Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, September 1, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:46 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.
Q Good afternoon.
MS. PSAKI: Good afternoon. Okay, just a couple items for you all at the top.
Another update on the hurricane. The continuing focus on the ground is on power restoration, as nearly 1 million customers in Louisiana — more than 40 percent of the state — remain without power in the middle of a heat advisory.
While progress has been made in Mississippi since yesterday, 30,000 customers there still do not have electricity and power restoration. And parts of Louisi- — and parts of Louisiana could take weeks as crews assess the full extent of power system damage.
To help accelerate these efforts, the President spoke with CEOs of the largest energy companies in the Gulf Coast yesterday and committed the full weight of the federal government to providing resources wherever they are needed.
As part of that, the federal government is sharing aerial and satellite imagery to support damage assessments, helping with debris removal and traffic control so restoration workers and equipment can get access to downed wires and poles, and expediting permitting for rerunning of transmission cable across the Mississippi River and for standing up transmission towers.
Federal personnel from DOE, the Army Corps of Engineers, and across government are on the ground assisting efforts along with, as I’ve noted previously, 25,000 linemen.
Lack of power and damage to the health — healthcare facilities in Louisiana remains a significant problem. We are prioritizing the deployment of generators to locations most in need, and about 1,800 patients, as of today, have been evacuated from healthcare facilities with the help of additional ambulances that were pre-staged by FEMA.
Cell service also remains an issue, as it has been over the course of the last couple of days, and the FCC is working directly with wireless carriers and has deployed staff to Louisiana to prioritize recovery efforts.
We know this has been incredibly difficult — continues to be — for many people who had to evacuate because of the storm, and we continue to encourage individuals from impacted areas in Louisiana to apply for federal assistance. More than 31,000 households in Louisiana have already received a one-time $500 payment to support critical needs as a result of the major disaster declaration that the President approved.
I’d also note — this just went out, but in case you haven’t seen it: On Friday, the President will travel to New Orleans, Louisiana, to survey storm damage from Hurricane Ida and meet with state and local leaders from impacted communities. We’re just finalizing the details of this trip, so as more become available, we’ll share them with all of you.
Also wanted to note that today the federal ag- — the White House and agencies across the federal government — including HUD, Treasury, and the Federal Housing Finance Authority — are announcing steps that will create, preserve, and sell approximately 100,000 additional affordable homes over the next three years with an emphasis on lower and middle ends of the market.
These steps leverage existing authorities and dedicate additional resources to affordable housing. Specifically, they will boost the supply of quality, affordable rental units by increasing the financing available through HUD, Treasury, and FHFA programs for affordable and targeted housing production, including a relaunch of the Federal Financing Bank’s risk-sharing program, expanded support for low-income housing tax credit, and increasing access to the Capital Magnet Fund. Boost — and this will boost the supply of manufactured housing and two- to four-unit properties by expanding financing through Freddie Mac, which, along with existing policies, will enable more Americans to purchase homes.
Last item — sorry, there’s a lot going on today: Today, the White House, Treasury, and Code for America — a civic technology nonprofit — announced the launch of a new mobile-friendly and bilingual Child Tax Credit — CTC signup tool that is mobile-friendly and available in Spanish to make it easi- — even easier for more Americans who do not regularly file taxes to claim their Child Tax Credit.
And as you know, this has been an ongoing effort of this White House and the administration to reach every single person we can who’s eligible, even if they are non-filers.
We will link this new tool through ChildTaxCredit.gov. While the Code for America tool as an important and necessary resource to help more families this tax season, Treasury remains committed to creating a permanent, fully resourced, multilingual, and mobile-friendly government signup tool. That is a process that is underway.
That is all I have to highlight for you this morning — or this afternoon.
Go ahead. Kick us off.
Q Great. Thanks, Jen. Two subjects. First, on COVID: In Louisiana, state data suggests that about 10 percent of hospitalized patients are vaccinated. Is it still accurate to call COVID a “pandemic of the unvaccinated”? And could that phrase that’s been deployed frequently by the White House possibly be counterproductive at this stage to protecting some Americans?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, we continue to track data closely through the CDC and all of our healthcare — health and medical experts who do show that, across the country, the vast, vast majority of those who are hospitalized — vast majority — are individuals who have not been vaccinated. That has not changed.
And any health and medical expert — whether it’s Dr. Fauci, Dr. Collins, Dr. Walensky — will tell you that vaccination is very effective in protecting from hospitalization and death and serious illness.
That is our objective — is to save more lives. So, that hasn’t changed our messaging.
Q Secondly: Obviously, in Texas, with the law with regard to abortion, the President said in a statement he will protect and defend Roe vs. Wade. How does the administration plan to do that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I — we put out a statement from the President this morning, but let me just reiterate some of the key points. And I will, of course, answer your question.
As the President said this morning, the ex- — “This extreme Texas law blatantly violates the constitutional right established under Roe v. Wade and upheld as precedent for nearly half a century.” It will “significantly impair women’s access to the health care they need, particularly for communities of color and individuals with low incomes.”
It also “deputizes private citizens to bring lawsuits against anyone who they believe has helped another person get an abortion, which might even include family members, healthcare workers, front desk staff at a health care clinic, or strangers with no connection to the individual[s].” This further isolates individuals who are facing this tough choice.
And I would note for those of you who didn’t see: People who report who — who — these private citizens could get up to $10,000 for reporting somebody who is seeking an abortion.
So, our focus and the President’s focus is to reiterate our deep commitment to the constitutional right — of course, established by Roe v. Wade nearly five decades ago — and to continue to call for the codification of Roe, something that the President talked about on the campaign trail, the Vice President talked about on the campaign trail. And this highlights even further the need to move forward on that effort.
Q Thanks, Jen. One on COVID and Afghanistan — the second one on Afghanistan. Specifically, the boosters — President Biden has pledged to follow the science in the fight against COVID, though some experts have expressed some concern the decision to make boosters widely available this September is a bit premature and that it was made before health experts were able to fully weigh in.
So here’s my question: What can — what can you tell people who are concerned that the desire to get ahead of the virus has actually put us out in front of the science instead?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first of all, we always lead with science. And let me just reiterate some things for anyone who’s expressing a concern. This was a decision made by and announced by the nation’s leading public health officials — everyone from Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the head of the CDC; Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting FDA Administrator — Commissioner; Dr. Francis Collins, NIC [sic] — NIH Director; and Dr. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
They reviewed mountains and mountains of available data on vaccine effectiveness and made a clinical judgment that boosters would be needed, and announced a plan to begin them in September, subject, of course, to the FDA and CDC processes to continue.
We also know that there needs to be — there needs to be a plan in place to implement these booster shots around the country.
But I will tell you that this was a recommendation made by our nation’s leading health experts based on mounds and mounds of data. There will still be a final piece of this process that will be seen through. But our responsibility and our objective is to save more lives, protect more people. And as soon as this data — the science made clear that boosters would help do that, we wanted to put that information out to the public.
Q The September 20 date to — is that firm? That date to roll out boosters, is that a firm date?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s based on and pending the final — subject to the final FDA and CDC processes. Yes.
Q Okay. And then one on Afghanistan. There’s some reporting that we’d like to confirm regarding a call in June — in July, rather — between President Biden and former Afghanistan President Ghani: one, that both leaders appeared completely unaware that the Taliban would take over; and, secondly, that they discussed plans to project that Afghan forces were still in control. Is that accurate? Can you tell us a little bit more about that call?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to get into private diplomatic conversations or leaked transcripts of phone calls.
But what I can reiterate for you is that we have stated many times that no one anticipated — the vast majority, I should say — there may have been individuals and agencies, so I don’t want to eliminate that option — but our national security team and no one in Congress or, I would say, most people out in the public anticipated that the Taliban would be able to take over the country as quickly as they did or that the Afghan National Security Forces would fold as quickly as they did.
So, even the content of the reporting is consistent with what we’ve said many times publicly.
I’ll also note something that the President said in his press conference around the same time of this reported phone call: “The Afghan government and leadership has to come together. They clearly have the capacity to sustain the government in place. The question is: Will they generate the kind of cohesion to do it?”
And what the President conveyed publicly, and certainly privately as well, repeatedly, to Afghan leaders — as did our national security officials — is that it’s important that the leaders in Afghanistan do exactly that: lead and show the country that they are ready to continue to — the fight against the Taliban; that they have the will for the Afghan National Security Forces to continue that fight even as our U.S. forces leave.
Q But did the President, at that point in time, have some sort of perception that even the former president of Afghanistan didn’t have that confidence in the Afghan forces? Is that why maybe he was pushing Ghani to be more stern and to be more confident?
MS. PSAKI: The President has consistently conveyed — and I just noted an example — publicly that the Afghan leadership, at the time, needed to do exactly that: lead. They needed to come together in a cohesive manner. They needed to be united. They need to just show the country and the Afghan people they were going to fight and they are going to lead through this transition, even as U.S. forces left. That is entirely consistent with what he has said publicly throughout.
Q Thank you, Jen. One on Afghanistan and one on COVID as well. We — a few colleagues of mine have determined that there’s roughly 17,000 Afghan refugees at military installations in five states here, as of Tues- — as of Tuesday, while another 40,000 remain at bases overseas. Curious, how many of those Afghan evacuees have other countries committed to resettling or what is the status of those ongoing conversations. And will the U.S. resettle — or otherwise, will the U.S. resettle all of those 40,000 here in the United States?
MS. PSAKI: Well, not to refute the reporting of your colleagues, but just to note: The Secretary of Defense just confirmed it’s about 20,000 who have come into the United States — at a briefing earlier this afternoon.
There is capacity — and we’re working towards capacity at our military bases for up to 50,000. And again, this is not a place where people would live. This is a place where people would go, they would receive medical care and assistance and get connected with refugee resettlement organizations that are — play a vital role as refugees come to our country from wherever they come around the world.
We are also working with third countries on what their capacities are. I can’t give you an exact breakdown now. It’s a very important question. But that’s exactly what our Department of Homeland Security, what our diplomatic team will be working through in the coming days. And I’m certain they will be providing updates as we have that established.
Q You’ve talked about this a little bit — others have as well — but there are, of course, concerns among lawmakers, experts who have tracked this who say previous arrivals of large numbers of refugees from different parts of the world, inevitably there may be a handful — a small handful who are eventually deemed a security risk of some kind. What reassurances can you make about the screening process and the attempts to make sure that somebody like that doesn’t make his or her way here?
MS. PSAKI: I can absolutely assure you that no one is coming into the United States of America who has not been through a thorough screening and background check process. And there are many individuals, as you noted, who have not been through that process and they have gone to lily pad countries, as that process has been completed. It doesn’t mean that that’s because there is a flag. It means they have not completed their paperwork and we were working to save tens of thousands of people, hence we evacuated them to these third countries.
Q And then on COVID, is there any update on the U.S. decision to keep Europeans and Canadians from visiting the United States? There were a few public messages from ambassadors here in Washington — the EU Ambassador, the Polish Ambassador among others — saying, “The time has come for vaccinated Europeans to be allowed entry into the United States. Our people deserve to be reunited with loved ones and to have the opportunity to visit this great nation.” I know this is something a lot of people worry about. I’m just curious if there’s a status report.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly understand that and relate to that and know that people are eager to be reunited with loved ones. And that is something that’s impacting many people around the world.
I would note that we are right now working across federal agencies to develop a consistent and safe international travel policy — that has obviously been ongoing for some period of time — that includes travel from Europe and other countries around the world, and it is one that we want to be equitable. We want it to have standard requirements so there’s clarity and so there’s equity across how we approach it.
This will involve, of course, efforts to step up protecting the American people. It may also involve ensuring that over time, foreign nationals coming to the United States are fully vaccinated with limited exceptions. No decisions have been made yet, but that is a process that’s ongoing. We certainly understand the interest in it being resolved and completed.
Q Thanks, Jen. It’s been now a couple of days since U.S. troops left Afghanistan. I understand you have continued to say the mission will continue to bring people home through diplomatic and other ways. Yesterday, you guys at the White House didn’t have an answer on whether any Americans or refugees had made it out. Is there an answer today?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, this is an operation that’s being overseen by our State Department from a diplomatic front. They have a briefing today. If there are updates to provide, they will provide them.
But what we are working through — and what we knew would not necessarily be operational the day after our departure — are a couple of steps. One is how we can get the airports operational again. We’re working with the Qataris, the Turks, and others who are being partners in this effort. The civilian side of the airport had a lot of destruction to it, and we need to make repairs in partnership with them so we can get airports — and airplanes, I should say, up and running. That will have a huge impact once that is up and operational.
The other piece is overland efforts. Now, some of this is there are — there are steps, as we have seen over the course of the last few weeks, where individual American citizens are able to depart without conveying that they have departed yet. So what we are doing is we are tracking and staying in contact with all of the American citizens we are aware of on what our plans are, what the progress is, and what the — as we have updates on the timeline for when they can be able to depart.
Q Is there a sort of a timeframe where if there isn’t an update from the State Department, there might be a course correction? I asked them today if they had any updated numbers and nobody has gotten back to me. I understand the briefing is coming up. But is there a timeframe where you guys will readjust?
MS. PSAKI: A course correction in what way?
Q In terms of: If we cannot say, for whatever reason, how many people have been able to leave since the U.S. forces withdrew, and we’re not able to measure that or we’re not able to publicly release that, is there a plan to do something else so that that movement can happen?
MS. PSAKI: Well, today is September 1st. We ended our presence in Afghanistan yesterday — or on the 31st in Afghanistan. What we said at the time, and it remains the case, is that we are focused on operationally moving forward on a number of fronts: There’s the diplomatic front. We have more than half of the countries in the world who have agreed that the expectation we are going to press upon the Taliban is that people will be able to freely move — depart the country. There was a U.N. Security Council resolution signed — or passed, I should say, just two days ago.
And now we are operationally working on both airplanes, so that can depart — or getting the airport up and operational, and overland departures.
At the same time, we are in touch with every American citizen we have contact with about our efforts and our commitment to get them out of the country. I’m not sure what a course correction would look like. That is what our efforts are at this point in time, 36 hours after our last — or just about two days after our last planes depart.
Q And we’re hearing about some journalists who were left behind. Fox confirmed that a number of journalists working for U.S. Agency for Global Media, a federally funded agency from Congress, including Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty journalists, were left behind.
And we’re now also hearing from some senior State Department officials that there were constraints getting people through the gates at HKIA; that some of the communication methods to contact people were available to so many that they were instantly ubiquitous that those priority groups could not get through. Was that a contingency that was planned for?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Jacqui, I think it’s important to remember, again, 120,000 people made it out of the airport and out of the country. And our commitment to people who want to evacuate, want to leave — American citizens, journalists, Afghan partners who have stood by our side — is enduring and remains.
Let me — I know there’s been some reporting on this, so let me give you just a couple of examples — because now we can talk about this — of some of the ways that we worked to get American citizens out.
One, the most used method was the muster point — or what we called the “muster point.” The State Department would blast notifications through a variety of channels to American citizens telling them to meet at a specific location from which we would either bus them into the airport in convoys or escort people on foot. We offered multiple opportunities for each of these muster points at various times, each with multiple transits to the airport. The majority of American citizens who got out were evacuated exactly this way.
We also talked people through — one on one — walking into the airport with State Department officials on the phone — on the other end of the phone the whole time, facilitating safe passage past checkpoints. This was incredibly labor intensive, but effective at resolving problems on the ground, one by one, in challenging environments.
In limited cases — and some of this was reported — where people were trapped or in immediate danger, U.S. security forces went beyond the wire, sometimes even a helicopter, to pick people up safely. We didn’t talk about these much — these helo hops — at times — at the time, because they were dangerous missions. We didn’t want to create the expectation that we’d be sending a helicopter for everyone who wanted to leave Afghanistan.
So, I note those because I think it’s important to understand the steps and the roles that our U.S. military on the ground took, far beyond just checking people off on a list at the gate, to ensure we could get American citizens, our Afghan partners and others out. And we will continue those efforts through the means I just —
Q Can I ask one on Ghani? I just want to put a pin in that report. Was the President in any way pushing a false narrative in that call with the Afghan President?
MS. PSAKI: I think it’s pretty clear — again, I’m not going to go into details of a private conversation. But what we saw over the course of the last few months is a collapse in leadership, and that was happening even before Ghani left the country.
What the President has conveyed repeatedly, privately and publicly, is you need to stand up and lead your country. And that’s something he said at a press conference in July in public forum, as well.
Q Thanks, Jen. By my math, we’re just shy of 48 hours since the last —
MS. PSAKI: Thank you for your math. It’s all running together.
Q — military aircraft leaving Afghanistan. And we’ve talked — we’ve learned a lot more just in the last few hours about the nature of the cooperation we saw over the last two and a half weeks between the Taliban and the American forces on the ground.
I’m wondering if you could speak to whether, since — in the last 48 hours — there has been any continued form of interactions between the U.S. and the Taliban, obviously now much more in a diplomatic capacity.
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, this would be an effort that would be overseen underneath the leadership of the Secretary of State and the State Department. It will be necessary to have some form of communication and coordination with the Taliban to continue to evacuate people from the country. They oversee Afghanistan — the majority of large swaths of the country.
I will note that we had prior conversations or methods of engagement, even before the last couple of weeks. So, it’s obviously a different form at this point in time; that will continue. That’s part of what the President asked the Secretary of State and the State Department to pursue.
Q Ron Klain, obviously the Chief of Staff, last night said, “I don’t know if we will ever recognize their government,” as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.
You’ve talked a lot about the pieces — or points of leverage that the U.S. holds over the Taliban. Is that one of the points of leverage — recognizing the Taliban? Is that something that’s even under consideration?
MS. PSAKI: There’s no rush to recognition from the United States or any country we’ve spoken with around the world. It will be very dependent on their behavior and whether they deliver on what the expectations are of the global community.
Q And then, quickly, on abortion: We’ve seen in a number of states — Republican-led states — an effort on voting rights, for instance, to pass similar legislation throughout the country on voting rights. What’s the level of concern at the White House that the decision on Texas, specifically, will lead to a similar raft of laws across the country? And what is the recourse for the White House, at a federal level, to help prevent this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the step that can be taken is for the — is the codification of Roe, something the President and the Vice President have called for and would require Congress to act on.
I will note that, certainly, we’ve seen — this is not the first threat to Roe we’ve seen in a state across the country. It’s an extreme threat.
And again, I would just note: This is offering up to $10,000 to individuals who report someone who is going to get an abortion. I mean, that is what we’re talking about here. So — and beyond that, as I’ve already outlined.
So, yes, of course, it’s of great concern. And — but — and, of course, it’s of great concern because this is not the first time that there have been efforts by some in the country to prevent a woman from having the right to choose.
Q Quick follow-up on the discussion about leverage. Is there no concern here at the White House that China could actively try to undermine the U.S. leverage that it has with the Taliban, particularly providing the kind of access to the global marketplace you talked about yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that China doesn’t have that capacity on their own, and that there is — there are more than 100 countries — a U.N. Security Council resolution — China did abstain from, but they didn’t vote against — that calls on — presses the Taliban to allow for safe passage of people in the country and those who want to leave Afghanistan. So, you know, China is going to have to think about what role they want to be seen as in the world in this moment as well.
Q Let me ask you this: The President said yesterday, “We are not done with ISIS-K.”
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q Senator Kaine, before the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, was talking about working toward a new sort of superseding AUMF. Is this something the White House is interested in working with him on so that ISIS-K is specifically mentioned in a congressional authorization for the use of force?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve said in the past that we’re interested in working with Senator Kaine on that, and that continues. I will note that, in this case, ISIS-K attacked and killed 13 members of our armed forces. We have every right — self-defense — to continue to go after ISIS-K, and the President has made clear that’s what he wants the military to continue to do.
Q So, future strikes on ISIS-K will be in the vein of self-defense?
MS. PSAKI: Again, these are authorities that the military already has, but we also are open to and look forward to working with Senator Kaine and others in Congress who look forward to — who are looking to update the 20-year-old AUMF.
Q Just two questions, Jen. There’s a bill in Congress called the Women’s Health Protection Act that would protect abortion access from state laws like the one in Texas. Does President Biden support that?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to look more closely at the specifics of the law. Obviously protecting — codifying Roe, protecting a woman’s right to choose is something the President is committed to, but I don’t have the specifics of that law — or that bill, I should say.
Q And then, just secondly, has the President met with either Federal Chair Jerome Powell or Lael Brainard one-on-one in recent weeks?
MS. PSAKI: I have no meetings to report to you or read out for you.
Q Broad question about the Zelenskyy meeting that’s underway. Just the events, demands, phone calls that led up to the 2019 impeachment — I’m just wondering, did they factor in any way into the way the White House prepared for this meeting, specifically the fact that Hunter Biden was a key part of those conversations with the last administration and Zelenskyy?
And did President Biden expect in any way shape or form to address that dynamic in today’s meeting?
MS. PSAKI: No.
Q Jen, does the White House — is the White House satisfied with OPEC’s decision today to continue gradual increases in output? And can you give us a sense of what communication or contact the U.S. has had with OPEC members about that?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a great question, Jeff. I will have to talk to Brian Deese and our economic team about our exact reaction — I want to get that right — and also whether we’re satisfied with the actions they announced. I will get that to you, and anyone else interested, after the briefing.
Did you have another question?
Q I did. One on Zelenskyy.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q President Zelenskyy said in the Oval Office today that he was eager to hear President Biden’s vision for Ukraine’s chances of joining NATO, and he also said he’d like a timeframe for that. What is President Biden’s vision right now? And does he have a timeframe?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important for people to understand — not you, necessarily, but everyone out there — that this is not a decision that the United States makes, right? We continue to support and we continue to call for ensuring that NATO’s door remains open to aspirants when they’re ready and able to meet the commitments and obligations of membership and contribute to security in the Euro-Atlantic area.
This is NATO membership, right? And we reaffirmed and our Allies reaffirmed in the June 2021 NATO Summit communiqué that we support Ukraine’s right to decide its own future foreign policy, of course free from outside interference, including with respect to Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO.
There are steps that Ukraine needs to take; they’re very familiar with these: efforts to advance rule of law reforms, modernize its defense sector, and expand economic growth. Those are steps that aspirant countries like Ukraine need to take in order to meet NATO standards for memberships. And we certainly support their efforts to continue to do that.
Q Today is the first day in very many — and they’re all blending together at this point — that the President did not have a meeting in the Situation Room with his national security team. I know there’s stuff not on the schedule — the public schedule — but does the President view this moment as a time where he can kind of shift at least some of his focus to the myriad of other issues that are on his plate that he wants to focus on or has wanted to focus on before the withdrawal became such a huge issue?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he did receive a PDB this morning, as is, of course, standard for most presidents, and those will certainly continue.
Look, I think the President knows that he has responsibilities, and the multiple crises he will continue to have to face as president are part of his job description. And if there is a meeting warranted in the Situation Room with his military leaders, national security team about Afghanistan or any other issue, of course he’s going to be there for that.
But he also knows that part of his commitment to the American people is getting the pandemic under control, is addressing the hurricane and making sure that people in Louisiana and Mississippi and other states in the Gulf Coast know he’s doing absolutely everything in his power to make sure they have power.
I didn’t even mean to say it like that.
But they — and so, he knows that he has to do multiple things as president in order to govern the country.
So, yes, of course, he will continue to work with his national security team on a range of issues, whether it’s follow-ups, diplomatic efforts in Afghanistan, or, of course, he’s right now meeting — having a meeting with the leadership of Ukraine. But he also knows he has a commitment to address a range of issues to the public, and he’ll continue to do that.
Q And just one more quick one. One of your colleagues over at the State Department briefed reporters earlier today, saying that, anecdotally, they thought a majority of SIV folks in the SIV pipeline did not get out. I’m not minimizing the hundred-plus-thousand Afghans that did get out, but is there any particular specific frustration, given the President’s commitment to those who helped American personnel on the ground, if a majority were not able to get out of country?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that of the numbers — and I know they’re — Ed asked a question of this, and you all have been asking understandable questions about the breakdown of numbers of people coming out, and that is information we hope to have for you very soon.
But 77 percent of the people who were evacuated were Afghans at risk — SIV applicants, P1/P2 applicants. Obviously, there’s a range of programs, and the different names of them mean virtually nothing to most people in the American public, but that is a number that stuck out to me from the largest airlift in U.S. history.
Are there more people who want to leave Afghanistan? Absolutely. Are there more people who will be eligible for our programs? Absolutely. And that’s why we are so focused on the diplomatic efforts that are being led by the State Department, including a presence in Doha, including efforts to engage with the Taliban, including efforts to work with the international community to make clear what we expect.
What is also true is that every person who wants to leave Afghanistan and come to the United States is not going to be able to do that. And that is a sad truth, but it is — it is something that it’s important for people to also understand.
But I will say, we still want freedom of evacuation and movement for people who want to depart.
Q Thanks, Jen. As FEMA continues to roll out aid in the Southeast — and we’ve just looked at the historic nature of Hurricane Ida — is the administration or FEMA at all looking at ways to proactively identify people who may be eligible for disaster assistance, just given the process of applying, how byzantine it may be for someone going through these circumstances?
MS. PSAKI: What we’re trying to do is make it as easy as humanly possible — providing phone numbers, providing websites.
I — as I noted, there are about 31,000 people who have already received checks from — or 30,000 — sorry, 31,000, I think I said — from one of these programs.
So, what we have done — and I’ve been giving quite extensive toppers on this each day to make sure you have all the information you need — is we set up a quite a bit of preemptive resources in the region.
I know you’re asking about economic assistance, and obviously we’ve — we’ve worked to get that out the door as quickly as we can, but also to set up generators, food, water, FEMA resources, using all of the resources of government even before the storm hits. That is something that we tried to do to reduce the impact, save lives, make sure we’re helping people as quickly as possible.
Q And then, just given President Biden’s trip on Friday, that 90 — around 90 percent of New Orleans is still basically without power, what precautions are you all taking to make sure that his trip to the city is not going to take away from relief efforts?
MS. PSAKI: First of all, we absolutely would not go if it would take away from relief efforts. And this is a trip that will be — that is being planned in close coordination with leaders on the ground to ensure it’s the right time to go. But we are not going to go to any part of the state or visit any community where we would take away from relief and restoration efforts.
I’d also note, as I said in the — at the beginning of this briefing, the President also spoke at the CEOs of the largest energy companies in the Gulf Coast yesterday and committed the full weight of the federal government.
We know — he knows how important it is for people to get power back on. That is air conditioning at a time where it’s 90 degrees, right? That is people being able to be in their homes. Maybe they’re in hotel rooms right now, and they can go back.
There’s a range of reasons why, of course, turning the power back on is vital to the people of the state. We’ve seen some success in Mississippi, but he is pressing on that with every lever of the federal government.
Q A quick question on the rebuilding of the Gulf and also the administration’s infrastructure bill. Steel prices have doubled in the United States in the last six months. Is the administration ready to remove tariffs on steel in order to bring down the cost for the rebuilding efforts?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t — I know there’s obviously an ongoing review of a range of tariffs. I have nothing to report on that at this point in time.
We’re, right now, in the stage of recovery. There will be an extensive rebuilding stage, and we will continue to look for a range of ways we can provide resources from the federal government to play a role in that, but I don’t have anything to preview at this point in time.
Q And speaking of the tariff review, when can we expect the results of the China tariff review? And are you worried about customers paying higher prices for imported products at a time when the supply chains are crimped around the world?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we have a very aggressive and ambitious supply chain effort to address the challenges we’re seeing in the supply chains. We also were impacted — our supply chains around the world were impacted a great deal by Delta, and we’re working in part to address and help many countries recover from COVID so that we can get supply chains up and running. But I don’t have any timeline for you on when that review will be completed.
I will note that we look at our relationship with China and all the components through a comprehensive package.
Q Thank you. One on Ukraine and one on abortion.
On Ukraine, when the President was in Brussels, he was asked about Ukraine getting into the NATO Membership Action Plan and, at the time, he said, “school is out on that question.”
I know the meeting is ongoing, but was that expected to come up in the meeting, and is the President’s position still the same?
MS. PSAKI: Again, as I noted a little bit earlier, there’s specific steps the Ukrainians need to take in order to meet the requirements of NATO membership. We support the efforts of the Ukrainian leadership to work exactly toward that. And ther- — we support the efforts of any aspirant who wants to join NATO who is working to meet those objectives.
Certainly, we expect — and I think they’ve said publicly they were planning to raise it. We’ll see. But — but that has not changed.
Q On abortion, some activists today noted that the statement you put out — put out on behalf of the President did not offer any specific agenda of what’s next, or, again, specifically how the administration plans to push back against the Texas law. So, I just wanted to give you a chance, if there are any specifics or internal planning, to share that now.
MS. PSAKI: Well, as the President committed on the campaign trail and remains committed to now, codifying Roe v. Wade as the law of the land is something that Congress can do, he will continue to push them to do. And that is a specific course of action that can be taken to help protect from these type of lawsuits in the future.
Q Is there anything else beyond that?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t speak to any actions at the Department of Justice. They’re independent. I don’t have anything to preview on that front.
Q Has the administration explored whether to grant Afghans living in the United States, including refugees, Temporary Protected Status?
MS. PSAKI: TPS status?
MS. PSAKI: Well, many of them are here through — because they were eligible for SIV programs or eligible for refugee programs or a range of programs that were in existence specific to Afghanistan. So, I’m not a — I don’t have anything to preview on that front, or I’m not aware of a consideration of that.
Q Thank you. President Biden will be 79 years old on November 20th. During the campaign, there was a lot of talk about how old he is and how he would not be able to survive at the White House, especially in a time of crisis. But we’ve seen him during these crises — the COVID crisis, the hurricane crisis, the Afghanistan crisis. Do you think that people should — those who called him “Sleepy Joe” should apologize to him?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’re looking for an apology. I think we’re looking for allowing the President to continue to add- — address multiple crises at a time, which is exactly what he has been doing over the past few weeks.
Q Second — I have a second question.
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve got to keep going here.
Q To come back to Texas again: So, on one of those specifics, advocates are calling for the administration to lift restrictions on the abortion pill as more states, as was mentioned, are expected to follow Texas’s lead. Is the administration going to do that?
MS. PSAKI: I think that’s a decision that would be made by FDA, no? So that would be a decision made by FDA.
Q So that’s still working through the process?
MS. PSAKI: FDA is an independent — is an agency that makes their own decisions.
Q One more on —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, go ahead.
Q Also, this has prompted many Democrats to look back at whether the Supreme Court should be reshaped. Has the President’s position changed on that — on expanding the Court?
MS. PSAKI: As you know, there’s an ongoing Court reform committee that has been meeting. It’s a diverse group. They’re considering a range of issues and topics, including what the future of the Court looks like. I think the President will wait for that process to complete before making any evaluations.
Go ahead, Karen.
Q And to follow on some of these: Are there steps that the administration is taking right now to work with Congress to advance legislation? You’re saying the President will continue to call for the codification of Roe, but is there something that this White House is actually doing right now on the Hill?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it requires members of Congress themselves to voting to codify it, right? But, of course, in the range of conversations we have from senior leaders in the White House, there’s no question that this is a topic and will be a topic, given the ruling — or given the news this morning, in these conversations with members and their staff.
Q And just one on COVID vaccine rates. The White House COVID team has been touting some pretty good numbers on vaccination rates. Jeff Zients said the other day that there were 4 million more shots in August compared to July — more first shots. What does the White House think is driving that right now? And is there something specific that the federal government is doing to see that difference from July to August?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve — there’s a bunch of different data, and some of it is in your polling, frankly, from some of your news organizations. So I can’t break it down for you, but what we’ve seen consistently as the three factors are: mandates that have been put in place by companies, private sector institutions, and others; fear of Delta, which is understandable. People are seeing horrifying stories on local news, on national news of young people — in some cases, children — being hospitalized, and that is scaring people, which is — we hate for that to be the scenario, but that has certainly, we believe, prompted more people to get vaccinated. It is also possible that the FDA final approval has prompted more people to get vaccinated.
But I don’t have an exact breakdown. But certainly, we’ve seen those as the three biggest factors recently.
Go ahead, in the middle.
Q Thanks, Jen. How does the manner in which the evacuation was managed affect our relationship with the EU, considering some of the concerns on the pullout weren’t listened to and the U.S. hasn’t removed certain sanctions added under the Trump administration? That’s my first question.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure I totally understand your question. The last part was which sanctions?
Q That the U.S. hasn’t removed certain sanctions that were added under the Trump admini- —
MS. PSAKI: On the Taliban? Or under who?
Q Well, in Iran — like, sanctions on Iran. So that was — that was an issue within the EU. So some of those things sanctions that —
MS. PSAKI: But you’re asking about Afghanistan or something else?
Q I’m asking you about how does the manner in which the evacuation was managed — how does that affect our relationship with the EU? And then those are some other concerns as well.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say first that one of the biggest group — one of the big groups we helped evacuate were some of the staff and partners from our Allied countries — and many of them in Europe — over the course of the last two weeks. That was done by the U.S. military in coordination with many of these countries.
Two, we just signed a — got a U.N. Security Council resolution passed in coordination with a number of these countries to make clear to the Taliban what our expectations are.
Three, these are many of the countries that worked with us to help build a list of 100 countries — more than half the countries in the world — making clear we are united in what we expect from the Taliban.
So, I would say that is evidence of us working closely together.
Q Also, what are we to make of the fact that, you know, as soon as we pull out, you see Republicans discussing adding $25 billion to the Defense Authorization Act, but here, unemployment expires on Labor Day, forbearance on some loans are about to expire, and we’re always talking about how we don’t have money for human infrastructure, but we see this being put forward?
MS. PSAKI: You’re absolutely right. I mean, I would say, first, it was not the number one factor, but it did strike the President that we had been spending, on average, $300 million a day in Afghanistan — $300 million a day. We don’t think that’s something that most people in the public are tracking, but it’s a war we fought for 20 years, spending $300 million a day. I’ll let you all do the math on that.
So that is certainly a concern. And certainly, as you noted, there are a range of areas — domestically, internationally — to — where we feel that money could be better spent
Q Two foreign questions for you. First of all, on these muster points that were used in Kabul to evacuate people: Were those used only for American citizens and permanent residents, or were they available to, you know, SIVs and vulnerable Afghans?
And also, did the Taliban give any assurances or assist in guaranteeing those people safe passage? And did they make any stipulations about who could be evacuated under that specific (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, yes, we did use meeting at locations to get others evacuated as well. I’ll let the State Department and Defense Department go into any further details should they choose to.
I would also note that while that was the — a way that a great deal — a number of American citizens were evacuated, there were also numbers who came, of course, through the gates, including Afghans and vulnerable Afghans who also came through the gates of the airport, especially in the earlier days of the evacuation.
And clearly, as I noted, of the more than 120,000 people who were evacuated, 77 percent of them were — are at risk — were people at risk. And maybe that was the number that — of people coming to the United — I got to check on that number.
But that makes clear that the Taliban — yes, they did allow more than 120,000 people, including the vast majority of them vulnerable Afghans, to get through. Whether we met them at a checkpoint, whether we got them through the gates — that is true.
That does not mean we think the Taliban are good actors; we don’t. But we needed to work with them in coordination to get this done, and as a result, it was the largest airlift in U.S. history.
Q On Russia and Saudi Arabia, just quickly. On these reports that they’ve inked some military deals: Has the administration reached out to Saudi about what appears to be Riyadh’s concern that they can no longer rely on Washington?
MS. PSAKI: We are in touch with a range of partners, including leaders in Saudi Arabia. I’d point you to the State Department for any updated conversations with them.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Thank you, everyone. Have a good day. We’ll see you tomorrow.
Q What about Americans left behind in Afghanistan, Jen? The President said the buck stopped with him. Can you care to elaborate on that? What does the President plan to do to get Americans back home?
MS. PSAKI: He also said yesterday he’s getting them home, and we’re going to do exactly that.
Q Thank you, Jen.
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