Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, July 22, 2021
12:41 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Thursday. Okay, we have a special guest. Happy to welcome back Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo.
Today, she will be telling us about a new economic development initiative that the Department is launching, thanks to the American Rescue Plan. She’ll take a couple of questions. After that, as always, I’ll be the bad cop.
With that, I’ll turn it over to Secretary Raimondo.
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: Thank you, Jen. Let’s see here. Thank you, Jen.
Good afternoon, everybody. So, as the President often says and as we all know, we’re on the road to recovery. And today, with this announcement, we mark a real step forward in that recovery.
As Jen just said, the President signed the American Rescue Plan into law, intended to get our country back on its feet. And thanks to that law, I’m thrilled right now to be announcing the launch of a transformative $3 billion economic development initiative that will be running out of the Department of Commerce. I’m even more excited to say that, starting today, this afternoon, every community in America can begin applying for that funding.
We believe that this is the largest local economic development initiative that the Commerce Department has ever made. And it’s a testament to the President’s commitment to do far more than simply recover, but to build back better and make sure every community and every American is included in our comeback.
Everybody ought to benefit from this $3 billion initiative — from working mothers working to balance multiple jobs; to young adults looking for work; to factory workers or retail workers who lost their job in the pandemic — many of them mid-career and they’re wondering, “What happens to me now? What happens to me next?”
These funds — this initiative has been specifically designed to make sure that we are going to be providing high-quality, real jobs for you and for your community.
What we saw during the pandemic, and what we all know, is that some people did very well. Those who were doing well did very well. But millions of Americans continue to struggle, and it’s uneven. Those who continue to struggle — it’s been disproportionately women, people of color, communities of color, rural communities, and Tribes.
We know 2 million American women dropped out of the labor force since the start of the pandemic, mostly because of lack of affordable childcare and paid leave. So, ensuring that these $3 billion are distributed equity is core to our investment strategy. We know that equity is good for workers, good for business, and good for the economy.
As many of you know, I’m the former governor of Rhode Island, and, as a governor, I saw what good-paying jobs mean to American families and mean to communities.
This initiative has the potential to create, we believe, 300,000 jobs in the near term, revitalize dozens of communities around America, and drive innovation in unser- — underserved communities and revitalize depressed economies.
The good news is the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Agency has been doing this for decades. They have a track record of success. In fact, I saw that, on Monday, when I was in Albany, where EDA’s investment over the last 10 years have helped that city and region become a global semiconductor and bio-science hub. And, in fact, the employment growth rate there has grown by 30 percent in those industries.
This initiative that I’m announcing today will bring that type of transformative growth to communities all over the country.
So, at the end of the day, as the President has so often said, our economy can’t recover until everybody in every community is included.
So I’d like to briefly describe the components of this $3 billion initiative. It begins with what we’re calling the “Build Back Better Regional Challenge”. This is a $1 billion challenge for up to 30 regions across the country seeking to revitalize their economies. It’s designed to focus on innovation and spur projects that grow new industries and scale existing ones.
Secondly is what we’re calling the “Good Jobs Challenge,” which allocates a half a billion dollars towards industry-led workforce training and apprenticeship programs with a particular focus on women, people of color, and underserved communities.
Importantly, we have designed this so that funds can also be used for support services like childcare and transportation while folks are getting trained so we make sure they — they get to the finish line of the training and get a job.
For the hard — hard-hit communities hit hardest by the loss of travel and tourism, we’re providing $750 million to accelerate the recovery of trarel [sic] — travel tourism and outdoor recreation. Through the economic adjustment assistance, we’re offering a half a billion dollars to hundreds of communities across the country to create new jobs, spur economic development, and put Americans back to work.
Our “Indigenous Communities Commitment” sets aside $100 million to meet the needs of Indigenous communities with everything from broadband to health centers and more — deliberately designed to be flexible to meet the needs of the community.
And finally, we are making a $300 million commitment to invest in economic development in coal-affected communities. We believe that this $300 million investment in coal communities is the largest economic development that EDA has ever made in coal communities. And we know that it will enable these communities to recover, diversify their economies, and grow.
So, these grants together reflect the values and priorities of President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, and they, alongside of the Jobs Plan, will accelerate America’s economic recovery and help the country continue to get back to work.
So, spread the word. It’ll be — applications go live this afternoon, and we look forward to working with communities around America.
MS. PSAKI: Jeff.
Q Madam Secretary, two questions. One, can you explain how people can apply for these grants?
And two, on a separate topic: The Commerce Department has a Supply Chain Advisory Committee. Can you give us an update on what you’re doing about chips and other supply issues?
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: Yeah. Thank you. So, as I said, this afternoon, on the EDA website — the EDA website applications will be live. So we want to get this money out the door as quickly as possible. EDA has six regional offices around the country, which we will be working with. But this is — I want to clarify: This money is for states, cities, counties, nonprofits, universities — not for companies. So it’s coalitions of nonprofits in communities, specifically designed to be locally led and managed.
We’re doing a lot on the chip shortage. I am engaging almost daily with industry. We are working as hard as we can to get the House to pass the CHIPS Act or their version of USICA. And we’re putting plans in place right now, already, on the team to invest the $52 billion. We need to incentivize the manufacturing of chips in America. And so, we are very focused on putting the pieces in place so that can happen.
Q With regard to the EDA grants, I understand that you’re going to judge some of these by return on investment. How are you defining ROI, given that that can often exclude priorities like gender and racial equality?
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: So, our number one investment priority is equity. And as our team decides which — these are — this is a competitive grant process. By the way, I think that the fact of the competition will help communities to come together as a community and put their best ideas forward.
In order to qualify to get the money, you have to prove to us that equity — you’ll have an equity lens. And whether it’s job training that you’re doing, you have to give — you know, I have to make sure that women, people of color, veterans, people who’ve been left out will be included in this.
So it’s a lens that we’re going to take across the $3 billion.
Q And, like, whoever does it the best?
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: Correct. Exactly.
MS. PSAKI: Rachel.
Q What type of — thank you, Madam Secretary. What type of follow up will there be? You’re emphasizing equity, but will you be following up to make sure that that money is distributed fairly to the communities that you’re speaking of that really do need it?
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: Great question. So, we are deeply committed for this to be transparent. Everything is going to be online. It’s going to be on our website. It’s going to be a wide-open, transparent process. And we are, at the get-go, putting in place accountability measures. And this is something I am very serious about — having been a governor, being on the ground. We’re going to track every penny to make sure that it’s doing what it’s supposed to do.
And the ROI — the ROI is jobs. We think we can create, in the short term, hundreds of thousands of jobs, and fundamentally revitalize dozens of communities around America so that, a few years from now, we’ll create 300,000 jobs; 10 years from now, we will have communities that are a beehive of economic activity that, five years ago, were distressed.
MS. PSAKI: Nancy.
Q Thanks, Secretary Raimondo. A few days ago, the U.S. government and governments around the world accused China of malicious cyber activities. Have you gotten any reaction from your Chinese government counterparts about these accusations?
And do you believe that the statements alone are going to be enough to change Chinese behavior if they aren’t paired with punitive measures like tariffs or sanctions?
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: Yeah. So I have not had — to answer your first question, the answer is: No, I have not had any interaction.
The Pre- — President Biden has been very clear on this: There will be consequences. And we will use all tools at our disposable [sic] — at our disposal in order to protect Americans and American businesses.
MS. PSAKI: Tamara.
Q Thank you. You mentioned that some of this money would go to communities hit hard by the loss of travel and tourism. Do you have a sense of how big that hit has been and how — what share of that is because of the public health-related travel bans?
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: So, we know that nearly every community in America has been affected. And I want to be clear that, of the $750 million, every state will receive something. So, $500 million is going out as quickly as we can in the next few weeks, and everyone will participate. And then, $200 [million] or so is competitive.
I think that it’s im- — I think the answer to your question is — it’s impossible to answer — or I don’t — I don’t think it’s possible to figure it out that way. But we do know, about a year and a half ago, we shut down travel and tourism. I lived it in Rhode Island — you know, Newport, Narragansett, Block Island closed; we shut it down. And we’re still trying to build back after that.
And so that’s what this money is intended to do: to help these communities to get back into the business of tourism and travel.
MS. PSAKI: Kelly.
Q How would you assess, Madam Secretary, the work — worker shortage that many employers are finding — that they’re having difficulty getting back up, especially in some of the hospitality and tourist areas?
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: It’s — it is acute. There — there is — every business I talk to says that they need to find talent. So, I don’t know if I would call it a “shortage,” per se; I would say there’s a skills gap. And that’s why we put so much money of this $3 billion — you know, a half a billion of $3 billion is just for skill development, apprenticeship, high-quality job training.
What I hear all the time is — from companies — “We are ready to hire, but people need to have the skills. They need digital skills, cybersecurity skills, data — you know, data skills, cloud computing skills.” And so that’s what we have to get at the business of.
And by the way, we need to make sure that women and people of color and people in rural areas have those digital skills so they can get those good jobs. So that’s what this is about. And that’s what I hear most often from companies.
MS. PSAKI: Kaitlan is going to have to be the last one.
Q Thank you, Secretary. Last week, the President said he would have an update for us on international travel restrictions in a few days. Do you have any update on that? And do you believe it’s time for the U.S. to reopen its borders?
SECRETARY RAIMONDO: I do not have an update on that except to say a couple of things: International travel is vital, and it’s vital to commerce. And we are taking a methodical approach based on data and based on science.
My primary message with respect to that and to the American people: Get vaccinated. Like, increasingly, this is a disease of the unvaccinated. Ninety-seven percent of people in hospitals with COVID are unvaccinated.
So, if you’re asking me, you know, what can we do to get our economy back on track — get vaccinated. Because as more people do that, then we can continue to think about opening travel, going back into the office, et cetera.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Secretary Raimondo. We appreciate you. Thank you so much.
Q Just a quick follow up on training?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry. She’s got to go. Busy day.
Okay. Couple items for you at the top. This afternoon, the President will bring together leaders from both the labor and business community at the White House to talk about the critical need to invest in America’s economic strength by passing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework.
While some of the participants at this roundtable may have sat across the negotiating table in the past, now they’ve joined together as part of a broad coalition of labor and business leaders backing this plan. And they’re joined in their support by bipartisan leaders in Washington, governors, mayors, and an overwhelming majority of the American people.
I also wanted to note that today the Department of Justice is announcing, or has announced, the launch of five gun trafficking strike forces in regions around the country to combat the uptick in gun crimes that we’ve seen over the last 18 months.
As part of this announcement, the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General will visit the headquarters of ATF in Washington before the Attorney General travels to Chicago to meet with the leaders from the Chicago Police Department and attend a listening session with participants in a group that offers innovative programming to reduce gun violence.
The regional strike forces we’ve talked about a bit in the past, but they will leverage existing resources to ensure sustained efforts across city and state boundaries to help stem the supply of illegally trafficked firearms in five key regions: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area/Sacramento region, and Washington, D.C.
And this is part of the administration’s comprehensive crime reduction strategy announced last month by — at the White House with Attorney General Garland.
In addition to targeting gun traffickers to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, the President’s plan bolsters local law enforcement efforts by giving them the resources they need to hire more police officers and engage in effective community policing.
I also wanted to note that, this afternoon, the President will sign H.R. 1652, which will help strengthen and restore funding for the Crime Victims Fund, which has lost billions of dollars over the last five years.
This was originally passed in 1984 and — which established the Crime Victims Fund, which received most of its fundings — funds through deposits from criminal fines and penalties from convictions in federal cases and does not receive any appropriated funding of taxpayer dollars.
The awards grants the — this — the awards grants to states, local governments, and other entities through DOJ Office for Victims of Crime.
With that, Josh.
Q Thanks, Jen. Three subjects.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q First, given the spread of the Delta variant, return to offices, is the administration looking at new mask guidance, as reported by The Washington Post?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know that the head of the CDC, our public health arm, just spoke to this earlier this morning and made clear that there had not been a decision to change our mask guidance.
Q Two, it’s being reported that President Biden plans to impose sanctions on Cuban officials because of the attacks on protesters. Can you outline the administration’s goals with regard to those sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I can confirm for all of you that there will be more from the Department of Treasury and the Department of State later this afternoon on sanctions. And the announcement will be coming from then — from them.
But I — in terms of our approach to Cuba and what we’re trying to accomplish, we have, of course, condemned mass detention, sham trials, and disappearances that are attempts to threaten the Cuban people into silence.
We continue to call for swift — the swift release of peaceful protesters who have unjustly been detained. We’ve made clear over the last week that addressing this moment was a priority for the administration and for President Biden, and that he has — he had asked his team to look into a range of options that would both help the Cuban people, help provide humanitarian assistance, help look into addressing issues like the lack of Internet access, and that also sanctions authority was a part of those considerations. So this is an announcement that will be coming later this afternoon.
I’d also note that we’ll continue to engage closely and coordinate with our international partners, from the OAS to the U.N. and others, to collectively condemn the actions of the Cuban government.
Q And then last, real quick, National Association of Realtors says that home prices are up 24.3 percent from a year ago to $363,300 — a record. Are home prices too high for an economy that’s supposed to be growing from the bottom up and middle out?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say the President is quite focused on making sure we’re doing everything we can to help middle-class families as the economy is recovering and as there are ongoing challenges in our economy that have been longstanding, including supply chain issues, which you and many others are quite familiar with.
And as he talked about a little bit last night, there are a range of factors that impact that — the shortage of lumber that is starting to pick back up has, of course, impacted the building of new homes, which has raised the pri- — the prices of older homes.
So, his focus and a big focus of this administration is on addressing supply chain issues to help address some of these skyrocketing prices in the market. But, also, he is focused on providing assistance to renters, to homeowners, and others to get through this period of time in our economy.
Q Jen, today, China rejected a WHO plan for a second phase of an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, including audits of laboratories and markets. What is the White House’s reaction to that? And how will this impact the U.S. dealing with China on this going forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first reiterate that we — the United States supports the WHO plan for phase two, which commits to ensuring these studies are scientific, transparent, expert-led, and free from interference.
We have certainly seen the PRC’s comments again rejecting phase two of a WHO study. We’re deeply disappointed. Their position is irresponsible and, frankly, dangerous. Alongside other member stat- — member count- — states around the world, we continue to call for China to provide the needed access to data and samples. And this is critical so we can understand to prevent the next pandemic. This is about saving lives in the future. And it’s not a time to be stonewalling.
I would note that we believe in a multilateral approach; that has not been an approach that has been taken prior to the President taken office — taking office, and that has been a big focus of his strategy — strategy as it relates to our engagement with China.
So — and that relates to our approach to global health security, which is why we rejoined the WHO on day one. Unfortunately, phase one, as you all know, did not yield the data and access from China that we think is necessary. But our support for a multilateral approach and the phase two plan is because it’s rigorous and science-based.
But most importantly, it’s not just the United States calling for this. As a part of our renewed engagement and our efforts to build a coalition of support around the world with allies and partners, we’re joined by the international community on this — partners and multilateral organizations who are also calling for and pressuring China to be engaged in the sta- — the second phase of this discussion.
I would also note — I’m almost done; there’s a lot to say about this topic. In Cornwall, which many of you were with us — with us for that trip, the G7 leaders, together, called for a transparent, evidence-based investigation, including in China. And after the phase one study, we were joined by allies and partners across the world in a joint statement calling for a transparent and independent analysis expressing our concerns over the lack of access and urging momentum.
It’s clear China isn’t living up to their obligations. What our focus is on is building this multilateral effort and support for putting pressure on and making clear that it’s unacceptable and dangerous.
Q Do you foresee any consequences for China for this decision?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to get ahead of any policy process. I will tell you that, again, our approach to China, as it relates to global health security, is going to continue to be in a coordinated fashion with our international partners.
Q And just one last one on China.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q They also started a new crackdown in Hong Kong, this time on children’s book authors. Any thoughts on that?
MS. PSAKI: I think we have expressed many times before — unfortunately, because there has been reason to express many times before — our concerns about the crackdown on freedom of speech, freedom of media, a crackdown on — on human rights activists in Hong Kong. And we continue to express that.
Q Thanks, Jen. You mentioned there had not been a decision to change the guidelines on wearing a face mask for fully vaccinated Americans. But have there been any conversations within the administration about possibly changing those guidelines?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are guided by the science, and we’re guided by our public health experts. And any decision would come from the CDC. The head of the CDC spoke to this earlier this morning.
Q So conversations within the administration — that’s what the Washington Post was also reporting: There were early conversations in the administration about possibly changing those guidelines.
MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen the reporting, but what I can tell you is that there has been no decision to change our mask guidelines. Any decisions about public health would be driven by the CDC. But, of course, we are engaged with public health experts and the CDC about how to continue to attack the virus. And we’ve never said that battle is over; it’s still ongoing.
It would be more concerning — or should be more concerning to all of you and the American people — if we were not having those conversations. So, there are certainly conversations about steps we can and should take. But I think Dr. Walensky was quite clear this morning.
Q And just one quick follow-up. We heard the CDC Director today warn about the rise in the Delta variant, saying that it’s spreading with incredible efficiency. At what point would the White House reconsider the protocols for the President and for administration officials?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re guided by the public health guidance and the CDC guidelines, and that’s what we abide by here. They have not changed those, and so we continue to abide by the guidelines we have announced to all of you.
Q Thanks, Jen. Obviously, there are a lot of parents who are wondering what school is going to look like in the fall. And last night, the President said this, quote, “The CDC is going to say that everyone under the age of 12 should probably be wearing a mask in school. That’s probably what’s going to happen.” Has the CDC indicated that that is in fact their position already —
MS. PSAKI: They already —
Q — and how soon could we hear from them about that?
MS. PSAKI: They did already announce that several weeks ago as a part of their CDC guidance for schools — because anybody under 12 is not eligible to be vaccinated, so they would not be vaccinated, and so therefore they should be wearing a mask.
Q Got it. Also, we now know that Hunter Biden is going to be able to meet with prospective buyers at two art shows where his paintings are going to be on display later this year. How does this square with the goal of keeping him in the dark about the buyers of his art as a means to prevent even the appearance of undue influence?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this showing that was — that you’re referencing was previously public. He’s not going to have any conversations related to the selling of art. That will be left to the gallerist, as was outlined in the agreement that we announced just a few weeks ago.
We believe this is a reasonable system that has been established that allows for Hunter Biden to work in his profession within appropriate safeguards. So he’s not going to discuss anything related to the selling of art. And I would reiterate that the gallerist will be the only person who handles transactions or conversations in that vein and will reject any offer that is out of the ordinary.
Q Wouldn’t it be more transparent to just release the names of the buyers so that everyone would know who purchased this art and how much they paid?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t — we won’t know who the buyers are; Hunter Biden won’t know who the buyers are. So, I think the re- — the origin, I think, of this line of questioning, which is understandable, is about whether this would provide un- — provide a situation for undue influence. But we won’t know who they are, so there’s no scenario where they could provide influence.
Q Couldn’t they just announce on social media that they bought a painting?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I think we have set up a system which we feel is appropriate — has appropriate safeguards. We believe that Hunter Biden, just like any child of a President, should be able to pursue their professions and their passions. And any selling of the art would be through the gallerist.
Q Thank you, Jen. On schools, first: Now that the Education Department admits they made a mistake in their guide for reopening by in- —
MS. PSAKI: How so?
Q Well, they included advice from the Abolitionist Teaching Network, and they came out and said that was not supposed to be in there. Is the administration going to follow up with school districts to make sure that the Abolitionist Teaching Network material is not in lesson plans?
MS. PSAKI: Well, just to be clear, for the context — because I know you love context of what —
Q Yeah. (Inaudible.)
MS. PSAKI: — you’re asking about here — what you’re referring to is a citation in a report of which there were 1,000 citations. So, I’m quite impressed with your researchers for finding one of a thousand citations.
MS. PSAKI: It was an error in a lengthy document to include this citation. This specific site does not endor- — we — does not represent the administration’s view, and we don’t endorse the recommendations of this group. And I believe it’s been removed or is in the process of being removed.
Q But we are close to the schools reopening. And is there any concern if you don’t endorse this material that was in there — citation or not — that it’s in lesson plans?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that — as we — we said many times before — we don’t dictate or recommend specific curriculum decisions from the federal government. That is and will continue to be handled at the local level. And we believe that the American people trust teachers to make those decisions, not government.
Q And then, on masks: A few weeks ago, the President said we were “closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus.” Is that still the case if you guys are now reportedly considering asking vaccinated people to wear masks again?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first of all, the CDC Director, who oversees decisions along those lines and all of our public health decisions, made clear that that was not a decision that had been made, just a few hours ago. So, I point out that first.
Second, I would say: What the President was referring to and continues to talk about, as he did last night at a town hall, is that we’re quite proud of the progress that’s been made. People over 65 — more than 80 percent are vaccinated. Almost 70 percent of adults are vaccinated. A hundred and sixty-two million Americans are vaccinated. That is certainly progress.
But we are still at war with the virus; we’ve never said that would be over. We’ve always said that we’d be — continued to — continuing to focus on ensuring we’re meeting people where they are and getting them vaccinated, keeping them safe.
Q But, the President said, in May, “vaxxed or masked.” Is — I think a lot of people got the vaccine because they were hearing him say, “If you get the vaccine, you don’t have to wear masks anymore.” So —
MS. PSAKI: And that continues to be CDC guidance.
Q And you can say that that’s going to be the guidance forever?
MS. PSAKI: I am not the CDC Director.
Q I understand, but people don’t care who tells him to wear a mask. If it’s the White House —
MS. PSAKI: They should care.
Q — if it’s the White House or the CDC, what difference does it make?
MS. PSAKI: Shouldn’t they care if it’s a doctor or medical expert or a spokesperson? I think most Americans actually do care.
Q It’s the government.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Kelly, go ahead.
Q Is there a conversation about encouraging people to make the personal choice that Dr. Walensky talked about today — if they, for example, are vaccinated but live in a state with low vaccination rates or have other considerations? Is part of your messaging going to be encouraging the personal choice piece on mask wearing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that is currently our messaging, right? So I would say that for communities, where there are lower rates of vaccination — and, as we know, that’s really concentrated in only a handful of states across the country where most of the cases are coming from, as we’ve seen the rise in the Delta variant, which is more transmissible, and, if you’re not vaccinated, it is transferring, no question, more quickly across people — people should wear masks. And that is something we will continue to encourage leaders and civic leaders and educators and people who are trusted voices in communities to make clear.
Q And those are vaccinated people you’re referring to — to make the personal choice to wear the mask in those high-rate areas? That’s what I’m asking about.
MS. PSAKI: That’s — that’s not the advice of the CDC at this point in time, so that is not a message we are conveying to people.
Q Okay. Dr. Walensky said today that it can be a personal choice with the vaccinated.
MS. PSAKI: Of course. Of course, it can be. And some people make that decision because they are immunocompromised, because they have family members, because they just want an extra layer of protection, and we should all respect that. But it is not proactive guidance that the CDC is providing.
Q Last night, the President said, “You’re not going to get COVID if you have these vaccinations.” Why did he say that when that is not what the science says?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what the science says is that 97 percent of hospitalizations are people who are unvaccinated. So, yes, there are cases of individuals who are vaccinated, to be absolutely clear, who — who do have — gotten COVID. It is a very small percentage and a small number of people.
And those cases — vast, vast, vast majority are asymptomatic and they have — they have minor symptoms, which means that you are largely protected. That was the point he was trying to make last night.
Q It’s been a couple of days since we talked about the breakthrough case on the campus here and that you acknowledged there were additional breakthrough cases. Can you give us, now, the number of breakthrough cases that have occurred during the Biden presidency?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, that our medical experts, our health experts have been conveying from the beginning, as have we, that there would be cases of individuals who are vaccinated who tested positive for COVID. There are 2,000 people who work on the campus, and, of course, that means that, just statistically speaking, there will be people who are vaccinated individuals who get COVID on the campus.
What I announced yesterday or conveyed yesterday was what our policy would be moving forward. But, no, I don’t think you can expect that we’re going to be providing numbers of breakthrough cases, no.
Q Really? That’s not transparency to give us a number — not the names, but a number of these cases? You must have that information.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Kelly, I think, one, we’re in a very different place than we were several months ago. The vast, vast, vast majority of individuals who are vaccinated who get COVID will have — will be asymptomatic or have mild cases.
Every individual at this White House has been offered a vaccine, and we have been very clear that we will be transparent with anyone who has had close proximity contact with the President or any of the four principles, as deemed by the White House Medical Unit, with all of you. And if they — if they approve having their name released, we will also release their names, but we will protect their privacy.
That will be our policy moving forward, and we understand and agree that that is in the public interest.
Q Jen, last night, at the CNN Town Hall, the President was asked by an — a restauranteur about the worker shortage that the Commerce Secretary just called “acute.” She described it as a “skills gap,” but the restauranteur said that he had, right now, job openings that he can’t fill. And he asked the President if there’s anything that his administration can do to help him and his business. The President seemed to struggle with an answer. Is there anything that his administration can do to help that restauranteur or people who are similarly situated with this acute worker shortage?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that we have already implemented — and the money has gone out the door — goes — it continues to go out the door for our Restaurant Restabilization Program — something that was a part of the American Rescue Plan and helped many, many hundreds of restaurants across the country stay open, reopen. And that was assistance that came from the American Rescue Plan that the President signed into law.
I think what the President was noting is that, at this point in time, it’s also a workers’ market. And in some places, it may be that you have to pay more wages in order to attract workers. We don’t have all the details, of course, about his individual circumstance, but we implemented a major program that helped restaurants stay open — something we strongly supported, we advocated for as a part of the package.
Q If I can ask a follow-up to the question about the President’s son and the art gallery event. You said that Hunter Biden is not going to discuss anything related to the sale of his art. Is that a promise that has been made in writing? And if so, is that an agreement that could be made available to the public?
MS. PSAKI: I’m making that clear to all of you now that that is an agreement that has been made as a part of this — as a part of these events.
Q Is it in writing?
MS. PSAKI: I can check and see if there’s more detail.
MS. PSAKI: But I think it’s pretty clear what the agreement is, so I’m not sure it’s more complicated than that. But I will see if there’s more to provide.
Q Thanks, Jen. One on masks and then one quick one on the Fed after that. Dr. Fauci told reporters earlier today that there isn’t enough research to know whether breakthrough cases can result in long COVID. The President has repeatedly told the public that, you know, they should — they’re safe from the worst effects of COVID. How can he be sure without this research? And if there’s even a chance that breakthrough cases can result in long COVID, why not recommend masks more widely?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what the President is referring to — one, we’ve seen some interesting polling over the last week — I believe it was a CBS poll — that showed that vaccinated people in the country are more fearful about the Delta variant than unvaccinated people. That’s clearly concerning to us because unvaccinated people should be more fearful. And what the President wanted to convey to people in the country is the impact and effect of getting vaccinated.
So, we also know statistically that 97 percent of hospitalizations are for people who are unvaccinated and that the vast majority of cases are asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms, which the health and medical experts will tell you —
Q We’re talking about the long-term — long-term effects here — right? — which we don’t know yet.
MS. PSAKI: That’s true. There’s still research about a range of components of the impacts of COVID over the long term, which our health and medical leaders will advise us on. They also have not changed their guidance on masks. That is not a determination that’s being made by — from a political standpoint or from anyone in the White House. That is something the CDC and our health and medical experts are advising on, and they look at a range of factors.
Q And just on the Fed. Is the President concerned at all that choosing a new Federal Reserve Chairman during a period of economic uncertainty and inflation could complicate economic recovery or spook the markets?
MS. PSAKI: I just have nothing to preview for you in terms of the end of the term next winter.
Go ahead. Oh, you already asked. Go ahead, Jen.
Q On infrastructure, Senator Carper, one of your allies, said that he wants to make sure that the water infrastructure measures that the Senate already passed and the Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill that passed out of his committee are also included in the infrastructure agreement. I know that the bipartisan group said yesterday that they were 99 percent of the way there. I know there are some issues that Republican lawmakers are working out with the White House right now. Are Senator Carper’s concerns also something that the White House is aware of and working on at this point?
MS. PSAKI: We’re certainly aware of the concerns that have been expressed, or asks or requests by a range of members. This is typically what happens, as you all know, in this period of time where we’re very close to a point where there’s going to be a vote on a motion to proceed. And everybody who has initiatives, who has priorities is going to make their voice heard. That’s a part of the process. We respect that. So, certainly, we’re engaged in discussions, as is the leadership.
And I would also note that — that we are — we see clear signs of momentum. And we’re quite — we were quite encouraged by the letter — yesterday’s letter signed by 11 Republicans and 11 Democrats showing positive signs about being able to go forward soon. And the President is, of course, eager to deliver these economic ben- — benefits to Americans in red states and blue states that they’ve long been waiting for.
Q Do you think there’s flexibility to add more money to this bill for those measures that were — got wide support on the Hill, in the Senate?
MS. PSAKI: I think there was a clear agreement that the President and members of both parties stood outside of the White House and announced just a few weeks ago. Of course, there will be final discussions over the coming days as they work to finalize the bill text.
Q And just on the filibuster: The President said last night that getting rid of it would throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done, and that’s sort of his justification for not getting rid of it.
With maybe the exception of anything that can kind of be done along party lines and perhaps this infrastructure bill as well — likely this infrastructure bill — is anything getting done? Will anything get done, you know, that can’t just be done through reconciliation, you know, once we get past this infrastructure thing?
And/or if the things that can’t get done are things like voting rights that are so big — or dealing with climate or immigration — is there really any difference between having the filibuster in place and getting rid of it? What’s sort of the President’s justification for not getting rid of it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, the President doesn’t make the decision on filibuster rules or parliamentary rules in the Senate; the Senate does. And he’ll leave that to the Senate. It also requires the majority in the Senate to support a rule change. And so, what he was referring to is simply what that process would look like and the fact that there are some in the Senate who have said they would halt all business if that conversation were to happen.
So, in some means, he was reporting out what is publicly known about what the process might look like moving forward. I’ll leave it to all of you to whip count on how many votes there would be for filibuster changes.
Q But — and you’re saying that there is — that he’s not engaging on this. He has kept — continually talked about wanting to move back to the talking filibuster.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. And —
Q So he is weighing in on a part of the filibuster (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: And — and he talked about that last night.
MS. PSAKI: And talked about the fact that it shouldn’t be so easy to be obstreperous — I think is a word he’s used before I’ve wanted to use in here — and it shouldn’t be so easy to prevent legislation from moving forward.
I’ll also note that, you know, the President ran for office because he felt that people’s fundamental rights were being violated by the last President. And voting rights and racial equality is central to what he wants to do as President.
So he has already taken a number of steps. He will continue to advocate for the For the People Act — which every Democrat voted to advance after he worked the phones — and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
He and the Vice President have launched an all-of-government effort to protect and advance voting rights in every way we can through the executive branch after his executive order. And the White House Counsel’s Office Legislative team, Public Engagement team, and the Domestic Policy team all remain very engaged on.
So he is going to use every lever at his disposal. He’s going to continue to elevate these issues, but he does not, alone, make changes to the — or does not even have a official role in making changes to procedures in the Senate.
Go ahead, Anne.
Q On the Delta variant: We heard the President, last night, speak at some length about the effects on individual Americans — what the consequences are from this new, highly transmissible variant if you’re not vaccinated.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q I wonder to what extent is he worried, are you worried about the effects — one step beyond that — on his agenda and the things that he wants to do this fall if we do end up where the trajectory currently is with basically two camps. You have safe, vaccinated Americans, and you have unsafe, unvaccinated Americans.
He has said before he wants to be President for everyone and have an agenda to match. How can that come true, moving into the fall, if you have so many people in this country who are still at risk of hospitalization and death?
MS. PSAKI: So just so — I’m just trying to understand your question. How will —
Q The impact on the agenda — his agenda.
MS. PSAKI: In what way though? Like his legislative agenda?
Q Well, I mean, his — yes. His general agenda for improving the lives of Americans —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — across a variety of spheres, as he’s talked about, movingly, several times, including last night.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q What he wants to do —
MS. PSAKI: No, no, I just wanted to make sure I understood your question.
So, look, I think that he said in the beginning, and he reiterated last night, that getting the pandemic under control, protecting Americans from the spread of the virus has been, continues to be his number one priority. And that he’s going to govern for all Americans — Democrats, independents, Republicans, even people who did not vote for him.
So, one of the reasons that he does — did an event like the town hall last night, and one of the reasons why he speaks about what the dire impacts are of the spread of the most transmissible version of the virus we’ve seen to date is because he wants people to be protected.
We’ve seen, in a lot of these states, there has been a — you know, misinformation traveling. There has been a, in some cases, a political bent of who is and isn’t getting vaccinated, unfortunately.
We don’t want this to be a partisan issue. So, he’s going to keep at it. I’m not sure on his legislative agenda how that — I don’t know how to make that connection, but it will continue to be his priority moving forward. There’s no question.
Q And then, on Iraq: the Iraqi Prime Minister will be here Monday. In April, the administration said that the U.S. and Iraq have agreed to eventually withdraw U.S. combat forces and that talks would take place beginning then — toward that end. Can you give us an update on where those talks stand, and whether the President will be able to announce either a date certain or more specific plans about the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces on Monday?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, well, I’m not going to get too far ahead of the meeting, which won’t surprise you. But I will tell you that — I will remind you, I should say — as Prime Minister Kadhimi stated publicly last week — even with the decreasing need for U.S. forces with a combat role on Iraq, his government is requesting continuing support from the United States and the coalition for training and enabling its forces, logistics, intelligence sharing, and other areas of security cooperation.
We’ve responded to that request and the discussions between our delegations have been extremely constructive and are ongoing. U.S. military forces are in Iraq, at Iraq’s invitation, to support Iraqi forces in their fight against ISIS. We routinely discuss the activities of U.S. forces in Iraq and evolution of the mission, from the height of the ISIS campaign to today, where ISIS remains a threat but major combat operations have ended and Iraqi capacity has increased significantly.
So, this is an ongoing discussion. We — I would note the Prime Minister’s comments. Our delegations will continue to discuss. And we’ll have more to say — I’m sure they’ll have more to say after their meeting.
Q Thank you. I’d like to ask questions on Tokyo Olympic Games.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q First Lady Jill Biden is bound to attend the opening ceremony. The Opening ceremony’s creative director was fired yesterday for — over the Holocaust joke he made in 1990s. Does White House have any comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, we support that decision and disagree with his comments — offensive comments. The First Lady will still plan to attend the Opening Ceremony to support U.S. athletes and represent the U.S. government at the highest level.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Karen.
Q Thanks, Jen. Florida Governor DeSantis was talking about mask mandates for kids earlier this morning. And he said, “We’re not doing that in Florida. We need our kids to breathe. We need our kids to be able to be kids.” He said “It’s terribly uncomfortable for them to do it.” That obviously goes against the CDC guidance —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q — for kids under 12 who aren’t vaccinated and what the President said last night. Is that putting kids in Florida at risk?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as a parent myself — and I know you are one — if I were a parent in Florida, that would be greatly concerning to me because kids under the age of 12 are not vaccinated; they’re not eligible yet. As the President said last night, obviously it’s going to be led by the FDA, but certainly we hope that will be soon.
But that puts kids at risk. It’s not aligned with public health guidelines. We know masks are not the most comfortable thing. I will say, my kids are quite adjusted to them, as I know many kids are. So, certainly, we would have concern about any step that doesn’t abide by public health guidelines and we think it puts people at greater risk.
Q Is the President frustrated that in the fall when kids go back to school across the country that there could be very different standards for kids under 12? And is there something that he can do about that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President can speak out, as he did last night, about the risks of the Delta variant that is more transmissible than any variant we’ve seen to date, about the risk to young people of the spread of COVID, and about the fact that the CDC has put out clear guidelines, clear mitigation steps that can be taken to keep families safe, kids sape — safe, individuals safe, and then there are a range of steps that people can take.
I think what’s notable about the CDC education guidelines is that it made very clear it’s important for kids to be back in school, and that that’s important for their mental health. It’s important for kids to be learning. We don’t want to put kids behind who — you know, and create some sort of an additional educational gap.
But there are recommendations by the public health experts for a reason; he’ll continue to elevate them. But ultimately, those decisions will be made by local school districts.
Go ahead, Kaitlan.
Q Thanks so much. Can you confirm that White House officials are involved in these discussions about whether or not they need to update the mask guidance?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, the CDC Director made clear that was not a decision made. We are regularly in touch and have regular meetings with our public health officials, including the CDC, about how to continue to address the virus. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. On — those conversations cover a range of topics.
But I think the most important thing for the public is that there hasn’t been a decision made. It will always be led with public health guidance. And they’ve made that very clear this morning.
Q It’s just unusual that no one will confirm the discussions are actually happening.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think because the report on it was a little breathless about what it implied was happening when the CDC Director said that’s not a decision that’s been made. And we want to be clear to the public: Nobody is being advised — who’s vaccinated — to wear a mask. That is not what the public health guidelines says.
Q Is the White House concerned about the messaging aspect of this, given not having to wear a mask is often a perk of being vaccinated that the White House and other top health officials have touted? So, are you concerned that if there is a change to the mask guidance for vaccinated individuals when they’re indoors that it would be harder to sell vaccinations, essentially?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there hasn’t been a change. And it’s pretty clear now that if you’re vaccinated, you don’t wear — need to wear a mask. If you’re not vacckinate [sic] — vaccinated — that’s a hard word — you do — you should wear a mask, according to the public health guidelines. That’s not a prediction that the CDC Director made this morning.
We certainly know that it is important — even as parents, as Karen was asking about before — when you have kids, you’re not wearing a mask. I’m not wearing a mask at the playground, or I’m not wearing a mask, you know, indoors; my kids are still wearing masks. That’s not terribly confusing to people.
So, you know, we’ll continue to communicate, convey what the accurate public health guidelines is. Nothing has changed about that. And, of course, we have ongoing discussions about how to keep the American people safe.
Q Just related to that, is the White House position still the same on vaccine verification? Have there been any conversations about promoting businesses choosing to verify vaccinated status for attending concerts or dining indoors? Is there — is there any discussion around vaccine verification, or changing the posture?
MS. PSAKI: It is not — our position has not changed, nor do I anticipate it would, on guidance coming from the federal government. It is also entirely appropriate for private-sector entities and universities and hospitals to make decisions about how to keep their community safe.
Q If we can go back to the President’s comment about ending the filibuster, how it would create chaos — what did that mean exactly? What kind of chaos would be created?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, as I answered — I think it was Jen’s question, over here, in response to her question — what the President was speaking to is the fact that it’s a parliamentary process. It’s not something you
wage [wave] a magic wand to change. It will require the majority of votes in the Senate. There would be debate about that process in the Senate. And there are manys — many individuals in the Senate who have been clear that they would throw the Senate into chaos and halt all progress. So, I think he was reporting out on what you all have publicly reported on yourself.
Q And then, in regards to Senator Carper, since there’s no room to lose a Democrat in this, what is the White House doing to get him back on board?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t know that he’s characterized himself as “not on board” with the infrastructure bill that is incredibly popular and supported by the majority of people across the country, but we also understand and recognize that, in the process of legislating, there are periods where people want to have their voice heard — we support that; have asks they want to make; have components they want to see in legislation.
That’s the part of the messy process of legislating. That’s what’s ongoing. We’re engaged with a range of members, including, of course, Senator Carper and, of course, working closely with Senate leadership as well.
Q Thank you, Jen. Just following up on Anne’s question on Iraq. There has been criticism on the part of the administration that there is a lack of clarity on what the U.S. wants to achieve in Iraq. So, can you explain, beyond defeating ISIS or controlling ISIS, what is it exactly that the President wants to do in Iraq, and perhaps a timeline?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I’m not sure I can say much more than what I said to — which it was an extensive answer, I will say — to Anne’s question, which was that we are in Iraq at the invitation of Iraqi leadership, obviously. And they have asked our military to remain — to continue to play a role in — their government is requesting continuing support from us and the coalition for training and enabling their forces — its forces, logistics, intelligence sharing, and other areas of security cooperation. That’s something the Prime Minister spoke to last week.
I also noted that we are in ongoing discussions with them. The Prime Minister is going to be here next week, but I don’t think I have much more to preview for you.
Q Can you clarify what is the President’s latest position on his proposal to partition Iraq, or soft partition Iraq, that he has supported in the past? Can you give us clarification on what’s his latest position on that?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think he’s made that proposal in any recent time, but he’s looking forward to the meeting with the Prime Minister.
Q Quick question on Guantanamo Bay. I heard you say, last week —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — that the goal is to close the detentions facility there.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q I guess 39 detainees remain. What are the next steps that the administration is taking to close Guantanamo Bay?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would point you to the Department of Defense and their leadership on this effort. I — there are 39 detainees who remain at Guantanamo Bay; 10 are eligible for transfer, of course; 17 are eligible for a Periodic Review Board; 10 are involved in the military commissions process; 2 detainees have been convicted. So, I would point you to the Department of Defense, and they can outline more specifically.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. All right. I got to go because we got to go see the President.
All right. Thanks, everybody.
Q (Inaudible) breaking news (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re not going anywhere. We’re here, Brian.