James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:34 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay. We’re thrilled to have Secretary Mayorkas join us here today. He’s going to be making some brief comments providing you an update, and we’ll take as many questions as we can. I would just be mindful of your colleagues so we can get around to as many as possible.
With that, I’ll turn it over to Secretary Mayorkas.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Thank you very much. And good afternoon, everyone. Less than one week ago, there were approximately 15,000 migrants in Del Rio, Texas, the great majority of whom were Haitian nationals. This was the result of an unprecedented movement of a very large number of people traveling to a single point of the border within a matter of a few days.
We responded with a surge of resources to address the humanitarian needs of the individuals, many of whom include families with young children.
We also applied our months-long standard operating procedures at the border, which we have been applying to all migrants encountered at the border during this very challenging time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of this morning, there are no longer any migrants in the camp underneath the Del Rio International Bridge. I will walk through what we have done, how we have done it; explain the processes; and provide data that you have requested.
But first, I want to make one important point. In the midst of meeting these challenges, we — our entire nation — saw horrifying images that do not reflect who we are, who we aspire to be, or the integrity and values of our truly heroic personnel in the Department of Homeland Security.
The investigation into what occurred has not yet concluded. We know that those images painfully conjured up the worst elements of our nation’s ongoing battle against systemic racism.
We have been swift and thorough in our response. First, we immediately contacted the Office of Inspector General and launched an investigation into the events that were captured in the disturbing images of horse patrol units.
We ceased the use of horse patrol units in the area. The agents involved in these incidents have been assigned to administrative duties and are not interacting with migrants while the investigation is ongoing.
I directed the personnel from the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility to be on site in Del Rio full-time to ensure adherence to the policies, training, and values of our department. The highest levels of the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility are leading the investigation, which will conclude quickly. The results of the investigation I will make public.
The actions that are taken as a — are as a result of the — what we have seen in those images. The investigation will be compelled — the results will be compelled by the facts that are adduced and nothing less.
Let me be clear: The department does not tolerate any mistreatment of any migrant and will not tolerate any violation of its values, principles, and ethics.
Now I would like to turn to our operational response. DHS led the mobilization of a whole-of-government response to address the challenging situation in Del Rio. DHS immediately worked to address the acute humanitarian needs of the migrants themselves by partnering with federal and nongovernmental agencies and entities. We rapidly deployed basic services like drinking water, food, clothing, and portable toilets.
I am grateful to the Red Cross for providing more than 17,000 hygiene kits and the World Central Kitchen for contributing more than 14,000 meals per day to supplement other food programs.
We surged medical resources and capacity, including over 150 medical professionals, to provide health services to ensure the safety of the migrants, employees, and the surrounding community. We provided personal protective equipment, including facemasks. We erected four climate-controlled tents to support housing for vulnerable populations.
Let me go through our operational response. Simultaneously with the humanitarian response, we in the Department of Homeland Security implemented a series of operational measures to process migrants consistent with existing laws, policies, and procedures. In particular, CBP — Customs and Border Protection — surged 600 agents, officers, and DHS volunteer force personnel to the Del Rio sector to provide operational support.
We also — DHS officers and agents conducted 24-hour patrols for general safety, as well as to identify anyone who might be in medical distress.
ICE, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Justice provided transportation support to transfer migrants out of Del Rio to other Border Patrol sectors with capacity.
Working with the Department of State in Haiti, DHS increased the number of removal flights to Haiti commensurate with the country’s capacity to receive.
Importantly, USAID has established a $5.5 million program to provide on-the-ground assistance to repatriated Haitian migrants.
Nearly 30,000 migrants have been encountered at Del Rio since September 9th, with the highest number at one time reaching approximately 15,000.
Today, we have no migrants remaining in the camp under the International Bridge.
Migrants continue to be expelled under the CDC’s Title 42 authority. Title 42 is a public health authority and not an immigration policy. And it is important to note that Title 42 is applicable and has been applicable to all irregular migration during this pandemic. It is not specific to Haitian nationals or the current situation.
Some more data: To date, DHS has conducted 17 expulsion flights to Haiti with approximately 2,000 individuals. Those who are not expelled under Title 42 are placed in immigration removal proceedings.
Let me take a step back and explain the process. There are two exceptions to the applicability of Title 42, the public health authority. Number one is if an individual has an acute vulnerability, such as an urgent medical care. And two, if, in fact, our operational capacity is such that we are not able to execute the Title 42 authority that rests with the Centers for Disease Control.
I should also say that there is a Convention Against Torture exception if someone claims torture, which is a distinct legal standard.
Individuals, as I mentioned, with acute vulnerability can be accepted from the Title 42 application. Approximately 12,400 individuals will have their cases heard by an immigration judge to make a determination on whether they will be removed or permitted to remain in the United States. That is a piece of data that has been requested of us.
If someone is not subject to Title 42 expulsion for the three reasons that I explained — acute vulnerability, operational capacity limitations, or a Convention Against Torture exception — then the individual is placed in immigration proceedings. That means they go before an immigration judge in an immigration court.
If they make a claim that they have a basis under law to remain in the United States, then the judge will hear and adjudicate that claim. If the judge determines that the claim is not valid, the individual will be removed.
An estimated 8,000 migrants have decided to return to Mexico voluntarily, and just over 5,000 are being processed by DHS to determine whether they will be expelled or placed in immigration removal proceedings under Title 8.
We have previously articulated publicly, we’ve previously expressed that in light of the fact that we had such a significant number of individuals in one particular section in Del Rio, Texas, that we were moving people to other Customs and Border Protection processing centers to ensure the safe and secure processing of those individuals. And we will assess the ability to exercise the Title 42 public health authority in those processing centers.
And if any of the exceptions apply, then we will place those individuals in immigration enforcement proceedings. But if we are able to expel them under Title 42 — because that is indeed a public health imperative as determined by the Centers for Disease Control — we will do so.
And with that, I’ll take your questions.
MS. PSAKI: Steve.
Q Thank you. Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for coming in to take our questions.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Of course.
Q The first question is that I was hoping you could explain more of your view that these agents on the border acted in a way that violated policies or procedures. Could you tell us what they did wrong to start?
And then my second question has to do with what this episode — how this episode informs your understanding or thinking about the current and ongoing asylum review, and whether, perhaps if the administration were to take a more permissive stance to — toward asylum, membership in a particular social group, that this episode could be seen as one of many in the future.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So I — I think, if I may, you’re conflating two very different phenomenon, two very different processes.
First of all, the images, as I expressed earlier — the images horrified us in terms of what they suggest and what they conjure up, in terms of not only our nation’s history, but, unfortunately, the fact that that page of history has not been turned entirely. And that means that there is much work to do, and we are very focused on doing it.
But I will not prejudge the facts. I do not, in any way, want to impair the integrity of the investigative process. We have investigators who are looking at it independently. They will draw their conclusions according to their standard operating procedures, and then the results of that investigation will be dete- — will be determined by the facts that are adduced.
Now, with respect to the asylum process that has — that is an independent process — and I’m not sure I understood your question, if you’re asking about the definition of a particular social group. And just for everyone’s benefit, the asylum laws provide that an — the first step in an asylum process is a claim of credible fear.
Economic need, flight from generalized violence does not qualify as credible fear, but rather credible fear is credible fear of persecution by reason of one’s membership in a particular social group.
What is the definition of a “particular social group” was significantly constrained — that’s an understatement — in the Trump administration. And there is a body of law that speaks to that definition, and that definition is currently under review.
Q Right. But, Mr. Secretary, if I may — and forgive me for — just to follow up on this point —
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Yes.
Q The question was: If this administration were to take a more permissive stance toward that definition, could this be — what we’ve just experienced in the last several weeks — just the first of many similar instances to occur in this country on the border?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: What instance are you referring to? I’m sorry.
Q Well, we have 15,000 migrants who — that the United States government has had to now process. And —
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, we determine — we determine the standards to apply in a claim of persecution according to the principles that a government should have both domestically and in the international architecture with the treatment of individuals who are fleeing persecution by reason of their membership in a particular social group. It is not a tool of deterrence to define what a “particular social group” means.
MS. PSAKI: Tam.
Q Yeah. The people who — sorry, I’m here hiding behind a mask. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: I’m sorry. Thank you.
Q The people who were under the bridge — you’ve talked about — some of them have gone to Mexico, some of them have been flown to Haiti. The others, are they spread out at CPB holding facilities? Have some been released into the community or released to family members awaiting hearing?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So you ask a very —
Q What’s their status?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So let me be clear: So, some have been returned to Haiti, indeed. Others have been moved to different processing facilities along the border in light of operational capacity, and then many of them will be returned to Haiti from there. And if any of the exceptions apply, they will not be returned to Haiti but placed in immigration enforcement proceedings.
I should say “released” is a very general term, and I may need to drill down on that, if I may. Individuals — some of them are detained; some of them are placed on alternatives to detention. We remain in touch with them. We monitor them to ensure their appearance in court at the designated time of appearance. Does that answer your question?
Q It does. One other question.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: And I gave —
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: — and I provided the data, if I need to — to do so again.
Q Yes. No, I got that. The broader question is that it seems like there are border crises that keep popping up, sort of like whack-a-mole. Every month or so, there’s another clump of people or another major issue or unaccompanied minors or — and is there a plan to maybe have, you know, like FEMA-type teams that go to these crisis points? Or is the goal to somehow stop having these crises that keep breaking out?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Well, look, you mentioned FEMA. So two points, if I may. Let me first address the fund- — well, let me go in reverse.
From an operational response perspective, we addressed the challenge of unaccompanied children in March. And I said then that we had a plan, we were executing our plan, and it would take time. And in fact, within 60 days or so, we went from an average time of an unaccompanied child in a Border Patrol station of 124 hours to less than 25 hours, and we did that through our operational capacity throughout the Department of Homeland Security, as directed by the President, in an all-of- government effort.
Here, last weekend, we had approximately 15,000 individuals in the Del Rio section. I committed to addressing that within 10 days, and today we have none. And that was because of the Department of Homeland Security’s assets, with the assistance of others across the government. That is something very different than the fact of the dynamism of irregular migration writ large and the fact that this is a situation that has occurred from time to time, ever since I can remember, in my more than 20 years of government service.
And the President has spoken very powerfully about this from day one and before he assumed office. First and foremost, and most fundamentally and foundationally, we are dealing with a broken immigration system, and we need legislative reform.
And everyone agrees. In a world where unanimity is so difficult to achieve, there is one thing that — as to which there is unanimity, and that is the need for comprehensive immigration reform. And unfortunately, it seems to remain elusive, but our real dedication to achieving it is unrelenting, and we continue to do so. Number one.
Number two, we have a three-part plan: We invest in the root causes to address the need — to address the reason why people leave the homes in which they live and take a perilous journey that they should not take. Second, the building of safe, orderly, and humane pathways. And third, rebuilding an asylum system and a refugee program that were dismantled in the prior administration.
This takes time, and we are executing our plans.
MS. PSAKI: Ed.
Q Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Thank you for being here. I know we had suggested it’d be great to have you, so it’s good to see you in the same week we made that request.
Starting with the situation in Del Rio, the mounted units are temporarily suspended. Are you considering eliminating them
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So we’re going to — we’re going to take a look. What we are focused on right now is addressing the urgency of the situation in Del Rio under that bridge. We are still getting through it.
Remember, as I mentioned in response to the prior question, we still have operational needs across the border with respect to this particular population of individuals. But we’re going to be taking a look at this.
What the horse patrol is customarily used to do — for everyone’s benefit — is — you know, horses are able to cross terrain that might not otherwise be traversed. And what they often do — and, in fact, most often do — is assess the situation and actually assist in helping people in distress. And that horse patrol — the horse patrol that the Customs and Border Protection employs — the Border Patrol, specifically — has actually saved lives many times before. But we will take a look.
Q And just on — because yours is such a sprawling department, you face multiple issues at once. The situation regarding Afghan refugees that are being processed by your department — we’ve had a few questions on that that haven’t entirely been answered, and I’m just curious if you know how many cases of forced marriage or so-called “child brides” has DHS found in the system so far?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: To my knowledge, we have not found one. But I will tell you that we have experts at the airport and beyond who understand that phenomenon very, very well, who know how to detect the indicia, the signs of any such activity, and are able to place people in secondary screening, discern the facts, and make the decisions that the facts so warrant. We are very skilled in that.
MS. PSAKI: Rachel.
Q Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I know you said you’d be looking into this, but the President was really clear today. He said those Border Patrol agents on horseback seen in those images “will pay.” He said, “It’s dangerous.” He says, “It’s wrong.” And he said, “There will be consequences.” So do you disagree with that?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Oh — I know the President was echoing the sentiments of the American public in response to the images and what those images suggest, but I want to speak to the fact that this investigation will be based on the facts that the investigators learn, and the results of the investigation will be driven by those facts and nothing less and nothing more.
Q But the President said that they would pay, so you guys are not on the same page on that?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: I think the President was speaking in terms of the horror that he observed from seeing the images and what they suggest.
MS. PSAKI: Phil.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: That investigation will have integrity, I can assure you of that.
Q Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I understand you guys have been saying since January 20th you inherited a broken system; there’s a lot of work to be done here. But you have thousands of people living in squalid conditions, limited opportunities to go through asylum processes here. Advocates have been warning about situations like this for months now. How much responsibility do you, does the administration take for these situations continuing to, kind of, pop up in various places?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So if you’re — if you’re addressing the situation in Del Rio, I will tell you that it is unprecedented for us to see that number of people arrive in one discrete point along the border in such a compacted period of time. That is unprecedented.
We have the Chief of the Border Patrol, Raul Ortiz, is, I think, a 30-year veteran and he has not seen that before. And what we do when we see something that is unprecedented is we respond, and respond we did.
MS. PSAKI: Steve.
Q Some Democrats have wanted you to be more lenient on the asylum claims because of the earthquake that Haiti went through. Have you considered that at all, sir?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, let me — let me speak to that. We studied the conditions in Haiti a number of months ago, as is our legal obligation to do so. And based on the country conditions that we observed and studied, what we did is we designated Haiti for Temporary Protected Status for those Haitian nationals resident in the United States who were here prior to July 29th. And we were mindful of the assassination that occurred, and we were unsure of the results of that assassination in terms of the stability of the political order.
Once a new leader took office and things seemed to settle down, we determined that the July 29th date was equitable to address the humanitarian relief of Haitian nationals already resident in the United States.
We have continued to study the conditions in Haiti, and we have in fact determined, despite the tragic and devastating earthquake, that Haiti is in fact capable of receiving individuals. And we are working with Haiti and with humanitarian relief agencies to ensure that their return is as safe and humanely accomplished as possible.
I was around — I was at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on January 10, 2010, the date of the last earthquake in Haiti, and that was distinct from the earthquake that devastated people more recently. That had far greater geographic repercussions than this one now.
This one, as devastating and tragic as it is, was more geographically limited, and we made a determination based on the legal standards and the facts that, in fact, individuals could be returned to the country as a whole.
MS. PSAKI: Peter.
Q Thank you very much. Just to go back, please, to the images of these mounted Border Patrol officers: You said on Saturday — or rather, on the 20th, “To ensure control of the horse, long reins are used.” The person who took these photos of the Border Patrol agents says, “I’ve never seen them whip anyone.” So, why is the President out there today talking about people being “strapped”?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So let me — let me correct the statements in your question, if I may. It was —
Q They’re direct quotes.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: No, no — if I may. It was on Friday when I was — actually, it was on Monday, I believe, when I was in Del Rio on the ground and I made the statements without having seen the images. I saw the images on the flight back, and I made the statement that I did with respect to what those images suggested.
There — the horses have long reins, and the image in the photograph that we all saw, and that horrified the nation, raised serious questions about what it — let me finish — about what occurred and of — as I stated quite clearly, it conjured up images of what has occurred in the past.
Let me — let me finish.
There’s also a question of how one uses the horse and how one interacts with individuals with the horse. And so I’m going to let the investigation run its course. I’m not going to interfere with that investigation. The facts will be determined by the investigators, and then the results will be driven by the facts that are determined.
Q And just to follow up, please — before the facts are in, is it helpful to your investigation for the President of the United States to use inflammatory language, like people being “strapped”?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Let me just be very clear and repeat what I’ve said: I am not concerned with respect to the integrity of the investigation. We know how to conduct an investigation with integrity. I served as — 12 years as a federal prosecutor. There were a great deal of comments in many of the cases that I handled in the public sphere, and I know how to maintain the integrity of an investigation, and this investigation will have integrity.
MS. PSAKI: Just a few more. Peter, go ahead.
Q Mr. Secretary, thank you. Are Title 42 expulsions, sending Haitians back to danger in Haiti, immoral? Yes or no?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: No, they are not. They are driven by a public health imperative.
Q I understand the public health imperative —
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: But let me —
Q — but are they immoral?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: But let me — let me explain, because — let me be quite clear: We do not conduct ourselves in an immoral way. We do not conduct ourselves in an unethical way. In fact — in fact, we are restoring people by reason of the immorality of the past administration. We are reuniting families that were separated.
Let me explain something — the reality of the situation — because we’re dealing with a great number of individuals who are encountered at the border in a congregate setting and placed in Customs and Border Protection — you know, Border Patrol stations. And that can cause the significant spread of a pandemic.
And it is in light of the operational realities that the Centers for Disease Control made a determination in its public health expertise that Title 42 authority must be exercised. It is a statutory authority. And they made the determination that the public health of the migrants themselves, our personnel, local communities, and the American public require it.
And that is why we are exercising that authority to serve the public health. Over 600,000 Americans have died. More than 40 U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel have died. Many migrants have gotten sick.
We are doing this out of a public health need. It is not an immigration policy. It is not an immigration policy that we would embrace.
Q With all due respect, sir —
MS. PSAKI: Okay, Rachel. Last one.
Q — your statement acknowledges the treatment —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Rachel.
Q — of Haitian immigrants.
Q Secretary, thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Go ahead. We’ve all been civil here. Let’s have Rachel — let Rachel have her question.
Q The congregation under the bridge — the congregating there — just mentioning COVID — what is the situation there? I know that the crowd has been dispersed. Do we know who has tested positive? If people got sick, any kind of symptoms among this group of 15,000, you said?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Yeah, so, we did not — we do not te- — we did not test that population of individuals. We do not know — I do not know, I should say, if I may be perfectly accurate — I do not know whether anyone was sick with COVID.
We certainly had some individuals get sick, not specifically with COVID, to my knowledge, and we addressed their illnesses. In fact, we set up medical tents that had a certain standard of ability to address medical needs.
It is — it was ho- — it’s hot in Del Rio, Texas. We had cases of dehydration. We had other situations. And that is precisely why we surged one hundred — approximately 150 medical professionals to address the medical needs of that population. That is why we set up medical facilities with the appropriate equipment to address their medical needs.
And I must say, what I saw of the Border Patrol and other personnel was, quite frankly, heroic. They took — this is not their customary obligations, and yet they took great pride in addressing the needs of the people.
Q With all due respect, sir, your statement — that “this is not who we are” — belies the actual treatment of Haitian immigrants not just in this administration, but in administrations of both parties, going back decades. And you seem to be distinguishing between violence and violence. What is the difference between —
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: I’m sorry —
Q — the type of violence that Haitians are fleeing in Haiti and the type of devastation and — other devastation that they’re fleeing, as compared to other immigrants and asylum seekers?
Democrats left and right, up and down, have been talking about the violence that people have been fleeing in Central America and South America. And the President, even during his campaign, talked about the fact that this created a need to create a pathway and an asylum system. This doesn’t seem to be the case when it comes to Haitian immigrants.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Oh, if —
Q And, in fact, the images are a true graphic representation of the way Haitian immigrants and immigrants of African descent have been treated, not just by this administration.
MS. PSAKI: I think we have to finish the question so we can answer it.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: If I may, I would respectfully disagree with you. And let me — let me say —
Q I happen to be an immigrant and have been on the wrong side of the U.S. immigration for the last 20 years, so I have some experience with it.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Oh, no, no, no — I wasn’t commenting on your personal experience, sir. And I am an immigrant as well. I wasn’t commenting on your personal experience. I was respectfully disagreeing with an assertion that you made, if I may.
Because if —
Q So, what is the difference —
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: — if — if I may: An asylum claim is determined based on the facts that are presented in the individual case. In fact, the Title 42 authority has been applied to irregular migration since the very beginning of this administration and before. And it has applied to individuals from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and other countries.
It has been applied equally, and the exceptions that I cited have been the exceptions that have applied to all. There are three exceptions: the Convention Against Torture; acute vulnerabilities, such as extreme medical needs; and operational capacity. Those are the three exceptions.
Title 42 authority has been applied, irrespective of the country of origin, irrespective of the race of the individual, irrespective of other criteria that don’t belong in our adjudicative process and we do not permit in our adjudicative process.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Secretary Mayorkas.
Q And one follow-up — the whipping — the whips, the horse whips —
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Sir, that is something — that is something that horrified us all. And, you know, this morning, I was on radio, and the interviewer said that it was — it troubled, very profoundly, the Black and the African American community. And I said one thing — and this should be clear: Those are not the only communities that it horrified. Those are not the only communities that it concerned. Of course, that concern might be most acute, given the history in this country and in other parts of the world. But all of America is horrified to see what those images suggest.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you so much, Secretary Mayorkas. Appreciate your time.
Q One more question.
MS. PSAKI: He’ll come back. I promise. I know there’s lots of questions, but we have to let him go back to his job.
Q Thank you, Secretary.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Thank you all. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you so much, Secretary Mayorkas.
Q You’re welcome anytime.
MS. PSAKI: You’re always invited. Open invitation.
Okay. Two items for all of you at the top. In addition, today, the Treasury Department released data on the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which shows that through the month of August, state and local ERA programs — Emergency Rental Assistance programs — have distributed more than 1.4 million payments to households, totaling more than $7.7 billion, to support the housing stability of vulnerable renters and landlords. So, 420,000 households were served in August — an increase of about 24 percent since July.
Over $2.3 billion in rental assistance was distributed in August, which represents roughly three times the amount spent in May.
We distri- — we expect distribution progress to continue, but even if this pace simply maintains, it would mean 3 million payments to renters in need and $16.7 billion in Emergency Rental Assistance spending, which would have a very meaningful, positive impact on 2021.
And just quickly on the week ahead: Throughout — we’ll obviously have more to convey to all of you over the weekend, just to set expectations.
But throughout next week, the President will continue to engage with members of Congress and congressional leadership on his Build Back Better agenda and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal. They will also discuss passing the continuing resolution, providing disaster relief, and avoiding default.
And on Wednesday — and we’re obviously leaving some space to do exactly that. And on Wednesday, the President will travel to Chicago, Illinois, to highlight the importance of COVID-19 vaccine requirements for businesses.
And, again, we’ll have more as the weekend proceeds.
Josh, why don’t you go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. Two questions. First, the Quad’s meeting here at the White House. The President said he doesn’t want a new Cold War with China. And yet, we’ve also seen cyberattacks; businesses are reporting supply chain issues with their suppliers in China. What confidence does the administration and its allies have that China also does not want a new Cold War?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what we can speak to is what our intention is, and you heard the President convey clearly in his speech at the U.N. General Assembly earlier this week that our relationships with China, our approach to China is one of competition and not one of conflict.
I will say as it relates to the Quad — which is, I think, ongoing, unless it — unless it wrapped — and we’ll have a robust readout for you with all the deliverables — but the focus of that is not — it’s not a security meeting or security apparatus.
This is — the focus of this group is on COVID, climate, emerging technology, and infrastructure — all areas where it’s incredibly important to coordinate with key partners who are in the global community, including in that region.
Q Understood. I guess I ask because the Australian PM said “free democracy” without saying “China.” But I guess the second area is Afghanistan, where we had this drone strike. And we now know that this was an aid worker. How did this happen? What does this tell us about our intelligence in Afghanistan? And what are the procedures for accountability going forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know, last Friday, the Defense Department did an extensive briefing on this and put out an extensive statement where they conveyed clearly that this was a horrible mistake, that this was a tragedy, as is the loss of civilian life in any occasion and certainly in this case.
There’s also been — they’ve also — they also announced that they would look back at the CENTCOM review that they announced last week.
So that is a process that would be ongoing and undergone at the Department of Defense.
I would note — and I’m not sure if this was exactly your question — but some have asked about what it means for our over-the-horizon capabilities and capacities — and I don’t know if that is what you were getting at — as we look to Afghanistan, as we look to preventing terrorists from, you know, threatening our partners or even threatening our homeland.
One, of course, we watch that closely from our intelligence community; they do regular briefings, as you’ve seen, on the Hill. But also, over-the-horizon capacity is not the same as steps that were taken as it was in the case of this drone strike or the strike before it, where our troops are threatened on the ground and where immediate action needs to be taken in order to prevent or attempt to prevent their lives from being threatened. Obviously, this was a horrific mistake.
Over-the-horizon capacity, you have more time to consider, to look at targets, to consider intelligence, and that’s the difference in how we would approach it moving forward. But there would be a look at the CENTCOM review, and that’s something that would come out of the Department of Defense.
I just want to jump around because I promised I would.
Okay, let’s go to Al Jazeera first.
Q Yes, thank you. I’ve been trying to ask this question for months; I appreciate you taking it. It’s a freedom of the press question.
Members of the administration — you, recently, this week — talked about the importance of journalism to democracy. The President also made a point of saying his presidency was different from his predecessor.
So why is President Biden keeping the Trump-era charges against Julian Assange? Why is he allowing the prosecution from publishing the truth about human rights abuses in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo? And does the President believe the ongoing detention of Assange is reasonable, even moral, given the transparency delivered and the greater good served?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have anything new to say on the — on Julian Assange, and I would point you the Department of Justice on that.
I would say, though, that we do think of ourselves and we are approaching this from an entirely different approach of the last few years as it relates to freedom of the press. And I think the Department of Justice’s actions as it relates to the prosecution of journalists, or how we’re going to look at or go after records — something that the Attorney General made an announcement about, the President has spoken to — is very clear evidence of exactly that.
Q But does the President see this as a freedom of press issue with respect to Assange? Or does he separate —
MS. PSAKI: Again, I have nothing — I have nothing new to speak to on Julian Assange.
Q This is something that I emailed you about months ago, so there’s been time to — to (inaudible) this.
MS. PSAKI: I understand. I understand. I still don’t —
Q Is there something —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a new comment from here.
Q You guys don’t want to touch —
Q Yeah, thank you.
Q I have one more.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.
Q I’ve been waiting months.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thank you. You know, we’ve talked about the images that these — that the Al Jazeera footage exposed with respect to the horses that —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — along the border, the pain that that conjures up for African Americans in this country. The President has condemned this, but, you know, the President has also promised African Americans in this country that he had their back.
Al Sharpton has said this week, “We’re being stabbed in the back. Mr. President, we need you to stop the stabbing, from Haiti to Harlem.” He’s talking about the failure of the police reform bill.
What does the President need to do to address this? What does he need to do more for the community? You said this week there’s been the engagement with leaders, but does the President need to do more than that? And what should he be doing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say, since you referenced police reform, the President is absolutely frustrated that we haven’t been able to move forward with police reform. He supported the efforts by negotiators on the Democratic side, on the Republican side, to try to find common ground.
He also was frustrated that they couldn’t find — move — they weren’t able to move forward, despite the fact that there was agreement from even police organizations and others about what — about what the path forward looked like. So, he’s incredibly frustrated.
It requires Congress moving forward in order to have that kind of lasting impact. But the President has also been clear he’s going to engage with advocates, engage with members, and also consider options like executive actions — which is something that we did not act on because we wanted to leave space for these negotiations to continue.
Q But does that make the African American voters feel recognized, that they are being seen, that they’re being heard? I mean, bring it down to the laymen level.
MS. PSAKI: You asked me specifically about police reform, so that’s why I addressed that specific question.
I would say that the President has been an advocate for civil rights changes, for reforms that are needed, for equity across our system from — for many, many decades, and that is a central tenet of his presidency. And that is evidenced in a range of executive orders that he signed early on in his presidency; his advocacy for voting rights, for police reform; and certainly the comments and remarks you heard him give this morning.
Q Jen, thanks. The former President, last night, in response to these subpoenas that were announced by the January 6th Committee, said that he was going to assert executive privilege. He’s not in the executive branch anymore, so I don’t think he can do that.
Has he reached out or have his people reached out to the Biden administration to say, “Hey, we don’t want communications between former President Trump and Mark Meadows,” for example,” to be released”? And how would this White House deal with that kind of request?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not aware of any outreach. We don’t get regular outreach from the former President or his team, I think it’s safe to assume.
I would say that we take this matter incredibly seriously. The President has already concluded that it would not be appropriate to assert executive privilege, and so we will respond promptly to these questions as they arise, and certainly, as they come up from Congress. And certainly, we are — we have been working closely with — with congressional committees and others as they work to get to the bottom of what happened on January 6th, an incredibly dark day in our democracy.
Okay, let’s go to Yahoo.
Q Jen, throughout much of the spring and early summer, our vaccination goal was 70 percent for adults. What is it now?
MS. PSAKI: It’s much higher than that. I’m happy to get the — the up-to-date-to-today data from the COVID team. I know it’s over 75 percent. It’s something that we see continue to climb. It’s something that we’ve seen climb over the past several weeks as mandates have been put — put in place by companies; as there has been, unfortunately, a rising fear of Delta; as people have seen horrific images on television. So, we have seen encouraging climbs in vaccinations and vaccination rates in communities across the country.
Q No, I’m sorry, I understand that, but what are — what goal are we trying to hit? When will we know that we’ve succeeded in our vaccination efforts?
MS. PSAKI: We’re going to try to get as many people in the country vaccinated as humanly possible. We’re not going to put an end-limit on that. It’s a — it’s a continuing work, a continuing top priority of this administration.
Shelby, go ahead.
Q Thanks. So, we know that the Vice President has been tasked with addressing the root causes of migration. A Democratic congressman from Texas told CNN yesterday that the Vice President’s trip to Mexico and Central America had no impact. So, first, I’m wondering if the administration can just detail some tangible examples of the actions in addressing the root causes of migration that have had a tangible, you know — an actual impact.
And then, secondly, what specific causes — root causes is the Vice President currently addressing to help curb Haitian migration from places like Chile and Brazil?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, as the Vice President and the President have both conveyed, this is going to be a long-term effort. And what the focus is on is addressing root causes like corruption, like economic circumstances that are impacting people and prompting them to want to come to the United States.
So that requires working with governments both to put in place new migration proceedings and processes, or limitations, sometimes at borders. We’ve seen some impacts of those over the course of the last several months.
It also includes providing assistance and engaging closely with these leaders on what steps can be taken. And the Vice President has been deeply engaged in this.
But, again, as it relates to Haiti, as it relates to our broken immigration system, the clear step that needs to be taken is an immigration bill needs to pass Congress. It’s a broken system — one that is ineffective; one that is not moral, in many cases, at this point in time. It’s long overdue.
There are a lot of Republicans out there giving speeches about how outraged they are about the situation at the border, not many who are putting forward solutions or steps that we could take. So, we’re a little tired of the speeches. We’d like to partner on solutions and working together to address this problem that has not been partisan in the past.
Q Thank you, Jen. Two quick questions. The President met, just two days ago, with a group of lawmakers — five hours of meetings. Does he have a better sense after all of those meetings — five hours of meetings — as to whether or not the vote will take place this Monday on the bipartisan Senate bill in the House of Representatives?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our work did not stop after those five hours of meetings. And the President has always known that this would be a key inflection point — and we are certainly at one, right at this moment — because while there is broad agreement on the need to lower costs for childcare, for elder care, for college, for preschool, the need to rebuild bridges and roads, the need to address the climate crisis, the need to re- — have a more fair tax system — there are discussions about the size.
Now, as the President said multiple times this morning, the package will cost zero dollars. There are a range of revenue options that can cover whatever the cost of the package looks like. But these are important discussions that need to be had. We know that there are differences of opinion among members of our own party. And we’re still at work at it, and our team was still at work yesterday.
I will say, as it relates to the next steps here, we want to win the vote when it happens. That’s our objective.
Q The second question has to do with COVID protocols that exist in the West Wing, in particular.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q The President meets regularly with his counterparts, like today —
MS. PSAKI: Yep.
Q — from around the world. He meets with lawmakers. He meets with activists, with private citizens from time to time. When new ambassadors present their credentials, they do so right now via Zoom. Is there a particular reason why the President doesn’t meet with those new ambassadors face to face, like has been done in the past by other Presidents?
MS. PSAKI: I know he’s eager to do that in the future. I don’t have any more information or prediction of when that may happen, but, certainly, something he looks forward to doing. And he respects and values the role of ambassadors who are serving around the world.
Q So is there a particular reason why he’s not doing that right now — why he’s doing it by Zoom?
MS. PSAKI: It’s not a COVID reason, but I’m happy to check if there’s a plan for welcoming ambassadors in person anytime soon.
Chris, do you have a question? I don’t want to jump — I don’t want put you on the spot. Or Chris may not.
Q I have a question on Quad —
MS. PSAKI: Anne, go ahead.
Q I’m sorry.
MS. PSAKI: That’s fine. It’s a Friday.
Q I wanted to clarify something —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — you said a moment ago. And then, I have another question. When you say that the President has determined that it’s not appropriate to assert executive privilege in the January 6th documents matter, is that a blanket statement or would you — or are you going to evaluate the requests from the investigating group as they come in one by one with an eye to not assert executive privilege?
MS. PSAKI: It’s an eye to not asserting executive privilege, Anne, and obviously some of this is predicting what we don’t know yet, but that is certainly his overarching view.
Q Is there something that you wouldn’t turn over that you can think of?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I’m going to get ahead of a hypothetical.
But that is what’s important for people to know and understand is, that’s the principle through which we’re approaching this.
Q Okay. And then separately, on the potential government shutdown, has there been any determination or thought quite yet to what happens to ongoing COVID-related work during a potential shutdown? I’m thinking of potentially like the Department of Labor working on their mandate ideas.
MS. PSAKI: So, we, obviously, want to do everything we can to avoid a government shutdown. I can tell you that, as it relates to exemptions, our expectation is because it’s public health work, is that the vast majority of work on COVID would be exempted. But I think it’s safe to say that even if that — even with that being the case, that having the government shutdown and having the impact on systems, on processes, on personnel is not ideal and — more than not ideal, is — would be — it would be challenging, as we’re fight — facing a pandemic, as we’re working to get a lot of programs’ funding out to people across the country, which is why we’re — we’re focused on avoiding it.
Go ahead, Patsy.
Q Thank you, Jen. I have two questions on the Quad Summit and an apology to Anne for cutting in line. So on —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, it’s okay. We tried to call on Chris, but he’s — (laughter) —
Q So, on Quad —
MS. PSAKI: It’s okay. Go ahead.
Q President Biden said that the Quad is on track to produce 1 billion doses of vaccine by the end of 2022. I believe it’s “produced” and not “delivered.” And then also, on the doses already pledged, the initial 500 million doses announced in June, that’s 200 million delivered by end of 2021; the rest by mid-2022; and then, the latest 500 million announced delivered by the end of the next year.
So, first, can you confirm if I have that timeline right? Second, can the world wait that long, especially if the goal to end the pandemic is by end of 2022? That delivery timeline does not seem to support that.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me confirm the specifics here. So the timeline for delivery of the — of these 500 million doses: First 200 million doses will be delivered by June of 2022, I think as you said; second 300 million doses will be delivered by quarter three of 2022. In total, we’ll donate 1 billion doses of Pfizer. That’s part of that total. Obviously, we’ve already donated 160 million doses already to date.
What I will say, Patsy, is that right now, we are still the world’s largest contributor of vaccine doses by — more than every other country in the world combined. We have committed to give more — for every one dose here, we’ve committed to give three doses overseas. That is more than anyone else. No one else in the world can say that.
So — and we’re also helping produce — add to manufacturing capacity. The Quad partnership — who is here, of course, meeting as we speak — is on track to produce at least 1 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2022. We’re also working to boost vaccine manufacturing in South Africa.
But we need help from the rest of the developed world, and the rest of the developed world needs to also step up. We’re going to continue to increase our role in contributing vaccines, contributing know-how, making sure that we are playing a constructive role in bringing an end to the pandemic. But we need the rest of the world to step up, and that’s what our focus is on.
Karen, go ahead.
Q And a second question on Quad. Did the President discuss over-the-horizon capacity with Prime Minister Modi, in particular whether it involves Pakistan or India?
MS. PSAKI: It’s — I know we were going to give a — put out a joint statement. I’m not sure if it’s out at this point in time. The Quad meeting was also ongoing when I came out here, but we’ll have a lot that we will put out to all of you.
Go ahead, Karen.
Q Thanks, Jen. Two questions. The DHS Secretary several times said he didn’t want to impair the integrity of the investigation to the Border Patrol agents. He said, “I will not prejudge the facts.” Did the President prejudge the facts when he said, “I promise you those people will pay”?
MS. PSAKI: I think what you heard from the President is a very human and visceral response to those images, which I think reflects how a lot of people in the country felt when they saw them.
There is an investigation the Department of Homeland Security is overseeing. That will determine what the personnel decisions may be, any other policy decisions, and that needs to see itself through.
But I think the President wanted to make clear to people who watched those photos, who had understandably emotional responses, that that’s not acceptable to him, even while the investigation is being so- — is being — is happening and moving forward. That will determine what the consequences will look like.
Q And on the reconciliation package, Senator Manchin told reporters on Wednesday night that the President, quote, basically just said, “Find a number you’re comfortable with based on the needs you still have and how we deliver it to the American people.” The President today said, “Forget the number” and that lawmakers shouldn’t be focusing on that topline number. So what changed from Wednesday’s meeting, when he said, “Give me a number,” to today, to “forget the number”?
MS. PSAKI: I know that sounds hard to believe, but they’re not actually contradictory. What the President was trying to convey today repeatedly is that there’s a lot of focus on the topline number, but ultimately, there are a range of proposals on how to pay for it by making the tax system more fair so, actually, the cost is zero. That was the point he was making.
So — and that’s why he’s been so focused on telling the story of the substance. And as it relates to Senator Manchin, or anyone else who may have different points of view — and we welcome that in the Democratic Party, of course, in democracy — yes, part of this is a disagreement — or discussion, I should say — about what the size of the package — what the topline, even though it’s going to be paid for and will cost zero, will look like. So, both things are true.
Q Can I ask, what’s the — how do you — when you talk to the President, what’s his approach at this point in time with his domestic agenda? And the reason I ask that —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — is because there have been moments, particularly with COVID relief, where he was basically like, “I need this, and I need this now” to lawmakers. Lawmakers I spoke to who met with him on Wednesday were very clear he was soliciting information: “What are you looking at? What do you need? What’s important to you?”
When does he hit the moment of, “All right, I need this now. Like, we need to get this done. This is my red line. We’re moving”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I talked to the President about this, this morning. His view is that this is a process, and he understands and has lived through many of these processes in the past. And his approach is, “You have to listen. You have to hear people out. You have to answer their questions.”
And, yes, at a certain point, you need to forge a path forward and look to unify a range of viewpoints on wherever there may be some marginal disagreements.
We’re in the middle of that inflection point now. And the next several days, weeks are going to be pivotal on that; there’s no question about it.
But he also understands and has been through enough of these processes before to know that he needs to listen, he needs to be a partner with members. And he’s ready to pick up the phone, invite people down — COVID-friendly snacks, as I said the other day — to play a constructive role in that.
He also knows that sometimes those conversations need to happen at a staff level — a senior staff level or senior staff-to-member level or staff-to-committee level. He knows, of all people, how this process works, and he’s just evaluating, hour by hour, how he can be the most constructive in unifying a path forward.
Q Just one other question. What, if any, comment does the White House have on the apparent results of the new GOP-backed review of ballots in Maricopa County? The draft report appears to show the President earned 99 more votes; the former President, 261 fewer.
MS. PSAKI: It confirmed what we have all known for some time and what millions and millions of people in the country know.
Q And with Republicans pushing for similar reviews in Texas, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, is there anything the federal government or the White House can do to address that, given that members of your party are concerned about this ongoing attempt, or actual review, of ballots?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a good question, Ed. I’ll have to check and see if there’s anything substantively, which I think is what you’re asking me, that we would have the power to do in this case.
Q Thank you, Jen. Two topics, really quick. First, the President has said and you have tweeted that allegations of wrongdoing based on files pulled from Hunter Biden’s laptop are Russian disinformation. There’s a new book by a Politico reporter that finds some of the files on there are genuine. Is the White House still going with “Russian disinformation”?
MS. PSAKI: I think it’s broadly known and widely known, Peter, that there was a broad range of Russian disinformation back in 2020.
Q Okay. Moving on to the border, following up on a question from earlier in the week: Why hasn’t President Biden ever visited the southern border?
MS. PSAKI: What would you like him to do at the southern border? And what impact do you think that would have on the policies?
Q Why doesn’t he want to go?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think it’s an issue of wanting to go; I think it’s an issue of what’s most constructive to address what we see as a challenging situation at the border and a broken immigration system.
And his view is: The most constructive role we can play is by helping to push immigration reform forward; helping reform the broken policies of the last several years; and listening to his team of advisors, who have been to the border multiple times, about what the path forward should look like.
Q So why is this the one crisis then that he thinks he can manage better from here without having seen it than going to the southern border and seeing it?
MS. PSAKI: I can assure you the President is well aware of what the challenges are in our broken immigration system, something he watched closely over the last four years.
Okay. Go ahead, Steve.
Q Just to put a fine point on your answer to Karen’s question —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — because I’m sure that the union officials and lawyers who will be representing these agents are going to —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — want to know: Is it your view or the White House’s position that what the President said this morning is not legally operative, with respect to consequences, and these people “paying” was simply his personal view and not representative of actions that the government will take?
MS. PSAKI: The President was not prejudging the outcome of an investigation either; the President was responding from his heart and responding to seeing horrific photos that we have seen over the last several days.
Q But he is the head of the executive branch; the Constitution vests him with the authority in Article Two. You’re saying that what he said will not necessarily be the outcome?
MS. PSAKI: Again, there’s an investigation that’s ongoing. I don’t know that anyone saw those photos and didn’t have a similar reaction to the President’s, and that was what it was a reflection of.
Q Thank you, Jen. As you know, Afghanistan’s situation is so bad and lack of food in Afghanistan. I don’t know that the United States has any plan for humanitarian help and assist with Afghan people?
MS. PSAKI: We actually do. So, I would say the Department of Treasury actually, today, announced two general licenses to allow humanitarian aid to continue to flow in Afghanistan, despite U.S. sanctions. And our priority is, of course, ensuring that 100 percent of humanitarian assistance goes directly to independent organizations like U.N. agencies and NGOs who can provide vulnerable Afghans with critically needed food; emergency health needs, including COVID-19; and other urgently needed humanitarian relief.
So, all funds are directly closely vetted through local and international partners. This is one of the reasons we’ve been focused on getting the airport up and running. And these NGOs and U.N. agencies are experienced in working in challenging environments to get the food and assistance to exactly the right people.
Q Jen. Jen. Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Jen, what’s the —
MS. PSAKI: Okay, last one, and — sorry, last two.
Q Quickly, Nancy Pelosi said, as we’ve noted, that there was going to be a vote; they hope to pass both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the social safety net multitrillion-dollar bill, with details still to be ironed out. What is the political risk for Democrats if that does not pass on Monday?
MS. PSAKI: We want — when the vote happens, we want to win the vote. That’s what our focus is on. We’ll let leadership determine the next steps beyond that.
Q Understanding that but recognizing, as we’ve heard from some progressives, that they may have as many as 90-plus votes who would oppose this right now if there isn’t passage by the Senate on the social safety net bill. What’s it — I mean, what’s at risk? This is ultimately what the President ran on — that he could get these things done. So what is the risk, in terms of the motivating factor for Democrats?
MS. PSAKI: Our objective is for when the vote is called for us to be able to win the vote, so I don’t think that’s a point we’re planning for at this point in time.
All right. Oh, Rachel, last one.
Q Just one quick question on the January 6th select committee in Congress. We know they sent out those subpoenas to Trump’s inner circle. Congressman Adam Schiff said that he would ask the Justice Department to enforce those subpoenas if necessary. Does the administration and the White House support that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know that they’ve been called to appear in October, I believe, if I saw in reporting. So, in our view, it would be premature to discuss either point — discuss this, I should say — or speak to it because the subpoenas have just been issued and we haven’t seen their response quite yet.
Thanks so much, everyone. Have a great weekend.
3:36 P.M. EDT