Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, September 20, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone — or good afternoon. Okay, two items for all of you at the top.
Today, the Biden administration is launching House America, a new initiative for the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness that will engage state and local leaders to set and achieve ambitious goals for reducing homelessness in America.
Homelessness was on the rise before the pandemic, and the last couple of years have just exacerbated the problem. On any given night, more than half a million Americans were enduring the pandemic without the safety and protection of a home.
Thanks to the President’s American Rescue Plan — and Congress’s — everybody’s American Rescue Plan — communities now have historic housing resources to help more Americans obtain the safety of a stable home, including 70,000 emergency housing vouchers, $5 billion in HOME grants, and significant investments to preserve and protect housing on Tribal lands. In addition, communities have $350 billion in state and local Fiscal Recovery Funds from the Department of Treasury to support many needs, including homelessness and housing instability.
So, today, HUD is asking state, Tribal, and local leaders to work collaboratively with them to use these ARP funds and other existing federal, state, and local resources to rapidly reduce homelessness in their communities and add new units of affordable and supportive housing into the development pipeline by the end of 2022.
The initiative will promote the use of “housing first” — the proven theory that the best way to stabilize the life of someone experiencing homelessness is to ensure that they have a home first without preconditions — and so we are moving forward with that.
I also wanted to note that, tomorrow, the Senate Committee on Small Business is set to consider the nomination of Dilawar Sieed [sic] — Syed, excuse me — for deputy administrator for the Small Business Administration.
He’s a well-qual- — he’s well qualified to serve as deputy administrator of the SBA, which has been critical in providing relief to small businesses in the midst of the pandemic. He’s lived the American Dream as an immigrant and as CEO of a small startup, with — that will help small businesses — that has been helping small businesses continue to create jobs.
He has the endorsement of more than 200 individuals and groups, and yet his confirmation is being held up in an unprecedented way and for no good reason.
These members have refused to show up at committee meetings, meaning a quorum cannot be reached and a vote cannot be held on his nomination. By refusing to show up at committee meetings, they are not just blocking his vote but also slowing help to American small-business owners and workers who are trying to build back [from] the pandemic.
So we wanted to call out that hearing that will happen tomorrow.
Darlene, why don’t you kick us off?
Q Thanks, Jen. A couple of questions for you. The U.N. Secretary-General spoke to the AP over the weekend. And in the interview, he called on the U.S. and China to repair a relationship that he says is, quote, “completely dysfunctional.” He warned of a potential new Cold War and said the U.S. and China need to be cooperating more on COVID and other global challenges.
So, do you have — how would you respond to the U.N. Secretary-General on his call for the U.S. and China to be more friendly, I suppose?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say the President’s view and this administration’s view is that our relationship with China is one not of conflict, but of competition. And so, we wouldn’t agree with the characterization of the relationship.
As I would note in the readout of the President’s call with President Xi just last week — a 90-minute call that covered an extensive list of topics — it was a conversation that was candid, but it was certainly not elevated. And we recognize that China is a country that while we have — while we may take issue with some means they engage in the world, we also have areas we will want to continue to work together.
And that is certainly many of the topics that were raised by the Secretary-General. The President obviously has a meeting with him later this evening.
I would also note that, tomorrow, the President will deliver a speech, as you all know, at the U.N. General Assembly, and he will make absolutely clear that he is not looking to pursue a future — a new Cold War with any country in the world. We will continue to pursue our interests. We will continue to lift up global priorities. But that is not the objective or the policy of the United States.
Q Another China-related question. Can you say how concerned the administration is about the stability of China’s real estate sector, given the issues with China’s Evergrande? And is it the administration’s view that the People’s Bank of China can keep those issues from spilling over into other sectors and possibly affecting U.S. interests?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first note that this is a company based in China whose activities are overwhelmingly centered in China. That being said, we always are monitoring global markets — obviously from the Department of Treasury primarily, including the assessment of any risk to the U.S. economy — and stand prepared to respond appropriately if needed. But that monitoring would happen primarily from the Department of Treasury and our Secretary of Treasury, of course.
Q And then one more really quickly. Is there any reaction from the White House to the conviction, earlier today, of the man who inspired “Hotel Rwanda”? He’s a U.S. resident. He was the recipient of a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
MS. PSAKI: I understand. And I would like to get you a more comprehensive reaction to it. I know this is a question that others will have in the room, so let me venture to do that after the briefing.
Q Okay, what does the President want to tell President Macron about the submarine deal?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I think as had been noted in some reports, so let me just confirm this, I guess: The President will have a call — it has yet — is — we’re still working on the scheduling of it — with President Macron in the coming days. And what I expect the President will do on that call is reaffirm our commitment to working with one of our oldest and closest partners on a range of challenges that the global community is facing. And he, of course, will discuss recent developments and our ongoing work together on a range of issues — certainly our shared interest in the Indo-Pacific, but also a range of global challenges and issues.
I would also note that the President spoke, in his remarks last week — acknowledged in his remarks, I should say — he acknowledged that France has a substantial Indo-Pacific presence and is a key partner and ally in strengthening security and prosperity.
But most importantly, we continue to look forward to our close alliance with France — one of our strongest partnerships — as we work to address a range of issues in the world.
Q And you have no plans to abandon the submarine deal, do you?
MS. PSAKI: No, we do not.
Q Okay. And then, secondly, back in July, you opted not to lift to travel restrictions on international visitors. What’s changed between then and now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, back in July, we also announced that there were a series of working groups that were both interagency and working with a range of countries and partners in the world to determine what the most equitable and clear policies should be, moving forward, to resume broader international travel. And the older rules were not equitable, in our view, and they were a bit confusing. And so, this was an effort to pursue that.
As was announced in a call earlier today, but I can reaffirm some of the specifics that were announced: We — starting in November, we will be implementing — I should say, in early November, we’ll be putting in place strict protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from passengers flying internationally into the United States by requiring that adult foreign nationals traveling to the United States be fully vaccinated. Obviously, this is the conclusion of a policy process on that particular issue — an important one facing many people around the world.
Q Hey, Jen. Two quick questions on COVID, and then I —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — have one foreign policy question for you. Now that the FDA’s vaccine advisors have recommended boosters for people 65 and up, how soon do you expect President Biden to get his booster shot? And will he do so on camera?
MS. PSAKI: He will do so, and he will do so on camera. I don’t have a date for you exactly.
It’s important to note — just to take a slight step back — that there are still a couple of additional steps in the process. While, you know, we view the news on Friday as an important step forward in protecting more people, saving more lives, the addi- — the steps now is that ACIP is planning to meet. Based on their recommendation, we’re, of course, prepared to operationalize on the plan. And that includes having the President get his booster shot as well.
Q And is the President still being tested for COVID regularly? And if so, how often?
MS. PSAKI: He is tested regularly. He was tested last week, and his test was negative. But he is tested regularly.
Q And just lastly on this front: Has he gotten or does he plan to get the flu shot?
MS. PSAKI: I will have — I will talk to his doctor. I got a flu shot last week. They’re broadly available. But I will check and see if we have an answer to that question.
Q And then just on the foreign policy front, with the U.N. visit tomorrow: President Biden came into office declaring that “America is back” and vowing to “reinvigorate” U.S. alliances. But in recent weeks, we’ve seen European allies be unsettled by the execution of the U.S.’s withdrawal from Afghanistan; the administration has admitted to mistakenly killing 10 civilians in this drone strike; and now the U.S.’s oldest ally, France, has recalled its ambassador after being blindsided by this submarine deal with Australia. So, my question to you is, how is the President going to restore U.S. credibility at the U.N. this week after all that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, why don’t I give you a — preview a bit of what you can hear the President talk about tomorrow in his remarks. And, obviously, as you know, he’ll have a number of bilateral meetings tomorrow, as well as later this week. And to the degree you all have questions, I’m happy to speak to those as well.
But what you’ll hear him talk about tomorrow is the President is going to lay out the case for why the next decade will determine our future, not just for the United States, but for the global community. And he will talk — and this will be a central part of his remarks — about the importance of reestablishing our alliances after the last several years.
I also think it’s important to note that reestablishing alliances doesn’t mean that you won’t have disagreements, or you won’t have disagreements about how to approach any particular issue in the world. That is not the bar for having an alliance and important and — partnership. And that has never been and it is not currently. And his — with the goal, of course, of increasing the prospect of security and diminishing the prospect of war.
He’ll also make clear that for many of the greatest concerns we have, they cannot be solved or even addressed through the force of arms — whether that is preparing for the next pandemic, something the United States continues to be the global leader on; providing more vaccines to the world than every other country combined; addressing the threat of climate change as we look — all look ahead to COP26; leveling the economic playing field; fighting for democracy at home and abroad; and against threats from cybersecurity — ranging from cybersecurity to emerging technologies and terrorism.
Finally, he will also reaffirm that the United States is not turning inward, including as we look to the decision the United States made, the President made, to bring our troops home from Afghanistan. Anyone who reads that is not — in that way is not reading it accurately. He will talk about his objective of turning our focus and our resources to the priorities and regions of the world that are the most consequential.
Q But just given what’s happened in recent weeks and some of the criticism that he’s faced in many of the capitals of the allies whose partnerships he plans to, you know — and vowed to reinvigorate, does he believe there’s work to be done to restore that credibility? Or, you know, to —
MS. PSAKI: Is there a country or —
Q — address the criticism that —
MS. PSAKI: Well, tell me which — which country is telling you that we don’t have credibility in the world?
Q I didn’t say countries are saying there’s no creditability. But there has been criticism in foreign capitals in recent weeks, including with many of the partners who the President said he was going to reinvigorate these alliances with. So how does he square —
MS. PSAKI: But what I think it’s —
Q — what has happened —
MS. PSAKI: The reason I asked that question is because I think it’s important to note that criticism of a decision is different from criticism of the credibility and leadership of the United States, broadly speaking. And if you look back through the course of the last several decades, prior to the last administration, there are points of disagreement, including when we have disagreed with the decisions other countries are making, decision points — when countries have disagreed with the decisions we’re making.
But the larger point here — and what you’ll hear the President talk about tomorrow — is that we are committed to those alliances, and that always requires work from every president, from every global leader. And his commitment is to make sure we are directing our energy, our resources, our diplomacy, and our efforts on the biggest challenges we’re facing in the world.
And to him, that is the threat of climate, the threat of democracy, threat of leveling — the importance of leveling the economic playing field, addressing and preparing for the next pandemic. Those are all issues that we will continue to work with our partners on, including those who may disagree with decisions we’ve made about a variety of issues.
Go ahead, David.
Q Back on the submarine deal. So in the conversation with President Macron, is it President Biden’s view that the United States is responsible, in any way, for some kind of reparation, some kind of deal that will make up for part of the economic loss and also give a greater sense of a working partnership? Or is it his view that it’s really up to Australia to make up any kind of economic loss out of this if there’s any loss to be made up at all?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know from a range of reporting, including perhaps yours, that there were a couple hundred jobs that they anticipate being lost in France. And certainly, that is a factor for them, domestically. We understand that.
But I think you can expect the President’s call will be more about reaffirming the pr- — our commitment, the United States’ commitment to our alliance, to our partnership, and to working together on a range of issues, including security in the Indo-Pacific — that that will be the broad focus of the call.
Q And one more. When you were in the Obama administration, we often talked about the need to reduce the amount of highly enriched uranium that’s moving around the world. President Obama ran a number of summits, you’ll recall, that were aimed at converting reactors from HEU to LEU.
So here we are helping Australia — a very good player, a well-known non-proliferation advocate — by having them build HEU reactors or building it for them. Without any reference to problems with Australia, what message does that send to the rest of the world about how committed we are on this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, David, the President’s position and commitment to non-proliferation has not changed. We’re committed to renewing American leadership in non-proliferation and addressing the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons. This, in our view, is an exceptional case, not a precedent-setting case. As many of you know and have followed this closely, we’re not talking about nuclear-armed submarines. I know you’re asking me about enriched uranium —
MS. PSAKI: — but it’s important for people to understand that as well. These are conventionally armed submarines that are powered by nuclear reactors.
There’s also an 18-month process that we are undergoing on the implementation of this. But again, this was a decision made working with a country that has a long history the — Australia — as does the United Kingdom, as does the United States — of being steadfast in support for nuclear non-proliferation and for the regime and its cornerstone, the NPT. And we all are committed to complying with our respective non-proliferation obligations as we implement over the next 18 months.
Q Thanks, Jen. Follow-up on Frank’s, first of all, you said you expect a call in the next few days. Have the French actually committed to a call?
MS. PSAKI: We’re in — yes, we’re in active conversation about a call.
Q I just wanted to make sure you weren’t being sent to voicemail or anything like that.
MS. PSAKI: No, I don’t think so.
Q Following up on the drone strike last week that the Pentagon now admits was a tragic mistake: What was the President’s response when he learned about that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President was briefed on Friday morning about the report that was going to be released and put out. I would say first: The President’s view and all of our view is that the loss of any civilian life is a tragedy. As was made clear in the comments by the Secretary of Defense, by General McKenzie, this was done in error. And clearly, the investigation that will continue is something the President broadly supports.
So, as a human being, as a President, as somebody who has overseen loss in a variety of scenarios both as a leader and personally, it is — his reaction is it’s a tragedy, and every loss is a tragedy, and he supports the efforts to — the effort to move this forward as quickly as possible and to have a thorough investigation.
Q You mentioned there’s an ongoing investigation. Should it be anticipated that someone would be fired, demoted, not promoted, passed over, and held accountable within the military ranks for this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what’s important is that the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman — and General McKenzie came forward and made very clear that this was — they wanted to see this move forward quickly, they want it to be as transparent as possible, they wanted to learn from what had happened.
It’s also important to note what the circumstances were here in — when this strike was made: This was a scenario where there were direct threats from ISIS-K against our troops who were on the ground in Afghanistan. And that was the scenario where the strike was made.
Obviously, it was done in error, and obviously there was a horrific tragedy that happened, but I’m not going to predict what the impact will be.
Q Two more quick ones — one more on Afghanistan. Back on October — or August 26th, the President said, “I’ve also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership, and facilities. We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose, and the moment of our choosing.” Should we still be anticipating that there will be military response to what happened there in Kabul?
MS. PSAKI: Against ISIS-K?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. I think it’s important — this is a good question that’s been asked. I think this is a version of what you’re asking, but others have asked me this.
You know there’s a difference between a self-defense strike based on an imminent threat to U.S. forces — that’s why I referenced that — who were obviously on the ground, and these were threats — as you all lived through and covered and as we communicated about in the moment — and an over-the-horizon strike, where we typically expect to have more time to assess both the threat and the potential target. That is a point General McKenzie made — an important point, I think, for people to understand as we assess over-the-horizon threats and targets moving forward in the future.
Q So, yes, at some point there might be something.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, of course, the President’s desire to continue to go after ISIS-K has not changed.
Q Okay. And then just the one last one then — unrelated: the issue of immigration — the ruling from the parliamentarian that legalization for DREAMers can’t be part of the reconciliation as currently crafted. Given this is a top priority for a key voting bloc — Latinos here in this White House — how personally engaged might the President get on this? Do you guys have specific alternative proposals that have a chance of actually getting passed under this Congress?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a number of senators who have spoken to their intention of putting forward alternative proposals because of their commitment and our shared commitment, of course, to moving immigration reform forward and protecting DREAMers and others.
And so, the President supports those efforts and certainly he has long stated his support for immigration being a part of reconciliation. That’s really the next step in the process, but there are a number of members who are already working on that.
Q Jen, immigration and Haiti.
MS. PSAKI: Let — I’ll go to you next, April. Let me just go — go ahead.
Q Well, I’ll start there.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q So the — the crisis at the border in Del Rio: We heard DHS say they’re going to continue expulsions under Title 42. So what is the White House’s message to Haitian immigrants seeking asylum? Is there a place for them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important for people to understand a couple of the components of what’s happening right now on the ground. One, we extended TPS several months ago and again reevaluated to ensure that we were taking into account what was happening on the ground in Haiti. So that —
Q But for the people that are here.
MS. PSAKI: I understand, but that does apply to people who are here who arrived before a certain date, and I think that’s an important component of what’s happening.
If you’re talking about the situation on the ground in Del Rio, one, it’s a challenging situation. It’s devastating to watch this footage. I think it’s important though for people to also know that what we’re trying to do is also protect people.
One, we’ve been conveying that this is not the time to come. We have been implementing Title 42. That’s not just about people in the United States; that’s also about protecting migrants who would come in — come in mass groups and be in mass groups.
We are also surging resources and taking a multi-pronged approach. We’ve been working with the American Red Cross to bing [sic] in — bring in much-needed resources. We’ve worked with World Central Kitchen to bring in meals. And we have been expediting repatriation flights both to a range of countries in South and Central America where people may have come from, if they are — can be accepted back, and some back to Haiti.
That is what our focus is on at this point in time. And our message continues to be, as you’ve heard Secretary Mayorkas convey: Now is not the time to come, for a range of reasons, including we don’t have the immigration system up and running in the way we want, including there is still a pandemic and Title 42 remains in place. And these are the steps that we’re taking in part to protect the border communities, as well as the migrants themselves.
Q On a different topic, quickly. There will be a government shutdown if Congress doesn’t act in 10 days. Can you tell us what the impact of a government shutdown would be on the COVID response from this White House?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our effort right now is to prevent a government shutdown and to ensure we are not facing a government shutdown. And, as we get closer, we can certainly discuss that, but right now that’s where our energies are.
Go ahead, April.
Q Jen, back on Haiti. I hear that, but digging in the weeds a little bit more, the process for Haitian migrants has always, in this nation, been different than other nations. You have people like Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee who’s calling for equal treatment and fairness when it comes to the Haitians at the border and overall. You’re allowing Afghans to come in, Afghan supporters to come in, as well as Mexicans, and then Haitians are not allowed. Can you speak to that — the issue of equity and fairness?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely, April. I appreciate your question. Let me just take these different pieces side by side. Right? One, our immigration policy is not about one country or discriminating against one country over another. We want to end that and put — and hopefully put an end to what we saw over the last four years.
Let me start with Afghan allies. Afghans who are arriving in our country are entering in a sanctioned and orderly process that includes vetting and security screenings led by the Departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security. It’s not about one particular country of origin, but we’ve outlined very specifically in here what those processes look like as individuals who are evacuated, go to lily-pad countries, go through security vetting before they come to United States on a range of programs.
As it relates to individuals who are coming across the border: Wherever they’re coming from — whatever country they’re coming from, Title 42 remains in place. There are a range of programs that people who are in the country can apply for or may be eligible for, including TPS for Haiti, which is something that we still are continuing to look at and review.
The Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security are constantly assessing circumstances on the ground that would necessitate a TPS designation for any country, and they’ve obviously made a couple of designations over the course of the last couple of months as it relates to Haiti.
Q And no matter whether it’s the people who left — the Haitians that left in 2010 and traveled to South America and are now trying to travel here — or the ones who left after this earthquake — either way, what is there for them to go back to when these planes are taking them back? The nation is in unrest. The President was assassinated. There are gangs that people are scared to — they’re scared of. Democratic rule is not necessarily in place. The people are calling — particularly those here in this nation are calling for the elections not to be held, you know, on time because of unrest there. And then you also have the issue of the earthquakes.
So what is there to go back to? What are you deporting them back to?
MS. PSAKI: Well, April, I will say that our objective and our focus is not only in implementing current immigration policies. We have also been working to provide a range of assistance, working closely with officials from the government as individuals are going back to Haiti, to provide a range of financial assistance, to provide a range of technical assistance. That is ongoing.
And we certainly support and want to be good actors in supporting Haiti during a very difficult time, as you noted, with a government that is still working to get back to a point of stability, with recovery from an earthquake. And that’s why we have a range of programs, options, as well as financial support in place.
Okay. Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. To follow up on Ed’s question on immigration: In the big picture, right now, how confident is the President that he’ll be able to enact some sort of long-term pathway to legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants at some point before the midterms, whether it’s through reconciliation or through some other —
MS. PSAKI: It’s a long time before the midterms. I know that’s a tough thing for you to hear, but it’s a long time before the midterms. I can’t give a projection for you. It depends on a lot of factors, including working with members of Congress.
The — what I can tell you, though, is that the President is absolutely committed to putting in place a path to citizenship, to putting in place long-overdue measures to fix our immigration system — to make it more moral, humane, and workable, frankly. And obviously, he supported and continues to support having immigration measures as a part of the reconciliation process.
And as I noted to Ed, the next step is really to see alternatives proposed by senators, who have already said they have every intention of doing exactly that.
Q Along the same lines — just to follow up on that — we’ve also seen the parliamentarian rule against the effort to increase the minimum wage through a reconciliation bill. We’ve seen other priorities on the Hill that both the President and Democrats campaigned on — you know, police reform, gun control — also stalled. Is there a recognition in the White House now that some of the priorities that he and the party campaigned for last year are just simply not going to happen, not going to become reality before the midterms?
MS. PSAKI: No.
Q Thank you, Jen. Back to the drone strike: You said last month, “Our over-the-horizon capacity can work and has worked in going after ISIS targets and killing people who went after our troops.” But you guys didn’t kill people who went after our troops; you killed 10 civilians, including 7 children. So, does the President still think these over-the-horizon strikes can work?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. And I will just reiterate, as our Secretary of Defense conveyed, as Secretary — as General McKenzie conveyed, that there was a serious mistake. The Secretary of Defense has authorized, as I noted before, a thorough review of the investigation just completed by U.S. Central Command, including the degree to which the investigation considered all available context and information; the degree to which accountability measures need to be taken, at which level; and the degree to which strike authorities, procedures, and processes need to be altered in the future. That’s an important process.
I would note, which I noted earlier, that there’s a difference between a self-defense strike — which is exactly what this was, and I would note there was one prior to this that was a successful self-defense strike — and those that pose — that is posing an imminent threat to U.S. forces — who were, as we all know, on the ground at that time, facing real threats in real time — and an over-the-horizon strike, where we typically expect to have more time to assess both the threat and the potential target.
That is a different approach — and it requires a different approach and is a different approach internally, and General McKenzie spoke to that last week as well.
Q Some of the victims’ relatives are saying that they want to be relocated here. Is that something that the administration is going to help them do?
MS. PSAKI: I’m certainly — I’m not aware of that request — or that ask. I’m happy to certainly speak to our national securities team and see what that process would look like.
Q And then a question about what’s going on at the border: Is somebody asking the foreign nationals who are walking in in Del Rio, Texas, and setting up camps on this side of the border for proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first of all, I can re- — I can re-address for you or re-talk you through what —
Q But that is the —
MS. PSAKI: — steps we take.
Q — but that is the policy for people who fly into the country. So if somebody walks into the country, right across the river, does somebody ask them to see their vaccination card?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me explain to you again, Peter, how our process works. As individuals —
Q It doesn’t sound like it.
MS. PSAKI: As individuals come across the border and — they are both assessed for whether they have any symptoms. If they have symptoms, they are — the intention is for them to be quarantined; that is our process. They’re not intending to stay here for a lengthy period of time. I don’t think it’s the same thing.
Q But they’re here. What’s the difference?
MS. PSAKI: It’s not the same thing. These are individuals — as we’ve noted and as we’ve been — discussed, we are expelling individuals based on Title 42, specifically because of COVID, because we want to prevent a scenario where large numbers of people are gathering, posing a threat to the community and also to the migrants themselves.
So, those are the policies that we put in place, in large part because, again, the CDC continues to recommend Title 42 be in place, given we’re facing a global pandemic.
Q Where’s the Vice President on any of this? Isn’t she supposed to be addressing the root causes of migration?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. And she has been addressing the root causes of migration by working with countries in the region to ensure they have the assistance they need to reduce the number of people who are coming and trying to make those journeys across the border. We’ve actually seen some reductions in some of those numbers.
That doesn’t change the fact that this is a very challenging situation in Del Rio. We’re working to implement our policies, and we’re working to ensure we are also addressing root causes.
Q And just a quick one on boosters: Why did the President say in August, “Just remember, as a simple rule: Eight months after your second shot, get a booster shot” if there is not enough data to support that for the general population?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what the
President [Surgeon General] also said is that, “I want to be very clear, the plan is pending the FDA conducting in an independent evaluation of the safety and effectiveness of a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and the CDC’s Advisory Committee.”
We are right now in the week of September 20th. The advisory committee is meeting on Thursday. We’ve seen some recommendations that we felt was a step forward in providing more protection to people across the country. And we’ll wait for that process to play out.
Our objective and our role is to ensure we have the capacity, the number of shots to provide them to the American people.
Q Sixteen out of eighteen FDA advisors say there is not the science. The President talks about “following the science.” Is this a case of him getting ahead on the science?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first of all, I think what you heard Dr. Collins and Dr. Fauci convey yesterday is that this is going to be an ongoing process.
I would remind you that the percentage of individuals, at this point, who would be eligible to get a booster are largely people over 65, because those are people who would have had the second dose six months ago.
If we’re looking at when we’re going to have available data — that’s what the CDC and the FDA looks at — they need enough data to make assessments. No one is suggesting that there will never be boosters. We are suggesting that there needs to be a process to be seen through for when boosters should be approved and when a broader swath of the population is eligible.
Go ahead, Kelly.
Q Back to the international COVID vaccine requirements for travelers. A number of individuals and European allies have been pressing for access to the United States: families that have been separated, business relationships that have been affected by it. And so, before the President goes to the United Nations General Assembly and has meetings with foreign partners, this is when the decision is announced that vaccination will allow people to come into the country. Is that part of the President’s, sort of, foreign policy outreach this week — the timing of this decision?
MS. PSAKI: If we were going to make things much easier for ourselves, we would have done it prior to June when the President had his first foreign trip or earlier this summer.
This is when the process concluded. We want to make the information available to the public. We’re basing it on science and when the process concluded, and here we are today.
Q Do you anticipate that Americans who are coming back to the United States would be affected by this having to be tested? Would there be any opt-out policy for those who don’t want to do that?
MS. PSAKI: You mean people who don’t want to be vaccinated —
MS. PSAKI: — who are Americans?
Q Yeah, that are unvaccinated Americans who would be flying home from foreign travel.
MS. PSAKI: So, there would still be requirements for these — for individuals — Americans who are not vaccinated — including providing proof of a negative test result taken within one day of their departure and providing proof they have purchased a viral test to be taken after arrival for Americans who are not fully vaccinated — which, at this point, would obviously apply to children as well.
Q And one last point. Given the whole political timing, or at least the timing seen in a political context of this vaccine requirement — following up on what Jeremy was asking — does the President go into UNGA knowing that his relationship with allies has hit a bumpy patch?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think the President’s view, having been on the world scene for 50 years, is that you always have to work on your relationships, and that includes with global leaders.
But he believes that our relationships are sustaining, over the course of many decades; that every step he’s taken from the moment he took office was with the intention of rebuilding alliances and rebuilding those partnerships that were frayed over the last four years.
And his view, as I’ve conveyed over the course of the early part of the briefing, is that that doesn’t mean that the bar is we will always agree with everything our partners and allies do, nor will they agree with everything we do, but that our relationships are stronger — they have a stronger basis, and that we have an opportunity to work together on the global issues that the world is facing. And that’s what he expects the focus of the next few days to be.
Q Some of the President’s counterparts who will be in attendance at the U.N. this week have not gotten vaccinated; some have had COVID in the past. Any pause in sending the President into the U.N. General Assembly chamber and the potential that it could be a superspreader?
MS. PSAKI: We obviously take a range of precautions, including ensuring the President is tested — obviously, he’s vaccinated. But there’s no intention to change our plans to have him deliver a speech there.
Q A couple quick questions approaching the line of questioning that Peter was asking you about, but perhaps approach from the other side —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q — on behalf of people who look at what happened last week and were disappointed. They may be six-plus months out from their second shot and they want a booster shot today; they don’t want to wait. Can you explain the process to those people —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — and address their concerns?
And in particular, get at the question of accountability, because it was the eight health experts who surround the President, who are best known to the country — perhaps most trusted by the country — who suggested that this would be the week. Who were these people who were deciding that it shouldn’t be this week or that shouldn’t be people under the age of 65?
MS. PSAKI: Well, even — those eight health experts who, you’re right, put out the statement in August based on data that we had — that they had available to them as health experts suggesting the waning influence — or the waning impact, I should say — the waning effectiveness of vaccines, they felt they had a responsibility to make their recommendations, their views public to the American people. That’s exactly what they did.
There’s also a process in place for a reason. And I would say — I think any of us would say — to anyone who’s frustrated or who wants to have their booster shot now: That process is in place for a reason so that you can trust what the final recommendation and the final outcome is. And it includes — obviously, last week, there was — the FDA had their own review and their own process, a formal meeting of the Advisory Committee. ACIP is meeting this week.
But this is not the last meeting. I think that’s important for people to understand, and Dr. Fauci referenced this yesterday. There will be additional data. There will be additional data from probably Moderna, from J&J, others in the coming weeks. There’ll be more data for people who are younger than 65. They will look at all of that.
This is an ongoing process. This is not a decision that there will never be boosters for others. This is the first step in a process — a positive one, in our view — about protecting more people.
And — but it is also important to keep the FDA as the gold standard and ensure that process proceeds so people can trust their recommendations.
Q Thank you. So, just to follow up on David’s question: So it sounds like there isn’t an offer in the works to the French to ameliorate some of the harm to the U.S.-French relation? No offer in the works to make up for some of the economic damage?
MS. PSAKI: The real focus of the meeting — of the call, I should say — whenever it’s finalized and scheduled — is about reaffirming our commitment — the President’s commitment, the United States’ commitment — to our partnership and to working together on a range of issues, including the Indo-Pacific.
Q So, just to clarify, that means we’re not offering the French anything?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of a plan to offer anything.
Q And then on the drone strike, do you know if there’s any discussion for the administration or for the U.S. to pay some of the families of the victims of the drone strike?
MS. PSAKI: That is something that was referenced by — General McKenzie referenced, I should say, ex gratia payments. And they’re exploring that option from the Department of Defense. But I’d really point you to them.
Q And then one more thing on the — on national — on international travel. Do you know if there’s any discussion, right now, about how the U.S. will decide who is vaccinated, what counts as vaccinated? Will the Chinese vaccine count? Will the Russian vaccine count? AstraZeneca? Is there discussion on what exactly is a “vaccine” and “vaccinated”?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, this is all a part of the process. It’s going to be implemented, again, in early November. In terms of how the proof of process will work, which is a very good question, that’s part of what the implementation interagency discussions will focus on.
Q So we’ll have an answer before November?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, exactly.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Hopefully sooner than that.
Q Yeah, just a technical thing on the international travel policy. You talk about unvaccinated Americans; what about like green card holders, visa holders? Would they — people who — you know, who under the current travel policy can get into the country, would they have to be vaccinated or would they have to do the testing protocol like Americans?
MS. PSAKI: That’s a really good question. I’ll have to ask what the specification is there for them.
Q Okay. And then on immigration and the parliamentarian’s ruling — you’ve sort of gotten at this, but I’m just wondering about the President’s level of commitment to this being in the reconciliation bill. Does it have to be in reconciliation? Is there a point at which it gets thrown overboard like the minimum wage did? And are there any concerns about losing certain senators — Democratic senators — who insist that this be in there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as our comment last night made very clear, the President absolutely supports efforts by senators who have already come forward — Leader Schumer has, other senators — about introducing alternate proposals and seeing if they can work their way through the process. So that’s where we stand right now. I think that reflects his commitment.
But, obviously, we don’t determine the outcome of the parliamentarian process.
Q Jen, a follow-up question on Haiti. There are photographs and reports of border agents on horseback using what appeared to be whips on Haitian migrants. Does the administration view that as an appropriate tactic? Can you speak to that? There are people who are upset about it.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, understandably so. I — I’ve seen some of the footage. I don’t have the full context. I can’t imagine what context would make that appropriate. But I don’t have additional details.
Q Should they be fired?
MS. PSAKI: And, certainly — I don’t have additional context, April. I don’t think anyone seeing that footage would think it was acceptable or appropriate.
Q And then, DHS said it will be — that are — said yester- — said Saturday that federal agencies will be partnering with the Haitian government to provide assistance to the returnees. Can you elaborate on what that assistance will entail exactly?
MS. PSAKI: You mean to the people who are returning to Haiti?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, we’ve been in close contact with the government about — when people return, what that looks like. Let me get you some more additional details about what that looks like when they get on the ground.
Q Can I follow up on that? Jen. Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Oh. Go ahead. Go ahead, Yamiche.
Q Thanks so much, Jen. I want to follow up on the question about Haitians — and specifically, these — these photos that are surfacing; on Border Patrol agents seemingly using whips. I know you said that there’s no context that it would be seen as
inappropriate. So, the question really is: Why would this be happening under the Biden administration? Is this going to stop? What would the — I wonder, sort of, what are going to be the consequences if what we’re seeing is what we’re seeing?
MS. PSAKI: I mean, Yamiche, it’s all good questions. We just saw this footage. It’s horrible to watch. I just have to get more information on it.
Q Can I ask a follow-up?
Q If this is true, will they be fired? If this is true will they be —
MS. PSAKI: Again, April, I don’t have more information on it. I’ve also seen the video. I can’t imagine what the scenario is where that would be appropriate. I’m certainly not suggesting that. But we’ve just seen the footage short — earlier this morning.
Q And if I could also ask — I was talking to Haitian American advocates this weekend. They say that deporting people back to Haiti is like dropping people into a burning house. This idea that — the country is just not in a place where it can handle this. Haiti is — Haitian officials have said, “Can you please have a pause on this?” Is there any sort of discussion being made to make exemptions for some of these migrants? If so, who would those people be? Or are all of these people just going to end up dropped back in Haiti?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say: I mean, we are constantly assessing circumstances on the ground. Obviously, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security are the ones who would assess circumstances like TPS status, which would be one that we granted and adjusted over the course of the last several months to account for circumstances on the ground in Haiti.
I don’t — can’t make any predictions of that. But I would just reiterate that, obviously, our objective here is to not just work to address the circumstances, which are very difficult, in Del Rio, but also to continue to work with the officials in Haiti to improve the conditions, to provide assistance. We’re doing all of these pieces at the same time; it is not just one at the same time. But I can’t predict for you what an assessment would look like or what the outcome of that assessment would look like.
Q And a quick follow-up on the photo. I know you said that you’re still assessing it. But just to add, if this is what we see, is the — is it the President’s stance or the White House’s stance that whoever these border agents are — using what seems to be whips on migrants — that they would be fired or at least never be able to do that again?
MS. PSAKI: Of course, they should never be able to do it again. I don’t know what the circumstances would be. It’s obviously horrific — the footage.
I don’t have any more information on it, so let me venture to do that —
Q But why won’t you say “fired”?
MS. PSAKI: — and we’ll see if there’s more to convey.
Karen, go ahead.
Q But, Jen, why can’t you say “fired” if they — if they are — that —
MS. PSAKI: I think —
Q This is a humanitarian issue.
MS. PSAKI: April, I absolutely understand your question. I think I’ve been very clear about how horrific the footage is. I don’t have more information.
As a U.S. official, it’s a — I have a responsibility to get more context and information.
Q Thanks, Jen. Two on COVID. Does the White House have an expectation now on when kids younger than 12 will be able to get the vaccine? Is this before Thanksgiving? Are we thinking the end of October? What’s the latest right now?
MS. PSAKI: I’m also — and have self-interest, as do you, Karen. I understand. I think you heard — you saw Pfizer put out their data. Obviously, that’s just a step. They had to — it has to go through the full approval process. So, I can’t make a prediction of that at this point. But, certainly, we were encouraged to see that. But it needs to move its way through the official government process.
Q And on the international travel today, you talked about the policy process. What was the White House looking or the administration looking to see in order to get to this point today to make the change? Was it the vaccination rates in Europe?
And how will the contact tracing work? And what resources will be put to that? Because that’s not been something we’ve seen a really solid, robust effort in the U.S. on over the last year and a half.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. So this — this was a process — this was an ongoing process, as you all know, that we discussed pretty extensively here.
CDC is going to issue a contact tracing order that will require airlines to collect comprehensive contact information for every passenger coming to the United States and to provide that information promptly to the CDC, upon request, to follow up with travelers who have been exposed to COVID-19 variants or other pathogens. And these requirements will apply globally.
That’s a good example of where the — some of the considerations. As we were making these policy decisions, we had to account for and plan for and ensure that we could implement this policy in a way that was clear, that was equitable, that provided — that ensured that there was equal treatment around the world of how people could come into the United States given COVID protocols. But that’s an important question. We wanted to make sure we addressed a lot of those internally as well.
Q Also on the international travel announcement, it did not include an opening of the land border — north or south. Is the administration worried that any easing at the southern border would be contributing to the immigration problems? And is — was that a factor in that decision?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this is an all — an ongoing process. Right? Title 19 is what is in place, of course, at land borders; it’s being extended for another month, through October 21st. We don’t have any updates or predictions at this point in time. But, obviously, we’re continuing to consider — as is evident by our announcement today — how we can return to a place of travel and people being able to move from country to country, including at our land borders. But I don’t have any prediction of that at this point.
Q Hey, Jen?
Q Jen? Jen?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q You may not have seen this because it happened just minutes before you came out, but the Supreme Court has set a December 1st hearing date for the Mississippi abortion law that’s a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade. Any reaction?
MS. PSAKI: I had not seen that — you’re correct — before I came out, and I’m sure we can venture to get you a more substantive reaction to that.
I think you’re all familiar with what the position of this administration is on a woman’s right to choose, as is evidenced by the Department of Justice’s announcement about their intention to — their — to file lawsuit and challenge the Texas law — given our commitment to protecting.
I will note — and you may have seen this, but since we’re on this topic — a couple of people have asked, over the course of time, our position on the Women’s Health Protect Act. We rolled out a statement of administration policy in strong support of this as well this morning. I know, different question, but same pool of topics.
Q Thank you so much. Following up on Haiti. Some of the Haitian migrants at the border told VOA that they were treated worse than their Spanish-speaking counterparts. They were denied the chance to change clothing, that they were not given adequate information on their deportation or their deportation status. And we had one guy say to us, “It was like being in jail, no food, nothing.” You know, what is your response to this? Is this policy?
And then just secondly — Haitian Americans say that this mass deportation and this treatment of people at the border is — is the President going back on campaign promises to their community.
MS. PSAKI: In which campaign promise?
Q To help them kind of get over some of the challenges facing Haiti and also to help people migrate to the U.S.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President committed to extending temporary protected status to Haiti, which is something he did. And he extended that — we extended that to a longer period of time to account for the turmoil on the ground following the assassination, on the ground, of their leader. So that was the campaign commitment that he made.
But I think we can — I can assure people that that is not our policy. Obviously, any circumstance where individuals are not treated humanely, whether they are coming to our border or not, is not in line with the Biden administration policies.
This is clearly a very challenging circumstance on the ground, one where we have worked under our Department of Homeland Security to expedite surge resources, which includes World Central Kitchen bringing in meals, the American Red Cross bringing in much-needed resources to the population.
These are all steps we’ve taken from a humanitarian perspective. It does not mean that every individual — that there aren’t individuals, as are — as you evidenced, that didn’t have experiences where they did not have access to these resources. But our policy is to provide resources, is to previ- [sic] — to treat people humanely.
But we also need to implement what is our law and what is our — and what that is implementing — Title 42 — and continuing to ensure that people who are not coming here lawfully are sent back to the countries they came from.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Last one.
Q Two quick questions.
MS. PSAKI: Yep.
Q On the French getting — the French sub deal. Lockheed Martin was — had a major part of that contract between the Australians and the French. Headquarters down the street are not far from here. Are they going to be carried over to the new U.S.-U.K. deal? Do you know? Are they going to be involved in that?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on the specifics of the deal.
Q Okay. Second question. So when — when’s the President going to hold another news conference where we can ask our questions to him about all of these issues about inflation, about the border, and Afghanistan?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the question — the President took questions probably four or five times last week. So, I would point you to that.
Q Can we see about getting the Homeland Security Secretary to come here and answer —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — questions, instead of going to Texas and answering them there?
MS. PSAKI: We can, but it’s important for him to go to Texas, too.
MS. PSAKI: That’d be great.
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