Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, July 27, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:51 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay, I have a couple of notes for you at the top.
Today, the Department of Health and Human Services, through the Health Resources and Services Administration, awarded $121 million in American Rescue Plan funding to support the work of trusted community-based efforts to increase vaccinations in underserved communities.
This is the second round of funding for community-based groups. Back in June, HHS awarded $125 million to similar groups for these efforts.
And these groups will undertake efforts such as mobilizing community outreach workers to educate and assist individuals in accessing and receiving COVID-19 vaccinations, organize pop-up or mobile vaccine locations, and assist in making vaccine appointments or arranging transportation and childcare assistance for vaccine appointments.
One grantee in Jacksonville, Florida — one of the states where there, as you know, has been the highest transmission rates — one of the highest transmission rates — will use the funding to establish a sustainable community-based workforce and infrastructure to maximize COVID-19 vaccine uptake, minimize disparities, and advance health equities in vulnerable populations.
Another grantee in Oklahoma will reach rural communities, including Hispanic community members, and will recruit and train community health workers.
I also wanted to give you a small preview of the President’s visit to ODNI this afternoon. As we announced earlier — last week, I guess it was — he will visit the Office of the Director of National Intelligence later this afternoon to meet with leaders of the Intelligence Community and to thank all of our intelligence professionals for their service to our nation.
After the meeting — after meeting with Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, the President will tour the National Counterterrorism Center Operations Center with NCTC Director Christy Abizaid to see firsthand how we remain ever vigilant in fighting threats to our country.
He’s particularly proud of Director Haines and Director Abizaid, who are both the first Senate-confirmed women to hold these positions.
He will then address the intelligence community workforce to express his admiration and appreciation for their service. In his remarks, he will highlight the integral role our public servants play in shaping national security decision-making and protecting the American people. He will also underscore the importance of intelligence collection and analysis that is free from political interference or pressure.
And I think many of you have been on these trips with him. He’s visited a number of national security agencies, and it’s part of his effort to support the workforce.
Another item for you: The Justice Department has successfully blocked a merger between two of the three largest insurance brokers in the world — I know this had been reported on — Aon and Willis Tower Watson.
These companies provide insurance brokerage services to thousands of American businesses and charge billions a year for their services.
The merger would have raised prices for a wide swath of American businesses that need to use a broker to obtain insurance and benefit packages for their employers — employees, sorry.
Those higher insurance costs would ultimately have led Americans to pay more for all kinds of products and services, such as banking services, hospital care, cars, and trucks.
And the proposed merger, as the Justice Department explained in its complaint, was a clear and presumptive violation of the antitrust laws under established law.
So, these actions, which I’m — the reason I’m lifting them up — are very much in line with the Presi- — what the President was talking about when he called for more robust enforcement of the antitrust laws in his executive order to promote competition.
Last piece, I think, here — second to last piece, but hopefully useful: Tomorrow, the President will travel to Lehigh Valley, in Pennsylvania, where he will be emphasizing the importance of American manufacturing, buying products made in America, and supporting good-paying jobs for American workers during a trip to the Lehigh Valley Operations facility for Mack Trucks. The President will take a tour of the Mack Trucks facility and meet with local union members. More than 85 percent of the 2,500 employees at the Mack Trucks location are UAW members.
And a little bit about Mack Trucks, as you’re preparing for tomorrow: The company has been making vehicles for the military since at least World War One. There are more than 1,500 Mack Trucks in the federal fleets used by both military and civilian agencies.
He’ll also receive a briefing on the Mack Trucks electrical refuse truck. The company is currently piloting their electric dump trucks in New York City and North Carolina. And this is all a part of his effort to lift up and talk about his “Buy American” agenda as well as the infrastructure package.
Finally, I just wanted to note that, after additional engagement with a bipartisan group yesterday, we’re enthusiastic about getting the bipartisan infrastructure plan across the finish line and confident we’ll be there soon.
We were encouraged this morning by positive comments by Senator Romney. Our team remains hard at work, as do a number of the supporters on the Hill.
With that, go ahead, Alex.
Q Thank you, Jen. I have a few questions on the CDC’s revised masking guidance —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — that some vaccinated Americans should wear masks indoors where there’s risk of high transmission or currently high transmission. That covers, according to the CDC, about 63 percent of the country right now, which has significant or high transmission. So how will the White House get Americans to start wearing masks when they’ve gone for more than two months without them? Will we see President speak more about this? I mean, how exactly do you plan to push this publicly?
And then, along those same lines, on July 4th, the President gave his, sort of, “independence from the virus” speech. He declared, quote, “We are closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus” and, quote, “we’ve gained the upper hand on the virus.” Was that declaring premature victory? And are you at all concerned that those statements will make it tougher for you guys to implement this revised guidance now?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, first, I know this is slightly awkward timing, but — and I know there’s a lot of reporting out there about the CDC guidance. It is not only appropriate for them to make the decisions, it’s also appropriate for them to officially announce their own guidance.
I will say, though, that how we view this, as you asked about, Alex — implementation of their guidelines that they’ll outline on a call with all of you later this afternoon — that we are still in the midst of a once-in-a-generation pandemic battling an ever-evolving virus.
We have said since the beginning of June that the Delta variant — a rising variant that had increasing — was clear from the beginning had great — a great deal of transmissibility — was a threat to people who were unvaccinated. We did more than a hundred interviews with officials conveying exactly that.
And the reality is: We are dealing with a much different strain of this virus than we were even earlier in the spring, back in May, when the masking guidance was done — provided by the CDC at that time.
That is their job. Their job is to look at evolving information, evolving data, an evolving historic pandemic, and provide guidance to the American public. That’s exactly what they will do and what they will provide specific details on later this afternoon.
Q With respect to the President’s comments, though, do you, in retrospect, regret those comments? Do you think that that was wise at the time, considering, you know, they could make it tougher for Americans to take this seriously?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that, in the President’s remarks, he also made clear — and I’m quoting him — that today, “while the virus hasn’t been vanquished,” we — you know, he made clear that it was not over; that those who were unvaccinated were still at risk.
He made clear that you were protected from serious illness, disea- — or hospitalization if you were vaccinated. That remains the case. And he encouraged people who are not vaccinated to get vaccinated.
But, again, the role of the federal government and our public health officials is to continue to look at evolving data, evolving threats of a historic virus, provide that public health guidance to the American people to protect more people and save more lives. That’s what they’re doing.
Q One quick one on infrastructure.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q The President met with Senator Kyrsten Sinema. Can you tell us anything about how that meeting went? And does he have other meetings planned with any of the primary negotiators or Democratic leadership on the bill as it gets to the — potentially, the finish line?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would expect — yes, the President saw Senator Sinema this morning. They are very much aligned on the path forward. Both feel optimistic about the path forward.
And clearly, both understand, having lived through many iterations of legislating and negotiating before, that it is always at the tail end when you have, you know, some of the trickiest discussions.
So — but they, again, remain quite positive about the forward momentum and the path we see the infrastructure package on at this point in time.
I don’t have any additional meetings to preview for you, but I will tell you that the President is somebody who just picks up the phone when somebody tells him it’s going to be constructive. That certainly, I think, will continue to happen as we work to get this across the finish line.
Go ahead, Kelly.
Q When the President travels, as in Lehigh County, will you be looking at the rate of infection there? And will that cause us to see any change in the President’s own masking posture or that of people in the entourage there?
And what should Americans — who should they look to for specific guidance about making these decisions, day to day? Do they need to be looking at a CDC website for the positivity rate in their community? Do they need to be looking to the White House for that guidance? What is your prescription for how Americans should adjust with these mask guidelines?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. First, we will, of course, be abiding by every aspect of the CDC guidelines on masking that they will provide this afternoon. And that does mean, as you conveyed, that we will be looking at the rates in different areas where the President may visit, and also the rates as they — if they move in Washington, D.C., and we will apply guidance accordingly.
That means we will be prepared to wear masks again if required, if the guidance is leading to that, as would the President. And that will continue to be the case.
And as it relates to the American public — I mean, our hope is certainly that elected officials, leaders, civic leaders, public health experts around the country will also look at the CDC guidance and they will be constructive partners and voices in sharing with their communities what steps they could take.
The CDC is going to have the map and the guidance to provide to the public on how this guidance applies to them, and that would be the most accurate place to seek information.
Q Is the “summer of freedom,” as the President described it, is that still operative now, given the change in the Delta variant?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first — I have this little handy chart; I suspected that we might talk a little bit about COVID today, understandably. And what I would note is that what has not changed is the fact that people are — who are vaccinated have a huge deal of protection from serious illness, from hospitalization, and from death. And I know Shannon — actually, I see her in the back there — asked a good question yesterday about the data, so I wanted to give you a little bit of a better understanding of how this data process works.
So the data that Dr. Walensky, the CDC Director, spoke to back in July was based on data up through the beginning of June — or the end of May, the beginning of June. That will be updated in August as it relates to individuals who are hospitalized or get sick, who are vaccinated, and those who are unvacc- — what hospitalizations look like as the percentage breaks down.
But this is all based on data from either state officials or health agencies — or the Florida Hospital Association, as it relates to the Florida-specific example here.
And how the information flows — to your question earlier yesterday, Shannon — is it goes from hospitals to states to the CDC. So I’m using this example to show you — because this kind of breaks through the reporting of this data — this is from hospital systems that will go to states.
And what you can see here: Florida, which is one of the states with the high- — one of the highest transmiss- — or one of the highest rates of COVID, I should say — officials have said that more than 95 percent of those who were hospitalized were not vaccinated. That is information from last week, or just a couple of days ago.
North Carolina: Unvaccinated make up more than 99 percent of new COVID cases in May and June. That’s from a few weeks ago, but still updated data.
Colorado: More than 96 percent of Colorado’s COVID hospitalizations, deaths in the first half of 2021 were among unvaccinated.
I’m using these examples because even as the masking guidance is put out later today by the CDC, we are still going to be sending a very clear message to the public that in order to protect yourself or save your life, save the lives of those around you, you need to get vaccinated. Masking is guidance, but —
Q Yeah, can I follow up —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — just on this data point? Because, yeah, I appreciate you looking into this. It seems the problem, from when I talk to doctors, though, is that the Delta variant is evolving in this situation so rapidly that even data from May or June might not be representative of what’s happening now.
MS. PSAKI: This is from July. A number of these examples are from July.
Q It was only July 9th, I think, or mid-July — which I know isn’t that long ago, though, that the Delta variant became the dominant spread. So, you know, when I talk to hospitals in places like Nevada, Missouri, Kansas City, you know, those doctors are saying they’re seeing more like 1 in 10, which I know is still not a majority, but it’s different than some of these numbers.
You know, the situation in May and June, for the first half of the year when most people weren’t vaccinated, is much different than it is now. So, are you guys aware of that? Are you talking to people in some of the harder-hit areas about, like, what they’re seeing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Shannon, one, I think it’s really important to project data across a spectrum, right? Not from individual hospitals or individual cases. Because what people are really looking at or what we’re looking at is how it relates to across-state data.
Florida — this data is from four days ago. Florida is one of the states that has the highest rate; it accounts for about 20 percent of COVID cases in the country, from the last data I saw. This is from four days ago; 95 percent of those who were hospitalized were not vaccinated. That’s across-Florida data from the Florida Hospital Association.
Of course, we absolutely look at data, as does the CDC, and we’re going to continue to evaluate and assess. But because this data goes into what the CDC reports, I thought it would be relevant to all of you to see and understand how we look at the across-the-state data.
Q Thanks, Jen. The CDC data showed, though, on July 6th, that the Delta variant was the prominent strain: 51.7 percent of cases. So, what took so long between then and now?
MS. PSAKI: Even higher now, as you know.
Q So that’s what led to the change in guidance?
MS. PSAKI: You — I’m sure you will get on the call with the CDC later this afternoon, and I think that’s a great question to ask them.
Our guidance is based on the public health experts and what they are advising in terms of steps that should be taken. I think it’s, though, important to note it has always been the case that the guidance has been, if you are not vaccinated, to wear a mask. That has not changed. That has been the case from the beginning. And also, to get vaccinated if you’re not vaccinated.
Q But the President’s message was get vaxxed or masked, and now it’s get vaxxed and masked, in some cases. So does he regret sending the message that it was a binary choice there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Weijia, I think that those comments were back in May. And as I noted at the time, the Delta variant was a — was by no means a variant — the variant that it is today. It was not even a — I can look at the specific data, but it was — 99 percent of cases were not Delta at the time. That was based on guidance from the CDC.
Today, they’re changing their guidance, they’re changing their advice to the American public — their public health advice based on evolving data and an evolving, historic — vari- — virus. That’s exactly what they should be doing.
Q And what is your message to Americans who are feeling whiplash right now? Why should they trust the same group of health officials who, just two months ago, told them they don’t have to wear a mask anymore inside?
MS. PSAKI: Because our goal is to save their lives, and our responsibility and the responsibility of public health officials is to continue to provide updated guidance, if it warrants, from an evolving virus.
Q And one more on something related. You’ve said many times from the podium, as recently as Friday, that it is not the federal government’s role to mandate vaccines. Can you help us understand what changed between then and yesterday when that’s exactly what the VA did? And is it a sign of what’s to come for other agencies?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the context of the question, which I think is important here, is: Can we mandate vaccines across the country? No, that’s not a role that the federal government, I think, even has the power to make.
The federal workforce is part of the workforce of the federal government; that’s different and very different from the question you just posed, in important context.
The VA is a huge provider of public health officials and to patients who are some of the men and women who served our country bravely as parts of the military — as members of the military. And this was a decision that followed, and was aligned with, I should say, the decision by 57 hospitals associations across the country to make sure we were taking — they were taking every step they could to protect the servicemen and women who seek health services at the VA.
I will also say, as a big employer — the federal government — it is also our responsibility to continue to look at ways that we can protect people and save lives. And so we will continue to look, agencies will continue to look, we will continue to look at what steps we need to take for our workforce.
Q Thanks Jen. How closely has the President been monitoring the January 6th hearing on the Hill? And what’s his reaction to some of the testimony from the law enforcement officers today?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say — I know you didn’t ask me this question, but I know a number of us have watched the testimony this morning, which has been incredibly compelling, heart wrenching, and, you know, at moments, a reminder of the shameful events of January 6th and of the incredible bravery of the men and women of law enforcement who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the Capitol, our democracy, and members of Congress from both parties.
The President has had a range of meetings and briefings and engagements this morning. I know he’s intending to catch updates and clips, and certainly staff will share with him what they’ve seen as we’ve watched the briefings, but he has not been in a position, via his schedule, to watch the hearings this morning.
Q Should we anticipate a statement from him at the end of the day after he’s been updated on this?
MS. PSAKI: I would not anticipate that, no.
Q And then one on vaccines before we move on. You know, you just said that the message for unvaccinated Americans has always been to wear a mask. But how concerned is the White House that the message that unvaccinated Americans will hear after this afternoon is that, even if you’re vaccinated, you now have to wear a mask in some settings, and then just say, “why bother then” on the vaccine?
MS. PSAKI: Well, here’s the good news: We’re all here. You all are all here. You’ve got millions of people and Americans who watch your broadcasts and watch your shows and listen to you to hear what they should know about how to protect themselves and save their lives.
So our message to the American public is: We are at war. We continue to be at war with a virus and evolving pandemic. Our responsibility here is to always lead with the science and always lead with the advice of health and medical experts. And we’re going to continue to provide information to all of you about how to protect yourself and save your lives.
We’re not saying that wearing a mask is convenient or people feel like it, but we are telling you that that is the way to protect yourself, protect your loved ones, and that’s why the CDC is issuing this guidance.
Q A follow on those two questions.
Q Thank you, Jen. What was —
MS. PSAKI: I’ll come back to you, April.
Q When was the White House told that this CDC guidance was changing?
MS. PSAKI: There’s been — it’s obviously a decision the CDC made. The President was briefed this morning by Dr. Fauci. But beyond that, we’ve been aware of their discussions with our public health officials.
Q And the CDC is also going to recommend that children in schools all wear a ma- — that everyone in schools wear a mask regardless of vaccination status. But there are at least eight states that actually prohibit their districts from requiring a mask in schools. So what are parents who have children in those schools, in those states supposed to do?
MS. PSAKI: Well, look, Kaitlan, I’m happy not to live in a state where that is the guidance. And this is new guidance that is being issued by the CDC today. I don’t know how it will influence local elected officials in these states, but I certainly hope, for the health and wellbeing of the next generation, that they take a close look at the guidance.
Q And one more question. You just said you don’t think the federal government has the power to mandate vaccinations across the country, but they do have the power to mandate them within the government. So why is everyone who works in the federal government not mandated to get vaccinated?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say first, Kaitlan, that we — you saw the VA announcement yesterday, which was really about public health and about protecting the patients, the men and women who have served our country. But we are going to continue to look at ways to protect our workforce and to save more lives. I just have nothing to preview for you at this point.
Q Should we expect more vaccination mandates from federal agencies?
MS. PSAKI: I think a range of agencies and leaders will look at what steps they should take to protect their workforce and save lives.
Q Thank you, Jen. Just explicitly, when President Biden was presented with this latest guidance from CDC, what was his reaction? I mean, he welcomed the guidance back in May. What was his reaction this time? How concerned was he when he was told about this latest guidance?
MS. PSAKI: Concerned in what way?
Q Concerned about, you know, how this will impact the administration’s ability to perhaps vaccinate those who don’t — do not want to get vaccinated.
MS. PSAKI: I would say, first, that the President has always said that he is going to be guided by public health experts, by the CDC, and what our doctors are recommending. That has always been the case. And there have been discussions, as you would expect, for months now, from the beginning, about what steps need to be taken, should be taken to protect from an evolving virus.
Q So he did not explicitly talk about, you know, “Let’s — maybe the administration should start worrying about, you know, how this impacts your messaging, the work that you’re doing on the ground”? Did he have anything to say about that?
MS. PSAKI: No. That’s not how he looks at this. He looks at — as the President of the United States, at a time where we came in with a dangerous distrust in science and government and institutions, he felt — feels it’s important to be led by data and scientists, and will be helping — le- — helping lead the effort to implement this, of course, in the federal government.
Q And I did have a follow-up to Kelly’s question there.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Not just when he’s traveling, but just when he’s at the White House, and even for White House staff, is there any decision on whether he or staff will start wearing masks?
MS. PSAKI: We will be abiding by public health guidance. And if that is where we fall in the geographical guidance given by the CDC, we will also be following that masking guidance.
Q Thanks, first on crime: As shootings spike in Chicago, the superintendent of police there is blaming courts for releasing attempted murderers on electronic surveillance. Does the President agree with the superintendent, who was just here earlier this month, that ankle bracelets do not cut down on attempted murder?
MS. PSAKI: I have to tell you, I have not seen these comments or looked at the full context of them. I’m happy to do that after the briefing.
I think we know — from seeing, broadly, the rising crime or the rising gun violence across the country, including in cities like Chicago — that there needs to be greater assistance, greater efforts to make sure guns don’t get in the hands of criminals who could do harm, and more assistance to local police forces and community policing programs as well.
The President doesn’t just use that as rhetoric; he delivers it with action.
Q And I know he’s in discussions — or in discussions about reforming the police, generally. We’ve got cops now saying that the courts are too soft. Some progressives, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are saying the courts are too strict. So, what does the President think?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President — I don’t think it’s a secret that the President disagrees at times with Congresswoman — the congresswoman about some aspects of policing.
He believes we need to reform our prison system to keep our community safe while addressing mass incarceration and by diverting nonviolent drug offenders and taking other steps that will improve rehabilitation and reduce recimit [sic] –recidivism.
If you — but he also believes, let’s be clear, if you commit a violent crime and are found guilty and pose a threat to society, you should serve that time. And when you get out, you should have the support you need to successfully reenter society. That’s his view.
Q And then, on the CDC guidance, why did the President say, “If you’ve been fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask. Let me repeat: If you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask” if it was possible that that was going to turn out not to be true?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Peter, I think we’re all dealing with an evolving virus where there’s no playbook and no historic precedent. And what the American people should feel confident in is that we are going to continue to be guided by science, look at public health data in order to provide new guidance, if it’s needed, to save lives, to protect the American people.
When he made those comments back in May, we were dealing with a very different strain of the virus than we were — than we are today. And Delta is more transmissible. It’s spreading much more quickly. It was nearly non-existent in the United States back in May.
Q And so my last one would be: You guys have been saying this is a pandemic of the “unvaccinated.” If that is coming from the CDC, is the President satisfied with the leadership at the CDC right now?
MS. PSAKI: The President is satisfied with the fact that they are continuing to look at public health data and give — provide public health guidance to the American public about how they can protect their lives and the lives of loved ones around them.
Q And if it’s a pandemic of the unvaccinated still, then why do vaccinated people need to put the masks back on?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Peter, first of all, I would say again — just to go back to this chart, which I will handily point to again: If you are vaccinated —
Q Overwhelmingly, the unvaccinated.
MS. PSAKI: — if you are vaccinated, your li- — it can save your life. And I think the clear data shows that this pandemic is killing, is hospitalizing, is making people very sick who are not vaccinated. That co- — still continues to be the case, regardless of what the mask guidance looks like.
Q But if the vaccines work, which this sign says that they do, then why do people who had the vaccine need to now wear masks — the same as people who have not had it?
MS. PSAKI: Because the public health leaders in our administration have made the determination, based on data, that that is a way to make sure they’re protected, their loved ones are protected. And that’s an extra step, given the transmissibility of the virus, that people — that they’re advising people to take.
Go ahead, Steve.
Q Last year, when we went through this as a national discussion — talk about social distancing and shutdowns. Is this White House eyeing anything other than mask guidance? I mean, this week, you said you wouldn’t lift the travel restrictions. Is anything else coming?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we’re always going to be guided by the public health guidance. That’s how the travel restrictions decision was made. But we are not — this is not guidance about businesses shutting down or communities shutting down. This is guidance to individuals about how they can protect themselves.
We’ve seen some communities — L.A. County, for example — where they have applied versions of mask guidance. It has not shut businesses down. It is meant to protect people’s lives. That is the goal and the objective.
Q Can I ask you about expedited removals —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — down at the border? As you know, there are advocates for immigrants who say that what this administration is now doing is taking away due process rights by empowering asylum officers to make decisions in the immediate moment for expedited removal. What’s your response to that criticism?
And on the other side of that coin, is it this administration’s view that most of the people who are claiming credible fear on the border are not entitled to asylum?
MS. PSAKI: Well, no, that is certainly not our claim. We are — of course, people who are applying for asylum, who will go through the process, and if their case and their — may — warrants, they will be granted asylum. What this is, is that — I should say, those families process for expedited removal who claim fear will have the opportunity to present their cases before an immigration judge and request asylum or other forms of relief or protection from removal. So even — even those who are being processed.
What — the processing of migrants for expedited removal is a traditionally employed, lawful mean to secure our border, and it is a step toward our broader aim of having a safe and orderly immigration system.
I will say, at the same time, we continue to work to build a fair, orderly, and humane immigration system. We recently expanded the Central American Minors Program and made 6,000 H-2B visas available to Central Americans.
But we also want to be crystal clear: Attempting to cross into the United States between ports of entry or circumventing inspection of ports of entry is dangerous. It carries long-term conse- — immigration consequences.
But, no, we will still, of course — individuals who are applying for asylum, who warrant asylum, will be treated accordingly.
Q Jen, does the President’s economic team see any ramifications to this masking policy? Are they concerned at all that it could affect consumer spending or any of the economic growth projections?
MS. PSAKI: That’s a great question. I will say, I don’t think we’re quite at that point. The guidance, of course, is not, as you know, being released until later this afternoon.
I will also say that as we’ve looked at, kind of, the economic impact of the Delta variant, one of the things we’ve looked at is that we have — one, we have programs in place that are meant to be implemented over the course of time to ensure that Americans are getting assistance, getting additional funding into their pockets as needed, which was a lesson learned from the past about ensuring that there wasn’t an abrupt halt to economic assistance as we’re going through a historic pandemic, still at war with it, and as we’re still going through an economic recovery.
There’s no significant signs at this point of the Delta variant’s impact in that sense. And we’d expect that much of the economic impact will be felt in communities with lower vaccination rates. But we don’t expect to turn back the clock to what it was in March of 2020 or even six months ago.
But in terms of longer-term analysis, I don’t — we’re not at that point yet.
Q Just on the infrastructure talks —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — the President obviously met with Senator Sinema, and he’s making calls on this. Does he see the end of the week as a more or less deadline to get a bipartisan deal on this?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to be setting new deadlines today, but what I will tell you is that we were quite encouraged by the conversations overnight and into this morning. We see momentum. It’s moving in a positive direction. You’ve heard that from Democrats and Republicans. That certainly is a good sign — and it’s only Tuesday.
Q Jen, the federal eviction moratorium is scheduled to expire at the end of the week, and millions of renters are still behind on payments. I know the administration has taken other steps to aid with assistance, but is there any discussion about an extension of that moratorium, especially as we’re seeing the Delta variant, you know, rear its head?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let me just give you — I know you follow this closely, but for others, just as a reminder: On day one of the administration, as part of the American Rescue Plan rollout, the President did call on Congress to extend the eviction moratorium through September 30th of 2021. The final plan, of course, did not include that proposed moratorium extension, and so the CDC extended the moratorium administratively in January, March, and most recently in June for a final month. So it’s in place, as you noted, until
January 31st [July 31st].
I don’t have anything to preview for you at this point in time or — but certainly, we will be watching this closely, ongoing discussions about how we can continue to help renters.
Q And then, just on another subject related to January 6th. Yesterday, the White House said that it would nominate Matthew Graves to be U.S. Attorney for D.C., and if confirmed, he would oversee the prosecutions of hundreds of people who were arrested for what happened on January 6th at the Capitol. Did the President or anybody else in the administration discuss those cases with Graves before his nomination? Did they seek any particular position on those cases, such as being aggressive and charging and prosecuting them?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more on this. I’m happy to check and see if there’s more we can convey about the personnel process.
Q Just to follow up on Peter’s point: Does President Biden have confidence right now in Director Walensky’s leadership?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely.
Q All right. And is a reason why Dr. Fauci briefed President Biden on the new CDC guidance and not Dr. Walensky — or Director Walensky?
MS. PSAKI: I think Dr. Fauci is likely in town, but also has provided briefings to the President on a regular basis, as has Dr. Walensky, throughout the course of the pandemic.
Q And on a different topic: What is the White House doing to specifically win over support from Democrats on the nomination of David Chipman to lead the ATF? Senator Durbin just told us this morning that Democrats don’t have the votes, and Senator Tester also signaled this morning that the nomination could even be pulled. So does — is the White House still pushing through on that nomination? And what is the White House doing to whip up votes?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d first remind people, as you well know, but for others, that not only is he a veteran of the ATF, but he’s somebody who has been a supporter of smart gun reform measures that could save lives of people across the country. And we — the President felt quite confident in the — his qualifications and his ability to lead the agency at a time where it hasn’t been led for many years.
In terms of our specific legislative strategy, I’d really have to talk to the team and see where things stand with that.
Q And a quick follow-up: Senate appropriators just announced a deal on a supplemental on Capitol Police security funding. It does include about a billion dollars for the Special Immigrant Visa program. Does the White House support that deal between Leahy and Shelby?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly have supported and advocated for additional funding for the Special Immigrant Visa program — something that is a huge priority to the President. I’d also reiterate, since you gave me the opportunity, that our first flight of Afghan SIV applicants will be coming into the United States this week, which is a very exciting step forward and will be the first of many.
In terms of the amount of funding, I would have to check with our legislative team on that as well.
Go ahead, April.
Q Okay. Jen, a couple of questions. On COVID: Are we at a point where we are saying that there’s just no absolutes when it comes to what’s happening in this moment?
MS. PSAKI: No. We’re not at that point.
Q Because we’re possibly beginning to wear masks again in the building — in buildings, kids could possibly be wearing masks in schools, and those who are vaccinated are getting breakthrough COVID cases. So you’re saying —
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think — here’s what we all have responsibility to do: is to provide the guidance and clear information that is being presented by public health officials to the American public — not to project confusion, but to alleviate the confusion. And it is — also, it’s incumbent upon the public health officials to continue to look at and evaluate and make recommendations based on data to save people’s lives and protect people from getting the virus, getting — being hospitalized or, of course, dying.
Q Okay. And a question on Johnson & Johnson and on the testimony today.
Johnson & Johnson is in the news again. This time, the National Council of Negro Women — who the President just had at his table — is suing Johnson & Johnson because they targeted Black women, starting in the ‘90s, with talcum powder that is said to cause ovarian cancer. Is this administration concerned with the credibility, the integrity of Johnson & Johnson, a company that is administering some of these vaccines in COVID?
MS. PSAKI: Well, April, first, it’s ongoing litigation, as you noted, so of course I can’t speak to that. But I do think it’s important to note that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is entirely separate from baby powder, was approved by the gold standard, the FDA, which requires a rigorous look at the data and safety guardrails.
The FDA approved the distribution and the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. And again, it’s entirely separate from the baby powder, talcum powder litigation.
Q But it’s still that same company, the brand. And people will associate —
MS. PSAKI: But the FDA is a U.S. government entity and, again, the gold standard, and has a rigorous review process, so people should remain confident in the vir- — in the vaccine.
Q Thank you. And lastly, on the January 6th Select Committee: Last week, President Biden said he “has faith in the American people to ultimately get to the right place.” And what is that “right place,” particularly when you hear testimony today from some of these police officers who — some are minority — some of the Black officers said Black officers fought a “different battle.” One officer said he was called the N-word — N-I-G-G-E-R — after answering questions of the rioters — the insurrectionists — as to who he voted for when he said he voted for Joe Biden.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, April, as I said a little bit earlier, I mean, today’s testimony — for anybody who watched it — it was a searing reminder of the shameful events of January 6th. And certainly that testimony, I think, will stick with people for some time to come.
And what the President meant is that he is confident in the American people to fight for democracy; to fight for voting rights; to fight for, you know, moving forward from the events that were a dark day in our democracy. That’s why he supports — strongly supports the actions by Speaker Pelosi and the efforts to get to the bottom of what happened on January 6th so that we can prevent it from ever happening again.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, we’ve got to wrap up guys, sorry. You got an event. Thanks, everyone. Have a good day.
1:27 P.M. EDT