Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, August 3, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:17 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. I have a couple of items for all of you at the top. I wanted to take a moment to recognize the passing of Metropolitan Police Officer Gunther Hashida and Officer Kyle DeFreytag — two officers who bravely defended the Capitol, both during and after the insurrection on January 6th. Their deaths are a sad reminder of that shameful day in our country’s history and of the physical and mental scars left the officers who risked their lives to protect our Capitol and our democracy.
We heard firsthand, last week, from tho- — from some of those who served on that day, and their testimony reaffirmed the incredible bravery they showed in the worst possible circumstances. Their passing also reminds us of the remarkable courage of the men and women in law enforcement who serve with honor and leave home each day not knowing what risk they may face but are determined to protect their communities. We’re indebted to their services, and our thoughts go out to the friends, family, and loved ones of the two officers.
And we want to remind those who are struggling that help is available 24/7. Please reach out to the Suicide Prevention line — Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
I also wanted to mark that today is two years since the mass shooting in El Paso that killed 23 people in a terrible act of domestic terrorism. They targeted a city defined by its diversity and rich Hispanic heritage.
This morning, the President published an op-ed in the El Paso Times sharing his and the First Lady’s condolences with the families who lost loved ones and the broader El Paso Community. And he wrote about how today is a somber reminder of the unfinished work to heal the soul of this nation and end the epidemic of gun violence that is taking lives and shattering communities.
The President and Vice President are currently meeting, as you all know, with 12 Latino leaders in the State Dining Room. At the to- — and you heard the President speak at the top of the meeting, of course. During the meeting, the President will speak about the work we must do to counter domestic terrorism and the spread of hate-fueled violence in every form, and end the scourge of gun violence in America.
They will also focus — they’ll also talk about the President’s Build Back Better agenda and how it will benefit Latinos throughout the country, our economic recovery, voting rights, and immigration.
Also wanted to note that today we are marking Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, which marks how far into the year Black women working full time need to work to earn what their white non-Hispanic male counterparts earned in the previous year.
It takes a Black woman nearly 20 months to earn what a white man made in one year for the same work. Black women manage a disproportionate share of caregiving responsibilities, which have dramatically increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that they may have to work part-time or leave the work — labor force entirely. They also comprise a disproportionate share of low-wage workers in industries, such as caregiving, that lack adequate compensation and benefits.
The Biden-Harris administration has taken several steps to increase opportunity for Black women and girls, their families, and their communities to thrive in the workplace and to be economically secure — from the American Rescue Plan to the executive order to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the workforce and vetting racial equ- — equity across this administration’s response; to COVID-19 and the economic crisis; and prioritizing Black mental health. And we, of course, will continue our work.
I think I’m almost done here. Finally, last thing here: As a part of our effort as the bipartisan infrastructure bill is working its way through the Senate, the President is quite focused on lifting up the benefits of the bill to the American people. So we’re going to highlight a different component each day, and we’ll also do that through our digital social channels as well.
So today I’m going to highlight the unprecedented investment of $80 billion in passenger and freight rail over five years. That’s a 500 percent increase over current services, and it represents the largest investment in passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak a half a century ago.
This money will help us eliminate Amtrak’s maintenance backlog; bring world-class rail service to areas around the country, creating good-paying union jobs in the process; and it will help make American businesses compete, grow, and expand by making it easier and cheaper for them to get their products to customers.
With that, Jonathan, kick us off.
Q Thank you, Jen. In March, President Biden said that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo should resign if the New York Attorney General’s investigation confirmed allegations of sexual harassment. Today, the investigation found that Cuomo engaged in unwanted groping and kissing of at least 11 women, including current and former state employees. Does the President believe Governor Cuomo should resign?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President just said that he’s going to speak to this later this afternoon and share his views, so I’m not going to get ahead of his — ahead of his comments he’ll make later.
Q Have there been any conversations today between the governor’s office and anyone here at the White House?
MS. PSAKI: No, there have not.
Q And why even — why — why the delay? Why not have the — did the President watch the governor’s video earlier?
MS. PSAKI: Again, the President will give his own reaction to, of course, the announcement this morning and give his own view later this afternoon.
Q Okay. Then we’ll move on to something else then. There was a shooting today, earlier, at — that caused the lockdown of the Pentagon. And in that same burst of violence, it appears that a law enforcement officer was stabbed to death. Has the White House been briefed on what happened? What can you share as to what occurred today?
MS. PSAKI: We’re, of course, in close touch with Pentagon officials. My colleague, John Kirby, will be briefing at the Pentagon and sharing more details on their end. We don’t have additional details to share publicly, as the next of kin is still being notified.
Q Thanks, Jen. Does the White House have a message for the women who came forward with these accusations against the governor?
MS. PSAKI: The White House’s message, the President’s message, the Vice President’s message, my message is: All womens [sic] who have — who have lived through sexual — this type of — this type of experience, whether it is harassment or abuse or, in the worst case, assault, deserve to have their voices heard, deserve to be treated with respect and with dignity.
I don’t know that anyone could have watched this morning and not found the allegations to be abhorrent. I know I certainly did. And, again, the President will speak to this later this afternoon.
Q Thanks, Jen. And staying in New York, but on COVID, if you will: New York announced today that indoor diners, people who go to gyms, entertainment venues are going to have to show some sort of proof of vaccination. Is that a move that this White House supports? And does this amount to a vaccine passport?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we know and recognize, Cecilia, that different communities and states are going to take steps to protect the people living in their states and also incentivize, whether it’s through carrots or sticks, more people getting vaccinated. That is what is going to save lives, and that is what is going to bring an end to the pandemic. This is certainly an example of that.
We are not issuing federal passports — vaccine passports from the federal government, but we do know that private sector entities and other localities will make their own decisions.
What we see as our objective is to continue to make the vaccine as accessible and available, and close the disparities that we see among racial groups in New York — including in New York — to ensure that this is not a barrier for entry to different groups based on socioeconomic or other factors.
Q And just one really quick one on COVID. San Francisco is now offering supplemental Pfizer or Moderna shots to folks who had the J&J vaccine. Is that something that this administration endorses? And might we see that coming from the
MS. PSAKI: That’s not based on public health — current public health guidance provided by the CDC. That has not changed.
We, again, know different localities will be making decisions, but that’s not reflective of current public health guidance.
Q Thanks, Jen. Sticking with the same topic, Governor DeSantis, in Florida, is taking a very different approach than New York is. Florida just hit another record today of COVID cases, and yet he’s pushing back on local municipalities that are trying to impose new mask mandates and other means of keeping people protected.
Does the White House have any reaction to Governor DeSantis, and particularly to his point that this is just seasonal in Florida because people are hot so they’re staying indoors and transmitting the vaccine — the virus.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the data just doesn’t back that up. I would say, first, Florida is not the only state; seven states have both a statewide ban on mask mandates and a prohibition on school districts from requiring masks in schools.
And some states have even banned businesses and universities from requiring workers and students to be vaccinated. In fact, the most extreme of these measures is in Texas where you can be fined — a professor or teacher can be fined if they ask a student if they are vaccinated or if they ask unvaccinated students to wear masks.
And I think the fundamental question we have is: What are we doing here?
And the President — you’ll hear the President talk a little bit about this later this afternoon. His message is going to be: We’re all in this fight together, whether it’s Democratic or Republican governor. And I will note, most Republican governors are doing exactly the right thing and doing — and advocating for — and taking steps to advocate for more people to get vaccinated.
But if you aren’t going to help, if you aren’t going to abide by public health guidance, then get out of the way and let people do the right thing to lead in their communities, whether they are teachers, university leaders, private sector leaders, or others who are trying to save lives.
Q And beyond sending messages like the President will do later today, what is the administration doing to actually communicate or work directly with some of these state officials?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I would first say that we are continuing to send surge teams out and we are in touch with a range of states and leaders in those states about how we can provide assistance that’s going to help them directly. So let me give you an example — or a couple of examples, I should say — of some of the states that have been hardest hit.
We’ve actively been engaged with the governor’s office in Florida to describe and offer federal support in areas like testing; increasing vaccine confidence; monitoring hospital capacity, which we’ve seen the Florida Hospital Association speak — speak to their concerns about the rising numbers; and monoclonal antibody therapeutics. Teams from CDC and HHS are in contact with Florida officials to offer technical assistance and support.
We’re also engaged with the governor’s office in Texas and the state health department to discuss the state of the pandemic there and how we can offer specific assistance, as well as Louisiana. I mean, you saw the governor make an announcement about masks yesterday. But as a part of our National Disaster Medical System program, we’ve deployed a team of 33 medical personnel to provide medical staff surge capacity to the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, area.
So those are just a couple of examples of some of the hardest-hit states. But we, again — Jeff Zients, our COVID coordinator, sent out a letter to all 50 governors, offering federal assistance, offering assistance, and offering to work in close touch about how we can help address the needs they have.
Q Yeah, just quickly: You keep using the word “offer,” and I just want to know whether those offers have been accepted in Florida and Texas.
MS. PSAKI: Right now, it’s a discussion, and we are talking about what their needs are and how we could help meet their needs. Louisiana, of course, has a — has — we have sent out and deployed this — this Disaster Medical Assistance Team of 33 medical personnel. But ideally, we will come to agreement on how we can provide additional assistance to help address parts of the country where there are rising case numbers.
Q The President has ruled out additional shutdowns related to COVID-19. And I’m just curious because that was an intervention that was used successfully to help places like New York City when they had hospital capacity issues.
Now we see hospitalization rates at their highest level since February. Why would you, why would the White House, why would the President rule that out? And is that consistent with your commitment to be led by science rather than politics?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say it’s not just the President. One, he continues to be guided by science. Dr. Fauci and Dr. Collins also made similar comments this weekend. And the larger point they were making is we’re in a very different place now than we were last January.
A, the Delta variant is the most transmissible. We are seeing rising case numbers in a specific — about a handful of states — about half a dozen states across the country.
I will note, since we were just talking about Florida — and this statistic really struck me, so let me share it with all of you, if I can find it here. One second. Sorry. That approximately 50,000 of the — 50 percent of the 50,000 hospitalizations in the country came from just four states, with Florida being nearly a quarter of those.
So that’s relevant because what we’re seeing is rises in a set number of states. That’s one of the reasons why this surge capacity could certainly help in specific states and communities where they need help.
What the — what we have ruled out is a across-the-board federal vaccine mandate. We are now at a point where more than 165 million people are fully vaccinated. Seventy percent of adults have gotten at least one shot. That is a different place than we were six months ago.
So I think that is a reflection of the science and medical experts conveying we’ve made enough progress. That’s not a — not a step they believe we would need from a public health perspective.
Q And there was an announcement yesterday about the continuation of Title 42 with regard to migrants and the public health situation at the border. Is there data showing that migrants are showing up with more COVID-positive rates? And is that what’s kind of led to that policy? Because we still have other people who are coming into the country by other means and we haven’t seen fit to prevent them from entering. So, why this treatment specifically for migrants?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would certainly point you to the CDC. They, of course, make the decisions and recommendations about maintaining Title 42 and keeping it in place. It’s rooted in preventing the introduction of contagious diseases into the interior of the United States.
We certainly do, as we talked about yesterday, have specific protocols as it relates to unaccompanied children and also as it relates to, you know, even adults who come to our border. But they have not made a decision to lift Title 42 because they feel there’s an ongoing threat.
Q Okay. Just one more issue. We’ve heard a lot of, kind of, anecdotal reports about U.S. businesses that are struggling in terms of their trade relations in China, their ability to do business in China. And I just wanted to see if you had a status update on the review that the administration has been doing since your earliest days about —
MS. PSAKI: On tariffs?
Q On tariffs, on trade policy toward China.
MS. PSAKI: I do not have an update for you. I don’t believe there is one. It’s ongoing. But I will check and see, Trevor, if there’s anything to report to you.
Go ahead, Kelly.
Q Typically you need the governor of a state to welcome in federal resources. Are there other ways where the White House or the administration could surge to Florida using military bases or federal property or something else that would not require an invitation from the governor? Is that part of the discussion?
MS. PSAKI: That’s a really good question. We work — beyond governors, who we certainly work with — Democrats and Republicans — we also work with local public health officials and authorities. There is a variety of kinds of assistance we can provide, whether it is medical advice or guidance on operational capacity and approaches — certainly something we can do with localities.
Businesses have also taken steps, and we’ve also — we stay attuned with that and stay in touch with them about the best steps that we can take. I would have to check and see. I think you’re referring to the requ- — you know, acceptance or request of FEMA assistance, which I don’t believe these surge teams are under FEMA. But I can check and see on that question.
Q Would the administration support, in areas where hospitals find that they’re overloaded, making any medical decision based on vaccination status or insurers deciding about paying medical bills based on vaccination status? Are we going to reach that point?
MS. PSAKI: I would have to talk to our health team, but I’m not aware of that being under discussion.
Q First, following up on that rule in New York now where the mayor says if you’re not vaccinated, you can’t go to an indoor restaurant, a gym, or a show. Does the White House think that that is fair to people who may have a religious reason for not wanting the vaccine or who might just be waiting for the FDA to approve it fully before they get it?
MS. PSAKI: The administration and the White House and the President support steps by localities to take steps to protect people in their states and their communities to incentivize people getting vaccinated. I don’t know all the specific details, if they have exemptions, so I’d point you to them.
Q Okay. And then, I know that the President is going to speak a little bit about his thoughts on this Attorney General report in New York. In February, he invited Governor Cuomo to the White House for the next governor’s conference. Does that invitation still stand?
MS. PSAKI: I think I’ll let the President speak to his views later this afternoon.
Q Okay. And then, the Justice Department recently dropped its civil rights investigation into Governor Cuomo’s handling of the COVID nursing home deaths. Does the administration want the Justice Department to initiate a civil rights investigation into these harassment allegations revealed today?
MS. PSAKI: We do something new here that feels foreign from the last four years and allow the Justice Department to act independently on investigations.
Q Okay. And then the New York Attorney General says, about the Cuomo accusers, “I believe them.” Does the President believe them?
MS. PSAKI: Again, the President is going to speak to this later this afternoon, so I will point to — to his comments and I’m sure you will all be tuning in. He also said he’d take some questions.
Q Thanks, Jen. The Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer, said today that the Senate should expect to stay in session until the infrastructure bill is done. Is it still your expectation that the President will travel to Rehoboth at the end of the week, even if the Senate is still in session?
MS. PSAKI: The President’s travel has not changed. But as you have seen the President do over the last several weeks and months, he is ready and — ready to be called into action, whether it’s a phone call or bringing people to the White House or to meet in the Oval Office, and that remains the case as we work to get this infrastructure bill across the finish line.
Q I want to ask you a question about yesterday’s news about the eviction moratorium.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q Gene Sperling said yesterday, several times, that the President would do everything in his power to help people who face eviction. One power the President has in the Constitution is to convene a House of Congress if it’s not in session. Is that something the President would consider — bringing the House back? It’s out for seven weeks while this issue is lingering and the White House has already asked Congress to act. Why not do what Harry Truman did in 1948: bring the Congress back and say, “You can’t go on vacation until this issue is resolved”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the key here is you need the votes in order to support a piece of legislation passing. I am not a vote counter, but I would point you to the Lead- — the Speaker’s office to see if that exists.
But I will say what the President was referring to is his ask over the weekend of the CDC to look into any legal authority, any option they have — perhaps a narrower approach, perhaps a short-term extension. This was never meant to be permanent, as we know. That’s what you need legislation for. And to see what is possible.
They are continuing to do that. I will certainly leave it to them to make any announcements about what they have found.
I will note that one of the steps that he has really pressed his policy team on, that Gene spoke to yesterday, are the states getting this money out into their communities because there is enough money out there for states across the country to extend the eviction moratorium from a state level, even without federal action.
We’ve seen Texas provide over $300 million in rental and utility assistance in June alone and has distributed most of the assistance. That’s a positive step forward.
Virginia has distributed the second-most assistance and has implemented efforts to address incomplete applications with outreach phone calls.
Illinois did not report making any assistance payments between January and May, but delivered over $95 million in utility and rental assistance in June alone.
So, I use this as an example because there’s a great deal — tens of billions of dollars — that can still be spent by states. It is too slow. We made some progress in June, but we’re really pressing states to get this money out and to extend the eviction moratorium from a state level.
Q I have a couple on eviction, but, to start with, you mentioned the MPD officers who tragically passed away. The Senate just cleared a bill giving Congressional Gold Medals to everybody who responded on January 6th.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q When the President signs that, are you guys considering inviting any of the officers to the White House?
MS. PSAKI: It is a great question. I have not talked to the President about that specifically, but let me see if we can get more information on that this afternoon.
Q Okay. And then, two quick ones on eviction. I’m mercifully not a lawyer —
MS. PSAKI: Me neither. There may be some in here. I don’t know.
Q Very disappointing to my parents. But the — in terms of the legal analysis, based on where — I understand what you guys are saying on what Kavanaugh put in his opinion, but that does not change the fact that, as it currently stands, the President can extend if he wants to.
And so, I guess, my question, from a legal basis is: Is the advice that Dana and the Justice Department are giving based on the fact of being concerned more about having the CDC’s emergency powers reduced if you go down this pathway, or is it because — I guess I’ll just stop there.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I am mercifully not a lawyer, either. I would say we’re both doing okay to our parents, hopefully.
But I will tell you that — from a legal standpoint, I would note that, in June — at the end of June, the Supreme Court came out and they — they put a stay on the moratorium and made clear in their public writing, as Gene referenced yesterday, which is available to everybody, that any further action would need legislative steps forward.
We also indicated, as a result, that the third extension of the moratorium that the CDC has — did since January would be the last extension.
In addition, there are concerns about what the impact could be on the long-term capacity abilities — authorities, I should say, of the CDC. Their team is looking closely, carefully — their legal team — has been since the President asked them to on Sunday at what our options are here. That was a broad federal moratorium.
There had been good questions raised about whether it can be more limited. That was in our statement yesterday, especially given the rise of the Delta variant, which we’ve seen and has really raised concerns for everybody — us, from members of Congress, from many advocates over the past several weeks.
So, they are taking a close look at that or they have been taking close look at that. But there is — there’s been a range of legal factors, and they’re taking a — they’re kicking the tires.
Q Okay. And then, just one more to follow up on that. Speaker Pelosi’s statement after your statement yesterday made pretty clear the enthusiasm was based on the fact you guys are still looking for legal options —
MS. PSAKI: Yep.
Q — which Gene was pretty clear last night the tires that have been kicked up to that point had presented none of them.
I guess, my question is: I don’t understand how this ends. You made very clear the reality: There’s no votes on Capitol Hill. This is a huge issue inside the House Democratic Caucus, and you guys don’t think you have the legal authority. How does this end?
MS. PSAKI: We do hard things. It’s challenging.
I will say there are a couple of options here. We are still continuing to look at legal options. That process has not concluded.
And again, I would note that, in our statement yesterday, we made clear that the President even raised the question of a partial, limited, short-term extension. This was never going to be permanent, right? It was never intended to be.
The other piece, which I touched on briefly in response to Steve’s — or I think it was Steve’s question — was related to what states can do. And there’s no question that there’s a great deal of funding that has not gone out nearly as quickly as it should have gone out.
We recognize that issue. We are quite focused on that issue. And one of the efforts that we feel we do have some control over is pushing states to extend moratoriums in their own states. They have the funding to do it. The funding comes from the American Rescue Plan. They need to get it out the door. That should help keep many people in their homes.
So, we are — we are continuing to work on several tracks on this front. The President wants to keep people in their homes. He does not want people to be out on the street, and he’s going to do everything in his power, even with the challenges you outlined, to get that done.
Q Thanks. I’m not going to use the phrase “kicking the tires” — although, I just did.
MS. PSAKI: You can — you just used it.
Q I did. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: We can keep it as a theme.
Q Foiled again. Okay.
MS. PSAKI: Lifting the hood. Whatever you say.
Q There you go.
Should we expect anything from the President later in terms of a partial, limited, short-term extension? Is he going to give an update on anything related to evictions at 4:00?
MS. PSAKI: I would say that any announcement — any decision and announcement would be made by the CDC. And then, if — if they find there is capacity or steps they can — that they can take from a legal standpoint, I’m sure this President would speak to it.
Q Okay. And there was a report yesterday in Politico that a senior aide in this White House has been abusive to other colleagues. I know the report was based on anonymous sourcing, but —
MS. PSAKI: You know how I love anonymous sources —
Q That’s why I almost didn’t ask because I feel like you would just say —
MS. PSAKI: — placing criticism.
Q Right. But, I’m wondering if, given this administration has its edict to treating people with kindness and respect, is this report, even though anonymously sourced, going to be looked into?
MS. PSAKI: First, I would say that I’ve worked with now, over the last six months, even as a newbie into the Biden orbit, the individual named by anonymous source. He’s been nothing but supportive and communicative, and that’s been my experience.
You know, it’s hard to look into “anonymously sourced reports.” I’m not aware of that being the intention.
Q Thanks, Jen. In July, we likely saw a record — a record high of unaccompanied children — again, a monthly high — arriving at the southern border. And we’ve already reached a yearly high of migrants who’ve arrived at the border. You all have previously explained this was likely due to a seasonal spike that we’ve seen, but we’re well out of what we would normally see on a yearly average. What is your current assessment for why we’re seeing these numbers still well into a very hot summer?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve — we’ve said that was one of the factors, and it is typically one of the factors seasonally. We saw a big uptick in the spring, which you see every other year or so. You know, I will say there’s a range of factors, which are happening in these countries where individuals are leaving from — economic challenges, weather challenges, crime — and that is — those are also, of course, drivers of people of all ages trying to leave their country to come to the United States.
That’s one of the reasons the Vice President has been so focused, at the President’s asking, on addressing these root causes. That’s a long-term — a long-term challenge and a long — will require a long-term solution. She laid out some significant steps forward last week, and that is going to continue to be something she is working on.
But I will note that, you know, even — even with the uptick we’ve seen over the last several months, as we’ve noted, Title 42 remains in place for health reasons. We also have made great progress in moving people through Border Patrol facilities — especially, of course, children — and getting them into places where they can be treated with safety, safely.
Q And then, one other question. The Senate Homeland Security Committee released a report this morning that found serious cybersecurity vulnerabilities all across the federal government. The average rating they gave was C-minus. It was — a lot of work — a lot of different agencies got B’s. Does the White House agree with that assessment?
And then, is — as Senator Portman stressed, are you all willing to take some of the considerations or recommendations that they put in the report into account? For instance, creating a coordinating body or just requiring more stringent cybersecurity regulations around —
MS. PSAKI: I have not taken a look at the report nor — and I’m not aware if our team has or not, but I’m happy to see if they have a reaction to it.
Why don’t I go to the back just so I can jump around. Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen. I wanted to follow up on the question of lockdowns from a second ago because, you know, yesterday, you said that we are not going back to the shutdowns of March 2020. You also said that, quote, “We’re not going to take options off the table.” Given how incredibly effective the vaccine is, why not take lockdowns off the table?
MS. PSAKI: I think I also said that that’s not under consideration. That hasn’t changed.
Q Thank you for clarifying.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.
Q Yes. Thanks, Jen. The administration today announced its allocation plan for the first 25 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to be shared globally.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q I’ve asked this before in a different forum but —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q — what is the guidance the administration has for the as many as 9 million American citizens overseas that are still waiting for a vaccine dose?
MS. PSAKI: I know you’ve asked this before, and it is incumbent and upon us to get you a good answer. Obviously, our embassies are fully in touch with American citizens who are living overseas, but it’s probably best suited for the State Department to answer that question, given they oversee all of our diplomatic efforts.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Oh, go ahead.
Q You said that —
MS. PSAKI: (Inaudible) your tie looks good though. (Laughs.)
Q Thank you. You’ve said that the administration supports New York City or locality steps to, you know, do what they need to to keep their residents safe. Given the success that foreign countries have had in mandating vaccines — obviously, New York is taking this step — has there been any more discussion inside the White House about encouraging — actively encouraging city and states to take steps like New York did today?
MS. PSAKI: We work very closely with governors and localities about what steps they’re considering and what steps are appropriate to help protect people in their localities and save more lives. But I don’t have anything — any additional considerations to preview for you.
Q So the President is not going to weigh in one way or the other whether he supports mandating vaccines in the way that, you know, other countries have?
MS. PSAKI: We support steps by private sector entities. We support steps by localities to save lives, protect their communities, incentivize more people getting vaccinated.
Q And then just one more on the eviction moratoriums. Does the President have any plans to speak with Representative Bush or any of the other lawmakers that are outside the Capitol? I know that the Representative spoke with the Vice President yesterday as she was in the Capitol, but does the President have any plans to speak with her?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any plans to preview for you. I — as you noted, the Vice President was leaving the Capitol yesterday, and she spoke briefly with Representative Bush. We are in regular touch with a range of members of the Progressive Caucus on a number of issues, including, of course, this important issue.
We were in la- — late last week, into the weekend, and yesterday, White House officials were in touch with Speaker Pelosi, various members, including Representatives Cori Bush, as I noted; Representative Jayapal; Gomez; Pressley; and the CPC Executive Director.
And Representative Bush certainly shared firsthand her firsthand account of being evicted, and explained what this meant to her, which is something that stuck with the people she spoke with.
So we will remain in close touch. That will continue. I don’t have a call to preview for you at this point in time.
Q Thank you, Jen. The White House has stressed that it’s following the health and the science when it comes to COVID-19, and that has been the basis for the ongoing international travel restrictions. But what is the health or scientific basis for the travel restrictions on vaccinated individuals from Europe or Canada or other nations, when people who are unvaccinated from other countries are allowed to come into the United States?
MS. PSAKI: I would certainly point you to our health and medical teams who make these decisions and evaluate what we need to do, from a public health perspective, to keep the American people safe at a time where the Delta variant is rising, and one where we are very cognizant about keeping the American people safe.
Q And a quick follow-up on that. When it comes to countries that have more vaccinated individuals than the United States does at this point as a percentage of population, what is the basis for those restrictions?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I would point you to our public health officials who are leading this effort and determining when we can raise or end those restrictions. I certainly understand there’s a desire to do that by many people in the United States, many people around the world. We understand that. I just don’t have an update on it and when that will happen.
Q Thanks, Jen. It was just a little over a month ago that the President traveled down to Surfside. He actually sat side by side with Governor DeSantis. They both praised one another for their respective handling of the disaster situation there. I’m wondering if there has been any further direct communication between the President and the governor. And might the President consider speaking with the governor specifically about what we’re seeing in terms of the rise in the hospitalizations and this developing situation with COVID down there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, if it — we thought it would make a difference, I’m sure he would. But I would say that the President feels you can praise leaders for taking some steps — as he did in that scenario with that tragedy at Surfside where many people’s lives were lost, many families were suffering — while at the same time expressing concern about their handling of a pandemic, which is what we’re doing in this regard.
But I don’t have any expectation or prediction of a call between them.
Q He hasn’t shied away from calling out, for instance, social media companies for their roles in the spread of disinformation, for instance. Does he feel that Governor DeSantis bears responsibility for a situation with regard to hospitalizations that is an outlier compared to the rest of the country?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’ll hear him talk this afternoon about where he’s seeing the biggest challenges in the country. But I think any call we make, we do through the prism of what we think is going to result in action and result in a positive outcome. And their calling out social media companies and the fact that they can take additional steps is one thing, but we certainly are still open to working with governors of all political stripes to help address the pandemic. And our objective and our hope would be to work in partnership and not get into a food fight.
Q Jen —
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
Q You want to go ahead? And then I’ll go.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Yeah, that’s fine. Go ahead.
Q All right. There’s been a second incident involving oil tankers off the Gulf of Oman today. Fingers pointed to Iran. Do you believe that Iran is threatening international shipping line?
And today, Iran has — the new president has taken office. Do you think that the White House can work with the hardliners, especially that we still don’t know if you guys are going to go to the seventh round of talks in Vienna?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, first, we’re monitoring this developing situation, and we are in close touch with London and other partners who — around the world who are also monitoring. The first reports are deeply concerning. We are fully engaged, and will be, as the situation is developing.
I would say that, as it relates to whether we can work with — I think our view, as I mentioned yesterday, is that every single challenge and threat we face from Iran would be made more pronounced and dangerous by an unconstrained nuclear program that continues. We would not anticipate that would solve every concern we have about their behavior in the world, but we believe that having greater visibility into their nuclear capacity and capabilities would be in our national interest, in the interests of many of our partners. And certainly, we would hope we could build from there. But, you know, we are fully prepared to return to Vienna to continue negotiations and hope that is the — there’s an opportunity to do that.
Go ahead. I’m going to the two ladies behind you. Go ahead.
Q I want to ask about the infrastructure bill —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — specifically the Reconnecting Communities Program that’s in there. The President asked for at least $20 billion — with a “B” — in the American Jobs Plan, and the bill has it at $1 billion. I wanted to ask if that’s enough to do what you want with the program or reach the program’s goals, and if you’re going to pursue funding for it through another path.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, well, I would first say that major project funding can be used for these kinds of efforts, which are certainly a priority to the President. And this is the first time in American history that the federal government has taken on the effects of the 20th century practice of placing roads or other infrastructure in ways that deliberately interrupt the hearts of Black communities, like what happened in New Orleans, Syracuse, and cities across the country.
So, we are — certainly I know the President proposed a greater amount of money; part of coming to an agreement is compromise. But we also believe that project funding for other projects that’s a part of this package could be used to address, you know, the division of communities and further our equity objectives.
Q So would you then — and some of the programs are grant funding or something — would you prioritize reconnecting communities to be able to use that funding for the purpose that you wanted?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s — we’re kind of not at that point right now. But I certainly think there is room for funds from project funding that is included in this package to help address this key priority of the President’s.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Shelby.
Q Thanks, Jen. So, I wanted to ask about the New York City proof of vaccination. So, New York City data shows that the rate for Black New Yorkers is sitting at 31 percent, which is a lot lower than some of the other percentages. And this is similar to the national level, according to CDC data. So is the White House concerned at all that the burdens imposed by governments and businesses, like this New York City proof of vaccination, is going to fall heaviest on these minority communities?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, Shelby, that it’s our objective to continue to close that equity gap and to make sure we are, as a federal government, working in partnership with city — or states like New York, cities like New York City, to make sure we are making the vaccine accessible, available; we’re meeting people where they are; we’re partnering with the right public health officials. And we will continue to do exactly that, because we certainly don’t want this to be a barrier of entry for communities.
We also believe that at a time where the Delta variant is spreading like wildfire across the country, especially to unvaccinated communities, that it’s important and country — cities and communities should be able to take steps to incentivize, get more people getting vaccinated.
Q I have a question on the eviction moratorium.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Some states are reporting a lot of logistical problems in dispersing their funds, from websites getting overloaded and crashing to renters not being able to track down all the verification documents. What is this administration doing or what can it do to make the process easier, streamline it, less difficult — make it easier for the states to disperse the funds?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, look, I would say, as Gene touched on yesterday, there is — long before this question about extending the eviction moratorium during a pandemic, there have been a lot of challenges and issues with our infrastructure as it relates to rental and housing assistance across the country. And this is really bringing that to light.
What we have tried to do is work with states in partnership to share best practices. We’ve hosted two summits with 46 of the cities with most tenants at risk to help jurisdictions set up these new eviction prevention programs.
We also have a range of experts and officials in the federal government who are here to provide assistance and guidance on how this money can get out. We’ve seen some progress over the last month; obviously, more needs to be done.
But we are here. We are available. We are ready to provide assistance, to provide guidance to states and localities that need that. We want to work in partnership.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Jen, can you first tell us: Is there any progress on finding an ambassador to the Holy See? And if so, what qualifications are you looking for?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to preview for you at this point in time. I understand there’s still an ongoing interest in ambassadors. I’m sure there’ll be more to come very soon, if not — if not later today. We’ll see.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Jen, I mean, it feels like we’re dancing around an issue here, which is: How much are Governors DeSantis and Abbott directly responsible for what’s happening right now, given that 50 million people live in those two states that are — I think Jeff said yesterday — one third of all infections last week were there? So, how much personal responsibility do they bear?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m certainly not trying to dance in any way. I think what I said yesterday was that at a point in every leader’s life, they have to make a decision about whether they’re going to abide by public health guidelines to save people’s lives or whether we’re going to be guided by politics. And I will let you all be the judge of that.
Public health guidelines are pretty clear as it relates to the benefit of vaccination, as it relates to the benefit of masking for communities that are not vaccinated. And you’ll hear the President convey later: If you are not going to be a part of the solution, if you’re not going to be a part of saving people’s lives, then get out of the way and let other people do the job.
Q What do you mean by “Get out of the way”?
MS. PSAKI: That means don’t ban, don’t make it harder for people to put requirements on masks or asking for vaccination status into law.
Let’s see. Go ahead, Eugene. And then we’ll go to you next.
Q I have no (inaudible). I don’t have a metaphor for you on — (laughs) —
MS. PSAKI: Okay. (Laughter.) That’s okay. You don’t need one.
Q Has the President or anyone from the White House been in contact with Republican senators and leadership over there to talk about the eviction moratorium? We’ve been talking about the House a lot. Obviously, you know, they are the ones that are sleeping outside of the Capitol, but it would take 10 votes from Republicans also to get an eviction moratorium. Are you guys in contact with leadership?
MS. PSAKI: We are in contact with Republicans and Democrats about a range of issues, and we certainly welcome anyone in the Republican caucus who wants to work together on an eviction moratorium.
Q Is the President calling on the Senate to take it up — an eviction moratorium? Because they are in session. They’re still here.
MS. PSAKI: That would also require — yes, as you said, it would also require Congress to act. You need both houses to act.
Again, I think this is a matter of whether there is support in caucuses to do that. That is a challenge. Even the most passionate advocates who are out there — and we certainly stand by them and support their same objective of extending the eviction moratorium — cannot do it on their own.
We certainly would like to see legislation. The President would love to sign that into law. That, as you said, would require both houses of Congress.
Q And my last question, sorry. The — you mentioned Texas — that’s the state that is being touted as not just being number one, but also they have the best system. The way that it’s been happening is it’s going straight to landlords and people who own homes and are renting it out. Is that what other states should be doing? Should they be copying Texas in how they disburse these funds?
MS. PSAKI: Different — different approaches are going to work for different states. But I do think, if Texas can do it, if Virginia can do it, then other states can do it as well.
And one of our objectives is connecting leaders, connecting to share best practices to figure out how they can get this assistance out to renters. And there’s no question it is challenging. There isn’t a great national infrastructure in place. That’s something that we should have a conversation about too, and Gene talked about that yesterday.
But, right now, we wanted to lift up and highlight states where they are getting the money out effectively because they can be models for other states around the country.
Q Real quick, a couple of different topics. The first: the President’s effort in — to preventing evictions in states that are tremendously affected. You mentioned that there were incentives to some of the landlords who cooperate with the efforts, but I didn’t see what those incentives are. And are there repercussions if we later find that money goes unused and is — or is diverted to something else? That’s my question on — for — on evictions.
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, if money was not used for its intended purpose, that would be a concern. And certainly, we are — take waste, fraud, and abuse quite seriously.
I think the President had called for a number of steps — or we called for, I should say, a number of steps that could be taken, even as we’re pressing and kicking the tires — (laughter) — looking for all of our legal options, even as we’re doing that.
And I mentioned the states because there is a lot of money that can go out in states and can effectively go out. And a number of states — not all blue states — have done that very effectively.
So, I referenced — and you touched on one of them, but let me make sure I cover it. Let’s see.
So, there are states and communities. You know, there are also — he’s also asked federal agencies to use their power to prevent evictions and tell landlords. So, we have — so there are — any properties that are government-backed properties — so, if you get a government-backed loan for your mortgage, we’ve asked our agencies to prevent eviction.
So, he is, again, using every step in his capacity to keep people in their homes.
Q On voting rights: Senator Klobuchar says that they’re nearing a voting rights deal. Is there anything that you can tell us in the deal — how the slimmed-down deal is looking?
And also, the President has also talked about — there are Republicans that he has been talking to. Are there — can you name any of the Republicans that, possibly could be —
MS. PSAKI: That wouldn’t be constructive to our end goal. I understand your interest. I will say that, you know, we’re certainly grateful for Senator Klobuchar’s work, the ongoing work by a range of leaders to figure out if there’s a path forward here. We’ll let them speak to the details when they’re ready to. And once they do, I’m sure we’ll have more to say.
Q And then lastly, the New York Times reported, a couple of weeks ago, that the administration’s legal team advisors may be leaning towards returning the 4,000 on home confinement back to prison. Is there anything that we have coming from the administration on this? And does the administration really believe that it is easier to return those 4,000 people to federal prison than reviewing clemency petitions for them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say: One, that’s a DOJ action. So, I’d point you to them, in terms of what their steps are. And certainly, any decision about clemency would be made in coordination, but I have nothing to preview on that front.
Q Jen, we’re told you have an out soon. Just one or two more.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Of course.
Nikki, go ahead.
Q Do you know if the President has spoken with Governor Cuomo today?
MS. PSAKI: No, he has not.
Q And then, just a quick scheduling thing.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Do you know if he will go to Mike Enzi’s funeral on Friday?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to preview for you. I understand the interest. He did consider him a friend, but I don’t think a decision has been made quite yet.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Raquel, go ahead.
Q thank you so much, Jen. More than a million doses of vaccine expired and have gone to waste since December. What is the White House doing to avoid this waste? And could the U.S. be donating more vaccines to other countries and faster? And will President Biden soon announce more vaccines shared to the world?
MS. PSAKI: Well, yes, he will announce this afternoon — that’s what his remarks are about — getting 110 million doses out. We also announced our purchase of 500 million Pfizer doses. He will talk about all of that this afternoon.
I will just note, to give you just a little bit of a preview: He will also say that this work is just beginning. While we are — the United States remains — with the announcement today, we have — we will have donated to — more to the world than all of the countries in the U.N., including Russia and China, combined.
And this is just the beginning. We are going to continue to be a provider of vaccines and assistance to the global community in our fight against COVID. So, he will certainly talk about that today. And so, yes, there — there will certainly be more to come.
Let me note though for you on the — on the question you asked, Raquel, about waste: The COVID vaccine wastage rate nationally is approximately 2.6 percent, which is very low. Certainly, we don’t want any doses to be wasted. And what we do is we work with governors so that they can request — or state authorities, I should say — exactly the amount of vaccine doses that they want to reduce and prevent that waste.
It’s important that we get as many people, of course, vaccinated. And sometimes that can mean opening a multi-dose vial and not using every dose, but we — we do everything we can to reduce waste. And certainly, we will continue to do that.
All right, thanks everyone.
3:06 P.M. EDT