want people on the East Coast and the Southeast to worry. He doesn’t want them to — he wants them to have an understanding of the fact that the government is all over this, and we’re working to address it and address their needs as quickly as possible.
Q And, quickly, on the pandemic: Is the CDC making it harder for you guys to convince people to get vaccines and to wear masks when they’ve created this impression that up to 10 percent of COVID transmission occurs outdoors, even though there’s this New York Times report now where they say there is not a single documented COVID infection anywhere in the world from casual outdoor interactions?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I believe Dr. Walensky addressed this in the Senate hearing this morning. And she pointed to a collection of scientific studies that set that number — that they relied on — that set that number at less than 10 percent.
We know, as more people get vaccinated, there will be less and less need for certain restrictions. And the CDC has said they will continue to evaluate the science and update their recommendations, as they have already begun doing. And so that’s what we will be relying on moving forward and as we have been.
Q But they did — still, but they took this study, they chose to put it as part of their guidance. And so, I guess my last question would be: The then President-elect said, in January, “I’ve always said that the Biden-Harris administration will lead with science and truth.” Which one is it here?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Peter, we know that outdoor transmission is rare. The CDC has said that themselves. I would certainly refer you to them on their — and the scientists and experts there — the scientists — the leaders in data analysis to get to the heart of what they look at.
But this — Dr. Walensky referred to several studies that — that provided that data and that information, and that’s what they look at there.
Go ahead, Mary.
Q Thanks, Jen.
On the pipeline, the President has talked about needing to give financial support to protect critical infrastructure, but his infrastructure plan doesn’t explicitly outline any funding for cybersecurity.
So, what kind of investments, if any, in cybersecurity would the President like to see included in an infrastructure bill to prevent future attacks like this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as we work and have discussions with Congress and as we finalize details of the American Jobs Plan, we are talking about investing in critical infrastructure. And, you know, we’ve looked at, for example, what we saw in Texas and the need to better protect and better prepare for even events like that — weather events — where infrastructure could have been better protected.
And certainly, ensuring that cybersecurity is a part of that conversation is on the mind of the President and one he’ll look forward to his team having with members and with staff on the Hill moving forward.
Q I guess, well, when you take a big-picture look at this, you know, cybersecurity experts have been warning for years about attacks like this, and yet we haven’t seen the government take steps to be able to prevent them. Why should Americans be confident that this time will be any different?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important to remember this is a private-sector company; this isn’t a federal government entity. And we are working closely with them both to stay closely coordinated, ensure that they are getting the assistance and counsel they need, but also we are working through an interagency process with a great deal of urgency, I promise you, coming from the President, to ensure that we are taking steps through — steps from the federal government to plan for all contingencies.
This was a private-sector action, as Secretary Granholm said, of a company to take down their pipeline because of the ransomware. This is ransomware that has been out there for some time. We have, in this gover- — in this White House and in this government, we have ensured that there is increased cooperation between the public and private sector, but a big lesson from this is the need for all companies to harden the cyber- — their cybersecurity apparatus and to ensure that they are protecting themselves, even as we are working as a government to plan for contingencies and ensure that, across the federal government, we have all the necessary protections in place.
Q And just lastly, the President said yesterday that the hack was traced back to Russia, but there was no evidence that the Russian government was involved. Is that still your understanding, and, if so, what responsibility does Russia bear, if any, to deal with these actors?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President also said that his intelligence community has not made a full assessment yet, which remains the case. But also that, given that this entity that the FBI had concluded — or, you know, given — attributed, I should say, with the attack, was located in Russia, that that country has a responsibility to — to act responsibly.
But again, we’ll wait for our intelligence community to make a full assessment before we have more to convey about it.
Go ahead, Nancy.
Q We are expecting new inflation numbers out tomorrow, and I’m wondering if the gas price surge and the continuous commodities surge, like lumber, is changing the administration’s outlook on inflation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that, of course, the Federal Reserve — I would point you to them to speak to or provide analysis or speculation on anything as it relates to inflation or the impact of certain external actions. I will say — as we’ve said in here before, but will reiterate — that, of course, we take the possibility of inflation quite seriously.
As you know, actions that have been taken to date or proposals that have been made, most economic analysts believe that it will have a temporary or transitory impact. But in terms of analysis on current events, I would point you to the Federal Reserve.
Q Yes, Jen. The President assured governors today there will be enough vaccine for all Americans.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q What about Americans overseas? There is bipartisan groups who are pleading with this administration to help them get vaccinated. It’s impractical for them to fly back to the United States. So, are you looking into this? Anything that the administration can do?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly do — and as a veteran of the State Department, I can restate that we are quite focused on the health, safety, wellbeing of Americans living all around the world. We have not historically provided private healthcare for Americans living overseas, so that remains our policy. But I don’t have anything to predict in terms of what may be ahead.
Q Okay. And just one quick housekeeping item for us in the room here.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Why was the pool not invited into the President’s remarks today? What was different about today than any other day for the pool?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the entirety of the remarks were livestreamed for everyone in the media, whether they’re sitting here or sitting at home or sitting in a bureau, could see — or the American people could see, including the engagements with governors, questions and answers with governors. So I don’t know that you can be more transparent than that.
Q But is this going to be the norm now? Or was this a one-off?
MS. PSAKI: I think this was a setup where you had multiple governors on a stage, and it was just something we’re — ensuring it was livestreamed and available to everybody was the choice that we made.
Q Yeah, thank you. If Congress can’t get together on a bipartisan January 6th commission, is the President willing to appoint one on his own?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know they’re still working through this, and there is strong support among many members of Congress in a commission, which obviously is something we also support from this administration.
So, I’m not going to stand here and predict failure if — or get ahead of that process that’s ongoing.
Q Well, relatedly — and then this goes to the Liz Cheney/Elise Stefanik thing.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Is the President concerned that there are so many Republicans who are still going along with the lie that the election was rigged or illegitimate somehow?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re focused on what we can entirely control from here. And what the President’s focus is on is leading by example, is governing for all Americans, and is hopefully re-instilling trust in not just government and the federal government, but also in democracy.
We don’t expect that to happen overnight, but that is a central objective of him — of his presidency. And that’s how he and we feel we can best combat the misinformation that is –continues to be out there.
Go ahead. Go ahead, Anita.
Q A couple questions about the meetings this week with Republicans —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — or members of both parties. Is it — can you guys give us a sense — when they come back to the Capitol, you know, tell us sort of what some of those issues are that they’re discussing. What is your perspective on — is the number one issue the size of the package at this point? Is it how to pay for it? Or is it specific proposals that are in it?
MS. PSAKI: You mean in terms of disagreement between —
Q That need to be worked out. Issues that need to be resolved.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s pretty clear that most people not only in the country, but also even in elected office believe that our infrastructure is outdated, believe that we need to create jobs, believe that we need to compete with China. Those are all areas where, frankly, Democrats and Republicans have worked together for decades. And — and we are working on some different pieces of legislation in Congress now.
So, a lot of the disagreement is around how to pay for it. The President has proposed how to pay for all of his proposals. There’s obviously a difference of opinion on that, but I think that’s probably one of the central pieces.
Q Okay. And then just on the timing of this: I know you have in the — in previous briefings not really talked about the timing too much. People are using Memorial Day or the end of May —
MS. PSAKI: I’ve talked about it many times, but —
Q You said “the summertime,” right?
MS. PSAKI: I’ve said progress by Memorial Day —
MS. PSAKI: — and hope to sign it by the summer.
Q Right. And — and when asked about “progress,” I just want to understand what that means. So, does that mean by Memorial Day the talks will stop and the President or Democrats will try to move forward? Or will the bipartisan discussions continue?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we can make that assessment quite yet, Anita. I think what he’s looking at — what we’re looking at is we want to see if there’s an opportunity to work together. But it doesn’t mean we stop then; it just means we will — we will be able to assess at that point where things sit and where we go from there.
But, as you know from covering these sausage-making, bill-making, policymaking extravaganzas, usually there’s talks right until the very moment when something’s passed. So I would expect they would continue until that moment.
Q Just really quick, to clarify just what Steve was saying: Was the — was the entirety of the President’s remarks with the governors — the virtual remarks livestreamed? Is that what you are —
MS. PSAKI: I believe it was.
Q Okay. I mean, it’s hard to tell when the —
MS. PSAKI: Were you not on — online, or —
Q I — we were watching from here and then the briefing began, so I couldn’t really tell.
MS. PSAKI: We didn’t start the briefing until it concluded.
Q Okay. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead, in the back.
Q So, tomorrow’s meeting, obviously you want to find areas of common ground. What specifically is on the agenda? What issues are you going to be talking about? What are you hoping is going to be the outcome of that meeting?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let me first say that there are a lot of ways to approach a meeting like this, as you know. And the way the President is thinking about it is that, you know, you could spend the entire meeting talking about areas of disagreement — there’s no shortage of those — or you could spend it seeking opportunity for common ground, and he’s going to choose the latter.
And so, his hope is that this can be a discussion about where we can find common agreement, where there’s an opportunity to work together moving forward. There has been a discussion about infrastructure — investing in infrastructure, the importance of modernizing infrastructure. There’s been different proposals out there.
Obviously, we also have a meeting on Thursday with a number of Republican senators to discuss exactly that. I’m certain that creating jobs — and that will be a part of this discussion. But also, there’s areas where we’ve worked together, whether it’s — or there’s shared concern, whether it’s addressing the semiconductor chip shortage or ensuring that we are preparing our — the American workforce to compete.
I know we expect that members will come with different items on their agenda, and the President just looks forward to having a constructive meeting, because he knows that there are common values among Americans and that if we just spent all of our time competing and snipping at each other, we can’t help address the challenges we’re all facing.
Q And two quick things: Is the George Floyd Policing Act part of the conversation tomorrow? Obviously, the President set a pretty tight deadline for that —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q — and there is bipartisan movement, so I was wondering if that would maybe be something that would come up tomorrow.
MS. PSAKI: There are negotiations, as you know, that are ongoing on a bipartisan manner. I expect once the meeting concludes, we’ll give you a sense of what the topics are that ended up coming up in the meeting.
Q And secondly, you know, it’s been more than three months, almost four months since the President took office. I think this is the first time he’s going to have spoken to Congressman McCarthy.
MS. PSAKI: He spoke with him around the joint address as well.
Q Okay. Why just sit down with them all together now for the first time? It’s been a while. Why has it taken this long in his term for him to do that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say — I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but there has been — have been dozens of members of both parties here, sitting in the Oval Office, having meetings directly with the President — and far more than that, probably in the hundreds, having engagements and discussions with senior members of the White House team.
This is an opportunity to sit down with leaders from both parties, have a discussion, again, about common ground, how we can work together moving forward. He did talk to him around the joint address. But the President also knows from being in the Senate for 36 years: You’re going to work with and have discussions with a range of members, hence we have the meeting on Thursday to do that exactly.
Okay, I’m going to wrap this up in a second, but go ahead, Matt.
Q I just wanted to follow up quickly on the McCarthy aspect.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Because tomorrow he is having a vote with House Republicans to oust Liz Cheney because of her (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: I heard that.
Q An hour — just shortly after that, he is coming to the White House to meet with President Biden. And does he not feel that what McCarthy is doing just before he comes to the White House is undermining his presidency, his legitimacy? I mean, does he not intuit any of that? Or is he completely overlooking that to — to meet with him? And did he consider not having McCarthy come?
MS. PSAKI: No. Here’s what I can assure you: The focus of this meeting is not on the future of the Republican Party. They are neither seeking nor is he offering his perspective on that. And it is not going to — nor will they resolve the identity of the party, who they are, and what they will stand for. That won’t be resolved in this meeting.
The President knows that you have to work with leaders, with members of both parties. You’re going to have disagreements, and maybe you’re going to find some areas of common ground. So, hopefully, in this meeting, they can have a discussion and decide, “Hey, are we all for infrastructure investment? Do we think we should all create — do we all think we should create more jobs? Are the roads and rails and bridges in your state or your district outdated? Well, let’s figure out how to work together moving forward.” And that’s what he hopes to focus the meeting on.
Q Quickly, just for a colleague who couldn’t be here: You had mentioned earlier about trying to instill confidence in the vaccine. Is the White House doing anything on the flip side — where there’s misinformation from pundits, from outlets, from entertainers, whoever — to try to combat that misinformation — reaching out to those people, those outlets or anything to try to push back on any misinformation around vaccinations?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, we do. And now there are different layers of that, right? As you all know, we’re not shy. If we disagree with something in your reporting, hopefully we do that in a classy way, on our best days, but we certainly do that.
There’s a lot of information that’s flowing out there. And it’s not all that misinformation is malintent, and we don’t always see it that way. What our focus though is on is ensuring — I mean, we’re investing $3 billion — right? — in empowering and engaging local voices — also in a paid media campaign of our own; ensuring that accurate information is coming not just through paid channels or even earned media channels, but also through local trusted voices. And that is what we have seen is the most effective in breaking through.
I’m just going to go — because I know you’re not here all the time, so we’ll end with you.
Q Thank you so much. So I have two very quick ones.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q The first one is — I want to look forward, past tomorrow, to the Thursday meeting.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia has said that $586 billion — her proposal for infrastructure — is a starting point. She seems open to negotiation even ahead of that meeting. Has the President considered maybe meeting halfway on the hard infrastructure that Republicans, sort of, want to narrow in on? Or is he still kind of working in what way he wants to make that work?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President is quite open to a range of vehicles and mechanisms for moving his ideas forward. And he has said from the beginning that he is open — he is open to having that discussion; open to compromise; appreciates the fact that the Republicans, led by Senator Capito in this case, have put forward a proposal. And negotiation and compromise is about exactly that. So that’s encouraging, and hopefully that will be — that will set the tone for the meeting on Thursday.
Q So my last very quick one is about the markets. I work for Cheddar news; that’s what we do.
MS. PSAKI: Yes, good.
Q So, looking at the market today, things are going well. But I actually want to talk about a different type of market, which is the crypto market. The crypto market has been incredibly volatile — no one is surprised by that — but it has also surged. Right? We’ve seen Dogecoin — kind of a fake currency — do incredibly well. People have made a lot of money.
Is the President at all concerned about the opportunity for huge gains and huge losses and, therefore, looking at regulations similar to what we see with the SEC for that crypto space, because it is still very unregulated?
MS. PSAKI: It’s an excellent question, and we certainly refer to our regulatory agencies and to our Secretary of Treasury on oversight — not just oversight, I should say — and on looking at — and their advice and counsel on the markets, including the cryptocurrency markets.
Thanks so much, everybody.
3:07 P.M. EDT