Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, and Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Michael Regan, May 12, 2021
12:12 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. We have two more special guests for all of you today.
Secretary Buttigieg has, of course, been here before, so we’re not going to give him a lengthy introduction. But Administer — Administrator Regan previously served as the Secretary of North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. There, he spearheaded the development and implementation of North Carolina’s seminal plan to address climate change and transition the state to a clean energy economy. And he secured the largest coal ash cleanup in United States history. Administrator Regan began his career at the Environmental Protection Agency, and is the first African American man and second person of color to lead it.
I will also just note, before we go to them, Secretary Granholm, Secretary Buttigieg, and Secretary Mayorkas will brief the full House and Senate this evening as well.
They’ll take a few questions, but I will turn it over first to Secretary Buttigieg.
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Thank you, Jen. Good afternoon.
Let me start just by saying that we know that the cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline is affecting fuel supply for some Americans. And throughout the administration, we have been working around the clock to help Colonial return its pipeline back to normal operations quickly, safely, and securely.
The President has directed us to bring all government resources to bear to help Colonial to resolve this. And we’re working to assess the impact of the temporary pipeline shutdown on our national fuel supply, while also working to help alleviate any potential shortages when and where they occur.
I can tell you that I’ve been on the phone multiple times a day with the White House, with fellow Cabinet Secretaries, and other leaders, including Administrator Regan. We’ll be doing everything that we can to reduce the impact that some Americans could see at local gas stations in some areas until the pipeline is brought back online.
Colonial has announced that they’re working toward full restoration by the end of this week, but we are not taking any chances. We are doing everything that we can, in the interim, to make it easier to move fuel to the places that need it.
Since Friday, our interagency response group has been examinating [sic] all contingencies, coordinating with Colonial, and working closely across the interagency to help alleviate any potential supply disruptions.
For our part in Transportation, the Department has been working across our different modes of transportation to help make sure that fuel can get to the communities that need it as safely and as efficiently as possible. Our Maritime Administration — or “MARAD” — has completed a survey of the availability of vessels that are qualified to carry petroleum under the Jones Act in the Gulf and up the Eastern Seaboard.
The Department of Homeland Security is standing ready to review any requests for a temporary waiver of the Jones Act from companies that demonstrate that there’s not sufficient capacity on Jones-Act-qualified vessels to carry specific shipments of fuel in and around the region.
Our Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued an hours-of-service waiver, which provides greater flexibility to drivers transporting gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and other refined petroleum products to 18 states.
On Monday and Tuesday and into today, several states have issued emergency declarations that allow truckers to carry additional weight on state roads.
Now, the White House and DOT have determined that 10 states can use existing federal major disaster declarations that are currently in place to allow those states to issue permits that allow drivers to temporarily carry additional gasoline that would ordinarily exceed existing weight limits on federal highways in their state.
Each state has to follow its own procedures to issue these permits, but this decision — determination provides them with the added flexibility to move fuel more efficiently if they need to.
PHMSA, our Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, is temporarily relaxing enforcement of certain pipeline operator qualification rules to make sure that emergency personnel can manually get — help to get the pipeline back up and running as needed, and are in frequent touch, again, with the pipeline operators about safety.
In addition to these steps, we are continuing to monitor the situation as it develops so that we can help anywhere that we can.
For our Department, our mandate and our mission revolves around safety. And so we are working hard to maintain safety, while also providing much-needed temporary flexibility to minimize disruptions to the American people.
And DOT is in regular contact with state and local governments, and with members of Congress, as well as with retailers and other companies in the sectors that are impacted. And, of course, we’re in constant contact with our partners across the federal government to coordinate the response.
So, together, we are working to assess the impact of the shutdown, offer emergency assistance, and, of course, help Colonial return to normal operations.
Our top priority right now is getting the fuel to communities that need it, and we will continue doing everything that we can to meet that goal in the coming days, and we’ll continue to keep everyone apprised.
Importantly, this incident also reminds us that infrastructure is a national security issue. And the reality is that investing in world-class, modern, and resilient infrastructure has always been central to ensuring our country’s economic security, our national security, and it was — as we’re seeing right now, that includes cybersecurity.
Thank you all. I’ll turn it over to Administrator Regan.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: Thank you, Secretary Buttigieg. Jen, it’s good to be here with you today.
You know, as Secretary Buttigieg mentioned, the President has directed a government-wide response to the Colonial Pipeline shutdown. And at EPA, we’re doing our part to mitigate the impacts that people and communities might be experiencing.
The Clean Air Act allows EPA, in consultation with the Department of Energy, to waive certain fuel requirements to address shortages. After careful evaluation, EPA and DOE concluded that extreme and unusual fuel supply circumstances exist and that granting short-term waivers is consistent with the public interest.
EPA issued an initial waiver on Tuesday morning and later issued a second, more expansive waiver that covers 12 states and the District of Columbia. EPA waived certain gasoline requirements, specifically the requirement for low-volatility conventional gasoline, as well as reformulated gasoline.
While the waiver alone will not resolve the supply situation, it will help alleviate supply shortages. The waiver allows the use of any residential winter gasoline that may exist in the region. It will also allow butane to be blended into existing fuel stops, increasing the supply of gasoline by up to 5 percent.
EPA granted the waivers to help mitigate the supply shortages of gasoline in the affected areas until normal supply to the region can be restored. EPA followed an orderly process when assessing and issuing the fuel waiver. Any such waiver is limited in both geographic scope and in the duration to mitigate any potential impacts to air quality. At this time, we do not anticipate air quality problems from these limited waivers.
In assessing the situation and issuing the waivers, EPA has been in close coordination and communication with all of the impacted states. Our partnerships with the states is key to being able to effectively respond to the developing situation like this one.
Going forward, we will keep coordinating with our state col- — state colleagues to assess the situation on the ground and to determine whether we can provide any future flexibilities to alleviate impacts for people and communities in these affected areas.
We understand that there are shortages resulting from the Colonial Pipeline shutdown that cause stress and confusion in people’s lives. Our response underscores the importance of President Biden’s all-of-government directive, which asked federal agencies to harness our collective expertise and work in sync when urgent matters arise. This interagency effort is the linchpin to a swift and coordinated response.
And with that, I’ll turn it over to Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thank you so much. One question for Mr. Regan, one question for Mr. Buttigieg. Many of your fellow North Carolinians cannot find gasoline right now. What’s your advice to them about what they should do and what they shouldn’t do until this situation is resolved?
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: Yes. We are in very close coordination with my home state, just like the other 12 states.
I think the folks should follow the advice of the governors and the attorney generals, which — they’re asking folks not to panic, not to hoard gasoline, and to watch for the updates that are coming from the federal government. We have some really good coordinated efforts at the federal, state, and local levels, and we’re working very hard to alleviate these circumstances.
Q And then, Secretary Buttigieg, you mentioned that this situation shows the importance of world-class infrastructure. What could have been done or what should be done to prevent something like this from happening?
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Well, this is part of what we have in mind when we talk about resilience. We need to make sure our infrastructure is resilient to climate security issues caused by the increased frequency and severity of weather events. But we also need to be sure that we are resilient in the face of cyber threats, and certainly in the kinds of things that the American Jobs Plan will be funding and supporting.
I think part of the expectation for local authorities or states or other bodies seeking to get funding is that there be robust cybersecurity resilience and planning written into that. This is not an extra. This is not a luxury. This is not an option. This has to be core to how we secure our critical infrastructure and that includes infrastructure that is not owned and operated by the federal government. We’re being reminded that private companies, and often local authorities, own and operate so many of the critically important utilities and other infrastructure we count on.
MS. PSAKI: Peter.
Q Secretary Buttigieg, does the fact that this run — one ransomware attack could take down roughly 45 percent of the East Coast’s fuel supply mean that we should be building additional pipelines going forward?
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Well, in this case, this was an issue about how a cyberattack impacted a pipeline that’s there. I’m not sure it really speaks to the number or quantity of pipelines or their throughput.
I do think it reminds us that we need to make sure that we have the most resilient and flexible infrastructure for the future, especially when it comes to something like energy. We’ve now had, you could argue, two major wake-up call experiences — one in Texas, and now one here — each with a different cause, but both reminding us about the work that we have to do as a country.
MS. PSAKI: Jeff.
Q Mr. Secretary, Secretary Granholm, yesterday, said that she expected this issue to be resolved by the end of the week, more or less. Is that still your expectation? And —
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: So —
Q Go ahead.
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: I’ll defer to announcements from the company on their process. Again, PHMSA is in touch with them to review any plans that they have.
I would emphasize that there is a lot that is involved in getting a pipeline up and running again. And so there — there’s the announcement, then there’s the actual process, and then some time for that to be fully up and running — which is one of the reasons why we’re not wasting any time and haven’t been since — even over the weekend — in taking the steps that we need to mitigate any shortages, even things that could happen while the pipeline is getting fully online, but before that’s completely taking place.
Q And just to follow up for you — perhaps the both of you: You described the permits and the waivers to allow other ways of getting fuel to these affected areas of the country. Is that working? Is that fuel arriving?
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: We’ve gotten indications and feedback that the hours-of-service waiver has had an impact, and we expect that the wa- — waivers will as well. But obviously, they’re very new, and so I will be closely looking for feedback both from companies and from states on how that’s going.
MS. PSAKI: (Inaudible) anything you want to add?
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: Well, I will add that these waivers are working. We’ve seen, you know, an exceptional response from all of our states who are very appreciative of these waivers. It does expand the fuel supply. It allows for fuels to be moved around more freely in the region. And it does relieve some of that tension.
And so we’ll continue to work closely with our states and our partners to ensure that we are taking all of the actions that we can to alleviate some of these situations.
MS. PSAKI: Mary.
Q Mr. Secretary, we now see gas above $3 a gallon for the first time in seven years. Bottom line: What’s your message to Americans who are worried about how this is going to impact their wallet? How long do you think this is going to last? And do you think prices are going to go up even further?
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Well, my message is that we understand these concerns; that we’ve seen that, in a lot of the impacted geographies, that this is a real issue. And that’s one of the reasons why we’ve been working with every lever of government that’s available — and not the federal government as an island, but interacting with states and with companies to address this.
So, you know, I can’t speak to long-term energy markets. Obviously this is a very specific and acute issue, but we recognize the concern that’s out there, and that’s why we haven’t wasted any time to get into action, and it’s why the President has directed us to be really thorough in examining all of our different authorities and all the different pieces of our respective agencies to be helpful.
MS. PSAKI: Jen.
Q The administration has been saying that you’re willing to consider Jones Act waivers. Have any requests been filed? And since the Maritime Administration finished its survey, what did it determine about how many Jones-Act-compliant ships are truly available right now — (inaudible) contract near the Gulf, et cetera — that could help?
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: So I can’t speak to any specific waiver requests going on right now. But what I’ll say is that, you know, that this — MARAD has acted very quickly to provide what is essentially one of two parts for this determination to happen. One is the analysis that they do. And then, the other part is, of course, for Homeland Security to pick it up and run with it. And we’ll continue making sure that they get any information they need to be able to turn it around quickly.
The level of analysis that’s already been done — my understanding is, previously, that’s taken a couple of days, and MARAD was able to do it in a matter of hours. So they’re moving quickly, and bottom line is: Stand at the ready to very expeditiously process what comes in.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Are you confident that another attack on the pipeline can’t happen imminently? Has the company told you anything about that — about steps they’ve taken in the short term on that?
MS. PSAKI: We can talk about this. I mean, they’re speaking to their specific programs, but I will just say that we’re probably not going to get into details about the company’s own preparations. We’ve talked about the fact that this was a ransomware attack, but this is — the — these threats have been out there for some time, and it’s certainly a reminder to this company and others to continue to harden their cybersecurity. But we’ll let them speak to their other preparations.
Go ahead, Steven.
Q Thank you. Secretary Buttigieg, this is Wednesday today. We’re talking about potentially a weekend restoration, but things are getting really crazy out there. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is warning people not to fill up plastic bags with gasoline. One in ten gas stations in D.C. is out of gas, and the figures are far higher in the South. Is the Biden administration having any preliminary discussions about potentially taking over the pipeline to restore — restore the flow if the company is unable to do it themselves?
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: So, I’ve not heard anything along those lines. We are partnering with the company to make sure that — on everything from the flexibilities we talked about to technical support and advice, that they’re getting the help they need. And they have been able, through Line 4 and ancillary lines, to move some product. Although again, obviously waiting for determination on fully reopening.
I will say that this is a time to be sensible and to be safe. Of course, we understand the concern in the areas where people are encountering temporary supply disruptions, but hoarding does not make things better. And under no circumstances should gasoline ever be put into anything but a vehicle directly or an approved container. And that, of course, remains true no matter what else is going on.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Secretary — unless you want to — we’ll take one more.
Q Thank you, based on what you know right now, do you anticipate having to extend the duration or expand the scope of the fuel waivers further?
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: Well, we’re in very close coordination with each individual state. They all have different needs. We’ll continue to assess that. And we do have the authority, if needed, to extend or issue a new waiver beyond the 20 days that we have already issued.
Q Are there any travel announcements for either of you? Or are either of you going to any particular region to address these in person that you’re able to update us on, or none at this time?
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: No. I don’t have any travel announcements at this time.
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: No news for you, no.
Q Okay. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you both.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate it.
Okay. All right, I have another, kind of, hard out here at one o’clock. Sorry, lots going on, but we will get to as many questions as we can.
I do have a couple of additional details of outreach from the White House to governors I just wanted to convey to all of you. Our White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, Julie Rodriguez, has been in contact with a range of state and local leaders to discuss the administration’s response, obviously as have officials from a range of agencies.
In separate calls with chiefs of staff for Govern- — for Gov- — from Governor Hogan of Maryland; Governor Northam of Virginia; Governor Wolf of Pennsylvania; Washington, D.C., Mayor Bowser; and Nashville, Tennessee, Mayor Cooper, Julie had productive conversations outlining the actions we have taken to address the supply challenges, including, of course, EPA’s waivers expanding gasoline supply. We — in each of these conversations, she welcomed feedback, encouraged close coordination.
I would also convey to you that
Secretary Granholm [Deputy Secretary of Energy David Turk], who was here just yesterday, also hosted a conference call yesterday with the governors of the 14 states impacted by the Colonial Pipeline as a part of our ongoing effort to remain closely engaged with state and local leaders.
I also wanted to provide an update on the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. As of today, SBA has received more than 147,000 applications from women, veterans, and socially and economically disadvantaged businessowners, requesting a total of $29 billion in funds. Businesses that qualify for grants should expect to receive the funds within two weeks. Already, $2.7 billion of relief funds have been distributed to 21,000 restaurants across the country already.
And I would also note that to — Congress has also set aside $5 billion — $5 billion of these funds for applicants with annual pre-pandemic gross receipts of not more than $500,000. On top of that, the Administrator — Administrator Guzman from the SBA — set aside $500 million in funding for applicants with less than $50,000 in receipts in 2019 to ensure those smaller — smaller restaurants — bars, food trucks, and other dining establishments — have access to those funds.
Go ahead, Jonathan.
Q Thank you, Jen. First, just wondering — I believe the meeting is still ongoing — do you have any readouts at this point of the Big Four meeting with the President?
MS. PSAKI: I do not have a readout of the meeting that’s ongoing.
Q That’s just in case —
MS. PSAKI: But —
Q — maybe they slipped you a note.
MS. PSAKI: I can — can convey to you that, one, I would expect they will go to the stakeout. I would also expect that we’ll have a written readout later this afternoon to provide to all of you.
Q Setting that aside, two other matters then. Could the — does the White — what is the President’s response to Congresswoman Cheney’s speech last night in which she denounced former President Trump’s “big lie”, and said the party — the Republican Party needs to stand for our fair and free elections, and then her subsequent ouster this morning from her leadership position?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let’s start with the facts: More than 80 judges across the country threw out lawsuits attempting to overturn the outcome of the election.
And on January 6th — you know, this moment in history we’re looking at — there are hearings on Capitol Hill about the events on January 6th. Our nation’s Capitol was attacked, our democracy was attacked, and six people lost their lives. So it’s disturbing to see any leader, regardless of party, being attacked for simply speaking the truth. And as the President said last week, it’s hard to understand.
But our belief, his belief is that the American people will have to make their own decisions about whether the reaction by the people they elected to represent them should be embracing and elevating conspiracies and attacks on our democracy, or whether it should be standing up for ideals that have historically been owned by both Democrats and Republicans representing the country throughout history.
Q Okay. And one other matter: the escalating situation in Israel. Does the administration plan to drop their objections to a U.N. Security Council statement? Are there any plans to appoint an ambassador to Israel anytime soon or to reopen the consulate in Jerusalem that deals with these Palestinian issues?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say — let me give you a bit of an update on our outreach, and some of that we haven’t read out to all of you because a lot of it has been happening privately. There’s been a lot of activity and engagement around these developments over the last few days.
Just since this weekend, we’ve had more than 25 high-level calls and meetings by senior U.S. officials with senior officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, (inaudible) partners, and other stakeholders, including the Qataris, the Tunisians, the Jordanians, the Egyptians, who, as you all know, have an important role to play in the region as we work to move towards de-escalati- — de-escalation.
Just yesterday, we had more than 10 phone calls by senior Washington-based officials, including National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s call with his counterpart. I will also say that in the region, you know, we of course will nominate a qualified, experienced ambassador to Israel over the coming weeks. That’s in process and, when it’s ready, we’ll announce that.
But in the meantime, we have great confidence in our team on the ground in Jerusalem led by a career diplomat, Jonathan Shrier, who enjoys open and regular access to a range of senior officials. And Jonathan and his team are fully latched up with both our team here, the State Department, officials on the ground.
So our engagement is — a lot of it is happening privately through diplomatic channels. It’s happening with officials in the region. We’re in regular dialogue multiple times per day, as I noted, with Egyptian and Qatari officials which — who have significant influence over — for Hamas. And our objective here is de-escalation as we look to protecting the people in the region.
Go ahead, Jeff.
Q Thanks, Jen. Just to confirm: The meeting is still going on?
MS. PSAKI: As — when we came out here about 25 minutes ago, it was still going on. But I haven’t seen any rustling of activity out there, so that’s sometimes is an indication.
Q Okay. And without giving a readout on a meeting that may still be going or had started anyway, can you give us a sense of — when the President says he’s looking for consensus on a compromise, what points did he bring to the meeting on which he is willing to compromise?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I will say, Jeff, that the President believes that he was elected to find opportunities for common ground and to identify areas where we can work together. So, some examples where there’s already some activity on Capitol Hill are: A destruc- — a desc- — a — a conversation, I should say — that was a hard word, for some reason — about infrastructure investment, modernizing our nation’s infrastructure.
As you well know, there’s going to be a meeting tomorrow with Senator Capito and a number of Republican senators to discuss exactly that: to discuss the counterproposal they put forward and where we can find some common ground.
But there is also an opportunity to work together on areas like increasing competitiveness among our workforce, to competing with China, to addressing the semiconductor chip shortage. There are a range of issues that there has historically been bipartisan cooperation on, including issues like immigration.
But we will see what comes up in this meeting when we — when it concludes. Obviously, the President has his agenda to discuss what we can work together on moving forward to help the American people.
Each of those four leaders who are coming — none of them are wallflowers. I’m sure they will have items they want to discuss as well, and I expect they’ll share that with you when the meeting concludes.
Q Would corporate taxes be one area where he may have said, “I’m willing to go to 25 percent instead of 28 percent”?
MS. PSAKI: Well he’s conveyed that, certainly, publicly, and I wouldn’t see this as a negotiation to come to a conclusion about the American Jobs Plan and how it will be paid for. But he’s expressed an openness to a range of proposals. And his bottom line is that inaction is unacceptable and that he is not going to raise taxes on the American people who are making less than $400,000 a year, but he’s open to a range of proposals.
Q We heard Secretary Buttigieg just mention the desire to include more funding for cybersecurity —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — in the American Jobs Plan. Why wasn’t that included in the President’s initial plan? And is it a must-do for you now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what he’s really talking — what the Secretary was talking about is how the grant funding is determined and what will be required for that grant funding. And that’s part of the process, as you know, as these negotiations and conversations are havening — are happening with Capitol Hill.
So, you know, I think, at this point, it will include, as the discussions continue, tying specific grants to recipients’ implementation of cybersecurity goals using tax credits to finance needed cybersecurity improvements.
But I think it’s clear that cybersecurity — ensuring private-sector companies are hardening their cy- — their cybersecurity, ensuring it’s an across-the-government effort — is a priority to the President. And this will be linked now to our proposal for how specific grants should be distributed.
Q And we have seen a bit of a shift in tone out of the White House in the last 24 hours. Yesterday, we were told: There aren’t supply shortages; it’s a supply crunch that will be short-lived. Now you all are describing it as supply shortages. Is the impact of this hack more than you anticipated?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say: On Monday, we said — on Monday afternoon, so 48 hours ago, we said, “At this moment, there is not a supply shortage.” That was accurate at this moment. We also said that we are continuing to monitor very closely what the impact will be.
And one of the reasons that we acted as quickly as we did — convening interagency calls through the weekend; determining what levers could be used very quickly and rapidly, according to historic standards, to help put in place contingency plans to ensure we reduce the impact on the American people — is because we had to anticipate there could be a range of impacts.
We could not predict when the company would be able to come back online. They obviously need to make those determinations themselves. So, our role is not to determine that on their behalf; it’s to make preparations to help reduce the impact on the American public.
Q And this obviously raises concerns not just about future attacks on pipelines, but other aspects of the electric grid, water systems, the like. Can Americans trust that the government can prevent future attacks going forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would first note this is a attack on a private-sector company. And as I noted a little bit earlier when — I’m not even sure you could hear me — but, you know, this was an attack using ransomware. This ransomware has been out there for some time. Deputy — Secretary Mayorkas, when he was Deputy Secretary, talked about, when he was here just two days ago, the fact that we were warning about the need to harden — for companies to put in place cybersecurity protections back several years ago. And that’s something we will redouble our efforts on.
At the same time, we have — since this President took office, we have also redoubled our efforts on public-private-sector partnerships and efforts to work together on not just best practices, but ensuring we are protecting exactly the systems that the American people rely on. As you noted, some of those are federal entities, some of them are private-sector entities. But that has been our objective from the very beginning, and it — this is a reminder of how important that is.
Q So what kind of steps can you do to try and encourage private companies, private entities? Are there tighter restrictions you can put on their cybersecurity to ensure that these kinds of attacks don’t happen going forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there is an element of any company seeing what has just happened over the last several days being a reminder of how important those steps are, and that is out of our hands. That is probably — thanks to the reporting of all of you.
But I would say that one of the reasons that we have stood up — under Anne Neuberger, who was just here a couple of days ago — and elevated a public-private coordinating apparatus or effort to work with the private sector is because we want to ensure that well-intentioned companies understand what they need to put in place and understand the risks that they’re facing.
Because we know, as this is an example of, that it won’t just impact that company, that it can impact — depending on the entity — the American public.
Q How can the President work with Kevin McCarthy, who is poised to anoint to a position of leadership of the Republican Conference someone who does not believe in the legitimacy of the last election?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President is no stranger to working with people who he disagrees with or he has massive fundamental disagreements with. The facts are on our side, and more than 80 judges across the country threw out lawsuits attempting to overturn the outcome of the election. What the President believes his role is — is to lead by example and to offer an alternative of leadership to the American people, which is reaching his hand across the aisle, offering to work with members of both parties on addressing issues the American people have concerns about.
Q We heard from — I want to ask you about ransomware. We heard from Buttigieg and from the Administrator of the EPA just moments ago. If you can help, what — you speak for the President. What is his message — message to Americans right now who are worried about the supply of gas and rising prices?
MS. PSAKI: His message is: I understand, and I am doing everything I can, using every lever of government, to ensure we reduce the impact on the American people and their lives, whether it is because they want to do — travel for the weekend; whether they are going to visit their grandchildren because they just got vaccinated — just to incorporate another objective; or whatever it may be.
And his concern from — his focus from the very beginning is: “Do not halt. Act. I need you to act. I need you to take action, to take — put every — every step in place that is possible.”
Q Did Colonial — I think I know your answers to these, but I want to ask them. Did Colonial pay the ransom already, or will they pay it?
MS. PSAKI: I would send you to Colonial to answer that question. Of course, the guidance from the FBI is not to do that.
Q Does the U.S. government know whether they paid or intend to pay?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have anything more for you on that.
Q Do you believe that the public and the government have a right to know when a major national security asset, like in this case, pays or would pay a ransom to the Russians?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first of all, Peter, we have not made an official attribution, aside from the individual.
Q To whomever. To whomever.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, but that’s an important point —
Q Good. I appreciate it.
MS. PSAKI: Just for clarification —
Q Fair enough.
MS. PSAKI: — official attribution. I will say that there is advice and guidance we give from the federal government, because we know this incentivizes additional attacks. That is guidance that’s given from the FBI.
But this is a private-sector company, and I would refer you to them for any questions about what they have or have not paid.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. Going back to the topic that Peter first touched on —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — how does this President approach negotiating with someone who says that “100 percent of [his] focus is on stopping this… administration”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, this is a meeting where they could spend the entire time talking about areas where they disagree, including who won the election — and the President has 80 judges and courts and tens of millions of Americans behind him on that piece — but he doesn’t find that particularly constructive.
Clearly, the Republican Party has to work out who they are and what they stand for, but this is not a meeting that’s focused on that.
So the President has a long history of working with people where he has strong disagreements, and his objective and his focus and his time today — nothing more valuable than the President’s time — is going to be finding common ground. And that’s how he’ll approach it.
Q More broadly, how would you say that this administration approaches the art of compromise differently than, say, the Obama administration did? What did you learn from those eight years?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that the Vice President — the President was the Vice President at the time; he was not an outside actor. Right? And he worked in close partnership with then-President Obama to get a lot of work done for the American people — from the Affordable Care Act, to the American
Rescue [Recovery] Plan, to, you know, moving forward an agenda in what we felt was the right direction.
In terms of lessons learned from that period of time — look, I think that anyone who spent eight years as Vice President would probably look back and think, you know, “What would I have done differently at the time?” I’ll let him speak to that more specifically.
Q And then —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go.
Q — just looking ahead to tomorrow’s meeting, what do you expect to gain out of that meeting? We talked to, I believe, all of the offices for the Republican senators who were —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — involved, and one of them said, “If the White House isn’t prepared to come down on its overall number or change the funding structure, then this is all pointless.” What’s your response to that?
MS. PSAKI: The President has been clear — as have I, speaking on his behalf — that he’s open to compromise, and his only line in the sand is around inaction. And, certainly, I don’t think anyone anticipates, including the members attending, for this to be a definitive meeting with an outcome where everything’s signed with a bow — or tied with a bow at the end.
But we have been encouraged by the proposal. We expect this to be a good-faith discussion, and the President is certainly approaching it through that prism.
Go ahead, Karen.
Q Thanks, Jen. Yesterday we heard from Senate Republicans, including Susan Collins, who said that the public is no longer looking to the CDC for guidance because the CDC is moving too slowly. You saw Georgia move ahead on the vaccinations for as young as 12 years old without waiting for the CDC. Is the White House concerned that the public is tuning out the top health experts?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you referred to two people who are obviously in public life, but I’m not sure that’s a reflection of the totality of the American public.
What we know is that — or how we’ve approached things is that we believe that health and medical experts should be our North Star, and that leaning on them and their data analysis and their review of what they think the guidance should be to ensure that the American people can be confident in that should continue to be our North Star.
So here’s what we also 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 guidelines.
But our objective is to ensure that the American people have confidence in the fact that we are leaning into — we’re not making political decisions; we are leaning into the advice and counsel of medical experts. Sometimes people may feel that’s slow. We understand. It’s frustrating. I’m tired of wearing a mask, too. We understand how the American people are feeling, but we feel it’s important to still maintain that commitment.
Q Has the White House conveyed the message to the CDC that it should be moving quicker to loosen restrictions? Has that come from the White House?
MS. PSAKI: No, we have conveyed that we will continue to abide by the health and medical advice of our health and medical experts, many of which — many of whom are working at the CDC. And we look forward to, as more people are vaccinated, them continuing to update their guidelines for the public.
Q Can I do one more quick one on infrastructure?
MS. PSAKI: Of course.
Q You had said earlier that you wouldn’t see this as a negotiation to come to a conclusion about the Jobs Plan and how it will be paid for.
Knowing you can’t give a readout of the meeting that’s perhaps still going, what did the President want to leave the room achieving today? Like what is the — was there one thing, tangible, that he wanted to walk away from this conversation saying, “We hit this point; we moved this forward”?
MS. PSAKI: I think the President wanted to convey that we — the world is not waiting for us to work together here, as Democrats and Republicans, to increase our own competitiveness, to invest in the American workforce. And they’re not waiting for the resolution of a leadership fight.
They’re waiting for us to — they are — they are waiting to see what we will do and what we will do in this moment. And the stakes are too high not to work together to pass an American Jobs Plan, to invest in infrastructure, and to make us more competitive.
And he wants to certainly convey — and I think his actions convey this — that he wants this to be a good-faith effort and negotiation, and that’s why he invited him down here — them — all of them — sorry.
Go ahead, Jen.
Q Two things. One, just very quickly. It seems like the leadership meeting has let out.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, yeah. Should we wrap?
Q I don’t know if there’s any — I don’t know if there’s anything that you kind of had embargoed until that was over that you want to add about the meeting.
MS. PSAKI: I do want to give you an actual readout of the meeting. So, I have not — I don’t have any update on the meeting. And if anybody wants to go out there to a stakeout, I will not take it personally at all — or no one who’s watching.
Q Then I just wanted to ask you about the inflation report today —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — and how the administration sees these numbers. Is there a concern that high inflation is going to continue for a long time and that the administration might need to rethink its spending plans? How high a monthly reading is the administration willing to see, kind of, quarter after quarter?
And then, you know, there’s — a phrase that’s been used a bit by some administration officials — including Cecilia Rouse, saying that — that it’s “transitory.” What — what does that mean? Is that thinking about the next couple of months or through the end of the year, just as we’re seeing these bumps that, you know, might spike up some numbers or you might see low jobs numbers and all just, kind of, the economy getting back to, you know, normal?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, first let me say that obviously our CEA chair has said that, but it reflects the consensus view among economists that our country — as our country is experiencing a massive transition from the slowdowns during the pandemic to flipping the switch back on as we are continuing the path to recovery — that we would see a specific number of months or quarters where there is a transitory increase. And that’s something that we have prepared for and that most economists say will be temporary.
I will say there’s some interesting data. It will be interesting to us, I think; hopefully, to others. But, you know, for example, that — as we looked at this data. So airfares increased by 10 percent, but are still almost 20 percent below pre-pandemic price levels. Hotels also see a price increase, but remain — saw a price increase, but remain below pre-pandemic price levels.
So Americans are feeling more comfortable traveling again. That’s a good sign. And a lot of these price increases are still below what they were prior to the pandemic.
We’re also seeing in the data that some of the price increases impact the reflect- — are a reflection of the supply-chain pressure. So, if you look at used motor vehicle prices, that accounted for more than a third of the increase. And that was an impact, in large part, because there are fewer new cars and, as a result, there are more — and this is the — and that is an impact of the semiconductor chip shortage. Right?
So, there’s a couple of datapoints that are specific to this moment. And we knew, just as the — as the economy, sort of, shrunk and shut down, that, as it’s turning back on, there would be some of these impacts.
But we are constantly tracking. We have shared our expectations on inflation. We — as we experienced this — this massive transition, we continue to chart our path to recovery, and we know that a number of the investments that we have proposed were long needed even before, you know, the last several months.
Q Just one (inaudible) question.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q You know, you have these surprising inflation numbers, the jobs number was much lower than expected, the situation in Israel, the pipeline. Does it suddenly feel like the external world is turning on you guys or — or that you suddenly are juggling a lot more crises? Or any concern about that?
MS. PSAKI: That’s what we’re made for here. We certainly know that — and the President knew from having served as Vice President for eight years — that when you when you walk in and you’re the leader of the free world and you’re overseeing a country that is still working its way through a pandemic and an economic recovery, that you have to prepare — be prepared to juggle multiple challenges, multiple crises at one time. And that’s exactly what we’re doing at this moment.
Go ahead, Courtney.
Q Thanks, Jen. I just wanted to follow up on what you said about the President nominating an ambassador to Israel in the coming weeks.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q I want to go back to Jonathan’s question: Is the President considering reopening a consul- — or consulate general in Jerusalem? And then, more broadly, when can we expect the President to announce his more high-profile ambassadorships? Will that come before he travels in June?
MS. PSAKI: It’s not timed to a trip, I will say, but I would expect we’ll have more in the coming weeks. They go through a process of consideration, and, obviously, final decision is by the President of the United States.
In terms of the question about reopening the consulate, I would certainly point you to the State Department. They may have already addressed that, but they’d be the appropriate entity for that.
Q Thanks, Jen. And thanks for continuing to take questions despite this weird situation.
MS. PSAKI: I — I know, but it’s okay. I know people wanted to go out there, but yeah.
Q So, I’ve got two questions in two areas. I’d like to ask quickly about jobs and also about a couple of press freedom issues, which, of course, I imagine is important to everyone here.
The first one on jobs: The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce just polled 200 small businesses, and 64 percent are having trouble hiring people; 42 percent of them cited the higher COVID-19 unemployment benefits. University of Chicago, separately, estimated 32 percent of people are getting more money not to work than they would’ve in their previous jobs.
President Biden said on Monday, quote, that “No one should be allowed to game the system and we’ll insist [that] the law is followed.” Has the White House done anything to, you know, instruct states to more severely enforce those — the rules on unemployment benefits?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly expect any state is enforcing the law. But I would say that what we’ve seen across most — the majority of economic data and from the majority of economists is that the biggest impacts and factors are the pandemic and the fact that we’re still recovering from a pandemic; and people having concerns or issues with childcare; or fears, if they’re not yet vaccinated, about going back to a workplace.
And there are a number of steps we’ve put in place, including assistance to restaurants, as I noted earlier today; to small businesses to ensure they have that vital assistance at this point in time.
And obviously, for bigger companies, we’ve been encouraging them to use some of the $1.4 trillion in assistance they’ve received to pay higher living wages.
But those are the range of factors that most economists believe are the issues at this point in time, even though we look at data over the course of several months. And over several months, we’ve been creating about 500,000 jobs a month.
Q So when President Biden says that, he’s basically just putting it out there that states should enforce it and that people should comply with the rules in place, not necessarily that there’s anything new the federal government is doing.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly expect states to abide by the laws, as I’m sure you do.
Did you have a second question?
Q Yes, I do. I’d like to ask about a couple of press freedom issues. On Friday, we learned that the Justice Department, last year, seized the phone records of several Washington Post journalists. The Biden Justice Department defended this, saying that it was the sources they were after, not the reporters.
But there are some press freedom advocates who are pretty concerned about that defense. Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation said that the Biden Justice Department gave a “disturbing defense” of the practice. Bruce Brown, the Executive Director of The Reporters for Freedom of the Press said that it “raises serious First Amendment concerns.”
Do you, as the government’s top press officer, have concerns about reporters’ records being taken, including in this instance?
MS. PSAKI: Well, given this was an action taken by the last administration, and the Department of Justice who oversees, obviously, our legal actions has already spoken to it, I’m not going to have anything additional to add.
Q The second part on press freedom is — this marked — marks International Press Freedom Day, which was celebrated on Twitter by the Secretary of State and the Vice President —
MS. PSAKI: Yep.
Q — who wrote the “free press is critical to democracy.”
The whistleblower Edward Snowden responded by writing out, “This would be more persuasive if the White House [wasn’t] aggressively seeking a 175-year sentence for [a] publisher of award-winning journalism…” He’s referring to WikiLeaks publisher, Julian Assange.
The Obama-Biden administration was infamous for taking a heavy hand toward reporters and leaks, including taking the Associated Press’s call records and calling a Fox reporter a “possible conspirator.” But the Obama Justice Department decided not to prosecute Assange for fear of setting a precedent that could be used to prosecute journalists dealing with classified information.
In the name of press freedom, will President Biden be intervening in the Assange case to stop the prosecution? Or will he be allowing the Justice Department and the courts to sort this out?
MS. PSAKI: Well, in the name of independent Justice, we will allow the Justice Department — encourage the Justice Department to continue to be an independent Justice Department — which I know is different from what we saw over the last four years, so it feels funny to some people.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you, Jen. The first question about the potential closing of the Line 5 pipeline in Michigan. Has the President been in touch — in contact with Prime Minister Trudeau?
MS. PSAKI: That’s in the courts. So, we’re not going to have anything to add. It’s in a courts process right now.
Q The amicus brief of the Canadian government in the U.S. federal court says that — describes the potential closing as a “massive and potentially permanent” blow to Canadian economy and energy security. Is this a way to treat an ally like Canada?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve talked about, in here, how important of a partner Canada is and will continue to be on a range of issues — from addressing the pandemic, to just being a regional partner on facing issues around the globe. But this, again, is a — is a situation that’s in the court, so I’m not going to have more comment on it.
Q One separate issue —
MS. PSAKI: I got to go around to other people because I have three minutes left. I’m sorry, keep going.
Q I just have two quick ones. So, my first question, I wanted to ask about — there’s a recent New York Magazine article about how the White House polices language in Washington that I’m sure you read the other day.
And a particular graph points to an Associated Press memo that advises reporters against using the word “crisis,” which the administration has — has said that they’re not going to use the word “crisis” for the border.
It cites a person close to the White House as saying that “one very real possibility is [that] this strategy works. They may get criticism in think pieces about it, but at his hundred-day mark, Biden is the most liberal President we’ve had — and the public thinks he’s a moderate. That’s a winning strategy to me. They’re [going] to accept that you’re gonna to write this piece as long as they know that swing voters in Colorado aren’t gonna to read it.”
So does this reflect the White House’s thinking, that the goal is for Americans to view the President as moderate as he pursues, according to the quote, “the most liberal agenda that we’ve seen”?
MS. PSAKI: There was a lot packed into that question. It must have taken some time to write. I will say that our goal is to implement solutions as it relates to the challenges at the border and not to be caught up in semantics of what we call it. Because, at the end of the day, what we’ve seen is a massive reduction in the number of children who are being detained in Border Patrol facilities thanks to the actions of this administration.
We’ve seen a massive reduction in the number of hours kids spend in Border Patrol facilities. And we’re continuing to work to get kids into the arms of their family members or to sponsor homes. And that’s what our objective is.
I can’t speak to a blind, anonymous quote from somebody outside of the White House, which we’d all be for banning those if others would want to commit to that as well.
Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q Sure, thank you. What contingency plans are in place if Congress can’t come to a quick agreement on increasing the debt ceiling, since Secretary Yellen suggested that Treasury might exhaust the so-called “extraordinary measures” sooner than some analysts have estimated?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me just first say that we fully expect Congress to act in a timely manner to raise or suspend the debt ceiling, as they did three times on a broad bipartisan basis during the last administration.
And, as you know from covering it, raising or suspending the debt ceiling does not authorize new spending; it merely allows Treasury to meet obligations that Congresses have already approved. So, that’s what our focus is on and we certainly expect them to follow suit of the last several administrations — or last several times they raised it.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks for your patience.
Q No problem. Just a few quick ones.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q And I’ll be quick. Does immigration continue to be a priority in these meetings that are so important and that could do a lot for the progress of an immigration bill?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I can’t — it’s hard for me — they may have read some of it out — to read out a meeting that was still going on when I came out here. But the President remains committed — the — immigration continues to be a top priority for the President. That’s why he proposed a bill on day one. That’s why he communicated in his joint session speech that we should look for ways to find common ground, find agreement on what pieces we can move forward.
And he certainly believes — even as we’ve made progress at the border — that in order to address this over the long term, we need to put in place long-term solutions. So he will continue to absolutely advocate for it, but I — I don’t know if it was a topic in the meeting yet.
Q The rancher who found — the couple who found the five young girls that were rescued a few days ago said to the President in an interview that he did, “We want you to come to the border. This is not humane anymore.” What do you have to say about that?
MS. PSAKI: I will say, first, that that was a heartbreaking situation, and we’re thankful for the work of CBP to ensure those minors’ safety. This is another example of why we continue to be very clear that individuals should not make the treacherous journey north and put their lives in the hands of smugglers or others for unsafe circumstances.
And again, just to reiterate: Our focus remains on solutions, on ensuring we’re expediting processing, we’re getting kids into safe and humane conditions, and that’s — if going to the border changed that or helped that, that would be one thing. But our focus is on implementing pieces that we can — so we can make their lives better.
Q And if I may finish, on consumer prices — picking back up on what was asked earlier on: Is this a concern going forward that the prices will continue to rise, that they will have an impact on the recovery that you want to have on the economy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think this is obviously something we — we monitor quite closely. And we certainly monitor specifically from — it’s the job of the independent Federal Reserve to manage all aspects of inflationary pressure as they pursue their dual mandate of achieving full employment at stable prices — at stable prices. So, it’s the policy of us not to — executive branch — not to comment on that, really, in terms of the future of inflation.
But I will say that, you know, it’s important to note what the very specific — as I did in response to an earlier question — factors are at play here, which include, as I noted, the airfare is increasing by 10 percent but — but still being 20 percent below pre-pandemic levels; hotels seeing a price increase but remaining below pre-pandemic levels. So there are a range of factors here at play.
Obviously, adjusting the — addressing the semiconductor chip shortage that we think — we remain committed to and we will continue to work to address.
Okay, thanks. Okay.
Q Just moments ago, Leader McConnell said to those reporters — some of whom are back —
MS. PSAKI: This is like real-life happening here.
Q Real news in real time. Leader McConnell said moments ago that they communicated to the President that they will not budge on the 2017 tax cuts, which means — well, you know what that means. I guess, what does the White House — what do you say to that? And then, how would you pay for this if you’re not going to pay with — via tax cuts?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that question is more —
MS. PSAKI: That question is probably more on Republicans to address than it is on the President. He’s proposed a way to pay for it. We’ll see what other ideas they have.
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