Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and White House American Rescue Plan Coordinator and Senior Advisor to the President Gene Sperling, August 2, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:00 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Hello.
Q Welcome back, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you. Well, thank you. I know it’s a later briefing this afternoon. Good things are worth the wait.
And with that, we are — I’m pleased to be joined today by Gene Sperling, who probably doesn’t need a great introduction as the former NEC Director in two administrations and the person who’s overseeing our American Rescue Plan implementation. He’s going to talk a little bit about where we are on housing, take a few questions, and then we will proceed with our normal series of events.
With that, go ahead, Gene.
MR. SPERLING: Thank you. It’s good to be back.
You know, our President so deeply believes that every avoidable eviction of an American family hurt by this pandemic is an avoidable heartbreak and harm to a family’s economic security and dignity. And he has worked and instructed us, from day one, to do everything within our power to prevent unnecessary evictions for those who have been hurt through this pandemic.
What I wanted to do today is just give you a little background on the statement that is coming out today that deals with both evictions, our executive actions, and the emerge- — Emergency Rental Assistance Plan for state and local governments.
On evictions: The President has long fought for an eviction moratorium. He actually proposed extending the eviction moratorium until September 30th when he came into office, and I believe that was not possible due to reconciliation rules. But that was his initial policy position he put forward.
He has also supported the CDC extending the CD- — their eviction moratorium — first from June 20th to May 31st, then from May 31st until June 30th. And then, even when there was legal questions and legal risk, he supported them extending it through July 31st.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court declared on June 29th that the CDC could not grant such an extension without clear and specific congressional authorization. But given the rising urgency of the spread of the Delta variant, the President has asked all of us, including the CDC, to do everything in our power to look for every potential legal authority we can have to prevent evictions.
To date, the CDC Director and her team have been unable to find legal authority, even for a more targeted eviction moratorium that would focus just on counties with higher rates of COVID spread.
But again, the President’s focus is for us to do everything within our power — or, I should say, everything within anyone’s power — to help prevent unnecessary, avoidable, and painful evictions.
One of the things that is — that he is requesting today is that state and local governments extend or pass eviction moratoriums to cover the next two months. Right now, one out of three renters who are behind in the rent are actually protected beyond the federal eviction moratorium by extended state and local evictions moratoriums. The President is asking that all governors and mayors follow suit and extend moratoriums for up to — for not “up to,” but for two months.
Two, this President is asking that his departments that provide mortgage-backed lending extend whatever eviction moratoriums they have the power to extend. So that covers USDA and VA and HUD.
Third, we have already announced that those with federally backed mortgages may not evict without 30 days of notice. But today, the President is going further in his statement Friday and in — by the Cabinet members. And in his instruction today, he is asking that USDA, VA, and HUD, and the Treasury Department as well make clear that those who benefit from government-backed mortgages or even tax relief related to housing should not seek evictions without first seeking the Emergency Rental Assistance funding that allows — that makes landlords completely whole; that can pay up to 18 months of forward and back rent and utilities — that we want anybody who’s got a government-backed mortgage to seek that type of relief.
Finally, as the congressional leadership discussed and asked, we are going to do an all-agency review to make sure that we understand any potential reason why state and local governments are not getting funds out and making sure that we are using all authorities — whatever federal authority that we have — to prevent evictions.
On the state and local relief, as you know, there was $25 billion in initial Emergency Rental Assistance. Again, this is the rental assistance that goes — can make landlords completely whole and also keep families safely housed. It is a win-win solution.
Unfortunately, on January 19th, the Trump administration left by putting in place a completely unworkable, high-documented — high documentation guidelines that would have never worked. So, immediately, Treasury cleared up those guidelines and got the remaining funds out.
After that, the President, as part of the American Rescue Plan, added another $21.5 billion of Emergency Rental Assistance.
Now, we have stressed and the President has continued to stress that state and local governments must do more — all of them — to accelerate the funding to these renters and landlords, particularly as we face the end of the eviction moratorium and the rise of the Delta variant.
Now, we recognize this is not an easy task. We, as a country, have never had a national infrastructure or national policy for preventing avoidable evictions. Matthew Desmond — many of you know, the author of “Evictions” — has estimated that 3.6 million evictions are filed every year in non-pandemic years and often for amounts as little as $500 or $600 of back rent.
So we realize the state and local governments are being asked to set up — are often being asked to set up some programs from scratch.
But we have listened to their concerns, we have listened to the concerns of others in the housing community, and we have responded. On May 7th and June 24th, we put forward significant guidance that made it clear that you can have simplified applications; you do not have to have documentation for income or non-traditional income or to show your hardship.
We put out things that allowed you to pay landlords in both payments or utilities for many tenants, and that you could use the funds not only to keep people in their homes, but to make sure that you could help people find new housing or help those homeless or at risk of being homeless.
With these reforms, we have seen many states and localities start to succeed, from Louisville to Houston, Harris County, to Virginia — to the state of Virginia. Many places are succeeding. We did see, in June, the numbers doubled to $1.5 billion in assistance that went out the door to renters and landlords helping 290,000 tenants. We expect these numbers to grow. But it will not be enough to meet the need unless every state and locality immediately accelerates funds to tenants.
The President is clear: If some states and localities can get this out efficiently and effectively, there’s no reason every state and locality can’t. There is simply no excuse, no place to hide for any state or locality that is failing to accelerate their Emergency Rental Assistance Fund.
So the President is asking today that, at the state and local court level, that they heed the call of the Department of Justice to pause evictions, to ensure that evictions are a last resort, not a first resort.
For those of you who remember, this is what we — the Department of Justice; Vanita Gupta — put out a major statement on and what we did — the White House summit with 46 cities — to work and encourage them to use these kind of diversionary proposals to avoid evictions.
At the request of the congressional leadership provi — mes- — mentioned, we’re investigating all reasons for any delay of state and local funds, and whether we have the power to compel more expeditious use.
He also is calling on utilities and landlords to use the funds that Congress has made available to them — the emergency eviction funds, but also other funds in water and heating that they can use before they move to evict.
And finally, he’s asking the Treasury Department to make clear: You cannot only use your Emergency Rental Assistance funds — the $46 billion — but any of the funds in the $300 billion state and local fund to help with dealing with housing needs of anyone hurt with the pandemic, and that includes working with courts and legal aid counselors, or to help give more incentives to landlords to cooperate with them, who are willing to house those who are homeless, those who are — have been evicted, or to provide more longer-term, stable housing to the most hard-pressed renters.
The message is very clear: This President wants to do everything within his power. We are still investigating what that legal authority is, whether there is any options that we can have on eviction moratoriums beyond what we’ve seen.
But you can be sure of one thing: Whatever is in the power of this President to do to prevent evictions, he is committed to doing.
MS. PSAKI: Nancy.
Q Thank you so much, Gene. So, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is still calling today for the administration to extend the eviction moratorium. She seems to believe that the administration can do it. So what is the disconnect here? Why does she believe you have the power to extend the moratorium but the administration is arguing you don’t?
MR. SPERLING: Well, I would say that on this particular issue, the President has not only kicked the tires; he has double, triple, quadruple checked. He has asked the CDC to look at whether you could even do targeted eviction moratorium — that just went to the counties that have higher rates — and they, as well, have been unable to find the legal authority for even new, targeted eviction moratoriums.
I mean, we share so much the goals of Speaker Pelosi and others on the Hill. You know, we mean this: This is a President who really understands the heartbreak of eviction. He is — the reason why he is pressing and pressing, even when legal authority looks slim, is because he wants to make sure we have explored every potential authority.
So, this is — again, this is a President who is double, triple, and quadrupling this, and is not just — and is responding by then saying, “If we don’t have legal authority in some place, then we need to do a wide administration and state and local look at where we do have the authority to act and prevent evictions.”
Q But she and other House Democratic leaders said they got very little notice from the administration, that it felt that it was unable to extend the eviction moratorium. And Dick Durbin, the senator from Illinois, said a couple of hours ago, it looks like somebody “dropped the ball.” Did it take too long for the administration to determine that you weren’t going to be able to unilaterally extend the eviction moratorium?
MR. SPERLING: You know, I think the wording in the Supreme Court opinion was fairly, you know, clear that — they said the CDC did not — could not grant such extension without, quote, “clear and specific congressional authorization.” I think, really, what has happened, what we are all dealing with, is that the rise of the Delta variant is particularly harmful for those who are most likely to face evictions. And as that reality became more clear, going into the end of last week, I think all of us started asking, “What more could we do?”
And we were very focused and have been extremely focused on the state and local relief. Many of you might have saw that, on the 28th, we did a massive, wide effort to get news out to tenants and landlords where they could go. I compliment those like PayPal and Venmo who put it on the front of their app and tens of millions of people saw it.
But I think that when the Delta variant, you know, started to rise and that it hits this particular — you know, that it’s likely hit harder the people most likely to be low income, unvaccinated, that there was just an effort to go back and, again, double, triple, quadruple check. And I think — I think we’re — we were in that, and I think other people on the Hill have also been in.
So this was — this was us responding to a new reality and doing so with this aggressive set of actions that President Biden has asked, both at the state and local level, of his executive team, of even landlords, and those who run utilities.
But, I think, on the eviction moratorium issue, we have run into — we have run into, so far, what seems to be a very difficult obstacle from the Supreme Court ruling. And, again, the President went out of his way to push to the CDC today to look even at 30 days, even targeted to high — you know, counties with higher infections, and the CDC independently came back and said that they could not, at this time, find the legal authority.
I don’t think this means this President is going to give up. I think he’s going to keep looking and pushing and kicking the tires, and fifth, sixth looks. But we’re going to do everything we can.
Q But is there — is there any —
MS. PSAKI: Kaitlan.
Q — contention or any —
MS. PSAKI: Kaitlan.
Q Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Mr. Sperling. But the Delta variant has been around for weeks and has been the dominant strain in the United States for several weeks as well. So why did the President wait until Sunday to ask the CDC for a targeted moratorium focused on those areas with high case rates?
MR. SPERLING: I think what you’re seeing is a President who is just trying to do everything that he can in his power, and part of that is also going back to places where he has heard initially that we do not have legal authority. And he’s saying,
“This is so important I want to double and triple check. I want to ask the CDC independently, if they share that same reading of the Supreme Court’s view.” And I think he’s going to continue to look.
So I don’t think — I think this just reflects a continuation of a President who is looking at every possible authority we can do. And to be honest, when he is told there is not authority, his response is — because he cares so deeply — is to double, triple, quadruple check, and that’s exactly what him going to the CDC represented.
Q I just think the question from progressive — even progressive Democrats — is that you got this ruling from the Supreme Court at the end of June, so why did it take so long to call on Congress to act? If it is so important to him, why did it take so long to go to the CDC for this 30-day moratorium that he was seeking?
MR. SPERLING: Well, again, I think that the fact that the Supreme Court had ruled that way — I mean, remember, we knowingly faced some legal risk — supported extending the moratorium to July 31st. The Supreme Court ruled, chose not to strike that down. But the ruling said very, very clearly that that was because it was rolling off on July 31st and that extensions would require congressional authorization. That — that is clear — those wordings are nothing special for us; they’re something anybody here, you know, can read.
I think what you saw was that, as the Delta variant was worse, that there was just, you know, the passion to not only look for everything we knew we had the power to do, but a lot of what he’s doing is asking us to check — double check, triple, quadruple check.
And that’s also in terms of what he’s asking those of us in the White House to do with the agencies. Where agencies have given more narrow opinions on their authorities and powers, he’s asking us to go back and push.
On, you know, again, the state and local moratorium, this is not insignificant. Thirty-three — one in three people are in states where they have some additional length of protection due to state and local moratoriums. The Supreme Court does not affect that. So, he is asking to extend that as well.
So, again, I think, you know, what you’re seeing here is a consistent behavior. And I think the truth is many people came to the same realization, which was that even though the eviction moratorium was supposed to end on the 31st; even though the CDC had said it was their last extension; even though the Supreme Court had seemed to clearly state that, beyond that, had been — would require authorization, there was still a desire, a passion by this President to go back and say, “Are we sure? Are we sure?” And he is still asking that question. And that’s what he was pressing with the CDC.
So, it’s not a first — it’s not that this is the first he’s doing on this. He is at — this is part of a continuation of him looking down every corner, kicking every tire, doing everything we can for whatever authority we have or policies we can do to protect people — protect against unnecessary evictions, particularly of those who’ve been hurt by the pandemic.
MS. PSAKI: Jonathan.
Q Gene, is there any indication, or is it the contention of this administration, that the undistributed funds that the state and local governments haven’t distributed haven’t been done so for political reasons? And if so, what’s your reaction to that?
MR. SPERLING: I’m sorry, that they haven’t been distributed?
Q That they haven’t been distributed. You are investigating the non-distribution of some of those funds. Is —
MR. SPERLING: I think much of it — I mean, again, I think that our country did not have a national infrastructure for doing this. I mean, $1.5 billion went out in June. That is not nearly enough. That is certainly more than has ever happened in a month in our country.
So Congress asked us to set that up, for that to be imposed at a state and local level. So it requires every state and local government, many of them to set up processes.
So I’m not tr- — again, I understand the challenges they were facing, but right now, there’s no excuse for somebody having a complicated application process. There’s no excuse for somebody to have excessive documentation. Your government has told you that you can create very simple application processes, and you are able to see that your peers in other states and cities are successfully implementing this.
And so, this is the time where we want to especially say: There’s no excuses. If it works in some places, there’s no reason it can’t work in every place.
If you ask me, I think there’s — there’s a lot of excessive cautiousness and conservativism. And, you know, at some point, you have to push people that we are giving you the flexibility to get these funds out. We are not telling you — you can rely on self-attestation for hardship, for income. You can rely on both payments. You can rely on factual predicates like how low-income the housing area or neighborhood is.
At this point, some places may still feel like they have to be overly careful and cautious. And we are saying, “No you don’t. You need to get these funds out.”
But I will say the following, too: This — the American Rescue Plan, in addition to this funds, gave people $350 billion in state and local funds. Those funds are also available. So, when people say, “Well, we need more counselors,” or, “We could do more mediation if we could hire mediators or legal services,” or, “We could help support the court systems, you know, helping to tell people to first seek Emergency Rental Assistance” — they fully have that ability. They, in fact, have two pots of money: They can go from the Emergency Rental Assistance, or they can go from the American Rescue Plan.
Q So what can you do about that?
MR. SPERLING: I’m not going to tell you that Congress gave us a lot of sticks and punitive measures and carrots, but we’re doing everything we can, and we have.
If you look at the May 7th guidance that we did, it was very significant and it was widely praised by advocates around the country. It sped up the time that you had to give funds to a tenant directly, if a landlord didn’t participate. It made clear you could do bulk payments. It made clear you could rely on self-attestation.
And then when we heard that there were issues, like they weren’t sure they could help people who were homeless, we came back on June 24th and made clear that you can — that you could for a future debt obligation.
So, again, I understand that — that hard is hard and setting up a national infrastructure on Emergency Rental Assistance, you know, immediately is a challenge. But I think we are now at the point where we feel people have had time, they have — we have listened to their concerns. We have given them enormous flexibility. They are seeing their peers, they’re seeing other states and cities succeeding, and there’s no excuse for them not doing so.
I will say that, on September 30th, the one stick you have is that the Treasury Department is allowed to reallocate among places that have not used 65 percent of their — of the first $25 billion. So that is something the Deputy Secretary of Treasury has made clear.
And we have reached out to so many cities, so many governors, so many meetings with the National League of Cities, national Conference of Mayors. And many of them are working very well with us. Many of them —
Q What is happening with Florida, sir?
MR. SPERLING: — are doing but — but we — but we are — but we — but, you know, we are pressing harder now, as we should, with the end of the eviction moratorium.
Q Can I ask you about Florida, sir?
MS. PSAKI: Okay. We’re just going to have (inaudible).
Justin, why don’t you go?
Q Thanks. Gene, are you saying that Congress dropped the ball here, essentially? I mean, you said that they’ve written the plan and you guys don’t have a lot of tools to fix it. So, is that — is that what you’re saying?
MR. SPERLING: No, not at all. I think what they did was historic. I think that we, as a country, have never had a policy to prevent avoidable evictions. Again, Matt Desmond says, in a normal year, you have over 300,000 month, and actually, August is one of the worst. That’s the average between 2000 and 2016. And he — and the Eviction Lab shows that many of those people were evicted for just five, six hundred dollars of back rent.
So, I think the idea that Congress pushed for us to create a national infrastructure that we could get this out is — and to put the — put the amount of money in there that could help make landlords whole.
Remember, the thing about the Emergency Rental Assistance that’s so important is that it helps struggling landlords and struggling tenants. It can pay up to 18 month, forward or backwards, of back rent or back utilities. So, it is a way to make a landlord, who is struggling, whole, while also keeping that tenant and their family safe and secure.
I’m just expressing the reality of why — of the fact that we do whatever we can with the tools we have. And we have found that the guidance has worked: listening to people, making clear you could use self-attestation, making clear you could have low documentation.
It has worked in many places. Again, I mentioned Louisville; Harris County; Virginia. That’s just a small sample of the places it’s working.
So we think what Congress did was historic, and we think it has the potential to help enormously.
And, look, people shouldn’t think that this is hopeless. You know, yes, people do reports of 6 million being behind, but when you look at the poll survey and the federal — in the Philadelphia Federal Reserve, they’re talking about, you know, a little less than 2 million really, really being a threat. We help nearly 300,000. If we can get those numbers up — imagine if you were at 500,000; that meant you to be helping one and a half million over a few-month period.
So, if states and local governments rise to this great resources that this Congress wisely gave to them, there is every reason to believe that they could have a substantial effect in mitigating these evictions. And that’s why we’re pressing so hard, and that’s why we’re going to look for every bit — bit of authority or persuasion or guidance that we can make.
I’m just saying that the reality is there’s not like a punitive stick. That doesn’t mean that there was anything wrong with the — with what I think is really a historic element of the American Rescue Plan that I think could not only be helpful now, but going forward in preventing unnecessary evictions that we know have often heartbreaking and longer-term impacts on families and their economic and health stability.
MS. PSAKI: I’m just going to go to Yamiche. We got to wrap it up after that. Let’s go to the farther back. Go ahead, Yamiche.
Q Thanks so much for taking my question. And thanks, Jen —
MR. SPERLING: Sure.
Q — for adding one more. I guess my question is — it’s two part: One, why not force the Supreme Court to make this decision? And, two, is that decision not to actually go to the Supreme Court and force them to strike it down — does it have anything to do with fears that the Supreme Court might strike down the administration’s broad use of public health laws for other policies?
MR. SPERLING: You know, I do not neces- — I believe that people have been examining whether there is legal authority to go forward, period — whether it’s a legally available option.
For me personally: Yeah, I — you always have to worry about whether you do something that could create harm. That’s a factor to think about. Is it an overwhelming factor? I can’t tell you. But, you know, I think when you’re governing, you have to look at all these issues and — and see.
I think the President is still kicking every corner, because I think if there’s any chance that you could get this extension, he wants to know every available authority.
But it is a consideration that I think, you know, may have affected some of us. But I can’t say that that — I — you know, that — that I think, within our legal counsel in the CDC, I think they have spoken mostly about simply whether there is that legal authority to go forward.
Q Do you have an example (inaudible)?
MR. SPERLING: But again, I want to make clear: You’ve seen this President is continuing to double, triple, quadruple check on those issues and to ask all of us to look in every corner and kick every tire and double, triple, quadruple check if there’s any possible way that we can afford.
Q Could you give an example of what might be the things that you’re worried about the Supreme Court striking down? What unnecessary — what, maybe, unintended consequences —
MR. SPERLING: Are you trying to get me —
Q — might come from them?
MR. SPERLING: Are you trying to get me in trouble with Dana Remus? (Laughter.) Are you like — are you like trying to make me persona non grata with — (laughter) — with our General White House Counsel? I’ll pass. (Laughter.)
Q Is it 2 million people though? Is that the number that this White House believes could end up losing their homes as a result of this?
MR. SPERLING: I am saying that those who are — no. Those are people — those are the estimates for — you know, 1.4 to 1.9 are people who fear that they could be at a deeper level. A large percent — a significant percentage of them are in states where there’s eviction — the moratorium is in increase.
We have lots of indications that the kind of diversionary policies that we are doing is helping. And also, remember we’re at almost 300,000. If we’re up to four or five hundred thousand, then you could be talking about helping well over a million people in a few-month period.
Q But how many people could lose their homes?
MR. SPERLING: But what I’m trying to say is that — what I was trying to say is that we are pushing hard because we do believe that if state and local governments were to accelerate — if all of them were to do as well as the best performers are — what I’m trying to say is that it could make a sizable impact
on mitigation because — you know, because you’re — because those type of numbers, over a few-month period, you could have a substantial impact. That said, not everyone.
Q But what’s the number that America should brace for? How many people does this White House believe could lose their home because of this?
MR. SPERLING: I do not — I do not have an estimate. What I was trying to discourage against was the use of just the largest — I mean, sometimes people are just using what is the percentage of $45 billion, or what is the percentage of everybody who says they didn’t back-pay. And it can make it seem like things — it can understate the degree of progress.
If you feel like being able to help several hundred thousand a month over a few months, you know, it could matter a lot. And if we could get all the states and local governments, I’m saying that you could make a sizable impact.
Q But millions?
MR. SPERLING: What’s that?
Q Do you foresee millions of people losing their homes?
MR. SPERLING: No.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Gene, thank you very much. He’s available. He works here, so —
MR. SPERLING: No, I —
MS. PSAKI: — he gets to help us out more.
MR. SPERLING: No, I don’t. I just was identifying what a more targeted num- — estimates are of the people who say in surveys that they feel, at some point, not ju- — you know, at some point. And that’s why this — and I’m saying that’s why the assistance is so important, because you could hit a sizable impact of people who could be at risk each month if everybody was operating. It would — could be a meaningful number, though, you know, every eviction is a heartbreaking.
You know, so I don’t want to play down those who might st- — who could still face it, but just to stress that the state and local governments accelerating — we’re at 290,000 — if it keeps getting larger and larger every month and sustains for several months, that it could have a sizable impact.
Q Thank you.
MR. SPERLING: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Gene.
Q Thank you.
Q As a native, though, it’s “Loo-uh-vul,” not “Loo-ee-vil.” (Laughs.)
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
MR. SPERLING: They’re just the team that beat Michigan in the finals. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Learning new things every day.
Okay, a couple things for you all at the top, in addition. Today, the Department of Education released their Return to School Roadmap, of great interest to many parents, students, educators, and communities across the country. It outlines their — the community resources and support they need for a safe and healthy school year this fall. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, every school has the resources they need to ensure every student can learn in person, which is — absolutely remains our objective.
The Roadmap addresses three landmarks and provides strategies and resources to get communities there, including health and safety; vaccinations for Americans 12 and older and indoor masking; social, emotional, and mental health support for students; and accelerating academic achievement.
The President has been clear that it is a top priority to have children in school, in person, full-time this fall, and he has secured the resources to help ensure we can do that safely.
I’ll also note that I’ve invited Secretary Cardona to come join us in the briefing room this week, so we’re working to schedule that, as well, to give you all a briefing and an update.
I also wanted to note that with Congress on recess for most of August, we are launching a huge push throughout the month to promote President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda and highlight the success of the President’s first six months in office, especially in delivering economic relief to the American people, creating record number of jobs for an administration’s first five months, and spurring on the fastest economic growth during the first half of the year in almost four decades.
In addition to a regular cadence of White House messaging to support the Build Back Better agenda, key principals — including the Vice President, the First Lady, the Second Gentleman — will fan out to hold events in communities across the country, touting the President’s Build Back Better plan to drive more economic growth and invest in America’s middle-class families by cutting taxes for families with children, lowering healthcare costs, and meeting with mom- — meeting the moment on climate change. The President also promote his agenda throughout the month.
They’ll be joined in that effort by the Cabinet, which will be stumping in every corner of the country on the importance of passing both the bipartisan infrastructure bill — can we call it the “BIB” now? — I’m going to try — and the Build Back Better agenda to invest in our economy’s strength, make life better for all families, and confront the existential challenge of climate change.
As part of that, in the first two weeks of August alone, 14 Cabinet secretaries will travel to at least 26 cities in 13 states and the District of Columbia, with additional events being added.
As just one example, Secretaries Walsh and Raimondo will be heading to New York City this Wednesday to highlight the broad support from both labor and business community for the President’s economic vision.
With that, Jonathan, kick us off.
Q Thank you. First, one follow-up to the evictions thing, and then moving on to —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — foreign policy. Quickly, on this: From the briefing we just received, it seems like the White House does not want to challenge this in court. But lawmakers — Democratic lawmakers who are unhappy with the response so far are basically saying — I’m paraphrasing — “Don’t let Brett Kavanaugh stand in the way of this.” Why not take executive action now to direct the CDC and deal with the court later on?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what you should have taken from the statement that was put out right before the briefing, and also Gene joining us in the briefing today, is that the President has not given up the option of legal action. He has asked his team to look, to kick the tires — just to keep the analogy going — and look at every authority, every option we have to keep more people in their homes. That is his objective.
At the same time, he’s also focused on the policy options that are at play, whether it’s encouraging states to use funding; to get the funding out; to extend the moratorium by 30 days, 60 days in some states, that can keep people in their homes; and to see what other policy options we have at our disposal.
So we are using every tool we can. He is still — we are still kicking the — looking at legal authorities to see what is possible. But he’s not going to take a step without legal authority to do so.
Q And how much more time is he going to kick the tires?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s clearly a priority to the President, given the statement — the extensive statement we put out this afternoon. He was laser-focused on this all weekend — I can confirm for you — and has been from the beginning of the administration.
I mean, as a reminder, I know Gene touched on this, but he wanted to see an extension in January in the American Rescue Plan. It obviously wasn’t in there. The CDC extended the moratorium not once but three times. We made clear when we did the last extension that that would likely be the last extension because of the legal limitations. But, you know, he’s going to keep pushing to see what the options are available to him and if there are any additional options available.
Q And then the foreign policy matter: Now that the United States — per the Secretary of State’s statement yesterday — agrees with Israel and the UK that Iran was behind the attack against the ship, would the U.S. support an Israeli retaliatory strike on Iran? And how does this matter impact at all the U.S. position in the indirect nuclear talks, if they restart?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as a sovereign country, Israel is going to make their own decisions. But I will say that as it relates to our own engagement in nuclear talks — which we, of course, do have authorities over or do have decisions to make there — our view is that every single challenge and threat we face from Iran would be made more pronounced and dangerous by an unconstrained nuclear program.
So, put another way, constraining Iran’s nuclear program by returning to the JCPOA will put us in a better position to address these other problems. It doesn’t mean that it will take care of the other issues that had been ongoing concerns we’ve had with Iran. They are a bad actor on the global stage. They have threatened our own military, as we all know. But we continue to believe that pursuing a diplomatic path forward, that pursuing an opportunity to make sure we have greater visibility into what their nuclear capabilities are is in our national interest.
Q Thanks. Just quickly: On Friday, the President was asked whether Americans should expect more guidelines coming out because of COVID, because of the Delta variant. And he said, “In all probability.” So what’s on the table right now?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not — obviously, the President is keeping the option open of making sure that he is — that the CDC and our public health officials can make recommendations on what’s needed to keep the American people safe. I’m not in a position to preview that or to get ahead of any decisions they may make.
What I can reiterate, though, is — and you heard Dr. Fauci and Dr. Collins reiterate this, this weekend — we’ve been clear we’re not going back to the shutdowns of March of 2020. We are not going back to the economy shutting down. We’ve made too much progress. Too many people are vaccinated. There’s been too much progress on the economic front.
But, again, he has said from the beginning that we’re going to be guided by the science, guided by our public health experts, and we’re not going to take options off the table of what they may recommend.
Q And then just on Israel, but different topic: The NIH Director says he doesn’t see a need for booster shots, yet we’re seeing this model out of Israel suggesting that boosters are beneficial. So is Israel ahead of the curve on this one?
MS. PSAKI: Well, if you’re referring to the Israel data from a couple of weeks ago — is that the data? —
Q Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
MS. PSAKI: — which was not fully extensive and fully published at the time; I’m not sure if there have been additional details since then — our health experts continue to look at whether there would be a need for boosters.
I would remind you, too: We have, from the beginning, planned for a range of contingencies as we have purchased supply of vaccines, just in case there are boosters needed. There hasn’t been a decision made by our public health experts that it is needed, even for a portion of the population. If that decision is needed, we will be prepared as a government.
Q Jen, also following up: Last week, President Biden was asked about the Justice Department or — additional things that can be done for vaccine mandates. And he said that the Justice Department was looking at that. He didn’t have an answer yet.
Can you elaborate what the Justice Department may be looking at or exploring, in terms of mandating vaccines?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think Karine said this on Thursday or Friday — that a federal mandate from the federal government is not on the table.
So, I think what the President was referring to is the fact that employers can take that step, just as the federal government — and you’ve seen agencies do that — has the authority to take that step, according to the OLC.
Q So, he’s not looking at it the way that the administration did with mask mandates, where it was mandated on federal property that you had to have a mask. There’s not a similar exploration of doing vaccines that way to encourage more people to get the vaccine?
MS. PSAKI: Not across the country, no.
Q Okay. And, just to be clear, can vaccinated people be indoors with other vaccinated people? I mean, is that the — is that okay for people to be doing in —
MS. PSAKI: I know Dr. Collins spoke to this during one of his interviews this weekend, and the good news is there’s a COVID briefing coming up this afternoon where you can ask questions of our public health experts. But they’ve not changed that guidance in their — in their — the guidance from last week. They updated guidance on masks, but I certainly would encourage you to ask them that during the briefing.
Q Thanks, Jen. Back to the evictions. Several states, including New York and Florida, have been slow to disburse available federal aid to landlords and renters. In Florida, some 2 percent of available funding has been disbursed.
So I’m wondering: Has the White House been in touch with Governor DeSantis, for instance, and other state leaders to see what the holdup is? And what do those discussions look like?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly — I can’t speak to any — any contact specifically with Governor DeSantis about this, but we have been in touch with state authorities and localities about what the holdup is or what the delay is in getting this funding out.
And as Gene conveyed very clearly, $1.5 billion has been — was distributed in June. That was faster — that was greater than the five months prior or the four months prior. That’s a good step. It’s not nearly enough.
And certainly, getting the additional funding out there will help keep more people in their homes, which is our goal, which is Speaker Pelosi’s goal.
So, absolutely, we’re in touch with local housing authorities and leaders and states to ensure they’re moving this ball forward.
Q And then, in light of the ACLU’s decision to go back to court over Title 42 and push the administration to roll that back, does the President view it as a Trump-era restriction that he just needs more time to unwind? Or after roughly six months of using it, does he now view it as a necessary tool to maintain control of the border?
MS. PSAKI: Neither. The President views it as a public health measure where the CDC is going to continue to provide guidance on how long it needs to be in place.
We have not given a timeline of when we will — they will lift Title 42, but we will look for them to provide us that guidance.
Q And about public health at the border, is the President concerned that migrants who are coming in, in great numbers, are not being tested for COVID at their first point of contact with Border Patrol?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me give you a little bit of an understanding of what actually happens when people come across the border.
First, as — to Katie’s earlier question, there’s been no change in Title 42, so families and single adults are expelled, if possible, when apprehended at the southern border. That’s step one.
Those who can’t be expelled are often placed — and this, I think, goes to your question — in alternatives to detention programs while their cases are being reviewed.
CBP provides migrants with PPE from the moment they are taken into custody, and migrants are required to keep masks on at all times, including when they are transferred or in the process of being released.
Our other protocol is if anyone exhibits signs of illness in CBP custody, they’re referred to local health systems for appropriate testing, diagnosis, isolation, and treatment. That is our process.
Q Okay. And then just about COVID safety: Is President Obama setting the wrong example about how serious COVID-19 is by hosting a big birthday party with hundreds of people this week?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would certainly refer you to the team who is working for my former boss to give you more specifics of what the protocols are in place.
But I would note, first, that former President Obama has been a huge advocate of individuals getting vaccinated. When CDC provided guid- — has provided — what CDC has provided guidance on is for indoor settings in high or substantial high zones of COVID cases.
This event, according to all the public reporting, is outdoors and in a moderate zone. But in addition, there is testing requirements and other steps they are taking, which I’m sure they can outline for you in more detail.
Q But is there any concern, just because — as you said here, and you’ve had people saying over the last couple days — vaccinated people can still spread this Delta variant around? So is there concern that this President Obama birthday party might become a super-spreader event?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Peter, the guidance is about what steps people can take when they’re in public settings — indoor settings, specifically, was the new guidance — to keep themselves and others safe.
In terms of what protocols they are taking, I would refer you to them, and I’m sure they can give you more details.
Q And just last one. So, people who are watching this at home and they see, “Well, if President Obama can have a party with several hundred people,” should they think that it is okay for them to have a party with several hundred people now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly advise everyone to follow public health guidelines, which I know the former President, who is a huge advocate of getting vaccinated, of following the guidance of public health experts, would certainly advocate for himself as well.
Go ahead, Kelly.
Q Senator Lindsey Graham has announced that he has tested positive for COVID after being vaccinated and will be doing some self-isolating, which could have an impact on — for example, the bipartisan infrastructure. So what is your reaction to that?
And, secondly, does the administration feel like they need to get more sources of information on breakthrough cases, given the anecdotal experience many people are having of seeing more incidents of that — beyond just the issue of hospitalizations and deaths, but more information about how much the breakthrough cases are spreading?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that every single piece of available evidence shows that breakthrough infections are rare and mild, and that is according to a range of data. So according to new research from Kaiser Family Foundation from January to July, the rate of breakthrough cases reported to states is below 1 percent.
We’ve seen data come out from England, Scotland, Canada, and Israel showing that vaccines are about 80 percent effective in preventing illness from Delta and about 90 percent effective in prese- — preventing hospitalizations by Delta.
CDC is actively tracking tens of thousands of people in cohort studies — as I think you know and we’ve talked about a little bit in here — some of them doing weekly PCR testing, which includes healthcare professionals, first responders, hospitalized adults, and people in long-term care facilities. Also states and hospital associations are reporting their own data.
Now, we know there’s an interest in getting that data. We support that. Dr. Walensky says that they plan to release that as well, which we, of course, support as well and it’s important for you all to look at.
But I would note that — and I thought this was important because if you look at the power of vaccinations, you’re looking at specifically the numbers of — according to seven-day averages of January versus July. January is, of course, the lighter numbers, and then the darker number is July. And if you look at hospital admissions and deaths, this is really in — because of the impact of the vaccine and how effective it is at preventing people from being hospitalized and dying from COVID.
We certainly do hope that Senator Graham is — has a speedy recovery and is — experiences mild symptoms. And, you know, we wish him the best of health through that.
Q In places like Florida where hospitalizations are at a record level —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — is there any concern about the number of resources available, rationing of care, additional equipment that needs to be sent in, or personnel to assist?
MS. PSAKI: Well, one, we are — we stand ready and available to provide any assistance that is needed, whether that is Florida or any other part of the country. We’ve done these strike forces. We are at a very different point in the pandemic than we were a couple of months ago. We have ample vaccine. We have ample experts. We have ample resources to provide them.
You know, I will note, as you touched on there, 20 percent of the cases we’re seeing are in Florida. There are steps and precautions that can be taken, including encouraging people to get vaccinated, encouraging people to wear masks, including allowing — allowing schools to mandate masks, and allow — allowing kids to wear masks, which is not the current state of play in Florida.
So, you know, at a certain point, leaders are going to have to choose whether they’re going to follow public health guidelines or they’re going to follow politics, and we certainly encourage all governors to follow the public health guidelines.
Q Thanks, Jen. As you know, UK and EU are now reopening to vaccinated travelers from the U.S. Can you give us an update on the decision-making process here in the U.S. about whether and when to reciprocate?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly understand the question. I know there’s a lot of people out there who are eager to see loved ones, to travel, to return to flights between our country and many countries in Europe. I don’t have an update.
There’s ongoing discussions, on a policy level, with public health officials. As you know, we have these ongoing working groups, but I don’t have an update on the timeline of a decision.
Q And then the HHS Inspector General announced today that they are opening an investigation into this large tent camp at Fort Bliss that houses migrant children because of reports that kids were having panic attacks and exhibiting self-harm. I’m wondering: Have any changes been made already to address some of those concerns? And how big of a concern has this been for HHS and the White House?
MS. PSAKI: Well, thank you for the question. Secretary Becerra did speak to this last week. HHS does take every allegation for wrongdoing seriously and swiftly report allegations not only to the officer — Office of the Inspector General, but to the appropriate local authorities.
I would say that there have been actions that — some of — some of the reports of conditions are several weeks old or even longer than that, and so there have been steps that have been taken to make improvements on the ground — including children at Fort Bliss meet with a case manager on a weekly basis, and we have close to 60 mental health and behavioral counselors on site working with the children.
One of the issues that was raised was the lack of mental health access, so that’s a step we’ve — that the HHS team has worked to improve. More than 1,000 staff at the ORR, at Fort Bliss, have received required training, including child best welfare practices, behavior management, trauma-informed care, cultural competence, and reporting. Training is ongoing as well.
And this is certainly an issue we take quite seriously. These reports were made directly to the Office of the Inspector General, and improvements have been made.
Q Jen, we’re told you have a hard out soon, so maybe, like, two more.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen. A couple of quick questions — one on vaccine misinformation. Since President Biden and the Surgeon General, you know, have spoken about the issue — you’ve spoken about it as well — has the White House seen the companies, specifically Facebook and the other social media companies, take any steps to address vaccine misinformation? Any notable changes that you have seen?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a really great question. I will have to talk to our team and see if there’s any specific — specific notes of improvement that we can call out. I’m happy to do that or connect you with them directly.
Q And so the reason I ask is obviously because, you know, they — we’re seeing this increase in vaccinations again, and that seems to be tied to the number of cases going up. But we’re just sort of wondering if there is anything that we can tie back to maybe some of the misinformation campaigns being contained.
MS. PSAKI: Well, look, I think that it’s hard to draw a connection to one specific step in any local community. But there’s no question — you see this anecdotally through a lot of your reporting — which is where people see their neighbor got a vaccine, their friends got a vaccine, and they’re okay. And on the flip side of it, they had a friend or a neighbor who was hospitalized, and it made them go and get a vaccine.
So, certainly, it’s an ongoing battle against misinformation. It’s not just on Facebook — though that is a mechanism for misinformation traveling, no question. It is through a range of mediums. We all have a responsibility.
But we are certainly seeing — in the states where there are higher case rates, we’ve seen record rates of enc- — I should say, very encouraging rates of vaccination. And that can be because of a number of factors.
Q Sorry, I just had one more on voting rights quickly.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q There are 100 state legislators who are converging in D.C. today from over 20 states. They’re going to be meeting with Texas Democrats. We did see the Vice President meet with Texas Democrats earlier. I just was curious if the President and the Vice President plan to meet with these lawmakers and if they have any message for them.
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say the President and Vice President — the message to them is: We stand with you and believe that voting rights are a fundamental right for the American people across the country. And the President would love to sign voting rights legislation into law. He will continue to — this will continue to be a fight of his presidency, and that’s why he’s asked the Vice President to lead this effort.
Q Two quick ones for you. The U.S. has now hit the President’s July 4th goal to get 70 percent of American adults with one shot. What is his reaction to that goal being a month late?
MS. PSAKI: Well, his — it was a goal that he set — we set as an administration because we believe in bold, ambitious goals. I would say it’s a significant step that we have hit 70 percent of people in this country — of adults who are vaccinated. That’s a good sign. It will help protect communities. It will help protect families and save more lives.
But we’ve said from the beginning: Even when we set this goal, our work would not be done even when we reached it, and so we’re forging ahead.
Q And I want to follow up on something from Friday, which is that — that was said on Friday — agencies are going to be paying the cost of testing for workers who choose not to get vaccinated. Does that mean taxpayers are going to be paying for the tests of federal workers who chose not to get vaccinated?
MS. PSAKI: I am — certainly, I can check with federal — with each agency. It may be different agency to agency, but it’s typically — probably would be a part of their funding. But I can check and see if there’s more clarification on that front.
I know we have to wrap, but, Mona, I know you came in and came out. So why don’t you end us off here?
Q Thank you. Thank you so much. I appreciate it, Jen. A couple of things. I wanted to follow up: I was asking the President on Friday before his departure why hasn’t he — I have an inkling, but for the American people — why hasn’t he signed an executive order on the VRA? That’s the one thing.
And then, to follow up on the eviction moratorium, for context, there are — of course, you probably know there is landlord state rentals [sic] — renters state type of situations.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q And so, in the state of Florida, it is a landlord state, meaning the law favors landlords. Some of my research has indicated that renters are having a difficult time, in a general sense, and now that they have these tools that they can take advantage of from the government, they are facing more stress and lack — a lack of cooperation from these landlords.
I’ve gotten a lot of that over this past week. I have been following this since a month or so ago — reporting on this weekly. And what I’m hearing more and more is that people are afraid that they’re just not going to get the support because of that lack of cooperation. And I know it’s been addressed, but what do you think we can do — or the government can do even further to make sure that these states and local municipalities are cooperating?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Mona, I think one thing that’s really important is to make sure that communities understand best practices and that they know how to get this funding out.
As Gene touched on, there’s, unfortunately, a dispersed system across the country on how to distribute this funding to renters. It’s not just — we’re not — the issues in the housing market — or the hous- — or keeping renters in their homes is not a new issue; it’s one that has existed for quite some time, as it sounds like you know well.
So, one of the things we’ve done is we’ve hosted these two summits with 46 of the cities with most tenants at risk to help jurisdictions set up these new eviction prevention programs. And certainly, we want to provide renters with the understanding of what their rights are in this regard — that this funding can go out until 2025; that this funding is something that the federal government has advocated for because we want people to stay in their homes.
There’s no question there’s more work to be done, but the President advocated for this because he wants to make sure more people can stay in their homes.
And you’re asking about the —
Q The VRA. Just principally, people want to know: If the President can sign an executive order for transgender rights, for example, why can’t he find the same power — does he have the same power to sign an executive order for the VRA?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he — the Voting Rights Act?
Q Yes, Voting Rights Act.
MS. PSAKI: First of all, I would say that the — in order to make change permanent, you need legislation and you need laws passed. And the President is looking forward to and eager to sign voting rights legislation into law. There have been ongoing discussions many of you have reported on, and he’s going to keep at it.
He did sign a voting rights executive order early on in the administration — a historic voting rights — voting rights executive order, which provided — which, you know, he wanted to tap into every authority he had from the federal government to protect people’s rights. But certainly, making laws permanent will protect them longer term.
I know — we’ll have a longer briefing tomorrow. Thanks so much, everyone, for your time.
3:59 P.M. EDT