Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jen Psaki Aboard Air Force One En Route Crystal Lake, IL
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Crystal Lake, Illinois
11:13 A.M. CDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Welcome to our trip to Crystal Lake, Illinois. In Crystal Lake, the President will make the case for generational investments in human infrastructure and other critical priorities like clean energy that form his Build Back Better agenda, a combination of the American Families Plan, and policies from the American Jobs Plan that aren’t included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework.
At McHenry County College, which has workforce development programs and a childcare center, the President will underline the specific game-changing impacts of the Buil- — his Build Back Better agenda.
He will argue that to build an economy from the bottom up and the middle out, we need to invest in our people by providing four additional years of public education to every student, increasing Pell Grants and investing in job training.
You’ll also hear him talk about the fact that, as a former single father, he will — he will stress that his plan is to help boost childcare affordability by building new childcare centers and ensuring that no middle-class family pays more than 7 percent of their income on high-quality care for children up to age five.
He will also note that the Build Back Better plan will invest in the childcaring workforce, provide parents with an up to $8,000 tax credit to cover their childcare expenses, institute 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, and extand [sic] — and extend the expanded Child Tax Credit from the Rescue Plan.
Finally, with over 10 million Americans currently paying over half of what they earn in rent, the President will cover how the Build Back Better agenda includes a historic investment in affordable housing — something I think you all haven’t heard him talk about that much yet — to address supply and building or rehabilitating more than 2 million homes.
One other item for all of you: Today we also announced three initiatives as part of the President’s forthcoming executive order, fulfilling his campaign promise to promote competition in labor markets in order to raise wages and make it easier for workers to change jobs and to move between states.
First, roughly half of private sector businesses require at least some employees to enter non-compete agreements, affecting over 30 million people. This affects construction workers, hotel workers, many blue-collar jobs, not just high-level executives. He believes that if someone offers you a better job, you should be able to take it. It makes sense.
So, in keeping with his campaign promise, the executive order will call on the FTC to adopt rules that curtail non- compete agreements. His executive order will also call on the Federal Trade Commission to adopt rules that ban unnecessary occupational licensing requirements. Today, almost 30 percent of jobs in the U.S. require a license from attorneys and accountants to interior designers and hairdressers.
While occupational licensing can serve important health and safety concerns, unnecessary or overly burdensome licensing can lock people out of jobs. This hugely affects military families in particular, over one third of whom work in a field requiring a license and who are subject to military-directed moves every year.
Finally, a little update for you on vaccine doses. Today we’re announcing we are sharing more doses with Latin America. One million Johnson & Johnson doses will be headed to Bolivia on Thursday. One million doses of Pfizer will be sent to Paraguay.
Sorry, actual last thing: The Department of Education also released today nearly $6 billion in American Rescue Plan funds to six states and Washington, D.C., to support the safe reopening of K-through-12 schools.
Lots going on. Go ahead.
Q A couple of questions. Off the top, I know the midterms are a while away, but they come quicker than you expect, so can we talk politics a little bit, partly because the President has visited three top targeted congressional districts in the past week. Obviously, today is one of them. So, considering the party in power typically loses seats in a midterm, is part of the strategy right now to mitigate those potential losses? And does the White House see the President’s policies as swaying voters in the upcoming midterms?
Well, first, I would say that the President is visiting this district in Illinois today because Congresswoman — in part because Congresswoman Lauren Underwood has — is a registered nurse. She’s a champion for healthcare and expanding access to affordable healthcare. And that certainly is part of what’s under discussion and what is part of his Build Back Better agenda.
I will say that when the President put together his economic plans — his Build Back Better agenda, the American Rescue Plan, the American Jobs Plan, the American Families Plan — what he had in mind was governing for all Americans — Democrats, Republicans — and making clear that he was going to be the President for everyone, not just the people who voted for him.
And certainly the most effective role he can play as President, as Commander-in-Chief, and certainly as leader of the party, is to go out there and do what he does best, which is to be the “explainer-in-chief” and make — and lay out the specific plans and specific ways his plans, his proposals, and the agenda of the Democratic Party, but also his administration, are going to help people across the country.
Q And then, on these cyberattacks, the RNC was just attacked by a likely Russian actor. And so, considering that reining in these cyberattacks was a central focus of the Putin summit, does the President still believe that that summit was a success considering we’ve seen two new Russia-linked cyberattacks in the last week?
And then, coming out of this interagency meeting that just happened, can you tell us a little bit more about what went on there and if there were any sort of clear retaliatory actions that the U.S. is considering in response to these attacks?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. First, on the RNC report — because I think some of the reporting got a little ahead of where the administration is and where actual attribution is. I’d also note that the RNC put out a statement conveying this was a third-party vendor and that none of their data was accessed.
So we, of course, are investigating. The FBI, CISA are in touch with the RNC, and when — we will determine attribution and make a decision accordingly.
As it relates to the meeting that the President had earlier today, he met — the President and the Vice President, I should say, met this morning with our national security team as a part of an internal update briefing on our across-whole-of-government effort to address ransomware attacks.
Now, I would remind all of you that ransomware attacks are not new; they long predated this administration. What is new is this level of engagement at the — at a high level — at the highest level, ongoing high-level engagement from our national security officials with the Russian government, and expert-level talks about the cyber and ransomware attacks.
So, in this meeting, they provided an update on their ongoing work: surge capacity, resilience and reporting, addressing payment systems, and our ongoing efforts to combat ransomware.
We don’t have anything new to report in terms of attribution, nor do we have anything to preview in terms of operational actions or considerations.
What we do continue — what we did — they did discuss is the fact that the President reserves the right to respond against any ransomware networks and those that harbor them. That continues to be his policy.
Q But what did the President mean today when he said, at departure, that he would “deliver” this message to Putin?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the question was — I can’t remember what the context —
Q The question was, “What’s your message to Putin?” And he said, “I’ll deliver it to him.”
MS. PSAKI: I think he wasn’t going to share with all of you what he just discussed in a private briefing. (Inaudible.)
Q Has the RNC asked the administration for assistance at all? Have you been in — has the administration —
MS. PSAKI: The FBI and CISA have been in touch with the RNC, yes.
Q Jen, can I ask for an update on OPEC? Do you have any new details about outreach from the administration — who’s been doing that? Do you still feel encouraged, like you did yesterday, as the talks continue to drag out? And just a general kind of status check on how things are going.
MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand your question. We don’t have any update from yesterday. Just to reiterate: While we’re not a party of OPEC, we are in touch with key participants in these discussions. We’re encouraged that they’re continuing, but we don’t have any update on the status.
Q Still don’t expect the President to get involved directly at any point?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any expectation of that at this point, or prediction (inaudible).
Q Can I go back to cyber just for one second?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q You mentioned payment systems, and I know that you’re looking into whether — you know, how to approach this — how ransoms are paid, and whether they should be paid in that entire question. But given the role that cryptocurrencies are playing in that, is that an area that you’re looking into for further investigations?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, that’s a part of ransom payments. And I should just say that part of this is there’s been ongoing work led by Deputy National Security Advisor Anne Neuberger and others across the government to consider what has long been a range of issues as it relates to ransomware attacks. And certainly cryptocurrency, the role of cryptocurrency, the role of payment systems is a part of that.
Surge capacity — the importance of partnering but also encouraging the private sector to harden their own protections — that’s all part of it. And this was a internal, you know, somewhat standard update, but one with an across-the-government representation.
Q And then one more on that. So, sanctions are one of the tools that you’ve used against Russia. You used them in response to election interference issues. And I’m wondering, if this is something that we see happening with the RNC — another leg of Russia attempting to interfere in the political process here — do you still see sanctions as a viable tool for dealing with that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say, on the RNC piece, I think it’s really important to asse- — to speak to where we are in this moment, which is the RNC has put out a statement conveying this was a third-party vendor. They’ve said none of their data was accessed. So it’s not that at this point. We’re investigating. We’ll conclude the investigation and make an assessment.
In terms of operational considerations, obviously it’s not in our interest to preview those or preview our punches, as I like to say. The President has a range of options should he determine to take action.
Q On Afghanistan: How is the U.S. going to continue its civilian — its civil and humanitarian support for the country if the Taliban continues its march? Is there a plan to work with the Taliban? Is there — how do you do it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, there are ongoing political negotia- —
(Turbulence on the plane.)
Ooh, okay. Oh, okay, let’s see how this happens here. Everyone is okay on the plane — happy to report — currently. (Laughter.) Alex has been teaching me. I’ve flown a little, but everyone seems fine.
Okay. Okay, sorry. To get back to your question: So, there are a number of efforts that will be underway; one are political negotiations. Certainly, the State Department would provide an update of when those will reconvene, but we certainly expect and hope and are supportive of the continuation of those political discussions.
One of the reasons that the President made the decision he did is because he does not feel there’s a military solution for a 20-year war. Has — has long felt there was not a military solution. Diplomatic negotiations.
Two, as he reiterated when Afghan leaders were here just a couple of weeks ago, we will continue to provide, as you said, humanitarian assistance, security assistance. We intend to continue to have a diplomatic presence on the ground in Kabul, even after we bring the servicemen and women home at the end of August. So, that is a mechanism for that.
I would say, three, obviously, as you know, we’re going to continue to work with partners in the region to plan for our own CT preparations.
Q On vaccination: Yesterday, you talked about door knocking, which is a pretty standard thing, and it was picked up in the far-right sphere as, you know, “the government is going to come to your door and make you get a vaccine.” I am wondering your reaction to that and what that type of messaging does for the efforts to, you know, convince people who might be hesitant to get vaccinated.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I appreciate the question. Well, let me tell you what this is and what it is not. What this effort is is a continuation of what we have seen as an impactful effort that we’ve had by local public health officials and volunteers in a range of communities over the last month of action.
We’ve actually seen an impact — a positive impact of a range of steps we’ve taken in states like Florida, Mississippi, others where there have been lower vaccination rates. There’s been actually an increase by over 4 percent in Florida, over the last month, of adults.
But what we’re doing is local officials are going to areas where there are lower vaccination rates and providing information on where people can get access to a vaccine, where they can go, that it’s free, that they can take time off of work. It’s up to individuals to decide whether they want to get vaccinated or not.
But what we’ve seen as a barrier all along, for months, has been access and information, and so we’re going to continue to deploy the tactic — tactics that we’ve seen effective over the last few months.
Q And a lot of folks in the public health world have said that while they appreciate the voluntary nature, that you guys are — you know, what you just said, that it’s up to the individual to get vaccinated — they also think that the only way to get to, sort of, much larger numbers of vaccinated people is if there are mandates — whether those be mandates by private companies for their employees or universities or public schools or states that mandate for different kinds of, you know, healthcare workers or others.
Yesterday, when I asked you the question, you said you had no interest in the government — that the administration has no interest in encouraging that. I mean, is that really the position of the federal government, is that you do not want to encourage the kind of mandates that public health officials say would work?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, for clarity, that’s not currently the role of the federal government. And our role is to provide supply, provide information, provide public health experts. As — to your point, there are a number of private sector entities, universities, institutions that are starting to mandate, and that’s an innovative step that they will take and they should take. That’s not — and we’re not taking issue with that.
Q But public health officials say that you guys are in a — and the President of the United States, with his bully pulpit and, you know, obviously taking not the kind of hands-off approach that Donald Trump took to federal (inaudible) —
MS. PSAKI: I would say first —
Q — they want you to — they want you to be part of pushing these institutions to do that.
MS. PSAKI: But, Mike, I think the important thing to remind everyone of is that, one, we have reduced the rate of COVID by 90 percent. We’ve reduced the death rate by 90 percent. Almost 70 percent of the adult population is vaccinated, and we’re continuing to press further.
There are institutions, there are private sector entities that will take this step. We’re not standing in their way. Those are innovative steps. Go forward and take steps that you feel are appropriate. We’re just talking about what the steps are, what the role is of the federal government.
Q You had said to me that you’re sort of trapped between —
Q (Inaudible) on the violence in Chicago?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q The administration is sort of trapped between the people who are saying, “You need to do more; you need to mandate or you’re just not going to reach people,” and the people who are saying, “Oh, my God. The government is going to mandate this.” It seems like you’re kind of stuck in the middle.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. But I think what we continue to remember is what constructive role we can play as the federal government, and that includes continuing to use resources to get out into communities; to empower public health officials; to get accurate information out; to ensure people understand, as the CDC put out information earlier today or overnight, that 50 percent of the indivi- — of the cases are now, as a result of the Delta variant, higher in areas where there are lower vaccination rates.
That is the role where we’re going to spend our energy and our resources.
Q Can we get the White House reaction to the violence in Chicago — those three officers shot overnight, one of whom was an ATF agent? There’s an alderman in Chicago who is asking that the President come in the wake of what happened. He says, quote, “Our communities and police officers are under siege.” What’s the President’s message as we’re about to land there and he’s about to meet with the mayor of that city?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let me first say that we are closely monitoring the situation in coordination with the Department of Justice and ATF. We stand ready to provide any assistance needed. Our thoughts go out to the two ATF agents and the Chicago Police Department officer who were wounded, as well as their families and fellow agents and officers.
As the President has said many times, every time a law enforcement officer pins on their shield and walks out the door, they’re carrying a sacred responsibility.
I will note that, in terms of the efforts the President has underway to address the rise in violence we’ve seen over the last 18 months, including in Chicago, there are a number of steps that impact Chicago directly and specifically, including — his Rescue Plan is giving cities like Chicago — alone is getting almost $1.9 billion through the Rescue Plan. Cook County is getting over $1 billion. And the state government of Illinois is receiving an additional $8.13 billion.
As a part of our gun crime reduction strategy, Chicago is also taking part in a community violence intervention collaborative with 15 jurisdictions nationwide to help them invest in proven evidence-based, community-based strategies.
And Chicago is also one of the five cities we announced recently that’s going to be — we’re going to be working with — the Department of Justice is going to be working with in launching a gun trafficking strike force — there’s four other cities, I should say, nationwide — to help interrupt gun trafficking corridors that send crime into Chicago from across the city and state lines.
Q Will he visit?
MS. PSAKI: Will he visit — our plans today have not changed in terms of our travel plans.
Q Has the President spoken to Governor Pritzker or Mayor Lightfoot this week, following the extremely violent weekends? Has he —
MS. PSAKI: He’s going to see both of them today.
Q Jen, on the bipartisan infrastructure plan —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — we still haven’t seen congressional scoring or legislative language, especially on the payfors. Is that a signal that, you know, they’re still in that, kind of, “coffee, late-night” area that you discussed before? Or might we a- — the alternate solution is that there’s been a problem with the scoring and it doesn’t quite add up? Is there a possibility that the payfors change in any way at this point?
MS. PSAKI: I think the order of events here, as I think you’re alluding to, is they need to write the legislation first, which they’re working on over the coming days.
Q One on Haiti. I believe that you sent out a tweet — and I don’t know what’s happened in the past hour and a half, but I believe the U.S. Embassy in Haiti has not tweeted any form of tweet about what happened, and a lot of the Western embassies have. So I’m just checking to see if there’s any sort of, like, friction or —
MS. PSAKI: Well, we put out a statement from the President.
Q Do you think the U.S. Embassy in Haiti should be putting out —
MS. PSAKI: I would ask the State Department that question. I don’t — I don’t think there’s an issue. We put out a statement from the President on it.
Q We’re about to land.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Has the U.S. been asked to help in Haiti? I mean, I know that you guys are providing whatever —
MS. PSAKI: We stand prepared to assist. We’re certainly in touch, but obviously this is — this is still developing, and so we’ll assess what their needs are. And we’re ready to provide needs — you know, respond to the needs they ask for.
Q Thanks, Jen.
Q Thank you.
11:31 A.M. CDT