Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, August 6, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:42 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Friday. Okay. A couple of items for you at the top.
Are you — Zeke, are you married?
MS. PSAKI: Welcome back. Congratulations. (Applause.)
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: You know, he’s got some bling on his finger. Okay. Most important decision you make in your life. (Laughter.) Okay.
Today’s numbers — on the jobs numbers; obviously, it’s Jobs Day — today’s numbers are further proof that President Biden’s economy is booming. Jobs are up, growth is up, and unemployment is down as Americans get back to work.
We see that clearly in today’s data. This is the fastest monthly job growth in almost a year. Labor force participation also ticked up as more Americans got back to work. Since January, more than 1 million Americans have re-entered the labor force. Unemployment also fell sharply, from 5.9 to 5.4 percent.
See how we enjoy charts here? I will note the comparison.
In total, we’ve created over 4 million new jobs — 832,000 on average for the last three months, with revisions upwards for the last two months. And over the first six months, we’ve created almost 700,000 per month on average. That’s more jobs created faster than any other President’s first six months in history.
In comparison, the previous administration only created 1.1 million jobs in their first six months.
And just last week, new GDP figures showed the U.S. economy has now made up the las- — the losses of the last 18 months and surpassed the pre-pandemic peak.
I will note, as always, there may be ups and downs. But thanks to the strong foundation from the American Rescue Plan and the tools it gives us, as well as our vaccination program, positions — positions us to weather any challenges without going backwards or shutting down our schools or our economy.
I also wanted to note — (a cellphone ring) — that’s an exciting ringtone — (laughter) — okay — that, yesterday, President Biden released a statement on progress we’ve made expanding access to quality, affordable healthcare — a huge priority for him — with the expansion of the Special Enrollment Period, which goes through August 15th.
In February, we announced — opened a Special Enrollment period to provide all Americans the opportunity to sign up for health insurance.
In March, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into law, lowering premiums and saving families an average of $50 per person per month. And later in March, we extended the enrollment deadline to August 15th.
Five months later, the results are clear: more than 2 million Americans have signed up for health coverage. That’s exciting.
And we also launched a “Summer Sprint to Coverage” campaign earlier this summer, leveraging robust paid media, increased community outreach, and more to get Americans signed up.
So, for those who don’t have healthcare, go to HealthCare.gov and you can sign up there and get more information.
I also wanted to provide you all an update on COVID. Today, we’ve recorded — we recorded 821,000 total vaccinations. This is the second day in a row we have got more than 800,000 total shots — the first time we’ve done this since June — since June 30th and July 1st.
Overall, more than 3.2 million Americans have gotten newly vaccinated over the past seven days. And importantly, as we’ve seen as a trend over the last few weeks, states with the highest case rates are seeing their vaccination rates grow the fastest.
So, as we’ve said from the start, that’s exactly what it’s going to take to get us out of this pandemic: more Americans stepping up and doing their part to get vaccinated.
In addition to encouraging trends on the vaccination front, we’re seeing — with the pace of vaccinations, we’re seeing growing momentum on requirements. And we’ve seen a number of announcements out this morning. We expect that, certainly, to continue.
So, as you know, last week, the President announced new requirements for federal employees and contractors, and asked the private and public sectors, universities, and healthcare systems, state and local governments, and other institutions to take steps, and many of them are answering his call to action.
So, this week, one of the largest nursing home chains announced they’d require vaccinations for employees. Massachusetts will require vaccination for nursing home staff. And Maryland and Virginia announced vaccination requirements for state employees. And I’d note: Two of those three states are led by Republican governors.
Just today, United Airlines announced it will require all of its roughly 85,000 employees to be vaccinated by the end of September.
So, the message — our message is simple: We support these vaccination requirements to protect workers, communities, and our country. And we hope to see even more action from the public and private sector over the coming weeks.
Last piece for all of you — lots going on here, as you all know. This week, we — the administration — administration officials held virtual listening sessions with groups representing landlords and tenant advocates to discuss state and local disbursement of Emergency Rental Assistance funds and ways to protect renters from evictions. This is part of our ongoing outreach and ongoing effort to get money out in states and localities.
Landlords offered ideas on how grantees might speed delivery and increase access to rental assistance, and tenant advocates expressed challenges renters are facing in accessing Emergency Rental Assistance funds — both issues we want to work to address.
In both meetings, administration officials reiterated the commitment made by President Biden that our administration will not rest — nor should state and local governments — until Emergency Rental Assistance dollars reach Americans in need.
And as we know, given the rising urgency of containing the spread of the Delta variant, the President’s overriding goal is, of course, keeping people — the American people safe and, ideally, in their homes.
As part of this effort, the CDC has used the legal authority that Congress provided, and developed the requisite record for a new, targeted, and dynamic eviction moratorium focused on counties with high or substantial case rates to protect renters and help to stop the spread of this new and more transmissible COVID variant.
The administration believes that this is a proper use of a lawful authority to protect the public health, and the Supreme Court has not ruled otherwise.
Ultimately, we hope that these combined efforts will keep as many Americans safe and housed as possible.
I usually have a week ahead. I will note for all of you that the President — we expect the President to be here for a few days early next week.
As you know, the Senate also is expected to be, and we will keep you updated as we know more specific details about his travel plans.
Q Thank you, Jen. First, on COVID: some developments in the states this morning. In Arkansas, a judge there blocked the state from enforcing its ban on schools enforcing mask mandates. I was wondering if the White House had any reaction to that.
And then, similarly, in Florida, where the legislature there was passing a — essentially a voucher program to allow parents to pull their kids out of school if there were — if there were mask requirement they didn’t like.
What’s the level of White House engagement right now with all of these different state governments? And for folks who are sort of, you know, puzzled by the — all these — you know, federal guidance, state guidance, what’s the advice from the White House to parents worried about their kids in school?
MS. PSAKI: Well, since you reminded me, I also want to — for anyone who doesn’t know Kevin Munoz, he’s one of the amazing people on the press team who does COVID — so just reminded me. We call him “Dr. Munoz,” because he’s such a specialist in this area. So, I pulled him out here with me today.
So, I would say, Zeke, that we do have a concern, of course, about restrictions that are being put in place in a handful of states — or have been put in place around the country that make it more difficult for localities, for schools, for businesses in some places to implement public health guidelines.
And our message continues to be that if you don’t want to abide by public health guidelines — don’t want to use your role as leaders, elected officials — then you should get out of the way and let public health officials guide localities, schools, universities to do the — or local schools as well — to do exactly the right thing.
I think you heard yesterday — or those of you who were here heard Secretary Cardona convey, as it relates to schools specifically, that we do have information from our public health experts, from the CDC, on how we can open up 100 percent of schools and keep them open in the fall. That’s our objective.
The only prevention — the only thing preventing that would be if officials in different states and localities put in place restrictions that make that challenging or impossible. And that is certainly concerning to us.
Q And I got another COVID one for you. The President, a few minutes ago, said that additional vaccination penalties — for lack of a better term — or burdens for those who are not vaccinated are likely to come in the coming days. I was hoping you might be able to address what some of those are likely to stand as the new policy here at White House, in addition to across the federal government, as well, in terms of forms people have to fill out under potential criminal or civil penalty.
But, you know, is the White House looking at requiring vaccinations for all nursing home workers nationwide or for people flying on domestic airlines (inaudible)? Is domestic travel vaccination requirements something that’s under consideration?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know there was also, in addition to the President’s comments, some reporting overnight as well that a number of you have asked us about, understandably.
And I would say that that and the President’s comments certainly reflect what we always do in this administration, which is discuss policy options about how we can continue to mount a wartime response against the virus.
So, what he was conveying and I think if — for those of you who have asked us about reporting overnight: Yes, there are early conversations, early discussions about a range of options. Those are all early-stage, they’re pre-decisional, and I would not — I don’t have any policy decisions to preview for you because we’re not at that point in the process.
I know you didn’t ask me about this, but since others have, I would also note that there has been some reporting around discussions about — around cruises and universities, and that would not be accurate.
Q And just, from a broader, 30,000-foot standpoint, why is the administration sort of taking — you know, acting sort of slowly here? You’re highlighting all the different efforts, you know, businesses and some states are taking on this vaccination front. Shouldn’t the White House sort of lead at the front here to sort of try to really increase the — sort of, maybe, hold that — wield that stick a little bit more for people who are still waiting on the sidelines and not rolling up their sleeves?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Zeke, I would say that the President led, eight days ago, by delivering a speech where he conveyed that the federal government would be taking actions, conveyed that there would be requirements for federal government employees and contractors, and also asked the public and private sector to take actions on their own. And we’re seeing that happening.
So, we are going to consider a range of options. There are factors, as I think you all know, as you consider these policy options — pros and cons. We’re making all decisions through the prism of what is in the interest of public health, but we’re going to let that policy process see itself through. And certainly, we want to make decisions as expeditiously as possible.
Q Thanks, Jen. Given the strength of today’s jobs numbers, has the President decided that he’s not going to seek to renew the beefed-up unemployment benefits when they expire next month?
I know, earlier this summer, he said that it would make sense to let them lapse, but that was before the Delta variant really took hold.
MS. PSAKI: There has not been any decision about this at this point.
Q He’s still deciding whether to ask to renew them — whether to seek to renew them or not?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. At this point, they’re expiring at the beginning of September. Nothing has changed on that front, but a final decision has not been made.
Q And then, on Afghanistan, the Taliban has made big gains this week. They’re surrounding a number of cities. They’ve taken control of a provincial capital. They assassinated government officials. Has all of that caused any reflection, second thoughts on the part of the White House when it comes to the Afghanistan policy or any changes in the strategy there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me strongly condemn — on behalf of the government, of course — the assassination of Dawa Khan Menapal, the Director of the Afghan Governmental Information Media Center. His murder follows the bombing attack in Kabul earlier this week that targeted the Acting Afghan Defense Minister.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for this later attack, and there’s no reason to doubt reports they are responsible.
Additionally, there are credible reports, as you’ve touched on, of atrocities and retaliation against civilians in other Taliban-controlled areas, which, of course, we are closely tracking and concerned about.
If the Taliban — our view is that the — if the Taliban claim to want international legitimacy, these actions are not going to get them the legitimacy they seek. They do not have to stay on this trajectory. They could choose to devote the same energy to the peace process as they are to their military campaign. We strongly urge them to do so. This is what the Afghan people so urgently need, deserve after decades of war.
And it’s very much in Afghanistan’s neighbors’ interest to invest renewed energy into a peace process that promotes a peaceful Afghanistan and stable region.
As it relates to the decision, the — we knew from the beginning — and the President would be the first to say this — that there are difficult choices a Commander-in-Chief needs to make on behalf of the American people.
He made clear — the President made clear: After 20 years at war, it’s time for American troops to come home. And as he said at the time, the status quo was not an option. The Taliban was prepared to attack U.S. and NATO troops after May 1st, which was the deadline for our departure.
He also feels and has stated that the Afghan government and the Afghan National Defense Forces have the training, equipment, and numbers to prevail, and now is the moment for the leadership and the will in the face of the Taliban’s aggression and violence.
Q And then a follow-up question about Afghanistan, please?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thank you very much, Jen. As she asked about the senior journalist that has been killed today, Afghan government — Afghan leaders like President Ghani and the — all leaders in Afghanistan now, they said that Pakistan is behind all of the Taliban activity — activity — very systematically there, in general. Now, Afghan people do not understand that Pakistan is our enemy or our neighbor, our friend. What do you think? Part of the — which route Pakistan should play to bring Taliban — the peace process?
MS. PSAKI: Our view continues to be: It’s in the interest of all countries in the region for there to be a political process, peace, and stability in the region.
Go ahead, Kelly.
Q Could you describe a little bit about what the overarching ask is within the federal government to look at things like what levers do you have to further spur vaccination?
On the nursing home piece, is it using Medicare dollars and linking back to nursing homes? Is it regulatory action? What sorts of things can you help us to understand where that policy might go?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I certainly understand your question. I’m not going to be able to lay out too many details of internal conversations. I will note that, certainly, we have applauded the steps taken by a number of states as it relates to requirements of nursing home employees and health providers to get vaccinated. We’ve seen states do that. We’ve seen some health providers do that. That’s a positive step. And as noted in some of the reporting, that’s an area of early discussion — but again, early pre-decisional discussion.
We’re going to make decisions from the federal government that we believe will save lives and we believe will protect the most vulnerable populations, that will incentivize more people getting vaccinated and bring an end to the virus. There are pros and cons to many of these policies; that’s part of the discussion as well.
Q Does it extend to other — we’ve talked nursing homes. Is it affecting travel? Is it affecting other types of businesses? Could you just broaden it there for us to understand —
MS. PSAKI: There are obviously a number of private sector companies that have taken their own steps. We certainly applaud that. And there are a range of topics and industries under discussion internally.
But again, the best step that that can happen out there is for Americans going out and getting vaccinated. And there are private sector companies that are in the lead and continue to be in the lead on moving this forward. That’s a positive step.
But there are ongoing internal discussions. I’m not going to be able to preview those too much — too extensively from here.
Q Thank you. First, on the jobs report: If the economy is so great and you guys are celebrating jobs being created at a historic —
MS. PSAKI: Wouldn’t you say over 900,000 jobs created is pretty good?
Q So, this is my question: Why then is the President still pushing for big relief packages — pandemic-era relief packages like the eviction moratorium?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say: One of the biggest pieces of legislation he’s pushing for, as we know, is the infrastructure package, and also the Build Back Better agenda. A lot of — most of the components in those packages are long-term investments. They’re out — they’re overdue. They’re meant to modernize our infrastructure, put people back to work over the long term, and make us more competitive over the long term.
It is still a reality, even with a good jobs number this month and even with 4 million jobs created over six months, that there are still people out of work. There are still people who don’t have enough money to make ends meet. That’s one of the reasons why we designed the American Rescue Plan to have a long-term, spread-out impact — whether it’s the Child Tax Credit or benefits that are going to schools that are spread out over the course of a year — because we are still in a recovery.
Q Back-to-school question: Florida’s Governor DeSantis says that he may start withholding funds from school districts that don’t let parents opt out of policies that require masks in the classroom. Does the President think that parents should have that kind of power?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I’ve spoken to this a few times, but I will say, as a parent myself of two young children, that I want public health officials to make decisions about how to keep my kids safe, not politicians.
And not only is Governor DeSantis not abiding by public health decisions, he’s fundraising off of this.
So, my view is that — and our view, as an administration, is that teacher — parents in Florida, parents across the country should have the ability and the knowledge that their kids are going to school and they’re in safe environments. That shouldn’t be too much to ask.
Q He says that his concern is about harmful, emotional, academic, and psychological effects of putting kindergarteners in masks for hours at a time. Is there any concern from officials that you guys talked to in your early pre-decisional discussions about that?
MS. PSAKI: No, there’s not.
And I will tell you from personal experience, my rising kindergartener told me, two days ago, she could wear a mask all day, and she’s just happy to go to camp and go to school.
And the objective from all of our public health officials have — has been clearly — and our Secretary of Education — kids need to be in school. We know there’s a mental health impact of them not being in school, and we should take the mitigation measures needed in order for them to be in school and in the classroom, including masking and including allowing that to be part of a reality in these schools to keep the community safe.
Q On the infrastructure bill, there’s a cryptocurrency tax provision in the bill. And some bipartisan lawmakers have suggested an alternative to the White House-backed cryptocurrency. Are you — is the White House asking for those lawmakers — it’s Wyden, Toomey, and Lummis — to withdraw their crypto amendment?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first we are pleased with the progress that has yielded a compromise sponsored by Senators Warner, Portman, and Sinema to advance the bipartisan infrastructure package and clarify the measure to reduce tax evasion in the cryptocurrency market, which, of course, is the objective — or was the initial objective.
We believe this provision will strengthen tax compliance in this emerging area of finance and ensure that high-income taxpayers are contributing what they owe under the law, which is part of our objective.
We are also very grateful to Chairman Wyden and other leaders in the Senate in pushing the Senate to address this issue. But we believe that the alternative amendment put forward by Senators Warner, Portman, and Sinema strikes the right balance and makes an important step forward in promoting tax compliance.
Q So, sticking with that one, would you — would the White House prefer that Wyden withdraw his amendment then?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll leave the mechanics up to Leader Schumer. But certainly, we see this amendment as an option that helps address the concerns.
Q Thanks. And you’ve seen that he has talked about how the White House-backed proposal — that Sinema proposal — wouldn’t be good for climate because it pushes — it undermines some parts of crypto that use less energy. So his argument is that there’s a climate, environment argument there. Do you have any reaction to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we’re very grateful to his leadership. He’s been a key partner to us in this effort to move this initiative forward. I would just go back to the overarching objective here, which is reducing tax evasion in the cryptocurrency market. And we feel that the compromise sponsored by Senators Warner, Portman, and Sinema is a good option moving forward.
Q 9/11 families are saying today that President Biden should not participate in any memorial events unless there’s information declassified that could show some link with Saudi Arabia to the attacks. Is he going to follow through with that and release that information?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our hearts are with the families who lost loved ones on 9/11, especially in these days preceding the 20th anniversary of the attacks coming up just next month.
I know you didn’t ask this, but I just want to share that the White House Office of Public Engagement and the National Security Council staff have had several meetings with groups representing the families of those who perished on 9/11 regarding their document requests and to hear their thoughts on policy priorities. That will continue to be a priority.
As a candidate — which you may be aware of, Alex — President Biden made a commitment to 9/11 families to ask the Department of Justice to work constructively on resolving issues relating to the previous administration’s invocation of the state secrets privilege, including adhering to guidance issued in the Obama-Biden administration, that the invocation of such a privilege be narrowly tailored and not be undertaken to prevent embarrassment to a person or organization. He remains committed to that pledge he made during the campaign.
Of course, any steps would be taken by the Department of Justice.
Q And, secondly, I want to ask if the President supports a redo in the Amazon union matter. Does he — is he calling for another vote on that? Is he going to publicly advocate for workers on that front?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s certainly — the President is a strong supporter of collective bargaining rights and the rights of workers, and has been for decades throughout his career. It would be up for the workers to make that decision. And certainly, we would leave that process to move forward accordingly.
Go ahead, Asma.
Q Yeah, there’s been some reporting in the Wall Street Journal about a number of business groups calling on the administration to lift or cut these tariffs with China (inaudible). Can you give us any guidance on the stage of your review and what is going on with the China tariffs?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, well, we are always going to use — the President is always going to use every tool in his toolbox, including tarrists [sic] — tariffs to fight against unfair trade practices that hurt American workers, businesses, and farmers.
And he’s been very clear that he thinks that a go-it-alone strategy is a losing one. We’re stronger when we work with our allies and unite the world’s GDP.
I know we’ve talked about an ongoing review, including tariffs; I don’t have any preview for you or timeline for that conclusion.
Q Jen, with respect to the government exercising its federal authority around vaccines, you said that the conversations are “pre-decisional.” What is the timeline for getting to decisional? Like, are we talking days, weeks, months? Do you guys have a sense on when you’ll have a determination on some of these discussions?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a timeline for you. And when we say “early” and “pre-decisional,” often that means it’s just at the staff level and they’re discussing a broad range of options, many of which never may even be presented up beyond that. But there are a broad range of discussions happening — early stages.
And obviously, no decisions have been made, but clearly COVID is our number-one priority, and they’ll continue to work towards what they think the best options are.
Q And you said that the schedule is a little bit in flux for next week. Does President Biden intend to take a summer vacation? And if not, is that attributed to COVID numbers? Is that attributed to the Senate infrastructure talks? Like — what are — what are — why are the plans in flux?
MS. PSAKI: Well, every President is always working, no matter where they are. Right? That’s always how it works.
But I was referring to the fact that we know the Senate is going to be here early next week. That wasn’t always the intention, as you all know. And so I just wanted to give you all a heads up about your own plans that we expect him to be here early days next week.
Even as he goes to Delaware or Camp David, he will of course still be working. But we will, of course, provide
finalized details to you as soon as they’re made available.
Go ahead, Katie.
Q Thanks. The number of migrant children arriving alone at the border continues to remain high each day. And they’re telling attorneys and advocates that they can wait as long as a month at least to talk to the sponsor or somebody in the United States or a family member. So is a month-long stay in detention acceptable to the President, given the ongoing pandemic and the spread of the variants?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the — if the President were standing here today, he would tell you he always wants to shorten the length of time that unaccompanied children are waiting to go to sponsor homes or be connected with family members. And we have made a great deal of progress on reducing the number of hours, as you know, that children are in Border Patrol facilities, most importantly, and also reducing the amount of time and days they are in HHS facilities, where they do have access to educational resources, health resources, et cetera.
But we’re always working to reduce that time. There is also another factor, which is vetting and ensuring that these children are going to homes that are safe and have gone through a review process. And certainly, we don’t want to expedite that over the point of where they would go — be going to harmful homes — not that you’re suggesting that, but that’s the factor.
So, he’s always going to say he wants it to be faster. And he’s always pushing the system to ensure that’s the case.
Q And some of these children are also saying that at that these facilities they’ve gotten food poisoning and have had to wash their clothes in sinks. Is the President satisfied with the level of care they’re receiving at these facilities? Are there discussions to expand capacity, open new shelters, improve conditions?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t know — are you referring to a specific facility? And I only ask that because there’s been an IG review over at Fort Bliss.
Q Pecos, Texas.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, well, I would say that there has been — I’m not sure if that’s exactly the location, but there has been a review of Fort Bliss by the Inspector General, one that we’ve — our team at HHS has been participating in. And certainly, as conditions — as our HHS team is made aware of conditions that are problematic or concerning, we’ve — they have taken steps to address them, whether that is providing additional personnel, additional resources. That has been the ongoing case throughout the last several months, but we can see if there’s more details on that particular facility. Go ahead.
Q Just to follow up on Nancy’s question: You said no final decision has been made on the UI expiration, so that means that it’s a possibility that perhaps the President would ask for an extension at some point?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s planning to end — it’s supposed to end, at this point, at the beginning of September. So, he hasn’t made a decision to extend it; he also hasn’t made a decision not to. So, I suppose that’s — that’s correct.
Q Well, it gets to the question I actually wanted to ask, which — you guys have been really aggressive on the public health front.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q The President laid out today, I think, a series of six measures that kind of foamed the runway on the economic front —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — as Delta has resurged. Is your economic team, right now, looking at perhaps new short-term measures to implement if the Delta variant drives the economy in the wrong direction?
MS. PSAKI: Well, some of these factors we have been tracking and watching for some time, which is the supply — one of them is the supply chain impact. That’s on a domestic issue.
But we’ve seen, for example, in Malaysia and Vietnam, the rise of Delta in countries like Malaysia and Vietnam has impacted the supply chain, which of course impacts some industries here in the United States, including the car industry. That has been expedited by Delta but predates Delta to some degree as well.
We haven’t seen, to date, a direct impact on the economy from Delta, but we anticipate supply chain impacts and certainly know those would be factors.
I will say that, as the President talked about earlier today, one of the — the way that we designed the American Rescue Plan and our economic recovery plans was to plan for the potential for ups and downs because we knew an economic recovery would include them.
So, I referenced earlier the Child Tax Credit benefits, which will go monthly through the course of this calendar year, but then additional benefits next year, which will help tens of millions of people.
Also, the assistance that’s going to schools — that goes out through the course of next year. So there are a number of benefits that don’t expire right now and weren’t meant to that will continue. But, of course, we will continue to monitor any impacts we see.
Q And then one more. A couple days ago, there was a U.S. bombing campaign in support in Afghanistan. Is it the administration’s intent that U.S. air support, as it pertains to helping the Afghan National Security Forces, will end at the end of this month? Or is there a possibility that short-term micro-campaigns like that will continue beyond?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a great question, Phil, and I would point you to the Department of Defense.
Go ahead, Jeff.
Q I’m going to kick off with an international question as well. How closely, Jen, is the President and the White House following the war in Ethiopia? And are you concerned about the threats to a World Heritage site, which has just been taken over by forces from Tigray, not to mention the lives of the people there?
MS. PSAKI: We are, Jeff, following it quite closely. And, of course, the President is kept abreast of a range of global events happening during his PDB and by updates through his national security team.
Obviously, the State Department would be most closely engaged on the ground through our embassy and other officials, as we watch closely. But we are concerned about threats to the Heritage site and, of course, the threat to the people in Ethiopia.
Q All right. And one domestic one as well. The President said a few months ago, a few weeks ago — time is —
MS. PSAKI: It’s all running together.
Q — that he wanted to have both the reconciliation bill and the infrastructure bill done at the same time. Then he walked that back a little bit. Speaker Pelosi is saying that she wants both votes to happen at the same time. What is your view of the timetable on those two votes? And are you concerned that one may thwart the other?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly trust the leadership of Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer. And we’ve seen Leader Schumer deliver on exactly what he promised to do, which was to move these forward during the summer session here. And the President intends to sign each of them into law.
Q Thanks, Jen. The jobs report is getting a lot of praise today. But with the Delta variant surging, should Americans expect an economic slowdown? What’s the message from the White House to ordinary Americans who might be a little nervous moving forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, first, the message is: This is not March 2020 or even January 2021. We’re not going to lock down our economy or our schools because our country is in a much stronger place than when we took office, thanks to the President’s leadership in vaccinating the American people and getting economic relief to those who need it.
And I would say, yes, the topline number is very encouraging. But there are also very encouraging trends we saw in the numbers and encouraging number — encouraging data, including wages going up.
So there were a number of pieces of data in there that were positive. But we are not going back. We are not turning back the clock.
And as I noted earlier, the other message is: We’ve been preparing like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts for this moment and the potential that there would be ups and downs in our recovery, there would be ups and downs as we fight the virus. And that’s why a number of the programs were designed to extend for several months beyond this summer.
Q And one more on infrastructure: Do you expect the infrastructure plan to pass this weekend? And what role is the President playing in the process in this final stretch in the Senate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President is always happy to pick up the phone, make calls, even when they’re not on his schedule. He usually does it on a, you know, moment’s notice, typically. He was in the Senate for 36 years, so quite comfortable for him. And he’s prepared to do that.
He will receive updates from his team on the progress. As you know, a number of members of the Senate are currently attending former Senator Enzi’s funeral today. But we expect things to proceed and look forward to getting updates of progress over the weekend.
Go ahead, Fran- — go ahead.
Q Oh, me?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Sorry. Sorry. Thank you so much. The White House recently asserted in a memo that swing voters want bipartisan infrastructure deal, and Democrats, as you know, have an extremely tight margin in the House. So why does the White House think that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill will help lawmakers in the Democratic Party keep their seats in battleground congressional districts in the midterm elections?
MS. PSAKI: Well, because the poll showed that 87 percent of battleground voters surveyed said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports investing in our country’s infrastructure, helping grow our economy, and securing our supply chain, investing in American manufacturing. That’s exactly what the President’s agenda is, what the Build Back Better agenda is, what the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill is.
It’s also reflective of the fact that, for most people, the economy, making sure they have a good job, they’re getting through the pandemic is front and center. But that was reflected in the D-triple-C’s own poll.
Q And while the President may not be taking a vacation, he is in Delaware, and it’s a place that he goes often on the weekends. Why is it important for the President to visit his Delaware residence so frequently?
MS. PSAKI: Because it’s his home. You like going home, right? So, does the President. He’s human too.
Q In April, Ron Klain said the Education Department was reviewing whether the President could forgive student debt. He told us that it would be done in a few weeks. When can we expect that? We’re past “weeks.” We’re in August, and, just next month, the pause is going to end, as you know.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an update on that. I will say that — and I — somebody asked this — it may have been you, but I don’t think it was — about also student loan forbearance, which is expected to expire at the end of September — slightly different but also hugely impactful. I expect we’ll have more on that soon as well.
Q And there are some insurance companies experts signaling that we may see vaccination status kind of be held against people when it comes to their insurance. Basically, if you chose not to get vaccinated, the leniency provided over the pandemic so far on costs, co-pays might go away. I’m curious if the administration has been talking to insurance companies about this and what your reaction is.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, it’s an interesting question. I’d have to talk to our health team about that specifically. I haven’t had a chance to do that yet.
Q Thanks, Jen. You just mentioned wages are going up in this jobs report. At what point do you worry that there might be inflation that is here for the longer term versus just in the short term right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, clearly, the inflation is the purview of the Federal Reserve. And we refer to their projections. As you know, they continued to project, and haven’t changed this, that while there will be an increase in inflation this year, they expect it to be transitory, and they expect it to come back to normal levels next year. That has not changed.
And we knew that as the economy turned back on that could be a reality. But we rely on those projections, and we take it seriously and monitor it closely.
Q And just to follow up on the federal unemployment benefits: Is the White House willing to acknowledge that that might be a reason now that more workers are returning to the workforce after they’ve been expired now for a month and a half in some places?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t see any evidence in the available data that some states ending unemployment benefits early had any impact on today’s incredibly strong numbers.
We are seeing strength across the economy and across states and regions, of course. But that’s thanks to a number of investments that have helped get people through this difficult time and get them back to work. We know there’s more that needs to happen, but we haven’t seen evidence of that data to date.
Q What do you see as the main reason for this strengthened number today then?
MS. PSAKI: Vaccinations.
Q With vaccine doses expiring in places like Alabama — tens of thousands have recently expired — what are the administration’s plans for continuing the push for vaccines while ensuring that places with low vaccination rates don’t have vaccine doses that go to waste?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that the number of doses that have gone to waste is only about 2.5 percent. Now, we don’t want any doses to go to waste, but that is a very low number. And we made some changes several weeks ago — even — maybe even more than that — where states and governors can order the number of doses they think they need. We also work with states and localities to ensure they are following best practices in order to get them out to communities to reduce the potential for any wastage.
But those efforts will continue, and certainly we want to do everything we can to reduce the wasting of doses.
Go ahead, in the back. Go ahead. Go ahead, Patsy.
Q Thank you, Jen. I have a question on Iran and then a question on vaccinations. So, a CENTCOM investigation has concluded that the drone used in the Mercer Street tanker attack was produced in Iran. There’s a U.N. Security Council meeting on this today. What is the U.S. position? And what steps are you willing to take to hold Iran accountable?
And then, I have a different question on vaccines.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Well, this morning, U.S. Central Command issued a statement on the investigation into the July 30th unmanned aerial vehicle attack on the motor tanker Mercer Street. We concluded that — and it was noted in the statement, I should say — based on evidence, that this UAV was produced in Iran.
This comes as the G7 foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and the high representative of the European Union issued a statement standing united in our commitment to maritime security and the protection of commercial shipping.
As outlined in the statement, we condemn the unlawful attack committed on a merchant vessel off the coast of Oman on the 29th of July, which killed a British and Romanian national. This was a deliberate and targeted attack, and a clear violation of international law. We call on Iran to stop all activities inconsistent with relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.
We know, as you noted, there is going to be some conversation up there. We call on all parties to play a constructive role in fostering regional stability and peace.
In terms of any action, I would — I’m not in a position to preview that. Obviously, there’s discussion with the G7, with the U.N. Security Council, and others.
Q Okay. And a question on the vaccine: You’ve addressed — a couple of days ago — on the question on WHO urging wealthy countries to not provide booster shots —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — until lower-income countries have had more vaccinations. And you said that the U.S. can do both. We can provide booster shots as well as help the world vaccinate its people.
My follow-up to that is: In the determination of whether or not booster shots are needed, would the FDA include research or modeling on what is the more effective method to stop the emergence of new variants, whether it’s providing booster shots or maybe it’s better to — if we ship those vaccine doses to countries who need it, including like the 2.5 percent of the wasted doses that you just mentioned?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d certainly send you to the FDA, but I don’t think they look at things through that prism. But they’re evaluating whether there are portions of the population who may need the — a booster shot in order to be safely protected. They’re scientists, right?
So, I know that Dr. Fauci has obviously also referred recently — or maybe yesterday, today; it’s all running together — to that potential need as well. We’ll see what they decide for immunocompromised individuals, but that’s the recommendation that they will be making.
Go ahead, behind you.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: No, no. Go ahead.
Q Thank you. So, the last time we talked about debt and deficits, you noted that the President has proposed a way to pay for his proposals and that he cares about the future of the next generation. I’m wondering what the White House reaction is to a recent analysis by the Congressional Budget Office that predicts that the bipartisan infrastructure bill would add a quarter trillion dollars to the deficit over the next 10 years.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the CBO analysis I assume you’re — you’re referring to?
Q Yes, ma’am. Yes, ma’am. Sorry.
MS. PSAKI: No, no, of course. I thought — I thought I understood where you were coming from.
The CBO score, which projects a $30 billion deficit a year for eight years, does not count real savings agreed to on a bipartisan basis. That includes over $200 billion in lower costs for emergency programs, like paid leave, over the last year than CBO had originally estimated, and over $60 billion in higher spectrum revenue from a February auction than CBO had anticipated. Also, it doesn’t include the positive effects of the economic growth this package will drive on the budget.
In fact, there’s strong evidence from a number of economists, including Moody’s, that infrastructure investment like this can in fact help pay for itself over the course of time and over the long run. And that’s something a number of leaders in the Senate are referring to.
Q And then, one more quick one. Yesterday, Secretary Cardona noted that the administration is working closely with teacher unions as they prepare for school openings this fall. I’m wondering: Are there any specific parent organizations that the administration is also partnering with?
MS. PSAKI: To help ensure schools opening? You know, that would — that is something certainly the Department of Education — they are working with a range of organizations to make sure they are educated, they have the information they need, they know what the mitigation measures are. I can certainly ask Secretary Cardona if there any specifics or get you in touch with the Department of Education.
Q Jen, I’d like to —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q — follow up on that —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q — on the mask issue. With Secretary Cardona yesterday, he —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — mentioned that, with Governor DeSantis, they were — he was concerned about the EO he did regarding public schools on masks. And he said, “We know what works.” But the — one of the President’s top COVID advisors, Michael Osterholm, just this — recently —
MS. PSAKI: Who’s not a current advisor to the President, but —
Q Not a current, but — but was. So, notable, right?
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.
Q He said, in a television interview this week, regarding mask wearing — specifically the cloth masks, like so many of us are wearing here and what the kids are wearing in school — right? — largely. He said it’s a — that the scientific community has been doing a disservice to the public on face coverings.
He said that cloth masks like these have very “limited” impact on the amount of virus that you inhale or you exhale out. And he also said that he’s really disappointed in his colleagues for not making that more clear to the public.
And that’s sort of in line with the study that Governor DeSantis is citing as the basis for his executive order. So how do you respond to that?
MS. PSAKI: I think you’re confusing a few things there. But let me first say that Osterholm is not an advisor to the President, to the administration, to the White House. He doesn’t work here. He’s a private citizen and a medical ex- — a public health expert. But a lot of public health experts are out there speaking, and good for them.
I will say that we are going to continue to rely on the advice of medical experts in the federal government on what kind of masks we all should wear, what kind of masks kids should wear. And if they change that advice, then the Department of Education will be working with schools to make sure that’s implemented as a mitigation measure.
The issue we have taken with the guidance of Governor DeSantis — which he, of course, is fundraising off of, I think we should note — is that he is preventing schools and teachers and others from protecting themselves and the students in their classroom.
And as a mother myself, that’s concerning. And I’m sure it’s concerning to mothers in Florida.
Q Now I want to —
MS. PSAKI: I think we’re going to have to continue.
Q I have a —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q I have a follow-up on vaccine —
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve got to continue.
Q Everybody else got one. I have one more.
MS. PSAKI: You had a very long question. We’ve got to continue.
Q No, I have one more —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q — on vaccinations.
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Emerald, we’re going to continue.
Q On the vaccine grants for India, what’s your understanding on why the jabs haven’t gotten into the arms in India? And is this failure only because of the indemnity that’s involved? Or is there a timeline that you can sketch out for us?
MS. PSAKI: As why more people are not vaccinated in —
Q Why haven’t the vaccines reached India? The U.S. — the grant that was announced.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, that we have seen in some places that there are legal — legal issues or regulatory issues that need to be worked out country by country as we are delivering vaccines.
The holdup is not on this end, but we are eager to get vaccines and continued assistance to the people of India and want to continue to be a part of the arsenal of solving the pandemic.
Q And is there a timeline that has come out in the discussions when Secretary Blinken was in India?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, it’s a great question. I would point you to the government of India and see if they have more updates. But we are eager to continue to be partners with them, to continue to provide assistance, including in the form of vaccines.
Raquel, go ahead.
Q Thank you so much, Jen. Yesterday, the National Security Advisor met with the Brazilian President. And I want to know how — if you have more information about this meeting. What was the message that President Biden wants to convey with the Brazilian President with this meeting?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, so National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and a delegation are in travel right now to Argentina. They concluded their trip to Brazil just yesterday.
And Mr. Sullivan did meet with President Bolsonaro. He reiterated that the U.S.-Brazil partnership is one of our most important relationships in the hemisphere. As the hemisphere’s two largest democracies, the United States and Brazil have a stake in each other’s successes — success, and we should be working together to advance ambitious climate goals, successfully combat the COVID-19 pandemic, and build back better in the region.
And certainly, this, as the National Security Advisor’s first trip there, shows how important our relationship with Brazil and Argentina is.
Q Did he pressure President Bolsonaro on climate change, on deforestation?
And also, there are many investigations right now on the Brazilian President, including about his claims that there will be — be a fraud in the next Brazilian election next year. Did the White House also discuss this? Is this something that concerns this administration that puts democracy on the center of foreign policy as well?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, in any meeting, the National Security Advisor and any high-level representatives from the United States would advocate for democracy, for free elections — for free and fair elections around the world.
I would note, on climate change, as one of the — another one of the world’s — as are we — biggest emitters, certainly climate change, deforestation are always a part of the topics of conversation.
I can see, Raquel, if there’s any more specifics that we can provide to you directly as well.
Go ahead, Shelby.
Q Thank you, Jen.
Q Thanks, Jen. I wanted to ask — a little bit ago, it was reported that the emergency compound setup for COVID-positive migrants in McAllen expanded overnight, and there’s only the City of McAllen resources and manpower being used. So has the administration been in contact with officials in McAllen, Texas, on this — regarding the situation? And is the administration going to be helping provide relief?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think part of — one, certainly, I believe, we have been in touch through the Department of Homeland Security. And the setup of this facility is meant to ensure we are taking steps to isolate and mitigate any spread of COVID.
And we have measures in place that we maintain: Any migrant who is picked up by the Border Patrol is given PPE. They’re required to wear a mask. If they show any signs of illness, they are referred to local health systems for proper, appropriate testing.
So that is part of what our — as a government — steps we are certainly taking. I can check and see, or I would point you to the Department of Homeland Security on any —
Q Is there — but is there anything additional?
MS. PSAKI: The Department of Homeland Security would be the best entity to talk to about any additional assistance or any new assistance that we’re providing.
Q I wanted to bring it back to cryptocurrency. So, some in the industry have said that the Portman-Warner-Sinema amendment includes language that could favor Bitcoin over other cryptocurrencies. Could you maybe address that?
And if it came down to it, would the administration be willing to accept the Wyden amendment to move the broader package?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we — our objective here is to support and pass an infrastructure package into law. We have — we feel these negotiations and discussions about this issue and others have been done in good faith. And we are very grateful to Chairman Wyden for his leadership in pushing the Senate to address this issue.
As I noted a little earlier, we were pleased with the progress that has yielded a compromise, sponsored by Senators Warner, Portman, and Sinema, to advance the bipartisan infrastructure package and clarify the measure to reduce tax evasion. We will, of course, be closely monitoring and closely in touch as discussions continue.
Josh, is that you?
Q It is.
MS. PSAKI: How are you?
Q Very well. Very well.
MS. PSAKI: You didn’t raise your hand, but I haven’t seen you in here yet, so I’m just —
Q Well —
MS. PSAKI: It’s a Friday. Do you have a question?
Q Sure, why not. So, the administration is having the Justice Department defend the new eviction moratorium. Given that the President pretty openly mused about the fact that he wasn’t even sure whether this passed the constitutional muster and that a number of, you know, leading experts he’s consulted with feel it does not, isn’t he putting them in a pretty awkward position to be asking the Justice Department to defend something the President himself doesn’t necessarily believe is legal?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President would not have supported moving forward with this modified moratorium if he did not feel comfortable and confident in the legal backing. We believe that this is proper use of a lawful authority to protect the public health, and the Supreme Court has not ruled otherwise.
We obviously don’t control the courts, but he asked — we asked our — our legal team, I should say, asked the CDC, the Department of Justice, and others to look into what options there would be.
This is different from the national moratorium because it is more limited, it is focused on the areas that are most highly hit by COVID, and it is a short-term extension. Understand there’s going to be work happening in courts, but we certainly support and stand by the extension.
Go ahead, all the way in the back — Yahoo.
Q Jen —
MS. PSAKI: I’m just going to keep calling you “Yahoo.” Go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q That would be fine.
We’ve spoken a lot about Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott this week. Who are the two or three Republican governors who are getting things right, in the view of the White House, right now,
MS. PSAKI: There are a number. We’ve ca- — talked about Asa Hutchinson, who’s taken a number of steps. We’ve also talked about Governor Hogan in Maryland; I talked about him earlier today. I’ve talked about the governor of Massachusetts.
And I’ve said several times: The vast majority of governors — Republican governors are doing exactly the right thing. They’re putting public health, they’re putting policies first, and they’re saving lives in the process. And we’ve seen in a number of these states where they’ve taken these steps, the rates actually come down because it’s having an impact.
So that’s a positive sign. This is not political to us. We are going to continue to take steps to work with governors, leaders of all political stripes in order to prevent — end the pandemic.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.
Q Jen. Jen. Jen.
Q Jen, there’s —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, I have one more person. I’m sorry. Go ahead, hello.
Q Hi, Jen. It’s Vanessa Tyler from the Black Information Network.
MS. PSAKI: Hi, Vanessa.
Q I wanted to ask you about voting rights. That’s a big concern for the listeners of the Black Information Network. Will the President make voting rights one of those filibuster exceptions?
And also, I wanted to know: What is his message to people who are really tired of waiting? Their patience is running out for many items on the agenda, like voting rights, like the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say his message, first, is: He’s with you, and that he is also tired of waiting. He believes voting rights is a fundamental right. It will be a fight of his presidency. And he would love to sign legislation on voting rights and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act into law.
He is also, I would say, not waiting for that to happen in order to take action. He signed a historic executive order into law, during his first few weeks in office, to put in place additional protections.
His Department of Justice has redoubled funding and efforts to ensure they’re supporting litigation across the country, and we’ve already seen them take action.
And he has continued — and he has asked the Vice President to lead this effort.
So, the fight is continuing, it’s ongoing, and it is — certainly remains a priority for him and of his presidency.
Thank you so —
Q May I follow up and ask for —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead. You have a follow-up. Go ahead.
Q Will he push to make it a — one of those filidu- — filibuster-proofed exceptions — voting?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the filibuster is, of course, a Senate legislative tool, not a tool controlled by the President. He has not changed his position on that, but he is eager to sign a piece of legislation into law.
There’s ongoing discussions about that. We’re hopeful there’ll be progress. And he’s going to continue to use the White House, the bully pulpit. And, of course, the Vice President will be leading this effort moving forward.
Q And (inaudible) —
MS. PSAKI: Thanks so much. Very nice to meet you.
Q All right. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks. Thanks, everyone. I’m sorry. We’ve got to wrap it up. Have a wonderful weekend.
2:33 P.M. EDT