Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jen Psaki En Route La Crosse, WI
11:27 A.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay. Good morning. Welcome to our trip to La Crosse, Wisconsin.
President Biden is traveling today to make the case directly to the American people that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework is a major step forward for our country and the largest infrastructure investment in nearly a century. It will grow our economy, create good-paying jobs, and position America to compete with the world and win the 21st century.
A couple of Wisconsin specifics: Nearly half of — nearly half of Milwaukee’s 160,000 water service lines are made of lead, and the plan’s investments in water infrastructure will replace them all.
The infrastructure deal will also, as you know, help make broadband access a reality for people across the country.
There’s 82,000 Wisconsin children who didn’t have access to reliable Internet in the midst of a year of remote schooling. This will help change that.
It will also help address the bridges and roads, of course, across Wisconsin that need rebuilding as a core part of the Infrastructure Framework.
The place we’re going today — the place where the President will deliver his remarks — is the La Crosse Municipal Transit Utility, which was rewarded — awarded a federal grant in 2018 to purchase two electric buses, charging stations, and related infrastructure. This is part of a broader strategy of the City of La Crosse to achieve a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.
Oh, and just a little full-circle note for all of you: The buses are being manufactured by Proterra, whose Greenville, South Carolina, facility the President visited back in April.
I also wanted to note that, yesterday, the House took an important step in advancing the vision the President laid out with the American Jobs Plan for growing the economy for all workers by advancing two bipartisan bills: the National Science Foundation for the Future Act and the Department of Energy Science for the Future Act.
He was pleased to see the Senate pass crucially important investments in our domestic strength through the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act with massive bipartisan support, and he’s heartened to see the House pass bipartisan investments in science and R&D.
Another update on our doses going overseas: We are proud to announce that 2.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine will begin to ship to Bangladesh today. And we expect we may have more announcements today, as well, for additional shipments.
You may have also seen our announcement — short announcement — that the President and the First Lady will be traveling to Surfside, Florida. Let me give you a little bit more detail about what they’re planning to do there. They want to thank the heroic first responders, search-and-rescue teams, and everyone who has been working tirelessly around the clock, and meet with the families who have been forced to endure this terrible tragedy — waiting in anguish and heartbreak for word of their loved ones — to offer them comfort as search-and- rescue efforts continue.
And they want to make sure that state and local officials have the resources and support they need under the emergency declaration approved by the President for Miami-Dade, Florida.
The visit is being, of course, closely coordinated with officials on the ground to ensure it does not draw any critical local resources from the ongoing search-and-rescue operations or have any negative operational impact.
And, obviously, I know you’re going to ask about meetings with local officials; we don’t have any updates — any details on that quite yet. If any develop while we’re on our trip today, we’ll make sure those are available to all of you.
Q Great. Thanks, Jen. Two-question subject areas. First, Afghanistan.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q The top general in Afghanistan said the escalating violence could lead to a deadly civil war. Does the administration have any concerns about that possibility, given the withdrawals? And what will it do to minimize that possibility?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would note that the President met with the leaders of Afghanistan just last Friday, and he reiterated our commitment to working with them on not just humanitarian assistance, but security assistance and our commitment to continue to have a presence on the ground, which we vowed to do in the beginning, and we will — we remain committed to do.
I’ll also note that the decision that the President made to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, it is consistent with his view over the last 20 years about the war. But he also made that decision because it was made clear, given the timeline set by the prior administration, that if we did not withdraw our troops, U.S. men and women would be facing fire on the ground. And that was not something, as the Commander-in-Chief, that he felt was acceptable, and hence we are on this timeline we’re on by September.
There has been assessments out there, as you know, by the intelligence community and others. I would refer to them on those assessments of the situation on the ground.
Q And then, secondly, Tucker Carlson said that the NSA is spying on him. Is the administration aware of any espionage or listening efforts on U.S. citizens by the NSA, and is Tucker Carlson one of them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the NSA, as I think you’re well aware — I’m not sure everyone is aware — everyone on this plane is aware, I should say — is an entity that focuses on foreign threats and individuals who are trying — attempting to do us harm on foreign soil. So, that is the — their purview. But beyond that, I would point you to the intelligence community.
Q Jen, on infrastructure: So, Leader McConnell said he was satisfied that the President has de-linked the reconciliation package and the bipartisan agreement, but Speaker Pelosi said this morning that the House isn’t going to vote on the bipartisan bill until the Senate passes that reconciliation package. So the question is: Is the White House urging her to publicly de-link those two issues like the President did over the weekend?
MS. PSAKI: Our focus is on doing — the President’s focus is on doing exactly what he’s doing today and what leaders in Congress asked him to do, which is to go out to the public and make clear the benefits of this package to the American people, whether it’s on roads and railways and bridges, or components of the package that there’s less known about, including making broadband available; making sure we’re doing environmental remediation, something that would help lower-income communities quite a bit; making public transit available.
That’s exactly what they expect him to do, what they want him to do, and what the President is going to spend his time doing. He looks forward to and is eager to sign both bills into law, and he will leave it to leaders in Congress to determine the order and the sequencing.
Q So there’s no message coming from the White House to Speaker Pelosi to publicly “de-link,” quote unquote, those two issues?
MS. PSAKI: I think the President made clear that he is going to work his heart out getting both bills across the finish line, and that’s what he’s going to do, and work closely with leaders in Congress to get that done.
Q Jen, can you describe the ongoing outreach to progressives today?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q You know, to what extent is the White House worried about the idea that all the Democrats in the House won’t be a “yes” on the reconciliation bill and the compromise (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let me give you a rundown of some outreach. It will include progressives but other outreach as well.
We have been — the White House was in touch with all Democratic chiefs of staff in both chambers yesterday. The White House also had calls with over 60 Democratic and Republican members, chiefs of staff and staff directors in both chambers. This included calls with a diverse — diverse range of ideologies ranging from members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to members of the Problem Solvers Caucus.
We hosted a call today with all the Democratic — we are hosting a call today, I should say — with all of the Democratic Senate communications directors on the package. And today, Steve Ricchetti, Louisa Terrell, and Shuwanza Goff will meet with a range of progressives to moderates within the Democratic House Caucus, as well as Republicans.
In terms of progressive groups — which is a little beyond this but I think of interest to all of you — senior White House staffers addressed over 100 progressives groups through a call organized by Build Back Together, focused on the historic progressive wins in the bipartisan framework, including with respect to job creation; climate and clean energy; removing all lead water pipes — something there isn’t a lot of information out there on, which we’re trying to make sure people understand the details of; and connecting all communities to broadband.
We also, separately, addressed 60 additional groups yesterday on a call convened by a different outside organization.
Point being, we have every senior member of the White House working to communicate directly with the public, with groups, with members of Congress about the components of this package and our continued commitment to also get the reconciliation package across the finish line.
Q What does that say about the fact that this Democratic White House has to do that kind of outreach to members of its own party? I mean, is the President in any way disappointed by the fact that he has to engage this way with fellow Democrats?
MS. PSAKI: The President sees that as his job and, by association, all of our jobs. And part of what his objective is, at this point, is to move beyond — and all of our objectives — move beyond the process. That’s an important component of it, but make sure we are clearly articulating what the benefits are of these packages, why they can help people, how they can help people in the country, and that’s something we’re going to do in partnership with members around the country.
Q Jen, Bernie Sanders was on NPR this morning talking about the fact that this infrastructure bill doesn’t include, you know, enough for climate. I know you’ve said that there are climate provisions in there, but, you know, what do you say to Bernie Sanders when he gets on, you know, national radio and says that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, we say to Senator Sanders: You’re an important partner, and we look forward to continuing to work with you to get this and the reconciliation package across the finish line.
What we also have been conveying is this — the President sees this bipartisan package on climate as a down payment. It has a number of key important priorities for anybody who is focused on addressing the climate crisis, including the President, included in it. And that includes environmental remediation. It includes an enormous investment in electric vehicles, electric buses — something that will not only help communities across the country, you know, better move around, but it will also help our climate. And he is also committed to continuing to work to get more in the bi- — in the reconciliation package, something that Senator Sanders is certainly running point and leading on.
Q I guess my other question has to do with the reconciliation package. To what degree, given the amount of effort you’re having to put into getting the compromise through — the infrastructure package through — has there any — has any real work been done on looking at what you can put into a reconciliation package and win support for?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q I mean, how far is this — you know, is this effort underway? And who’s leading that initiative?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Senator Sanders is leading that initiative, of course, in the Senate.
Q (Inaudible) say?
MS. PSAKI: I would say White House leaders — the same White House leaders: Steve Ricchetti, Louisa Terrell, others who are — Shalanda Young, obviously, as our — as our Acting OMB Director. They have already had meetings. They had a meeting — I think, last week, we announced — on the Hill to discuss the next steps and the paths forward. They will have continued meetings over the coming weeks.
We have a Jobs Cabinet. We also have a Families Cabinet of members of our — of our administration who we expect to also be out there communicating about the huge benefits of the Families Plan — something that will be central to the President’s push in the reconciliation package as well as his budget that he’s also put forward.
We also fully recognize that we’re at the early stages of this process, and I think anybody on the Hill will tell you that. And there are important discussions that need to happen between a range of Democrats about priorities, what can be in the package, and what they would support.
We’ll, of course, be engaged in that, but those need to also happen among senators.
Q What’s your best guess for timing, in terms of getting — you know, what — what’s your goal, your target to get this legislation passed — both?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that Leader Schumer has conveyed that he wants to have both packages on the floor in July, and that’s probably the next step.
Q And tomorrow, you’ll be meeting with the western governors. So the President will be meeting with the western governors. He met with the FEMA Administrator recently and talked about increasing pay for firefighters and just raising awareness about wildfires. Do you have any specific proposals that you’re going to be unveiling in terms of how to address this problem? There’s so many wildfires already.
MS. PSAKI: You’re absolutely right. And the President’s commitment to making sure we’re being partners — that the administration and he, personally, is a partner to governors who are looking ahead to a growing wildfire season — rising heat, rising temperatures in the West — you know, that’s something that’s been important to him personally.
He already had a briefing from FEMA over the last couple of weeks. I don’t have anything to preview for you yet. We will see if, by the end of the day, we do, in advance of tomorrow.
Q Jen, on COVID, is the White House having pause on plans to reopen to Canada and Europe because of the Delta strain? Has — is the — you know, because it’s causing some disruption like everywhere, as far away as Australia. Is that, like, getting into the — putting a fly in the ointment for whatever plans there were to reopen? And when are you going to reopen Canada and Europe?
MS. PSAKI: As you know, there’s working groups that are under discussion — having discussions between our officials and officials in Europe and other countries about what that path forward looks like. I don’t — I don’t have any updates on those groups.
Q So there’s no pro- — there’s no progress on — like, (inaudible) Canada?
MS. PSAKI: I didn’t — I didn’t actually say that.
MS. PSAKI: I said: We continue to evaluate, through these working groups, what the criteria should be and when it would be safe to reopen. We are working — we’re guided by our public health officials, but I don’t have any updates on the timeline at this point.
Q Okay. Jen, I just — just related to that, is there any update on the mask policy and so on for the barbecue on Sunday?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, the — sorry, say that one more time.
Q I’m sorry. At the White House barbecue on Sunday —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q — the July the 4th barbecue — have you — what are the rules going to be for masks and —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — vaccine and so on?
MS. PSAKI: There’s been guidance that has been provided, which may be updated. But to all attendees that include the — the guidance that they should be — they should get tested one through three days in advance of coming to the event. If they are vaccinated, of course, they can abide by the public health guidelines that does not require mask wearing. If they have not been vaccinated, they should wear a mask.
Q Jen, can you talk about the strategy of going to Wisconsin today? Why aren’t we heading to West Virginia or Arizona or some other place where you might be targeting a lawmaker?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Wisconsin is a place where there — where the people of the state would hugely benefit from the components of the bipartisan infrastructure package. I mentioned a couple of them at the top, including broadband access — something that more than 80,000 kids across Wisconsin didn’t have access to, even while they were getting — attending school from home. There are bridges across the state that need repair, roads that need repair — also something that would be beneficial.
We’re going to a — the location we’re going to, where the President is going to be delivering his remarks, is an interesting example. They purchased two electric vehicles because of an electric — because of a federal grant — electric buses, I should say. That’s something that’s going to help the City of La Crosse get to a more — a — to become a city that is — can be a model for how you should move to a more climate-friendly approach to transit.
So, this is a place where we felt we could highlight the benefits, talk directly to the Ame- — American people, people of Wisconsin about why this bipartisan package is a good deal for the American people.
Q Jen, does the President believe that Americans who live in coastal high rises are safe right now? Or is there anything that — more that he wants to see being done?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, the President supports an investigation. I conveyed this yesterday. And I actually didn’t give the specifics on who would oversee the investigation, so let me just give that to you right now. One second. I have it right in here somewhere.
Okay. So the National Institute of Standards and Technology — NIST — is authorized to investigate building failures. Their authorities are modeled after those of the National Transportation Safety Board — the NTSB — for investigating transportation accidents.
They have announced they sent a team of six scientists and engineers to collect firsthand information on the towers — the Champlain Towers South collapse that will be used to determine if an investigation or study will be conducted.
So, obviously, that would be something the President would support, and certainly we would look to that — if that’s a decision made — to learn how we can help protect infrastructure across the country.
Q And any reaction to that letter that went out to the residents of the building? We found — CNN found, in April, that it was warning the occupants of basically the worst possible outcome, which happened. Any — any reaction?
MS. PSAKI: Again, clearly, we are providing every resource we can from the federal government — not just to help with the search-and-rescue operations, but to be a part of any effort to determine if an investigation should happen moving forward. That’s something the President supports, and that’s a way we can be constructive from the federal government.
Q Jen, there’s a report in Politico that suggests that your administration is looking at reversing some of the deportations that happened during the Trump administration. Can you talk about that and maybe whether there’s any limit to it or how you’re going through that process?
MS. PSAKI: That’s — I’d have to talk to our immigration team about that. I have not seen that report, but I will check in with them about it and get you an answer.
Q And, Jen, going back to what we were talking about earlier with infrastructure and Senator McConnell: Senator McConnell, yesterday, claimed he’s still sort of undecided on whether to vote for this package. Does the White House think getting him to vote for this is a realistic goal? Do you view him as a partner in passing this or as someone who’s more trying to tank the deal?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I would say that the President would welcome the support from any Republican and Democrat for a bipartisan package that’s broadly supported by the American people, because the American people don’t think — including people in his home state of Kentucky — that rebuilding roads and railways and bridges is a partisan issue. It’s not. Neither is making sure people have access to broadband or clean drinking water.
That’s the case the President will continue to make. We’ll lead the — leave the vote counting and the whip counting to leaders in Congress.
Q But does the President view McConnell as an ally in trying to get this passed or as someone we need to get past in order to pass it?
MS. PSAKI: The President and members of the administration will engage with a range of leaders and officials in Congress, including Leader McCon- — including Senator McConnell.
Q The German finance minister is coming this week to visit Janet Yellen, and there’s these OECD tax talks. As you know, this was a subject at the G7. Are you confident that you’ll — that the U.S. will be able to prevail with that digital — you know, with the — with its view of a global minimum corporate tax of 15 percent? And do you have any, kind of, updates for us as we’re heading into the G20 process too?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Beginning of an exciting season: the G20 season. I will say I would certainly leave it to the Department of Treasury for any previews of the Secretary’s meeting, but I would remind you — and you were on the trip with us — that it was, in part, because of U.S. leadership that we got agreement on the global minimum tax at the G7 — an important step forward and something we knew that there would be continued work that would be required to be done to get that across the finish line.
But I would leave it to them for any update on that, as Secretary Yellen is running point and leading that effort.
Q On housing finance, you had the Supreme Court ruling recently, but we saw, in the Miami condo tower, condos were selling — they were listed for sale between $600- and $700,000. Does this administration plan to do anything about the shortage of home construction and housing finance to make sure that people can find homes where they can afford and know that their investments will be safe?
MS. PSAKI: Are you asking me about the infrastructure or the cost of housing?
Q The cost of housing but, more importantly, the absence of supply and the absence of new construction.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. I would say, first, on the — we certainly recognize that the absence of certain materials, as you all know, including lumber, has led to price increases in the housing market. And we have been focused on working through our supply chain team that is leading this effort to make sure we are addressing challenges in the supply chain, gaps in the supply chain to make sure that those materials are more readily available.
So, yes, we are doing — we are taking a number of steps as an administration, across the board, to address housing. As you know, there’s been a one-month extension — I know this wasn’t what you were asking, but just an example — of the eviction moratorium and the foreclosure moratorium. That will help some people in the country stay in their homes for a period of time. That was always meant to be temporary.
We also are working to see — to determine how we can address these supply chain issues that have led to increases, because as you know, Josh, from covering this quite closely, the fact that there are not new builds is also raising the prices of houses that have been around for some time, so we’re seeing kind of a ricocheting effect here. But that is part of our objective. And some of the materials that are — is being worked through by our economic team.
Q On this trip, Jen — so, obviously, President Biden won Wisconsin in 2020, but the area we’re going to today was more in favor of Donald Trump. I know the next election is a long way off, but does the White House believe winning or getting higher margins in rural areas is important for the President’s reelection? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: I would say that what should be noted is that under President Biden’s leadership, the economy is starting to come back again, and communities across the country — whether they’re blue or red parts of the country — are seeing the benefits of that. And it is — it should be noted that a range of members of Congress who may be facing reelections are eager to have the President travel to parts of their districts and parts of their — and their states because of his work on an economic agenda that works for all people, whether they live in red states or blue states or purple states and whomever they may have voted for the last time around.
Q Can I just ask on the supply chain stuff? You talked yesterday about Taiwan. You talked yesterday about Taiwan.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q And there’s this critical meeting today on this sort of, you know, trade council with Taiwan. Is there any suggestion at all that the U.S. decision to provide as many vaccine doses as were provided to Taiwan is in some way a quid pro quo to get access to semiconductors from Taiwan?
MS. PSAKI: There should not be that suggestion. I will note that they were being cut off from access to vaccines. So that was a factor.
Q Jen, Senator Wyden has what he’s calling the “Press Act.” It has to do with the idea that Justice Department — the Justice Department is subpoenaing reporters’ business records. Does the White House have a position that it’s ready to take on that? I know the President has obviously spoken out about how wrong it is that the Justice Department might go after reporters’ records.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, the President has been pretty clear about what he feels the tactics should not be as it relates to reporters and members of the media. And that is aligned with his long respect for the freedom of press and the freedom of media.
I’d have to look into this. It’s a piece of legislation. I’d have to look into the specifics of the piece of legislation.
Q Great. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Thanks, everyone.
Q Thanks, Jen.
11:49 A.M. EDT