Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, July 19, 2021
1:06 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Good morning — or good afternoon. Happy Monday.
Okay, one item for all of you at the top. The United States continues its tremendous efforts to donate COVID-19 vaccines from the U.S. global supply. Today, we can announce that we have over a million Johnson & Johnson vaccines headed to Gambia, Senegal, Zambia, and Niger. We’re also pleased to announce 3 million vaccines going to Guatemala tomorrow, continuing our prioritization of Latin American countries.
As these shipments demonstrate, the United States is fulfilling our promise to be an arsenal of vaccines for the world, and we’re proud to be donating these doses to save lives and help those in need.
Josh, why don’t you kick us off.
Q Thanks, Jen. Two subjects. First, the President’s remarks on why China didn’t face sanctions for cyberattacks but Russia did: Could you clarify, since both countries are accused of protecting criminal hacker groups? And then, along the same lines, the U.S. imports about $435 billion dollars in goods from China. To what degree do economic concerns play a role in how to address cyberattacks?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say that, today, an unprecedented group of allies and partners — including the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, and NATO — are joining the United States in exposing and criticizing the PRC’s Ministry of State Security’s malicious cyber activities. And this is the first time NATO has condemned PRC cyber activities.
So, I would note that we are actually elevating and taking steps to not only speak out publicly, but certainly take action as it relates to problematic cyber activities from China — in a different way, but as we have from Russia as well. We are not differentiating one as, you know, out of the realm of condemnation or out of the realm of consequence from the United States.
In terms of the economic pieces, I think you’re asking me — give me a little more on your question we’re trying to get at.
Q I mean, basically the U.S. economy depends a lot on Chinese imports. We only get $16 billion worth of goods from Russia. If we were to come with major sanctions on China, is there a risk that we can be hurting our own economy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, that we take cyber actions against our country and against private-sector entities quite seriously.
The Department of Justice is imposing costs and today announced criminal charges against four MSS hackers. These charges address activities concerning a multi-year campaign targeting foreign governments and entities in key sectors.
We also have, of course, through the National Security Agency, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and Federal Bureau of Investigation, exposed over 50 tactics, techniques, and procedures Chinese state-sponsored cyber actors used when targeting U.S. and allied networks.
My point is we are not holding back. We are not allowing any economic circumstance or consideration to prevent us from taking actions where warranted. And also, we reserve the option to take additional actions where warranted as well. This is not the conclusion of our efforts as it relates to cyber activities with China or Russia.
Q And then, secondly, with Facebook: The President suggested that executives look in the mirror and change their practices. Does that mean the administration isn’t considering any regulatory or legal moves to possibly address disinformation on social media?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think we’ve taken any options off the table. That’s up to Congress to determine how they want to proceed moving forward.
But let me just note that we’re not in a war or a battle with Facebook; we’re in a battle with the virus. And the problem we’re seeing, that our Surgeon General elevated just last week, is that disinformation, traveling through a range of mediums — some of them are a range of social media platforms, some of them are media, some of them are through the mouth of public officials — that bad information, inaccurate information about vaccines is killing people.
That’s where our concern is, and that’s what we — the President is working to express and also what the Surgeon General expressed in his report just last week.
Go ahead, Steve.
Q Now that you’ve levelled these charges on China, do you plan to raise them with them?
MS. PSAKI: We, of course, will continue to be in touch with Chinese officials at a high level, and that — that will be the case in these regards as well.
Q Is the Chinese government actively doing the hacking or contracting it out?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more detail than that, Steve. Let me check and see if there’s more we can provide to you about —
Q Lastly, the Belarus opposition leader is in Washington this week. I think she’s going to meet Tony Blinken today. Is the President going to meet with her?
MS. PSAKI: We are still finalizing what the details are. She will be meeting with White House officials. I wouldn’t say it will be the President, but she will be meeting with White House officials when she’s here. We’ll have more to report on that once those details are finalized.
Go ahead, Phil.
Q Just to follow up: The statement said the Ministry of State Security was directly paying hackers, which is, I think, why it was elevated. The President kind of compared it to the Russia situation but said that maybe they’re protecting them or accommodating them, which doesn’t seem to be a direct link. That’s what the statement said this morning. I’m just trying to square kind of where things stand in terms of how the White House views what has actually transpired.
MS. PSAKI: As it relates to the cyber activities and the attribution that was put out earlier this morning?
Q Yeah. Yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that we felt it was important to be clear that — as was clear when we made the announcement this morning, that the former attribution of the malicious cyber campaign utilizing the zero-day vulnerabilities in the Microsoft Exchange serv- — server, which was disclosed in March 2021 — two malicious cyber actors, affiliated with the MSS with high confidence. That was the information put out by the intelligence community or by our national security team earlier today. That is accurate.
That’s why we worked also — and it’s significant, which is why I pointed this out initially — that we worked in coordination with Eur- — with many partners around the world — the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and NATO — to criticize, expose, and call out these malicious cyber activities. But that is the information that’s accurate about the attribution.
Q And then, just one more on that and then one quick other one. The President said he’s going to be briefed on it or — in his remarks, when he was asked about it, he said he was going to be briefed on it. This is a pretty significant el- — escalation of things from the U.S. and its allies. What more does the President need to be briefed on in terms of the process, going forward?
MS. PSAKI: I would say, first: The President is regularly briefed. He certainly is aware of attributions that are determined by the U.S. government, including the one announced earlier today. But this is an ongoing effort, an ongoing consideration of how to prevent these malicious actions from happening in the future to other private-sector companies — certainly something that the President will continue to speak with his national security team about.
Q And then, just one more on the economic side. Obviously, the President kind of addressed inflation head on today. One thing that Chair Powell says — and I know you guys are in the same place on the idea that it’s transitory right now — but Chair Powell said, in congressional testimony, “We’re humble about what we understand,” given the fact this — there’s no real roadmap coming out of a once-in-a-century pandemic, economically.
Is the White House economic team, when it comes to the inflation, also humble about what they understand — that maybe they don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen next as it pertains to inflation?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. We take inflation very seriously. It is under the purview of the Federal Reserve. As you know, they have regular quarterly meeting where they put out that information and any considerations publicly.
Their projection continues to be that, while there’s an — a projected increase in inflation this year, it’s expected to come back down to about 2.2 next year. They have not changed that, and that is aligned with a number of outside economists as well.
You’re also correct that when the economy is turning back on from a global pandemic, there isn’t a lot of historic precedent for that.
And certainly, we’re seeing prices go back to pre-pandemic levels in some cases. We’re also seeing a range of factors, including shortages in the supply chain — from chips shortages that are impacting the auto industry, to lumber shortages that are impacting the housing industry — that are also factors here as we’re seeing price increases.
But we do look at all of that. We take it incredibly seriously. And we respect the role of the Federal Reserve as well.
Go ahead, Rachel.
Q Thanks, Jen. Two questions — one on — just to follow-up on and China and the cyberattacks. A senior administration official said that no one country acting on its own can change China’s behavior. So, if the United States were to take action against China, would it do so alone, or does the administration feel like you need allies on board to take that step?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s a good question, Rachel. I think as we’ve approached our China strategy from the beginning and our policy as it relates to China, we’ve always felt that going — working together, working in partnership with allies around the world, and also with — in partnership with members of the federal government, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, was how we approached it from a position of strength.
So, what’s significant today is that while we’re all calling out these malicious cyber activities, so are a number of our key partners around the world: the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan.
These malicious cyber activities are not only impacting the United States. They’re impacting a range of countries, a range of partners. And, yes, we would, of course, like to work with countries and work with our key partners around the world moving forward. And, you know, obviously we can’t determine steps and consequences on their behalf, but that is certainly our objective and how we’ve approached our strategy to date.
Q But you’re not ruling out taking action on your own if you felt like it was necessary?
MS. PSAKI: No, we’re not. But we also, from the beginning, have felt that working in partnership, working in coordination is — and working together is a stronger way to approach malicious activity — cyber activity and others — with — in areas of concern around the world.
Q One quick follow-up just on infrastructure. You know, Republicans are saying that they don’t want to move forward with this test vote that’s scheduled for Wednesday without knowing exactly how they’re going to pay for everything in that bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Senator Bill Cassidy, over the weekend, said the White House is not working with Republicans on the payfors and that he feels like they’re competing with Democrats’ $3.5 trillion plan. So does the administration feel like these differences can be resolved in the next 48 hours?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I think it’s important to take a step back and remember that, a month ago, a bipartisan group of senators stood outside of the White House with the President to announce an agreement on infrastructure framework. There’s been a lot of progress since then — a lot of late nights, a lot of coffee drinking — and important legislating, bill writing that’s happened.
But the American people have waited a long time. The American people are ready to see progress. And we believe it’s time for progress to happen and time for this legislation to move forward. We also work in close contact or close coordination with, of course, Leader Schumer, and we defer to him and other leaders in Congress on the timeline and the sequencing of legislation moving forward.
Q On that discussion with Leader Schumer, has he talked in the last few days, at all, with any of the Republicans
who are negotiating (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: The — the President? I don’t have any calls to read out for you. I can tell you that our team, senior White House officials, have been in close to- — contact with Democrats and Republicans, members, and their offices. And, whenever it warrants, the President is always happy to pick up the phone.
Q And then, on the Guantanamo Bay announcement today: Senior officials said 10 of the remaining detainees are eligible for repatriation. Any sense yet of the targeted timelines for transferring them? And is there a broader goal within this administration of closing Guantanamo Bay? Has that timeline been set?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, our goal is to close Guantanamo Bay. I can tell you that there’s 39 — I think you know some of this, but for others who are following it — there are 39 detainees who remain at Guantanamo Bay: 10 are eligible for transfer, 17 are eligible for a Periodic Review Board, 10 are involved in the military commissions process, and 2 detainees have been convicted.
This individual who we announced the transfer of — the Department of Defense announced the transfer of — had been — had started moving through the process during the Obama-Biden administration and was on pause for some period of time over the last four years.
I don’t have a timeline for you. As you know, there’s a process. There are different layers of the process. But that remains our goal, and we are considering all available avenues to responsibly transfer detainees and, of course, close Guantanamo Bay.
Q We and a few other outlets have reported that the administration is now planning to send about 2,500 Afghan translators and, I believe, members of their family to Fort Lee in Virginia as they complete the steps to have their legal status in this country reviewed. Will there be other U.S. military bases in the United States also used to house them temporarily?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, any confirmation and final details of military base usage would be from the Department of Defense and the State Department, given they’re implementing these programs. I expect they will have more to share with you, Ed. I just want to defer to them, given it is their programs.
I will say that when I went through the programs and how the process worked last week, one of the things I tried to note but I will — I will elevate again here is that individuals who have completed the process — the security review — the vetting and security process could be relocated to the United States. That would be certainly military — U.S. military bases, and the Department of Defense will assess how many of those and how many facilities they would need for those transfers.
Q Two real quick scheduling things.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q Is he — is the President at all scheduled to meet any time soon with members of the Texas Democratic House delegation that’s here in Washington?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any meetings to preview for you at this point in time.
Q And I hesitate to ask this because I’m only (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Don’t hesitate. It’s okay. It’s a Monday.
Q Is Tom Brady joining the Buccaneers here at the White House tomorrow? I’ve been asked to ask this by several (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: (Laughs.) It’s okay. I don’t have the list of Buccaneers attending tomorrow in front of me. We will see if we can venture to get that for you all by the end of the day.
Q Thank you, Jen. And great throw yesterday —
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
Q — at the Nationals.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
Q On vaccine hesitancy: As COVID-19 cases rise, if this is becoming a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” and you guys are having a hard time getting a certain part of the population to go get the shot, would President Biden ever call former President Trump and say, “I need your help. Let’s cut a PSA and tell people to go do it”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that what we’ve seen in our data is that the most trusted voices are local officials, doctors, medical experts, civic leaders, clergy, from time to time — and that is where we have really invested our funding and our resources.
We’ve seen almost every former President play a role in putting out a PSA, making sure people understood in the country that the vaccine is safe and effective. We don’t believe that requires an embroidered invitation to be a part of.
But certainly, any role of anyone who has a platform where they can provide information to the public that the vaccine is safe, it is effective, we don’t see this as a political issue, we’d certainly welcome that engagement.
Q And about those Texas Democrats, since the Vice President met with these Texas Democratic lawmakers, five of them have now tested positive for COVID-19. Is there any safety concern about her spending time around the President until a certain amount of time has passed?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say the — I think the Vice President’s Office put out that she was tested, and that she did — there was no detection of COVID-19. They also put out some specific details about their proximity to the individuals who tested positive as well.
We take these precautions incredibly seriously and abide by the health — the guidance of our health and medical experts.
Q Do officials here wish that those Texas Democrats would have been more careful and taken more precautions like wearing masks on the flight here?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t think I’m going to be in a position here to assess what safety precautions they may or may not have taken. Obviously, these individuals were out there trying to elevate the issue of an individual’s right to vote. We — we, of course, hope everybody abides by public health guidelines. That’s what we certainly recommend.
But the Vice President — what’s important for everybody to know is that the Vice President was tested. She, of course, takes these precautions seriously, and we would follow any advice our public health officials give us.
Q And can you tell us anything else about the nature of her trip to Walter Reed yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. She was — it was a — it was a visit that was scheduled for several weeks, long before the visit of the Texas legislators — a routine appointment, which she had had again scheduled several weeks ago.
Go ahead, Kelly.
Q And just to button that up: She and the President have been in the same room since she had that test? There’s no separation of the President and the Vice President?
MS. PSAKI: There haven’t been additional precautions taken, no.
Q On China, can you help us understand why the President — I asked a couple of questions today — was not, sort of, in the same posture we’ve seen toward Russia, where he has called out Russia publicly to stop?
And from what we know based on the administration’s findings, this is China paying cyber criminals to carry out — whereas, in Russia, our understanding is Putin may have some looser relationship or perhaps some ability to direct criminal actors, but not that connection. So, we gave the President an opportunity to address the China issue today; he seemed to pull his punches and not go after China. Why?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, Kelly, that that was not the intention he was trying to project. He takes malicious cyberactivity incredibly seriously. The effort and the — to engage and unite an unprecedented group of our allies and partners was something that was under his direction.
And he felt — he continues to feel it’s important to lead from a position of strength in close coordination with our partners and allies around the world. And he takes malicious cyberactivity — whether it’s from Russia or China; whomever the actors may be — quite seriously. And I think our efforts to lead on this should be an indication of that.
Q On COVID, does the administration think it is appropriate, at this time, to try to do more tracking on breakthrough cases since there are more reports of that, and that’s not something the CDC has been following, except when it’s hospitalizations? Should more data collection take place?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a great question. I’ll have to talk to my health — our health and medical experts about the benefits of that tracking, and how they see that as a public health priority.
I will note that what we’ve continued to see is that the individuals — 99.5 percent of people who are being hospitalized and dying of COVID are not vaccinated. The individuals who — who are — who have been — who have gotten COVID, I should say — a number of these individuals we’ve been talking about from a public manner have been getting mild cases, have not been hospitalized.
That’s, of course, no one’s preference to get any form, but they have been asymptomatic and that is showing that the vaccine is actually working.
Q On the virus, the President spoke this morning about the economic boom the country is undergoing.
MS. PSAKI: Yep.
Q But stock and oil prices fell today, in part because of rising concerns about the Delta variant. Is the administration — is the President considering reinstating mask requirements at all — both for health, but also for economic reasons?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that we are — we look — our health and medical experts — look closely at the broad swath of data across the country. And I would remind you all that almost 70 percent of adults are still vaccinated in this country. We are not in the place we were two months, three months, six months ago, as it relates to our fight with the virus.
It is still underway. We are still battling the virus. There’s no question. And as the President said just on Friday, this has become a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” in that that is where we are seeing hospitalizations, where we are seeing deaths.
We certainly have seen — we, of course, have seen the movements in the stock market. We also know that unemployment is down, economic growth is up, job creation is up, wages are up, and we can assure people we are still at war with the virus, even as we’ve seen progress made over the last several months.
Q One more also on COVID. I’m sure you’ve seen an alternate on the women’s gymnastics team has tested positive while in Japan. Any specific precautions the White House is taking with the First Lady’s travel to ensure her safety as she goes over there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, we are aware of, of course, COVID-19 cases among a handful of athletes. We’re monitoring the situation, wishing a speedy recovery to those who have tested positive.
Public health remains a central priority for the games. The government of Japan and the IOC have very strict protocols, and they are taking careful safety precautions to keep the athletes and the public safe.
Nothing has changed in terms of our plans for the U.S. delegation. Our team will be following very strict protoc- — safety and health protocols, limiting engagement with the public, and keeping our footprint as small as possible.
Our COVID team at the White House, as well as health officials at the IOC and the government of Japan all agree that the stringent protocols and health measures in place will keep — will keep them safe. But, of course, we continue to monitor individuals (inaudible).
Q Anything specific with the First Lady’s travel?
MS. PSAKI: There is nothing new. Nothing has changed as it relates to her travel or the travel of the delegation.
Q Earlier today, the President said he wasn’t sure whether Facebook had done enough since last week to combat misinformation. Is there anything that the White House can point to generally that perhaps indicates that companies are getting the message?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s a — as I, kind of, started off in response to Josh, I would just go back to the point that our fight is not with one social media platform; it is with the virus. And we have a role, who — everybody has a role in combating misinformation.
In terms of monitoring whether there have been steps that have been taken, I mean, there are things that you all can assess. There’s no secret monitoring, right? You all can assess as media organizations and companies as well. Do you have access to information from these platforms as to who is receiving misinformation? I don’t think that information has been released. Do you know how the algorithms are working at any of these platforms? I don’t think that information has been released.
But again, this is not about one platform. This is about misinformation that we’re seeing travel around, into the minds — the inboxes, the minds, the — of individuals, of people around the country — inaccurate information that is preventing people from taking the step to getting vaccinated. And that is, of course, a public health concern for us.
Q One quick follow-up, just to button it down: On the Senate calendar for Wednesday —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah?
Q So, the White House has no pause at this point about going forward with the cloture vote on Wednesday?
MS. PSAKI: It is the decision of the Leader — of Leader Schumer on the timing and schedule of the Senate votes.
I will note, again, that it has been about four weeks since the President and bipartisan members stood outside together and announced an agreement. Lots of work has happened. Lots of good work together — bipartisan work — has happened, but we believe it’s time to move forward with — with this vote with congressional action.
Go ahead, Anne.
Q Two quickly on Guantanamo, and then I have one other thing. Can you be a little more precise about what the President’s timeline is for closure of Guantanamo? For example, does he think, as some advocates have suggested, that it should be closed in this, his first year in office? If not, does he have a deadline?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a new deadline to outline here for you today.
Q So, just closure when it can be closed?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Anne, there are several components of this process. It includes notifications and consultations with Congress. It’s not something where one individual, even the President of the United States, can do it on his own.
Q And then on military commissions, 10 of the remaining 39 detainees are eligible for military commission prosecution. As you know, the chief prosecutor has retired with no announcement of a replacement ahead of the first major trial of the Biden administration under that protocol. What is the administration’s plan for military commissions? And does the President continue to believe that it is an appropriate way to deal with the remaining detainees?
MS. PSAKI: I — nothing has changed about the appropriateness of — or his view — our view, the President’s view of the appropriateness of the commissions. I can certainly check with the Department of Defense and national security team if there’s additional —
Q And lastly, there’s some new Havana Syndrome cases or suspected cases. Is the administration now prepared to say that it believes Russia is responsible for this string of attacks? And what is the President doing to protect U.S. diplomats and others from these kinds of attacks?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the NSC — the National Security Council — is coordinating a full review of intelligence reporting to ascertain whether there may be previously unreported incidents that fit a broader pattern.
At this time, we still don’t know the cause of these incidents or whether they constitute an attack of some kind by a foreign actor. These are areas of active inquiry, something that our intelligence community is working on and very focused on.
Q Jen, thanks so much.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q The infrastructure framework: If it fails to advance on Wednesday, what’s the backup plan? Is the President committed to making sure there is a bipartisan component, or will Democrats go it alone?
MS. PSAKI: We’re not quite there yet. There is a lot of good work that’s happened. Two days is a lifetime in Washington, so I don’t think we’re going to make predictions of the death of the infrastructure package.
Q Can you share some more about what possible payfors the President’s team has proposed that might fall into the category of things Republicans have not already rejected and that the White House has not already rejected?
MS. PSAKI: I understand the question, certainly. I — those conversations and discussions are having — are being had among the bipartisan group that is finalizing this piece of legislation.
And while there was agreement, of course, on the support for the IRS step that would have just ensured that some of the wealthiest Americans paid what they owed in taxes, some have backed away from that.
There are other ways that they’re discussing. We’re open to alternatives — very open to alternatives from this end, but we’ll let those conversations happen privately and be supportive of them from our end.
Q Another payfors question: The President was, of course, insistent that the payfors not include an increase in the gas tax, but the agreement does rely on things like public-private partnerships that typically use tolls to pay for the infrastructure.
So can you talk about the difference in user fees? Is it — why — why is tolling and other user fees okay, but gas taxes are not as a mechanism for being for some of this?
MS. PSAKI: I mean, his fundamental base point is that we can’t raise taxes for individuals making less than $400,000 a year. In terms of the specific tolling payfor, I’d have to get more specific details on that. But in his view, nothing violates his commitment on the $400,000.
Go ahead, Karen.
Q Thanks, Jen. The American Academy of Pediatrics today recommended that everyone wear a mask in schools this fall, regardless of their vaccination status — that that’s the only way to keep kids safe.
The CDC guidance does not go that far. It says if you are vaccinated, you can go without a mask, but locals could decide universal masking.
We’ve heard you say repeatedly that the President leans on his trusted medical and health advisors, but would the President like to see masking in all schools this fall?
MS. PSAKI: The President is going to rely on the recommendations of the CDC, and also local school districts will make their own decisions based on the public avail- — publicly available health guidelines. That’s always how it’s worked, and I think it will continue to work that way moving forward.
Q Dr. Fauci, today, on CNN gave an interview, and he said that these different recommendations — the Pediatric Association, the CDC, local jurisdictions — that these types of recommendations can be confusing because they are conflicting or different in some places. What does the White House say to Americans and to parents who may be confused hearing one thing this morning from the AAP, knowing the CDC has something different. How do you sort through all of that?
MS. PSAKI: As a parent myself, it can be confusing. I think we acknowledge that. We rely, from the federal government, on the guidance of the CDC, and that’s how we make recommendations on public health issues from the federal government.
There will be different decisions made by school districts, just like there will be different decisions made by local communities. We certainly understand and recognize that, but we will continue to rely on the CDC for guidelines and guidance.
Q So, now that caseload numbers are rising with the Delta variant, is there something that the Biden administration wished it had done differently to avoid getting to this point, to get us to a better position by now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t know that there were many people who were predicting different impacts of different variants over time. I mean, the steps that we took — we ensured there was enough vaccine across the country and in communities to make sure anybody who wanted to get vaccinated could get vaccinated. We’ve invested in local messengers to ensure that trusted voices are getting out into local communities. We’ve relied on tactics that we’ve seen work effectively, whether it’s mobile units or empowering and engaging and funding doctors and medical experts to get out into local communities.
We also always knew there would be ups and downs in the fight against a virus that is evolving and changing. And that’s one of the reasons that we’ve been calling out misinformation — the impact of misinformation.
I mean, we’ve seen — just over the last couple of days, there was a poll that showed that about 20 percent of the public thinks that microchips are embedded in vaccines. Now, we all know that’s inaccurate and not true. But why does 20 percent of the public think it? Is it is it one platform’s fault? No. Is it one outlets fault? No. But we all have a responsibility to make sure accurate information is out there.
So that’s one — that is our effort to make sure people know they need to be informed and be thoughtful about information they’re getting and the sources of it.
Q One question on the cybersecurity issue. Obviously, the attribution to China today on the ransomware attack — does the United States use ransomware attacks in its cyber-offensive programs?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything about our intelligence or use of cyber act- — or actions or intelligence that I’m going to convey from here.
Q Following up about misinformation —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead. I’ll go to you at — well, let me just go like that. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q Does the President believe that those who mislead Congress should be prosecuted?
MS. PSAKI: Who mislead Congress?
Q Yeah. I mean, it’s the Department of Justice’s decision not to prosecute Wilbur Ross. Just wondering if there’s a general rule of whether he feels he should be prosecuted if they mislead Congress.
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the Department of Justice on that case. I don’t have any more details from here.
Q A follow-up on misinformation on social media. I heard you say that all options are on the table, including maybe legal. Would that mean potential legal action against the 12 that have come of concern for misinformation?
MS. PSAKI: All I was conveying is I’m not taking — I think the question was about legislative action, and I said that’s up to Congress and I’m not here to take options off of the table. That’s Congress’s purview to determine how they’re going to move forward.
Q (Inaudible.) And a follow-up: Does that mean if is up to the purview of Congress that the administration or President Biden is seeing Section 230 a little differently — reforms to Section 230 that protect social media companies for third-party information?
MS. PSAKI: You know, I think the President has been pretty clear in the past that he believes there’s a responsibility of all platforms, including social media platforms, about the information that is traveling on their sites, but I don’t have anything new — nothing new about his position on that issue.
Go ahead, Francesca.
Q Thanks, Jen. Quick point of clarification on immigration first, though.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Is the pathway to citizenship that the President supports in the budget bill for all undocumented immigrants? Or is it the more narrow group of TPS holders, essential workers, DREAMers, as well as farm laborers?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll let Senate leaders put out the specifics in the reconciliation bill. We certainly support the — using the reconciliation package as a — as a platform and a forum for moving immigration protections forward, but we’ll let leaders in Congress speak to what’s included.
Q Okay. And on voting rights, is the White House worried that if new federal voting legislation does not pass before August 6th, which is the anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that it won’t happen before next November?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we draw that timeline conclusion, no.
Go ahead. Oh, go ahead, Asma. Go ahead. Go ahead, Asma.
Q Okay, sure. On immigration, some leading immigration advocates have suggested they do intend — expect the Supreme Court to uphold Judge Hanen’s ruling on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. At this point, does the administration have any other options to protect DACA or DREAMer kids? Or is, really, a congressional route the only route that you all see?
MS. PSAKI: I think, as the President’s statement made clear, a congressional route is the way to make it permanent. And certainly, our Department of Justice has also indicated their intention to fight this effort even after the ruling on Friday as well.
Q So, any interim actions, I guess, before Congress were to act, specifically on the DACA program?
MS. PSAKI: I think, again, as the statement made clear, congressional action is the way to make it permanent. And that’s something the President has long supported and will continue to advocate for.
Q Going back on voting rights real quick, I spoke with Texas State Representative Bowers this morning, who now says it’s actually six members who have COVID that are in the delegation. But she said that they are worried that nothing is going to come from the administration by that August 6th — when (inaudible) ends.
And so she’s wondering: Is there any kind of movement that we can see from the President coming out by that time? I know we still don’t — you know, we don’t know if it’s going — anything on the schedule, but is there anything that he’s planning to say or do?
MS. PSAKI: Do you mean the passage of the Voting Rights — of the bill? Or what would do you mean exactly?
Q On —
MS. PSAKI: Well, what are they — are they expecting in terms of the passage of the legislation or what are —
Q Exactly. She’s wor- — they’re worried that nothing is going to happen by August the 6th, and so that was a big concern when I spoke with her this morning, that there’s no movement that’s going to be coming from the administration.
MS. PSAKI: Well, it would require Congress passing the For the People Act for the President to sign it into law. He can’t — that’s — the action would be first on Congress, not on the President.
Q But him saying anything — coming out and saying, “I know we’ve already talked about the filibuster like 50 million times…”
MS. PSAKI: Beyond the speech he gave last week?
Q Yes. That is exactly what they are —
MS. PSAKI: I think he will continue to advocate for voting rights as a fundamental right for people across the country. That is something he has — gave a major speech on six days ago, and he will continue to look for opportunities to elevate that moving forward as well. Absolutely.
Q Thanks, Jen. I have a follow up to Peter’s question about Trump —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — and I have my own vaccine question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q In my follow up, even if the administration doesn’t partner with the former President, would it consider highlighting or acknowledging, in a greater way, his role in creating the vaccines to assure the rural voters who still support President Trump and are hesitant to get the vaccine?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re — do you have data to suggest that that’s the issue that’s preventing people from getting vaccinated?
Q Well, we’re seeing that the communities — the communities that have the lowest vaccination rates did seem to vote for President Trump.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. But what I’m asking you is if information related to whether or not the former President got credit is leading people not to get vaccinated, or is it information like microchips in vaccines and it causing fertility issues, causing health issues. Because you’re drawing a few conclusions there that I haven’t seen in data, but maybe you have that information to provide.
Q No, but I think it’s just — it’s a — I think it’s an issue — I mean, I think it’s a common sense that these are people who supported him. These are people who are hesitant to get vaccinated. I don’t think it takes a lot to draw the conclusion.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me — let me be very clear. Our — our objective is to ensure all Americans will get vaccinated. That would be — of course, we’d love — we’d love that. Democrats, Republicans, independents — it’s not a political issue to us. The virus does not — (the Press Secretary swats at a fly) — sorry — the virus does not look at people’s party affiliation. We recognize that. The President is going to govern for all people.
What I’m conveying to you is you’re jumping to a few conclusions that I don’t think data backs up, in terms of what the impacts are. And what we’re seeing is that misinformation, traveling in a range of means — whether it’s social media platforms, some forms of media, some elected officials — is having the biggest factor as it relates to individuals not getting vaccinated because people don’t have access to accurate information.
Q Thank you, Jen. The President is about to meet with the King of Jordan shortly. This visit comes at a pivotal time, considering what’s happened in Jordan, the constant attack on U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq, and the Israeli government, to name a few. Does that mean that the White House is paying more attention now to the White — to the Middle East? And what do you hope this visit will achieve?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we — we have been paying quite a bit of attention, we would argue, to the Middle East on a range of issues that you’ve highlighted, Nadia, whether it is the attacks that we’ve seen on bases in parts of the Middle East, or whether it is our desire, of course, to — to even move forward on lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
And Jordan has been a key partner for some time, long before President Biden took office, to the United States, through many Presidents, in these efforts and these endeavors.
So, during — (the Press Secretary swats at a fly) — sorry, this is an aggressive fly. During the meeting — (laughter) — during the meeting, today — I apologize, this is a very —
Q It’s D.C.
MS. PSAKI: It is.
During the meeting today, we hope this will be an opportunity to highlight the enduring and strategic partnership between the United States and Jordan — a key security partner.
It’s also an opportunity to discuss the many challenges facing the Middle East and showcase Jordan’s leadership role in promoting peace and stability in the region. And certainly, we expect that everything from Middle East peace, to security in the region to be points of discussion — to Syria — to be points of discussion during the meeting this afternoon. We’ll have a readout after the meeting concludes.
Q Jen —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen.
Q (Inaudible.) Oh, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, I’m sorry. We’ll go to your next. Go ahead. Yeah.
Q Let me take you to Ethiopia.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q The U.S. and the other countries have been supporting and end to the fighting in the Tigray region. And as the first step to end the fighting, the government in Ethiopia declared a unilateral ceasefire for the troops from the region. But TPLF — the Tigray Liberation Front — rejected the ceasefire, calling it a “sick joke.” And the TPLF continues the war, especially by deploying child soldiers in this conflict. And if the war continues there, thousands and thousands people will die. What is the Biden’s administration statement on TPLF’s refusal to accept the ceasefire and the use of children as soldiers? Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we take security and stability in Ethiopia quite seriously. I would point you to the State Department. I know my colleague Ned Price is briefing later this afternoon and giving you more details on what are work is, and engagement, and our view from the U.S. government.
Q Is the White House seeking any meetings with social media companies when you’re talking about misinformation?
MS. PSAKI: We have been in regular touch from the beginning of the administration as — because we knew from the beginning that misinformation or disinformation and how it would travel out there into the world was going to be a challenge. So that has been something that has been ongoing since the beginning of the administration.
Q I also wanted to ask you — someone asked earlier about Republicans backing off the idea of increasing funding for the IRS.
MS. PSAKI: Yep.
Q When you’re talking about that and the President being open to other proposals, are you talking within the framework — the bipartisan framework or the reconciliation package or both?
MS. PSAKI: The bipartisan framework. That’s the deal we’re kind of — that is the discussion with Republicans. Of course, we would welcome Republican support for the reconciliation package, but we’re talking about specifically the payfors on the bipartisan infrastructure framework.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you. Will the White House publicly release information on posts that it considers misinformation on vaccines that it’s asked Facebook to block?
MS. PSAKI: First of all, we’ve not asked Facebook to block any individual posts. The way this works is that there are trending — there are trends that are out there on social media platforms. You’re aware of them. We’re aware of them. Anyone in the public can be aware of them.
There’s also data that we look at that many media platforms, like many of you, also look at data in terms of trends and you report on it, which is not — to be expected, given the number of people who get their information from social media.
It’s up to social media platforms to determine what their application is of their own rules and regulations. And so we just certainly raise where we have concerns about information that’s inaccurate that is traveling out there in whatever platform it’s traveling on.
Q Thank you, Jen. Does the White House welcome the news that the Haitian Interim Prime Minister, Claude Joseph, is stepping aside and handing power to Ariel Henry?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have been encouraging, for several days now, Haitian political actors to work together and find a political way forward. So we’ve certainly seen news reports; we have not received an official notification through our embassy, but we welcome reports that Haitian political actors are working together to determine a path forward.
Q Yeah, thank you, Jen. As you know, the leader of the Belarusian opposition, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, is in the country right now.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q She’s meeting with Jake Sullivan; she’s meeting with Secretary of State Blinken. Any chance that she will meet with President Biden?
MS. PSAKI: So, I think somebody asked this question a —
Q I’m sorry.
MS. PSAKI: — little bit — oh no, it’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay. She will be meeting with senior White House officials. There is not currently a meeting scheduled for her with the President.
Oh, go, Josh. What’s happening?
Q I just wanted to thank you, Jen, but, as a point of privilege, wanted to jump in: Canada announced it’s going to reopen its borders for U.S. citizens who are vaccinated on August 9th. Does the United States plan to reciprocate?
MS. PSAKI: We are continuing to review our travel restrictions. Any decisions about reopening travel will be guided by our public health and medical experts. We take this incredibly seriously, but we look and are guided by our own medical experts and not in a reci- — we’re not — I wouldn’t look at it through a reciprocal intention.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Go ah- — Go ahead, in the middle. Yeah, go ahead.
Q Thank you. As you know, Senate Republicans have been calling on the President to withdraw his nominee to lead the Bureau of Land Management, Tracy Stone-Manning, over connections to this tree spiking incident in 1989. That escalated last week with this former Forest Service investigator coming forward with an account that contradicts what she’s told senators, as well as a man who was convicted in that case. Have those revelations changed the President’s view on that nominee at all?
MS. PSAKI: It has not. He stands by his nominee and looks forward to her getting confirmed.
Go ahead, in the middle.
Q Thanks, Jen. I appreciate it. I just had a quick follow up on the Facebook stuff. Did anybody from the administration this weekend talk with Facebook officials, given the President’s comments on Friday?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I think it’s important for all of you to note that we are not at war with any social media platform; we are at war with the virus —
MS. PSAKI: — and we have been in regular touch since the beginning of the administration, as we knew that there are a range of entities, platforms, media organizations, public officials who all have a role in combating misinformation.
This is not personal. It is about fighting a virus that is still killing thousands of people. That’s our objective.
Thanks, everyone. Have a great day. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.
Q Jen, when will the President open up his East Room events to the full press like every other President?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll look forward to seeing you soon, Brian.
1:50 P.M. EDT