James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Happy Tuesday. So, we have two very special guests with us again today. As you know, the Biden-Harris administration — I’m just going to let you all settle in here. Okay. All right. Great. Okay.
So, as you all know, today, the Biden-Harris administration announced key findings from the reviews directed by the President’s executive order on America’s supply chains. The executive order, signed February 24th, directed a whole-of-government approach to assessing vulnerabilities in and strengthening the resilience of critical supply chains.
So, here to discuss the immediate actions we will be taking to promote economic security, national security, and create good-paying union jobs by strengthening American supply chains are repeat guests — back for the second time; they had so much fun the first time — Deputy Director of the National Economic Council Sameera Fazili and Senior Director of International Economics and Competitiveness at the NSC Peter Harrell.
Okay. Thanks, Sameera. You’re kicking us off.
DEPUTY DIRECTOR FAZILI: Thank you. Hi, everyone. Good afternoon. And thank you, Jen. It is good to be back here at the end of this whole-of-government review that we just undertook of America’s supply chains, following President Biden’s direction back in February.
We said from the beginning that our approach to supply chain policy needs to be an integral part of the President’s overarching economic strategy to grow the economy from the bottom up and the middle out.
We also said that we were not going to simply be writing reports in this 100 days that were going to sit on a shelf; we are going to be taking action to address specific supply chain vulnerabilities. I think today’s reports make both those things crystal clear.
To achieve supply chain resiliency, we need to build back better by leveraging America’s greatest strengths:
First and foremost, American workers. Decades of focusing on labor as a cost to be managed and not an asset to be invested in have weakened our domestic supply chains, undermined wages and union density for workers, and also contributed to companies’ challenges finding skilled talent.
We must focus on creating pathways for all Americans to access well-paid jobs with a free and fair choice to join a union and bargain collectively.
Second, our diversity. We need to unlock the full potential of the American people, including making economic opportunities available across our country and for women and for people of color.
Third, our small businesses. To build a diverse and healthy ecosystem of suppliers, we must rebuild our small- and medium-sized business manufacturing base that has borne the brunt of the hollowing out of U.S. manufacturing.
Fourth, our alliances. We need to diversify our international suppliers and reduce geographic concentration risk. For too long, the U.S. has taken certain features of global markets — especially the fear that companies and capital are going to flee to wherever wages, taxes, and regulation are the lowest — as inevitable. The pandemic laid bare the challenges of this approach, and we need to change it. We are committed to working with partners and allies to decrease the vulnerabilities in our collective supply chains.
And finally, fifth, our imagination. Our approach to supply chain resilience needs to look forward to emerging threats, from cybersecurity to climate issues. And so we are future-proofing and building back better.
Second, it’s clear from these reports that we need to take action. And today, we made a series of announcements to that effect, including on pharmaceuticals.
The Department of Health and Human Services is going to be using its Defense Production Act authority and funding appropriated under the President’s American Recovery Plan to invest $60 million in advanced pharmaceutical manufacturing technologies and R&D.
On advanced batteries, the Department of Energy will take steps to advance its support for battery research, manufacturing, and processing. This is going to include new rules to ensure that companies that develop new products based on federal R&D funding manufacture those products in the U.S., so what is invented in America will also be made in America by American workers.
On critical minerals and materials like lithium and rare earths that are essential in our fight to combat the climate crisis, we will be announcing a comprehensive strategy that includes increases in sustainable U.S. production and processing, and working with allies and partners to increase sustainable global supply and reduce reliance on geopolitical competitors.
Across all of our domestic and international efforts on minerals, we will maintain a commitment to adhere to the highest environmental, labor, and social sustainability standards, and support robust community engagement in the process, including Tribal consultations here in the U.S.
On semiconductors, the Department of Commerce will double down on their ongoing work to convene industry and work with allies and partners to increase transparency, communication, and trust throughout the semiconductor supply chain.
Finally, as we move to focus on our one-year reviews, the Department of Agriculture is announcing more than $4 billion in a robust suite of Build Back Better initiatives focused on building a more fair, competitive, distributed, and resilient food supply chain and food system.
Third, we need to be nimble and be able to address emerging supply chain issues at the same time as we’re continuing this work on these longer supply chain resiliency strategies. And that is why today we are launching a new Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force to tackle near-term bottlenecks in the semiconductor, homebuilding and construction, transportation, and agricultural and food industries.
This task force is going to be led by three Cabinet Secretaries — Secretaries Buttigieg, Raimondo, and Vilsack — and will bring in all-of-government approach to addressing the near-term supply and demand mismatches we are seeing in these sectors as the economy reignites.
They will be collaborating closely with industry, labor, and other stakeholders to surface solutions, share best practices, and take actions. And we at the White House are going to be their partners by their side. It’s going to be NEC, DPC, CEA, NSC — all of us working with them.
Throughout our work on supply chains, we have been heartened to see the bipartisan support for supply chain security and resiliency, including when the President started this review by meeting with a bipartisan group of senators in the Oval Office.
We look forward to working with Congress as we move these ideas into action.
And before I turn it over to my colleague and friend Peter Harrell, I want to note that our report’s findings reinforce the President’s call for making a once-in-a-generation investment in our nation’s production and innovation infrastructure. Those investments proposed in the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan will strengthen the public systems that connect manufacturing, researchers, workers, and small businesses, and will help unleash the power and ingenuity of the private markets to drive towards national resiliency.
Thank you. Peter?
MR. HARRELL: Good afternoon. Thanks, Sameera. And it’s a pleasure for me to be here this afternoon. This is a signature initiative for President Biden. He is focused on supply chain resilience since his campaign, when he promised, almost a year ago, that if elected, he would direct his administration to expand investments in U.S. manufacturing and to take other steps to strengthen the resilience of U.S. supply chains.
Earlier today, pursuant to Executive Order 14017 that President Biden signed in February, we released publicly 250 pages of reports, assessing supply chain vulnerabilities and making recommendations, including immediate actions to address them.
Earlier this morning, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese convened a meeting of many members of the Cabinet here at the White House, in the Roosevelt Room, to discuss the recommendations in this report and for the Cabinet members to commit to taking action across the U.S. government to implement those recommendations and other critical steps to address supply chain resilience.
While the President’s supply chain initiative has identified a number of vulnerabilities, I want to stress that our work has also found that the United States is well positioned to rebuild our productive capacity in key sectors and to strengthen our innovative leadership. We’re confident that working together with Congress, industry, labor, and other stakeholders, we can chart a new path that emphasizes resilience, security, broad-based growth, and sustainability.
As Sameera mentioned, the President and the entire administration welcome the strong bipartisan support that exists on Capitol Hill for strengthening American supply chain resilience.
Sameera highlighted a number of the domestically focused specific actions that the administration announced earlier today. I want to briefly discuss just a few of the actions that we’re taking internationally.
As Sameera said, America’s allies and partners are a great strength of our nation, and we must work in partnership with them on supply chain resilience. We’re announcing today a commitment from the U.S. Development Finance Corporation to increase high standards overseas investments in U.S. allies and partners and projects that strengthen supply chains.
We’re also asking the U.S. Export-Import Bank to develop a proposal for a new domestic finance window that would, if approved by EXIM’s board, provide financing to build manufacturing facilities and infrastructure here in the U.S. that will support U.S. exports of critical products, which will help our allies and partners.
We’re going to be increasing our diplomatic work with our allies and partners on supply chain security. Supply chain security will feature prominently on the agenda for President Biden’s trip to Europe starting later this week, including at the U.S.-EU Leaders Summit scheduled for early next week, and was already a major element of President Biden’s summits earlier this spring with key U.S. allies in Asia.
We’re also recommending that President Biden host a global forum at the head-of-state level to convene key global leaders to strengthen supply chain cooperation.
Finally, we know that as we strengthen cooperation with our allies and partners, we also have to push back against unfair trade practices by competitor nations that have hollowed out the U.S. industrial base and undermine our supply chain security. We’re launching a U.S. Trade Representative-led supply chain trade strike force to identify unfair trade practices that undermine U.S. supply chains and to identify specific trade actions we can bring to combat those practices.
We’re also asking the Commerce Department to evaluate a Section 232 action on neodymium magnets — which are essential to motors and a range of defense and industrial applications — to identify tools to reduce our foreign dependency. This would demonstrate the type of targeted but tough action we expect the trade strike force to deliver.
I want to thank members of the Cabinet and their staff who contributed to these reports and actions. The initiative represents an immense amount of work, and we know we have much more in the weeks and months ahead. We’ll be working to implement all of the recommendations summarized in the report, and carrying forward the work to a second phase directed by EO 14017, which is already underway and consists of broad studies of the supply chain risks of six key industrial base sectors. Those industrial base sector supply chain reports will be due next February, on the year mark of Executive Order
It’s been an honor for all of us to work on this initiative, and I’m sure we’ll be talking about it with you regularly as our work goes forward.
Thank you, and we look forward to a couple of questions.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead, Phil.
Q Thanks, Jen. I think probably for Sameera, can I flesh out a little bit the Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force? Obviously, you guys believe what’s happening right now is transitory. But these mismatches exist; they’re creating near-term problems. Do you expect this task force to be coming up with ideas and proposals in real time? Are they reporting at a specific clip? Kind of, how do you expect this to work to try and address these things that are problems right now?
MS. FAZILI: Yep. Well, one, I want everyone to remember and recognize that these are, kind of, good problems to be having. At this time last year, we had bare grocery shelves and we had people going hungry. And thanks to the President’s American Rescue Plan, we have people finally able to be out there moving again, visiting families this summer, and going out to eat.
So, these are — these are good problems to be having and to be working — working on right now. We’re thankful for that and the success of our COVID vaccination strategy.
But I think what you just saw us do right now is a 100-day sprint around four products. And when we say we’re going to take sprints and take actions, we mean a sprint and we mean action. And so, here, our Cabinet Secretaries, who are in the lead, you’ll see in the days and weeks ahead, they’re going to be bringing together all stakeholders to really diagnose the problems, understand what’s going on out there in these markets, and see what actions can be taken to close those vulnerabilities.
We recognize that, in some instances, those actions are going to be actions that the private sector, other stakeholder groups, they need to be the ones taking action. The answer is not always government taking the action here. But we are — we have learned in our work with the semiconductor, kind of, producers and users that when you bring people together, you help them increase trust, increase transparency, and stimulate a lot of learning that sparks action.
MS. PSAKI: April.
Q This is for Sameera and Peter. Sameera, you used the word “weakened.” And as we’re talking about supplies, I’m looking at the link with inflation. What should the American consumer be looking for now as we’ve come up with this report and the weaknesses that you’ve talked about as it relates to inflation?
And then, Peter, for you: You used the words, “vulnerability.” With putting “weakened” and “vulnerability” together, there’s some kind of economic parallel with this. Where are we economically in this nation? What is our status? We are staving off, or have been trying to stave off depression. Where are we economically? Are we still in recession — a deep recession? Where are we? If you can answer both of those questions.
MS. FAZILI: Look, I think where we are economically is the U.S. is clearly the engine of global growth right now. Our economy has reignited, and the rest of the world is being buoyed by our successes here.
So the economy is fundamentally in a position of strength, but this President has consistently said that what we need to do is take this moment to build back better.
So when we talk about weaknesses and vulnerabilities in this report, we’ve identified structural, long-term problems that have built up over time in our economy, and that is why this President has been out there calling for Congress to take action on his American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan — because what we need now is a transformational investment to make sure we can actually grow from the bottom up and the middle out.
Peter, do you want to —
Q What about inflation?
MS. FAZILI: Peter.
Q What about the issue of inflation, though, that’s (inaudible)?
MS. FAZILI: Oh, you know, on these supply chain bottlenecks that we’re seeing, these — some of these — these price dislocations, these temporary increases in delivery time — we fully expect these bottlenecks to be temporary in nature and to resolve themselves over the next few weeks. Like, if — again, these are good problems to be having. Demand came back much quicker than even companies expected. I think the success of our vaccination campaign surprised many people, and so they weren’t prepared for demand to rebound in this way. But we still expect this to be transitory in nature. We’re going to keep an eye on it, but we think it should resolve in the next few months.
Q And the status — and the status of where we are economically? Recession, staving off depression, deep recession — where are we?
MS. PSAKI: I mean, I think — I think Sameera addressed that. I just want to —
Q No, she said — okay, strength.
MS. FAZILI: Strength.
Q Okay, good.
MS. PSAKI: Josh.
Q Can I ask a little bit more about the semiconductor portion of this?
MS. FAZILI: I mean — and I’ll point you to, on Friday, the OECD report. We’re, like, the one advanced economy that, I think, our growth projections are above where we were at the pandemic. Was it 6.9? So —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Josh.
Q On semiconductors: How do you plan to balance funding or support for foreign manufacturers — allies, partners — and domestic manufacturers? Is there going to be a preference given to domestic, or is there a risk that this could, you know, support foreign manufacturers in a way that actually undercuts the domestic industry? How, if at all, do you plan on balancing that?
MR. HARRELL: So, I think we are taking an all-of-the-above strategy to semiconductor manufacturing and expanding semiconductor manufacturing, both here in the United States and abroad.
As you know, the President has called for Congress to appropriate at least $50 billion to strengthen semiconductor manufacturing here in the United States, including both leading-edge semiconductors and also some of the more mature semiconductors where we’re seeing current shortages for automotive manufacturing and industrial applications.
Generally speaking, consistent with the proposal in Congress, we would expect to encourage both foreign and American companies to invest here in the United States. And I think we’re already seeing some announcements of that where we’ve seen announcements from Intel, from Samsung, from GlobalFoundries, from a whole range of both foreign and American companies to expand capacity here.
But it isn’t just from an overall strategy; that money is going to be about attracting capacity here in the United States. But from our overall strategy, it’s not only about expanding capacity here in the United States, it’s also about working with allies and partners. Yesterday, for example, Bosch, the major European automotive supplier, opened a new automotive semiconductor factory in Germany. That’s going to help alleviate some of the global shortages we’re seeing.
So while that money is going to lead to greater production here in the United States, and we’re expecting to see a major increase in production over the next couple of years, this is also an area where we see opportunities to work with allies and partners.
Q So you would treat an investment in the U.S., in a semiconductor plant, equally, whether the investor was a foreign company or an American one?
MR. HARRELL: So we expect that the incentives will be available on a competitive basis to both foreign and American companies. I’m not here to get into the specifics of exactly how the program will be implemented, if Congress, in fact, passes — passes it.
Q And, finally, can you talk a bit about the trade strike force? What are they tasked with doing or able to do that USTR doesn’t do already?
MR. HARRELL: So I think the trade strike force is a vehicle to leverage a number of our existing trade tools, but to really focus them on supply chain vulnerabilities. You know, we have — as we looked across the four products that we are releasing reports on today, we saw example after example where an unfair foreign competitor action had led to the hollowing out of a supply chain for a key U.S. product.
And these are all often very specific things those foreign governments are doing. So what this is going to do is harness and focus the government agencies involved in trade enforcement on how do we use our trade tools to strengthen — to combat unfair trade practices that impact supply chains and to strengthen U.S. supply chains. And I think the neodymium magnet — 232 — we’re asking Commerce to evaluate is an example of that.
Through our reports, we identified a very specific product where there’s a very specific supply chain vulnerability, and we’re getting the task force to look at that.
MS. PSAKI: Brian.
Q Yeah, I guess, the Disruption Task Force — are you all going to be looking at ransomware attacks? And how will you deal with it internationally?
MS. FAZILI: On ransomware?
MS. FAZILI: The Disruption Task Force is focused on semiconductors, lumber and construction — or homebuilding and construction materials; it’s not going to focus on ransomware and cybersecurity. We have a whole —
Q So how will you deal with that?
MS. FAZILI: — other process in place, led by our National Security Council, that addresses cybersecurity risks and issues.
Q And, internationally, you’ll deal with that how?
MR. HARRELL: So I think you saw, the other day, Deputy National Security Advisor Neuberger talk about some of the steps that the administration is taking to address ransomware. She is leading a process to identify and close vulnerabilities that we face from ransomware.
One of the sets of issues we have been looking at in our supply chain review, both on these four products and in our year-long industrial base, is cybersecurity risks to our supply chains. Clearly, cybersecurity risks can disrupt supply chains. But Ms. Neuberger is leading the, sort of, focus response to the ransomware issue.
Q So that’ll be two siloed — two different things? Or are they working together (inaudible)?
MS. FAZILI: I would not say it’s siloed. We work very closely. I think Peter and I being up here shows you how closely the National Economic Council and National Security Council work together on issues where it makes sense for us to come together. And so, on cybersecurity, you have seen us behind the scenes working together to figure out how we can leverage our tools and our convening power to have a full government response repeatedly.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, last one. Right in the middle. Go ahead.
Q Will the administration unbundle — work on unbundling large contracts to ensure that Black-owned companies can compete for them?
MS. FAZILI: So, we are very focused on trying to make sure that our Build Back Better agenda — sorry, it’s hard to see — is it okay if I stand here —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
MS. FAZILI: — to be able to look — yeah. I relate. I relate.
No, we are — we are really focused on making sure that as we talk about diversifying supplier bases here in these reports, that we are not just talking about small businesses but
we’re talking about disadvantaged businesses as well, and minority-owned businesses. And so, you’ve seen in our American Jobs Plan that we put proposals in there related to small business and strengthening small business. And we know that an important piece of that is leveraging federal procurement and power of the government to support those businesses. So —
MS. PSAKI: Christian has been very eager in the back. Go ahead, Christian. Last actual one.
Q You talked about the Export-Import Bank and some of the financing that is going to be done to shore up industrial manufacturing here in United States. Under the previous administration, though, China was one of the top destinations of U.S. export-import financing. An overwhelming majority of that money actually went to state-owned enterprises. Is the administration looking at anything in terms of financing that goes to some of these industries overseas? Shouldn’t, you know, the priority be making certain that money stays here?
MR. HARRELL: So that’s actually exactly the proposal we’re asking the Export-Import Bank’s board to evaluate: is a new window that would foster direct EXIM Bank financing for the construction and manufacturing in infrastructure here in the United States.
Obviously, they have a longstanding set of programs that finance the export of products made in the United States to foreign buyers. But, actually, it’s exactly what we’re asking them to look at is ways to expand the financing for construction and investment here in the U.S.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you both so much for joining us. Appreciate it. Always welcome.
MR. HARRELL: Thank you.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: We love to talk about supply chains in here.
Okay, just two more items for all of you at the top. Yesterday, in Guatemala City, following a bilateral meeting with the Guatemalan President, the Vice President announced a new effort to partner with Guatemala around security, economic development, and anti-corruption.
Today, in Mexico, the Vice President will hold a bilateral meeting with President Obrador. They’ll discuss our economic relationship, security cooperation, and stemming migration. The Vice President and President Obrador will witness the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the United States and Mexico to establish a strategic partnership to cooperate on development programs in the region. And the Vice President will also meet with labor leaders, women entrepreneurs, and U.S. embassy staff before she returns to the United States.
One last item for all of you. We have more good news on the global fight against COVID-19. Today, the Mastercard Foundation and Mastercard pledged to make a $1.3 billion contribution to help make critical progress in providing vaccines to people across Africa, in partnership with the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is a significant commitment to acquire COVID-19 vaccines for at least 50 million people, and to build long-term manufacturing and equitable distribution capacity, which will further enable efforts to provide vaccines and strengthen the continent’s ability to prepare for future pandemics.
This is a welcome addition to our announcement last week that approximately 5 million of our first tranche of COVID-19 vaccines will be shared with African countries, in coordination with the African Union.
Q Which vaccines?
MS. PSAKI: Which vaccines? They’re providing funding — a contribution of funding to ensure that these vaccines are provided to Africa. I don’t have the —
Q So it’s up to them whichever vaccines they take?
MS. PSAKI: It’s, again, funding to the Africa CDC — version of the CDC. So it will be distributed through there.
With that, Darlene, why don’t you kick us off.
Q Thank you. Have the President and Senator Capito had their conversation yet? And what can you tell us about it, if they have?
MS. PSAKI: They have not had a conversation yet, but they will have a conversation this afternoon. And the President looks forward to continuing the discussion with the senator. He appreciates her good-faith engagement over the last few weeks. I would reiterate, as was noted in the statement we put out last week, that while the President came down by quite a bit in his proposal — from his initial proposal — on the American Jobs Plan, the latest offer that we had seen from Senator Capito’s group did not meet the essential needs of our country to restore roads and bridges, prepare us for a clean energy future, and create jobs.
So today they’ll have a discussion about what more there is to discuss, I guess, and what the path looks like for it.
I will also note that the President will also speak with other senators this afternoon — still finalizing who those will be, and we’ll have readouts of that as well — who have been engaged in discussions about a bipartisan infrastructure proposal — engaged with each other. So he’ll have those discussions as well. I expect we’ll have a readout, as I noted.
We’re encouraged by these discussions and see them as an additional viable path forward. And he’ll ask members of his Jobs Cabinet — or he’s already asked them, I should say, to remain engaged in the days ahead, the period of time when he’s on his foreign trip — although, of course, he’ll remain engaged from there as well — with all members who are interested in working together on making a historic investment in infrastructure.
And just third piece I would note, Darlene, as we’re kind of — since you asked about the President engagement — he’s also going to stay closely engaged with Democratic leadership about the path forward, especially in light of the markup on the Surface Transportation bill happening tomorrow in the House and the interest by Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, and other leaders in Congress on moving forward — and certainly an interest in doing that.
Finally, last thing I would note is the expected passage later today of the U.S. Innovation and Competitiveness Act in the Senate this afternoon, which is a down payment on the President’s proposed investment in R&D to make us more competitive, as well as the important work with Senator — that Senator Wyden has undertaken on clean energy tax credits, a priority the President shares.
So I would just note, as I’ve stated many times before in here, there are a number of paths for moving the President’s bold ideas forward. We’re moving on all of them full speed ahead.
Q And one more question.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Since the President is the head of the Democratic Party, would he support legislation that is now on the governor’s desk in Nevada that would move Nevada to first place in the presidential primary process, up from third place?
MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand the interest, but I’m not going to weigh in on the order of a presidential primary contests from here.
Go ahead, Mary.
Q On the infrastructure talks, Senator Capito has said she is not going to be coming to this conversation armed with a new offer. As you note, the President has rejected the Republicans’ latest counteroffer. It doesn’t seem that he’s willing to come down any further. So, are we at an impasse here?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly don’t see it that way. He’s looking forward to discussing the path forward with Senator Capito. He sees her as an important and viable partner as we look to how we’re going to get his bold ideas signed into law.
And again, I’d note that there’s also Democrats and Republicans — as you have seen and many of you have reported on — who are discussing what — how they can work together on what a path forward would look like, where there might be more investment in clean energy jobs, and might be a higher number than what we’ve seen by the proposals to date.
So, again, there are a lot propo- — a lot of paths forward. And he looks forward to discussing what they look like with Senator Capito and others this afternoon.
Q Is the President, though, willing to offer any other concessions in these negotiations, or is it safe to say that you view the ball as being in the Republicans’ court here?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think this is — as any negotiation is, it’s about both sides looking to see how much they can come to the other side, and how much you have to give. The President has come down by about a trillion dollars; that’s quite a bit. Obviously, we’d like to see more. But there are a number of opportunities and paths to have these discussions, moving forward.
Q And I want to — just broadly, if you could explain a little bit more how the President has been preparing for this big trip tomorrow. How much time has he been spending in briefings? Just, sort of, how has he been getting ready for this upcoming trip?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I will say that he’s been getting ready for 50 years. He has been on the world stage. He’s known a number of these leaders for decades, including President Putin and including a number of the leaders he’ll see at NATO and he’ll see at the G7.
Now, this is an important opportunity for him to see them in person, and there’s nothing like face-to-face engagement in diplomacy. And for him, somebody who, as you’ve seen — the fact that he’s welcomed in Democrats and Republicans to the Oval Office, that’s just an indication of how much he feels that format is effective.
So, he’s been engaging with his team, talking about what bilateral conversations he’ll be having; where there are opportunities; where there are moments to voice the United States’ concern, where necessary. But again, he’s — he’s got quite a — several decades of experience to build on here. So, you know, he’ll be relying on that in the — in — during his trip.
Go ahead, Phil.
Q Secretary Granholm, on Sunday, said that it was frustrating that a pathway for a bipartisan deal hadn’t come to fruition yet. Does the President share that frustration at this point?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say the President has a benefit of 36 years in the Senate, where he has seen that the sausage-making is messy. It takes time. There are ups and downs on the roller coaster. We’re right in the middle of the sausage-making right now.
And the President’s view is that it’s a good sign that there are several viable paths forward, that we are having good-faith conversations, of course, with Democrats and our Democratic colleagues and partners, but also with a number of Republicans. That’s a good sign.
At the same time, the House is moving forward with marking up key components of the American Jobs Plan. So, the fact is this train is moving on several tracks. That’s how we know these larger packages, larger proposals often move forward. And we’re encouraged by the variety of options.
Q And along the lines of sausage making, given the scale of the President’s ambitions with his proposals he’s put on the table, is the real reason that he’s still in bipartisan negotiations right now because moderate Democrats are saying, “We need to stay in bipartisan negotiations right now”? Or does he think something can come of them?
MS. PSAKI: The President wouldn’t be spending his time engaging in hours of discussions with Republicans if he didn’t think something could come from it. Now, we can’t predict what the final outcome is, and we’re keeping — his only lines in the sand — as you know, Phil — are inaction and raising taxes on Americans making less than $400,000 a year.
We know there is — there are a lot of Democrats who are eager to move forward, as are we. But we think there are a lot of paths forward where we can — where it’s worth continuing to pursue bipartisan discussion.
Q Thank you. About the Vice President’s trip: Why is it then that when the Vice President is asked if she has plans to visit the border, she says, “We’ve been to the border,” even though she has not, as Vice President?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as the Vice President, she does speak for the actions of the people in the administration she certainly helps oversee. I expect that sometime she may go to the border, Peter. But as you know, what her focus has been, what the assignment is specifically, is to work with leaders in the Northern Triangle. She’s on a trip doing exactly that, exactly what the President asked her to do.
Q And, as we understand it though, her main focus is to try to address the root causes of migration. Did somebody decide here that it would not be helpful for her to go to the border and talk to people who just migrated here?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think that at some point she may go to the border. We’ll see. But she’s in the Northern Triangle now to have discussions with leaders, with community leaders, with civil society leaders, with the embassy about how we can work together. And obviously she’s made a couple of announcements already — probably more to come before she comes back to the United States.
Q And she described though — you said she might go to the border — she described a trip to the border yesterday as a “grand gesture.” Why?
MS. PSAKI: Look, Peter, again, I think her focus of this trip is on meeting with leaders, having a discussion about how to address corruption, how to address the root causes, how to work together to address humanitarian challenges in these countries. That’s exactly what she’s doing on the ground, and I’m sure she’ll report back to the President when she returns.
Q I’m going to follow up with the border in a second, but let me ask you, if I can: On infrastructure, you laid out some of the conversations that the President is having including, sort of, his message to some of the Democrats on Capitol Hill right now to, sort of, get a little better detail there. Would the President support — does he want Democrats to more actively pursue the process of reconciliation as an option?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Peter, I would say that the Democrats are already moving forward on marking up components of the bill. And Democratic leadership has been clear that they want to move forward on infrastructure and making a historic investment in infrastructure. There’ll be a discussion about the mechanics of that, you know, over the course of the coming days. And we’ll have more to read out once those discussions have been had.
Q So, again, in terms of, like, the timeframe for those decisions to be made, obviously the message to Democrats is, “Keep going” and “We might need you”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, look, I think, to be clear: The President is always going to continue to pursue opportunity to work with Republicans, regardless of what mechanics are moving forward in the House. He’s going to keep pursuing those opportunities. And we fully expect that there will be several pathways that are moving on different channels as we look to how we’re going to get this American Jobs Plan passed.
Q As it relates to the border right now, we heard from the Vice President yesterday where her message was very simple and blunt. She said to those migrants who would be considering coming — she said, “Do not come.”
Obviously, there’s some progressive Democrats, among other critics, who’ve been frustrated by that — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez perhaps, most prominently saying, “It was disappointing to see.” She said, among other things, that “seeking asylum at any U.S. border is a 100 percent legal method of arrival.” What does the White House say to those progressive Democrats, among others, who were frustrated by the message the White House is delivering?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, of course it is. And one of our focuses and the priorities of the President and the Vice President is to improve asylum processing at the border, to work with a range of Democrats — and, hopefully, Republicans — because, in history, it’s been a bipartisan effort to get immigration reform passed, to make — ensure there’s a more viable pathway to citizenship and a better processing at the border.
What the Vice President was simply conveying is that there’s more work to be done, that we don’t have these systems in place yet, it’s still a dangerous journey, as we’ve said many times from here and from many forums before, and we need more time to get the work done to ensure that asylum processing is where it should be.
Q And last question about the Senate report — bipartisan Senate report as relates to what happened on January 6th. Obviously, it addressed the security planning and response failures. We know that that’s held up on Capitol Hill right now. Your reaction to that? And what, if anything, more the White House can do as it relates to those security failures in terms of planning and the like?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me just reiterate that of course the events of January 6th were an assault on our democracy and the rule of law. And the President has been outspoken in calling for a full and independent investigation to what transpired.
As it relates to the report, our team is currently reviewing the report and its findings to inform our ongoing efforts to ensure something like that could never happen again and what role, of course, the federal government can play. There are many roles, as you know, that the report seems to surface on what officials on Capitol Hill could do. And we want to assess how we can be a good partner in this effort moving forward.
I would also note that on his first full day in office, he asked his team to launch a review on how we can improve the federal government’s response to the threat of domestic terrorism, something he also touched on when he was in Tulsa last week. And we’ll be releasing that broader strategy soon, as well.
Q Thank you, Jen. The FDA has still not cleared the 60 million AstraZeneca doses that are part of the President’s commitment to share 80 million doses overseas by the end of June. Is there any concern that the administration will not get that approval from the FDA in time? And if that were the case, will the U.S. then make up for those 60 million doses with other available vaccines in order to meet the President’s deadline of the end of June?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we, as you know, can’t predict or expedite the timeline here. It’s the FDA who will make that decision about when those doses will be approved, if and when they will be approved.
We do remain committed to ensuring that we meet our commitment of 80 million doses — getting those out to the global community by the end of June — which is, again, five times more than any other country and 13 percent of our own supply. It’s only June 8th, so we have quite a bit of time. But we remain committed to that. And obviously if the FDA approves AstraZeneca doses, then that will be a component of that supply.
Q And just, as the pooler, a question on behalf of our colleagues at The Canadian Press, as well as Global News. On the timeline for reopening the U.S.-Canada border: Canada has said it will look to take a phased approach. Does the White House see an announcement happening in concert, or is the U.S. prepared to ease those restrictions on its own?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we would make a decision about the Canada border based on the guidance of our health and medical experts. And I’m sure that when that decision is made, we would communicate through diplomatic channels. But I don’t have anything to predict about the timeline.
Go ahead, Mara.
Q Thank you. You’ve mentioned how long the President has spent in the Senate. He’s talked himself about how timing and sequencing things are really key to presidential leadership. Does he have an objection to starting with H.R.4 instead of H.R.1? In other words, why not do the John Lewis Act first?
MS. PSAKI: I think he is quite open to what Democratic leadership feels is the viable path forward, and we’ll work closely with them in coordination.
Q But there’s a difference of opinion on that — on what would be the best one to go forward. Democratic leadership is (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: We’re not going to be — we’re not going to be the arbiters of that, but we will discuss with them.
Q You’re leaving that to them.
MS. PSAKI: We will discuss with them as we — as we look ahead what the right path forward is.
Q Okay, and my second question, just on infrastructure: In terms of the people he’s speaking to this afternoon, will one of them be Mitt Romney?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t — we will give readouts of who he’s spoken with once we’ve completed those calls. But I don’t have anything to preview for you at this moment.
Q Has he ever spoken to Mitt Romney?
MS. PSAKI: Has he ever spoken time in his life?
Q Yeah, since he’s been President. No, since he’s been President.
MS. PSAKI: You know, it’s a good question. He’s spoken with a number of Republicans. As you know, we don’t read them all out. I don’t have anything to read out for you, but he has, obviously, in different circumstances, has had (inaudible).
Q In terms of these different paths and different groups, this group that he’s going to talk to —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — this afternoon, is this the first time that he’s starting to, kind of, reach out to them? He’s been really focusing on Capito up until now.
MS. PSAKI: That’s right. We’ve been engaged with a range of Democrats and Republicans, including members who have been in conversation through this group at a staff level. He’s obviously had discussions with a number of them about how he moves his ideas forward. So I wouldn’t make it as firm as a first time. But certainly discussing this as a viable path forward at his level, at this point in the process, you know, would be an indication of how we see this as a viable path.
Go ahead, (inaudible).
Q Yeah, just to follow up on the question on voting rights, you said yesterday that we will stay lockstep with the Democratic leadership on that path forward.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q And what Pelosi said in her letter today is that the H.R.4 is not going to be ready until the fall. So are you — and to focus — just to focus effort on the Senate passing H.R.1. So are you okay with that kind of timeframe, if that — even if that means that basically this issue languishes until the fall?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, we don’t see it as languishing. Obviously, the President has asked the Vice President to lead this effort. And I’ll give you a bit of an update that, in addition to, of course, engaging with federal efforts on the federal level to move legislation forward, she’s also going to use the power of the White House to convene key stakeholders. And she’ll be hosting several events next week when she returns from her trips — just to give you an indication of how quickly and how focused we will be on these efforts. And she’ll fight for our key bills and also to register voters under the President’s historic executive order, as well as advocate for Democratic principles.
So, I will say, we’re going to work, of course, with Democratic leadership on both — on both, even with their disagreements about the — the — what the order of events should be here. But we’re not going to wait for that. We’re going to use the White House as a convener. We’re going to use the bully pulpit. Obviously, when the President was in Tulsa just last week, he talked about voting rights very passionately and forcefully.
I’ll also note that we’re also continuing to work to implement the executive order that the President signed into law early on in his administration, and that executive order uses every authority available to make voting easier, more accessible, and more fair. It directs agencies to expand access to voter registration and election information, assist states under the National Voter Registration Act, improves and modernizes Vote.gov, increases federal employees’ access to voting, analyzes barriers to voting for people with disabilities, increases voting access for duty — active-duty military and other voters overseas.
So I would just note that we are not relying on just one option here. Of course, federal legislation is something he will continue to press for, but we’ll use the bully pulpit, we’ll use our convening power, we’ll continue to press through on implementing this executive action as well.
Q On a separate issue — there was a report this morning about, basically, IRS records showing that very wealthy Americans have evaded paying income tax, almost altogether in certain circumstances. One, do you have any reaction just to that as a factual matter? And, two, are you concerned about that just from a leak standpoint?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me take the second part first because I think that’s important. Any unauthorized disclosure of confidential government information by a person with access is illegal, and we take this very seriously.
The IRS commissioner said today that they are taking all appropriate measures, including referring the matter to investigators. And Treasury and the IRS are referring the matter to the Office of the Inspector General — the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the FBI, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, all of whom have independent authority to investigate.
So, obviously we take it very seriously. I’m not going to comment on specific unauthorized disclosures of confidential government information.
I can tell you that, broadly speaking, we know that there is more to be done to ensure that corporations, individuals who are at the highest income are paying more of their fair share, hence it’s in the President’s proposals, his budget, and part of how he’s proposing to pay for his ideas.
April, go ahead. And, sorry, I’ll come back to you. Go ahead.
Q I want to — I want to follow back up on voting rights — on matters of voting rights.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q This President has based his administration on equity and equality. And now the issue of voting rights is in our face. We are voting without the full protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act because of Shelby v. Holder, but it’s also unraveling because of states. And the person that seems to be holding it up is Joe Manchin.
Is the President planning to specifically speak with him about voters — not including it with infrastructure or anything — is he planning on speaking with him specifically on voting rights, particularly after this morning’s virtual meeting with civil rights leaders who say the conversation will continue?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say that it was encouraging to see Senator Manchin meeting with civil rights groups today. The meeting shows that both are serious and recognize the importance of the issue. We certainly know the seriousness that many civil rights groups take with voting rights and the importance of moving this forward. And as indicated in both of their readouts, as you said, April, they will continue the discussion.
I would certainly expect that when the President has a conversation with Senator Manchin the next time, they’ll talk about voting rights. And — but often when he speaks with members, he talks about a range of issues — some where you work together; some where you disagree.
Q So, understanding the history of how presidents decide to lean in, he’s got Vice President Harris putting this in her portfolio. But when will the President begin to lean? And is there a moment where he has to, himself, lean in on this? Because if it doesn’t happen before the next elections, it looks like it could be a done deal. Voting rights are (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Well, April, you were with the President in Tulsa last week. Right?
MS. PSAKI: You heard how passionately he spoke about voting rights, how central this is to how he views his presidency, his leadership, the future of our democracy. I mean, that was central to the message he delivered in a speech that was widely covered, that was reflecting on a moment in history that hasn’t requi- — it hasn’t been given the attention that it certainly deserves.
I certainly would not say we’re waiting. As I noted, we’re going to continue to press for federal action, for action to move forward on a bill that the President would love to sign into law.
We certainly know we can’t do that with a magic wand. That’s not how democracy works for good reason. But the President also signed this executive action early on — a very expansive and powerful executive action — because he wanted to — did not want to delay a moment in ensuring that we were taking more steps to assist states, to improve and modernize Vote.gov, to increase federal employees’ access to voting, to analyze barriers to voting for a range of people. And that was an action he took early on. We’re continuing to implement now.
And I’ll also note that the Vice President asking his Vice President — his partner — to play a role in leading this — something that she also asked for, just to be clear — asked to do — it sends a message about what a priority this is to the President. They have regular lunches. They engage — she’s the first in the room and the last in the room.
And she’s going to not hesitate either — not delay either, I should say. When she comes back from her trip, she’ll be convening people and she will be elevating these issues as well from her platform.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Weijia.
Q Thank you, Jen. The Family Reunification Task Force has reported that of the about 3,900 children who were separated from their families, it does not have a confirmed record of reunification for 2,127 children. Can you explain what that means that they don’t have a record of reunification? Does the administration know where these children are?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first — as you know, Weijia, from covering this — and I know another — a number of others have — one of the challenges that they walked into — or we walked into — is the lack of data. And that — we knew that would take some time to ensure that we were handling the data and handling the reunification process as carefully as possible.
I would note that, through the support of NGOs, 1,779 children were reunified with their parents in the United States under past court orders. Over the last 30 days, through the task force and NGO coordination, seven additional children were reunited with their fami- — parents, bringing the total number of reunified children to 1,786.
In terms of where we go from here, I mean, I would certainly point you to the task force for what their terminology means. We know there’s a challenge with data, a challenge with matching that to what we have access to. But beyond that, I would certainly point you to Department of Homeland Security.
Q So you don’t know if the administration is aware of where these children are?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not what I said. What I said was the Department of Homeland Security oversees the task force, and I would certainly point you to them to give you more of a clear definition of exactly what they mean by “mismatched data” so you have all the information you’re looking for.
Q Thank you. And one more —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
Q — on the Justice Department. President Biden has accused his predecessor of using it as his own personal law firm. Is he disappointed that the DOJ is siding with Trump in his claim that he can’t be sued for defamation for remarks that he made about an alleged rape case?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say that the President strongly believes in the independence of the Department of Justice. We were not consulted — the White House was not consulted, I should say more specifically — by the Department of Justice on the decision to file this brief or its contents.
Q So does he believe that that independence still exists, even though the DOJ is defending the former President? The firewall between —
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what you mean by your question.
Q Does he believe that the DOJ defending the former President in this case still maintains that independence between the executive branch and the DOJ?
MS. PSAKI: I think what I was referring to is allowing for the Department of Justice to make decisions and announcements about ongoing, you know, court filings and legal actions. So independence as it relates to how the — this President views and approaches the Department of Justice.
Q But does it upset him?
MS. PSAKI: Does it — I think the President has been pretty clear, as Weijia started her comment conveying, about his view about the pres- — his view about his predecessor’s comments, about his predecessor’s language, and about his predecessor’s approach, and his engagement in that regard.
Q So what can he do? What can he do about it?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I have anything more to speak to you on, Brian — on active litigation.
Go ahead, Josh.
Q Can I ask — there was a series of web outages this morning —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — that were linked to a company called Fastly. Is there any indication that it’s anything other than just failure with that company? And specifically, is it a potential national security issue? Have you look into whether there’s a potential external group behind it?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, Fastly, I know, put out a statement about it. I don’t have anything more from the federal government on the leak — on the outage.
Q And then pivoting to the G7, the President has talked about the need to push the G7 to boost vaccine —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — availability overall. Can you speak to what he’s considering? Prime Minister Johnson, for instance, has talked about the need to vaccinate the world in its entirety by the end of 2022. Other European leaders are not going quite so far. Does the President have a view on what specific target the G7 should take?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I expect we’ll have more in the coming days, Josh, so stay tuned. Jake did say he expected that you all will hear more at the G7. I don’t want to get ahead of that too much.
But what I would say is that the United States is — we’re headed into the G7 in a position of strength, with 64 percent of our adult population vaccinated; in a position to donate more doses to the world than any other country around the world. But we certainly know this needs to be a global effort, and it will be a discussion at the G7, and we’ll have more to say in the coming days.
Q Just one more on infrastructure. Given the — you know, what Senator Capito said today to reporters — kind of throwing cold water on progress between her and the President on talks — would you say the administration has become more willing to pursue reconciliation to pass the infrastructure package than maybe a week ago or two weeks ago?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that there are always — there’s always been a range of paths to get the President’s bold ideas passed into law. He’s having a conversation with Senator Capito this afternoon, as well as individual conversations with other members who have been working in a bipa- — bipartisan manner, to see what the path forward looks like. And he’s also closely in touch with Democratic leadership.
So, I’m not here to rule out options, but I’m not here to rule in new options either. We’ll have — we’ll have more to say after he has these calls later this afternoon.
Q Okay, one more. The White House said over the weekend it was unaware of the DOJ gag order on the New York Times. Can you assure us that there are no other gag orders on other news organization related to some of these investigations?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Department of Justice has made clear that was their third and final notification that they were offering. And that’s the information they also shared with us. But they’ve shared it publicly.
Q And so there would — to your understanding, there’s no other gag orders?
MS. PSAKI: They made clear — they indicated that this was their last effort — their last notification that they needed to offer.
Q Thanks. So I have a question that’s a little infrastructure, a little climate. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse was tweeting yesterday, saying that he was anxious about the future climate-related legislation. And he said, “Climate has fallen out of the infrastructure discussion, as it took its bipartisanship detour. It may not return.”
Then he went on to say, “I don’t see the preparatory work for a close Senate climate vote taking place in the administration.” Has the White House reached out to the senator? And also, does he have cause for concern on the future of climate-based legislation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I promise you we are certainly in touch with his team, and perhaps even on an individual basis as well, but I don’t have anything to read out for you. But I can just tell you that we are in close touch with nearly every member of Congress who is working on these legislation moving forward.
I will say that — what I would point out to you is that one of the — one of the pieces we conveyed when — when we put out a statement last week about how the President could not accept the offer that was put out by Senator Capito and her group, even though those conversations are happening in good faith, was the fact that it didn’t do enough to invest in our clean energy future.
And there are areas of effort that are moving forward. I mentioned Senator Wyden’s effort to move forward on clean energy tax credits.
The President views this bill as a jobs bill. He also believes it’s a clean energy jobs bill and it has an opportunity to invest in industries of the future. So, certainly, it is close to his heart. It remains an area he’s committed to and one he will continue to fight for as we have these discussions moving forward.
Q And then I just had another on the Vice President visiting the border or not visiting the border. Republicans and conservatives are, you know, going crazy on Twitter, sending pictures —
MS. PSAKI: They’re worked up.
Q — sending videos —
MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen it.
Q — of her interview with Lester Holt, you know, saying, “I’m not…” — you know, “I’ve not been to Europe, either.”
Does the President think there is a scenario in which she should visit the border? And also, the mounting criticism from conservatives, does that — would that ever factor into a decision to send her down there? I mean, don’t they have a point that if she has this task in front of her, should she not see the — the end cause as well as the root cause of migration?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, as I said to Peter: At some point, she may go to the border. I don’t have any trips to preview for you or predict or a timeline for that.
But what I would reiterate is that her assignment was to work with countries and leaders in the Northern Triangle to address root causes, address corruption, ensure we’re working together to address humanitarian concerns.
I will say, we’re not taking advice from former President Trump or most of the Republicans who are criticizing us on this, given they were all sitting there while we created this problem we walked into, both at the border and with the movement of migration that has been growing over the last year. So, we’re not taking our guidance and advice from them. But if it is constructive and it moves the ball forward for her to visit the border, she certainly may do that.
Q Yeah, I have two questions on infrastructure. You said the White House is moving ahead on all three paths on infrastructure, including the third path, which was listening to other lawmakers who have ideas — I believe that’s how you characterized it.
I’m just trying to clarify — and this was asked a little bit earlier: I mean, are you referring to the bi- — bipartisan group that consists of Senators Manchin, Sinema, Romney, and Portman? And if current talks with Senator Capito and her group don’t progress, is there a point when you stop negotiating with that group in favor of this other group of Republicans and Democrats? Is that how you’d see it working?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say we’ll leave it to them to determine what groups they may or may not want to join. But they’re not — it’s not a closed group. We would welcome anyone who wants to join that group and be a part of these discussions moving forward. And we’ll —
Q Members of the press?
MS. PSAKI: — see where it heads. Members of the press, I’ll leave it to them to determine. I think you have to be an elected member of the Senate. So, unless that’s your pathway moving forward.
Q But you are engaging with them though already?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
And then my second question is: What specific proposals did the White House agree to bring down or eliminate in its latest infrastructure counteroffer that reduced the cost from $1.7 trillion to $1 trillion in new spending? Does funding — specifically, does funding for caregiving remain in the president’s latest offer? And if it does, I mean, is it still the $400 billion price tag?
MS. PSAKI: Caregiving remains a huge priority — investing in caregiving — to the President. I’m not going to outline any more specific details, other than to convey that it’s an area that continues to fight for, to advocate for, and one that he’d like to be signed into law as part of a package moving forward.
Q But does that mean it’s not part of what you’re negotiating right now with Republicans?
MS. PSAKI: No, that’s not what I said. I’m not — I don’t have any more details to outline for you.
Q Thank you.
Q Yes, Jen — sorry.
MS. PSAKI: We’ll go — sorry, we’ll go to you next.
Q The chief of Russia’s space agency is threatening to pull out of the International Space Station unless the United States lift sanctions against two companies that are related to the space station. What’s the White House response to that?
MS. PSAKI: That’s a really interesting question and I didn’t know much about it before you asked this question, so I’ll probably have to talk to our national security team. I will say that working together on issues of space and issues related to space is one area where we have worked together, historically, with the Russians on. And I’d have to dig more into what those sanctions are for. I’m not aware of a consideration of that, but I’ll check with our national security team.
Go ahead, Yamiche.
Q Thanks so much, Jen. A follow-up to Weijia’s question: In four months, the Family Reunification Task Force has reunited about 36 families. I’m wondering what the White House makes — what the President makes of the ACLU saying it hopes the government increases that pace? Does the President want to see this go faster? Are there any explanations for maybe why it needs to go slower?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly do, as I think any member of the Family Reunification Task Force would want to as well. And one of the challenges has been what we walked into, which was a lack of data or tracking for a number of these kids that were separated from their parents when they came across the border over the last few years. That’s a huge data challenge.
We’re not going to reconnect them with families where it’s not properly verified — right? — because we know there’s a history over the last several years of, you know, kids being connected with pa- — with individuals who had malintent.
So, that’s a factor, Yamiche. We wish — of course, everybody wants it to go faster. Everybody wants — in this administration, everybody wants these kids to be reunified with their family members and with verified family members. But, you know, we’re working with a challenging issue related to data that we knew would be the case from the beginning.
Q Do you think that pace is going to be the pace? Or do you think it will get quicker?
MS. PSAKI: I would certainly point you to them — the members of the task force and the Department of Homeland Security, who are much more in depth about where the status is, where the challenges are, and what the holdups are. And we can certainly invite one of them to come and speak to you at the appropriate time as well.
Q And then I wanted to ask about — I know there’s the COVID task force, but, in some ways, when you look at southern states, they are lagging, particularly, when it comes to vaccination rates. I wonder if the President has any sort of plan specifically targeted to southern states and whether or not that will impact whether or not he moves back to 70 percent goal that he set up for July 4th?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Yamiche, you are right that there are different age groups, there are different demographic groups, there are different geographic groups in the country where we haven’t seen the pace as fast as others. So, while it’s very high — the vaccination rate — at this point among seniors, and even pretty high — over 70 percent — for people 40 and older — still young, I will note — it is — it is not where it needs to be in people under 40 and certain states around the country.
What we’re trying to do and what we just launched this past weekend is this massive, one-month campaign to incentivize –right? — people getting vaccinated. We’re working with the private sector. We’re going to barbershops. We’re working with, you know, donuts and beer and all sorts of incentives to get young people and people vaccinated who have been either hesitant, resistant, or just didn’t want to take the step to get vaccinated.
We’re going to continue charging through the finish line to — in pursuit of our 70 percent goal. We’ve seen 13 states meet that goal. It’s ultimately up to some — some — these states and some individuals to get vaccinated to meet it in a state-by-state basis.
Q And one last question: There are some progressives who are calling Joe Manchin — Senator Manchin — “the new Mitch McConnell,” saying he’s an obstructionist, saying that he’s standing in the way of the Biden agenda. I wonder what the President makes of that. Is he worried about progressives alienating Senator Manchin? Or does he agree with some of the things that they’re saying about standing in the way of his agenda?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think we’re not going to — we’re going to leave the name-calling to others. The President considers Senator Manchin a friend. He disagrees with him on voting rights and — and the — the bill that the senator has expressed he won’t support.
The President will continue to advocate for the importance of that moving forward and the reasons why that it’s a — it’s important and vital for our democracy. But, you know, we’ll continue to seek ways we can work with Senator Manchin even in — while we have areas of disagreement.
Q I just wonder if you think it’s — the name-calling — is it alienating the senator? Is it worrisome that you’re hearing Democrats say that about Senator Manchin, calling him “the new Mitch McConnell”? Is that — is that problematic?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t speak to — to Senator Manchin’s personal — the personal impact on Senator Manchin. He’s obviously proud of his independent streak. He’s spoken to that, including in an op-ed piece this weekend.
I also — we also understand the passion that many feel for voting rights; for the importance of making voting easier, more accessible. We share that passion. So, we understand that manifests itself in lots of ways. But, I point you to Senator Manchin if he’s — if he has feelings hurt. I suspect he has a stronger backbone than that.
But thank you everyone so much. Look forward to — I guess I won’t see you for a while. Those of you who are coming on the trip, we’ll see you on the trip.
Q See you there.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.
2:19 P.M. EDT