Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, September 16, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:47 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay, a couple of items for all of you at the top.
Yesterday, President Biden announced a historic trilateral security partnership with the United Kingdom and Australia, two of our closest allies, to ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.
It demonstrates our commitment to revitalizing our alliances and strengthening them to take on the challenges of the 21st century. As we’ve said, we are committed to strengthening historic bonds and working through new configurations like the Quad and AUKUS.
A free and open Indo-Pacific region is critical to the security and prosperity of the American people, and this partnership will help defend our interests there for generations.
As the leaders made clear, we believe this new initiative is especially important given the changing strategic environment in the region.
We will continue to work with our allies and partners, including in Europe, to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific, and we are looking forward to our continued cooperation in this critical region.
I also wanted to highlight that, yesterday, the Business Roundtable, which represents many of America’s leading companies, sent a letter urging Congress to act swiftly to address the debt ceiling, underscoring that Congress — quote, “Congress has the authority to lift the debt ceiling to safeguard the full faith and credit of the United States — and the responsibility to do so.”
They warned of the catastrophic economic consequences of failing to address the debt limit, saying it would, quote, “produce an otherwise avoidable crisis and” provide — “and pose unacceptable risk to the nation’s economic growth, job creation and financial markets.”
Of course, we agree.
Fin- — or, two more — two more items. Wow. It’s pouring out there.
Today, 15 recipients of the Nobel Prize in economics released a letter in support of the President’s Build — Build Back Better plan and his economic agenda to support the middle class, writing that it will make, quote, “critical investments in human capital, the care economy, research and development, public education, and more, which will reduce families’ costs.”
Importantly, these distinguished economists echo the President’s case that the infrastructure deal and Build Back Better package will both lower costs for families and, quote, “ease longer-term inflationary pressures” by investing in our economic capacity and allowing more Americans to participate in the economy.
Finally, just a quick update, since I know many of you have asked, the President did speak with Governor Newsom yesterday and congratulated him on his win Tuesday.
The two spoke about how the victory was powered by the governor’s strong leadership in the response to COVID, and the need for continuing to talk about a science-based approach to fighting the pandemic. The President told Governor Newsom he was honored to have campaigned for him, and they both agreed the focus must continue to be on crushing the virus and getting the economy back up and running, the need to address the climate crisis through the Build Back Better agenda, and showing government can deliver for the American people.
Jonathan, go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen. A couple questions on the same topic: this agreement announced yesterday, the AUKUS agreement — in particular, the reaction from two different countries. First, China, who said that — who accused this agreement of escalating tensions in the region and said it was reflective of a, quote, “Cold War mentality.” Do you have a response to that? Is President Biden looking to escalate a Cold War with China?
MS. PSAKI: No. This partnership, announced yesterday, is not about any one country. This is about advancing our strategic interests, the strategic interest of the United States, upholding the international rules-based order, and promoting peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.
And I would note that the United Kingdom and Australia also have a long history, as does the United States, of upholding the international rules-based order. So our hope is that the three countries who have consistently worked with regional supporters to support a secure and stable and peaceful Indo-Pacif- — Pacific can now work together to do exactly that.
As it relates to China, we welcome stiff competition with the PRC. We do not seek conflict. Obviously, the President spoke with President Xi just a few days ago. And certainly, we’re committed to maintaining an open, high-level dialogue between the leaders.
Q The other country reacting strongly to this is France. The French Foreign Minister deemed it a, quote, “stab in the back,” compared it to a “unilateral” decision like the ones made by former President Trump. Just now, France has canceled a gala here in Washington that was meant to celebrate friendship with the United States. What reaction do you have to France’s rather outraged response to this agreement?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would first say that we value our relationship and our partnership with France on a variety of issues facing the global community, whether it’s economic growth, or whether it’s the fight against COVID, or addressing security throughout the world. And that has been a longstanding partnership for many, many years.
I would leave it, of course, to our Australian partners to describe why they sought this new technology and why they pursued this technology from the United States.
As you know, part of their — part of their issue is that there was a purchase of technology from — that Australia had made with the French. But we’ll let Australia speak to that and why they pursue — or why they purchased this technology.
We cooperate closely with France. As the President said yesterday, we have a range of shared priorities in the Indo-Pacific, and that will certainly continue. We don’t see this, from our end, as a regional divide. We see this as areas in security — as security issues that we want to take on together.
Q Last one, then I’ll hand off. On the same subject, the French have also said that this is undermining relations with U.S. and its European partners. And they said they were blindsided by this deal. Did President Biden or the administration convey ahead of time to France that this was coming? Do they plan to speak today?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any preview of calls for you. I will say that I’m sure we will — the President will speak at a high level soon. But we are engaged closely — and we were engaged, in advance of this announcement, with leaders in France about — about this purchase.
Q They were told it was coming?
MS. PSAKI: They were aware in advance of the announcement. Yes.
Q Thanks, Jen. I want to ask you about some recent vaccine misinformation that’s been out there, and ask you to clarify. There seems to be a difference of opinion between Nicki Minaj and the White House about what she was invited to do. Did the White House extend an invitation to Nicki Minaj to come here?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, we don’t see this as a point of tension or disagreement. I want you all to know that we engage all the time with people who have big public platforms or profiles. Some of them we talk about; some of them are here; some of them you don’t even know about because they’re just looking for questions to be answered.
We offered a call with Nicki Minaj and one of our doctors to answer questions she had about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. This is pretty standard and something we do all the time. It was a very early-stage call at a staff level — staff to staff. And we weren’t even at the point of discussing — or we’re not even at the point of discussing, I should say, at this point, the mechanisms or the format or anything along those lines. It was simply an offer to have a conversation and an early-stage call.
Q And do you think that’s going to happen?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll see. I don’t have anything to predict for you.
Q What kind of responsibility do you think someone like Nicki Minaj has — someone with a really big platform — when it comes to talking about the vaccine?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our hope is that anyone who has a big platform is going to project accurate information about the effectiveness of the vaccine, the safety of the vaccine, and the availability of the vaccine.
At the same time — and both can be true — we also recognize that people have questions out there. They have questions they want to have answered by their doctors. We have doctors who can answer questions.
And this is something — again, in our outreach to celebrities — it follows a pretty standard process. We — officials who are working on these issues engage in regular conversations, offer to answer questions — offer to do that privately sometimes, sometimes it’s done publicly.
And I would say that if we believed that everybody who had skepticism about the vaccine wasn’t someone we should engage with or talk to, we wouldn’t have made the progress we’ve made. I mean, remember, back in December, the — only 33 percent of the American people were open to getting vaccinated.
Now, more than 75 percent have had at least one shot. So, part of our strategy and our objective from the beginning has been engaging with people who have questions to help answer their questions.
Q I’d like to ask you a little bit more about the — some of what’s detailed in the upcoming book of Woodward and Costa, specifically in the area of the President taking or not taking the advice of Secretaries Austin and Blinken.
We’ve seen the President defend his decision to exit Afghanistan in the way that he did. But as the public, they see this and read this and say, “top, close officials suggested a slower path out.” The public watched what happened with some of the chaotic things. What should we take from that in terms of how the President processes the information his advisors are giving? And does he have any second thoughts about not taking the gated, slower approach that’s described?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that people should take — one, let me first say: I’m not going to confirm or substantiate anonymous unconfirmed reports in a book.
But I think you’re asking an important question, which is: How does the President take a range of advice from different people? And sometimes it’s conflicting with each other as well, of course.
First, what we’ve said from the beginning, as it relates to Afghanistan, is the President asked his team to present to him clear-eyed assessment, candid advice on the path forward. Everyone knew, coming into the beginning of the administration — he knew, the Vice President knew, the national security team knew — that we were in a situation facing a May 1st timeline of either getting our troops out or facing conflict with the Taliban. That’s what we walked into and the circumstances we were discussing.
What we also know now is that, given it took 6,000 troops to protect the airport, this was not a scenario where it was either maintain the status quo — the President never felt that was a real, viable option. And now, we looked at — 6,000 troops were needed to protect the airport. That wouldn’t have been a viable option. It was not the status quo or withdraw; it was withdraw or increase troops. And that’s how he saw the decision.
Q One of the things that Secretary Blinken talked about was the concern about European partners. Jonathan was asking about questions related to European partners —
MS. PSAKI: Yep.
Q — being upset now. Is there a tension point between a President who talked about being a steady hand and normal relationships when the French are mad today; they were — other NATO partners and others were unhappy about the exit? Is there an issue there, where the President is going it without consideration of those partners?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think the President sees it as “without consideration.” There was extensive consultation. There was extensive briefings — both at the Secretary of State’s level, at the Secretary of Defense’s level — in advance of the President’s announcement in May about his decision to withdraw our military presence in Afghanistan. It doesn’t mean that all of our allies and partners are going to always agree with everything we do, nor do we always agree with everything they do.
But sustainable and good diplomatic relationships mean you work where you can agree and you sustain strong partnerships to address global issues in the world regardless.
I think what the President’s view is here is that — one, his decision to withdraw our troop presence in Afghanistan was, as he has talked about extensively, in large part because he felt it was a 20-year war that had gone on for too long, that did not have a military outcome that would be successful, and that it was in our national interest to do so.
Also, our resources as a country, as a national security team, are not unlimited. And he wants to have the capacity and the ability to have partnerships — like the one we announced last night that is an important partnership moving forward for security in the Indo-Pacific — to address big issues, whether it’s technology or cyber or even climate. And that’s what he feels the United States should be focused on.
Q One very different — separate. Many of us were in the East Room watching the President. We’ve seen him on many occasions where he has a repeated cough. What is the situation with that cough? And is that a concern?
MS. PSAKI: It’s not a concern. We have a doctor who travels with him, obviously, who checks in if there is — it is ever warranted. And certainly, that continues to be the case, as it has been since the beginning of his presidency.
Q Is there an explanation for why he coughed so frequently in situations like that? I’m sure you saw it.
MS. PSAKI: I did. I don’t think it’s an issue of concern. I think there are a range of reasons why we may need to clear our throat or we may have a little light cold. And that’s certainly something that presidents, elected officials, reporters, spokespeople can confront, but it’s not an area where we have a medical concern.
Q Right after AUKUS, China said that it wants to join the Trans-Pacific trade deal. Does the administration have a response to that?
And secondly, does President Biden’s — would he still like to join that if it could be renegotiated?
MS. PSAKI: Well, on their second question — let me take that first: The President has been clear that he would not rejoin the TPP as it was initially put forward. He’s also being clear that we have to join with the 40 percent of the world that we had with us for the deal, and make sure environmentalists and labor are at the table. So, obviously, there would be a lot of steps for that to be taken in order for that to be a viable option to the President.
In terms of China — China’s interest in joining: You know, we — we — and I — just let me just add one more thing — we’re looking at a range of options, of course, to forge stronger economic partnerships in the Indo-Pacific. Trade does not — is not the only one. There’s a range of ways that we can forge those relationships and those partnerships.
Obviously, as it relates to China’s interest in joining, we’d leave it to those countries to, certainly, determine. We’re going to continue to work with other countries in the region on economic partnerships and relationships. And if there’s an opportunity to renegotiate, then that could be a discussion we could be a part of.
Q Has President Biden promised to Leader Schumer that he will help lobby for changes to the filibuster on voting rights if needed?
MS. PSAKI: The President has promised Leader Schumer that he will help get voting rights passed into law. And he — there’s obviously been some important developments over the past couple days that the President sees as a positive step forward, additional compromises that could be a path forward.
So, the President wants to stay closely in touch, work closely with Leader Schumer, and determine what the next steps are to get this passed and move forward.
Q But has he broached the subject of the filibuster on that?
MS. PSAKI: There are a range of topics that are discussed and raised. The President’s view hasn’t changed. There are more steps forward, in the President’s view, to get this passed.
Q Will you give us any readout or update from the President’s meetings with Senators Sinema and Manchin earlier this week? And can you confirm that he’s speaking today with Schumer and Pelosi, and what he plans to discuss with them?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. He is speaking today — or he does plan to have a conversation today with Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer. As you all know, Speaker Pelosi is overseas. It’s a virtual conversation. And certainly, moving the Build Back Better agenda forward, the infrastructure bill forward, and the President’s legislative agenda forward will be the central part of the conversation today, as it was when he met yesterday with Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema.
We’re in the middle of the process, so the President knows and is — that he’s going to need to be — he’s eager to be very engaged with — directly with senators, directly with leadership to move this forward.
I will note though — I know there’s been a focus on just a couple of members, very important members — we are engaged with a range of members, and the President is as well: senators, members of Congress, moderates, progressive, across the political — political band as we work to move this forward.
Q Did these two senators indicate any cap that they would support, in terms of the reconciliation package?
MS. PSAKI: I will let them speak to what their interests are. I know they have both spoken to their interests publicly on many occasions, so I will leave that to them.
Q Can I ask, also: Anthony Fauci has said that he would support the notion of requiring either vaccinations or a negative test for domestic air travel in the U.S. — for passengers, not staff. If he supports that and he’s the President’s chief medical advisor, why haven’t you done that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, you know, right now — last week, we announced some bold, ambitious steps that were supported across the board from our health and medical experts. Right now, our focus is on implementing those. Part of that was also doubling fines for people who were not wearing masks on planes — a step that we feel would help keep people safe on flights and reduce the spread.
We haven’t taken options off the table, but I don’t have any updates to share with you at this point. Our focus is on implementation of the big steps we announced last week.
Q And do you have any update on the Fed Chair?
MS. PSAKI: I do not.
Q Phil was going to ask, so I figured I’d —
Q Come on.
MS. PSAKI: I know, it’s — (laughter) — it’s a big — a big question on Phil’s mind.
It’s okay. Don’t hide behind Phil. (Laughter.)
Q Thanks, Jen. Yesterday, the President announced a second Global Climate Summit, and he’s been really doubling down on these ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q So, I want to ask about the Line 3 pipeline. Enbridge, the energy company, says it’s almost complete; it could be operational by this fall.
We’ve talked to opponents and climate scientists who say that from a potential emissions standpoint, it’s the equivalent of bringing online more than 40 coal-fired power plants.
We know there’s ongoing litigation; we’ve reached out to DOJ and the Army Corps of Engineers. But Representative Ilhan Omar and her colleagues wrote specifically to President Biden, asking him to look into this pipeline. I just want to know if the President has reviewed that letter, if he plans to respond. Does the President plan to consider — is the President even considering asking the Army Corps of Engineers to review some of their permits on this one?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you said, it’s in the middle of active litigation, so that is where we are going to leave it be.
We are certainly aware of the concerns, of the expression of viewpoints on this particular issue — no question about it. But we’re going to — it’s in the middle of active litigation, so there’s not a lot I can say from here on it.
I do — I would say that, on climate and the President’s climate agenda, he has a very ambitious approach that is reflective of the agenda that’s moving forward and moving through Congress, something he’s talked about with a range of members, you know, over the course of the last couple of weeks. But there’s not much I can say beyond what we’ve said to date.
Q Yeah, but — zooming out — we’ve talked to some climate scientists who say that — who just really question whether it would be possible for the President to meet his own goals with reducing emissions if new pipelines like this one — if new fossil fuel infrastructure basically get more oil to the market.
So, are you confident the President can meet his own goals here? And do any new pipelines like this kind of undermine the President’s message that the United States wants to be a global leader on this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, there’s active litigation, so that’s where it sits. But I would say that, in terms of the President’s climate agenda, it’s not just one thing. He has taken a range of steps — announced steps to — steps to drive American leadership forward on clean cars and trucks. That’s something he can do on his own.
Obviously, there are a number of components that are included in his Build Back Better agenda, in the infrastructure bill that will take significant steps to moving things forward.
He’s been a leader in getting us back in the — on the — having a seat at the table in the Paris Climate Agreement. So he has taken across-the-board steps — every step he can take within his control to move the climate agenda forward. He’s identified climate as a crisis facing his presidency and is eager to work with activists to continue to get the job done.
But if something is in active litigation, it’s in active litigation.
Q Thank you, Jen. Quick question about the security partnership. Yesterday, there was a call when several senior administration officials said that there were conversations that were had over months before this partnership —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — was announced. And we’re sort of curious to know if France was part of those conversations and the whole process. And if they weren’t, was that, sort of — has there been a loss of trust because of that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you know, senior administration officials have been in touch with the French — with their French counterparts to discuss AUKUS. I can’t — I don’t have in front of me, nor do I think I’m going to outline for you, a detailed level of our engagement on this.
This was a — this is a partnership with the Australians and the United Kingdom. And, of course, we keep other partners and key allies abreast. But I think what’s important to know is that we went — going back to the G7 — the three leaders met in June, as you all know, in Cornwall, on the margins of the G7. And this was one of the main topics that was discussed. And that was where they — from there, they urged their teams to work on it to get us to this point.
Q And a quick follow-up on gas prices. The President was talking about it just now. He said that, you know, we’re looking into this manipulation of the gas market. Is the White House currently doing an investigation? He said prices should be coming down, but they’re not. What is the — do you have an update on that?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve asked the FTC, as you know, to look into it. They’d be the appropriate body. They’ve conveyed they — that they would in a letter, so I would point you to them for more specifics.
Q Just one quick follow-up and a couple others. You said AUKUS isn’t about any one country; officials have been pretty clear this is about China. What’s the difference between what the White House is saying publicly from the podium and what we’re hearing from officials behind the scenes?
MS. PSAKI: Well, in our view, it’s about security in the Indo-Pacific.
Q Is there not a country in the Indo-Pacific that you feel like is a threat — (laughter) — to the rules-based order and international norms?
MS. PSAKI: I will let others do their analysis. But from the United States government, our focus is on what steps we can take to increase security in the Indo-Pacific, and there are a range of countries that could pose a threat. And we’ll let an outside analysist give their analysis.
Q All right. On debt limit: Is the President view of bipartisanship — which you guys have made very clear from Secretary Yellen, across the administration, is important on this — is that a red line for him? Like, Republicans have to be involved, or there’s no other path?
MS. PSAKI: You know how I love red lines. (Laughs.)
Q Line in the sand?
MS. PSAKI: Line — no, I’m not here to set new lines, red lines, lines in the sand. But I do think it’s important context for everybody to understand, as you well know, that 80 times has Congress raised the debt limit.
And even if you look to comments in recent days by Senator McConnell — if you look to just two years ago, he argued that failing to vote to raise the debt limit would, quote, “be a disaster,” and, quote, “put our full faith in credit at risk.” We agree with that. And now he’s against a vote.
So I think when we’re looking at politics here, we know where the politics is coming from. But our argument is that this is about — this is not a political issue, shouldn’t be a partisan issue. It hasn’t been throughout history.
You may have all seen that Secretary Yellen had a call with Senator McConnell — not a political call, of course; she’s not political, she’s an economist — to really convey what the enormous dangers of default would be.
So, that’s the argument we’re making. Yes, I know you all have good questions about the vehicle and how it will move forward. All good questions we’re working with Congress on. But our view is this should be bipartisan, as it has been in the past.
Q And then just one more, since Josh stole my Fed question. (Laughter.) FDA — I know you don’t have a personnel announcement. Is the idea here that because they’ve got so much on their plate and they have a team that’s been working on this stuff for a long time, you just wait until there’s, like, a quiet moment to appoint somebody? Or does that have any impact whatsoever on what’s going on?
MS. PSAKI: I promise you when we have determined and selected an FDA Commissioner to nominate, we will announce it and not wait for a quiet moment. I don’t know that there are quiet moments around here; you may all agree with that. And that’s what the President is eager to do, of course.
I don’t have any predictions of what the timeline will be and understand, certainly, the question.
Q Thanks, Jen.
Q A federal judge just ruled that — blocked the Biden administration from expelling migrant families under the public health order in a new ruling. It takes effect in 14 days. I’m wondering what the administration’s plans are on that front?
MS. PSAKI: Right. The news just came out, as you referenced. It’s a preliminary injunction that would take effect, as you said, two weeks from now.
We, of course, would refer you to the Department of Justice on any additional steps or next steps. We are still taking steps, are focused on taking steps to address the root causes of migration, implement orderly asylum processes, strengthen collaborative migration management efforts in the region, and effectively secure our borders.
We feel we’ve maken [sic] — we’ve made considerable progress on that front. But this news, of course, just came out. And I’d really defer you to the Department of Justice for any additional steps.
Q And then one other on booster shots. Obviously, next week is the timeline that the administration laid out. There seems — you’ve addressed there seems to be some considerable disagreement within the public health agencies about how to move forward. Former scientists from the FDA who left signed on to a study about this, saying that the boosters are not needed. Do you still plan to have the boosters rolled out next week? And what do you tell the American people about some of this disagreement inside the public health agencies?
MS. PSAKI: Well, of course we respect a range of viewpoints, but we really rely on the people who are leading our health and medical agencies. And there is broad agreement among those individuals about where things stand.
If we go back to August, eight of the Department of Health and Human Services’ top doctors released a statement saying they had determined boosters would be needed and that we have a plan to begin a booster program starting the week of September 20th, subject to an independent evaluation from FDIC [sic] — FDA and ACIP. That continues to be what we have conveyed since then.
Right now, where the process is, is yesterday there was data provided by the FDA that will be analyzed. And the next step is, next week, ACIP is planning to meet and, based on the recommendation, we’re prepared to operationalize our plan.
But it’s always been based — every time we’ve talked about this, we’ve talked about this as based on a thorough review and a thorough process to complete. It’s our job to be prepared whenever we can operationalize.
Q And does the President have any regrets about speaking publicly about this plan before there was the approval from the public health agencies, or he still feels that was the right step to take?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first of all, the first statement was done by our health and medical doctors, by HHS — those eight doctors.
Q But then he spoke — you know —
MS. PSAKI: And then he spoke to it. And the President said, “I want to be clear, this plan is pending the FDA conducting an independent evaluation of the safety and effectiveness of a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices issuing booster dose recommendations based on a thorough review of the evidence.”
That was what he said when this announcement was made. If you look at it on the flip side of this — right? — it is, at the time, they made this announcement in part because there was data that was available that showed that — the waning efficacy of vaccines over a period of time. Right? That’s why these doctors and medical experts, in their statement, made this — made this recommendation and this announcement.
So, the alternative would have been they not move forward with it and hold back and not share that data. I mean that’s — that’s also not being transparent or leading with science. And so, that’s — that’s the course of history here, I should say.
Q Can I follow up on that, Jen?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Just a quick follow-up. So, you said a moment ago that — so, the top public health officials of the administration — FDA Commissioner, CDC, Surgeon General — all agree and recommend that the American public should be getting boosters, you know, starting next week.
So, they’re all on that page, but the FDA Advisory Committee and the CDC Advisory Committee, let’s say, are on a different page if they don’t think boosters should be ready at this time. I guess, then, who is the administration going to listen to — its top doctors or these outside advisory committees?
MS. PSAKI: Well, before we confuse the public, that’s not what ACIP has recommended. They’re meeting next week. We don’t know what they’re going to say.
Q So if they do —
MS. PSAKI: What our what our health and medical experts have said — and they’ve been very consistent on this —
Dr. Walensky: “Based on the FDA review and ACIP and, exactly as you said, the note that immunocompromised people actually never got, really, a good immune protection to begin with, we noted that, as of now, we should be offering a third dose of the vaccine.”
Janet Woodcock: “So, it is true, we don’t have all the data. We have a lot of data from both this country and other countries in the effects of waning. But we don’t have all the data on the most…” of all — “most all the safety data and so forth. Those studies have been completed and should be available to the FDA soon.”
Our objective is to be prepared should all of this process move forward. It’s always been pending the approval of the ACIP and the FDA. All of these doctors have said this could be needed. They’ve said in their statement — eight of them said they had determined boosters would be needed.
Now it’s going to go through the process; that’s what’s happening over the next week. So we’re not going to predetermine what that process is going to say.
Q But you follow (inaudible) —
Q Jen, I have a follow-up on that from the FDA —
Q But you guys will follow whatever the agen- — whatever those advisory committees recommend, you guys will follow their recommendation, right?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Yes, of course.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q But, Jen, on that, though — a follow-up on that —
MS. PSAKI: I’ll go to you next, Emerald.
Q Thank you. I have one quick follow-up on the booster —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — question. So, say that rollout does get delayed, I understand the President said that we’ve purchased boosters to be ready for this.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Is there any chance that they would expire and need to be sent off to other countries like we’ve done in the past, or do we buy, like, booster credits? Are they sitting in a fridge somewhere, I guess, is what I’m asking.
MS. PSAKI: Well, our objective here is to be like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and always be prepared for every single scenario, right? And so that’s why we wanted to make clear we would be ready to operationalize, right?
Our — in terms of — so, we are preparing for all contingencies and all scenarios. We’ll see what the ACIP says and then we’ll be able to lay out for you where we go and what that means moving forward.
I will say we have never felt it to be — we feel it’s a false choice to suggests it’s either give to the world or not. We are continuing to increase the supply of vaccines we’re giving to the world. We will continue to have more announcements on that because we want to be the arsenal of vaccines to the world, and we are giving more than every other country in the world combined.
At the same time, we’re going to maintain a supply for the United States and for American citi- — and for people living here so that we can get — give out the booster should that be — go through the approval process.
Q Thank you. And then I wanted to get to the hearing on the Hill with General Miller. The President told ABC back in August that none of his advisors recommended leaving 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. General Miller told the Senate Armed Services Committee that that was exactly what he recommended. Was the President’s answer in that interview an honest answer?
MS. PSAKI: First of all, I’m not going to get into details of private advice that the President gets from his national security team or military advisors.
What is clear is that the President asked for — welcomed — candid, non-sugarcoated advice on Afghanistan and what we should do, given what we walked into, which was a deal struck with the Taliban with a May 1st timeline, including the release of 5,000 Taliban fighters, where we would need to get our U.S. forces out, otherwise we would face conflict. That’s what he was facing.
In terms of the mechanisms of who provided what advice through what forum, I’m just not going to get into that level of detail from here.
Q But did they President hear, specifically, the recommendation from the commander on the ground in Afghanistan that he feared that a full withdrawal would be devastating and should not happen?
MS. PSAKI: He was provided a range of advice. I’m not going to get into more details than that. But what’s important to note, at this point, is it’s crystal clear that 2,500 troops would not have been sustainable on the ground; it would have been either increase troops on the ground or withdraw troops on the ground. And the President has been clear many times, he was not going to send thousands and thousands more troops to fight a war the Afghans did not want to fight themselves.
Q And then I want to get also to the debt limit.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Following up on the question earlier, the Democrats, when they had control — unified control in 2010, raised the debt limit unilaterally. What is different now, and why doesn’t the President just encourage Democratic leaders to do this on their own and defuse that crisis?
MS. PSAKI: Why aren’t Republicans for doing what they’ve done dozens of times in the past and many of them did three times during the Trump administration, including after they passed a $2 trillion unpaid-for tax giveaway to corporations and the wealthiest Americans? They were fine doing it then. Why aren’t they fine doing it now?
So, it could go — I think that’s the fundamental question I’d send back.
Q Would the President at any point intervene and try to stave this off if this comes to a head and seems —
MS. PSAKI: The President wants to maintain the full faith and credit of the United States. Our view continues to be this should be done in a bipartisan way and there should be a bipartisan path forward.
Emerald, I promised you we’d go to you next.
Q Jen, thank you. A follow-up on the FDA: You say that there was a large consensus of doctors and advisors who feel like boosters are warranted and safe and effective, but then, during all this, you had two top senior officials at the FDA resign during the booster conversation — that being the Director of Office of Vaccines Research, and Dr. Philip Krause, Deputy Director of the Office — concerned about the vaccine.
So what’s your reaction to that in light of boosters next week? And what does that say to the American people to have those two high-level people step down over this conversation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Emerald, what I conveyed before and I’ll reiterate is that eight of our top medical experts — health and medical experts, including the acting head of the FDA, Janet Woodcock, recommended we would need boosters moving forward — the American people would need boosters pending approval through a process including the FDA and ACIP.
That’s the process that’s ongoing. In terms of differences of opinion within the FDA or other components of the federal government, that’s certainly — we understand that may be the case. But in terms of the consensus view — the view of the leadership of the FDA, the view of the leadership of our health and medical experts — that was their shared recommendation because their objective and their focus is on relying on data to save lives. And the data available showed a waning efficacy of vaccines after a certain number of months.
Q So speaking of the waning efficacy of vaccines, I do have another question about the President’s COVID plan. He promised on September 9th that he was going to send 50 percent more supply of monoclonal antibodies to states, yet the Biden administration is cutting supplies in red states by 50 percent.
So, for example, you know, in Florida, they were expecting to get 70,000 doses this week, which they say they need. They’re only getting 30,000 doses.
And this is not just for unvaccinated people. In South Florida, half the people who are seeking this treatment are fully vaccinated. So why is the Biden administration cutting these supplies?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not accurate, so let me give you the accurate information. First of all, we are increasing our distribution this month by 50 percent. In early August, we were distributing an average of 100,000 doses per week. Now we’re shipping an average of 150,000 doses per week.
Over the last month, though — and one thing that I think people need to understand for clarity — facts — I know you like facts — is that monoclonal antibodies are lifesaving therapies that are used after infection to prevent more severe outcomes.
So, clearly, the way to protect people and save more lives is to get them vaccinated so that they don’t get the — COVID to begin with.
But over the last month, given the rise in cases due to the Delta variant and the lower number of vaccination rates in some of these states — like Florida, like Texas — just seven states are making up 70 percent of the orders.
Our supply is not unlimited, and we believe it should be equitable —
Q But there has —
MS. PSAKI: — across states across the country. Do you —
Q But there have been no reports of a lack of supply, so why cut them to those states only if there’s no reports of a lack of supply?
MS. PSAKI: I think our role as the — as the government overseeing the entire country is to be equitable in how we distribute. We’re not going to give a greater percentage to Florida over Oklahoma, nor do I think are you suggesting that.
I think we have to move on. Go ahead, Yamiche.
Q Thank you so much, Jen. One question — one follow-up question on booster shots. I’m wondering if you could just say whether or not the President is at all even concerned about whether the administration endorsing booster shots before the FDA fully approved them just looks like they’re trying to influence the FDA and mix science with politics. I understand your —
MS. PSAKI: But, Yamiche, it was —
Q — point. I’m just wondering —
MS. PSAKI: — the FDA acting head who endorsed boosters.
Q The point is, though, that the FDA itself and scientists are still weighing whether or not they want to make the recommendation fully. So the question is, does this administration even have any concerns that coming out and recommending booster shots before they’re fully approved and fully recommended by the FDA, that that might be seen as unduly influencing?
MS. PSAKI: No. Again, it’s the acting FDA head and eight of our health and medical experts from agencies — not the White House, not the President — who put out this statement, initially making this recommendation, because they believe you need to come forward — and we fully support — with data, when it’s available. And make that available to the American people, make sure the American people understand and know that there could be waning efficacy of these vaccines and that that’s where they recommend it.
If you look at the reverse: Imagine if they had not come out and shared that that was their view and this is where it might be headed.
Now, it needs to go through a process. They’ve said that in every single statement that they have made publicly. But we believe the American people are smart and they’re paying attention, and they would want to know that boosters might be something — that go through a process — that are recommended. And they might be something that you should plan for, once you get to a certain set of months past your second vaccination.
That’s — that’s our view, and that’s the view of our health and medical experts.
Q Can I ask one more question —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead. Yeah.
Q — about the French response to AUKUS —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — which, of course, is a whole mouthful. But — I’m wondering if you could just talk or respond directly: What does the President think of the French foreign minister saying that he’s acting like former President Trump and being unpredictable, and the French canceling their gala now in D.C., at their embassy, because they’re angry over this agreement? What does the President make of being compared to former President Trump by an ally such as France?
MS. PSAKI: I would say the President doesn’t think about it much. The President’s focus is on maintaining and continuing our close relationships with leaders in France, with the United Kingdom, with Australia, and to achieving our global objectives, which include security in the Indo-Pacific. That’s what his focus is, and we will continue to work toward a productive, constructive partnership with the French.
Q Thank you, Jen. A clarification and then a follow —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — on AUKUS.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q You said the French were informed of the arrangement. Just even going to the President’s remarks —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — yesterday, the arrangement was broader than just the nuclear-powered submarines.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q It was cyber. It was AI. Were they specifically informed on the — that the U.S. would be sharing technology for nuclear-powered submarines?
MS. PSAKI: Again, it was the Australians’ decision, so I’d point you to the Australians. But they were aware in advance.
Q So, I mean, but if you’re the U.S., you’re involved here — we saw the UK also involved — why couldn’t the administration, you know, not just inform, but bring in the French? They also have nuclear-powered submarines.
MS. PSAKI: You mean in terms of a fourth partner to this — to this tri — to this — I’m not sure what your question is.
Q Yeah, I do. I do. I mean, in terms of a fourth partner, and get them engaged as well — it’s another ally — to also share this technology. It’s clear, based off the statements today, that they had the intent to or also expressed a desire to.
MS. PSAKI: Well, this is not the only global engagement or global cooperative partnership the United States has in the world. The French are a member of the G7. They’re a member of the G20. We work with them on a range of issues, and we will continue to. And their leadership up and down the ranks will continue to be important partners to the United States and to this administration moving forward.
So this was a partnership between the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia. There are a range of partnerships that include the French and some partnerships that don’t. And they have partnerships with other countries that don’t include us. That is part of how global diplomacy works.
Q Just to follow on the first question I asked: It sounds like what you were saying is, when I asked if the — why did the U.S. didn’t inform about specifically sharing the technology for submarines, is that Australia was kind of in the lead of this arrangement?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to have more details on it. But I will tell you that, again, the Australians — partners — they can describe why they sought this new technology. It was their effort to do that, so I would point you to them for more details.
Q And then, just quickly on — Greg Abbott has issued a statement. He has directed his Department of Public Safety and the National Guard to shut down six points of entry along the southwest border. He issued that statement today. Just wondering if the administra- — they also say that the Customs and Border Protection requested this. I’m wondering if the administration did request this, if they’re aware of it, and if there is any response.
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check into it, Zolan. I haven’t seen Governor Abbott’s statement or CBP’s commentary. So, let me — let me check into it and we can get you something after the briefing.
Q Thanks, Jen. I think you said yesterday you might have some more details today about the President’s visit to the U.N. next week.
MS. PSAKI: I was hoping I would. I promise I will tomorrow.
Q Okay. And — (coughs) — excuse me — on another matter, there are also reports that the British Prime Minister will be at the White House next week. Can you confirm that and offer any details about that?
MS. PSAKI: I promise you tomorrow I will have more final details about next week, about the U.N. General Assembly and the President’s trip there, and other components that are planned for next week.
Q And one more thing.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Will the — do the President and the First Lady plan to get the booster shot?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Go ahead, Karen.
Q Following up with on what Kelly had asked —
MS. PSAKI: Once it’s through the process, of course.
Q Following up on one of the questions from Kelly, do you have an update on when the President will get a physical?
MS. PSAKI: I know this is an understandable question. I don’t have an update. He will get one soon. And when he does, we will make sure you all are aware of it and get the information.
Q And to follow up on Nancy’s questions — the Nicki Minaj questions.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Sorry. (Laughter.) You said that “We engage all the time with people who have big platforms or profiles.” How do you determine who to engage with and in what way on something like this — on vaccine hesitancy?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q And Nicki Minaj has 22 million Twitter followers. Why not invite her to the White House, have a conversation, and make it a big public thing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I appreciate your recommendations on our communications advice, Karen. You are quite experienced. (Laughter.)
Look, I will say, we recognize — and we’ve talked about this a bunch before — that we are not always the right platform or the right voice. Right? Sometimes that’s because people may not like the President and they may not have voted for him, and that’s okay. And we work with a range of partners to communicate the efficacy and the safety of the vaccine.
It’s also true that when we’re reaching a range of audiences — young people, where we’ve seen lower rates of vaccination, is a good example — we know there might be more effective voices. We don’t always know how effective working in partnership with celebrities may or may not be, but sometimes it is a tool that we can use or we’ve employed, as you’ve seen us do in — on cases before.
We do this behind the scenes quite a bit, sometimes to speak to particular audiences.
So, all I was conveying is it’s commonplace. We have calls every week, multiple times a week from our engagement team with a range of officials with followings to see how they might want questions answered, maybe they want to play a role in communicating information out publicly as a part of our effort to — to get the pandemic under control.
Q And do you have any sense — like, let’s just say Olivia Rodrigo. Do you have any sense of a difference that made? Are you guys able to track that in any way?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a good question. It’s kind of a hard thing to track. We can see how many views. We can see, anecdotally, if people say, “I got the vaccine because I saw this video.” And, certainly, sometimes that happens. I’m not sure. I’ll have to check.
Q Just to follow up on China and the TPP. You mentioned that the U.S. is looking at a range of options to forge stronger economic partnerships. Can you just elaborate a little bit on what those options are?
MS. PSAKI: I think what I was trying to convey is it’s not just trade — right? — and there are a range of ways we can work with countries in the region and forge a range of partnerships. And so, certainly, the President would need labor, environmental — environmentalists to be at the table to potentially engage on TPP. We’re obviously not there at this point, so I was just conveying we don’t see trade as the only path forward.
Q Thanks. A couple questions. On housekeeping, is the President intending to meet with Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything yet on next week. I should have some more on it tomorrow, and then I can outline for you what is — what is going to happen next week.
Q And then, in terms of just the overall kind of fallout that we’ve seen from France.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q Was the White House at all surprised by the response from France? How would you characterize?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I’m going to characterize from here.
Q Okay. And then another question, in terms of housekeeping: Has the President met with any of the Afghan refugees who have come to the United States? And if not,
will he be meeting with any of them?
MS. PSAKI: Not yet, but he — he is certainly eager to and looks forward to. As you know — I know it’s — feels like it’s been a long several weeks, or maybe just to me. But, you know, it — they’ve only — many of them have only just settled in the United States. Some of them have never been here before. Some of them have, of course. So it’s not quite scheduled yet, but it’s something he’s certainly eager to do.
Q Can I ask a follow-up on that question?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q We’re starting to get some numbers about where some of the Afghan —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — evacuees will be resettled. Can you walk through the administration’s process? I know it has to do with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, but a number of governors have raised their hands. We’re learning more about the first wave. How is the administration going about determining where to place evacuees and refuges?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. It’s a very good question. I think our Department of Homeland Security is going to have the best level of detail for you on how that process works. Or I can also ask former Governor Markell to come out here and talk with all of you one day soon, which I’m sure you’d be interested in. So, let me venture to do that and see if DHS has more of a rundown for you.
Q And one follow-up on the ask by the administration to Congress for more than $6 billion in funding to help with resettlement efforts: What happens if you don’t obtain that money? And also, some of the immigration policy fixes that have been requested.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I mean, we’re hopeful that — given there has been stronger support for helping and welcoming our Afghan partners who fought aside — right alongside, I should say, the United States for the last 20 years from Democrats and Republicans — that we can move forward and get the funding we need.
Obviously, we didn’t anticipate — no one did, right? — that there would be this number of Afghan refugees that we would need to fund support for six months, eight months ago — hence the request, as we announced at the time. But I think we’re certainly hopeful, given support for that, that we will get that funding.
Q One last. Is there a timeline when you need to get an answer by Congress that — for the funding?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure there’s a timeline. I’m happy to check with our legislative team in the — and the Refugee Resettlement team to see if they have one they’re focused on.
Q Jen, just one or two more.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, go ahead. One more.
Q Thank you, Jen. The Deputy Director of the FBI said that there’s no sign so far from Russia of any cracking down on the, you know, cyber activity. Does the President have anything new to tell the country about that? Because, you know, it was a big deal and it’s gone kind of quiet. So, what’s happening?
MS. PSAKI: I think, as the President said at the time, we didn’t expect this to be a light switch that would happen overnight. There’s ongoing discussions, ongoing conversations at a diplomatic level. And that’s something our national security team is engaged with.
But beyond that, I don’t have another update from here on the progress.
Okay, thanks everyone.
Q Thanks, Jen.
3:35 P.M. EDT