Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, June 22, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:13 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay. So, I know some of you are going to have to leave for the pool call, which is absolutely fine. We will also keep you honest on when the President is getting ready to speak. So there are a couple of mechanics. Chris is going to be our special helper on this front today. Thank you.
Okay, a couple of items at the top. As you may have seen, today, the FAA — the Federal Aviation Administrator — Administration — announced it will award $8 billion in airport rescue grants from the American Rescue Plan to keep airport workers employed, construction projects going, provide rent relief to in-terminal concession companies, and help U.S. airports recover from the impacts of COVID-19.
Thanks to the President’s successful vaccination program, America is on the move again. There are over three times more Americans traveling through airports now than at any time last year, and this funding will help airports ramp up operations, keep travelers safe, and workers employed. Hundreds of airports across the country will receive this funding, thanks to the American Rescue Plan, including airports in Philadelphia; Charleston, West Virginia; Anchorage, Alaska; Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; Portland, Maine; and Portland, Oregon.
Last item for the top: It’s the first official week of summer, as you all know, and the onset of peak wildfire season. We’ve already — we’re already experiencing extreme heat in the West, several large wildland fires, and we’ve had three named Atlantic storms — including Tropical Storm Claudette, which led to the tragic loss of life in Alabama this past weekend.
It was important to the President to meet with the FEMA Administrator and members of the Emergency Preparedness team, including the Homeland Security Advisor, to discuss the federal government’s ongoing preparedness and response efforts, as well as how FEMA supports communities in need. Hence, that’s what he will be doing this afternoon.
Josh, why don’t you kick us off.
Q Thanks, Jen. Two subject areas. First, with regard to voting rights, President Biden described his 2020 campaign as a battle for the soul of America. What does the administration think is more important for the soul: upholding the tradition of the filibuster or getting the voting rights agenda through? If you had to make the choice, what is that choice?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t see it through that prism, which won’t surprise you. I will say that, first, the President believes that expanding access to voting, making it easier for people to vote should be a fundamental right for the American public across the country. And it will be a fight of his presidency long past today.
And I will also note — since you gave me the opportunity — that this has been a fight that he has been battling through the course of his career. When he was in the Senate, he fought for an extension of the Voting Rights Act.
And it’s something that he, of course, talked about on the campaign trail, and he will continue to use the bully pulpit but also every lever in government to continue to advocate for moving forward.
Q And then, secondly, the President is going to meet with the FEMA Administrator this afternoon.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Obviously, we’re seeing a lot of extreme weather and climate events. Researchers have an event at Columbia University this week to look at moving people out of harm’s way in order to mitigate the effects of extreme weather. Does this administration believe that more people need to leave the areas adversely affected by climate change in order to address the issue?
MS. PSAKI: That’s a really interesting question, Josh. And I don’t know if they’ll be talking about that during the President’s briefing this afternoon.
I will note that, while it’s traditional for Presidents to get briefings on hurricanes and preparedness for hurricanes, it was important to him and to our team to also get a briefing on wildfires and the impacts, and also to take steps that are — to prepare for that and the impacts on local communities.
Whether that means moving people from their homes — it’s a great question. I’ll have to see what comes out of the briefing today.
Q Thanks, Jen. On COVID and missing the 70 percent deadline: As this White House sees it, what went wrong? What happened there? Was the goal too high, the number just not attainable?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we don’t see it exactly like something went wrong. How we see it is: We set a bold, ambitious goal — something the President has done from the very beginning — and we are expected to meet that goal just a couple of weeks after July 4th. And, in fact, at this point, as of today, we’re going to be already at that point for people who are 30 years of age and older.
What we also know, though — and we’ve learned this as we’ve been working to get the pandemic under control, take on this herculean task where there is no playbook — is that there are demographic groups and sometimes populations where it’s more difficult to reach. We’ve seen that and we’ve talked about that as it related to — early on, to hesitancy we were seeing in communities of color or some more conservative communities.
And we’ve seen it’s been a great deal more difficult to get — to get young people between the ages of 18 and 26 vaccinated than adults who are older than that. Hence, we are redoubling our efforts to ensure we are targeting, we are focusing on, we are making the vaccine more accessible for those age groups.
But again, we are on — we are already meeting the goal of vaccinating with one dose 70 percent of Americans 30 years of age and older. And we are working toward meeting it for all adults as soon as possible.
Q And just quickly, if I can follow up on voting rights here. Yesterday, you said that there’s more work to be done — among that is including engaging state legislatures. But the problems, as Democrats at least see it, is not problems in blue states — state legislatures; it’s Republican-controlled states where many of these decisions are already being made. So what leverage do you actually have? And what, realistically, do you think you can accomplish in some of these red states?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I think the point we’ve been making is that it’s, in part, a federal approach that is needed.
And I think it’s important to remember why we’re at this point: State legislatures, as you referenced, across the country are passing a wave of anti-voter laws based on the same repeatedly disproven lies that led to an assault on our nation’s Capitol. They are putting these laws in place because they did not like the outcome and they’ve continued to perpetuate a lie about the outcome of the election. That’s why we’re here.
What the President and what the Vice President will do is engage with voting rights groups; engage with legislatures who are supportive of expanding access to voting around the country — yes, there are — even in red states, there are many Democratic legislators or legislators who want to expand that access; empower them, work with them, support them in these efforts; and continue to fight to get legislation across the finish line on the federal level.
So this fight is not over. No matter the outcome today, it is going to continue.
Q Jen, you mentioned the bully pulpit on the voting issue. Jamaal Bowman, a congressman, said earlier today, the President needs to be a lot more “vocal,” a lot more “out in front” on the issue. Do you guys believe the President has elevated this issue enough, given the seriousness that you frame it?
MS. PSAKI: I would suggest that — that isn’t a — that is a fight — that those words are a fight against the wrong opponent. The President is passionate about this issue. He has been passionate through the course of his time in public office. You know, again, securing a 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act — when, I would note, Strom Thurmond chaired the committee. So that was quite a time to live through.
And he’s absolutely revolted by the wave of anti-voter laws based on the same repeatedly disproven lies that led to our assault — an assault on our nation’s Capitol, as I know the congressman and many others are as well. We share their passion. We share the desire to fight these efforts. We share the desire to fight against efforts by many Republicans to suppress the vote around the country. It doesn’t mean that that fight will always be easy, but he is going to stand by them in this effort.
And I would note that it’s not that he has — you know, it is not just about private phone calls — he’s certainly done a number of those — and private meetings — as he did with Senator Manchin yesterday to convey to him the importance to him, personally, of moving this to a debate on the floor about this important piece of legislation. The President has also — gave a speech in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he gave a passionate — made a passionate case for the importance of voting rights.
He also has taken action, including empowering a number of nominees at the apart- — at the Department of Justice who have been leading advocates for voting rights, pushing for their confirmation to get through.
The Department of Justice also just announced a few weeks ago that they are doubling their support and their financial support for enforcement of important voting laws around the country.
And he signed a historic executive action, just several weeks ago, that puts in place a number of protections to ensure that people have the ability to vote. I would say that’s hardly being silent. That’s hardly sitting on the backbench. And we are — he will be standing with advocates in this fight for the foreseeable future.
Q Thanks, Jen. This White House is very good at setting ambitious but achievable goals. Did the White House believe that 70 percent was achievable when you set it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, there’s no record — there’s no playbook for this. There’s no record to look back and say, “These were the — these were the goals that were achieved 5 years ago or 10 years ago,” because we’re dealing with a historic pandemic. And the President’s view is that we should set bold, ambitious goals and do everything we pas- — possibly can to achieve them.
And in our view, we have — part of our objective was to return the country to normal, for people to enjoy backyard barbecues, which people across the country — millions of people will be. And we’ll have 1,000 people on the South Lawn here at the White House — frontline workers, men and women who are serving — also enjoying life back to normal.
But we also are honest about where we need to continue to redouble our efforts. And that’s among people who are 18 to 26. That is a small — relatively small demographic of the country, but one where there needs to be continued work. And we’re going to use every tool at our disposal to push for that.
Q So what is the game plan for getting young people vaccinated in greater numbers?
MS. PSAKI: Let me give you a couple of examples of what we’re working on. It’s not just Dr. Fauci on TikTok, though that is happening. (Laughter.) So, Dr. Fauci has done several Q&As with TikTok and Instagram influencers to answer questions, to meet people where they are, including young people, give them information they need.
CDC’s COVID Vaccine Chat on WhatsApp is now live to help Spanish-speaking young adults get vaccinated.
We’re working with the private sector as well. As you all know, Microsoft is giving away Xboxes at Boys & Girls Clubs. The College Challenge is rallying university students across the country. Walgreens is giving out $25 to anyone who gets vaccinated there before July 4th.
These are just a couple of examples of some of the approaches we’re taking. We’ll build on that from there. What we’ve all — what we’ll also note is that we’re seeing the same challenges that we’ve seen in other groups, which is that access and making it as easy as possible is the name of the game.
And so, continuing to re- — to support our pharmacy program, to support our mobile vaccination units, to make this — the vaccine as accessible to young people. They lead busy lives; we want this to be just a — just a box they can check on their weekend to-do list.
Q Following up on Phil’s question. You very ably went through the President’s history on voting rights and related issues, and you’ve laid out all the times he’s spoken about it. But this lectern is available to him today. We have not heard him talk about it. He has the biggest megaphone in the world.
MS. PSAKI: Aside from the Tulsa speech, just a few weeks ago?
Q No, I’m talking about when the vote is happening — using the President’s time.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q And so, clearly, the President is choosing not to do that now. Why? Where is the President on this issue on a day when they’re voting?
MS. PSAKI: I would say, first, that the President has spoke — spoken passionately about his commitment to expanding access to voting rights a number of times, and you will hear him speak about this again.
You certainly will hear us. We’ll put out a statement from him at the conclusion of the vote today. And I expect you’ll hear from — more from him in the coming days as well.
Q On another subject, with COVID: Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is among the voices saying he’s concerned that children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated could be drivers of the variant, especially with school coming back and camps and all of that. What specifically does the administration feel needs to be done to address that issue for those not yet even eligible to be vaccinated?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Well, as a parent of a couple kids myself who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, I think the challenge is we need to be vigilant and abide by the CDC guidelines. That’s not always easy to do, and we know that. And that means, you know, being mindful of social distancing, being mindful of where mask wearing should be essential to keep your kids protected and keep other kids protected.
Certainly, we can’t expedite the work of the FDA. They’re the gold standard in science, and we want them to abide by whatever timeline works for them. But it does mean — which again, is challenging — abiding by the guidelines for children and those who are not yet eligible until we get to that point.
Q Thanks, Jen. You said, yesterday, the President feels a lot — a great deal of the crime we’re seeing is a result of gun violence, but the stats show it’s not just gun crimes. So why does the President think there’s been a 30 percent increase in car thefts in D.C., 47 percent increase in robbery in New York City, or a 98 percent increase in rapes in Atlanta?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I think, if you look at a number of cities across the country, it is actually driven by gun violence.
Take St. Louis: In 2021, 96 percent of homicides where the instrument is known were committed using a firearm. In New York City, from March 2020 to March 2021, shooting incidents have jumped 77 percent. The city recorded more than 1,500 shootings in 2020; 97 percent more than 777 in 2019. There are major cities across the country where gun violence is absolutely the driver, where it is absolutely increasing. And that will be a central part of what he’ll talk about when he delivers his remarks tomorrow.
Q And given everything that is going on — with guns, without guns — does the President still think that this is the best time to end cash bail?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I have a — any new position on that for you, but I’m happy to check and see if there’s anything more to report.
Q So his stated position from his website, which is, basically, end cash bail — he wants to lead a national effort to end cash bail and reform the pretrial system. That stands?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a new position for you, but I’m happy to check for you.
Q And so, for people who are watching who might be worried about a rise in crime, what does the President think is a deterrent to committing a crime if there’s no cash bail in place?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me give you just a sense to the degree I can, because we’re still finalizing the specifics.
There’s been, one, an increase in violent crime over the last 18 months; it’s not just over the last few months. And actually, if you look statistically back, it’s more over the last five years or so.
So there’s an initial set of actions the President has announced to date to address gun violence. Back in April, strengthening regulations on ghost guns; stabilizing braces that make firearms more legal [sic] — lethal; investing money in community violence intervention programs — an investment that he thinks can be quite effective. He’s talked about, for decades — and I think you’ll hear him talk about more tomorrow — supporting additional funding for community policing through his budget request, and helping state and local governments keep co- — cops on the beat.
So, yes, we believe that a central driver of violence is gun violence and is the use of guns. We’re seeing that statistically in a lot of areas. But he also believes that we need to ensure that state and local governments keep cops on the beat, that we’re supporting community policing, and that’s a key part of it as well.
Q And just the last one. You just said, again, you guys want to “keep cops on the beat,” but there are reports that big cities are having a very difficult time recruiting officers right now. And there are many other reports that morale is at an all-time low in big police departments. So why does the President think that there’s low morale with police officers on the beat?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’re the right entity to give an assessment of that. I’d certainly look to the police departments to give that assessment.
But what I would say to you is that the President has never supported defunding the police. He’s always supported community policing programs. He’s supported giving funding to — to states and localities around the country, including through his American Rescue Plan, because he thinks there is an essential role to play for community policing.
Go ahead, Andrea.
Q Thanks. I want to ask you about infrastructure.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q So, there was the meeting earlier today. Can you give us a little —
MS. PSAKI: It’s still going on.
Q It’s still going on. So —
MS. PSAKI: As far as I know. When I came out here, yes.
Q And are you hopeful that you’ll be able to invite those senators to the White House for a meeting with the President?
MS. PSAKI: We will see. As we do every day in democracy in action happening here, we assess what the right next step is.
And as I noted yesterday, the President is encouraged by the ongoing talks and discussions that are continuing with Democrats and Republicans. We’ve sent some — he’s asked some members of his senior team — as you noted, Steve Ricchetti, Louisa Terrell — to go up to Capitol Hill and meet with a group of bipartisan senators. And once they conclude that meeting, I expect we’ll assess what the next steps are.
Q You’re getting a lot of criticism already about the paring down of the very ambitious infrastructure proposals. Things that are falling away are things that you’ve said are top priorities, whether it’s climate, the care economy. I mean, how do you — how do you anticipate dealing with and solving those priorities, spending issues, if you get to a compromise now that is, in fact, a slimmed down version of what you initially planned?
MS. PSAKI: There’s a budget reconciliation process that’s just getting underway, which we expect to be a vehicle to move a number of the President’s bold ideas forward.
Q Can I ask you a question about Amazon as well? So the FTC is going to look at the Amazon-MGM merger. There’s growing criticism about the antitrust legislation that’s being put forth on the Hill.
Are you — what is your perspective about whether there is, sort of, fundamental reform needed to ensure that large companies don’t get too big? Do you see this as, sort of, an inflection point?
We’ve seen companies, including Amazon, really profit enormously from the pandemic and during the pandemic, and there have been warnings even from international financial institutions. So do you see that there’s something sort of fundamental needed now to check the growth?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a great question. I don’t think I’m going to be in a position to speak to it from here. There are legal components of this. I can see if there’s more we can — we can give back to you on that.
Q Just on the Amazon FTC review: Do you — can you just confirm any details of that review?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going be able to confirm or speak to that specifically from here.
Q The President’s remarks tomorrow, just to follow up on policing and crime —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — will that detail any efforts on police reform? Or is that kind of unilaterally focused on crime prevention? And why or why not?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, there’s ongoing negotiations, as you know, on police reform. And the President would love to have a bill on his desk that he could sign into law.
We’ve seen progress being made, we’ve heard progress being made, and those discussions are ongoing. So I would expect that his — his remarks tomorrow will build on — will build on a number of the announcements that have already touched on that he’s made in the recent months, making guns — putting in place safety measures to make our streets safer, preventing the use of guns in violent crime across the country, ensuring that we can have more cops on the beat to protect communities.
He, obviously, is a big advocate for the benefit of community policing so we’ll build on that foundation and lay out a comprehensive strategy to address violent crime and gun violence as the — as we enter the summer months.
Q Some advocates — criminal justice advocates have raised concern that potentially having the President raise alarm about, you know, a trend of rising crime — this crime uptick in American cities — could actually undercut efforts on police reform, especially since legislation is still being discussed, you know, in Congress. So is that a concern for the White House at all?
The White House has said that, you know, the administration wants to give members of Congress space to negotiate police reform, but that potentially raising alarm of this crime uptick could hurt those efforts.
MS. PSAKI: I would say that the negotiations are happening between Senator Booker, Senator Scott, key — Congressman Bass. I don’t think they’ve expressed that particular concern. If there’s a named person who is expressing this concern, I’m happy to speak to that. But there’s — those negotiations are ongoing. We keep them abreast of our work.
And again, I think, in communities across the country who advocate and support police reform, they don’t see it as a mutually exclusive issue; neither does the President. We need — police reform is long outdated. But it’s also important to take steps to — to put in place gun safety measures, to take any — use at any lever he can as President to do exactly that, and to ensure there is appropriate funding and resources needed to ensure there’s community policing in communities across the country.
Q Just one more on FEMA — the FEMA meeting. Given that meeting happened today, FEMA is still involved in setting up shelters at the border. Since we’re going into hurricane season, as you said, is there a deadline on when FEMA will be pulled out of that process of assisting at the border?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to assess for FEMA. Obviously, they’ll make that assessment in coordination with the leadership at the Department of Homeland Security, but I don’t have anything to preview on the timeline for that. They’ve been a key resource.
Q Thanks, Jen. Going back to the 70 percent goal, the CDC data says that there are 13 states that are falling way short of that 70 percent; they’re less than 55 percent. Four states are below 50 percent. Should those states get more of a focus right now and not the nationwide number, as the administration plans their strategy to get vaccinations up?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we — we’re not not focusing on those states. I would say that, one, it’s important to note that when we give the statistics — including 87 percent of all seniors, 75 percent of people age 40 and over, 70 percent of those age 30 and over — they’re from red states and blue states and purple states, or whatever color the state may be.
Our focus, from the beginning, has been continuing to redouble our efforts among demographics and groups where we need extra assistance. That’s why we have taken steps to put in place 24-hour pharmacies, walk-up sites, mobile clinics, free rides. We have vaccines at barber shops, baseball games, NASCAR races. Even over the last “Month of Action,” which we’ve been doing across the country, we’ve had 15,000 events. We’ve attempted 1.4 million contacts or reached about 500,000 people. And there are thousands of volunteers in 50 states across the country.
Ultimately, it’s going to be up to individuals to decide if they want to get vaccinated.
Q Is there something more, though? You went through all of those incentives, and specifically tying those to that age group — that younger age group. But if there’s something that’s regional about this — if it’s Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Wyoming that are those states below 50 percent, is there something that the administration can do to get those numbers up? Or at this point, is this governors and states that should be doing this?
MS. PSAKI: It’s always been a partnership, and it will continue to be a partnership moving forward. And it’s also up to individuals to make the decision to get vaccinated. And what we can do from the federal government, of course, is to make it as accessible as possible; make sure we have the supply — we’ve done that long ago; make sure there are thousands and thousands of sites, vaccinators, opportunities for people to get vaccinated; incentivize it across the country. That’s exactly what we’ve done.
I will note: We’re not going to stop implementing these programs on July 5th. We will continue to implement them as we work to get more people in the country vaccinated.
Go ahead, April.
Q Jen, I want to hit two topics: voting rights, as well as crime.
You keep bringing up former President George W. Bush, in 2006, when he —
MS. PSAKI: I do? I keep bringing him up?
Q Well, you bought him up — you brought the extension up. You brought the extension up of voting rights, and —
MS. PSAKI: What — I think that happened long before (inaudible).
Q Right, but you brought it up as to — it was extended for 25 years.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay. I didn’t bring up George W. Bush, but, go ahead, you can bring him up.
Q Yes, I’m bringing him up.
As someone who was here when he did it —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — he was a Republican who did it. And that’s one of his pieces that he likes to tout when he talks about efforts in the Black community. What’s different with Republicans then and Republicans now when it comes to voting rights?
MS. PSAKI: What’s different?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, April, what — what should raise some questions for Americans across the country is: Why would anyone want to make it more difficult to vote? Why wouldn’t we want to make it more accessible? What are they so afraid of? And maybe they’re more afraid now of what it would mean to have more people voting across the country than they were back then. I don’t know. You’ll have to ask them that question.
Q And, secondly, on crime: What’s different now as you’re trying to push this effort on community policing, as well as guns? What’s different now? What do you think will have the teeth to change the tide that hasn’t been changed before? In the coming years (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Different now — do you mean different from a different period of time —
MS. PSAKI: — or different from —
Q I mean, you know, community policing was in place during the Clinton years; it was taken away. There was conversation about it in many years prior. And now, you’re bringing it back again. So you’re bringing the issue back again. What teeth do you believe that will have? And do you believe that that could become a reality again?
I mean, I understand different police departments can do what they want. But you’re trying to make an overall sweeping push for police departments across the nation to make this difference. What’s different now that will make this tide change?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say one difference now is that it’s become a politically charged issue, when it wasn’t historically. And if you look back, Community Oriented Policing Services, you know, historically had been supported by liberal Democrats; Democrats; civil rights groups, including the NAACP, and — over the course of time. And that has always been the case.
I would say we’re not suggesting — the President isn’t suggesting it’s the silver bullet. A central part of his remarks and his — his announcement tomorrow will be about addressing gun violence, which he thinks is a significant driver in violence in our communities and cities across the country.
And, as you know, April, there are laws that were in place: the Assault Weapons Ban, others that are no longer in place. There are also additional guns — ghost guns and others that were not a reality just a few years ago.
So, there are some laws he’d like to go back to and some that he’ll continue to work to update.
Q But, again, what’s different now? I mean, you’ve got the powerful NRA. You’ve got Republicans who — anytime you touch anything about guns, they feel like you’re taking their rights away. What’s different now? Where do you think the tide will turn on this?
MS. PSAKI: Are you asking me about, like, the politics of now or the —
Q The politics and, you know, this moment in time. Why do you believe that you have a chance to make a dent when you didn’t — when Democrats didn’t have to do — have it before?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would just say here’s how the President sees this: There’s been rising crime in cities for the last 18 months, if not before that. Yes, there needs to be reforms of police systems across the country; the President is a firm believer in that.
But there are also steps he can take, as President of the United States, to help address and hopefully reduce that crime. A big part of that, in his view, is putting in place gun safety measures, using — even as Congress is not moving forward currently — using the bully pulpit, but also using levers at his disposal as President.
Q I guess I’ll take another shot — stab at that, to use a phrase. Sorry. (Laughter.) What’s different for Joe Biden? Thirty years ago, he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote a crime bill, addressed this issue. What has he learned since then? And what can we look, tomorrow, that might be the same or different?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, I would say, first, on the campaign: The President said that some parts of the bill worked and some areas did not work. There are also steps he took as senator when he introduced or supported legislation, I should say, to address the disparities in gun senten- — in drug sentencing laws. So he’s taken some specific actions over time in areas where he don’t — doesn’t think worked as well.
There are some components of that legislation he supported at the time, including the 10-year ban on assault weapons; including the support for — for the Violence Against Women Act; and including the support for community policing programs that he has been a longtime advocate for. And I think you will see continuity in terms of his support for those initiatives moving forward.
Q You said that he aims to build on the announcements he’s made. Is there anything we can expect to hear tomorrow that we haven’t heard before?
MS. PSAKI: Stay tuned. I can’t tell you everything, otherwise you won’t come tomorrow.
Q Thanks, Jen. On the President’s meeting with the chairman of the Federal Reserve yesterday: Did the President bring up interest rates or express his view on the direction of interest rates at all?
MS. PSAKI: As you well know, that is the purview of the Federal Reserve. They’ve put out their own projections, as you know, about what it looks like moving forward. The topic and the focus of the meeting was exactly as it was outlined in our —
Q So he did not bring up interest rates at all?
MS. PSAKI: I just have no more to read out for you.
Q Okay. And then, on the infrastructure negotiations, do you know — has White House put anything new on the table as far as payfors?
MS. PSAKI: I would say we’ve put a lot of different options on payfors on the table. And our view is there’s a fundamental question right now: Are — are Dem- — are Republicans, members of Congress, do they believe that rich people should have to pay the taxes they owe? Or should we increase the cost of travelers who are just trying to make it to work?
That’s the basic question here. So we’ll see if they can make progress on that exact point.
Q Can you say who the stakeholders will — who will be at the White House tomorrow for this crime meeting? Can you say who’s coming?
MS. PSAKI: The announcement tomorrow? Sure. I don’t have it in front of me, but we can venture to get it to you after the briefing. Sure.
Q Okay. Great. And this is sort of a pullback question, but why now exactly? Is it just because crime rates are up and the stats are out? Or why is this the week, of all the weeks, that the President has decided to focus on crime?
MS. PSAKI: First, I would say that he’s made a number of announcements over the past several months on gun violence, on putting in place gun safety measures. He’s made — announced in his budget his support for community policing and providing funding. Maybe we haven’t drawn that clear through-line for all of you, but this is a continuation of that, in his view.
Q Labeling it a speech about crime is certainly different than a speech about gun safety or it — this is — this is a different focus.
MS. PSAKI: A central part of it will be on gun violence.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Go ahead.
Q I’m just going to continue this —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — crime spree, if you will. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: A lot of analogies here that might be threatening.
Q My colleague, Zolan, had brought up that there are activists who are very concerned that the President’s decision to highlight crime right now could undercut some of the negotiations on the Hill for police reform. You’d asked for the names of some of them. The Tampa Dream Defenders is one, the Justice Action Network is another — just so we, sort of, have that covered.
But can you address how the President is going to sort of walk that line between expressing his concern about crime without undercutting these efforts that, as you point out, have been under- — you know, have been underway for a while.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, what I was trying to get at — but thanks for bringing up the question again — is that there are negotiators that are continuing to make progress on the Hill. And the President supports and stands by a lot of these groups in their support and advocacy for long-overdue police reform. He believes that, supports it, wants to sign a bill into law.
He does not feel that they are conflicting. And I don’t think you’ve heard from any of the negotiators on the Hill that they feel they are conflicting either. So that was the point I was trying to make.
And communities across the country where they are seeing — if you’re living in St. Louis and 96 percent of homicides were done where — we know the instrument — were done using a firearm, you do want to hear more about what the President of the United States is going to do to address that. If you’re living in New York City, you do want to hear more.
And nationwide, you know, Everytown put out some information that there were 30 — more — 30 — 3,900 additional firearm deaths and 9,278 additional firearm injuries in 2020 compared to 2019. That’s impacting people’s lives, people’s communities, people’s families, people’s neighbors. Of course they want to hear more, and he wants to share more with the American public about what he’s going to do about it.
Q And then just on COVID: Just given that, you know, the country did not reach this goal of 70 percent of adults being — getting one shot, is there anything that the country cannot do? Is there any sort of — I mean, that was always the, sort of, benchmark for getting back to normalcy. And since we didn’t get there, are there things that the country cannot do because we haven’t actually achieved the goal that we were supposed to?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say it’s a goal we, here, set in the White House. I’m —
Q Is there anything you’d recommend the country not do, given that the goal was not reached?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this was always going to be community to community, right? When the President set this goal back in March, it was always meant to be a incentive and a driver for people to see what the benefit would be of getting vaccinated. And at the time, what the President said is, “If you are vaccinated, your neighbors are vaccinated, you can all have a backyard barbecue.” We’re doing that times about 100 by hosting 1,000 people here at the White House.
Now, if you’re in a community where you’re at 80 percent vaccination rate, my bet is the community is pretty closely back to normal.
If you’re not in a com- — if you’re a community with a much lower vaccination rate, obviously, you’re going to make your own choices, but you’re not operating in a community where it should be back to normal.
So, it’s always going — was always going to be local, was always going to be based on what the decisions are made, community to community — but not nationwide, no. It’s really dependent on where you’re living.
Q So, because the President is in Washington, D.C., and they have got — we have got — Washington, D.C., has gone beyond their 70 percent goal, it’s okay to do (inaudible). It’s okay to have 1,000 people in Washington, D.C., at an event because Washington, D.C., has surpassed the 70 percent, but somewhere where it’s a 50 percent vaccination rate perhaps —
MS. PSAKI: Communities are going to make their own decision. There’s nothing ever magical through science about 70 percent. 70 percent was a bold, ambitious goal we set to continue to drive to get more people vaccinated across the country. But it’s not as if, if you’re 67 percent in a community, you’re at a different level of safety than 71 percent.
Communities are going to make their own decisions. And I think, at — a fundamental fact is that if you’re vaccinated, if your neighbors are vaccinated, then you’re safe.
Q Thank you, Jen. One quick —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, I’m sorry. I’m going to — I’m going to (inaudible) here. Go ahead. Go ahead, Chris.
Q Oh, thanks. Can you respond to — at least a couple Republican senators and one today said that — want to have talked about signing on to this bipartisan talks right now on the Jobs Plan, that that would essentially stop momentum or stop you guys from being able to do reconciliation. Can you respond to that idea that they’re basically cooperating so that you can’t do the second half of your plan?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s how the process works, fundamentally.
Q So it will not stop the White House from enacting and Democrats from —
MS. PSAKI: Well, if you just — if we just go to our episode of “How a Bill Becomes a Law,” there’s a budget reconciliation process led by the budget chairman; it’s proceeding. It needs a certain number of votes. That’s different from the number of votes that are needed for other pieces of legislation.
That piece of legislat- — the budget reconciliation process is proceeding. There’ll be discussions. There may even be disagreements among people within the Democratic Party about what should be included in there or not. There needs to be 50 votes to move that forward. But that process is continuing and proceeding.
Q But stopping the momentum for it, as well as taking the amount of time that these talks are taking that it — realistically, that it could gum up the works to get this —
MS. PSAKI: How would it gum up the works?
Q I mean, this is their — this is their plan, their hope of a strategy.
MS. PSAKI: Sounds like they have some more explaining to do about what they mean. Or maybe they need to go to “How a Bill Becomes a Law,” “How Reconciliation Works.”
Q I’ll suggest that.
MS. PSAKI: Senator Sanders could — he could come to the Republican caucus and teach them. I’ll offer him.
Q One on foreign affairs, please?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry, we have to wrap it up because I think the President is about to speak. But thanks so much everyone. Sorry it was a little short today.
1:48 P.M. EDT