Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, September 29, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:41 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Jonathan, second day in a row — nothing at the top.
Q All right. Here we go.
MS. PSAKI: So, let’s kick it off.
Q All right. Well, let’s start here with budget talks still obviously ongoing on Capitol Hill. There’s a growing frustration among some Democrats, particularly those in the House, about what they consider the President’s lack of outreach. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, for one, said today that the President has, quote, “got to talk to more than two senators” — meaning Manchin and Sinema. What response does the White House have to the Congresswoman?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, Congresswoman Dig- — Dingell is a friend of the President’s, a friend of this White House’s, and we work in close partnership with her on our agenda. But I will say that the President has spoken over the last several days with a range of different voices.
He knows — but he knows the most constructive role he can play in this moment is working to unify Democrats on a path forward. And a big part of that — of course, a huge part of that is working toward an agreement to get 50 votes in the Senate.
And clearly — it doesn’t require me telling you — that his meetings with Senator Sinema, with Senator Manchin are part of that effort and those objectives.
I would note that I just saw Congresswoman Jayapal on television conveying something similar to what I just said, which is that that’s a constructive role for him to be playing in this moment. I can also assure you that the President looks forward to speaking with, continuing to work with Congresswoman Dingell and a range of members of the caucus.
But right now, he’s focused on what the most constructive role he can play to move these two pieces of legislation forward.
Q I’ll let my colleagues follow up on the legislation. Two other topics.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q The rate of new vaccinations right now is as low as it was in July, despite the renewed push from the White House and the new encouragement for vaccine mandates. Are these mandates working?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Jonathan, first, we did expect that rates of newly vaccinated would decline over time as they have in other countries with more mature vaccination programs. So, if you look at the United Kingdom, you look at Israel, you look at Canada, as things have progressed and as, of course, greater percentage of the population are vaccinated, the percentages per day, or the numbers per day have declined. We expected that would happen. And the number of people remaining to be vaccinated each day is also decreasing.
But we’ve also seen — and in our view — that the requirements that have — we have announced we’re putting in place, that many companies and institutions and organizations have put in place, are working.
So, I’d remind you that the OSHA requirements, or the OSHA regulations, which we hope to see more — have more detail on in the coming weeks, have not yet even been implemented for businesses of over 100.
But already to date, a number of companies, institutions, organizations have put in place requirements where we have shown — where we have seen rapid increases over a short period of time in vaccination rates. So, one of the reasons the President made that announcement two weeks ago is because he knows we need to do more. We’re going to continue to do more, and we’re hopeful that that will be an impactful step as well.
Q Okay. And last matter: The ATF nominee, David Chipman, gave an interview today in which he said he did not hear from the White House again after being told that he was going to be the nominee until he was told that he wouldn’t be the nominee. And he said — he’s quoted as saying he felt like he was on “an island,” and there was “no plan B” to get his nomination through. Did the White House drop the ball on this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, we share David Chipman’s frustration that he wasn’t confirmed. We felt that he was absolutely qualified — uniquely qualified, in many ways, as somebody who had worked both at ATF and also for a number of gun safety — for a gun safety organization over time.
And there’s only one — but we also knew and we were clear-eyed about nominating anyone, even anyone as qualified as him. There’s only been one qualifi- — one confirmed ATF director in history because of Republican obstructionism.
We moved historically quickly. There was a whole team of multiple people behind him. We engaged with members of the Senate — including the President engaged with members of the Senate — about his nomination. And we were committed to getting it through.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the votes to do exactly that. We also have been engaged with him about working to find a job in the administration. That’s something that we are eager to do if there’s alignment on that. But we believe in his qualifications. We absolutely worked to get him confirmed. But we weren’t naïve about how challenging that would be, given the history.
Q Jen, do you have a better sense of the topline numbers of Senators Sinema and Manchin now?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you, again, to Senator Sinema and Senator Manchin. I would say, Steve, I certainly understand your question. We knew that it would be a compromise, and that’s exactly what it is.
And, as you know, the President has spent a great bit of time, relatively so — but given nothing more precious than the time of the President of the United States — over the last two days engaging with each of these senators about the path forward. But I would — I would leave it to them to describe what they’re comfortable with.
Q Is there any frustration here that you really don’t know what their bottom line is?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s part of the discussion. We don’t really have the luxury to be frustrated around here. If you were easily frustrated, this is probably the wrong line of business for you.
But I would say the President knew that this would require a range of discussions, negotiations, long conversations. He’s obviously been through this before: 36 years in the Senate, 8 years as Vice President, and even the success he’s has — he’s had to date as
Senator [President] getting the American Rescue Plan through. We knew that, especially at this point in the process, and that’s what he’s spending the majority of his time doing, also why he pulled down his trip to Chicago today.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.
Q Have they come to an agreement behind the scenes on a topline number?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’ll leave it to them to describe exactly what they’re comfortable with and where they sit.
Q But, I mean, would the White House — have they come to an agreement on a topline number?
MS. PSAKI: What our objective is, Kaitlan, is working to determine how they’re — what the path forward looks like. We knew that would require compromise. We knew that would require negotiation and sometimes all sides giving a little bit. That’s what we’ve been discussing. But I’m not going to outline private conversations in more detail.
Q Does the President want an agreement on the legislative text by tomorrow?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re asking me probably because of Speaker Pelosi’s comments, I assume. One, I would say the President trusts the Speaker and her assessment of what her caucus needs to win this vote. Our objective here is winning two votes, getting these two pieces of important legislation across the finish line, because we know the impact they’ll have on the American people. We know they’ll lower costs for people. We know they will make a huge — be a huge down payment toward addressing our climate crisis. They’ll lower taxes for 50 million Americans. And he wants to get both done.
We certainly trust Speaker Pelosi. We’re working in lockstep and around the clock to get both of these pieces of legislation done.
I would say it’s only 2:46 now. We have lots of time left in the day; it may not feel that way. (Laughter.) Lots can happen. And that’s what we’re working toward.
Q Based on the conversations that he’s had with Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema — since we know that there have been plenty of them — does he feel that progressives can trust them to support the bigger package?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I can’t speak for what members of the Progressive Caucus feel will make them confident about the path forward on reconciliation.
Q Does the President feel that the progressives can trust Manchin and Sinema?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak for what they — they think they require to get the vote across the finish line. They can speak to that. I’ll let them do that.
Q To follow up on it, it seems like Bernie Sanders has thrown a monkey wrench into all this by encouraging —
MS. PSAKI: There are no monkey wrenches here. None.
Q — by encouraging his progressive colleagues in the House to vote down the bipartisan package, infrastructure package, unless the reconciliation package passes first. And I know President Biden has worked closely with Senator Sanders. What happened here, and how much damage has it done?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re in the middle of it here, Terry. We’re not done with this. The President has been clear about his commitment to getting both pieces of legislation passed — both of them through.
So, right now, what we’re navigating through and we’re working through is how we can get agreement, of course — 50 votes in the Senate on a reconciliation package. That’s what we’re discussing here. We have to see what senators are comfortable with and if everybody involved is comfortable with it to get enough votes to get it across the finish line.
Q But right now, Senator Sanders is telling his progressive colleagues, “Vote it down. Vote down the bipartisan infrastructure package. Kill the whole thing.”
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to speak for Senator Sanders, but I would say — I would say that there’s more context of what a number of members of the Progressive Caucus are saying. What they want is they want a number, they want to understand what the path forward is on the reconciliation package. And, ultimately, our objective here is to work towards unity, work towards an agreement. That’s in process. We’re not there yet, but we’re working on it.
Q On the other end of the ideological spectrum in the Democratic Party, Senator Manchin has said that he doesn’t think the tax incentives and subsidies for renewables are needed right now, that they’re not necessary right now. Can the White House commit to keep those?
MS. PSAKI: The President obviously proposed those in his initial package. He proposed a range of ideas in his initial package. I’m not going to negotiate from here. What we’re looking to do is determine how we can get more than 50 votes to get this historic passage across the finish line.
Q So that’s a no? No commitment on those issues?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not negotiating from here. I could otherwise say, “This is in, this is out.” We’re not going to do that from here. We’re obviously at a precarious — an important time in these discussions.
Q One more on another issue: In Iowa and Illinois, thousands of workers for John Deere have voted to authorize a strike when their contract expires tomorrow night, after the company proposed cutting overtime pay, increasing healthcare premiums, and more flexibility to close plants.
John Deere has made $4.7 billion this year. That’s a record for that company. The CEO is paid $16 million a year. That’s a 160 percent pay raise. Is the President, the administration on top of this? Are they aware of that labor dispute? And what does the President think, in general, of companies like John Deere raking in the cash, spreading it around to top executives and investors, but not to workers?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as a policy, and for legal reasons, we don’t weigh in on individual labor disputes, so let me say that first. And there have been others — and other cases. We, of course, are aware of this particular case.
I will say, broadly speaking — which I think you were also asking me about — yes, the President is deeply concerned when he sees companies making record profits, padding the pockets of CEOs, and expressing concern about paying a little bit more so that we can invest in our workforce, invest in cutting costs for the American people, invest in the climate crisis.
That’s deeply concerning. That’s one of the fundamental reasons he thinks we need to make the tax system more fair and believes that companies can do that without passing on costs to the American people.
Go ahead, Weijia.
Q Jen, thank you so much. To follow up on what Terry was asking about —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — Senator Sanders: Over the summer, the President released a statement after he initially linked the two bills — reconciliation and the Bipartisan Infrastructure — and he said initially that he wouldn’t sign one without the other and that they were in tandem. But when he released a statement to clarify, he wanted everyone to know these are two separate bills. So, has the President directly asked the Progressive Caucus not to make voting on BIF conditional on reconciliation?
MS. PSAKI: The President has said the same thing privately as he said publicly: He wants to get both of these pieces of legislation passed.
He also understands — and it’s not a secret — how anyone — whether they’re a member of the Progressive Caucus or more of the moderate caucus, what their views are and what their priorities are, and that — what they feel they need to understand and needs to happen in order to move these forward.
What his focus on is now — is how we can move both of these pieces of legislation forward and make sure that both of them are done to move his agenda forward.
Q Does he view the progressives as linking them, though? They’ve made clear in their statement that these two are inseparable. So, is he okay with that?
MS. PSAKI: The President wants to get both pieces of legislation through. And also, he knows from doing this a few times — many, many times — that, ultimately, it’s not more complicated than needing enough votes to get legislation across the finish line. That’s what we’re working to get done now. Members of Congress are not wallflowers; they have a range of viewpoints. We listen. We engage. We negotiate.
But, ultimately, there are strong viewpoints, and what we’re working to do is get to an agreement where we can move both forward.
Q And as he continues to engage, can you share if he plans to go to the baseball game tonight or if he plans — and/or if he plans to head to the Hill himself?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve ruled nothing out, but I have nothing to announce for you at this point in time. I know I’ve said this many times, but we make a lot of these decisions hour by hour and what would be most constructive to move things forward.
Q And just one more on Afghanistan —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — because the President’s military advisors continue to be asked about this today on the Hill. Can you just clarify, when the President said, “No, no one said that to me that I can recall,” what he meant?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Weijia, I think you took just a portion of the transcript of his conversation he had with George Stephanopoulos.
Earlier — well, one, in that particular part, he was asked a question, “So, no one — your military advisors did not tell you: ‘No, we should keep 2,500 troops. It’s been a stable situation for the last several years. We can do that. We can continue to do that’”?
No, no one was suggesting that, over the long term, that we could keep 2,500 troops and that would be sustainable over the long term.
You heard, today, Secretary Austin and you heard Chairman Milley convey exactly that. There would be impacts. We would need to increase troop numbers. We would face the threat and a potential war with the Taliban. There could be more casualties. There was not a single option that was presented that did not have risks — major risks, including those, and that would maintain the status quo of 2,500 troops over the course of the long term.
Q So, it was about sustainability. He was not saying that nobody told him 2,500 should remain?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Weijia, I don’t think we need to dumb this down for people, because this is a really important issue.
What we’re talking about here was an initial recommendation in the short, initial period of time of having a troop presence that would continue. Not a surprise. The recommendation over the course of the last 20 years from the military has been to maintain a troop presence. You could argue that’s their job, to maintain that.
The President’s view, when given — when making a risk assessment, when reviewing his options, was that he did not want to escalate the number of troops we had in Afghanistan. He did not want to risk losing more troops. He did not want to go back at war with the Taliban. So, he evaluated that was not in our national interest. That was the decision he made.
I also think it’s important to note — which some of the context of this is missing — is that the recommendation is that — when they made these recommendations, were made at a time when the collective assumption was that the Afghan Security Forces would effectively hold off the Taliban for a much longer period of time. Clearly, that was proven to be inaccurate. That was an inaccurate assumption.
So, there was a recommendation by some of 2,500 troops, for a short period of time, under the assumption the Afghan National Security Forces would maintain, they would fight, they would — they would be in the lead. They were not. And as Chairman Milley also stated today, we would have needed 5,000 troops alone to protect Bagram as we were — as we were — 5,000 troops to protect Bagram alone. And that does not include what would have been needed to hold Kabul.
So, I think it’s important to understand the context here too. Obviously, we know a lot more now than we knew several months ago, and there was no credible option to keep an ongoing presence of 25 troops over the long term.
And what’s clear now is that it would have been much higher than that, and they conveyed that today.
Q Thanks, Jen. On reconciliation, progressives staked out a new number that we hadn’t heard before today. One source told me that, “Anything less than two and a half trillion would be very tough to swallow.” Did the President play a role in getting progressives to toss around a number like that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that we have had about 260 — probably more — probably more like 300, now, engagements with a range of members and their offices over the course of just September, including a range of progressive members and their offices.
I think it’s pretty clear we’re in the middle of a negotiation and that everybody is going to have to give a little.
So, I will let them speak to what they might be comfortable with, what they’d be comfortable supporting and voting for. But certainly, we knew that part of this would be potentially coming down in numbers.
Q And then, can you still cover all of the priorities in the President’s bill with a figure that is smaller than three and a half? And are there areas where things could be scaled back that are being looked at right now?
One specific one there’s been some talk about is community college. Is that an area that’s being looked at? And is there maybe something with canceling student debt that can be a remedy for that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Jacqui, I’d first say that if Congress wanted to pass — to send the President a bill to cancel $10,000 in student debt, he’d happily sign it. That obviously hasn’t happened at this point in time. There’s plenty of time left in his presidency.
I understand why you’re asking. Yes, it would require some numbers coming down just by just — just the math, the pure math, should the number be lower than 3.5. And, obviously, negotiating the number is part of what’s happening at this point in time.
But, right now, they’re also talking about what that looks like and what would be impacted. That’s a live conversation, so I’m just not in a position to get into more detail from here.
Q So, since the parliamentarian struck immigration out of this —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — is there a new plan to address that in a different sort of immigration push? And part of that, is there anything new on the border that the President is going to tie into that?
MS. PSAKI: Into the reconciliation package?
Q Well, no, because the reconciliation package cannot include the immigration issues —
MS. PSAKI: Right.
Q — that were — that were part of that.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Is there going to be some different push?
MS. PSAKI: Well, maybe it will prompt a greater push on the Hill for comprehensive immigration reform.
I mean, this just — I think this news just came out from the parliamentarian just a couple of hours ago, or maybe even less time than that. And certainly, it’s a reflection of the fact that senators went back to look for another option that could be accepted by the parliamentarian.
But these members have indicated that they are committed to getting immigration reform done. We are committed to getting immigration reform done. This, I expect, would renew a look for what the vehicles and options may be.
Go ahead, Kelly.
Q How would you describe the President’s view right now about the trust factor within the Democratic Party? There seems to be a lot of public venting of concern about broken promises and not being certain from some members about what the end game looks like. What’s the President’s sense of the state of trust within the party right now?
MS. PSAKI: I think the President and we all understand this to be an expected part of the process at this moment in time.
Members have strong feelings about what their priorities are, what they want to be included in historic pieces of legislation. We understand that. I mean, they ran for office to come and get things done for their constituents, to fight for particular issues that are important to them, whether it’s childcare or the Child Tax Credit, community college, climate. And we’re seeing that play out. Some also have strong views about what should not be in a package.
So, we understand that they are looking to — many members who are looking to know and have confidence in their priorities moving forward. That’s what we’re seeing play out now. I don’t know that the President has an assessment of trust. He just wants to be an arbiter between all the members — key components of the party on how we can get this done and move it forward.
Q And how are you advising him of what the — sort of the end phase of this will look like? Should we expect to see the President more publicly talking about these issues? Will we see him, you know, in a more frontstage role?
So, since you can’t talk about the negotiating behind the scenes, what tea leaves should we be looking for to signal where this is going to finally — the plane be landed at some point?
MS. PSAKI: You mean in advance of something passing or after something passing?
Q Yes. Before. Before it.
MS. PSAKI: Before. Look, I think — I think it’s important for people to remember — I mean, the President announced these bills — or announced these proposals back in the spring. Big major speeches he gave. He’s gone dozens — done — spoken about it dozens of times publicly. We’ve sent the Cabinet out, through the course of August, to also make the case.
I think what you’re going to continue to see for this moment of time, Kelly, is a lot of these private conversations and discussions with a range of members about how to move things forward.
And yes, he’s the first to tell you that we need to continue to communicate with the American public about what’s in these packages.
But I’m — if we’re talking about this period of time, over the next 24 hours or so, I would expect you’d see him continue private conversations, and that’s how he’ll spend his time.
Q Yes. Thanks, Jen. How confident is the White House, at this point, of a vote on infrastructure tomorrow? Or do you think that could slip into next week? Have you’ve gotten any assurances?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this is why we all came to Washington. It’s like an episode of a TV show where we — I’m not in a position to look in a crystal ball here.
Q Which TV show? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Maybe “The West Wing” if something good happens; maybe “Veep” if not. I’m not sure. I will assess tomorrow where we stand.
You know, in all seriousness, Catherine, we’re not in a position — I said before it was 2:46; it’s 3 o’clock now — expect our team, the President — (laughter) — just to give you an update — is going to be working around the clock the rest of the — today, overnight, into tomorrow morning.
And we’re going to be working in lockstep with Speaker Pelosi. He trusts her implicitly. He knows that she knows what her caucus needs. There’s a shared commitment to winning this vote.
But, right now, I just can’t look into a crystal ball quite yet.
Q And, on General Milley: Does President Biden still have confidence in him and his role, given his conversations with the press that he talked about? You know, if he spoke about President Trump, will he speak in the same way about President Biden?
MS. PSAKI: I would say, first, he absolutely has confidence in Chairman Milley. He’s worked side by side with him over the last nine months through, clearly, some difficult times, difficult decisions in his presidency.
He has a different relationship with Chairman Milley than I expect President Trump did. I can’t speak to that relationship, but he does have trust in him.
Q And one, really quickly: Alabama’s governor wants to use COVID relief dollars to build new prisons in the state. Is this something that the White House would weigh in on or try and move to stop this?
MS. PSAKI: I’m — just prisons, in general, or —
Q That’s the reporting — is that they’re looking to build prisons.
MS. PSAKI: I would be surprised if that was the intention of the funding, but I’m happy to check with our COVID team and see what the parameters are on that.
Q More broadly, does the President have confidence in each and every member of his national security team?
MS. PSAKI: He does.
Q Okay. You mentioned that the President has done many, many deals on Capitol Hill. He’s been around a long time. But one thing that’s different now from the time that Joe Biden served in the Senate and even as Vice President is, well, that the political dynamic in the country is different and, in particular, in the Democratic Party.
Does this President have difficulty relating to or understanding the demands of the progressives in the Democratic Caucus? Do the people around this President who may have served with him in the Senate have difficulty relating to progressives and understanding their needs and concerns?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would tell you that I think there’s a fair number of people who might consider themselves quite progressive in this administration. Also, what the President proposed, the basis of the Build Back Better agenda — I think any member of the Progressive Caucus would tell you — is an incredibly progressive bill and proposal.
It includes a historic investment in our — addressing our climate crisis; a historic investment in lowering the cost of childcare, eldercare; community college; pre- — universal pre-K. Those are incredibly bold and progressive ideas that are also very popular among the American people.
So, I think that kind of tells you how aligned the President is with a number of the progressive members’ objectives.
Q But in this moment where he needs their support for his other priorities that have already passed the Senate, how — how is he working to cajole them, twist their arms, trade horses? Is he — is he having difficulty getting that done?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s an accurate depiction of what’s happening right now. And again, I’d just pointed the com- — the comments of Congresswoman Jayapal on television. Everybody knows here — and we can convey to the American public accurately — that what’s happening here is the progressive — members of the Progressive Caucus want to have an understanding of the path forward on the reconciliation package.
They have stated that publicly. You know why? Because they think it’s a historic progressive package that will have — make bold changes into addressing our climate crisis, into lowering costs for the American people, bringing more women back into the workplace.
They want to know that there are going — is going to be a support for that package moving forward in the Senate and that it will get passed. That’s what happ- — that’s what’s happening right now.
The role the President is playing is working to get 50 votes in the Senate. That’s a role it sounds like they’re happy to have him play.
Q If he does go to the Hill tomorrow, do you think he would meet with all Democrats or just a few? Would he meet with Republicans?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll see. The day is young; I’ll just keep saying that. That’s the theme of the day.
Q On the debt ceiling, have there been any serious discussions in the White House about alternative options to raising the debt ceiling, any discussions about plan B?
MS. PSAKI: N- — the only option here is having this passed through Congress. That’s what we’re working to get done.
Q Thanks, Jen. You said that he trusts Pelosi “implicitly.” And earlier today, she said that they need — for this to go forward tomorrow, they need legislative language that the President can accept. Shortly after that, Manchin said that’s not going to happen. Who’s right?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not sure —
Q I mean, is it not possible to have —
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure those are —
Q Can I get —
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure —
Q Well, I guess what I’m asking is: Do you — does the White House think it’s possible to get legislative language for tomorrow if that’s what Pelosi says she needs?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll see.
Q Okay. Another question. A lot of progressives’ frustration is focused on Kyrsten Sinema. Do you feel that — does the President have a sense of whether she actually wants a package — a reconciliation package to go forward or not?
MS. PSAKI: Our sense is she does.
Q She does. Okay.
And she wants to do it this year?
MS. PSAKI: That’s our sense.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen. Just wanted to go back to a question Jonathan asked —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — about the OSHA rule —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — on mandates. You had said it would be a few weeks just now. When it was announced a few weeks ago, it was going to take a few weeks.
So, are you signaling a delay of any kind of that rule?
MS. PSAKI: No, we never gave an exact timeline, so — maybe we should have been more specific at the time. Obviously, it takes some time. And we want to make sure when we put these out, they’re clear and they provide guidance necessary to businesses.
Q So, how many weeks, then, are you expecting it to take?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t give you a timeline. OSHA is working on them. But obviously — hopefully, we’ll know more in the coming weeks.
Q And I have a question on the governor’s race. The President’s legislation and his performance was invoked in a debate last night.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q Does the White House see the Virginia race as a referendum on the President’s agenda?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t — I don’t think we see it that way. I would say, one, the President is a big supporter of the governor’s — former governor’s, I should say — as has he stated publicly. And you saw him campaign for him several months ago.
Obviously, I would note that he’s also been campaigning on a number of components of the President’s Build Back Better agenda, and the President’s initiatives he’s working through Congress.
So, obviously, if people support that agenda, maybe they’ll support what Terry McAuliffe is running for, but races are always a little bit more complicated than that.
Q Yeah. I mean, McAuliffe has said to us that the President’s agenda is a huge factor in his race.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Does that square with —
MS. PSAKI: Sure, we’d agree with that. All I’m conveying — and I obviously have limitations on how much political analysis — or “little to none” would be what the lawyers would tell me — I can do from here.
But, you know, clearly — and I — we would agree. He is running on and lifting up a number of key components of the President’s Build Back Better agenda. And that is something that he agrees with, he — he’s clearly stated he thinks would be good for the people of Virginia. We agree.
It’s also true there’s lots of dynamics in political races.
Q And then just — you had just mentioned that today is a precarious day for the President. Can you expand on that a little bit, what you meant by “precarious”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what I mean by that is that you have all asked me some very good and excellent questions about what’s going to happen tomorrow and I can’t give you a concrete prediction of that. So, I think that’s why I said that.
Q Sort of, following on that last exchange: You have called — other people, obviously, have called today — or this — this sort of moment that we’re in this week, a “pivotal moment.”
For regular Americans who don’t sort of understand —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — the, sort of, nuts and bolts of the process here, why is tomorrow a deadline? Why should tomorrow be a deadline? Why shouldn’t there be an option to keep working until next week or the next month or next year to get these things done? Why are we in this situation? And does the President think that tomorrow is an important deadline that can’t be — that can’t be moved?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I also think it’s important — since you gave me the opportunity — for the American people to understand all of the pieces that are happening right now, right?
Q Yeah, and more just —
MS. PSAKI: We’re working to —
Q I’m happy to have you do it, but obviously the debt ceiling and —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — and the government spending is in a different category, where there are actual deadlines. But I’m talking about the — the BIF and the infrastructure and the reconciliation package. Is there a reason that has to happen in the next 24 hours?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think for American people who are watching or they’re reading your newspapers or watching your television shows, what they should understand is: Leaders in Congress set timelines for votes when they hope to gather the votes to push legislation forward. Does it mean — and I –obviously, the Speaker made clear that she’s evaluating what’s next. And we will work in lockstep with her over the course of time. But our objective is to win the vote when the vote happens.
And, you know, no, there’s not — I think what she has spoken to, which I would point to, is the expiration of the Surface Transportation Bill, which certainly does happen tomorrow and something that Speaker Pelosi has alluded to. But, you know, we’re hard at work. We’re working to get this agenda done.
And beyond that, we’re just working toward when the timeline was set by the leadership in Congress.
Q And if it doesn’t happen tomorrow, will you — do you expect that there will be other opportunities to vote on both of those — the pieces of his agenda — in the days and weeks ahead? Or do you see that as a kind of moment where it then becomes impossible beyond tomorrow?
MS. PSAKI: Let’s let tomorrow happen. But the President is committed to getting his agenda done; so is the Speaker; so is the Leader in the Senate. And we’ll remain in lockstep working with them to do exactly that.
Go ahead, Karen.
Q What role is Vice President Harris playing right now in the negotiations on the reconciliation bill?
MS. PSAKI: She has been active in making calls to members and engaged with our legislative team. And we’re all-hands-on-deck here and working to get this done.
Q Is she in the room when the President was meeting with Senators Sinema and Manchin yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check. Obviously, she has her own schedule of events and meetings and things she does. And she — she obviously engages with the President sometimes and separately at times. I’d have to check if she was in those meetings yesterday.
Q I want to go back to something that Kelly asked. But also, is she going to go up to Capitol Hill to do any meetings in person?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll see. Day-by-day evaluation — stay tuned.
Q To Kelly’s question, we haven’t heard from the President since Monday. You said a few moments ago that there are many ideas in the reconciliation plan that are popular among the American people. You say that a lot. We’ve heard the President talk about this. Does the White House not see value then, right now, in this crunch time, in the President talking publicly about those ideas as a way to put pressure on some of those lawmakers?
MS. PSAKI: Well, these ideas are already very popular, thanks to all the work that’s been done and thanks to the fact that when they were proposed, they were meeting huge needs that the American people had been talking about for some time, including addressing the cost of childcare, of eldercare, of college, of preschool for families; of addressing the climate crisis; of rebuilding our roads, our railways, and our bridges. These are things the American people, regardless of the political party, support and continue to support — a huge majority in most cases.
So, what I was — you know, there’s nothing more valuable, as I said earlier, than the President’s time. And right now, the best way we can use his time is to have these conversations with members to — at this pivotal time, to get things across the finish line.
I promise you he will be out there talking about these policies and these initiatives, how they help people, how they lower costs for the American public in the weeks ahead. But, in this moment, we had to make an evaluation of the best way to use his time.
Q Thanks, Jen. How does — how are the White House and the federal government preparing for a possible shutdown tomorrow? Just, in contingency plans — you just said that there’s only one possible way forward on this, but also that you cannot predict the actual outcome of tomorrow.
MS. PSAKI: On the debt limit?
Q On the — yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Yes, there’s one possible way forward.
On the CR, our intention is to get a C- — get a — on the government shutdown, I should say, our intention is to get a CR passed, and — so that we do not shut the government down.
Of course, OMB has been preparing for any contingency. They have been over the past — last period of time, and preparing two update contingency plans as needed.
And we knew — we know, and one of the reasons we want to absolutely avoid a shutdown, is that they are costly, disruptive, and damaging. The CBO estimated that the 2019 partial shutdown cost the economy $11 billion, or about $31.4 million per day.
And what’s more, that cost estimate doesn’t even include other harmful effects, including more than 6,000 firefighters battling ongoing wildfires — wildfires would not receive a paycheck; about 43 percent of HHS employees and 60 percent of IRS employees would be furloughed; some Americans attempting to secure an FHA loan could face unnecessary delays; veterans would face additional unnecessary delays in assessing some crucial services. There’s many more examples of what the impact would be, even as we have worked to minimize it and worked — of course, our objective is to ensure we avoid it.
Q And then, yesterday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the government should avoid regulating cryptocurrency at all. This comes just as, after last week, the Chinese Communist Party banned all cryptocurrency in the country. The Biden administration and Congress have obviously included some crypto provisions in the infrastructure bill itself. What is your view of — or the White House’s view, I guess, of regulating cryptocurrency at the moment? And what are your reactions to, I guess, Musk’s comments?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any reaction to his comments. They don’t impact our policy, I would say. I guess that’s my reaction.
But beyond that, obviously, the regulation of cryptocurrencies is up to the Treasury Department, Congress. I’ll leave it to them to speak to it.
Q Thank you, Jen. I have two questions. The first is on reconciliation. You’ve said, ever since this package was unveiled, that the number would come down, it would be a compromise. But earlier this week, Speaker Pelosi told her caucus that they’re rushed now because she only last week found out that the three and a half trillion dollar number was not viable. So, what got lost in translation there?
MS. PSAKI: Nothing. That’s what happens in the end stages of negotiation and a discussion. And what Speaker Pelosi is evaluating, and has been, is the same what we’ve been evaluating: How can you get enough votes to get a piece of legislation passed? And ultimately, you need the majority.
And as the Speaker of the House and the Leader of the Democratic Caucus, that’s part of her job.
Q But was she not under the impression, as it appears the White House was, that the number would have to come down in order to secure those votes?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve always said there would be a compromise — there would need to be. And I would leave it to her to speak to what she felt was necessary, but I think it’s also pretty standard, in the last 10 days or two weeks of a discussion or negotiation, for people’s positions, their bottom lines, including within a caucus, to be clarified.
Q And then on the debt ceiling, you’ve said that the President has engaged hundreds of times with lawmakers on these legislative packages on reconciliation and on infrastructure. But that is trillions of dollars in new government programs, and I’m wondering what the rationale was to negotiate all of these new packages before there was a deal to raise the debt limit to pay for existing government spending.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m glad you said that because there’s some confusion about that sometimes — not from you. But none of the discussion about the debt ceiling has anything to do with the discussion about additional programs.
Look, I think the President’s view and our view has been: The debt ceiling has been raised 80 times in a bipartisan fashion over the course of history, including 3 times during the prior administration, even right after the pa- — the passing of $2 trillion in tax cuts that were not paid for.
So, in his view, this is something that has been done bi- — in a bipartisan manner. It should be something that is not political because everybody should believe that we need to protect the full faith and credit of the United States. And we’re disappointed that that’s not the view shared by Republicans right now.
Q And at what point will the White House and the Treasury Department and members of Democratic leadership chart a different path? At what point will it become clear whether you’re going to get 10 Republican votes or not?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re working on options now. You’ve obviously seen Leader Schumer look to move forward in a Dem- — with Democrats. We’re being blocked on that effort currently by Cong- — by Senator McConnell — I almost demoted him by accident — by Senator McConnell, by Senator Cruz and others.
And what’s so absurd about this is that these are individuals, especially Senator McConnell, who have made very clear in the past about their concerns and the risks of the U.S. government defaulting. This is why it’s never happened in the past. It would have a huge, devastating impact on our economy. He knows that. He’s stated that publicly. He still won’t vote for it, and he still is trying to stop us from raising the debt limit.
If that’s not politics, I don’t know what is.
Q But the debt limit was last raised two years ago —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q — so should some of these conversations have started earlier to avoid being in this crunch time with three weeks left?
MS. PSAKI: Well again, I think it often goes down to the wire, especially with the debt limit, especially with basically almost any piece of legislation. It is something that has happened in the past in a bipartisan manner, and, obviously, that would have been our preference.
Q Was the President surprised that Mitch — Senator McConnell has taken this tack with the debt limit?
MS. PSAKI: “Surprised” is an interesting way to phrase the question. I understand it. Look, I think he’s disappointed more than surprised, and that’s because, you know, he’s someone that obviously he has known for a long time, he’s worked with on legislation and on initiatives in the past. There are obviously clear areas of strong disagreement, and that’s okay. The President is clear-eyed about that as well.
But at the end of the day, protecting the full faith and credit of the United States, ensuring we’re paying our bills, ensuring we’re not going to have a devastating impact on American families, we’re not going to see the markets drop is something that there should be bipartisan support for, and there has been historically.
Q Given how things have gone with companies putting vaccine mandates in place. Does the White House view this as a positive sign for how its own mandates for federal workers and larger companies is going to be treated?
MS. PSAKI: We do. We see it as a good sign and as a model. And there have been — some of these companies have been much bigger, larger companies, where they have effectively implemented these mandates and requirements. And for the most part, we have not seen a mass exodus of employees.
Yes, individuals have decided not to get vaccinated and then have therefore not — no longer been employed. That’s nobody’s preference. But for the most part, we’ve seen an increase in vaccinations in these companies, which makes workplaces more healthier — right? — people feel more confident in these workplaces.
This is also good for the economy, which is something that Goldman Sachs predicted: that the country would see a positive impact on employment as a result of the President’s policy.
We’re seeing that in companies — a lot of these CEOs have spoken to that. Mark Zandi, Chief Economist at Moody’s, said, “The evidence across the country is that more vaccinations means fewer infections, hospitalizations, and deaths, which in turn means a stronger economy.”
Justin Wolfers, economist at the University of Michigan, said, “Viewing Biden’s vaccine mandate as simply economic policy, it’s surely the cheapest and most powerful economic stimulus ever enacted.”
So, we have seen in a lot of places — and let me just give you an example because it’s a really good one: United Airlines is obviously huge company — 67,000 employees. They lost 593 employees — or decided not to get vaccinated — less than 1 percent. They’re at a very high vaccination rate. That’s a good sign. And we’re seeing that in many companies across the country.
Q And at the same time, the President’s poll numbers on COVID have dropped. Is the White House concerned about that? How does it plan to address that issue? Specifically because having people trust his opinion on this is a big question — people following public health guidelines.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we think it’s more a reflection of people being sick and tired of COVID. And tired — some of that is a reflection of people who are vaccinated being frustrated that there is still a percentage of the population who are not vaccinated, and that’s impacting their daily lives.
There was an assumption several months ago, before the rise of Delta, that we would be over and through it and back to normal at this point in time, and we’re not. And that’s frustrating, and that’s impacting people.
Ultimately, as the President has said many times, the buck stops with him. The way to solve it is to get — continue to get more people vaccinated, get people’s lives returning back to normal. And that’s what we’re working on every day.
Q Thank you. One on Afghanistan, one on Haiti. First of all, 12 Democratic senators are asking the President to establish two leadership positions — one in the presidency and one at State — to deal specifically with the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. And implied in that request is that, you know, there’s more to be done than just resettling Americans and that the White House still has unfinished business or maybe hasn’t done it properly. So, I guess I would just ask: What do you make of that request and of that allegation?
MS. PSAKI: We agree that there’s more work to be done in Afghanistan, that there — it’s important and imperative that humanitarian assistance is able to reach the people of Afghanistan. This is an issue that the President raised with the U.N. Secretary-General when he was at the U.N. General Assembly just last week.
We also — this is one of the reasons, also, that we’ve been working so hard with the Qataris to ensure there are flights operable that can get into the country to get this humanitarian assistance out to people in the country.
We do have a range of officials who are working on exactly this from the State Department and from the White House. I don’t know the specifics — more of this particular request, but we agree there’s more work to be done. We have staff who are committed to doing exactly that.
Q On Haiti, I just need a reaction to Haiti’s Prime Minister dissolving the electoral council and delaying elections until 2022.
And then, secondly, there’s a perception among the Haitian community in Haiti that the U.S. government paid their government to take the migrants back. I just wanted you to clear that up. Is that true? So, first the PM and then did the U.S. government pay them.
MS. PSAKI: Well, on the second piece, we — that is not true. We, of course, have been providing a broad range of humanitarian assistance. And I don’t know if that’s what the analysis is based on — hard to know. And we are going to continue to support leaders in Haiti, including with humanitarian assistance, with security assistance. We obviously have a strong presence — a diplomatic presence on the ground, led by an experienced ambassador.
In terms of the particular announcements, I had not seen that before I came out, so let me check with our national security team and I’ll get you a more specific reaction.
Go ahead, Yamiche.
Q Hi. Thanks so much, Jen. Representative Ocasio-Cortez just said that the most helpful thing President Biden could do would be to, quote, “Say ‘We’re going to pass [both of] these bills at once. That eliminates the infighting.’” Is the President willing to do that? And if not, why not?
MS. PSAKI: The President is working in lockstep with Speaker Pelosi, the leader of the Democratic Caucus, about how to get both of these pieces of legislation forward. We know there’s a range of ideas; we welcome those. But we also trust Speaker Pelosi’s ability to count votes.
Q So, just to be sure — the President is sort of uncomfortable with saying, “We’re just going to tie these two bills together and sort of –“
MS. PSAKI: The President is uncomfortable with none of that. What the President’s objective though is to get the pieces of legislation done. And while we appreciate the Congresswoman’s ideas, the Leader and the Speaker of the House and Leader of the caucus probably has the best sense of how to get these things done.
Q And then, I was talking to a lawmaker yesterday who called the President the “closer.” I wonder if the President himself sees himself that way. Does he see his role as being the closer here?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, at this point in time, what his focus is on — I’ll let other people label it and give baseball analogies should they choose — would welcome those.
But, you know, the President’s focus is on, yes, getting — getting — unifying the caucus, resolving disagreements, reminding people of what’s at stake here, what we’re trying to do here, which is address the climate crisis; lower costs for the American people; cut taxes for 50 million Americans, 4 million small businesses.
Yes, there’s disagreements — important to litigate and talk about and — here and in Congress. But ultimately, to the American people, they want relief. They want more breathing room. He’s reminding people of that. And yes, he’s also somebody who’s been through a few of these battles, fights, litigations, negotiations before. And that’s what he’s working to done — to get done, to close it.
Q One last question, which is: The White House staffers are going over to the Hill or have gone over to the Hill to meet with Senator Sinema. Is there anything to take away from the optics of that? There’s some who are reading into the fact that the White House is going to the Capitol Hill instead of the Senator coming here. What do you make of that?
MS. PSAKI: We go up there a lot. (Laughter.) I know people don’t focus on it all the time, but, as anyone who knows our legislative team — many of you do — can attest, most of them came from Capitol Hill, a lot of them recently. They know these senators. They know these members. They know these offices. It’s a quick cab ride. Happy to do it. And not a big deal at all on our end.
Okay. Go ahead.
Q Jen, I have something else, but a quick point of clarification in response to what you said to Chris when he asked you about the President’s poll numbers on COVID.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q You said that the way to solve it is to continue to get people vaccinated, to get people’s lives back to normal — that’s what we’re working on every day. Did you mean by that that’s part of the way to bring the President’s poll numbers up on that issue?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. I mean, what we’re talking about here is people’s frustration around COVID and that they’re still living through difficult times. Life is not — you know, they’re still worried about their kids going to school. They’re worried about vaccine requirements in workplaces and wanting to know that they’re safe. They’re worried about their grandparents. That’s frustrating. That’s hard. That’s emotionally exhausting.
We recognize that. The best thing we can do is to continue to plow ahead, work to get more people vaccinated, more companies implementing mandates, and do more to get the pandemic under control.
Q Sure. And speaking on the companies and the mandates, I hear what you’re saying on the coming weeks and OSHA, but for businesses who are looking at this and wondering when they reasonably can expect that this rule will go into effect, should they interpret “coming weeks” as sometime this year? What should they make of that?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, they should. But they should also know and understand that we’re working to ensure that these rules or regulations provide as much clarity as possible. There will still be questions. Every business is dealing with different challenges. But that’s what they’re working toward, and that’s what their objective is.
Q And then on a final note: The President received his booster shot —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q — on Monday. For Americans who are weighing whether or not they should get a booster shot, how is the President feeling? Did he have any side effects?
MS. PSAKI: He’s been feeling great. He’s been so busy working and meeting with all these senators, I haven’t even had the chance to ask him if he’s had any side effects. But he’s been working full days and has been feeling good post-booster shot.
Q Since the infrastructure bill spending won’t really impact the economy for about another nine months at earliest, would the reconciliation bill be enough to prevent a winter recession if the Democrats agreed to the Manchin/Sinema $1.5 trillion over 10-year proposal?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think anyone is projecting a winter recession. OECD is not. The Federal Reserve is not. Our economists are not, in large part because of the plans we’ve already put in place. We’ve had historic growth that’s doubled — the projections have doubled over what they were just past — in this past December.
What these bills are designed to do is help address challenges over, actually, the long term. They’re intentionally designed that way to address inflation over the long term; to address rising costs over the long term; to address some of the challenges people face, whether it’s childcare, elder care, the cost of college over the long term; to address the climate crisis. So, that’s exactly how these pieces of legislation are designed. They’re not designed to inject immediate stimulus into the economy.
Q And lastly, what is the President’s message to, especially, the Black community where one third of over — those 65 and older depend on Social Security for more than 90 percent of their income? When it talks to him — when you talk about, earlier, there will not be a government shutdown, what is his message to that community who’s saying, “What’s going to happen if I don’t get my check?”
MS. PSAKI: Our message to that community is: We hear you, and that’s why we absolutely want to prevent a shutdown. I will say that there are — while there are impacts — so, let me give you, actually, information on this. We are working to prevent this, but just for anybody who has any level of insecurity about this, which I understand is many people — one moment. Let’s see.
So, you know, there are, I — Social Security beneficiaries will continue receiving their benefits even if the government shuts down. That’s important for people to fully understand.
I mentioned before, 60 percent of IRS employees who’d be furloughed, severely impeding their ability to deliver timely services. That includes things like answering taxpayer questions, resolving compliance issues quickly, but we expect IRS will still be able to continue processing tax refunds, providing the Child Tax Credit.
So, you know, it’s never ideal to — it’s not ideal to have employees furloughed, because it reduces the ability to quickly do services. But there are certain components of the federal government services that are protected, even if there is a shutdown.
Okay. Thanks, everyone. See you tomorrow.
Q The President calls himself an “eternal optimist.” Is he optimistic he can flip any votes in the Senate?
MS. PSAKI: He’s always an optimist, Brian. Always.
Q Can he flip any Republicans in the Senate, though?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll — that’s — we’ll see.
3:32 P.M. EDT