Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, September 27, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:48 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Monday. Okay. So even as we are facing an inflection point, clearly, this week, I wanted to take the opportunity just to remind everyone, specifically in the public, of what we’re talking about in these packages and why the President is fighting so hard to get his agenda forward.
So, included in these packages that the President is fighting to move forward on with leadership, we are working to lower the excruciatingly high cost of prescription drugs, which, by the way, over 80 percent of the American public supports.
We’re also working to make historic investments in crumbling roads and bridges, which over 80 percent of Americans support.
We’re working to pass historic tax cuts for middle-class families. Fifty million Americans would get their taxes cut — four million small businesses.
We’re working to stop our children from drinking poisoned drinking water and get every American access to high-speed Internet — people in cities, in rural communities who haven’t had access over the past several years — which over 75 percent and 66 percent of Americans endorse, respectively.
We’re working to cut the skyrocketing cost of chils- — childcare, something that is preventing millions of women — or hundreds of thousands of women at least, perhaps, from going back into the workforce.
And we’re working to take on the devastating impacts of climate change that we’re already seeing do terrible damage to our economy and national security.
So, even as we’re having important debates about timelines and reconciliation processes and parliamentary processes, I just wanted to take a moment and remind everybody what this is all about.
But, Zeke, go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. You didn’t mention the — the end of the — it’s end of the fiscal year, the expiration of government funding, and —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — as well as the debit limit. Is the President making calls to Republicans? Are White House aides reaching out to Republicans to encourage them to back that CR?
MS. PSAKI: We are certainly engaged with a broad range of members and their offices about moving every component forward.
And I — it was not an intentional oversight; I was trying to add the components of the reconciliation package and the infrastructure bill, which sometimes gets shorthanded. But I’m happy to talk about raising the debt ceiling as well or preventing government shutdown, if useful.
Q Just on a different topic. Was the White House involved in brokering the prisoner swap between China and Canada on Friday?
MS. PSAKI: I didn’t — are you —
Q Well — yeah. And then, also, I — you know, does this sort of deal incentivize China to sort of unjustly seize foreign nationals as, sort of, international, geopolitical leverage?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, we’d not referred to it in those terms. We’d refer to it as, one, an action by the Department of Justice, which is an independent Department of Justice. This is a law enforcement matter, as it relates to specifically the Huawei official who was released. So, this is a legal matter.
I would note that the President and every member of our administration, national security officials who have contact — have had contacts with Chinese officials over the past nine months have made clear that they want to see the release of the two Michaels, and, of course, any American who is not able to leave China.
Q So the Huaw- — so was the White House involved in the freeing of the two Michaels?
MS. PSAKI: We make the case consistently at every level — and we have for some time now, including in the President’s call with President Xi — about the importance of these two individuals returning back to their home.
Q And the action here of deferring the charges linked to the release of the two Canadians, doesn’t that create sort of an incentive structure that would give China more reason to do this sort of thing again?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important to note, and to be very clear about this: There is no link. It is not — it is a — we have an independent Justice Department. We can’t determine how the Chinese or others manage their business over there; it’s a little bit different. But we have an independent Justice Department that made independent decisions — law enforcement decisions.
At the same time, we have made no secret about our push to have the two Michaels released. That’s certainly positive news and good news.
Q And just on a different topic briefly. On the boosters — the President got his booster minutes ago: Are White House staffers getting boosters as well? Is the White House proper considered one of those high-risk settings, like healthcare and grocery stores and the like?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, the CDC, as you all know, just released this information — or these recommendations, this guidance on Friday, and so there hasn’t been a determination made.
But I will note, since you gave me the opportunity, it’s pretty clear — this is one of the reasons the President conveyed this as well — exactly what this means: People who are 65 years and older, they can look at their vaccine cards — if it’s been more than six months and they had the Pfizer shot, they should go get another shot.
Long-term care residents and staff; people who are 18 years and older who have underlying medical conditions, including asthma, diabetes, obesity — there are others; and those who work and live in high-risk settings, including healthcare workers, teachers, grocery store workers who had the Pfizer shot — just look at your vaccine card — if it’s been more than six months, you should go get a shot.
Q And who’s going to make that determination about the White House complex? Is that a CDC decision? Is that a White House Medical office — a Medical Unit decision?
MS. PSAKI: We follow CDC guidelines. But, given the guidelines just came out on Friday, we’re still making a determination about how it would be applied.
Q Thank you. Just to piggyback on Zeke for a minute about Huawei: I just wanted to ask how you would respond to allegations from congressional Republicans that the deferred prosecution agreement for the Huawei CFO amounts to capitulation and appeasement, and calls into question Biden’s ability to deal with the threat from China — that hostage-taking works with the United States, et cetera.
MS. PSAKI: It may feel foreign to them that the Department of Justice is independent, but it is independent under this administration. And this is a legal matter. It was an announcement made by the Department of Justice, and it’s inappropriate for me to weigh in on that further.
What I would note, though — because I think there was a lot wrapped up in their criticism there — is that our policy has not changed — our policy toward China. We’re not seeking conflict. We — it is a relationship of competition. And we’re going to continue to hold the PRC to account for its unfair economic practices, its coercive actions around the world, and its human rights abuses.
And we will continue to do that in partnership with our allies around the world.
We will also continue to engage with the PRC to keep channels of communication open to responsibly manage the competition and discuss potential areas of interest where those align.
So, there is absolutely zero impact. No one should read it as an impact on our substantive policy. This is a legal matter and a legal decision.
Q Just to quickly follow up: Did President Biden discuss Huawei on his recent call with President Xi?
MS. PSAKI: He raised the indiv- — the two individuals — the two Michaels, who have been released. Very positive news.
It should not come as a surprise that President Xi raised the Huawei official. But again, there was no
negatiation [negotiation] on this call. This — these two leaders raised the cases of these individuals, but there was no negotiation about it. It was President Biden raising and pressing again for the release of these two Michaels, as is something that happens in every engagement we do with the Chinese — or had, up to this point in time.
Q Jen, you opened by talking about how popular the President’s agenda is, as reflected in these bills — prescription drugs and childcare and climate change. If the President’s agenda is so popular with the American people, why can’t he find the votes to get it through Congress? And why hasn’t he rallied public support, really, to get this done?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say first, if public support is right around 80 percent for most of the initiatives, then public support has been rallied. As it —
Q But (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as it relates to the politics of Washington, which — sometimes the ZIP Code we’re all living in here operates disconnected from where the American public is; I think we can all evaluate that or have seen that happen over time.
I noted that because it’s important for people to understand: This is what the American people want. Roads, rails, bridges — they are not Republican or Democratic. They are — they are initiatives. They are improvements the American people want.
People want improvements to childcare. They want their costs cut. They want the tax system more fair. So, our ZIP Code here is sometimes a little out of whack with what the public wants. That’s why I noted those pieces.
I would also say, though, that what we’re trying to do is hard. The President knows that. Nothing is guaranteed. And we are working — as you just heard him say, he’s an optimist by nature, but he’s going to work this afternoon, tonight, tomorrow to do everything he can to engage with Democrats, with people with a range of positions to get this agenda forward — moved forward.
Q The Democrats are obviously in control of the government. So, it’s not the ZIP Code; it’s the party, and he’s the leader of the party.
What can’t he —
MS. PSAKI: Well, you ask — you asked me, first, about the popularity of these initiatives and why there weren’t more votes, broadly — which is a good question, but that’s what I was answering to you.
Look, I would again say that what we know is that, among Democrats, there is broad agreement about the need to cut costs for childcare, the need to invest in roads and rails and bridges, make us more competitive, make our tax system more fair, address the climate crisis. There are disagreements around what the size of this package looks like. We understand that. That’s what the discussion is, in part, about.
Again, he’s not naïve about how challenging this is. He’s been through a few of these rodeos before. And so, what we’re focused on right now is working in lockstep with leadership to move the agenda forward and get it over the finish line.
Q And just one question on the President’s booster and this — this display you have here. Is it partly a concern that, after all the back-and-forth on the advice and guidance from the government, people are confused about the booster and maybe even — now even more doubtful about it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say the reason we did this chart is because sometimes it’s self-perpetuating. If everybody here is saying it’s confusing, then people are going to think it’s confusing.
And so, what I’m trying to do is alleviate the confusion — right? — and explain: These are exactly the categories. Anyone who’s had a Pfizer shot six months ago, go get another shot. If you took Moderna and — or J&J — they’re still considering that data. Don’t get the shot yet. Not approved yet.
So, we want to do everything we can to alleviate any confusion, answer questions people have.
The President went and got his shot — his booster shot on camera to make clear: It’s safe, it’s effective, it’s something you should do if you’re in one of these categories.
Q Has Senator Manchin or Senator Sinema made clear to the President what their specific demands are for this reconciliation package?
MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand your question, Kaitlan, but I’m not going to speak on their behalf about what they — where they stand at this point in time.
Q Have they told the President, though, what their price tag is in the —
MS. PSAKI: I will let them speak for what their — what their points of view are. There have been ongoing discussions. We’ve been in close contact with them, as well as a range of members, about the path forward.
Q Without saying what they are, you can’t just say if they’ve actually told the President, “Here is where we will — what we want”?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll let them speak for what conversations they’ve had privately. We’re not going to provide more detail from here.
Q Okay. And what is your understanding on what happens to the CDC and the FDA’s work on the pandemic if the government loses funding this week?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that it is never a good thing for the government to shut down, and that is why we are doing everything we can to prevent that from happening. Because a great deal of public health, if not all of it — most of the public health work would be exempted from a government shutdown, but it — that doesn’t change the fact that having services shut down, staffing cut in different agencies is not in the interests of addressing any crisis we face, including the pandemic.
Q So, will they continue to work at 100 percent when it comes to the pandemic response, or what is the preparation for that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we, of course — as I — as I noted and confirmed last week, we had begun making contingency plans — as every government does, as every Office of Management and Budget does — to plan.
But, again, public health officials, for the most part, would be exempt.
But government shutdowns also are hugely costly. They would include the cutting of staff at a range of agencies; that’s not a positive thing, obviously.
Q Thank you, Jen. President Biden mentioned that this evening he’d be meeting with Democrats, as I’m sure he’ll be doing all week.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Is there anything you can share about —
(Cell phones rings.) It’s not me this time.
MS. PSAKI: It’s okay. (Laughter.)
Q Anything you can share about —
MS. PSAKI: No one even remembered that until you brought it up. There you go. (Laughter.)
Q — about who he’s meeting with, whether those meetings will be in person or on the phone?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I understand your interest. Let me just tell you that, one, we all ate our Wheaties this morning. I expect that’s going to be the breakfast all week. And things are constantly changing every day and certainly even every hour.
And we are evaluating if the President has some space in his schedule to make calls, to bring people down here. We’re not that far from the Hill.
So, we will keep you abreast as these details are finalized, but we’re working through that now. And I expect that will be the case for the coming days.
Q And then, publicly, progressives — like Congresswoman Jayapal, Senator Sanders — have said they are open to hearing what somebody wants to cut from the reconciliation package when asked about a figure lower than 3.5. Does the White House agree that something has to go, or can all of the proposals remain but at a smaller scale?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think this is exactly part of the discussion that’s being had between members of all — all part- — not — not of all parties, I should say — but many members in the Democratic Party right now. And there are a range of options, but I’m just not going to outline those or detail those from here.
Q And then just one more on the maccine [sic] — vaccine mandate.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q The President said he’s going to Chicago on Wednesday —
MS. PSAKI: Yep.
Q — to encourage more businesses. But the last I checked, the OSHA rule was still in the rulemaking process.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Do you have any update on when that will be done so businesses can implement it, and when you think that will happen?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a number of businesses that have already implemented it, even before — already implemented, I should say, their own requirements, even before the OSHA rulemaking had happened, so — and some of those businesses are in Chicago. That — and United is an example, obviously. They implemented a vaccine mandate several weeks ago, and they now have — had a huge increase in the number of employees who’ve been vaccinated.
So, what the President is going to continue to do is lift up private sector companies and businesses that have already put in place mandates, even as the rulemaking process is ongoing.
Q So, there’s no update on a timeline?
MS. PSAKI: It’s up — I would add — I would point you to OSHA. We knew it would take a little bit of time, given there are some very understandable and good questions by the business community. And we want to ensure — they want to ensure there’s clarity when they put out the rules.
But businesses can employ it. It’s become more popular. It’s been very successful in the vast, vast majority of businesses that have implemented mandates.
Q Thanks, Jen.
Q What leverage do you believe the President has — in political or in terms of specific pieces of the legislation, what leverage does the President have with Democrats?
MS. PSAKI: In terms of getting his — the agenda forward?
Well, I would say, one, it’s a hugely popular package. Each item in itself — that’s why I went through some of the specifics here — has broad support among the American public. But I would also say that if you talk to most Democrats who are in Congress, most certainly most Democrats in the country, there’s not disagreement about the fundamentals of what we’re trying to achieve. And there is agreement that we need to address the climate crisis; that we need to cut costs for childcare, for college; that we need to make it easier for women to rejoin the workforce; we need to rebuild and modernize our infrastructure. So, there’s not — there’s agreement on that.
There’s a basic discussion that needs to happen, or is ongoing — we’re right in the weeds of it now — on what the size of the package looks like.
But I will also note — and we’ve done this a little bit over the past couple days — but that this package — the reconciliation package would cost zero dollars.
So, what I’m saying — what I — what we are — the case we’re making here is that there needs to be agreement on the different components. There’s broad agreement on the goals. And then there needs to be agreement on what the revenue payfors are. There’s a range of options of revenue payfors. Clearly, the President has laid out the different areas that he would like to invest in, and all of that needs to come together. That’s where — and we’re in the weeds on now.
Q Is it a political problem for the President that he’s having difficulty bringing together his own party?
MS. PSAKI: I — first of all, the — we’re in the process now. The President, again, doesn’t underestimate how challenging getting all of these pieces of legislation forward is. We’re in the middle of it right now.
And there is broad agreement about the different components of his agenda. So, what he’s working to do now is unify the party around the path forward. That’s — that’s what we’re in the middle of. I don’t think — it’s a little too early to evaluate how it’s going to end.
Q He said it could go into next week. That’s your expectation?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll see.
Go ahead. I’ll come back to you, Jen.
Q Jen, there’s some reporting today that the White House and Democrats are considering or at least looking at means testing for some of the items in the reconciliation bill. Is that something that you would consider?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it depends on how you define what that exactly is, right? There are — there are inquom [sic] — income requirements for a range of different components of the President’s agenda. Right?
Q Well, for, say, a community college, for example. That was billed as something that would be available to all Americans.
MS. PSAKI: Right, but I — and I’m not going to negotiate all the specifics from here. I’m just going to give you just a broad un- — broad case understanding of how we’ve already approached things to date.
It depends on how you’re describing exactly what that is. Right? We don’t give the Child Tax Credit — every family is not eligible for the Child Tax Credit in the country. Every person is not eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit. There are income requirements for a variety of components.
So, there are some who have proposed that. Obviously, the President — there are components, as you can see from his past agenda, where he has — there has been income tops on some components of his agenda, but beyond that there are ongoing discussions right now.
Q But you’re ruling out that could be added to some items that, as proposed, did not have income.
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think you should look at the President’s past proposals and what he has supported in the past — where there has been prioritization in the past, in some areas, for components of his agenda that made it not elig- — made it have an income cap so that we could expand the scope of who could — who could get it, without it being to the highest income.
Q And just one more. As he sat down with Prime Minister Modi last week, the President said that the Indian press is “better behaved” than the U.S. press, and then he advised him not to take questions. Can you explain why the American President was criticizing U.S. reporters in that setting?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would note, first, that he took questions on Friday and he took questions again today.
And I think what he said is that they’re not always “on point.” Now, I know that isn’t something that anyone wants to hear in here. But what I think he was conveying is, you know, today, he might want to talk about COVID vaccines; some of the questions were about that. He might want to talk about — and some of the questions are not always about the topic he’s talking about in that day. I don’t think it was meant to be a hard cut at the members of the media — people he has taken questions from today and on Friday as well.
Q It happened that he was sitting next to the Prime Minister of India, the world’s largest democracy, when he said that. It also followed the incident on Wednesday when he was sitting next to the Prime Minister of Great Britain. Is the President reticent to take questions when he’s sitting next to a foreign leader in the Oval Office? Can we expect him to do that in the future?
MS. PSAKI: Steve, he took questions earlier that day, on Friday.
Q Yes —
MS. PSAKI: He’d already taken questions that day. I think that was the context of his comments.
Q But, obviously, again, the question was —
MS. PSAKI: And he has taken questions standing next to a foreign leader many, many times in the past and will continue to.
Q Good. I want to ask you about what Republicans are pointing to in the analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation. They say, according to — if I’ve read the chart correctly, more than 16 percent of taxpayers would see their taxes increase under the bill that’s approved by the House Ways and Means Committee. Will the President sign that bill if — as if — it is coming out of that committee? Or will he insist on the changes so that he will maintain his commitment that taxes won’t go up on people making $400,000 a year?
MS. PSAKI: I have not looked at the document or the report that you have put out. Obviously, the President — or that you have referenced, I should say — that the Republicans put out.
Obviously, the President’s commitment remains not raising taxes for anyone making less than $400,000 a year. There are some — and I’m not sure if this is the case in this report — who argue that, in the past, companies have passed on these costs to consumers. I’m not sure if that’s the argument being made in this report. We feel that that’s unfair and absurd, and the American people would not stand for that.
But I will take a closer look at this report and get you a more substantive response.
Go ahead, Jacqui.
Q Thanks Jen. Going back to the Friday meeting with the Prime Minister. The President said that the Indian press was “better behaved” than the U.S. press, but the Indian press is ranked 142nd in the world, according to Reporters Without Borders, for press freedoms. How does he say that about the U.S. press compared to the Indian press?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would just say to you that having now worked for the President — serving in this role for nine months, having seen that he’s taking questions from the press more than 140 times, including today and Friday — that he certainly respects the role of the press, the role of the freedom of pre- — free press. He — we ensure that we have press with us, of course, when we travel; that we have press with us for sprays in foreign — in foreign capitals; and we will continue to. And I think that should speak to his commitment to freedom of press around the world.
Q You haven’t opened up the East Room, though.
Q I want to go back to the border. On Friday, the Secretary of Homeland Security said that 12,000 migrants were released into the U.S. to have their cases heard by an immigration judge; 2,000 were expelled via flights. But we now have another group of migrants that has crossed the southern border of Mexico, could end up on the U.S. southern border within the next month or so. So, does the White House believe the message of deterrence — “The border is closed; do not come” — is working?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Jacqui, the White House believes that — and the President believes that our immigration system is incredibly broken. And we saw a surge — we’ve certainly seen a surge of migrants come to the border recently. We saw a surge back in 2019. We saw a surge back in 2014.
Until we fix the system and we have a more effective and operational immigration system, until we have an asylum processing system that works at the border, we’re going to continue to see cyclical challenges like this. And we’ve seen them over Dem- — across Democratic and Republican Presidents.
So, our objective continues to be not just addressing, obviously, the challenges we saw in Del Rio last week, but working with Congress to get immigration reform passed so we can fix the broken system and ensure we can have a better operational process moving forward.
Q But how is that going to get fixed when the immigration bill has been, you know, stalled in Congress since the President took office? It’s been tough to even get something like roads and bridges passed; that’s coming to a head this week. How is that going to work when there’s also this backlog of 1.3 million cases that are waiting to be heard? And, on average, it’s taking two and a half years for cases to be processed from the notice to appear to the case completion. That’s almost double from a year ago.
So what tools is the President going to use? Because Congress is very slow right now.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we would argue that — for all of those Republicans who are standing at the border and giving speeches about how broken the system is: Why don’t you join us and be a part of the solution instead of relying on speeches?
Because we can work together and get immigration reform passed and make the system work and make it operational. We can have border restrictions that make sense. We can have a humane system that ensures that people can apply for asylum in an equitable way. That’s something — we all agree the system is broken. I think the question is: Who’s going to work with us to get changes done to make it better?
Q Republicans are saying that a major reason that this bill can’t move is because there’s not enough border security provisions in it. Is the President going to bolster border security in order to pass immigration reform?
MS. PSAKI: If Republicans are eager to have a conversation about comprehensive immigration reform, we’re happy to have that conversation. We haven’t seen any willingness or appetite to do that; all we’ve seen is speeches and talking points to date.
Q Thanks, Jen. Just to go back to the Huawei case for a second. You said there is no link between that and the release of the two Michaels, but China has long linked those two things. And given her release and the timing of their release — and it was a longstanding ask from the Chinese side — how do you communicate clearly that it wasn’t a concession to them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our system clearly works differently from the Chinese system. We understand that. How we communicate it clearly is to reiterate that this was a legal decision made by the Department of Justice. They can speak to the reasoning. They can speak to their decision-making process.
But I would also reiterate that we are still going to — we are still pleased to see, of course, the release of the two Michaels — something we have been pressing for, as our neighbors to the north have been pressing for and others around the world, for some time.
Our Justice Department is independent, they make independent legal decisions, and we will continue to reiterate that.
I would also say that there has been some assessment that this means a change in our China policy. That is absolutely not the case. This was a legal decision. Our policy and our approach to policy — our intention to hold China to account for its unfair economic practices, its coercive actions around the world, hold it to account on human rights abuses — has not changed.
Okay. Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. In all these calls that are happening this week with Congress, I was just wondering: How much is the President still, kind of, in a listening mode, listening to what members want — versus as a leader of the party, you know, kind of, in directing the members of the party?
I mean, you know — kind of piggybacking on Kelly’s question about using leverage as President of the United States to force them, maybe, a bit to get on board with his agenda.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t know if you’ve met many senators; they’re not going to be forced to do anything that’s not in their interest.
So, I understand there’s a little bit of that churn out there, but the President has been at this a long time — 36 years in the Senate, 8 years as Vice President. He’s been pretty effective to date at moving legislation forward, including when there was skepticism about his ability to get that done.
As I’ve said many times, but it’s just worth reiterating, he is not — none of us — he is not naïve about the challenge here and how challenging this is to get these two big pieces and historic pieces of legislation across the finish line.
So, yes, the conversations are not just about him silently listening; I can assure you all of that. He is not a wallflower. He is engaging in conversations. He’s having discussions with leaders. He’s looking to chart a unifying path forward.
And there’s a give-and-take and a back-and-forth in those conversations, absolutely. He’s working to help unify the caucus to get to a conclusive outcome here.
Q If I could just ask a follow-up — not a follow-up, pardon me — on a different subject, about China: Bloomberg actually is reporting about a U.S.-led competitor to China’s Belt and Road. Can you address that? Is the United States working on an alternative to Belt and Road aside from what it is doing with Europe? A U.S.-based —
MS. PSAKI: Aside from Build Back Better World?
Q Aside the Build Back Better World. And how would that work?
And is the United States, is the White House looking for projects in Latin America to do this?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a great question. Obviously, Build Back Better World I reference because it is an initiative that, you know, obviously, we worked with the G7 and other leaders to begin to implement around the world and build that infrastructure around the world.
I’d have to check with our team and see. I have — not that I am aware of, but I will check and see if there’s anything more to report on that.
Q Thank you, Jen. In New York State, there’s an anticipated shortage of healthcare workers due to tens of thousands of them failing to comply with strict state vaccine mandates.
I’m wondering if the Biden administration is learning anything from these New York mandates as it’s drawing up its own federal version of them and if there’s any surprise about the number of people who haven’t complied and haven’t been vaccinated.
MS. PSAKI: So, as it relates to New York: One, we are tracking that a number of states — New York is one of them — are beginning to implement — as they’re beginning to implement requirements, they’re taking steps to work with healthcare systems to ensure that they have alternatives that they can backfill as needed. And that certainly is — is something we support that some states, like New York, are doing.
I would note that when this decision writ large was made — and this was the reason we did it on a federal level, right? — it was because healthcare workers who’ve been on the frontlines of this pandemic for a year and a half now were feeling at risk for their health, for their lives, for their children’s lives. And also it was creating a great deal, not — a bit of a lesser concern, but one for hospital associations — for disruptions of workers, right? People were having to take off sick time and even — and even worse, of course.
So, this was a step that was taken in order to address that — to create certainty for these healthcare workers and also these systems.
We have seen in a number of places around the country — Methodist Hospital in Houston, which is one of the first organizations to implement a vaccine requirement — that they lost only 153 out of 25,000 employees. That means — of the implementation of the vaccine mandate, I should say. That means less than 1 percent quit over a vaccine requirement.
And new employment data out of Maine showed that only 65 people out of 33,000 healthcare workers quit their jobs over a vaccine requirement.
Henry Ford Health System in Detroit went from 68 percent vaccinated to 98 percent.
So, the point is: We’re seeing in a lot of places that this is working, it’s effective, it’s creating more certainty and protection in their workforces. There are places where they are contingency planning to ensure they’re backfilling. We certainly support that as well. We stay in touch with them about the steps that they’re taking.
But we still continue to believe that putting in place these mandates for businesses over 100 workers is something that is a positive step for the workforce, for the country, and for a lot of these businesses, as these business leaders can attest to as well.
Q But is there anything, sort of, special about the New York rules — I mean, for example, there’s not a religious exemption even there — that the Biden administration might be looking at and thinking, “This might be a little bit too strict for what we would want to do nationally”?
Because it is a much bigger — I mean, and to your point, most of those places that you mentioned are having tiny, tiny, sort of, like, you know, amounts of people leaving. But New York seems to be an exception.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I know that, obviously, OSHA and — as they’re working to do the rulemaking that Weijia asked about earlier, they’re looking at a range of ways to make this as efficient, as clear for businesses as humanly possible.
We’ve talked a little bit about the expectation of a — of an exemption for — a religious exemption, which is something, certainly, they’ll look at. And I’m sure they will look at how it’s applied to different health systems across the country, as well as businesses and how they have applied it across the country in the private sector, where it’s already been implemented as well.
So, they’ll look at all of that. Their objective is to make this clear. But I think it’s also important to note that — that, in the vast majority of places, it’s actually been quite effective. There’s been a very, very small percentage of people who have left the workforce as it’s been mandated.
Q And then just on one other topic. There’s a group of about 40 Americans who are still alive from the Iranian hostage crisis, who were supposed to be paid from a fund that Congress approved. Vice President — President Biden was Vice President at the time that this law was passed. This money has been depleted, and I just wanted to see if the President supports rewriting this law at all to cover these individuals who didn’t get their due and whether he believes justice has been done by these — by these individuals.
MS. PSAKI: It’s a good question. I know you guys have followed this closely from your out- — from the Post. I’ll have to check with our team — our legislative team and just see, kind of, where we stand with that. And I’m — I’ll talk to him about it, too.
Q Back on the Meng release for a moment. So, the President spoke, Jen, with President Xi, I think, on September 9th.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q The agreement that ultimately led to Ms. Meng’s release was about 10 days later. Was he aware at the time, even if he did not discuss it with President Xi, about what the status of the discussions were?
MS. PSAKI: In terms of the Department of Justice?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more detail on that.
Q So we don’t — we don’t know whether he — do you know when he first learned that there was —
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t — I’m not — I’m not trying to be cute with you. I don’t have any more detail on it. I’m happy to check if there’s more I can convey.
A second question on all of this. You said that it wouldn’t have any effect on our overall China policy. We haven’t heard the President very much, during the time that he’s been in office, about Huawei itself.
And obviously, part of the effort here in reaching this agreement was to get a statement that would help with the criminal case against Huawei. How does the President assess that the campaign against Huawei is going right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I have not spoken with him about his view on the campaign against Huawei. What I will tell you and just reiterate is that this was a legal decision. It does not change our view, this administration’s view, or his view as it relates to our concerns about economic practices, coercive actions, and, in fact, the actions that were admitted to by this individual. I mean those type of actions.
So, it does not change our policy. It does not change our approach to policy. It does not change our concerns with some of the practices we’ve seen from — from the government and leaders within China as it relates to economic action.
Q I’m trying to get at something a little bit different, which is: Does the President believe that the initiatives you have underway to contain Huawei spread through Latin America, Africa, elsewhere are actually yielding results in the first nine months of his presidency?
You’ve seen them win some big contracts. You’ve also seen them have a very difficult time getting a lot of the semiconductors and other parts they need.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t — I’d have to check with our team on an assessment of that, David. It’s a totally fair question.
Q And a last question for you, which has to do with Iran. The foreign minister of Iran — the new foreign minister was in New York last week. He said that they were less interested in the details of what a revived JCPOA agreement said and much more interested in making sure that they got the sense of all the benefits from sanctions relief that they believe, actually back to President Obama, they did not, even after the agreement was signed.
Is President Biden’s view, at this point, that when you — if you do get back into the agreement, that Iran has to see more benefit than it actually got back after the 2015 agreement was reached?
MS. PSAKI: You mean receive more benefits than — so, receive more benefits than they received back in the last administration?
Q Not on paper but in reality. The Iranian complaint, essentially, was companies were still too reluctant to do business with them.
MS. PSAKI: I think, David, where we are is we’re still quite a few steps away. And so, we are eager, of course, to go back and have discussions — diplomatic discussions in the next round of negotiations.
They may not be interested in all the details. We certainly are interested in all the details. But I just am not in a position to assess what that will look like at this point in time.
Q Yeah, thanks, Jen. Does the White House have any reaction from news today that John Hinckley, who, of course, attempted to assassinate President Reagan four decades ago, will be granted unconditional release, effective next June?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any response. I’m happy to check and see if we have one from here.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Oh, thank you very much.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sorry. I was calling on him. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q Oh, so sorry.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, right, okay. Okay, okay. It’s okay. Go ahead.
Q Today marks four weeks since the last U.S. troops left Afghanistan. And since then, the U.S. has helped at least 160 Americans and U.S. residents leave. But thousands more green card holders and at-risk Afghans remain. Does the White House think that that’s an acceptable rate of getting people out? And how do you measure success?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our objective was — at the time and continues to be — to work with our partners in the region, including the Qataris and others in neighboring countries, to ensure there are movement of flights and that flights are back up and operational. We have seen many people depart and that, we expect and hope, will be ongoing.
We knew that we needed to take a number of steps to work with the international community to ensure there’s continued pressure that the t- — that the Taliban would abide by their commitments. And we also knew that we needed to get the flights up and going.
The flights have been up and going. And so far, we’ve moved some people overland. We’re working with our partners in the region to continue to get more people out who want to depart.
Q Is the White House happy with how quickly things are moving?
MS. PSAKI: Our objective is to continue to make progress, and I think we’re doing exactly that. And the State Department, of course, is leading this effort.
Q The Education Secretary supports mandatory vaccinations for students if they’re eligible for a COVID vaccine. Does the White House agree with that? Does the White House believe that all students should be vaccinated before they go to school?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve always felt it would be up to local and district school — school districts to make that determination. Certainly, we support more people getting vaccinated, more schools and superintendents and leaders taking steps to protect their communities. But our view is that it will continue and should continue to be up to schools and local school districts.
Q So not a federal requirement at this step?
MS. PSAKI: We have not put in place one, no.
Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q Thank you so much. So, taking you back in time to Friday, as President Biden was mid-meeting with Prime Minister Modi, the Prime Minister of Pakistan took to the stage at the U.N. and delivered some scathing criticism of the U.S.’s actions in Afghanistan. And he’s lamented the lack of direct engagement between himself and President Biden.
So, I was just wondering: Why hasn’t the President used this aggressive diplomacy to answer that call from the Prime Minister of Pakistan to engage directly?
MS. PSAKI: To be in touch directly with the — with the leader of Pakistan? We have been in touch at very high levels with leaders in Pakistan from the State Department, from the Department of Defense, and from other key components of the administration.
The President has not spoken with every foreign leader at this point in time; that is absolutely true. But he, of course, has a team — an expert team deployed to do exactly that.
So I would say that we are continuing to work together and work on initiatives where we can, make clear where we have concern, but I wouldn’t overread into a leader-to-leader call in that particular regard. We have high-level engagement from the State Department, Defense Department, and others at this point.
Q Could there be a call at some point soon?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to predict at this point in time. If they do a call, we will of course read it out to all of you.
Go ahead, Yamiche.
Q Thanks, Jen. A question on the pressure the President is facing. The President said today that “victory” is at stake this week. Can you explain more about what he meant there, and also what pressure is he feeling as Democrats face this sort of intense legislative week?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say he said that at the end of several questions — just to give the full context — when it was like, “What is at stake?” And he said, “Victory is at stake.” I don’t think he said it quite exactly in the same tone that you conveyed, which is okay.
But, look, the President is very committed to this agenda. He laid it out back in the spring. He thinks that it’s far past time to rebuild our roads, rails, and bridges. He thinks it is far past time to ensure we are doing what’s needed to address the climate crisis. He thinks it’s far past time to lower costs for working families — whether it’s childcare, the cost of college, elder care — that are impacting millions of families across the country.
That’s what the stakes are. The stakes are for the American people. That’s what he’s focused on. We are, of course, going to continue to work with Democratic leadership and our objective is to win both of these votes and get this agenda moved forward.
Q And I know you’re not going to negotiate from the podium, but can you say anything about what the President’s message is to his own party as he tries to bring together progressives and moderates?
MS. PSAKI: His message is: Let’s — let’s get together, let’s get to work, and let’s get this done for the American people.
Q Can I ask you one more — one quick question —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — on the Haitian migrant issue?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Can you talk a bit more about the need to continue to use Title 42 and why that’s so important to this administration?
And also, overall, with the Border Patrol Horse Patrols, they’ve been using those horses for a very long time. Is the Biden administration going to continue to use those horse patrols throughout the rest of the country? I know they’re temporarily suspended in Texas — or Del Rio, Texas, rather.
MS. PSAKI: They are temporarily suspended in Del Rio, Texas. I think what Secretary Mayorkas talked about a bit when he was here on Friday is the fact that when these horse patrols are used effectively, they often can help people who are in distress. That’s something they do. They can find people. There are — there is a reason that these horse patrols have been in place and continue to be in place in some parts across the country.
Of course, our Department of Homeland Security will continue to look at and assess, especially as the investigation concludes, what that looks like. They’ve been suspended in Del Rio, Texas. That was a step in response, of course, directly to those horrific photos.
But beyond that, I think it’s important to note that, as the Secretary said, the vast majority of the Border Patrol and the Horse Patrol are doing their job and they’re doing their job effectively.
Of course we are going to assess and we are going to call out when we see occasions — as we did with the photos and the video last week — that don’t meet our bar; that that bring out strong emotions, for good reason, from people in this — in this administration and around the American public.
Q And you clarified about the “victory is at stake.” Could you just explain a little bit more what you mean by that? I just want to make sure that the context is clear when the President — when the President said, “Victory is at stake,” what you see him as meaning there.
MS. PSAKI: He means victory for the American people: victory in getting — lowering the cost of childcare; lowering the cost of elder care; rebuilding our roads, rails, and bridges; becoming more competitive with China; investing in our climate crisis.
Q So not victory for his agenda, per se? Not victory for —
MS. PSAKI: Well, that is his agenda.
MS. PSAKI: They’re mutually the same.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen. Does the President have a specific position on the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act that passed the Senate and is awaiting consideration in the House?
And then, in a recent interview with Bloomberg, John Kerry seemed to suggest that, in talks with the Chinese, this administration sees human rights and climate change as two separate issues. He said, “Yes, we have issues, a number of different issues. But first and foremost, this planet must be protected.” Is it the President’s view that climate change is first and foremost over, you know, a host of other issues?
MS. PSAKI: Well, to be fair, I think what the Secretary was conveying is what I just conveyed about our China policies: that we are going to continue to speak out when we have — where we have concerns, whether it’s their economic approach, whether it’s human rights issues, which we will raise privately and we will also raise publicly. But we will also look to work with the Chinese on areas where we can, and, obviously, climate is one of them.
Q And on the — specifically on the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, does the President have a position?
MS. PSAKI: I will check with our legislative team. Obviously, he’s spoken out about his concerns about the treatment of Uyghurs in the past, but let me check on the specific piece of legislation.
Q And then you touched on this, but I’m wondering, you know, the El Paso Times has walked back their claim that border agents were using whips to deter Haitian migrants. This is kind of a controversy; some people are weighing what is a whip versus what is a rein. And the El Paso Times put out a clarification saying, “It was not an actual whip.” Does that change anything for the administration, in light of the statements that were made last week?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think anyone could look at those photos and think that was appropriate action or behavior or something that should be accepted within our administration.
There’s an investigation. That’s ongoing. We’ll let that play out. But our reaction to the photos has not changed.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.
Q Thank you, Jen.
Q I have a question. On the polling — the President’s polling continues to collapse —
MS. PSAKI: Emerald, I know you like to shout at the end. Next time, we’ll do it during the briefing.
Q Well, if you’d call on me —
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.
Q — I wouldn’t, along with a lot of other people, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you so much.
2:33 P.M. EDT