Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, September 30, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:34 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay. Welcome back, Dr. Harper.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. I’m breaking my streak. I do have some items at the top for all of you. Lots going on in the world.
The U.S. government condemns in the strongest possible terms the government of Ethiopia’s unprecedented action to expel the leadership of
all of the United Nations organizations involved in ongoing humanitarian operations. We agree with U.N. leaders: This is a stain on our collective conscience and it must stop.
The action follows the release of reports warning that hundreds of thousands of people are starving to death in northern Ethiopia. We’re deeply concerned that this action continues a pattern by the Ethiopian government of obstructing the delivery of food, medicine, and other lifesaving supplies that most — to those most in need.
We call on the U.N. Security Council and members of the international community to take urgent action to make clear to the government of Ethiopia that impeding humanitarian operations and depriving your own citizens of the basic means of survival is unacceptable.
President Biden signed an executive order, earlier this month, enabling the U.S. government to impose financial sanctions on those prolonging the conflict in northern Ethiopia. We will not hesitate to use this or any other tool at our disposal to respond quickly and decisively to those who obstruct humanitarian assistance to the people of Ethiopia.
One more items — one more item. Some news from — out of the First Lady’s office: Today, Joining Forces — the White House initiative led by the First Lady to support military families — and the National Security Council released a White House report, signed by the President and Secretaries of 15 executive departments, which outlines the first round of administration-wide commitments and proposals to supporting military and veteran families, caregivers, and survivors.
In May of 2021, the Office of the First Lady and the National Security Council launched a Joining Forces Interagency Policy Committee with representatives from across the executive agencies to work collaboratively on priorities related to the families of service members and veterans, caregivers, and survivors.
This report details more than 800 — 80, sorry — specific commitments and proposals from across the administration and is the product of the Interagency Policy Committee’s months of work.
Going forward, this committee will continue to advance these priorities, including those outlined in the report, through cross-agency working groups and will report results and updated plans annually.
Jonathan, why don’t you kick us off.
Q Thank you, Jen. A few — all on the dealings at Capitol Hill right now. Senator Manchin told reporters a short time ago that he told President Biden that $1.5 trillion would be as high as he was willing to go for the reconciliation package. What was the President’s reaction to that? Is that an acceptable number?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say, as we’ve said many times, we’re not going to outline private negotiations or private discussions, and we’ll let the senators speak for that, as Senator Manchin did earlier today. The way the President sees it is that this is an ongoing discussion, an ongoing negotiation.
Here’s what we know: We know that timelines help make progress. We’ve seen that play out over the course of the last couple of days. We know that compromise is inevitable. We’ve also seen that play out over the last couple of days. And right now, we’re clearly in the thick of it.
I’d also note that during his — during Senator Manchin’s — and obviously, I’m not his spokesperson; he can certainly speak for himself — but during his Q&A he did on the Hill today, he also referenced the fact that he — that there was a document from a couple of months ago. And I’ll let him and Senator — Leader Schumer speak to that. And he was repeatedly pushed and asked, “Would you go higher than 1.5? Would you go higher than 1.5?” I will leave it to all of you to determine if he answered that question.
But this is an ongoing discussion, an ongoing negotiation. And as I said yesterday, that’s going to require all sides giving a little, and we’re in the midst of that right now.
Q So on that — so, key Democratic House leaders have said they will, quote, “stay here all weekend” to work to get a deal. Does the President plan to do the same? Will he be at the White House working this weekend, having visitors, calling and hosting congressional lawmakers?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as Speaker Pelosi said earlier — and we’re following the same motto — we’re taking it hour by hour here and making a decision and determination about what’s most needed.
So, as it relates to what’s even going to happen this afternoon, we’re open; he’s available. He’s been making calls this morning. He’s open to having visitors. He’s open to going places. But we’re going to make those decisions hour by hour.
So, the weekend is a little bit away, but I will tell you that this is the President’s top priority right now: getting relief to the American people; making sure we’re lowering costs for the American people; we’re addressing the climate crisis; we’re rebuilding our roads, rails, and bridges. We’ve made progress, and we’re still at work at it.
Q All right. And last one from me. One of the President’s central promises when he was elected was to restore Americans’ ability to be confident in their government again, to believe in institutions again. What is the White House’s message to Americans right now who look at this and see a mess? Nearly a government shutdown, the debt ceiling is unclear, legislation not being passed, at least not yet, even though Democrats control all the bodies of government. And those Americans don’t feel that they can be confident in government.
What’s the White House’s response?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say: The President, the Speaker of the House, and the Leader have more experience getting legislation across the finish line than any group of Democrat — Democratic leaders in history.
We’re in the middle of it right now. It’s messy, this sausage-making, on Capitol Hill. Policymaking is messy. There’s negotiations. They all have representatives who are advocating for their points of view. That’s democracy in action.
What I can tell them is that we’re on the path to keep the government open. You just saw that pass the Senate. It was going over to the House. That’s not just keeping the government open, that’s getting relief to make sure we can — we can take care of refugees, people who fought by our side in Afghanistan; that’s to make sure we get relief to the Gulf Coast — additional relief to the Gulf Coast. All important priorities.
And we would also tell them that the President is going to stop at — he’s going to use every lever at his disposal to fight to get this legislation passed — these two pieces of legislation — that will have a historic — make historic investments. And he’s doing it because he wants to have an impact on their lives.
But these type of packages, not a lot of precedent for them, but he’s going to work at it. He’s going to get it done. That’s what he would tell them.
Q Does the President see any strategic value in a vote failing on the House floor?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as Speaker Pelosi said earlier today, we’re on a path to win. I don’t want to even consider any other options than that. We’re in it to win it. The President is also in it to win it. That’s what we’re working toward. It’s only 2:40 right now; lots of time left in the day. And he’s going to continue to engage — stay closely engaged with her about the path forward.
Q You’ve repeatedly referred to this week — to this moment as an “inflection point.” How is the President viewing this moment, given where his caucuses are and where his members are?
MS. PSAKI: This moment as in “this moment” — 2:40 p.m. this afternoon — or just today?
Q As in it’s deadline day for an infrastructure bill; he doesn’t have the votes. One member of the United States Senate is about $2 trillion below his topline number, and there’s no clear way to bridge those gaps.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the President views this as the last several days and even longer than that. His view is we’ve made some progress. You’ve seen some members come down. You’ve seen some members come up. You’ve seen active negotiations. He’s obviously been hard at work at them himself.
And what we clearly see is an agreement about the need to get this done, whether it’s the infrastructure bill or the reconciliation practice — package, which has key priorities for the President — key priorities. I think the Speaker referred to it earlier today as the cause of her — as her public li- — as her time in public life. That’s a bit of a paraphrase. I’ll leave you to her words.
So, look, he sees this moment — he knew that as we got closer to self-imposed timelines, which are important — often these timelines can help make progress; we’ve seen progress made — that more members would be out there advocating for what was important to them. That’s happening.
We saw — we would hopefully see more willingness to compromise; that’s happening too. We’re hard at work. And he’s been through this before, so he’s not too thrown off his game on it.
Q And then just one quick last one. Do you guys see a possibility of some type of framework agreement that could unlock the infrastructure vote today?
MS. PSAKI: That’s what we’re working towards.
Q Thank you, Jen. You talked about “self-imposed timelines” as opposed to the other real timelines for debt ceiling and the CR. The progressives don’t seem to feel any sense of urgency about passing infrastructure, and the moderates, like Manchin, don’t seem to feel any urgency about passing reconciliation. The only Democrat that I can think of who really has a sense of urgency is Terry McAuliffe.
Do you feel it — does the President want this done in a certain amount of time, or does he also feel that this could play out over weeks and months and still come to the conclusion that he wants?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I said a little bit earlier, we know — and the President knows from his time in public office — that timelines can help make progress. That’s often how legislating happens on the Hill. And as the Speaker —
Q These ones aren’t.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we would — we would disagree with that. You’ve seen a lot of members out there advocating for their viewpoints, being very vocal about what they want to see; some coming up, some coming down. That’s a sense of progress. And we’re working at it hour by hour here.
Q But does he have — does he feel that he needs it done by a certain time, like the end of the year?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to set new deadlines here for you. Obviously, we’re trying to get it done now. We’re working on it as of right now, today, and that’s what our focus is on in this moment.
Go ahead. I’ll go back to you, Weijia. Go ahead.
Q It’s all right.
Q To follow up a little on what Phil was asking —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — what does the President want and what is he asking members of Congress to do on this infrastructure vote tonight? Is he calling progressives, and Republicans even, asking them to vote for it? Does he definitely want this vote tonight? Or is this all still this murky — sort of trying to link these two things together and hope something emerges out of that?
MS. PSAKI: There’s nothing really murky about what’s going on here. I mean, we understand what progressive members want. Right? They’ve been out there vocally talking to all of you about what they want.
It’s clear we also need their votes in order to pass an infrastructure bill. They want to have a clear path forward on a reconciliation package. The President wants both pieces of legislation to pass. That’s what he wants, bottom line. He’s also going to work with the Speaker and the Leader to get that done.
So, what he’s been spending his time on over the last couple of days is that — having conversations with Senator Manchin, Senator Sinema, and others who have been very vocal about the fact that they’re not quite there yet. And his objective is to try to get them there because that’s what members of the Progressive Caucus are looking for in order to support an infrastructure bill, many compo- — of components of which they support.
Q I guess, to put a finer point on it: If your choice is between a vote tonight that fails but sort of puts everybody on the record, or pulling the vote tonight and continuing deliberations despite it potentially upsetting moderates who feel like they’ve been promised this vote, what does the President prefer?
MS. PSAKI: We’re working towards winning a vote tonight. We have several hours left in the day.
Q All right. Last one. What’s the plan on the debt ceiling? I mean, Republicans have sort of made clear that they’re not going to back any efforts. So it would seem at this point that Democrats’ only hope here is to turn towards a reconciliation process on the debt ceiling.
I understand that you’ve made the point many times that Mitch McConnell is being hypocritical on this, that Republicans should support it, but it does seem now that the votes are on the table, that you’re kind of pursuing this political point at the potential risk of default for the U.S. economy.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that’s a bit of a shorthand of what’s happening, which I understand; it’s a bit of a complicated thing.
But first, since you gave me the opportunity, it’s not just Senator McConnell; Republicans are playing politics with an economic catastrophe, and they’re treating a calamity for working families like a D.C. game. There are huge impacts here.
You touched on the fact, but let me give the public a little sense of that: an instant recession, 6 million jobs lost, $15 trillion in savings wiped out, Social Security checks and payments to our troops blocked. Those are real impacts.
Republicans in Congress are treating this like a game. Let me give you some examples. Senator Rick Scott — and this is a real quote, I will note: “This is going to be a…ball. I’m going to have so much fun.” That’s about the debt limit.
Senator Kevin Kramer: “It’s sort of fun to watch.”
And Senator Cornyn said yesterday that Republicans would use every tool at their disposal to slow Democrats from doing this on their own.
What we’re trying to do right now is do it on their own –do it on our own. That is what Leader Schumer is working to proceed — working to move forward on.
And, obviously, as you know, Republicans have blocked that effort. So, of course, we are going to continue to press. We’re not going to let up on that, on Republicans, to do what’s responsible, to protect the full faith and credit of the United States, as has been done 80 times in the past.
We’ve also been working to do it on our own. We’re going to keep working with Leader Schumer to get that done.
Q But you’re not going to ask for reconcil- — Democrats to push on reconciliation, (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into additional mechanisms here. We’re going to continue. I don’t think — we’re not going to, nor should anyone, let Republicans off the hook here, so we’re going to continue to press them on it.
Q One of the things that Senator Manchin said today was that the, kind of — the concern that he has around the 3.5 number is about how it would impact inflation in the economy. And I’m curious what the White House thinks of that concern and what you’ve done to allay that concern.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve conveyed privately what we’ve said publicly and what many, many economists have also conveyed publicly, which is that what these packages will do is they will address — address inflation and costs over the long term. That’s one of the core reasons that people should be supporting them. So, if you are concerned about inflation, that’s exactly a reason you should support these packages.
Q And would the President sign a reconciliation bill that does not include negotiating on drug prices?
MS. PSAKI: The President has obviously proposed that. He feels strongly about the need to make drugs — prescription drugs, I should say, more affordable to the American public. I’m not going to negotiate further from here.
Q One other thing, just on a different topic: Jake Sullivan’s conversations in Saudi Arabia. Did rising oil prices come up in those conversations? What was his message to the Saudis about alleviating some of the concerns that people have as they’re paying a dollar more for gasoline now than they did a year ago?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, so, I know someone asked about this the other day. And, obviously, the focus of his trip was on Yemen and working with the Saudis on Yemen. And our — Tim Lenderki- — Lenderking was — joined him in those meetings, who’s our envoy to Yemen, to kind of figure out the path forward.
He was — obviously, the price of oil is of concern. We have been in touch with OPEC. And I believe it was going to be raised, but I haven’t had a chance to get a readout beyond that. I can try to do that for you after the briefing.
Q Thanks, Jen. So, putting the topline number aside, Senators Manchin and Sinema have been very opaque about what it is they want and do not want in this reconciliation bill. Without revealing details, does the White House and the President have a clear understanding of what it is each one of them wants?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve had a lot of private conversations with both of the senators about what their priorities are, as they’ve said publicly. And I think as Senator Manchin said publicly today, what their priorities are and what that looks like in a final package, that’s still an ongoing discussion.
Q Are they asking for the same things? Are the two of them on board with the same (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I’ll let them speak for their priorities and how they line up with each other.
Q Okay. And then to build on what Justin was asking about —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — decoupling these two.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Is the President worried at all about eroding trust with Republicans who signed on to the bipartisan deal after he reassured them that it would not be conditional on reconciliation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let’s remember what’s actually going on on the Hill here. Republicans in the House, led by Kevin McCarthy, are opting to vote against rebuilding roads and railways and bridges, despite the fact that the package was sent over with the support of 69 senators.
So, I think if you’re asking about trust or whether people are delivering for the American people, you should direct it at Kevin McCarthy.
Q I’m asking because the progressives have made so clear that they refuse to vote on infrastructure without a vote on reconciliation first. Why doesn’t the President ask them to treat them separately?
MS. PSAKI: To trea- — well, I think the —
Q To treat the two bills separately.
MS. PSAKI: The President has made clear both are his priorities. He’s also made clear he wants to get them both across the finish line.
What we’re talking about now is the legislative process and how you get the majority of votes to get both of them done. And that’s what he’s working to negotiate and working to unify the caucus around.
Q Thanks. And just one more —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — on a separate topic.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.
Q The National School Boards Association has sent a letter to the President asking for help from federal law enforcement agencies because of the violence and the threats that they’re seeing across the country. Has the President received that request? And are you considering offering that help?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say we take the security of public servants and elected officials across the country very seriously. And, obviously, these threats to school board members is horrible. They’re doing their jobs.
Obviously, there are going to be different law enforcement authorities that will be related to each community and — where this is happening, so we’d certainly refer you to them about any specific threats. And we’d encourage individuals to report any threats they face to local and state law enforcement agencies. And we’re continuing to explore what more can be done from across the administration.
But again, a lot of this will be local law enforcement and how they can help ensure these school board members feel protected.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen. Has the President at all lost control of his party? Depending on which perspective you’re looking at this from — you know, some people say that it appears that progressives are running the show, they’re banding together and making their demands. Other people are saying it looks like Joe Manchin is playing president. So, who is in charge?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this is how democracy works. I know it feels foreign because there wasn’t much that happened over the last couple of years. But how it works is the American people elect their elected officials, the President of the United States puts forward a bold and ambitious proposal, and then everybody negotiates about it, and they have different points of view. That’s how democracy should work. We’re in the midst of it right now. We’re not trying to paint over how messy it looks from the outside. We know that.
But what — the good news is, is that there is agreement that — among most Democrats, if not every single one of them, that we need to get something done; that we need to do more to rebuild our roads and railways and bridges; that we need to cut costs for the American people; we need to address the climate crisis. There’s agreement on that.
Now we’re in the nitty-gritty details, which is very important, but that’s the end stage of this process. And the American people should know that that’s what the President is working on.
Q And I want to follow up on Weijia’s question. So, if the bipartisan bill fails or is stalled or doesn’t happen today, it would appear that these two bills — the reconciliation and the infrastructure — are linked. And the President, you know, made statements that Republicans should be able to vote for the bipartisan bill on its merits. He stood in front of the White House with a group of Republicans who negotiated that infrastructure bill. Is there a message that he has to those Republican senators, who voted to pass that bill on its merits, that this bill is somehow not linked with the reconciliation because of what’s happening in the House?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re working towards victory here and a win. If it doesn’t pass, it’s because it doesn’t have enough votes. I think Republicans in the Senate understand that and know how this process works.
But that’s what we’re working towards now. That’s what the President has been making phone calls about. That’s what we have his schedule cleared for this afternoon. And I’m not going to make a prediction of what the outcome will look like several hours from now.
Q And then with the Vice President — and she was a senator as recently as this year —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — why isn’t she on the Hill helping to broker this deal?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Vice President had the CBC over, the CHC last week. She’s been making calls herself, just like the President. If it’s constructive for her to go to the Hill or for him to go to the Hill, to have members down here, they’ll do that.
We’re ready and willing. This is our top priority. All hands on deck. But a lot of what’s happening right now is discussions at a staff level, a senior staff level to get through these intricate details, and that’s where the focus is in this moment.
Go ahead, Kelly.
Q Since we haven’t seen the President much publicly this week —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — and you talked about leaving room in his schedule, can you paint more of a picture of what’s happening behind the scenes? Are these calls happening from the Oval? Is he inviting guests to the Residence? Does he have a whiteboard with his own whip count? Can you give us a picture of what it looks like (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: (Laughs.) I like that visual. I would say he does not have a whiteboard with a whip count. I can assure you he’s more of a paper and pen kind of guy.
But, look, he’s been meeting with staff, he’s been getting updates from staff as they’ve been having engagements with the Hill. You all know who the senior members of his team are who are negotiating, whether that’s Steve Ricchetti or Louisa Terrell, Brian Deese, Susan Rice.
What he’s asked his team to do is — including the policy members, which people don’t always factor this in — is be available to have conversations with members about questions they have, to help address any parts of it they have suggestions on.
So, he’s getting regular updates. People are in and out of the Oval Office providing him updates on their individual conversations. And he’s picking up the phone and calling people as needed, whether that’s the Speaker or Leader Schumer or other members, to have a conversation about the status, to check on where they are, to follow up on maybe a conversation they may have had with his staff.
These conversations are happening from the Oval Office, but certainly he does some from the Residence; it depends on what time of day it may be.
Q And are you running your own whip count, or are you relying on Hill resources to do that?
MS. PSAKI: We’re very closely in touch, as you know, with leadership on the Hill; the President himself is. Of course, we’re certainly in touch with members ourself — ourselves about where they stand, where they may have concerns, or any hesitations.
Go ahead. I’ll come back to you, Terry. I’m sorry. Go ahead.
Q We finally learned today Senator Manchin’s position on
his topline number. Senator Schumer has been aware of it since late July, and Senator Manchin said that he told the President already this $1.5 trillion number. Why has the decision been made strategically to pursue Senator Manchin, Senator Sinema, and not try to, within the last couple of weeks, apply more pressure on progressives to take half a loaf and say, “This is low-hanging fruit; it’s a $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan. Let’s move on that”? Why was that strategic decision made not to do that?
MS. PSAKI: Both of these are huge priorities to the President. I’d also note that when Senator Manchin was asked — and he can obviously speak for himself — but just since I’ve read the whole transcript here, he also repeatedly referred back to a document that went back to July 28th. I’d remind you all that this is an active negotiation and discussion, and it is incumbent upon members to put out where they stand and where they are. And as we’ve seen over the past couple days, that’s an everchanging process.
So, before you make conclusions about what the end results will be, I would remind you to look at the last several days or even weeks about how these discussions have progressed.
Q But Senator Manchin said today he believes his position is — it sounded to me like his position was firm. And he also said that if progressives feel that the Congress should spend $3.5 trillion, that they should convince voters to send more progressives to Washington. That sounded to me like he’s saying that, through the end of this Congress, he’s not going to agree to $3.5 trillion.
MS. PSAKI: We could certainly parse Senator Manchin’s words, but I am certain he’ll go answer questions again, and your colleagues should ask him more questions.
Q But why do you think that this is not — why do you think that Senator Manchin’s position on this is not final?
MS. PSAKI: Because this is an active negotiation, because he was pushed repeatedly during the gaggle that he did on Capitol Hill about where he stood. But again, I’m not here to speak for Senator Manchin; he is — certainly can speak for himself and what his points of view — views are. And I certainly encourage you all to keep asking him questions about where he stands.
Q Back on the deadline that was set at the beginning of the week — announced at — this is a big week: Democrats are in charge here at the White House and in both houses of Congress. And they set the deadline; Democrats set the deadline. Now they —
MS. PSAKI: To be clear, they just set the date of a vote.
Q All right. You called it a “deadline.” I was just using your words.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Fair. But — thank you for the clarification. It’s — they set the time of a vote.
Q All right. Democrats set this vote. Now they’re going to miss it, fail to make it. Why is it that —
MS. PSAKI: We don’t know that. It’s only three o’clock.
Q Can you tell us if they’re going to vote tonight?
MS. PSAKI: That’s what Speaker Pelosi indicated her plan was.
Q All right. My question is: Why isn’t it fair to see this as a failure of the President to get his own party to back him and his agenda?
MS. PSAKI: Why isn’t it, before we’ve even had a vote and we don’t even know where it sits, a failure of the President?
Q It feels like we’re farther away today than we were on Monday.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think the President feels that way, and I don’t think members of Congress feel that way.
Q You’ve talked about progress. Can you explain what progress is? You said it’s people talking about where they are.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q That sounds like — that sounds like an earlier part
of the process when you had set a vote for the end of the week.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point you again to what Speaker Pelosi said earlier today: In the end stages, the later stages of a process — where we are now — when you get closer to a vote, a time of a vote being set, that’s when the negotiations get serious. That’s when people start putting down bottom lines of where they stand. You’ve seen some people do that publicly. A lot more of it happens behind the scenes. That’s what I mean by progress.
You’ve seen members come down in numbers. You’ve seen members come up in numbers. That’s what we’re working on — to get to an agreed-upon path forward.
Q So there’s progress, and it’s people behind the scenes saying that — where their numbers move.
MS. PSAKI: They’ve also said it publicly.
Q One more. A lot of Democrats are looking at what’s
happening, and they’re saying Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema are holding this President and his agenda hostage. What would you say to that?
MS. PSAKI: I would say we have 50 votes in the Senate — 50 Democrats in the Senate. So, we need the majority to win. That’s how a bill becomes a law.
Q They’ve got the leverage.
MS. PSAKI: We need all 50 votes in the Senate to move this forward. That’s where we stand now.
Q I just wanted to go back to the debt ceiling for a second.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Democrats control all branches of government right now. Can you assure the American people and the financial markets that the United States will not default on its debt?
MS. PSAKI: That is absolutely what we’re trying to accomplish. And I’d remind you that we would have gotten that done had Republicans done what they’ve done 80 times before — supporting a bipartisan vote to do something that has been pretty standard in the past — or if they had allowed Leader Schumer to move forward.
But, absolutely, we’re going to do everything to prevent the federal — us from defaulting —
Q But does the plan involve changing Mitch McConnell’s mind — Leader McConnell’s mind in some way? Or is there a plan to just go forward using either reconciliation or —
MS. PSAKI: Well, Leader Schumer has already tried to — already been working to move things forward. And it’s been blocked by Republicans — not just their vote; an effort to move it forward has been blocked.
Q But there clearly are ways — I mean, getting rid of the filibuster, for example, for this particular vote would be one way to move forward. And is that something that the President would consider to avoid losing, let’s say, 10 percent of the value of the stock market?
MS. PSAKI: I just outlined how concerning we are — how concerned we are, which you just echoed — or echoed different components of it. And that’s an issue we take incredibly seriously. You’ve also heard Secretary Yellen on the Hill talking about this. We’re not going to let Republicans off the hook. We don’t think they should be. This is not a game. This is the faith — full faith and credit of the United States.
We’re working with Leader Schumer on a path forward, but beyond that, I don’t have more to preview for you.
Q But you can do it without Republicans if you got rid of the filibuster for this —
MS. PSAKI: We could do it if they let us move forward, and they haven’t. So I have no more details on the pa- — on the legislative process.
Q And just on the reconciliation package, is $1.5 trillion enough in your spending to cover Biden’s priorities — the President’s priorities?
MS. PSAKI: I understand that’s a number that’s been put out there. It’s an active negotiation. I’m not going to weigh in from here on what is or isn’t acceptable to the Democratic Caucus.
Q A couple different topics. So, on immigration, there seems to be a real sense among advocates for immigrants — people who have been fighting for legalization, for a pathway to citizenship — there’s a real sense of loom; people who described this, yesterday, even crying about the latest parliamentarian ruling.
Do you — what does the President — you know, what would the President say or what does the President say if that — if he is unable to move forward on any of the, sort of, big, sweeping promises that he made as a candidate to get — to finally be the President to get something done on immigration?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t accept that. We’re nine months into his presidency. And we share the disappointment. Obviously, as you know and you touched on, the parliamentarian ruled twice, in different ways, that it could be included in the reconciliation package — or components, I should say, of immigration reform could not be included in the reconciliation practice — process. Sorry, package.
That’s disappointing to the President as well. So, clearly, now we need to figure out what the vehicle forward is.
I would say the President’s plan is about certainly protecting DREAMers, farm workers, and others. It’s also about investing in border security, making sure it makes sense and we’re investing in it in a way that makes sense, and creating an asylum processing system that is actually functional, which I think we all agree it’s not.
So there are several components of what he’s proposed, and, certainly, we share the disappointment of many advocates that this wasn’t included and the desire to find a vehicle to move it forward.
Q On one other separate topic: There have been a number of issues in the last, say, several weeks in which advocates — allies of the President are describing him as “Trump-like.” Most — less in terms of his personality and sort of tone and tenor, obviously, but in terms of policy. Even today, a representative of the Cuban government describing the frustration with the President continuing to maintain Trump-era policies vis-à-vis Cuba.
Does the — what’s the President’s reaction? And does he accept that in some areas of policy he is, you know, in agreement with the former President?
MS. PSAKI: So, just for the sake of argument here — not argument, but discussion — beyond the representative of the Cuban government who —
Q Afghanistan, immigration —
MS. PSAKI: Well, but who? Who are we talking about here?
Q Who —
MS. PSAKI: Who is saying that the President is like Trump?
Q Oh, I mean there — there — I mean, I could find you quotes. We have — there have been quotes in our paper and quotes in lots of — lots of folks have, depending on the issue, whether they are immigration advocates or, you know, folks in the Afghanistan — who sort of watch Afghanistan. There have been numerous on-the-record descriptions of the President embracing — and it’s actually, in some ways, just a factual thing, right?
MS. PSAKI: But like on what policy?
Q Like the President has —
MS. PSAKI: On what policy? Sorry, I didn’t — you can — you can name people but — or what specific policies.
Q Well, I mean, for example, Afghanistan would have been the maintaining of the former President’s decision to withdraw troops. On immigration, it’s in maintaining Title 42 and keeping Title 42 in place. I mean they’re —
Q Sub- —
Q The submarine — yeah. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Which one?
Q The submarine — I’m just —
Q Yeah, the —
Q The President was —
Q — yeah — was compared to Trump —
Q — to Trump. Well, the — that’s the French — the French Foreign Minister compared him to Trump, in terms of how he handled the AUKUS negotiations.
MS. PSAKI: So, look, I’d take each one of these: On Afghanistan, the former President struck a deal without the Afghan government that, we heard the military convey yesterday, led to the demoralization of the Afghan Security Forces and the Afghan government, where he also released 5,000 Taliban fighters into Afghanistan.
I would say the President took a pretty different approach than that in ending a war that the former President didn’t end — something the American people strongly support.
As it relates to AUKUS, I’m not even sure what that’s referring to, in terms of what they’re comparing. The President worked with key partners — Australia and the United Kingdom — to come to an agreement that would help provide security in an important part of the world — in the Indo-Pacific — a priority that, frankly, getting out of the war in Afghanistan leaves space for us to spend more time addressing.
What was the last one? Immigration?
Q Immigration, Title 42, tariffs on China. I mean, there’s —
MS. PSAKI: Title 42 is a public health — is a public health requirement, a public hea- — because we’re in the middle of a pandemic, which, by the way —
Q The President and his allies —
MS. PSAKI: — we would have made progress on had the former President actually addressed —
Q Right, but the —
MS. PSAKI: — the pandemic and not suggested people inject bleach.
So, I think we’re in a bit of a different place. I’m happy to discuss more examples. I think it’s — people would be pretty hard pressed to argue that the President has taken any aspect of the former President’s playbook and used it as a model of his own.
Q Okay. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Senator Manchin has also said that he wants to means test as much as possible of this reconciliation package. Without getting into or speaking for the senator, as you’ve said, what is the White House’s position on, I guess, means testing in this package?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you can call it whatever you want. Sometimes means — when you say “means testing” — not you, but when — when it’s said, it sometimes has it not the right connotation or the wrong connotation.
The President’s proposals, many of them have been targeted at the middle class, as have these proposals and these initiatives, which means there’s a cap on income through which you can benefit. That’s what — you can call it whatever you want, if you call it “means testing.” The President is very open to targeting, by income, many of his proposals. And that’s something that you can see throughout many components of his agenda that have been proposed and many that have passed to date.
Q Does the White House believe that you all are currently in alignment with Manchin on what those thresholds would look like or —
MS. PSAKI: It’s an ongoing discussion. But, again, our objective is to — is to target and focus on bringing relief to the middle class. That’s what the President wants to see this agenda accomplish.
Q In an op-ed for USA Today this morning, Senator Bernie Sanders defended the $3.5 trillion price tag, asking, “Please tell me
what [where] we should cut.” This came out before Senator Manchin gave his line in the sand.
Does — without speaking for either senator, does the White House believe that there’s any provisions that, if we are talking about getting somewhere between 3.5 and 1.5, that are absolutely — you all cannot stomach not having them in the final package?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to put anything on the table here. It’s clear, as numbers come down, which they will, that there will be cuts to different components. That’s just the nature of the totals here. But we’ll leave those conversations private. I know you’re eagel [sic] — eager to know more, and hopefully we’ll have more to share soon.
Q And then just finally — just one more point. As you all have said from here, the public — public polling has consistently found that many parts of this — of both packages are very supported by the American people. The American people are also very consistently pessimistic about action in Washington.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Ahead of what we’re going to be seeing, whichever way this vote goes tonight, what is your message to the public as they look at the ongoing situation in Washington about — what is your message to the American people as they look at, as you’ve said, a messy situation, the chaos of democracy?
MS. PSAKI: We hope we can prove them wrong.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Karen.
Q Thanks, Jen. I know “hour by hour” is kind of the phrase of the day.
MS. PSAKI: (Laughs.) Yeah.
Q But given that, can we expect to hear from the President today? Or what would have to happen for us to hear from the President today?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll see. I can’t make a prediction for you now, but it is certainly possible. It’s also possible he has more meetings. He’ll certainly make more phone calls, possibly moves. But I don’t have anything to predict for you at this point in time.
Q And, last night, he went to the congressional baseball game. Did he go specifically to do some arm twisting or lobbying on infrastructure? And he spent some time with Republican lawmakers — something he really hasn’t done here at the White House. Can you give us a sense of what he talked about with those Republican lawmakers? What was the interaction like, the tone of those conversations?
MS. PSAKI: I think you’re undervaluing his baseball prowess — (laughter) — and history, which he was honored for last night.
No, look, I think what the President — and I saw him this morning; he was reflecting on how it was — and I think this is a tradition — the Congressional Baseball Game. You know, it’s something that has been around for some time, where Democrats and Republicans go participate in America’s — one of America’s favorite pastimes.
And you saw — I think you all saw in photos, but for people who didn’t see — he visited with some Republicans down in their area — dugout?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t even know it’s called. (Laughter.) Okay, dugout. Help me out here. Thank you. He visited — (laughs) — with some — my husband is going to be really mad about that.
He visited with some Republicans. You know, he wasn’t — it wasn’t meant to be a negotiation; it was a discussion about, you know, how things are going and work we’re all committed to and just saying hello to them. And sometimes, you know, that’s important and powerful too at a time where there’s been so much division, where there’s a view from many in the public — as per the question earlier — that people can’t work together, can’t get things done.
And this was an opportunity to have a moment to visit with, to see people that you’ve known be- — you’ve known a long time, to meet new people, and to move beyond partisanship to celebrate one of America’s favorite pastimes.
Q Did he have a response to you about getting booed last night? Any reaction to that?
MS. PSAKI: He’s been in public life long enough to know there’s going to be some yays and jeers in most big, public places.
Q Can I just follow up on that? Is — in some ways, does his visit and the rituals of getting together sort of prove the point that the face time doesn’t work? I mean, you still — you referred to Leader McConnell and the Republican Party not willing to raise the debt limit. He’s had plenty of face time with Leader McConnell for decades. Maybe it just doesn’t matter and people are going to do what their political interests or what they believe their political interests tells them to do?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this is how the President views it: You’re going to have strong disagreements, as he does with Senator McConnell about how he’s approached the debt limit. You’re also going to have areas where you may come to agreement on, as they do on infrastructure and the importance of rebuilding our roads, our railways, and our bridges. And it’s important to maintain lines of communication and discussion to figure out where you can work together.
That’s also how he views and approaches diplomacy. We can call out and — publicly and argue strongly privately issues we have with foreign governments. But we also sometimes still look for ways — most of the time — for ways to work together.
That’s been his approach. I would say that given the infrastructure bill passed with 69 votes, that’s evidence of it working.
Q Thank you, Jen. You mentioned at the top that on September 17th the President signed an executive order authorizing sanctions to be used against those undermining peace in Ethiopia.
But right now, it doesn’t seem the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, is interested in peace. He refused to meet with Samantha Power when she was there. He has — he is expelling U.N. staff from the country. He’s taken other steps that prove that he has no interest in peace.
Why not take the sanction now? Why not impose the sanction now, or take more drastic action against not just him but also the President of Eritrea, who still have troops inside Ethiopia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, absent clear and concrete changes, we will. We’re preparing to take aggressive action under this executive order to impose targeted sanctions against a range of individuals and entities. What we’re communicating to the parties on the ground is that we must see meaningful steps within weeks to initiate discussions to achieve a negotiated ceasefire, allow in an unhindered humanitarian access, and ensure respect for human rights. Absent significant progress, we’ll take action. And we have the methods to do that. That’s why I rec- — talked about the executive order.
Q And then on Guinea, we’ve had so many coups in Africa. The President of Guinea has been overthrown. The President of Mali has been overthrown. And we just had the Prime Minister of Sudan who just survived a coup attempt. And the President promised to defend democracy around the world. Is he failing in that promise?
MS. PSAKI: He doesn’t expect that to be accomplished in nine months. He expects that to be accomplished over the course of time for advocating for democracy, for human rights, for imposing steps when warranted, and — as we are considering right now in Ethiopia — and obviously by having a strong national security team that can convey this on his behalf when he cannot.
Q I just have a question on Africa.
Q Thanks, Jen. On —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. I’ll come back to you next.
Q Thanks, Jen. Just to follow up on Mike’s question on what the Cuban foreign minister said. Just to be specific, he said, “It’s a pity that President Biden couldn’t implement his own policy toward Cuba.” And I just wondered if you had a specific response.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t.
Q And there’s a U.S. delegation — top officials going to Port-au-Prince. What’s the goal of that visit?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, I have some details on this, including who is going. So, let’s see. So, what they’re doing — one, we feel it’s pretty pivotal to have high-level officials from here engaged in traveling back and forth to Port-au-Prince to have discussions with actors across the political spectrum to see what we can do to help support dialogue and development for the Haitian people.
We know it’s clearly a profoundly challenging time on the ground, and it’s crucial that we meet with a range of stakeholders to help move this process forward or help support the process moving forward in a way that’s in the interest of the Haitian people. So, this is really an effort to be engaged, to be on the ground.
I can tell you — and you may know this already — that our newly confirmed Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere, Brian Nichols, is on this as a part of this delegation; our NSC Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere, Juan Gonzales, are there. They’re meeting with civil society groups, political stakeholders, the Haitian government. And they’re, of course, as I noted, discussing a Haitian-led process charting the path to democratic elections.
But that’s the focus, as well as discussing how we can continue to help provide support for the migration response, security, recovery from the earthquake, and the COVID pandemic.
Q Jen, last question.
Q Secretary Mayorkas had said he expected the results of an investigation on the Border Patrol officers —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — on horseback by the end of this week. What’s the status of that investigation?
MS. PSAKI: I know he said that; as I understand, it’s still on track. But I would really point you to the Department of Homeland Security on any update.
Brian, why don’t we go to you last?
Q Yeah, thank you.
Q Oh, you said —
Q Thank you very much. And I appreciate it. I’m — I wanted to ask what the President’s reaction is to Democratic lawmakers calling on him to lean more on Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema. What is the President’s reaction to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, the President’s reaction is — he’s been in the — he was in the Senate for 36 years. He knows, as does Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, what it takes at this point in negotiations. They’ve probably done this more, and more successfully, than any combinations of Democratic leaders in history.
And his approach has been: Yes, of course, it’s listening. Yes, of course, it’s conveying viewpoints and having sometimes, you know, direct and candid discussions, but he knows how to do this.
And a lot of people who are throwing stones aren’t a part of these negotiations. They’re one on one. So, I think they should leave it to him and others to get them done.
Q But there are members of his party that want him to be more actively involved, and have come out publicly and said, “We want to see the President more actively involved.” What’s his response to that?
MS. PSAKI: I would say that — as I would point to something Congresswoman Jayapal said yesterday, “Right now, it’s not a secret about what is the holdup.” The holdup is that we need to get 50 votes in the Senate to move the infrastructure, to move the reconciliation package forward, in order for members of the Progressive Caucus in the house to feel comfortable that there’s a path forward.
As many of them have conveyed, the President’s role and work in communicating with Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema to help get that done is probably one of the most constructive roles he can play. And that’s what he’s been focused on over the last few days.
Q My follow-up question, Jen?
MS. PSAKI: Thanks so much, everyone.
Okay, last one, because I promised you. Go ahead.
Q Thank you. Jen, the President of Angola — President João Lourenço — was in D.C. last week, and he met with Jake Sullivan and Madam Speaker of the House. And I just want to check with you if the President made any comment about this visit, because Jake Sullivan, on the day that he met my president, he said he would brief the President on that day. So, I don’t — I’m trying to check with you if you heard any comments from the President (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any additional comment. I think we put a readout out about Jake Sullivan’s meeting, but I don’t have any additional comments.
Thanks so much, everyone.
3:19 P.M. EDT