Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jen Psaki En Route Queens, New York
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Queens, NY
10:35 A.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to our trip to New York and New Jersey.
Today, the President will visit New York and New Jersey to survey the storm damage caused by Ida. He will receive an update on recovery efforts and underscore the commitment to providing the federal government’s full support for communities impacted by the storm.
He’ll be joined by FEMA Administrator Criswell, Governors Hochul and Murphy, members of the states’ congressional delegations — of course, we’ll get you a full list of those, if we haven’t already — and other state and local officials. He’ll also meet with families and first responders to hear firsthand about the devastation.
Just days after visiting Louisiana to see the damage from the storm there, President Biden will also highlight how one in three Americans live in counties that have been impacted by severe weather events in recent months. Just over the summer, 100 million Americans have been impacted by extreme weather, obviously in the Northeast, out West with wildfires, and then in the Gulf Coast.
The average costs of extreme weather are getting bigger, and no one is immune from climate change. That’s what you’ll hear him talk about it in his remarks today, as well as his belief, based on a lot of data and studies, that every dollar that we invest saves six dollars down the road in these communities, as we’re preparing for extreme weather events.
He’ll also make the case as to why this is the reason — one of the reasons, as we’re looking at these extreme weather events around the country, that it’s so imperative we act on addressing the climate crisis and investing in — addressing those through his Build Back Better agenda, which is working its way through Congress.
As you may have seen, on Sunday, the President approved major disaster declarations for New York and New Jersey to quickly make federal funding available for those who need it and to help fund emergency work and repairs.
Already FEMA has awarded approximately $170 million in Individual Assistance to more than 159,000 disaster survivors from Ida, and the SBA has distributed $4.7 million in loans in Louisiana. Individual Assistance registration opened yesterday — just yesterday in New York and New Jersey, and over 3,000 households have already registered for assistance.
FEMA Incident Management Assistance Teams, or IMAT, are on the ground in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, and Mobile Emergency Response Support teams are deployed in New Jersey.
I also wanted to note — I know we sent a note out to the pool, but just to make it more official here — on Thursday, the President will speak to the American people about his robust plan to stop the spread of the Delta variant and boost vaccinations.
As he has said since day one, his administration will pull every lever to get the pandemic under control. And, on Thursday, he will lay out a six-pronged strategy that will help us to do just that, working across the public and private sectors to help continue to get the pandemic under control. We’ll have more to preview on that, I would expect, in the coming days.
With that, let’s get to your questions.
Q Jen, a question on Afghanistan. Almost 90 percent of the over 2,000 healthcare centers in the country are now on the brink of collapse because foreign aid is drying up, foreign donors are not allowed to do business with the Taliban government — or, you know, if there is one, if the U.S. essentially recognizes one. What is the administration and the White House doing to make sure that does not happen?
MS. PSAKI: Well, of course, we have great concerns about the impact on humanitarian access to the country or any impacts to humanitarian access, I should say.
We’re doing a couple of things. One, the President signed an OFAC license, just a few weeks ago, to ensure that humanitarian assistance from trusted groups like the World Food Program and others can get on the ground.
The second step we’re taking is working — and our Secretary of State is on the ground in Qatar now — working to see what we can do to get flights up and operational, not just from Kabul but from other regional airports in the country. Because we know that while that’s also a part of getting individuals out who want to leave — including the remaining American citizens — it’s also the way that a range of assistance will get into the country.
So, those are a couple of steps we’re taking. It is also an issue that we are in close coordination with the U.N. and with our partners in the region and around the world as well.
Q And the President said that — you know, when asked if Washington will recognize the Taliban, he said that is “a long way off.” And I’m wondering what that really means in terms of a timeline. I mean, is there — is there anything you can share with us on a timeline?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as the President said — I think it was yesterday —
MS. PSAKI: — there is no rush to recognition. It is really going to be dependent on what steps the Taliban takes. The world will be watching — the United States included — and they will be watching whether they allow for American citizens and citizens of other countries to depart, whether they allow individuals who want to leave the country to leave, whether they allow for humanitarian assistance to travel, how they treat women and girls around the country.
I don’t have a timeline for you; it depends on what behavior they exhibit on the ground.
Q Has the President been updated on how many Americans are still in Afghanistan right now?
MS. PSAKI: The President receives regular updates from his national security team on our efforts to get American citizens out of the country. So, yes.
Q Is it still at 100 though?
MS. PSAKI: It’s just under that. I think the State Department has given numbers. As you may have seen out there reported over the weekend, there were four American citizens who were able to depart overland. That’s one of the ways that we are working with American citizens to get out of the country. And obviously, our Secretary of State is on the ground in Qatar — I think still as of this moment — and getting Qatar airlines up and operational as part of our objective as well.
Q Jen, Secretary Blinken spoke to this a little bit this morning, but can you offer any further clarity on who’s stuck on these planes? Who are the people? And who is actually blocking them? Is it the Taliban that’s keeping — I know there’s some issues with documents, but who are these people that are stuck? Are they Americans?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we’re working to get every single American citizen and any individual who has documentation out of the country. And I think our Secretary of State also spoke to this on the ground in Qatar where he conveyed that he has not received reports — I’m paraphrasing him, so you should quote him directly — that individuals who have documentation have been stopped.
I would also note that some of these charter flights — and I talked about this a little bit last week — we don’t have an assessment of the manifest. We’re not on the ground, right? So, we don’t — while we are in touch with American citizens directly, beyond that, we don’t have an assessment of manifests, what security protocols and measures are taken. So there is a range of issues that we’re working through.
Q Hey, Jen, Governor Murphy seemed to indicate he was a little disappointed that it was only six counties that were declared major disasters in New Jersey and that he would press the President today to add more. Is Mr. Biden amenable to that?
MS. PSAKI: He’s quite amenable. I was there in the room when he spoke with Governor Murphy last week, and what he conveyed to him is, “You just tell me what we need — what you need and — what you need to help the people of New Jersey to recover, and we’re going to work to get you that.” So I’m — the President is very amenable to hear what he needs.
And sometimes these requests just take a moment to process, but the President has been quite focused on pressing his team to act and provide resources as they are requested.
Q There’s a lot of Republicans who don’t even acknowledge that climate change is real. How does the President — can persuade them to spend a lot of money to fix something they don’t — they claim is not real?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we know that about 97 percent of the country still believes it’s real. So, yes, there are some Republicans in Congress and some certainly around the country who don’t acknowledge the realities of climate change.
But one of the ways we are going to continue to press for our agenda on climate to address the climate crisis is to remind people that extreme weather events — they don’t impact communities that are just Democratic or just Republican; they impact communities around the country.
It is not only impacting people’s lives; there’s a humanitarian impact, of course, as we’ve seen across the news, but there’s a huge economic impact on communities across the country. And I mentioned at the top: Every one dollar of investment can save six dollars down the road.
We’ve also seen reports from the Center of Ameri- — for American Progress and others that these extreme weather events are having millions of dollars of impact on our economy around the country.
So, if they don’t believe that our — in global warming, they don’t believe in what we’re seeing as a reality with our own eyes, then maybe they will take a look at what the economic impact is on 100 million Americans over the co- — summer.
Q Did he (inaudible), for example, to Senator Cassidy last week, when he visited Louisiana?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we saw Senator Cassidy also make the case for why the President’s infrastructure agenda moves — needs to move forward; why protecting bridges and roads — why it shouldn’t be that people in the Gulf Coast look out their window and can’t drive on their street. We need to do a better job.
So you heard Senator Cassidy speak to that. We’re in touch with Senator Cassidy and, of course, a range of members about the President’s agenda.
Q Jen, will the President be going out to California to participate with the recall to help out Gavin Newsom at all?
MS. PSAKI: He will be. I expect we’ll have more to report to all of you, or announce, on a trip he’ll take early next week, later today.
Q And then, another timing question. Any update on when he’ll announce whether or not he’s going to re-nominate Powell to the Fed?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any — any timing or anything to preview on the Federal Reserve appointment.
Q And the last timing question.
MS. PSAKI: Yep.
Q Will he take Israel’s advice and start boosters early — earlier or sooner?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we base — we’ll base our timeline on boosters on the advice and counsel of our own FDA and CDC. We — the announcement that was made several weeks ago was made by the leaders of our own health organizations here in the United States.
Right now, we are looking forward to implementing what we announced a couple of weeks ago, later this month. So we’ll base it on our own — our own health advisors here in the United States.
Q Should we expect any kind of new mandates in his speech on Thursday on COVID-19, related to vaccines?
MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand the interest. We don’t have anything to preview quite yet. I will note that we’ve seen that there are a range of ways that we have increased vaccinations across the country — or vaccinations have increased, I should say.
One of them is private sector companies mandating, in different capacities, that their employees get vaccinated, or certain school districts mandate. Another is certainly fear of the Delta variant. And we need to continue to take more steps to make sure school districts are prepared and make sure communities across the country are prepared.
So, again, the President will lay out a six-step plan on Thursday. We’ll be finalizing that over the coming days, and we’ll have more preview as we get closer.
Q Just to be clear, is the understanding still that the federal government cannot mandate vaccines in a broad manner?
MS. PSAKI: Around — in the United States of America? Yes, that’s — that’s true.
Q Jen, as of yesterday, millions of people lost the extra unemployment benefits. What’s the administration have to say to those people, especially in light of Friday’s job numbers and Delta making it harder for people to go to work and kind of open up their businesses?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say the message to these individuals is: We are going to continue to have your back and continue to work with states, where you’re living, to help them implement programs, including the distribution of the American Rescue Plan funding so that you can get the assistance you need.
There are still — so, if you look at the country, there are 26 states that did not — 24 states ended these benefits already; there’s 26 states left. All of those states are not in the same economic circumstances. Their unemployment rate ranges from 3 percent to 7 percent, or about an average of 5 percent. And the — almost all, if not all of those states, have the funding and the ability to continue to implement additional benefits.
So we’ll work with them. We’ll work with the leaders in these states to implement what is needed.
I’d also note that there’s still state and local funding that’s available. The Child Tax Credit funding still goes out through the course of — over the course of the next year. So what people should know is that a number of the benefits that were passed in the Rescue Plan were designed so that people could still benefit over the course of several months as the economy continues to recover.
But I’d also note that we’re still creating about 700,000 jobs a month. So, yes, we’ve seen some issues as it relates to recovery in some areas, but it’s not an — it’s less an employment issue; it’s more areas of the economy that are still turning back on.
Q Jen, will there be a request for a supplemental funding from Congress, or anything like that, post-Ida, as you guys look at that?
MS. PSAKI: For the hurricane?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, we’re going to see what is needed and ensure that states and communities across the country have what’s needed, but I don’t have anything to preview quite yet on —
Q (Inaudible) the President is open to that?
MS. PSAKI: We’re going to see what’s needed for these communities to recover.
Q Jen, on the Texas abortion law, we saw the statement put out by the Justice Department —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — the other day. Is that the extent of the Justice Department’s response? Do you have any more that you expect? Or is there anything else to announce at this point in terms of decisions that might have been made?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything else to announce now, but I will tell you that the White House Counsel’s Office, the Justice Department, the Department of Health and Human Services are continuing to look for ways to expand women’s access to healthcare.
So I would point you to the Department of Justice to see what additional legal options there are, but they’re continuing to kick the tires on that and see what is possible.
Q And staying in Texas, Jen, Governor Abbott is about to sign the voter restrictive — the restrictive law on voting here. What do you have to say to voting advocates that I’ve talked — that we’ve all talked to over the last couple of months that feel like the administration isn’t doing enough, that President Biden isn’t using his bully pulpit enough to make something happen in protecting voting rights in this country?
MS. PSAKI: Look, we would say that we stand with you. And the President has given several speeches on voting rights. He’s talked about how this is a cause of his presidency. He’s asked his Vice President to lead the effort on getting voting rights — you know, advocating for voting rights and ensuring people have access. And we, I think — and he’s also used his own — not just the bully pulpit, but his own tools, putting in place an executive order — a historic executive order on voting rights. His Department of Justice has doubled funding to protect voting rights.
So, we would say to these advocates: We stand with you. There’s more we’re going to keep working on together. The Vice President is going to be leading this effort. And we agree that voting should be a fundamental right to people in this country.
Q On 9/11, is he going to do more than — with the memorial visits, more than pay his respects? Will there be a major speech marking the 20th anniversary?
MS. PSAKI: Well, while we’re still working out the speech, I would expect you’ll hear from him in some capacity about 9/11, of course. I was just speaking with him about his memories of that day, as I know many of us have memories of that day, and he’s talked about this in the past. He, of course, was on his way to his job in the Senate when he got a call from Dr. Biden, his wife. And we all remember distinctly that day and how much it’s impacted us and has impacted us for the last several decades. That’s true for him as well.
The events, as they’re designed on the day — as you know, but for others — are such that he felt it was important to visit each of the three places to mark the lives that were lost, the sacrifices on that day. That doesn’t allow for — because of some of these events — remarks on that day, but I expect you’ll hear from him in some capacity.
Q And the President was just now asked if he will meet with Afghan refugees at some point, and he said, “Yes, I will be seeing them at some point.” I mean, is there — is there any detail that you can give us? Where — which part of the country is he planning to meet them in?
MS. PSAKI: I think he also said that they’re all over the country right now. And I would remind you that they’ve only come to the country over the last couple of weeks. So, yes, he certainly looks forward to at some point, but that is not in — not planned in this particular moment. They’re all coming to the United States, many of them — some of them for the first time, and we’re going to let them adjust with their families.
Q Did Senator Joe Manchin give the White House a heads up that he was going to be publishing that op-ed on the reconciliation price tag?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, Kaitlan. I will say, we’re in touch with him quite regularly. We consider him an important partner to the President’s agenda.
I’d also note that the President agrees that these plans need to be paid for — and they would be — by asking corporations and the wealthiest Americans to pay more.
The President also agrees we should take inflation seriously. And many outside — outside economists will tell you that these plans will do exactly that: they’ll lower costs for goods for the American people over the long term. So, some of the points that were made in that op-ed are consistent with what our views are and why we’re pushing for this agenda.
Q And on the hostage situation there —
Q Sorry, one follow on that. Has he spoken to Senator Manchin since that op-ed came out?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any calls to preview for you. I would just tell you that we’re all — from senior levels of the White House — in close touch with a range of members, including Senator Manchin and his team.
Q (Inaudible) the hostage situation, what’s happening right now on — with those airplanes?
MS. PSAKI: If I had a dollar for every time this was called “dead” — it’s about once every few weeks — I wouldn’t be that rich, but I could buy you a nice cup of coffee.
Q No, I’m sorry, I meant the planes in Afghanistan. The Americans (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Oh, I thought you were talking about — so that’s an important thing, obviously. I thought you were talking about the Build Back Better agenda.
No, that is not what we would characterize it as. Those were points — that was — those were comments made by a Republican congressman this weekend.
So let me be very clear: We’re in touch with American citizens. We’re working to get them out. There are four who were able to depart overland. Our Secretary of State is in Qatar right now working on a range of options, including getting flights up and operational and going.
And what we have seen is that individuals who have documentation are able to depart, or that — that is what we have seen. But again, we don’t have a great deal of understanding of every individual on these manifests.
Q On — going back to Manchin and the infrastructure bill: Should Americans expect that this bill gets a haircut, or at least a trim?
MS. PSAKI: In what way?
Q That it’s not going to be a $3.5 trillion bill by the time it’s done.
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are going to be — Americans should expect there are going to be a range of negotiations, and ups and downs, and it’s going to be called “dead” several more times over the next couple of weeks. We fully expect that.
What the President is most focused on are both steps he has proposed to lower costs for the American people, but also ensuring that corporations and high — and wealthy individuals are asked to pay more. Both are important to him. And we’ll see how the negotiations pan out.
Q Jen, a lot of the President’s, kind of, climate change agenda is in that reconciliation bill. With Joe Manchin saying he wants it to be lower, is President Biden saying that he — thinking of that as in, “I want to make sure that money stays in there — that the climate money stays untouched”? With —
MS. PSAKI: I mean —
Q — and lowers on the negotiations side?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President will talk today about how his agenda — as we go visit a community that’s been hit by an extreme weather — two communities, extreme weather events — how important it is to invest in our climate.
In terms of the specifics and the numbers, obviously there’s going to be negotiations and discussions. But, clearly, his climate agenda, addressing the climate crisis is central to his proposals.
I may go sit down now since we’re about to land.
Okay, thank you all. See you all on the ground.
Q Thank you.
10:54 A.M. EDT