Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Michael Regan, June 30, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:23 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.
Q Good afternoon.
Q Good to see you.
MS. PSAKI: Good afternoon. Good to see you, too. Okay, it is so great to welcome back our Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Michael Regan. He’s here to talk more about the bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, which includes the largest investments in the nation’s clean water infrastructure, including funds needed to eliminate and replace 100 percent of lead water pipes and service lines.
Across the country, pipes and treatment plants are aging, and polluted drinking water is endangering public health. Studies show that ki- — for kids, higher exposure to lead negatively affects academic performance and can lead to cardiovascular disease later in life.
The investments in water infrastructure in the framework are unprecedented and also include funding to modernize waste water systems across the country, including in rural areas and on Tribal lands.
He also just came from the President’s meeting on wildfire preparedness with western governors as well.
And after that, we’ll do a full briefing. As always, I’ll be the bad cop when we’re ready to take questions and he needs to go. Thank you so much.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: Thank you, Jen. Good afternoon. I just came from the President’s meeting on wildfires with western governors. The increasing intensity of wildfires and heat out West is a major public health challenge. President Biden is bringing leadership and resources — the resources of the federal government to help those on the frontlines in our western states.
I briefed the President and his team on what EPA is doing to help keep people safe. The EPA has developed tools to help provide the public with reliable information to inform and protect people when wildfire smoke is causing dangerous air quality issues in their communities.
As part of the administration’s broader efforts to improve wildfire preparedness, EPA is deploying additional new sensors in heavy-smoke areas to assess air quality. We will be adding the Fire and Smoke
app [Map] to the AirNow mobile app next month so that firefighters, families, and people throughout communities in the West can take action to reduce their exposure.
You can learn more about this resource tracking smoke and air quality at AirNow.gov/fires and visit Ready.gov/Wildfires to learn about actions you can take now to prepare for wildfires and stay safe.
You know, this is one powerful example of why we need to do more to rebuild our infrastructure that wi- — that can withstand the impacts of climate. Because as wildfires rage out West, floods are consuming communities elsewhere.
The extreme weather events Americans are experiencing year-round underscore the need to make bold investments needed to tackle the climate crisis. The bipartisan Infrastructure Framework would make the largest investment in American history — nearly $50 billion — in the resilience of the physical and natural systems.
Breathing air and drinking clean water are at the heart of President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda because he believes no family, no child should be still drinking water from lead pipes. Water infrastructure is a huge part of the President’s American Jobs Plan, and it’s carried through in the bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, and for very good reason.
Clean and healthy drinking water, and safe and effective stormwater and wastewater infrastructure, is necessary for every thriving community. Yet, as you see here on the screen, there are still an estimated 6 to 10 million lead service lines that need to be replaced all across the country.
In the few months since I’ve started this job, I’ve had the chance to hear directly from communities and visit water infrastructure sites and programs all around the country.
In St. Louis, Missouri, where there are still an estimated 28,000 lead service lines, I visited a drinking water plant that is more than 100 years old. The director there told me that we need to invest in our water infrastructure before it’s too late.
In Illinois, where there are 400,000 lead service lines just in the Chicagoland area, I heard from people who are struggling to address the urgent need for lead pipe replacement. We know that low-income people and communities of color are disproportionately at risk when it comes to lead-contaminated drinking water.
And last week in Baltimore, I had the privilege of meeting with the young folks who are joined — who joined a job training program that are now successfully working in water infrastructure jobs.
Getting clean and healthy drinking water to people isn’t a political issue. It isn’t a partisan issue. It’s an American issue. Access to clean, safe drinking water is fundamental to protecting all people regardless of — regardless of ZIP code or how much money they have in their pockets.
And that’s why the bipartisan Infrastructure Framework makes a transformational $55 billion investment in our nation’s water infrastructure, including the funds needed to replace our nation’s lead pipes. This will be the largest investment in clean drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in American history.
By upgrading and repairing our aging infrastructure, it will ensure people have reliable access to safe and clean drinking water that they deserve. Replacing lead service lines will bring long-overdue progress to overburdened communities that have been disproportionately impacted by exposure to lead in their drinking water.
And by putting dollars into our communities, it will create good-paying union jobs and strengthen the future water workforce of our nation.
The bipartisan Infrastructure Framework is a critical first step to implement President Biden’s vision to build back better, enhance our climate resilience, and ensure clean air and clean water. We know that there is more work to be done, which is why the President will continue championing his full American Jobs Plan.
President Biden’s leadership on responding to wildfires in the West, building our nation’s resilience to climate change, and prioritizing water infrastructure is already bolstering the work for EPA. And I’m grateful to the President, I’m grateful to Congress and the American people for their ongoing bipartisanship support on these very important issues.
MS. PSAKI: All right. (Inaudible.) Go ahead.
Q Thanks. Sir, in the meeting with the governors — on water rights — was there any discussion of water allocation decisions in the western states with any of the governors today?
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: No. No discussions there. Basically, we discussed that we’re experiencing a very tough wildfire year — upcoming year. We talked about staying very closely coordinated. And the President talked about providing additional resources for resilient infrastructure and water management and forest management.
Q But was there any discussion about rolling blackouts — rolling blackouts to prevent wildfires? Was there talk about that?
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: No.
Q Any other concerns that the governors brought up that — you know, that we need to know about?
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: Just that we need to work closely — federal and state — leveraging resources, and again, staying in close coordination throughout this fire season — wildfire season.
MS. PSAKI: Courtney, go ahead.
Q Can you talk about — given you’re talking about extreme weather events, like what’s happening with the heat wave in the Pacific Northwest, can you talk about how that factors into your enforcement strategy at EPA and cracking down on polluters?
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: Well, what I can say is that we’re really laser-focused on these climate change impacts. And so, therefore, we really are deploying our air quality monitoring systems to help folks understand the implications of wildfire pollution. We really are ramping up enforcement in this — in this EPA. We believe that enforcement is a tool in our toolbox that need to be deployed so that we can keep everyone on the right track.
Q Can you talk about also — I know that EPA is hiring up to a thousand new staff. Can you give an update on how that’s going and what areas you’re looking to hire in?
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: We’re looking to hire in — really, we had a lot of people leave the agency during the previous administration. What we want to do is continue to build on our scientific integrity, our ability to capture and push data out, and really develop the sound expertise amongst all of our professional classes to inform how EPA does its job and accomplish its mission.
MS. PSAKI: Yamiche.
Q Yeah, thank you for taking my question. Do you support pursuing additional funds, beyond the bipartisan plan and the reconciliation plan, for drinking water in particular?
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: You know, I think the President has made it clear that he’s got ambitious goals laid out in the American Jobs Plan. This water infra- — this Infrastructure Framework is what we’re seeing as a first critical step. So, he’s got a number of tools in his toolbox, and we’re happy that he’s going to deploy those tools not only for water infrastructure, but for climate as well.
Q And could I ask you a follow-up question about what’s going on in Florida? The EPA has said that there are particles that could be toxic to people’s long-term health, related to the collapse of the building in Florida. Is the EPA making any recommendations or suggestions to try to protect people that are living in the area and, of course, the first responders who are searching the rubble?
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: We’re actively engaged with all of the elected officials on the ground. Our regional offices are deploying air monitoring systems and the latest information to be sure that we keep the public safe.
Q Are you confident that — that the people that are searching the rubble, that they are getting the protection that they need so that they don’t end up like the first responders in 9/11 who, of course, suffered all sorts of long-term health issues?
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: I’m confident that our agency is partnering with the sister agencies to provide the latest and best information so that those on the ground can govern themselves in a very safe way.
MS. PSAKI: Steve.
Q Thanks, Jen. Administrator, the last several days here in Washington, right across the street from this building, there’ve been protesters who have been holding signs saying things such as, “Biden, you coward, fight for us.” What’s your response to that criticism? And if you could assess the claim that they’re making, that the President, on that issue, is a “coward.”
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: You know, what I can say is that this is a historic investment. This is the largest investment in American history both on water infrastructure, but we also see some strong movement on climate in this infrastructure bill as well when we look at the supply chain for electric vehicles, when we look at charging stations that will be deployed all across this country.
What I would say: It’s a — it’s a first critical step. But the President is holding tight to his vision. And the President is looking, again, at all of the suite of options that he has, from a toolbox perspective, to pursue the goals that he’s laid out.
MS. PSAKI: Peter.
Q Thank you. You mentioned that the EPA in D.C. is in touch — actively involved with — actively engaged with officials in Florida. Do you agree with the Energy Secretary, Granholm, that it’s possible the Surfside condo’s collapse may be a result of climate change?
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: You know, I — I don’t know if we have enough information at this point. You know, what I’ll say is, EPA — both our headquarters and our regional offices — are coordinating with the state of Florida and folks in that region to really understand what’s happening on the ground and be sure that we’re deploying adequate resources to keep that — those actions safe for those folks.
MS. PSAKI: Brian.
Q Thanks, Jen. There are millions of people across this country who don’t — are not on the water system; they rely on well water. So, to those millions of people, every time you test their wells, they’re coming up with fecal coliforms, arsenic, antibiotic — antibiotics, and other heavy metals. What does this do to address those millions of rural and suburban people who are not on a water supply line, but rely on well water?
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: You know, at EPA, we have a lot of tools existing to focus on water quality and water quality protection.
What I would say: Again — and when we look at these infrastructure bills, they’re doing a really good job not only to help with lead service pipelines and water infrastructure, you know, only — but when you look at the American Rescue Plan, you look at the President’s very ambitious budget for EPA, what we’re doing is we’re bolstering our ability to collect the data and information we need to keep the public safe and, where we need to, lean in on our enforcement.
Q Well, I understand that. But in response to what Steve was saying, there are those who are — rural and suburban residents who believe that the cowardice in the administration comes by not addressing the very real issue about poisoning well water. Are you addressing that?
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: I think we’re looking at a range of octions [sic] — options to look at water pollution — PFAS. I think we’ve got a number of budget requests in that we hope the Congress approves for EPA to really bolster its actions there.
I think that there are a number of tools in this toolpop [sic] — toolbox that the President is deploying to get at water quality — water quality protection for all citizens.
Q So there is money allocated for it? For it to address that water well issue — there is money in this?
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: There — there’s water — there’s money in the President’s budget request for EPA to do a better job of looking at water quality protection for all Americans.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. We’re going to do Lynn and Josh, and then we’ve got to let the Administrator go back to fixing our pipes.
Q Thank you for taking my question. Noting that you did mention Chicago, what is the timetable, or the timetable for a timetable of appointing a much negional [sic] — regional administrator for Regional 5? Democratic Michigan and Illinois members of Congress have been pushing competing contenders, as I’m sure you know — Deb Shore and Micah Ragland — for the job.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: Yes.
Q What’s up?
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: We’re on an expedited timeline. I just spoke to top candidates this morning and yesterday morning. And so, we’re pushing those recommendations over ASAP.
Q So, when you say “top candidates,” are they Micah Ragland and Deb Shore, or is it someone else? Just so I know with specificity when we write this.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: Yes. I spent time with two top candidates this morning and yesterday. And we’re going to push those forward ASAP.
Q And how fast is “ASAP”?
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: Well, that depends on how we work with the White House to get it done. So, I don’t have a specific timeline in terms of how we navigate the personnel process, but we’re pushing as fast as we can.
Listen, we recognize that we need our regional administrators in place if we’re going to be successful to expedite and execute on the President’s very ambitious agenda on climate, on water quality, environmental justice, and the like.
So, this is a top priority for us.
MS. PSAKI: Great. Last one for Josh.
Q I want to go to the lead service lines. Could you break down the timeline for when you think all of these would be replaced? And then, secondly, on the issue of cost, how are you looking at cost? We’re told that it would cost, on average, $27,000 to replace a lead service line in Chicago, but the administration seems to be budgeting it around $4,000 to $6,000.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: You know, our estimates show that with the — the ask that the President has in this infrastructure plan, that we can replace 100 percent of the lead pipes. Obviously, when you look at timelines, we — that really is city by city, instance by instance.
We are ready to engage with our state partners. The good news is, EPA has water infrastructure programs in place. We have the infrastructure to push these resources through, to partner with our state and local officials to get this done on an expedited timeline.
Will it be done overnight? Absolutely not. Will it be done as quickly as possible? That’s what we’re pledging to do.
Q So what’s the range between “overnight” and “as quickly as possible”?
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: Well, we haven’t gotten that far yet in terms of putting an actual timeline on — the quickest city we could do and the one that would take the longest term.
MS. PSAKI: But he can come back when we know more. Thank you so much, Administrator Reagan. Appreciate you taking the time today.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: Thank you.
Q Thank you, Administrator.
ADMINISTRATOR REGAN: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Just a few more items for all of you at the top. As you all know and noted in — in your questions, the President convened Cabinet officials, governors from western states, and private sector partners, this morning, to discuss how we can all work together to strengthen prevention, preparedness, and response efforts.
In the meeting, the President asked participants what additional resources they needed and what immediate actions can be taken to protect communities, improve emergency preparedness, and address the growing wildfire threat, both by preventing them from happening and ensuring the federal government’s response is as quick and effective as possible.
And to do that, we also announced a series of actions today to address the growing and severe threat of wildfires, protect communities from devastation, and save lives — which were outlined this morning — we can certainly talk more about.
As you may have also seen, in a few minutes, the President will sign the Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act, which will create three new mental health centers for veterans battling severe mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
It’s estimated that at least one in five veterans return from combat with a significant need for mental health support, yet 85 percent of veterans coming home to rural communities are in areas with a shortage of professional support.
As the President had — has repeatedly reaffirmed, we have a sacred obligation to care for those who served, and this bipartisan bill will help our rural veterans get the support they need.
Later this afternoon, the President will also sign three additional bills: one to protect our climate from methane, one to protect consumers from predatory lenders, and one to protect workers from employment discrimination. Each of these bills are commonsense protections that passed with bipartisan support. Bipartisanship, alive and well in Washington. Watch out. (Laughter.)
Also today, the White House will host a virtual Eviction Prevention Summit to support and facilitate coordination among local public officials, court officials, legal services — legal service organizations, local bar associations, community-based organizations, emergency rental assistance administrators, and local philanthropies from cities across the country to work on developing local eviction prevention action plans.
This summit is just one of a number of steps we are taking — that we announced last week, I should say — to keep people in their homes by protecting renters and helping state and local governments prent [sic] — prevent evictions.
Also, in our ongoing news about getting vaccines out to the world, we are shipping 2.5 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccines to Colombia, as a part of our continued effort to end the virus everywhere.
Finally — sorry, I have two more things, and then we’ll go to — get to questions. Today, Vice President Kamala Harris led the U.S. delegation to the Generation Equality Forum in Paris and provided live, virtual opening remarks. She restated the United States’ commitment to gender equality, and she made the case about how gender equality is tied to democracy. Following her remarks, we announced several robust deliverables in three areas: gender-based violence, economic justice, and sexual and reproductive and health rights.
As one final note, and as a point of privilege, today is the last day of Pride Month, and I am honored to host a pre-recorded virtual convening on transgender equality later this evening. At this convening, young transgender and gender nonbinary leaders from across the country will share stories about the impact the state-level anti-transgender legislation has had on their wellbeing, their experiences of multiple intersecting forms of discrimination, and best practices for advancing acceptance.
And the program will feature a range of officials from the federal government, as well as openly transgender athletes, leaders, and elected officials.
With that, Josh, go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. Two subject areas. Russian President Vladimir Putin says that a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft was operating in sync with a British destroyer last week in the Black Sea. Was the U.S. coordinating with the British ship? And was this, as Putin claims, a provocation?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to detail or confirm from you here from the podium. I’d certainly point you to the Department of Defense on any specifics.
As the President noted when we attended the summit — when he participated in the summit just a few weeks ago, our objection — our objective, I should say, is certainly to move forward a — on a more predictable and stable relationship with Russia. We — he announced a number of forward-looking actions in that regard, and that certainly is guiding our strategy.
Q And then, secondly, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem says she’ll use a donation from a Republican donor to fund the deployment of up to 50 South Dakota National Guard troops to the U.S. border with Mexico. Does the White House have any concern about this as a property use of and funding mechanism for National Guard troops?
MS. PSAKI: I would certainly have to check with our team on that, Josh. I’m happy to do that after the briefing.
Go ahead, Steve.
Q Could you walk us through what the President will be doing tomorrow in Surfside, Florida?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Will he actually visit the building site?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know, first, there’s a lot of questions about this, and as details become finalized and available, we will make them all available to you.
So let me outline for you what we have at this point, which is pretty consistent with what I outlined just yesterday. Just one moment.
So while the President and First Lady — who is joining him on this trip — are in Florida tomorrow, they will be thanking heroic first responders, search-and-rescue teams, and everyone who has been working tirelessly around the clock. They will also meet with families who have been forced to endure this terrible tragedy.
In terms of the logistics and the schedule of the day, we’re still finalizing those details. Of course, we hope to have them all nailed down before the end of the day, given this trip is tomorrow. But, unfortunately, I don’t have many additional specifics at this point.
Q So, unclear whether he’ll visit the building, or just not able to announce it yet?
MS. PSAKI: We’re still working out the final components of the trip tomorrow. And as I — I would note — and the President repeated this to me multiple times yesterday — every component of this is going to be — needs to be coordinated with officials on the ground. There is still an ongoing search and rescue effort on the ground, and we want to ensure we’re not doing anything to pull away from those resources.
Q Thank you. And secondly, on Afghanistan: Are you now days away from completing the withdrawal? I’m seeing a number of reports about this.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, I would say that we remain on the timeline that the President announced just a few weeks ago, which is to get our troops out of Afghanistan while having a remaining diplomatic presence on the ground by September.
In terms of the specifics of the — of the operational components of that, I’d certainly point you to the Department of Defense. But nothing has changed on our timeline or objective.
Q And is the President planning an event around the pull-out?
MS. PSAKI: There’s not a planned event at this point that I’m aware of.
Go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q If I could follow up very quickly on Afghanistan.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Sure.
Q I know the timeline remains the same. Does the U.S. — can the U.S. commit that all interpreters, drivers, others who helped the U.S. force during its commitment in Afghanistan will be out by the time of its departure?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, Peter, that what our focus is on now is expediting that processing. As you know, we announced just last Friday that we were taking steps to evaluate options for moving individuals to another location so that they could complete their processing — individuals who were already in the pipeline. In terms of the numbers or what that looks like, those operational components are still being worked through.
Q So the potential is that there may still be some in Afghanistan when the —
MS. PSAKI: We’re — we’re — no — we’re — we’re working to do that, which is what I conveyed on Friday. We’re working to do that on the timeline in advance of the withdrawal of U.S. troops. I would also note though that we will still have a diplomatic presence on the ground. That is our continued commitment, and that will continue after September.
Q Let me ask you about the comments of Austin Miller; he’s the General there — the commander in Afghanistan for the United States — who said yesterday to reporters, “Civil War is certainly a path that can be visualized if it continues on the trajectory it’s on.” He said, “That should be a concern for the world.” What does the President — what does this White House say about that concern from its top commander on the ground on Afghanistan, given they’re already seeing Taliban violence increase in large swaths of that country?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, Peter, that when the President met with the leaders of Afghanistan just last Friday, he reiterated our commitment to working with them and continuing to support them, whether it’s security assistance, humanitarian assistance, or other ways that we can play a constructive role, even as the President is continuing to, and we’re continuing to, operationalize on the withdrawal of our troops.
I’d also note that when the President made the announcement about our decision, it was, in part, based on a timeline that was committed to by the prior administration of May 1st. And if we kept our troops in Afghanistan after May 1st, they would be shot at. And that was a decision that, as a Commander in Chief, he had to make.
There have been assessments out there — made by our intelligence community and others — about the conditions on the ground. We are going to continue to work with leaders in Afghanistan, as the President reaffirmed last Friday, but it’s not changing our plans or our timeline for removing our troops.
Q Last question is making headlines across the country right now. We just heard from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that Bill Cosby’s conviction for sexual assault has been overturned. They can no longer pursue those same charges against him in the future. Right now, the President, obviously, has a long commitment to violence — the Violence Against Women Act that he helped write. The White House’s reaction to that, first of all?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, as you noted, those reports just came out shortly before I came out here. I don’t have a direct response from the White House to that announcement. I will say — which you touched on — on — I’ll just use the opportunity to reiterate that the President has long been an advocate for fighting against violence against women, for ensuring that we are raising the voices and the stories of people who have been survivors of sexual assault. That’s something he has done throughout his career and will continue to do. But I don’t have a specific comment on that announcement today. If we do have one after the briefing, I’ll make that available to all of you.
Q Thank you, Jen. What does the White House think about Congresswoman Ilhan Omar saying that she does not regret comparing Israel to Hamas and the Taliban?
MS. PSAKI: Well, any attempt to draw an equivalency between the United States and our close ally, Israel, with a terror group like Hamas or the Taliban is false and unacceptable. Representative Omar has said that was not her intent of her comments, but those certainly are not comments that we’ve made from here.
Q And on another subject: You mentioned, at the last briefing, that you think Republicans wanted to defund the police because they did not support the American Rescue Plan. Which Republican ever said that they did not like the American Rescue Plan because they wanted to defund the police?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me just note that the President ran and won the most votes of any candidate in history on a platform of boosting funding for law enforcement after Republicans spent decades trying to cut the COPS program — there’s record of that; that doesn’t require anyone having new comments — and then also stood in the way of crucial funding needed to prevent the laying off of police officers as crimes increased. That’s a simple statement of fact.
Q I understand what you’re saying there; however, there are lots of examples of Democrats explicitly saying they want to defund the police. We’ve got Congresswoman Cori Bush, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar. Are there any examples of Republican members of Congress saying they want to defund the police?
MS. PSAKI: I think most people would argue that actions are more important than words, wouldn’t you say?
Q Well, to that point — to your point there: At the time of the vote on the American Rescue Plan, you had the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, he said he just didn’t like it because he thought it was a classic example of big-government Democratic overreach in the name of COVID relief. And then Kevin McCarthy said he thought Democrats were using coronavirus as an excuse to justify funding pet projects. Where is the —
MS. PSAKI: Well, here —
Q — “We’re going to vote against this because we want to defund the police”?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I think actions speak louder than words, Peter. So if you oppose funding for the COPS program — something that was dramatically cut by the prior administration and many Republicans supported — and then you vote against a bill that has funding for the COPS program, we can let other people evaluate what that means. It doesn’t require them to speak to it or to shout it out; their actions speak for themselves.
Q Two questions — the first one on infrastructure: In reference to the bipartisan support here, we just heard from the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. She’s doubling down on this idea that she’s going to hold on to one bill until she has the other. But we’ve also heard from Leader McConnell, and he says that President Biden’s clarification is just a hollow gesture unless Democrats like Pelosi agree to changing their approach. So does the strategy by the House Speaker risk bipartisan support for this deal?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that what leaders in the party have asked the President to do is to go out there and make the case for how this bill, how this piece of legislation will help the American people. He just did that in Wisconsin yesterday. He just had his EPA Administrator come out and do that for all of you. And we think the American people are most focused on what this is going to do for them and less on the process. It’s up to leaders in Congress to move this forward. The President looks forward to signing both pieces of legislation into law.
Q But if Republicans are expressing concern, saying they may not vote for this bipartisan package unless these two are not linked in some sort of way, is this putting that deal in jeopardy?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I will leave it to you and to leader — to evaluate and I will leave it to leaders in Congress to determine the sequencing and the process moving forward. The President looks forward to signing each piece of legislation into law.
Q Can I just ask one quick question —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — on police reform? Sources are telling us that they have now hit a major roadblock in negotiations. I’m curious if the President has been briefed on that. When was the last time that he spoke to the lead negotiators, including Republican Tim Scott?
MS. PSAKI: We’re in regular touch with the negotiators. I don’t have a timeline or specific last call with the President, but senior members of his team are certainly in close touch. We’ll let them speak to where they are in the process and where they are in moving the process forward. The President remains eager to sign the police reform bill into law.
Q A follow on policing, Jen?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Let me go to April, and then I’ll come back, if that’s okay.
Go ahead, April.
Q On police reform: There is a stumbling block; it’s qualified immunity. We’re hearing that mainstream policing organizations are upset about the financial piece — that it could possibly bankrupt police officers and police departments. What does the administration feel about that — for police to be held accountable and there to be transparency on this? And these police agencies are saying no because of the financial component of it. What do you say?
MS. PSAKI: I would say, April, that there’s an ongoing discussion and negotiation between Democrats and Republicans. We’re not going to weigh in on that more specifically from here. The President believes that it’s important that police reform is long overdue. There are difficult components of this discussion; a lot of those are happening in private, which is the place where they should continue to move forward.
Q Would the President be okay with police reform — the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to be passed without qualified immunity or a component of qualified immunity?
MS. PSAKI: We’re not going to get ahead of the negotiators who are representing the interests, having challenging discussions, no doubt, about how to move this forward. We’ll take a look at it when they have the framework and they’re ready to talk about it publicly.
Q And is there also concern now that Senator Tim Scott has the support of Senator Lindsey Graham on this policing issue?
MS. PSAKI: Is there concern he has his support?
MS. PSAKI: Again, April, once they are ready to talk —
once the negotiators are ready to talk about the specifics of the framework and where they are, I’m sure we can speak to that from here. We’re not at that point quite yet.
Q Are you expecting the framework to come out? Tim Scott is supposed to have it today. Are you expecting today?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll leave it to the negotiators to convey when they’re ready to talk about it publicly.
Q A quick question. Back to Afghanistan, just real quick. Following up on the comments by General Miller: Was anything he said to reporters in the last day or so new to this White House, or had he conveyed those concerns to the President?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into private conversations. I will say there have been intelligence assessments that have been out there that we have not walked away from. Certainly, we leave that to our intelligence community to speak to, and that’s an important part of what is put out from the federal government.
What I’ve conveyed to you and what I’d reiterate is that the President made a decision because he felt that it was long past time to bring our troops home, and that there is not a military solution to the war in Afghanistan. We need to continue to support a political process, a political solution — something that our diplomats are continuing to do. And, of course, our Department of Defense is continuing to work on the timeline of bringing our troops home by September. At the same time, we are going to continue to be partners to the leaders in Afghanistan and providing resources and assistance wherever we can.
Q Did he surprise you? But did he surprise you?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into any more details of private conversations.
Q And then this is the end of June, which was supposed to be the month of action on voting rights, and it ends with an interesting situation in New York City, as they try to now re-tabulate votes, and they won’t give us a final result for at least a few more days.
Does this White House, does the administration, more broadly, have any concern with what’s going on in New York, given the fact that the President had said earlier this month in a statement that the work ahead of us is to make voting accessible to all American voters and to make sure every vote is counted through a free, fair, and transparent process?
MS. PSAKI: That continues to be his hope and his commitment and his desire, but I don’t have any assessment from the White House on the New York vote-counting reporting, I’ll call it.
Q Does the President want House Speaker Pelosi to put a Republican on the January 6 Commission?
MS. PSAKI: The President believes that Speaker Pelosi is acting in an appropriate manner as a follow-up to her effort to get a bipartisan commission passed — something that was blocked, as we know, in the Senate by Republicans.
And in terms of what the compilation is and what it looks like, he certainly trusts her — her view on this.
Q Does he think a Republican could act in good faith on this commission?
MS. PSAKI: The President believes, certainly, Republicans can act in good faith. He’s worked with them on a range of objectives, but he is going to, of course, rely on the decision of Speaker Pelosi and how she wants to see this commission put forward, moving forward.
Q And on the Bill Cosby conviction being overturned, I know what you said to Peter, but it’s not because he’s innocent; it’s because of a decision that a former prosecutor made. So what message do you think that that sends to women, you know, in the Me Too era who come forward with sexual assault allegations and to see something like this happen? What is your response to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, Kaitlan, that I just want to be careful about not speaking to a specific decision by a court. But I can say, broadly speaking, as I tried to do earlier, that obviously the President is somebody who has fought for, advocated for elevating the voices and stories of women who are survivors of sexual assault, sexual abuse, and certainly knows that’s a difficult journey for many of them. And he believes that these women are courageous, they’re brave, and he wants it to be an environment — he wants us to live in a country where they — where women will feel comfortable, moving forward, and telling their story.
But, again, if there’s a specific comment we have as it relates to this ruling today, I will provide that to all of you after the briefing.
Go ahead, David.
Q Two follow-ups on things that you mentioned before. Earlier you said that we’re two weeks out from the Putin summit, and you’ll remember —
MS. PSAKI: Did I do my time wrong?
Q You had it just right.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q And you’ll remember that, at that time, there was discussion of setting up some conversations pretty quickly —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — on cyber and some other arenas. Can you tell us whether any of those happened, whether any of those are planned, so that you don’t lose momentum from this?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I know that the President was eager to get those going as soon as we could. Many of those will be happening — of course, all of them will be happening below the presidential level. Let me talk with our national security team and see if there’s an update on what’s underway already and what’s ongoing.
Q Okay. And, on Afghanistan, you mentioned the intelligence reports that were out pretty widely. One of them suggests — one U.S. report suggests that, within six months or so, Kabul could easily be overrun, just given the progress that the Taliban have made. Were there any commitments made to President Ghani when he was here, or any contingency plans discussed about what the United States would do if it did look like the capital could be overrun?
MS. PSAKI: I would say, David, that the President reiterated what his announced position has been: that we are planning to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan on a September timeline, but also reiterated our commitment to working as a partner and to supporting Afghanistan with security assistance, humanitarian assistance, and others. We didn’t get ahead of that with — with hypotheticals.
Q You did not get into the specifics of what will happen?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more to read out from the reading —
Q Follow-up on Afghanistan —
MS. PSAKI: — from the meeting — well, let me finish — but the President’s commitment to removing — bringing our troops home from Afghanistan has not changed. He reiterated that same commitment in his meetings on Friday.
Q Thanks, Jen. Tomorrow is expected to be the last day of the current term of this Supreme Court. Historically, we’ve seen justices who plan to announce their retirement do so at this time. Is this White House making — what, if any, preparations are you all making for the possibility that Justice Breyer will announce his retirement?
MS. PSAKI: We leave that decision to Justice Breyer to make.
Q Are you guys watching this at all? I mean, is this something the President has thought about as we get toward the end of this term or —
MS. PSAKI: As you know, the President said on his campaign that he — and he committed to nominate — if there was an opening, and we do not know if there’s an opening, and it is up to the justices to decide whether there will be an opening — to nominate an African American woman to the Supreme Court, something that would be history-making. And if there’s an opportunity, he remains by that commitment. But we will leave it to any justice to determine the timeline of their retirement.
Q And can I ask a follow-up question on Florida?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q Does the President plan to speak with Governor DeSantis when he’s on the ground in Florida?
MS. PSAKI: Sure — it’s a good question. I will — we will have more details, I expect, later today on the specifics of his visit tomorrow, where he’ll be going, who he’ll be meeting with, but I don’t have any specific meetings with elected officials to read out at this point in time.
Q Have they been in touch? Has Governor DeSantis and the President — have talked about the situation in Surfside in the last few days?
MS. PSAKI: As you know, they — they had a conversation last — late last week. Also, the President spoke with — sent his FEMA Administrator down on Sunday. He — the President spoke with his FEMA Administrator to get an update on that at the conclusion of his visit. I don’t have any additional calls to read out for you.
Q Let me ask you, Jen, a variation of a question I asked the Administrator, with respect to the protesters outside —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — the last few days. How are those protests being received here? Is the President proud of those activists? Is he shamed by them? What’s the view here in the West Wing?
MS. PSAKI: I would say, first, that we — we respect the right of anyone to peacefully protest; that’s an American right and a fundamental right.
I will say that the President believes that what’s in the infrastructure package is an important down payment on addressing what he sees as a crisis in our climate — a crisis that is a priority — one of the top priorities of his presidency.
And I’ve outlined a few of these items before, but, again, it’s incumbent upon us to continue to talk about it to make sure everybody who cares as passionately as he does and we do about the climate crisis understands that, in this package, it has the largest investments in the nation’s clean water infrastructure, as — as the Administrator noted, eliminating and replacing 100 percent of lead water pipes; the largest investment in addressing legacy pollution that harms the public health of communities and neighborhoods; and billions to reclaim abandoned mines and cap wells. The largest investment in public transit — something that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the country. It will modernize the electrical grid with a new Grid Development Authority and largest investment to date in America’s electrical grid. And, of course, it invests in electric vehicles.
I’d also note — and you may have seen a memo we put out yesterday. If not, I know we’ve put out a lot of paper in the last few days. So if you haven’t, I will highlight a few things in there. We also — there is components the President will continue to fight for in the reconciliation process to continue this effort, including providing tax cuts for businesses and consumers who invest in clean energy technologies, sending a market signal that brings additional private investment off the sidelines and into modernizing our electric grid through an energy efficiency and clean electricity standard, and mobilizing the next generation of conservation and resilience workers.
And I say all that because those are all key components and priorities that a lot of climate activists talk about, and it’s important that they understand we’re fighting by — by their side and with them, and we want to address the climate crisis.
Q I have a separate question on something entirely different.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. Go ahead.
Q More than a million people in this country, according to reports, are living under a conservatorship or guardianship. The most famous case that’s come to light in the last few weeks is Britney Spears.
Members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, say that maybe there ought to be some kind of federal law that governs these relationships. Is the White House — does the White House have a view on this in any way?
MS. PSAKI: I have been watching this case closely, as a point of privilege. But I will have to talk to our counsel’s office on that since you’re asking me a good legal question, but I don’t want to speak out of turn here.
Q Has the President been watching Britney Spears’s case? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: The President has been a bit busy. But as a person with young children, I don’t have many places to go — — go ahead — when I’m not with all of you. (Laughter.)
Q Looking back — looking back, is there anything — on vaccinations: Is there anything the administration wishes it had done earlier in the vaccination campaign that maybe would have led to more Americans being vaccinated or to have helped you reach the President’s goal of 70 percent of adults with at least one shot by this weekend? And what do you attribute the shortfall to?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would note that we are on track to have 70 percent of people in this country vaccinated — 70 percent, I should say, of adults 27 and older, vaccinated within a couple of weeks. That’s a significant achievement, a significant step forward.
We’ve reduced the percentage of people who are getting COVID, who are dying of COVID by 90 percent. That’s a huge significant achievement. We are actually much farther than I think most people would have predicted we would be less than six months into an administration.
I will note that where we see challenge — and we’ve seen this as we’ve gone along — where we see challenge is among young people who are under the age of 27. And that is an area where we have — we’re going to continue to redouble our efforts to ensure that they understand the risks and the Delta variant — and the risks of the Delta variant that is not discriminating by age, that we also make sure people understand how accessible the vaccine is, and that we make sure they know we’re going to still fight to get them vaccinated. That’s where we’re going to redouble our efforts.
So, no, I don’t look back — I don’t think we look back and would change. I think we are quite proud of where we are now, and we, though, are going to keep at it, and there’s still work ahead.
Q A couple of questions related to COVID and travel —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — international travel, in particular. You mentioned yesterday in the gaggle that there are these working groups —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — working on resuming travel. I’m wondering what the holdups are, what they’re trying to work through, and also whether the White House believes that these current restrictions are keeping Americans safe.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we wouldn’t be putting them in place if — we wouldn’t have them in place if we didn’t think they were keeping Americans safe. But I will say the working groups — which are already underway and are led by the White House COVID Response Team and the National Security Council, with participation from officials from across the government — they are leading a process that is led by — directed by, I should say — public health.
There are significant logistical considerations in safety and effectively reopening travel. They’re all taken into account. But they are continuing to assess — we understand people want to travel. We want to travel, too. And we know people want to come here and people want to travel to other places; we understand that. But we put these working groups in place so that we could work closely and in partnership with these countries on addressing the public health challenges.
Q But what is the argument for not letting the vaccinated Europeans to visit the United States? What is the argument? What is the reason?
MS. PSAKI: Again, we’re in touch with European — we have these working groups with Canadians, with Europeans, with others to determine the timeline and pace when we can reopen and do it safely.
Q I have a couple more questions —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — on that, though. A couple months ago, Andy Slavitt — I think it was — in one of the COVID briefings, said that there would not be any sort of government COVID passport; however, the U.S. government would provide guidelines to industry about what vaccine verification would look like for best practices. Where are those guidelines?
MS. PSAKI: They were always meant to be basically an FAQ on the website. I don’t know that they were meant to be anything more formal than that. I can certainly check and see what’s on our website — or what information, I should say, we’re providing to businesses who inquire.
Q Because I know — I’ve spoken to industry groups who are somewhat concerned that there isn’t much clarity about vaccine verification — the travel industry, for instance.
One other question on this.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Do you expect that there will ever be a scenario where the U.S. requires vaccination for travelers coming to the U.S. — for instance, from Europe or India?
MS. PSAKI: From the federal government or from the airlines? Or —
Q Well, from the federal government. I assume you don’t control the airlines.
MS. PSAKI: We don’t. I would say that is not our intention.
Go ahead, Anita.
Q I just wanted to go back to the infrastructure bill.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q So my colleagues had some reporting earlier today — perhaps some people saw it — about what is going to be left out of the compromise. So, obviously, there were things that didn’t make it in there, that the White House is not pushing for them to be in the reconciliation bill.
So I guess I’m trying to figure out: Is the President still supportive of those pieces? Will he push them? If not in reconciliation, will he push them in some other way? Or are those — should people consider those items not going anywhere — dead?
It’s perhaps — some Democrats on the Hill might try to put them in the bill anyway — the reconciliation bill. So, I’m just trying to understand what the future is for those projects.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, first, as the President said last week and as you all know from covering bill making, there is a lot of work ahead for committee chairs and ranking members. And they’re going to be — they’re already hard at work with our staff, in many cases, but — writing legislation, figuring out what’s next and where this goes from here. There are going to be disagreements that need to be resolved, even among Democrats, as that process proceeds.
What the President will continue to advocate for aggressively in the reconciliation package are key priorities that were left out of the bipartisan package, including rebates for electric vehicles. I think some of the reporting suggested we weren’t doing more for electric vehicles; that’s incorrect.
Rebates for electric vehicles; clean energy tax credits; and the components of his American Families Plan, including an extension of the Child Tax Credit, universal pre-K, ensuring community college is a real option — those are all components of what the President will aggressively and ambitiously advocate for.
Now, we know that there’s going to be views from a range of members — some who are writing the legislation, some who may not feel comfortable with the size or components of packages. That’s what’s going to happen over the next couple of weeks, and we’ll of course be closely engaged in that. We’re not going to take things off the table or on the table at this point in time.
Q Okay, I just want to make sure I understand because you’re saying something is not correct, and I want to make sure I understood. So the items that didn’t make it into the compromise still could be pushed by the White House in the reconciliation bill?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what I just conveyed is: Components of the American Jobs Plan — including, say, rebates for electric vehicles, clean energy ta- — the clean energy tax credit — that were not in the bipartisan deal, the President would still advocate for. That’s something he talked about a little bit last week.
Q Okay. And just, kind of, one housekeeping thing.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Two days ago, when we had the last briefing in this briefing room, I asked about the July 4th event, and you said you would get some information —
MS. PSAKI: And I answered it yesterday.
Q I didn’t see what all the details —
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to repeat it for you.
Q Yeah. I didn’t see that you talked about the COVID precautions.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. So, guidance was sent out to individuals who are attending that conveyed that they should get tested one to three days before coming to the White House. If they’ve been vaccinated, obviously, according to public health guidance, they don’t need to wear a mask. If they have not been vaccinated, they should wear a mask. And that’s the guidance that has been provided.
Q And so — and is it still — it was 1,000 invitations, or is it 1,000 people are expected?
MS. PSAKI: I believe it was 1,000 invitations. I think most people are hopefully accepting their invitation to the White House, but I don’t know that we have a final number for attendees quite yet.
Q With plus ones?
MS. PSAKI: We can see if there is. With plus ones.
Okay, thank — let me — let me just do one more because you’ve been so eagerly awaiting — raising your hand.
Go ahead, right there. Oh, you’re not eager anymore. Go — you’re ready. We’re ready. This is the moment. (Laughs.) What’s your question?
Q So, the question is about the Delta variant —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q — and the July 4th celebrations. The White House has been promoting the idea that we should be getting together for barbecues, local officials should be having events — things like this. Has the variant changed any of the White House’s encouragement or plans? Should people be more cautious than they would have been otherwise?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me repeat something that a number of our public health officials have been conveying on a number of your networks throughout the day. One, we’ve had them out there because we know there’s been a lot of questions about this and confusion, and we want to be as clear as possible.
We know that our vaccines that have been approved in the United States are effective in protecting Americans from the Delta variant. It’s important for people to understand that. So if you have been vaccinated, the message we’re conveying is: You’re safe. These eve- — these vaccines are effective, and that is something we want to be very clear with the public about.
Certainly, it’s up to individuals. If you are not yet vaccinated, you are not safe and protected. That’s why you should go get vaccinated. It’s not more complicated than that in some regards. But it’s important to note that the vaccines that have been approved here, our public health officials have been out there conveying that they’re safe and effective. We certainly feel comfortable and confident in moving forward with our event here at the White House and in individuals having barbecues in their backyards this weekend to celebrate the Fourth of July and America’s birthday.
Thanks so much, everyone. Have a great day.
2:11 P.M. EDT