Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, July 26, 2021
1:04 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Monday. Okay. Today, I wanted to start by providing a brief note on where we are with our battle against the pandemic at home.
First, taking a step back: In December, the percentage of Americans willing to get a shot was in the 30s. We now have 70 percent of adult — almost 70 percent, I should say, of adult Americans who have been vaccinated. That is a positive step forward, and it is an encouraging sign to us that we can still get more people vaccinated.
Where we are today signals we’ve made pretty incredible progress with our vaccination effort. Sixty percent of adult Americans are fully vaccinated, including 80 percent of seniors. Nearly 90 percent of teachers have gotten a shot. Ninety-five percent-plus of physicians have been fully vaccinated.
For the second week in a row, last week the five states with the highest case rates — Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and California — had a higher rate of people getting newly vaccinated compared to the national average. Again, this is a positive trend.
And just one more recent proof point: In the reporting period from yesterday, nearly half a million Americans made the decision to get their first shot.
Numbers like this signal to us people are understanding the urgency and importance of getting vaccinated, and rightfully so.
So, as you’ve heard me say in here a number of times, 162-plus million Americans are fully vaccinated. They have a very strong degree of protection against the variants. They are overwhelmingly avoiding severe illness, hospitalization, and, critically important, death. Unvaccinated individuals account for virtually all of the hospitalizations and deaths in the United States.
And data out from the United Kingdom, which has experienced — experiencing its own surge in cases driven by Delta, showed hospitalization rates down 73 percent compared to December, when there were nearly identical case rates but almost no vaccinations. And what that means is the vaccinations are protecting people from hospitalizations in the United Kingdom, which is a positive sign. And deaths are down 93 percent — further proof that getting fully vaccinated is the best thing anyone can do to protect themselves and those around them.
At the same time, we are seeing a significant rise in cases in certain parts of the country and amongst certain populations, and they’re concentrated primarily and overwhelmingly among the unvaccinated.
We’re hearing and you all are reporting on stories on those not getting vaccinated. Some of those — like a radio host in Tennessee — are saying from their hospital bed that they plan to be a strong advocate for the vaccine after recovering from severe illness because of COVID. We don’t want it to lea- — we don’t want that to be the breaking point for anyone, but we are seeing that across the country.
And so, again, the reality is: It’s preventable. We welcome people’s questions around the country about vaccines and their efficacy. We’ll be here for people, whatever they want to talk about, as will people in local communities. But I just wanted to provide a quick update with all of your good questions.
Aamer, go ahead.
Q Thank you. Dr. Fauci said yesterday that recommending that the vaccinated wear masks is under active consideration. I was wondering where do things stand with that conversation.
And then also COVID-related: Considering that the administration is not moving at the moment to lift the restrictions on travel because of the Delta variant, is the administration weighing broader recommendations on telling Americans — and I know there are some places, like the UK — but, “Don’t go”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say, for any of these recommendations, we are always going to be guided by our North Star — and that is the CDC and our health and medical experts.
So, as I said last week, having an active — it would be actually surprising and odd if our health and medical experts were not having active — an active discussion about how to protect — best protect the American people. And there, of course, is an active discussion about a range of steps that can be taken, as there has been from the first day of this administration.
Certainly, the surge in cases among unvaccinated, because of the Delta variant, prompts, you know, even more discussion about what actions can be taken. But we are going to — the CDC looks at data, they look at data across the country, in a range of regions across the country. And if they make an assessment, we will of course be here to follow their guidance.
Q If I may, just one more on tomorrow — I think it’s tomorrow’s visit to the ODNI.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Any — what is the President going there to say, do? Is there any major announcements expected? And how much of this is about also sending a different or contrasting message with the previous President, who sometimes had some comments that were less than flattering about the intelligence community?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let me just go back to your last question about the travel restrictions, if you don’t mind —
Q Oh — thank you.
MS. PSAKI: — because I just want to confirm it for those of you. So, given where we are today — and I think you’ve seen this, and those of you who have asked, we’ve confirmed this for — with the Delta variant, we will maintain existing travel restrictions at this point for a few reasons.
The more transmissible Delta variant is spreading both here and around the world. Driven by the Delta variant, cases are rising here at home, particularly among those who are unvaccinated, and appear likely to continue in the weeks ahead.
And to get to the other part of your question, the CDC just advised Americans against travel to the United Kingdom this past Monday, given the surge in cases. They will evaluate and make — and make recommendations based on health data.
To your question about his — the President’s visit to ODNI tomorrow to see the Director of National Intelligence — first woman to lead the intelligence community in history, I’ll just note — yes, I think the President — one, he will go there to receive an update on their work, but also to thank them for their work during what has been, no doubt, a challenging time for members of the intelligence community over the last several years.
He’s someone who believes in the role of the intelligence community, of civil servants. He believes they’re the backbone of our government, and certainly he’ll make that clear. But, you know, I think you can all make the inherent contrast; I don’t think that will be a central part of his message tomorrow.
Q Thanks, Jen. To follow up on masks, Dr. Fauci confirmed yesterday he was obviously part of the discussions. Is President Biden part of the discussions, as well, regarding whether to bring back the recommendations and/or any of his economic advisors? Just trying to understand who’s — who’s making the decision.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President receives regular updates from his COVID team. But the guidance — or the discussions are primarily between the health and medical experts about how we should proceed from here to address the rising cases in — from the Delta variant among unvaccinated and protect the American public.
Q Is there anything you can share about what they are considering — what are the pros and the cons for re-recommending masks for vaccinated people?
MS. PSAKI: It — we don’t look at it through that prism. They don’t make these decisions or recommendations based on politics. They make them based on data.
So it’s quite simple: They look at data across the country. They make a determination about what steps they could recommend to protect more people and save more lives. And then, if they make a recommendation, as you’ve seen over the past several months, we will work to implement it. But it is not more complicated than that.
Q Thanks, Jen. And one on Afghanistan.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Q In recent days, there have been several U.S. airstrikes against the Taliban. After the deadline for troop withdrawal on August 31st, will the U.S. continue to support Afghan forces in airstrikes?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve said we would maintain over-the-horizon capacity. Beyond that, I don’t have any other updates.
Go ahead, Kelly.
Q A group of healthcare professionals are saying that there should be mandates for all who work in the healthcare system because of what they say is an ethical need to do so, to be vaccinated. And we see that there are local communities that are bringing mask mandates or recommendations. So are we at a point where Americans should be looking to professional organizations, businesses, and local officials for guidance on what to do more than the federal government at this point?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say: We would hope that the guidance is aligned with — there are going to be localities that have higher vac- — higher rates of outbreaks that they may make additional recommendations. They may take steps to keep their community safe.
We certainly have seen, as you noted, that there are institutions, including across the health industry. As many of you have may have seen, today, 57 leading healthcare groups — including the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Public Health Association — all called for all healthcare and long-term care employees to mandate employees be vaccinated against COVID.
Now, that is the healthcare industry where they are very much on the frontlines. And these actions, in our view, are meant to keep patients and employees safe. And, in fact, I expect our own federal healthcare providers may look at similar requirements, as they do with other vaccines.
As it relates to what the American people should look to — look, the CDC is looking at data across the country. They provide broad public health guidance not based on politics, driven by science and data. And they make updates when they feel it is necessary to make updates, and then localities will apply that.
Q Are you suggesting perhaps the VA would be making a similar recommendation or requirement? Is that what you’re hinting at there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think — I think there’ll be more to — more to say in the coming days on that, Kelly. But I will tell you that we certainly believe that public — that health officials are on the frontlines of, you know, being vulnerable to getting COVID, and we certainly support these actions by these hospital associations.
Q Does the White House view it as a benefit if employers, as varied as the NFL to hospitals, are trying to push vaccination? Would that close the gap, in your view, with some of those who’ve not yet done so for a variety of reasons? I mean, do you see this as another lever that might actually be helpful to the President’s goals?
MS. PSAKI: It may. And beyond the President’s goals, it may save lives, and that’s the most important — important factor, in our view. And so we’re seeing institutions, healthcare providers, colleges and universities, the NFL implement different approaches and steps to incentivize and increase vaccination rates. The more people are vaccinated, the more the country will be safe.
Q One last one. Do you expect that for air travelers domestically in the United States who’ve been required to wear a mask by FAA regulation for a long time — that’s set to expire in September — should we anticipate that that would likely stay in place, given the Delta variant?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to get ahead of any — any guidance by our CDC. But certainly, they will continue to provide guidance on masks that keeps more people safe.
Q Thanks, Jen. On COVID, Dr. Fauci says, “We’re going in the wrong direction.” Whose fault is that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, what he was referring to is the fact that because there’s still a large population of people in this country who are unvaccinated and we have the most transmissible variants that we’ve seen since the beginning of the pandemic that more people are getting sick with COVID. And that’s not — those numbers are not moving in the right direction. I think that’s accurate and you can see it by data.
Q Okay. And then on crime: It has been more than a month since the President announced his comprehensive strategy to prevent and respond to gun crime and ensure public safety. This weekend, in Chicago, 73 people were shot; 11 of them were killed. Does the President think his strategy is working?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you and I both know that when there’s been rising crime rates across the country, including Chicago, for 18 months or more that, unfortunately, it’s not going to turn on a dime, and that we are working with Chicago — it’s one of the cities — one of the five cities we’re working with.
The Department of Justice has a group in there to help address the transmitting — or, the selling of guns and get — that are getting into the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. We’re working closely with the mayor and local elected officials. They’ve benefited a huge amount from the federal assistance and funding that the President fought to include in the American Rescue Plan.
And what our hope is is that we can work in partnership to bring crime down, save more people. In cities like Chicago, we know gun violence is a big driver of that.
Q And after a couple shootings here in D.C. last week, the Chief of Police blamed some of the crime on marijuana dealers. He said he knows that people know that marijuana laws have loosened up. Does the White House think that it may be time to get tougher on marijuana?
MS. PSAKI: I think as we look to the crime that has been happening in D.C. — again, one of the cities where we’ve seen rising violence over the past year and a half, one where we’re working in close partnership through both the DOJ Gun Trafficking Strike Forces and — as well as our Community Violence Prevent- — Intervention Collaborative, we’re looking to address a range of causes, but working in close partnership with the mayor and police — local police to bring crime down in our city.
Q Thanks, Jen. Quick question on tomorrow.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q January 6th’s Select Committee —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — first meeting takes place tomorrow here. It takes place tomorrow. Do you know if the President plans to watch any of it? And what are his expectations for the outcome?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, first, the President has called for, as you know, a full and independent investigation to the events of January 6th. And he continues to support Speaker Pelosi’s leadership of that work, including her decision to appoint Republican members who are similarly committed to this objective.
So, in his view and our view, tomorrow’s hearing will be an opportunity to hear firsthand from the men and women in the Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police Department who bravely protected our Capitol on that day.
His goal is the same goal that Speaker Pelosi has, which is to get to the bottom of what happened and prevent it from happening in the future. And he trusts her leadership to do exactly that.
Q Will he be watching any of the hearings?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, he typically has quite a packed schedule. He does catch news clips, sometimes all of you are featured in them. And I’m sure he will be kept abreast of the hearings and the work that’s happening on the Hill tomorrow.
Q And then a follow-up on COVID: We’re hearing from health experts who are increasingly voicing their concern for the FDA having yet to grant full approval to COVID vaccines. Folks are using phrases like “grave mistake,” “puzzling as to why they haven’t yet.” What is your understanding as to why we have not seen full approval yet from the FDA? And do you have any, kind of, expectation for when we might?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the FDA is the gold standard, in our view, and they move at the speed of science. They look at a range of data and they make sure that when they make conclusions and when they give full approval, they have confidence in the science and the data that backs that up. It wouldn’t be responsible to expedite that process at a faster speed than the science and data allows.
Certainly, everyone is eager — as the mother of two children under 12 myself, I would love to have vaccines approved so I can get my kids vaccinated. We understand that completely and understand the desire to have full approval, of course, as well.
We’re hopeful to see that in the coming months as Sec- — as — I was going to call him “Secretary Fauci” — as Dr. Fauci has said. But again, we rely on them to determine their own timeline.
Q “Coming months” are — does the White House believe that we could be losing valuable time in waiting for full approval if this is what’s keeping so many folks from getting
vaccinated at this point?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think what’s most important is that the FDA maintains itself as the gold standard in approving use of vaccines for approval. And the fact that they are always going to be driven by the speed of science, they’re going to have extensive data they look into, they’re going to have the best health and medical experts making that conclusion, that will maintain confidence over the long term.
Of course, we all want to see vaccines fully approved, vaccines for kids under 12. I think every — most Americans would say that. But that we’re going to — it’s important they move at their own speed and the speed at the scientists.
Q On an international issue, I wanted to ask you about Tunisia.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q The President has dismissed the parliament, most of the government, and it’s been denounced by multiple parties as a coup. Does the White House see that as a coup and have any reaction to what’s happening there?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, first, we’re concerned about the developments in Tunisia, which come as Tunisian authorities are seeking to stabilize their economy, confront a resurgence in the COVID-19 pandemic, and improve living standards for all Tunisians.
We are in touch at a senior level, from both the White House and the State Department, with Tunisian leaders to learn more about the situation, urge calm, and support Tunisian efforts to move forward in line with democratic principles.
As you know and as you just asked about, these — there have been a lot of developments, even over the last 24 hours. A legal determination about a coup — a determination about a coup is a legal determination, and we would look to the State Department to conduct a legal analysis before making a determination. So there hasn’t been a conclusion on that front.
Q Okay. And then I just wanted to ask about the embassy in Tunis, which handles a lot of business for the —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — region, including Libya, et cetera. Any changes, as far as operations there?
MS. PSAKI: I’ve not been made aware of changes but, again, that would be a decision made by the State Department based on their diplomatic security advice on the ground. But — so I would send you to them for any —
Q Okay. And then just on a different issue, you know, with people talking about COVID and what some of the impacts of this new surge that we’re seeing are going to be, there might be some economic impacts. We’ve seen some Wall Street banks bring down their forecasts for what GDP growth is going to look like for this year. If that continues to be an issue, would the White House consider more stimulus — the type that we saw earlier this year — $1,400 checks, et cetera?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think an important piece to note for all of you is that the way the American Rescue Plan was designed was for it to have lasting effects that would go over the series of several months, far beyond the initial months of implementation. So there are components of the American Rescue Plan that are still being implemented that will still be implemented for months to come. That’s a lesson we’ve learned from the past about how people will need assistance for a longer period of time than just a short window.
I’d also note that there are areas — I mean, we’ve seen, obviously, data in the housing market — right? — where there are — you know, there’s an impact — an economic impact is on people being able to stay in rental properties or in their homes.
There are areas of continued implementation — I think you’re familiar with these, but I’ll just note them — including on the forbearance program that we have — we have implemented in recent months, where people will be able to apply — I’m just using this as an example because I think housing and being able to stay in your house has a big impact to the economy — people can still apply through the end of September and still benefit from forbearance for six months following and then even longer.
So, point is, there a number of programs — the Child Tax Credit, which as you know, we started implementing in monthly checks, but there’s still going to be a benefit through to next year — that are part of the American Rescue Plan that we will continue to implement.
I would also say that there’s — when it comes to the economy, there’s no significant signs, according to our economists, at this point, that the Delta variant impact across the country. We’d expect that much of any economic impact would be felt in the communities with lower vaccination rates; that’s why we’re doubling down on our efforts to ensure we’re reaching Americans with the vaccine where they are.
And that’s one of the notes that, I think, our Secretary of Commerce made last week as well. One of the biggest, most important steps people can take is to get vaccinated.
Q And one very quick one —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — about the meetings that Wendy Sherman —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — has been having in China. I know that both sides basically came out of those meetings saying that there were disagreements.
What does that tell us about the possibility for some kind of talks between Xi and Biden? I mean, you know, you kind of set this template that — you know, with Russia — that even if you have disagreements, you’re going to still have meetings at the highest level. So where does that stand and do you still see that as possible or likely?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say, broadly speaking, as it relates to diplomacy, that is how we feel. And it was important for Deputy Secretary Sherman to go to Beijing and have these meetings because we think it’s important for us to say directly to the Chinese officials in private what we say in public. It’s in our interest to be very clear to Beijing about where we stand and explain our concerns in detail.
And our philosophy is that we should not avoid hard topics, and they are certainly a part of any discussion we have diplomatically. There are areas where we have concern we’re very straightforward about, whether it’s the crackdown on Hong Kong, ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, abuses in Tibet, curtailing of media access.
There are also areas where we might align: the climate crisis; counternarcotics; nonproliferation; regional concerns, including DPRK, Iran, Afghanistan, and Burma.
A topic of — you know, the President continues to believe in face-to-face diplomacy. That is something he has long been an advocate for, and we expect there will be some opportunity to engage at some point. But it did not come up in the context of these meetings, and it wasn’t — that was not the purpose of these meetings.
Go ahead, Kaitlan. And I’ll go to you, Mike, next, and then we’ll go around the room.
Q Two questions for you: One, does the President favor restrictions for unvaccinated people when it comes to restaurants, museums, concerts?
MS. PSAKI: The President favors using the CDC as his North Star and what the health and medical experts are going to advise on how to save more lives and protect people.
Q So, no, he doesn’t think that there should be restrictions on unvaccinated people, like some other countries have instituted? Or —
MS. PSAKI: He believes that we should be guided by the science and by the data, and so he will look to his health and medical team to advise on what steps we should take.
Q And on Iraq, what will the number of U.S. forces be by the end of this year, given the drawdown you’re going to confirm today?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, it’s important to note that this is one in a series of strategic dialogues — or this has been an ongoing strategic dialogue. And at the early part of the strategic dialogue, we had about 9,000 troops. We are now at about 2,500 U.S. forces in Iraq. We are there, of course, at Iraq’s invitation to improve the capacity of Iraqi Security Forces and help them in the fight against ISIS.
So, but the real — the real announcement today — or real news today, I should say, is about a change of mission. And the numbers will be driven by what is needed for the mission over time. So, it is more about moving to a more advising and training capacity from what we have had over the last several years.
Q Right. But regardless of the title and what their mission is, how many — what’s the number that we expect to be there by December, given it’s by the end of the year?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would just say the most important part is that it is a change in mission, and that the mission is changing in Iraq, and that it will be driven by what is needed for the mission.
So, I’m not going to give you operational — nor will I have operational details. I would point you to the Department of Defense on that. But the first step is the change in mission, the end of combat — of a combat role in Iraq and moving to a more of a train, advise, and assist role. That is what the Iraqi leadership have conveyed they want to see on the ground.
Q Two COVID-related questions. One on mandates, which we’re seeing obviously — as folks have said already here — more kinds of places embrace, whether they be local authorities or more businesses, or colleges and universities.
How much does the President and do the people around the President fear that his weighing in more heavily to embrace mandates by these other institutions — or even mandates that the federal government impose on the military or federal workers, or what have you — how much do you fear that that actually inflames the culture war and is counterproductive, and that people will harden their opposition to the idea of taking a vaccination because the President is the President and is — and, sort of, the more he weighs in, that it actually is counterproductive?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that’s an important point in that we look — we do not want to look at our objective of getting more people vaccinated through a political prism. We don’t. And the President certainly recognizes that he is not always the right voice to every community about the benefits of getting vaccinated, which is why we have invested as much as we have in local voices and empowering local trusted voices.
I would say, though, that mandates, as is evidenced by the hospital associations, those are meant to keep people safe across the country. We’re not going to judge our success here by whether we score political points. We’re going to judge it by whether we are able to save more lives. And if the health and medical experts suggest those are — that’s the right way to go, then we will support that.
Q Okay. And then, on the travel — the extension of the travel bans, is there a — is it an indefinite extension at this point? Is there an end date?
And given the concern about Delta that is leading the United States to keep those in place for now, does that suggest that Title 42, and the use of Title 42 at the southern border, is equally likely to be extended, at least for now, given the same concerns with the Delta virus, both here and abroad?
MS. PSAKI: Well, nothing is indefinite because obviously our objective is to defeat the virus. So, no. But I don’t have a timeline to predict for you because it’s all about what success we have at getting more people vaccinated, getting more vaccines out to the world, and fighting the virus.
We have never conveyed or announced a timeline for Title 42. So, nothing has changed in that regard. It remains in place, and it will remain in place as long as that is the guidance from our health and medical experts.
Q I have two questions. On infrastructure, there’s a pretty robust blame game already going on this morning over the —
MS. PSAKI: Tis the season.
Q — over the negotiations going awry. So I’m wondering if the White House is concerned that the negotiators will not finalize a deal soon. And how much time is President Biden willing to give these negotiators, considering we’re on a pretty tight timetable?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as is normal in the end stages of big negotiations, there are some outstanding issues. Democrats made an offer that was designed to resolve each of these outstanding issues, which involve proposed compromises on our part and theirs. As we always are at this point in the negotiations, we’re in close touch with Republicans and Democrats on the Hill about this, and confident — we remain confident, I should say, about reaching an agreement. And we’re also interested in any Republican counteroffers.
So, I would say this is to be expected. We always know that there are — is some wrangling at the end of a process. I would say — tell you also that White House staff and negotiators worked through the weekend, as I think many of you know. The President worked the phones all weekend and is continuing to. We’re encouraged as we’ve reached the final issues that need to be worked out and are confident about the path forward.
So, yes, time is not endless. We are certainly on a timeline here, and we will work closely with Leader Schumer to get it done.
Q Do you want to see something this week?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve certainly conveyed — and, again, Leader Schumer has conveyed the need to move forward. And we are optimistic about the progress and focused on steadily moving forward. And we continue to see progress being made each day.
Q Second question, on COVID: Is there any discussion at the White House, at this point, of President Biden getting a booster shot?
MS. PSAKI: We would rely on the health and — the expertise of our health and medical experts, and that’s not a guidance that they are providing at this point in time.
Q Thanks. I know that you’ve said a lot about being guided by the science. Can you talk a little bit about the science that is driving the continuation of this kind of travel ban? The Delta variant is already dominant in the U.S., so how does keeping people from foreign countries out, like, protect people in the U.S.?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I’m not a doctor or a medical expert. I think that that would best be posed to a member of the CDC or one of our doctors. But I think their decision was made based on the fact that the Delta variant is more transmissible and is spreading around the world.
Yes, it is the dominant variant here in the United States. That doesn’t mean that having more people who have the Delta variant is the right step.
They — and also, we see cases rising here at home, particularly among those who are unvaccinated. And again, they base their decisions on data, on health and medical expertise, and on a consideration of a range of factors, including keeping the American people safe.
Q And the scientists who are making these decisions are medical experts. Is it the CDC that is making the decision? Like, who is the — who is making these decisions?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q It is the CDC?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Oh, I just wasn’t sure.
And so — and also, on a separate issue, when it comes to the issues of, like, voting rights, police reform —
MS. PSAKI: Yep.
Q — there are civil rights groups, voting rights groups that are expressing frustration with the White House. They feel like it is not giving the priority that they feel like it should be, especially because of the rhetoric that has come from the President saying that this is — you know, that these issues are taking the country back and that these are really some of the biggest issues since the Civil War. And yet, they feel like there has not been movement and pressure to get something done — concrete, tangible — to get something done from the White House. What is your response to that frustration?
MS. PSAKI: I would say the President is also frustrated. He wants to sign a voting rights bill into law. He wants to sign police reform into law. He believes both are long overdue.
It requires Congress moving forward on these pieces of legislation and sending them to his desk. The role he can play is he’s spoken out publicly about it multiple times, advocated for how this is a fundamental right people should have across the country is voting rights. He has worked in close coordination, as has our team, with civil rights groups and partnership. And he has conveyed to them, and I will convey again publicly: He is with them and stands with them in their frustration, their view that this is a vital step. But he needs Congress to send him legislation in order to sign it into law.
I’m just going to jump around. I’m going to jump around.
Q Hi. Jen —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, no, sorry — I was going right here, to Nadia. Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen. On Iraq, a senior White House official said that this Strategic Dialogue with Iraq is going to be the final one. So how does the White House envisage the relationship going forward? And how do you respond to criticism by Republican senators saying that you’re capitulating to the pro-Iran militias by announcing this withdrawal, as we expect later today?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we feel this is a natural next step in these ongoing strategic dialogues and that we are moving to a phase not where we are ending our partnership; we are maintaining a presence in Iraq with a different mission, in coordination with leadership of, of course, the Iraqi leadership, and one where we feel we can continue to be quite constructive in fighting ISIS and fighting the dangerous threats from Iranian proxies.
So, this is a shift in mission; it is not a removal of our partnership or our presence or our close engagement with Iraqi leaders.
Q Jen, why has the President not nominated someone for FDA Commissioner yet?
MS. PSAKI: He’s certainly eager to nominate someone. He wants to make sure we have the right person to nominate, and he’s not going to do it at a pace faster than having the right person to put forward.
Q And has the White House had any additional staffers test positive for COVID-19?
MS. PSAKI: I think, again, our policy — just to reiterate it — which we announced last week, is that if there’s an individual who is — has close proximity to any of the four principles, as defined by the White House Medical Unit, in line with CDC guidelines on what that looks like, we will then make that information available and immediately public to all of you. So that has not been the case since we announced that policy, no.
Q And then, just real quick. On — I know we’ve asked you a number of times about the mask recommendation for the vaccinated, and I know you have said overwhelming majority of the cases are in people who are vaccinated — or who are unvaccinated. But what is the level of concern about infections and people who are vaccinated? Because there are — we keep hearing reports of vaccinated people — you know, hospitals say that they’re seeing patients who are vaccinated coming in. What is the level of concern in the administration?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think we all have a responsibility to be very clear about the data and what it says and what it does not say. Ninety-seven percent of hospitalizations are for — with people who are unvaccinated. That remains the case.
The data from the health and medical experts still continues to be that if you are vaccinated, you are protected and it’s very, very unlikely that you will get sick, you will get hospitalized as a result of getting a breakthrough case. That remains the case in data.
Of course, there are individual cases. We expect there to be breakthrough cases; we know there will be. The more people who are vaccinated, the more, as a percentage of individuals who are vaccinated, who will get COVID.
But the most important thing is that people are, across the country, largely protected from serious illness if they’re vaccinated.
Q Can I just — just one quick follow-up. So the 97 percent number — so the CDC said that that is from January to April. So that’s a bit of an outdated number when you look at how many people have been vaccinated since then and the Delta variant. So why isn’t there any more updated information coming from the CDC about what the risk is now to people who are vaccinated?
MS. PSAKI: I can certainly see what their cycles of data is. We rely on data across the country. We don’t rely on individual, anecdotal cases that are reported because sometimes they scare the public without being based on broad swaths of information that the public should look at and look at the whole assessment of.
And I think you’ve seen across the country, again, that they’ll — and hospital leaders have said this too — that the number of cases of people who are coming in — the vast, vast majority — are people who are not vaccinated. That continues to be the case from hospital systems across the country.
But I’m certainly happy to see if there’s more updated data that is available or when it might be available too.
Go ahead, Steve.
Q Jen, I want to go back to this question about vaccine mandates. Has it been determined here that it would be inappropriate or illegal for the President to require federal employees, civilian or military, to be vaccinated?
MS. PSAKI: It hasn’t been determined that it would be illegal, no. But we have not made a determination about that, no.
Q So why not? I mean, the President today referred to the federal government as a “model employer.” It’s the largest single employer of Americans — civilian and military put together. Why couldn’t the federal government demonstrate to the country that model that you’re talking about encouraging in the private sector?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Steve, it is certainly prudent for the federal government to be looking at any steps, just like any employer is, to your point, of how we can incentivize people get — for getting vaccinated, protect more people, save more lives. I just don’t have anything to preview for you at this point in time.
Q Thank you, Jen. Do you — does the administration view vaccine misinformation as a national security threat? And on top of that, is there any indication that there are mal-actors that are feeding misinformation in vaccines?
MS. PSAKI: I’ve talked about this a little bit in the past. I’m not going to give it a new label, but what I will tell you and reiterate is that certainly misinformation is a factor. It travels through a range of mediums — some on social media; some on media; some through elected officials or public voices, unfortunately; and sometimes all of those pieces are connected to each other. That is a concern — a significant concern for us. Hence, we’ve spoken out against that.
What was the last part of your question?
Q I wanted to know if the administration had seen the fingerprints of any kind of mal-actors, such as Vladimir Putin, feeding this misinformation.
MS. PSAKI: I’ve said — I think maybe last week or the week before — that we did see some elements of misinformation around the effectiveness of mRNA vaccines previously from foreign actors. But I don’t think we have a broader assessment than that at this point.
Q I wanted to ask you about the OMB director. Does the administration have any potential nominee to —
MS. PSAKI: I know there’s a lot of interest. I don’t have any updates for you on that one.
Q Yes, Jen. I’m wondering if you have any update for U.S. citizens overseas that have been patiently waiting to get vaccinated. Should they — do you suggest they fly back to the United States? Or should they wait in the countries they’re living in? Will the embassies be doing anything more to assist them? Or vaccines that have been donated to countries — should a portion of those be allocated for Americans? What —
MS. PSAKI: That’s a really good question. I know that we haven’t been working — at this point, to date, that I am aware of — through embassies on programs with American citizens. Let me check with the State Department and our COVID team, and see if there’s more on that.
Yamiche, go ahead.
Q Hi. Thanks so much for taking my question. I know you’ve reiterated several times the President is following the science. Can you talk a bit about whether or not he’s concerned at all that the CDC might be taking too long to issue new mask mandates or even vaccine mandates now that we see cities like New York issuing vaccine mandates?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think it’s important to take a step back and remember what we’re talking about here. The CDC evaluates data from across the country, and they will make public health guidance. They will present public health guidance. They do that on a regular, periodic basis. They will continue to do that. And we’re always considering a range of options as we have been from the beginning of the administration; of course, we are, as we should be.
They are — they do not make laws. It is the guidance currently that if you are not vaccinated, you should wear a mask. It is the guidance currently that if you are over 12 years old, you should get vaccinated. And regardless, the most effective step we can take around the country is to get more people vaccinated. So that is where our focus needs to be, regardless of where the CDC may or may not land on any additional guidance.
Q When I talked to experts, they say vaccine mandates would be a big step toward getting more people vaccinated. So, I’m just wondering when you see organizations, like nearly 60, coming out and saying, “Let’s at least mandate healthcare workers being vaccinated,” why isn’t the White House behind that? What science is telling the White House —
MS. PSAKI: I think I just said we support the step they took. What I’m getting at is —
Q I know, but —
MS. PSAKI: — the CDC does not determine mandates. The CDC provides public health guidance on what can save people’s lives. Getting vaccinated can save people’s lives.
Q So, would it be fair to say that — I guess my question is: Does the White House at all see itself standing up — and maybe this is what you’re saying now — “Yes, there should be mandates specifically for healthcare workers or teachers or municipal workers.” Does the White House see that as a role that it should be taking? And is there any danger in not doing that?
MS. PSAKI: I think I just said a few minutes ago that we support the step of hospitals, and that that was a guide and could be a guide for us on what to do with our own healthcare workforce here from the federal government. Just to give you kind of a sense.
I would also note that 90 percent of teachers across the country are vaccinated. And that is, in part, because of prioritizing teachers early; on a number of them taking the responsible step — of course, 90 percent of them — to get vaccinated. That would be up to schools and localities.
There are certain powers that the federal government has and there’s certain powers the federal government does not have. But we’re talking about a couple of different things here. One is public health guidance by the CDC, which will be driven by data. That gives guidance.
The laws will be implemented by others. They do not make laws; they give public health guidance.
Then there are decisions by institutions, by localities, by hospital systems, who may make decisions about how they can protect their workforces. We certainly support that.
Q Can ask you one quick thing on January 6th?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Just — I know you said that the President’s going to, obviously, be busy tomorrow. But could you talk a little bit more about what the President thinks about these four Capitol Police officers testifying before this committee? And does he have anybody else that he wants to see possibly testify if his goal is the same as Speaker Pelosi, as he said?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly he relies on the leadership of Speaker Pelosi in moving this process and this independent investigation forward. And the individuals who will be testifying were brave heroes on this day — a dark day in our democracy. The President absolutely believes that.
I’d also note — it’s noteworthy that many of the Republicans in Congress who are the most vocal about supposedly supporting the police in law and order are the same ones who’ve dismissed and downplayed the shameful events of that day. I don’t think that should be lost on anyone either, especially given about 140 individuals were injured that day — enforcement officers — 100 law enforcement officers were injured that day, according to their own numbers and statistics.
I think we have to wrap because you guys got to go and see the spray of the Iraqi Prime Minister.
Thanks, everyone. See you tomorrow.
1:46 P.M. EDT