James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:16 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Friday. All right. So, today, it’s Jobs Day. We have our special guest, NEC Director Brian Deese, joining us, who will give us an overview and then take some of your questions.
With that, I’ll turn it over to Brian.
MR. DEESE: Well, I was going to say it’s a sign of the progress that we’re making that the last time that I came here the briefing room was significantly less full than it is right now. (Laughter.)
So, we are making — making progress across the board in all ways, except I guess now you guys are significantly more squished.
So — so, yeah, happy to spend a couple of minutes with you guys to just provide a little bit more context. You all heard the President discussing the employment report that we got today, so I just wanted to provide a little bit of additional context on how we are looking at that data in the context of what we’ve seen over the course of the last couple of weeks and the last week in particular.
So, obviously a strong and encouraging jobs report today: 850,000 jobs created last month. That takes us to more than 3 million jobs created since the President took office. Under the hood on that, I just want to just raise a couple of issues.
First is, in addition to a strong jobs story today, we saw a strong story about wages — wages for workers. Average hourly earnings were up 3.6 percent over the year. And if you take out the pandemic, some of the — some of the movements in the pandemic, that’s — we’ve seen the largest three-month increase in wages on record; records go back to 2006.
And so I think what we’re seeing here is a labor market where, as employers are increasingly looking for employment and jobs are plentiful, they are paying higher wages and people are taking jobs at a faster clip. Good news on both fronts.
The second is, as we look, there’s — obviously there’s the payroll survey and the household survey. The household survey is what feeds into the unemployment rate.
A couple of things under the hood in the household survey that may be of interest to you, the first is around labor force participation. We saw an increase in labor force participation among the prime-age working population. So for those workers aged 25 to 54, we saw an increase. And in the pandemic, certainly because of the — some particular — particularities around teenagers and also early retirements, that prime-age workforce is particularly relevant, and so we keep an eye on that.
The second is, if you look at the broader definitions of unemployment — which have been particularly something that we and others have followed over the course of this pandemic — one notable thing this month is a market decline in the number of people who are working part-time for economic reasons. So this is a category that the Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks where people would like to be working more — like to be working more hours but are only employed part-time.
We saw a 644,000-person decline in that figure over the course of this past month. Again, a sign that those who are wanting to work more are having an opportunity to do so.
I would also note that there was a slight intick [sic] — uptick in the number of long-term unemployed. That number has come down since the President took office, but that’s an issue that is a reminder that we continue to have challenges in an economy that is coming back from a historic pandemic, and we are still down more than 6 million jobs from where we started. So we still have a lot of work left to do.
The third point is just to put this report in the context of a set of economic data and indices we’ve seen over the course of the last week. In particular, it’s been a heavy week for economic data, so just a couple things I wanted to flag.
We saw consumer confidence come out earlier this week, and not only did we see the index increase for the fourth straight month at very high levels now in terms of consumers’ current and future sentiments about the economy, but a record level of consumers are seeing the job market as improving. So the — in fact, the share of consumers that say that jobs are plentiful in the economy is now at a 21-year high. So, again, consistent with a strong recovering labor market here.
We saw both the Congressional Budget Office and the IMF come up with — come out this week with updated growth projections. The CBO, in particular, doubled its projected growth for 2021 from 3.7 percent to now 7.4 percent. And that’s the — if we — if we achieve that growth in that range, we would be the highest in nearly 40 years.
But also, notably, the CBO not only increased its growth projections but projected downward, where unemployment will be next year, and also downwardly revised its projections for 10-year deficits. So, actually, as growth — as growth estimates increased, its projections for future deficits as a share of our economy came down from where it was projecting in February.
Likewise, on the IMF front, projections of growth at 7 percent for the U.S. economy and, in their words, the fastest pace in a generation.
Also this week: Notably, we saw the OECD reach an agreement with 130 countries endorsing a global minimum tax of at least 15 percent. This has been a priority for President Biden in our economic strategy from the beginning of this administration to try to help to galvanize a global effort to actually end the race to the bottom on taxes, and to encourage multinational companies to invest and compete on quality and price, and not on the effectiveness of being able to strip profits into local tax jurisdictions — a historic announcement this week and an important milestone in our effort to get that done this year.
Number four — and I know — and then I will take your questions — is: I just wanted to also let you know, in terms of actions that we’re focused on to try to help address issues that consumers are facing — increased competition and lower prices — I want to confirm that there was some reporting this morning that the President is indeed intending to direct the Department of Transportation to engage in a series of rulemakings to protect airline passengers and to promote fair and competition — fair competition in the airline industry.
This may sound esoteric, but I’ll make it very simple, particularly for any of you who have flown or are intending to fly, now that the — that that’s more available: These rulemakings will specifically ensure that if a passenger pays to check a bag, they should get that fee back if the bag doesn’t arrive on time. Also, if the passenger pays for a service like Wi-Fi, and it doesn’t actually work, that you will get that fee back quickly.
Q Good luck with that. (Laughter.)
MR. DEESE: (Laughs.) Um — and also, the President will direct DOT to ensure rulemaking that will — that will establish clearer upfront disclosure of fees — one of the challenges in being able to clearly understand baggage fees, change fees, cancellation fees at the time of the purchase of an airline ticket so that consumers have more and better information and understanding of what they actually are paying for.
And that this — this direction will be part of a broader effort that the President will release shortly around driving greater competition in the economy, in service of lower prices for American families and higher wages for American workers.
So, with that, I’m happy to take your questions with one caveat, which you’ll hear me say every time I come to talk about monthly employment data or anything else, which is: Every piece of data is uncertain. We don’t look — we don’t put too much stock in any one month’s data. We’re looking at longer-term trends, and certainly as we assess the trend over the longer term, we feel like we are seeing a strong and accelerating recovery connected to and driven by the President’s economic strategy.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Josh.
Q So, good news on hiring, but we saw an increase in Black unemployment. Unemployment for Black men is about 10 percent — almost double what it is for white men. Do you expect to close this gap? And which policies are going to be the most important for getting that?
MR. DEESE: Well, I’m glad you raise the issue and certainly the — it underscores why it’s so important to not let up on the strategy that we’ve been putting in place to drive a strong recovery as fast as we can to get to full employment.
One of the things that we know is that one of the most powerful ways of actually addressing disparities within the labor market, and particularly the persistent gap between unemployment rates for whites and people of color, is to have a strong economy that is operating at full employment where employers are seeking to have a wider scope, and people who want to enter the labor force want to find jobs, have more options, and have more leverage, and have more power in the labor market.
So you’ve heard the President talk about this; he went to Cleveland and laid this out in a speech that an explicit part of his strategy is to have policies in place to get us to full employment as quickly as possible.
I would note, to your question about the most important policies: The American Rescue Plan was the — was unique across the world in terms of fiscal responses to this — to this pandemic crisis. The United States stepping in and having a more aggressive fiscal response than almost any country in the world. And what you’ve seen as a result is that most independent projections pulled forward, by a year or more, their projection of when we will get to that full employment.
But as we assess what it means to get to a full employment economy, we believe it’s critical to look at that from an inclusive perspective and not just look at the headline unemployment rate and recognize that these persistent barriers that have driven those divergences in employment outcomes need to be at the center of what we’re trying to address and part of what we want this economic recovery to achieve.
MS. PSAKI: Andrea.
Q Brian, I wanted to ask you about the OECD tax agreement. Are you concerned at all that that could get held up; that the U.S. could have trouble enacting its part of that? And also, there were several countries that are in the European Union that didn’t sign on. Is that going to be a stumbling block to actually make it happen?
MR. DEESE: So, we see the announcement today, or this week, as both a historic milestone and really important momentum to actually achieving both of the elements that you said — momentum to enact a corporate tax reform in the United States that would not only help to improve U.S. competitiveness by making it more attractive to invest here in the United States rather than invest in shifting production and profits to low-tax jurisdictions, but also raise revenue that we could invest in productivity-enhancing measures like investing in universal preschool.
Along the lines the President has laid out — and, in fact, the — one of the principal arguments against the kind of tax reform that the President has laid out is, “Well, if the United States acts, what happens if the rest of the world doesn’t come along?” Well, with this OECD announcement, we’re actually demonstrating that the world is prepared to do that, and obviously, it connects to a set of constructive conversations we’re having with leadership and the relevant committees in Congress right now about moving forward the President’s corporate tax reform.
And this is a process. We — to your question about the remaining countries, this is a process. We saw at the G7, there were questions: Would the G7 come along and endorse this framework? And, of course, they did. Now, we have 130 countries endorsing this framework. And we’re going to keep working at it; we’re not there. This is a milestone in the process, but a real strong signal of momentum toward the ultimate goal.
MS. PSAKI: Alex.
Q Hey, Brian. Brian, I wonder if you could address that competition initiative that you mentioned — give us a little bit more flavor of what’s coming on that. And then, secondly, I wonder if you could address — the chip shortage is still hurting. Ford, for example, is down 27 percent in June. How much of a drag do you think that’s going to have on the otherwise rosy outlook you just presented?
MR. DEESE: Sure. So, on the first, I would say — I mean, I won’t — I won’t get ahead of the President. You can anticipate the President is going to be having more to say about this shortly. It’s an issue that we’ve been working on across the whole of government, and the actions that I outlined with respect to the Department of Transportation is one element of it.
But I think at the core just is — this is really about trying to imp- — to recognize that actually having more competition and more competitive markets is actually key to driving strong, durable, shared economic growth. And, in particular, we’ve seen increasing evidence that the lack of competition in a variety of markets can actually reduce choices and increase prices for consumers, for small businesses, and actually also hurt wages and wage growth for workers in the labor market.
And so, we’re looking at an effort across the government, looking at the different antitrust statutes and the different measures that agencies can take to try to improve competition and actually improve the opportunities for businesses to compete fairly without being impeded as well. So we’ll have more to say about that, but that’s the basic contours of it.
MS. PSAKI: Jen.
Q And then, just chips —
MR. DEESE: Oh, chips. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, look, this has been an issue that we’ve been, you know, focused on for some time. It was the focus of the President’s 100-day supply chain review. And we’ve been in constant and close contact with the auto manufacturers, consumer electronics producers, and also then the chip manufacturers themselves.
I would say, in the short term, I think we’re hearing signs of there’s some improvement in the challenges. I think the second quarter clearly was a point where you saw that impacting, both on the production side and the employment side. The — we — at least the indications we’re hearing from industry participants is that you should expect some improvement sequentially over the second half of this year.
From our perspective on the policy side, it’s why we’re incredibly focused — you’ve seen the President laser focused on trying to move and enact his proposal for $50 billion to invest in semiconductor production, manufacturing resilience here in the United States. That’s the long-term answer to this issue.
And we’ve — that’s passed through the Senate. It’s — we’re now working with the House to try to advance that legislation as well, and we look forward to getting that to the President’s desk as soon as possible.
MS. PSAKI: Courtney. Oh, sorry — Jen. Sorry. (Inaudible.) Go ahead.
Q What are — just to go back to full employment — what are the metrics that the administration will look to to determine when the U.S. has reached full employment? And then, on manufacturing: Why are manufacturing jobs lagging so much — up only 15,000 in June, and still 480,000 below pre-pandemic levels?
MR. DEESE: Well, I’ll take — I’ll take the second half of your — of your question first. And obviously you can have a glass and maybe it’s half full, maybe it’s half empty. But I would say, sequentially, what we’ve seen is progress in the manufacturing sector, both in terms of employment and production.
And it’s important to remember, you know, where we’re coming from: We had a pandemic and a historic economic crisis that sent — that cratered production and has created huge supply chain challenges and bottlenecks over the course — over the course of the economy.
But I think what we’re seeing now is demand has come back faster than anticipated, in large part because of the success of the vaccination effort and the historic fiscal response that the United States has taken, and you’re seeing manufacturers respond.
And certainly there’s going to be some short-term issues to work through. But I think, you know, part of the job growth that we saw in June is reflective of the sector’s ability to start coming back here.
And the first half of your —
MR. DEESE: Oh, on full employment.
MR. DEESE: So, look, you know, our approach is to — is to look at this from an inclusive perspective. Our approach has been to say: What does it mean to actually have an economy that is working for everybody, and where workers who want an opportunity to be full participants in the labor market have that opportunity?
That means not only looking underneath the hood of the traditional unemployment rate at the significant discrepancies we’ve seen historically on racial and ethnic lines, but also parents and women and what are the barriers to full participation in this economy.
And so you certainly see that from the perspective of the Biden economic strategy to try to invest in the drivers that are actually going to increase labor force participation, increase the productive capacity of the economy by having — driving inclusive growth, shared growth, the kind of growth that we think will be durable across time.
MS. PSAKI: Courtney. This is going to have to be the last one. Go ahead.
Q Right back here. Hi.
MR. DEESE: Hi.
Q I wanted to ask you about infrastructure and ongoing negotiations —
MR. DEESE: Sure.
Q — on the Hill. The House passed its INVEST in America Act — I believe it was either last week or this week — and House Transportation Chairman Peter DeFazio has said that he wants the policy in that bill to be how they flesh out the framework that the President agreed on — the bipartisan framework. Is that something that you would agree with? Is the policy in there what you want it to look like at the end of the day? Are there certain policies you would want to keep in the final bill?
MR. DEESE: Yeah, so that was — that was a vote that happened earlier this week, and I congratulate Chairman DeFazio and the committee and the House for progressing that.
This is the process. This is the — you’re seeing the legislative process work. You saw the Senate committee pass a Surface Transportation Reauthorization unanimously out of committee with Chairman Carper, Ranking Member Capito there. And now you’ve seen a Transportation Reauthorization pass out of the House as well.
And as we’ve said for some time, the expectation is that the legislative process will now work the way that it — the way that it has, and as part of the bipartisan infrastructure framework, moving from a framework or agreement to piece of legislation.
As the President has said, the committee chairmen are going to be part of that process. The process is going — is happening in the Senate right now. But, obviously, working between the Senate and the House is a key element of this, so I think it’s an important milestone. And Chairman DeFazio has shown extraordinary leadership on this issue, and we’re going to keep working on it. This is the legislative process in real time working its will.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Brian, so much for joining us. He’ll be back.
MR. DEESE: Thank you all.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, sorry, go ahead.
All right. Just two quick items for all of you at the top. As we shared from the podium a few weeks ago, the White House recently established the Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force — co-chaired by the Secretaries of Commerce, Transportation, and Agriculture — to bring a whole-of-government approach to addressing the near-term supply chain bottlenecks and supply constraints.
The task force has been actively engaging with a broad set of stakeholders to diagnose problems and identify solutions. And we want to share a few examples of recent engagements, given this is of great interest. Alex asked about it just a few minutes ago — or a version of it.
On homebuilding, Secretary Raimondo and sen- — senior commerce officials have been meeting with timber and logging companies, sawmill operators, retailers, appliance makers, and homebuilders from across the nation, and will meet in the coming days with affordable housing and labor leaders to ensure the challenges in the homebuilding supply chain are thoroughly understood from every angle to address bottlenecks in the sector.
On semiconductors — which affects many industries, including everything from autos to everyday electronics around our homes — Secretary Raimondo has continued to bring together semiconductor producers and users to build trust, improve transparency, and facilitate data sharing.
Since March, the Commerce Department has supported nearly $75 billion in direct investments from both U.S. and foreign businesses in domestic semiconductor manufacturing.
And as for the Department of Transportation, under Secretary Buttigieg’s leadership, the agency is helping address the country’s truck driver shortages by supporting state DMVs as they return or even exceed pre-pandemic commercial driver’s license issuance rates.
In 2021, an average of 50,000 commercial driver’s licenses have been issued each month, which is 14 percent higher than the 2019 monthly average and 60 percent higher than the 2020 monthly average. So, clearly, their work is ongoing, but wanted to provide you a bit of an update about their outreach.
Finally, in vaccine sharing news: On Sunday, we — we will send — this Sunday, we will send 1.5 million doses of Moderna to El Salvador.
Sorry, I will do the week ahead. Now, as we look to the week ahead — which, of course, includes this weekend, because the President has a busy schedule — on Saturday, he will travel to Traverse City, Michigan, with Governor Gretchen Whitmer as part of the administration’s nationwide America is Back Together Tour to celebrate our country’s progress against the virus.
While there, he will visit a cherry farm, where he will highlight the benefits of the bipartisan Infrastructure Framework and what they will do to deliver to communities acro- — what it will do to deliver to communities across the country.
After his visit to Traverse City, he will travel to Wilmington, Delaware, where he will remain overnight.
On Sunday, the President and the First Lady will return to the White House where they will host a Fourth of July barbecue with essential workers and military families on the South Lawn. At 7:30 p.m. on Sunday night, the President will deliver remarks to celebrate Independence Day and independence from COVID-19. And later that night, the National Mall will be open for the traditional Independence Day fireworks displays so friends and family can gather together to celebrate our independence from the virus.
On Monday, the President will not have public events. It is a federal holiday.
And next week — we will have more details, hopefully, in the coming days — but he will continue to amplify the benefits of the bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, the American Families Plan. And again, we’ll have more announcements about it in the coming days.
Last thing. Emily, who many of you know — she’s going to get embarrassed — is a part of our amazing press team. She is a spokesperson on economic issues — not an easy thing. So, she’s here — hasn’t been in the briefing room — today, so wanted to welcome her here and thank her for all of her work. And also, to Chairman Schiff, who let me steal her from him, which I’m very grateful for every day. So, just wanted you to all know Emily if you don’t already know Emily.
Josh, go ahead. Josh definitely knows Emily.
Q Yes. Yes. (Laughter.) Given last night’s announcement on halting federal executions, is the President satisfied with the moratorium as it stands, or does he want to go further? And does he believe that Justice Department lawyers should continue to seek the death penalty in cases or should they hold off?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I will first say, Josh, that the President made clear, even during his first conversations with then-Judge Garland about the job, that he wanted to see an end to executions.
And the announcement that was made today is — he’s pleased to see that the Attorney General is taking steps forward which will put a stop to executions at the federal level during this review. And that is what’s ongoing, and he feels that’s an important step forward in delivering on that discussion.
Q And then, secondly, with regard to the President and sexual assault cases and, kind of, where they are in the military chain of command: The President stopped short of where Senator Gillibrand is on having independent prosecutors handle felonies that call for more than a year in prison. What is the White House’s thinking on, kind of, the decision relative to that proposal?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would note that we put out a statement from the President. And let me just highlight some — some components of that for all of you, because this was an important step forward in his view today:
He strongly supports Secretary Austin’s announcement that he’s accepting the core recommendations put forward by the Independent Review Commission on Military Sexual Assault. He views sexual assault as an abuse of power, an affront to our shared humanity. And sexual athault [sic] — assault in the military is doubly damaging, in his view, as it also shreds the unity and cohesion that is essential to a functioning U.S. Military and to our national defense.
He also noted — and just to answer your question — that he looks forward to working with Congress to implement these necessary reforms. He’s grateful for the leadership of Senator Gillibrand, the work of Senator Ernst, Representative Speier, and Representative Mullin who have worked in a strong bipartisan way to move this forward. And certainly he feels that this announcement and the decision by Secretary Austin is a step forward.
Q Same two subjects. First, to the death penalty: There had been a campaign pledge to introduce legislation to end the federal death penalty. Is that still coming?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I would say that the President felt it was so important that it was a part of his discussion with the Attorney General when he interviewed him and talked to him about the job.
He is now — the Attorney General today announced that there will be a halt on executions while there’s an important review, and the President feels that’s an important step forward.
Q Some advocates have called on him to commute all federal death penalty sentences. That’s different than what the Attorney General did. Has there been any discussion of doing that?
MS. PSAKI: There’s a review that was just announced. I don’t expect that we would speak to that while it’s ongoing.
Q And then, on the sexual assault report, it found, in part — I’m just going to quote here — “a wide chasm between what senior leaders believe is happening under their commands and what junior enlisted service members actually experience. As a result, trust has been broken between commanders and the service members.”
It’s a scathing vote of no confidence on a predominantly male military leadership. And I’m just curious, in his discussions with the Secretary of Defense or with uniformed leaders, if he, the President, has talked to these guys at all about the fact that this persists and is now called out in this report?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he’s certainly spoken with Secretary Austin about it. He’s spoken about — publicly about his concern, about what he’s seen in the reports of sexual assault in the military that have — were happening, of course, long before he became President.
And he also called out, in a statement today — he wanted to recognize the experience of our service members who have survived sexual assault, and the bravery of those who’ve shared their stories with the world and advocated for reform, which is something he felt was important to note and call out today.
I would also note that Secretary Austin, in coming out and accepting these core recommendations, is taking an action step to change, and hopefully change the course of, what we’ve seen over the last several — for several years — something the President certainly applauds and supports.
Q But it’s going to take until at least 2023 to get much of this implemented. And we’ve got a bill in the Senate that has 60 votes at least; it’s bipartisan. Is there going to be a push by him to say, “Yes, let’s do this. It’s another example of bipartisan cooperation. It addresses this issue.”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he note- —
Q You know, why not come out and endorse it?
MS. PSAKI: He noted in his statement that he looks forward to working with Congress to implement these necessary reforms and to mot- — promote a work environment that is free from sexual assault and harassment for every one of our brave service members.
And, yes, it is also the military — the leadership in the military — Secretary Austin, someone the President nominated and works with on a daily basis — who accepted these recommendations, and they need to be implemented. That will take some time, but that’s a forward step that was taken by our own military.
Q First, some housekeeping, if I can, quickly: We saw all the debris when we arrived here at the White House earlier today. The President and First Lady were back at the White House when the tornado warning was in effect yesterday. Where did the President and First Lady shelter during the tornado warning?
MS. PSAKI: That’s a great question. I know they were — I don’t know if they were back from their trip yet or if they were arriving shortly back from their trip — they were here at the White House. I don’t have any more details on whether they were moved.
Q Would you follow up for us, possibly, and let us know (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to. Sure.
Q Let me ask you: As we head into July 4th, very quickly, obviously the White House has said repeatedly that shots are safe, they’re effective, they’re available, but obviously, many states with the lowest vaccination rates are governed by Republicans right now. What risk does the White House believe those pockets of noncompliance might pose to other Americans, to the rest of the country right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the guidance from medical experts is very clear: If you’re vaccinated, you’re safe. If you’re not vaccinated, you’re at risk of getting the virus.
And the Delta variant — the transmissibility of it, which we’ve seen from medical experts who have made clear that it is far more transmissible, it can be deadly, it can make people incredibly sick — is just a reminder of what risk people are putting on themselves if they don’t get vaccinated.
Q And then — so for clarity, though, what risks — to my question — what risk do you think those pockets of noncompliance pose not just to themselves, but to the rest of the country?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t look at it as pockets, Peter. I would look at it as: Individuals in those pockets who are not vaccinated are certainly at a significant risk, given the transmissibility of the Delta variant.
Q But you don’t think that risk is larger than those individuals (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: If those individuals are vaccinated in those areas, then they are protected. We have seen — also had some news this morning about the effectiveness of J&J. But also, we know that Moderna and Pfizer are effective in fighting and protecting individuals from the Delta variant.
I’d also note that we announced just yesterday our plans for a surge team, largely in response to the Delta variant across the country. That will include the physical deployment of personnel, virtual assistance, direct sharing of resources. We’ve already deployed this — a team to Colorado to collaborate with the local Department of Health in Mesa County. And that’s something we will continue to work with communities across the country to implement to address the rising threat of the Delta variant.
Q And given the White House is going to fall shy of its 70 percent goal for at least one shot in the arms of adults right now, is the White House done setting goals? Will you continue to do that? Or do you think that they’re no longer effective?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, that’s one way of describing it. Another way of describing it is that we are on track, once the data comes in, to ensure — to report that 70 percent of adults 27 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine. That’s a significant step forward — something we’re incredibly proud of. It’s a reflection of the leadership of the President, of the organizational expertise of the team he’s hired, and that’s an enormous step forward. That’s also why deaths and hospitalizations have fallen by more than 90 percent since January.
We feel it’s important to set bold and ambitious goals. Even though we are on track to reach that goal for individuals 27 and up, our job is not done. The work continues even on July 5th.
Q On COVID, will we set a new goal? Is there a new goal that you’re targeting?
MS. PSAKI: I have no new goal to set today, but again, we feel that it’s important to set bold and ambitious markers and hold ourselves to account.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen. Is the White House concerned that some vice-presidential staffers reportedly feel like they work in a, quote, “abusive environment”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would first note that I try not to speak to or engage on anonymous reports or anonymous sources. I will say that the Vice President is an incredibly important partner to the President of the United States. She has a challenging job, a hard job, and she has a great, supportive team of people around her.
But other than that, I’m not going to have any more comments on those reports.
Q Okay. I’m hoping to clarify the administration’s position here on defunding the police. You say the President does not want to defund the police, but is the President concerned then that, last year, the now-Associate Attorney General, Vanita Gupta, said it was, quote, “critical for state and local leaders to heed calls from Black Lives Matter and Movement for Black Lives activists to decrease police budgets”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that, as a Fox News report that came about in February quoted, quote, ” Current and former police chiefs in more than 53 cities across the country, as well as the National Fraternal Order of Police, are issuing their support of the nomination of Vanita Gupta — President Biden’s nominee for Associate Attorney General — praising her leadership and record, and urging the Senate Judiciary Committee to ‘quickly confirm her’ to the post.”
I don’t know that that was your report or not —
Q Good quote.
MS. PSAKI: — but it was certainly one from your network.
Q But she said — okay, so that’s the Fox report. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q In Senate testimony, she said she wanted to decrease police budgets. So will she —
MS. PSAKI: She also made explicitly clear in her confirmation process that she opposes defunding the police. And the President ran on, most importantly — did not run on defunding the police. He’s always opposed defunding the police.
I’ll also note, because you’ve asked this question before — or a few times over the last several days — that when we talk about individuals in Congress and their support for funding or opposition to funding for the police, I think what the American people are most focused on is how people vote, what their record is, which is a public record.
And I will note that while the President ran on 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 — which, again, is public record; we don’t need to under- — undervalue the intelligence of the American people — the President ran on increasing that funding. It’s in his budget.
In President Trump’s budget, he significantly cut that. So that’s a change.
And the American Rescue Plan had a great deal of funding for local and state authorities, something that can support funding for local police in communities across the country, and something many have used.
It doesn’t require me telling you names of individuals who oppose the American Rescue Plan. Every Republican opposed the American Rescue Plan, and I don’t have time to read out all their names today.
Q Okay. On another subject — the official White House account tweeted yesterday: “The cost of a Fourth of July cookout is down 16 cents from last year.” Sixteen cents?
MS. PSAKI: There has been a reduction in some of the costs of key components of the Fourth of July — a Fourth of July barbecue. That was what the tweet was noting.
Q So does the White House think that 16 cents off a barbecue has more of an impact on people’s lives than gas being a dollar more this time — this Fourth of July versus last year?
MS. PSAKI: I would say: If you don’t like hot dogs, you may not care of the reduction of costs.
Q You can’t —
MS. PSAKI: You don’t have to like hot dogs.
Q You can’t buy a hot dog for 16 cents.
MS. PSAKI: A reduction of —
Q That’s like a bite of a hot dog.
MS. PSAKI: I will say that what we are most focused on is the fact that we’ve created now more than 3 million jobs since the President took office. That’s what we’re focused on, and continuing to implement additional components of his economic Build Back Better agenda.
Go ahead, Andrea.
Q Hey. I’m just going to switch gears completely —
MS. PSAKI: Great. (Laughter.)
Q — from hot dogs. (Laughs.) So, the President of Belarus has shut the border to Ukraine. You’ve expressed concern about this halt to travel. Can you give us an update on what’s happening there and what your reaction is to that? I mean, is it time to take more serious action?
MS. PSAKI: As you know, we have put in place a number of sanctions over the past several weeks in coordination with our European partners. I had not seen that report before I came out here. I will talk with our national security team and see if there’s any additional actions or calls that are happening today.
Q Okay. And then, on the international front, these OECD talks are now going to be heading into the G10 — I’m sorry, G20 meeting that’s coming up. The Treasury Secretary will be going.
Can you just, from where do you sit, sort of, say what your primary goal is for this upcoming G20 meeting and the finance officials, and what you’re — you know, what the President is saying to the Treasury Secretary about what he’d like to see get done?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, obviously, the Treasury team and the Treasury Secretary will preview what the focus of their trip is.
As you know and as you asked my colleague Brian Deese about, certainly a component of that will be about the global minimum tax and moving that across the finish line.
I will note — and he touched on this a bit, but we are quite encouraged — and it is a positive sign, in our view — that there are 130 countries, representing more than 90 percent of global GDP, who have come together to support the Biden administration plan for a strong global minimum tax.
And, of course, there’s more work to be done, but that is — will be certainly a focus. But otherwise, I would defer to the Treasury Department on previewing the Secretary’s trip.
Q And then, the President is going to be speaking, later on today, to the National Education Association. What is his primary concern? And, you know, we’ve talked a lot in here about critical race theory. Is this something that he’s going to bring up in terms of the teaching of American history?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, he’s married to a teacher and a longtime teacher — still a teacher. And so, certainly, educators and making sure he is communicating and conveying his commitment to the education system and the role of educators in the country is always going to be close to his heart.
I will certainly expect that he will talk a bit about his plans and initiatives, whether it’s the American Jobs Plan or the components of the American Families Plan, which will be critical to communities — to school communities across the country. But I think that would be the focus of his remarks.
Q On Afghanistan, the President said, earlier, he does not think the drawdown will be done in a few days. The Pentagon has said it’s ahead of schedule — the September 11th date. So what is the latest date that the White House is looking at right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we currently expect it to be completed by the end of August. So, as you know, the President decided to withdraw remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan and finally end the U.S. war there after 20 years. I know there’s been some reporting about Bagram, which I expect — it may already be out — there’ll be a statement from the Secretary of Defense on that sometime today.
But in terms of the timeline, we currently expect it to be completed by the end of August.
Q Okay. And when it comes to the translators that have applied — not just translators — drivers, engineers, people who have really put their lives on the line for the U.S. that are waiting on these applications — is it true that the administration is considering housing them in Central Asia — several countries in Central Asia — while they wait for those applications to either be accepted or denied?
MS. PSAKI: There have been some reports about conversations. I’m not here to confirm any conversations. What I can tell you is we’ve identified a group of SIV applicants who have served as interpreters, translators, as well as other at-risk categories. They will be relocated to a location outside of Afghanistan. There are a range of options, but that will happen before we complete our military drawdown by the end of August, in order to complete their visa application process from there.
In terms of locations or numbers, I’m just not going to be able to get into those specifics for security reasons.
Q But you will eventually.
And can you explain why the President was citing the July 4th weekend when he was being asked questions about Afghanistan as to why he did not want to answer further questions on that matter?
MS. PSAKI: I think what he was trying to convey to all of you is that he is heading into July 4th weekend — a weekend for family, a weekend to celebrate America — and that he was ready to be done answering questions.
It wasn’t — it wasn’t related to Afghanistan.
Q Following up there —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — one of the things that you sort of punted on was that the fighting is getting closer and closer to Kabul. If the Afghan government falls, if there is a bloodbath in Kabul, is there any circumstance where the U.S. is reconsidering, is thinking about sending troops back?
MS. PSAKI: I think it’s really important to remember what the President conveyed when he made his announcement — or how we kind of got to this point.
First, when he announced our drawdown, he made clear that the Taliban would have been shooting at U.S. troops again after May 1st. And the withdwal [sic] — the withdrawal deadline negotiated by the previous administration kind of set that timeline.
Also, when he came into office, we had the lowest number of U.S. and partner forces in Afghanistan since the early days of the war; an agreement, as I note — just noted, was already in place; and the military stalemate between the Taliban and Afghan Forces was at a height.
He also asked for a review of genuine, realistic options to advance and protect U.S. interests. The review did not sugarcoat what the likely outcomes would be or rely on best-case scenarios. And we emerged from that with a clear-eyed assessment of the best path forward to advance American interests, which is his focus and his role as the Commander-in-Chief and the President of the United States.
And ending the war in Afghanistan after 20 years so that we can address the global threat picture, so that we can protect our men and women serving was his priority. So that continues to be and he continues to — we’re continuing to move forward toward our withdrawal plan by the end of August.
Q Could I ask you a follow-up on something you said yesterday. You were asked about the end of the Supreme Court term. You reiterated the President’s commitment, should there be an opening, to nominate an African American woman.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q He said, a year ago, that he was creating a list, that he would release that list for further vetting. Can you tell us what the status is? Is there going to be a list of potential nominees that’s — that’s released for us to see?
MS. PSAKI: Well there is not an opening on the Supreme Court. So that’s not a current hypothetical we’re even dealing with right now. He made clear at the time — or maybe around that time — that he would nominate an African American woman to serve on the Supreme Court should there be an opening while he’s President. And he remains committed to that — to that, should there be an opening.
Go ahead, David.
Q Jen, about a little more than a week ago, the agreement with the Iranians to allow inspections to continue at the main sites expired, and a couple of administration officials — including, I think, the Secretary of State — had said that it would be a big problem if we lose inspection continuity.
So, now we’re a week out. Is it your understanding that we have no inspection continuity? And tell us how this affects the way the President is hoping that all of this will unwind. How do you actually get to an agreement if you’re not sure that things have been diverted along the way?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we certainly expect there could be challenges on the road to getting an agreement. And we’ve lived through a version of this before, as have you.
I will say that, consistent with what the Secretary of State said, we believe Iran must comply with the IAEA’s inspectors and it must comply with its obligations under its Safeguards Agreements with the IAEA. We’re working with allies and partners to reinforce broad support for the IAEA and the director general as he and his team carry out their important work.
And certainly, our message has continued to — has been from the beginning, but I will reiterate, that one of the reasons to move forward and to continue to pursue a diplomatic agreement to re-engage with our partners — P5+1 partners and the Iranians, even indirectly, is because we want to have that reliable access and understand and have visibility into what the Iranians are up to and how close they are to acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Obviously, we’ve just concluded the sixth round of talks. Everyone is back at their capitals. I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of a next round, but that certainly is our hope in terms of the next step.
Q Just following on the question you got before Afghanistan. When I asked President, during that previous event on the economy, about Kabul, he said, “We’ve worked out an over-the-horizon capacity that we can be value added, but the Afghans are going to have to be able to do it themselves with the air force they have.”
So, if we just understand what he said and then your answer before to Kaitlan, is he essentially saying, “If Kabul falls, it is not our primary responsibility at this point. We’re happy to go help, but it’s completely up to you”?
MS. PSAKI: He’s saying that, as we said in the beginning, he asked for a review and an assessment of what the impact could be of our decision to withdraw troops. We asked them not to sugarcoat that; they didn’t. There have been intel assessments that have been out there from our own government. We’re certainly aware of those. We have never taken a step back from those — from the podium or from the President of the United States.
At the same time, what I think he was conveying during his answer to you, David, is that we will also continue to work collaboratively, as we always have, with a range of countries that share our interest in countering the reemergence of a serious external-plotting capability emanating from Afghanistan, should that emerge.
We will maintain over-the-horizon capacity, and we — that is something that will continue, as well as our security assistance to the Afghan National Security Forces, but they will be in the lead, as has always been the plan when we withdraw our troops.
Q Thanks, Jen. Sha’Carri Richardson, the U.S. track star, has been suspended following a positive test for marijuana use. Does the President support that penalty or does he want to see her be able to represent the United States fully at the Olympic Games this summer?
MS. PSAKI: I would say, first, that this was an independent decision made by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and not a — not a decision that would be made by the U.S. government, as is appropriate. And we will certainly leave them the space and room to make their decisions about anti-doping policies that need to be implemented.
I will also note that Sha’Carri Richardson is an inspiring young woman who went — has gone through a lot, personally. And I think — and she also happens to be one of the fastest women in the world, and that’s an important part of the story as well.
So this is an independent — an independent decision by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, but I also felt it was important to note who she is and her history.
Q And can I ask a follow-up on Afghanistan? When it comes to the vulnerable Afghan employees that we were talking about that could be moved to other countries, what assurances does the administration have to them that they can be moved safely — that these visa applicants can be moved safely? I mean, isn’t there a target now on their backs now that the Taliban knows that they’re, you know, potentially going to be moved?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Sean, I think one of the reasons that I’m not going to get into security details about what third country they might go to and how many is exactly for that reason. But certainly, our timeline is to relocate these individuals to a location outside of Afghanistan before we complete our military drawdown.
I’d also note that we will continue, even after we have our military with- — drawdown with a presence in Kabul, a diplomatic presence as well on the ground there. But certainly that’s the goal of our timeline and the reason I’m not getting into more specific details.
Go ahead, Asma.
Q Jen, hi. Two quick questions on voting rights. One is actually a logistical question.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q He said yesterday that he intends to, kind of, tour around and go and speak on this issue. Will he give remarks next week? Can we get any guidance on where he might go?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. He is eager to do that, as is evident by his mentioning it to you all yesterday and over the last couple of weeks.
And I think, as you would note, hopefully, in his statement yesterday he is profoundly disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision. It’s just a reminder of how important it is to move forward on federal legislation. It — how important it is to — and urgent it is that Congress restore the Voting Rights Act. And it’s a reminder of what the stakes are here, which is that our democracy is on the line.
We — as I noted in the beginning, we are still working out and finalizing details for next week. So I just don’t have anything to preview in terms of travel or the focus of his travel at this point in time.
Q Another related question, which was actually on the remarks he gave yesterday about the Arizona voting decision. I just wanted to clarify some things, so I’m going to quote — he said, “It is mildly positive in the sense that there’s a remedy available based on the particular voting decision.” And kind of — I was just confused what he was talking about was “mildly positive”?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to look more closely at the specific statement. You know, I think that the President views this issue, broadly, as one where we need to continue to use every lever at our disposal, whether that is actions taken by the Department of Justice that the Attorney General has already announced some of in the last few weeks; or it is efforts that we have underway, led by our Vice President, to engage with civil rights groups, state legislators, and the American people to push back on anti-voter laws at the state level.
But that’s, broadly, what his view is, and I think what he was trying to project in the statement.
Go ahead, Jen.
Q OPEC Plus has been stuck in talks around raising oil production to ease prices. Is the White House concerned about high oil prices? And has the President or anybody in the administration been in touch with allies in — who are involved in OPEC to talk about this?
And then, somewhat related, on gas prices being high in the U.S. at, you know, peak travel time — probably even more so because of, kind of, the pandemic getting better: You know, are you concerned about that for Americans, at a time when it does seem like there are a lot of economic data points working in your favor, that this one that Americans really do feel day in, day out is not, you know, in a great position?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, well, Jen, let me first say that there are, of course — we have seen an increase in the price of oil, as anyone has seen — as they’ve seen — who watches data. It will be, of course, a topic of discussion, as you noted, when OPEC meets over the coming days. I’m not in a position to speak to those conversations from here.
I do — I can say that, currently, we expect there is enough spare oil production capacity globally. And as you know, because of the restart of global economy and the resumption of normal consumer activity, there is some impact on oil market conditions.
On your second part of your question on the impact of individuals and consumers: Absolutely. I mean that’s one of the core reasons why the President was opposed to a gas tax and was opposed to a — any tax on travel or vehicles — vehicle mileage, because he felt that would fall on the backs of Americans who are returning to their workplaces, who are driving their kids to school. And that was a bottom line or a red line for him in the negotiations.
As you know well, the price of gas is often linked, of course, to oil prices. That will again be a topic of discussion over the coming days, but I don’t have anything to preview on that front.
Q Thanks, Jen. On the subject of infrastructure, there are a number of Republicans on the Hill who have raised concerns about the idea of giving the IRS $40 billion to basically crack down on tax cheats. They cite a lot of concerns, one of which is that they think that this — it raises the possibility of abuse by the IRS. I’m just wondering what the administration’s response to that is. And also, how pivotal is this IRS component to paying for the President’s infrastructure plan?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I think it’s a key payfor, and one that was agreed to by a bipartisan group who negotiated the deal. And for clarity, what the — what it actually would do is ensure that the IRS has the support, the staffing, and the resources needed to ensure the wealthiest Americans are paying what they owe. That’s exactly what it would do.
We have some estimates of what that would raise in terms of payfors. Those are actually quite conservative when you look at what economists — many economists suggest across the board. But it is a payfor that was agreed to and one that does not violate what was a red line for many Republicans, which was, in these bipartisan negotiations, doing anything to change the 2017 tax law.
We will, of course, go to that when we go to reconciliation, but that was a red line as it related to these negotiations.
Q Jen, we saw that the President was exasperated this morning when he was asked several questions about Afghanistan and Bagram. Bear with me for a second, but 20 years ago, we were a nation full of people — most Americans were gung-ho, full of patriotism to go get those people who had attacked our country in 2001. Twenty years on now, we’re — we seem to be — average Americans are just shrugging their shoulders at the fate of Afghanistan. They may have “Afghanistan fatigue.” Does the President feel that way? Does he have “Afghanistan fatigue”? And does he sense that in the American people?
MS. PSAKI: First, I would say that the President has long felt, as many Americans have and many leaders have, that the war in Afghanistan was not one that could be won militarily. That’s why we have supported diplomatic negotiations and discussions, and we will continue to be engaged in those moving forward.
And again, we’ll continue to have a diplomatic presence on the ground, even after we bring our men and women home. As Commander-in-Chief, you have to make decisions about how to protect the men and women serving. When the May 1st deadline was set, that gave — provided us a timeline in which the President had to make a decision about bringing our men and women home, or beginning that process, so that they did not risk greater threats on the ground.
He went through an entire review, an assessment by his national security team to jump to that conclusion. And I will also reiterate that we will continue to provide security assistance, humanitarian assistance, and be partners to the government of Afghanistan in the months ahead, as is evident by the fact that he hosted leaders here just last Friday.
Q So the sense of fatigue, does he — do you — does he feel that way, do you think?
MS. PSAKI: I would say, I think people are a little overreading into his response to a series of — a Q&A leading into a holiday weekend when he had already answered three questions on Afghanistan. And he just said, “This is the fourth question…” and he then went on and answered a couple additional questions.
The President could not be more proud of the men and women serving who have served over the last 20 years, and he is going to use every opportunity he can to thank them for their service, thank the families of those fallen service members who served proudly and bravely in Afghanistan. But this was a decision he made because he felt it was in the best interest of our national security in the United States.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Oh, okay. I think you guys have to gather.
Okay, go ahead. You’re the last one.
Q All right. Thank you, Jen. You mentioned that a COVID-19 surge team was heading to Colorado. Do you have an update on when one could be arriving in the state of Missouri?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q And could you speak to the broader concern that the administration might have about the Midwest as a region? And then I do have one other question after that.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let me see if I have — I think I have — oh, we are also working with — closely with the Missouri Health Department in identifying needs there, and we’re prepared to mobilize a team to Missouri where the focus is on vaccine confidence efforts, epidemiology surveillance and sequencing support related to the Delta variant.
I would say our concern is where there are communities where there are lower vaccination rates because it means more people are at risk. And we are going to continue to do everything in the power of the federal government — whether that’s providing supply, whether that is sending surge response teams, whether that is ensuring people understand where they can get access, or whether it’s communicating directly to young people, people under 27 who have a lower vaccination rate. That will continue in communities in the Midwest or in any parts of the country where there are lower vaccination rates.
Thank you. Have a gre- —
Q And following — following up on the President’s visit yesterday —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — to Surfside: Once that investigation is complete and we know more about what caused the collapse, is there legislation potentially — would the White House be supportive of federal legislation that would address issues like building standards and condo association oversight and building recertification?
MS. PSAKI: Let’s see what the investigation concludes, and then we can have a discussion about the next steps.
Thanks so much, everyone.
Q Thanks a lot, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Have a great weekend.
2:12 P.M. EDT