Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre En Route Lansing, MI
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Lansing, Michigan
12:49 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I have a couple of things for you at the top. First of all, as we all know, we’re traveling to Howell, Michigan, where the President will continue to rally public support for his Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and Build Back Better agenda, which will make our country more competitive and grow our economy by investing in working families, fully paid by making sure that the biggest corporations and wealthiest Americans pay their fair share.
In particular, this trip will show how the bipartisan infrastructure will provide good-paying, high-skill union jobs across the country.
While in Howell, the President will visit the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324 training facility. He will then deliver remarks, making the case for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and his Build Back Better agenda. Operating Engineers Local 324 has been in existence for over 100 years and currently has over 14,000 members.
Examples of programs on site include learning how to operate heavy GPS-enhanced equipment; running complex temperature systems of commercial buildings; and installing water, sewer, and utility infrastructure.
The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will make a generational investment in Michigan’s infrastructure and resilience, including on roads — in roads and bridges, public transportation, electric vehicles, high-speed Internet, clean water, and resilience. For example, 14 percent of Michigan households do not have an Internet subscription. Michigan will receive a minimum allocation of $100 million to help provide broadband coverage across the state.
From 2010 to 2020, Michigan experienced 19 extreme weather events. The bill includes a $50 billion national investment in resilience to strengthen our infrastructure for the impacts of climate change.
The Build Back Better agenda will make life better for millions of working families in Michigan and bold investment in childcare, universal pre-K, tax cuts for families with children and childless workers, higher education, housing, and child nutrition.
For instance, the average Michigan two-parent household spends $10,400 to care for just one young child every year. The Build Back Better plan cuts childcare costs by more than half of most low- and middle-income Michiganders and improves quality of childcare.
In terms of higher education, the average cost of a two-year degree in Michigan is $4,000 per year. The plan provides at least two years of free community college to all students and expands the maximum Pell Grant by nearly $1,500, supporting the 174,000 students in Michigan who rely on Pell for their education.
Both of these packages will help level the playing field for people all over the state of Michigan in both urban and rural communities.
Another item for all of you is a — there’s a new report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — HHS. It shows that COVID-19 vaccination may have helped prevent hundreds of thousands of new COVID-19 infections and tens of thousands of deaths among seniors. The study found that vaccinations were linked to a reduction of approximately 265,000 COVID-19 infections, 107,000 hospitalizations, and 39,000 deaths among Medicare beneficiaries between January and May 2021.
Today’s report reflects both the devastating effect COVID-19 has had on our vulnerable seniors and also demonstrates that efforts to prioritize and vaccinate this group directly correlate to saving lives.
The last item I have for you is that the President had another meeting with House members. And we’ll have more of a readout later today, but I can share with you the list of names of folks that he met with. As you can imagine, this — this is going to be — this meeting was on both packages. He’s — it was a very strong engagement, and he’s going to continue to have these engagements with congressional members as the upcoming days come up ahead — come ahead.
So the members he met with include: Colin Allred, Congressman from Texas; Cindy Axne, Congresswoman from Iowa; Sharice Davids — Congresswoman Sharice Davids from Kansas; Lizzie Fletcher, Congresswoman from Texas; Congressman Vicente Gonzalez; Congresswoman Lucy McBath from Georgia; Tom O’Halleran, Congressman from Arizona; Katie Porter, Congresswoman from California; Abigail Spanberger, Congresswoman from Virginia; Lauren Underwood, Congresswoman from Illinois; and Congresswoman Susan Wild of PA.
So, those are the folks that he met with today. And it was — like I said, it was a constructive meeting and — on both of his pieces of economic policy that we’ve been talking about: Build Back Better agenda and the bipartisan infrastructure.
You want to kick us off?
Q Thanks so much. We heard from the President yesterday speak about the need to lift the debt ceiling, forcefully calling on Republicans to do so.
Both President Biden and Senator Minority Leader McConnell have, in the past, praised their relationship, said they could work together to get things done. Has President Biden picked up the phone and called Senate Minority Leader McConnell? And does — or does he plan to?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, thanks for the question, Jonathan. So, the President is always open to having conversation, as you know. I don’t have any scheduled updates to provide at this time. No — no — clearly, no call to read out.
But as you know, there’s been contact with Senator McConnell from the highest levels of the administration, including a recent call with Secretary Yellen. And in those conversation, we’ve made clear how catastrophic the consequences would be if Republicans continue to vote to default and block Democrats from solving this ourselves.
Senator McConnell acknowledges there’s nothing to negotiate here. Republicans have refused to do the responsible thing and voted instead to default. And when Democrats opted to go at it alone to get it — to get this done, McConnell blocked that as well.
So, as the President made clear — very clear yesterday, we’re no longer asking Republicans to do the right thing, we’re just asking them to get out of the way.
Q A follow-up on this: Senator Manchin said yesterday that he doesn’t support your strategy and said you should use reconciliation. And Secretary Yellen, this morning, in an interview also declined to rule out using reconciliation. If Republicans again block Schumer’s vote in the upcoming vote, is it time to switch to reconciliation now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: As you can imagine, like, the conversations that we’re having are critical and important, and — and so we’re going to continue to have those.
As it comes to reconciliation: Look, as the President said yesterday, reconciliation is a complicated, cumbersome process that is ripe for more obstruction by Republicans and could lead to hundreds of unrelated votes bogging down the legislative process as he raced towards default and devastating economic consequences.
It’s a risky route to take, but we don’t need to take that route or that risk, and we shouldn’t be playing games with a cataclysmic potential outcome. We have a bill in the Senate right now that can quickly and simply address the debt limit and put this behind us.
If Republicans simply stop blocking Democrats, we can have an up or down vote tonight and put this all behind us.
Senator McConnell has made clear, again, that his caucus isn’t going to do the right thing by joining us in voting to address the debt limit, so we’re asking him again — as we have done the last couple of days — is to please get out the way, as the President has done.
In fact, a member of Senate GOP leadership — this is Senator Roy Blunt — said that around 90 percent of the Republican Senate caucus would be fine with Democrats just doing this on our own, with an up and down vote. So why — the question is: Why is Senator McConnell holding us from doing just that? And why isn’t he listening to his caucus or the American people?
Q Biden, yesterday, said he was planning to call Senator McConnell, and today you said he’s open to talking to them. That seems a different message than what the President said yesterday. Has there been a change of opinion from that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I just don’t have a call to read out at this time. But as you can — could imagine, we’re going to — we’re continue — continuing to tell — to tell Mitch McConnell — we’re talking to him on all levels, on high levels from the administration. And what we’re saying is very clear: Get out the way so we don’t end up in this catastrophic situation and we do the work of the American people.
Look, the Republican filibuster of the debt ceiling is dangerous and is reckless. They are playing chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States. And so, as the President said yesterday, it is important to take a step back to remind people what this is actually about. Addressing the debt limit has nothing to do with the future spending. It’s about paying bills that have been run by Congress and presidents from both parties in the past. And 97 percent of the debt predates the Biden administration. That is just the fact.
And this is a simple question for Senate Republicans: Are they willing to send America into economic catastrophe as we come out of a pandemic, deprive seniors of their Social Security and veterans of their benefits they earned, rather than stop filibustering a simple up or down vote all over politics? Is that their message to the American people? Every Republican senator should be asked that simple question without hiding behind excuses.
Q Is the President reaching out to Republicans in addition to Leader McConnell?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, we are trying to do everything that we can to make sure that we deliver for the American people.
Look, Democrats on the Hill and here at the White House are doing everything in our power to do the right thing, the responsible thing, and that’s pass the debt ceiling.
Mitch McConnell, again, has blocked us at every turn. The President has been clear he believes Congress should pass the debt ceiling in a bipartisan vote, as has happened every time before — 3 times during the Trump administration; 80 times before. This isn’t a political game. As I’ve mentioned, this will have devastating impacts, as I just listed out. Real people will be hurt.
It’s time for Mitch McConnell to end these games. The President believes Mitch McConnell and Republicans should stop filibustering the debt ceiling, full stop.
Q On getting the — on getting the price tag of the package down, Jen has indicated in the past that President Biden might be open to means testing, particularly of community college. But does he have any red lines when it comes to means testing? For example, would he be open to that for free pre-K or childcare?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, many programs in the Build Back Better plan have income limits, as you know, for eligibility, such as the Child Tax Credit and childcare. We are open to targeting other programs as well, and so that’s where we’re kind of at with that right now.
Q Can you give specifics as to which programs you might?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: As you can imagine, I’m not going to negotiate from here, but we are open.
Q Does the White House have any comment on this New York Times story that came out just a little bit ago that said that a “troubling number” of the CIA’s informants have been compromised or killed?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t — I don’t have anything for you on that. I would refer you to the CIA for any comments. But I don’t have anything to share on that. I haven’t seen — I haven’t seen that report.
Q Did the White House — did the White House invite Representative Slotkin to the moderates’ call earlier today? And are they con- — and is the Whi- — is the President concerned about her seat, and is that why he’s visiting?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, you’re talking about why we’re going to — Representative Slotkin?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I mean, look, I just laid out in the begin- — in my topper what the Build Back Better agenda, what the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill is going to do for the people of Michigan. It is going — it has – it has a lot of benefits that’s going to help people who are in the middle, who are the middle class — you know, the blue-collar folks who have — who have been left behind — and also do an investment into our country, into roads and bridges that are critical and important.
And so, Michigan is going to — Michigan is a state that he wanted to highlight. He’s been all across the country, as you all know. Some of you have been on this trip with us talking about his Build Back agenda, talking about the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. And so, we’re going to Michigan to do just that — to continue to have that conversation.
And we have to remember as well, like, a lot of pieces of these — a lot of pieces of the — of his agenda is popular amongst the — amongst the American people, not just Democrats, but Republicans and independents and all.
This is — these are two pieces of legislation that the American people want to see happen. They want to be able to get that middle-class tax cut, which we passed in the American Rescue Plan — that Child Tax Credit. And so that has been critical. Cutting poverty by 50 percent. Want to be able to have lower costs in Medicare, lower prescription — pay lower — pay lower in their prescription drugs, which is really astronomic- — astronomically high.
And so we have to continue — continue making sure that we’re connecting with the American people, having that conversation, and letting them know what’s at stake and that we’re fighting for them every day.
Q Is the Congresswoman meeting him on the ground — Congresswoman Slotkin?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, she’ll be — yes, Representative Slotkin will be on the ground with us. She’ll be greeting us here at the airport when we land, and she’ll be also at the facility.
Q And then why go to a place that, you know, basically voted for Donald Trump? I think, like, 60 percent in that country versus 30-some percent for Biden? Is it important to get his message to Trump voters?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, no — Nicole, I appreciate the question, but the President has said this himself: He is the President for everyone — for people who voted for him and for people who didn’t.
And so, again, I just listed out — you know, example: 14 percent of Michigan households do not have Internet subscription. Michigan will receive a minimum allocation of $100 million to help provide broadband cover- — coverage across the state.
You know, I’ve listed out the things that the Build Back agenda will make life better for millions of working families in Michigan with bold investment in childcare, as I just mentioned; universal pre-K; tax cuts for families with children and childless workers; higher education; housing; and child nutrition.
I mean, this is — his agenda, his economic policy agenda, first of all, is about not leaving anyone behind, but is going to help people in towns in Michigan, but also across the country.
Again, he’s been doing this for the past several months — having these conversation, wanting to take it directly to the American people.
Q Jake Sullivan is expected to meet with Chinese officials. Can you tell us what message he’s bringing there? And Taiwan a topic of discussion?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yep. This just happened. So, as we announced, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will be meeting with his counterpart from the
PCR [PRC] tomorrow, in Switzerland. They will follow up on the President’s call with President Xi on September 9th, as we have — there’s a readout of that, as you all know.
As we’ve said, we will continue to seek to responsibly manage the competition between the U.S. and the PRC, and that’s what this meeting is about.
We’ll have more to say about this tomorrow.
Q On a similar topic, Ambassador Tai is going to be with her Chinese counterpart to discuss China’s failure to live up to the phase one trade agreement signed in the last administration. What is the message there?
But also, to this point, it seems like any interaction between these two countries below the leader level has led nowhere. Can you speak to whether the President will try to speak to President Xi again or set up a meeting?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have any meetings to confirm with the President and President Xi. You’re right — you know, Ambassador Tai, we said yesterday, is going to engage with her counterpart on the approach, moving forward on the phase one agreement, and that will be the main channel through which we discuss that.
Q Given the departure of Dr. Francis Collins, how quickly does the administration want to have his replacement in office? And do you have any update on the search for an FDA administrator?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, that decision is expected to be made before Dr. Collins steps down, as far as the nominee for his position.
I’m not going to be making any — clearly, any announcements on a nominee from this gaggle here today. And in the meantime, the American people can rest assured that there is a strong leadership across NIH and the department management — managing the COVID-19 pandemic and more.
And so, as far as the FDA, the role of the FDA commissioner is critically important, as you all know, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have strong acting leadership in place that is playing an important role in our COVID-19 response and beyond, and look forward to sharing a nominee with the required expertise and leadership for this job. So, hopefully, we’ll have something soon to share.
Q When was the last time the President spoke to Senators Manchin or Sinema?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: As you know, we’re in constant — he’s in constant communication with congressional members. I don’t have anything to read out or to lay out on the upcoming conversations with the two of them. But as you can imagine, they’re talking to White House officials on a regular day — on a regular basis.
Q Karine, how is the administration preparing for the 60,000 Haitian migrants who are traveling to the U.S. from Central America right now? And former special — former Haiti Special Envoy Daniel Foote is expected to testify later this week in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Has the White House been in touch with him?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything on that, on the — your second question at the moment. But what I can say is, you know, we continue — we’re going to continue to enforce Title 42 at the border. As we know — as we’ve said before, it’s a public health authority, not an immigration policy, for — families and single adults are expelled under the CDC directive when possible.
The determination of who can be expelled or not is determined by a number of factors, including the makeup of the specific family unit and agreements with the country of origin or last residence. Another determining factor is the detention capacity, both within ICE and CBP.
As we have stated, those who cannot be expelled are placed into removal proceedings and issued an NTA; or when capacity issues and processing backlogs arise, they may be processed via an alterna- — an alternate means, which requires them to report to an ICE office to commence the next phase in their immigration proceedings.
Individuals released from CBP custody are enrolled in ICE alternatives to detention programs to assist in ensuring they report to the next steps in their immigration process.
So, these are the factors that are in place across the border. As you can imagine, we’re working with our — the leaders in the region on this — on this issue of migrants coming to the border. But we do have a system in place that we’re going to continue to follow.
And we continue to have the push factors and telling folks, “This is not the time to come.” And we’re going to continue to do what we’ve been doing the past several months.
Q Karine, Senator Warren, on the Senate floor, had some strong words that Fed Chair Powell failed as a leader of the Fed by not safeguarding the Fed’s integrity in preventing the trading activities that Fed officials engaged in during the crisis. Does the President retain confidence in Powell in light of these comments from Senator Warren?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, I know that this is something that Jen talked about last week. Yes, he does have conf- — he does have confidence in Powell at this time.
Q Karine, is there like a date or a deadline set when you guys will have to basically give up on McConnell and tell Senate Dems they need to pursue reconciliation to sort of ensure that we don’t go off this, you know, debt cliff?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, we’re going to continue to make our position very clear about the debt ceiling and making sure that, you know, Senator McConnell should know this as well.
As we know, Jen put up this chart yesterday and — about the chart — right? — the chart that she put up, which is: On Mitch McConnell’s watch, the previous administration racked up nearly $8 trillion in new debt, including $2 trillion from a tax giveaway for the rich. But Republicans and Democrats still came together to address the debt limit three times because responsible people pay their bills.
And so, this has been done in the past. And so, this is critical and important. And so, we’re going to continue to ask for bipartisanship and make sure that it’s known: If Mitch McConnell is not going to participate, he needs to get out the way.
Q But do we know if there’s sort of a date that’s like the point of no return? And then, you know —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, I don’t have — I don’t have a date for you at this time. We’re just going to continue to be very, very clear. Like the President said yesterday, you know, we have to take a step back and look at how this has been done 80 times; that it’s been a bipartisan fashion — done in a bipartisan fashion three times during the Trump administration. And we can’t play political football right now. We can’t play politics. We have to get this done for the American people, and that is the most important thing.
Again, if — if there — if Mitch McConnell is not going to work with us, he needs to get out of the way and stop filibustering.
Q Last night, senior White House aides, including Brian Deese and Louisa Terrell, were on the Hill to meet with Schumer and Pelosi. Was this — can you give us a little bit more about that meeting? Was this about the next steps on the debt ceiling? Or what was this about?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I actually — Jenny, I don’t have anything to read out on that. I’m happy to go — to look into that. But as you can imagine, we try to keep those conversations private, but I don’t have anything for you on that one.
Q Could I do one final — final one? Senator Manchin also called the Hyde Amendment a “red line,” and I’m curious how are you going to square that with the President’s own stance
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. I’m not going to negotiate from here. Jen was asked this question as well yesterday, and she —
Q But that was before Manchin called it a “red line.” So —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I hear you. I hear you. I don’t think — his position on that has not changed in the last 24 hours. But we’re not going to negotiate from here. We’re going to just keep moving.
As I’ve said, you know, the Democrats pretty much agree — you know, a majority of Democrats agree that the Build Back agenda and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill is going to help middle-class families and really give them some space to breathe.
And one of the things that we have said over and over again is that it’s going to be paid for; we’re not going to raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000. And that’s the key here. And we’re going to make sure — and we’re going to do that by making sure that the wealthiest among us and the largest corporations pay their fair share.
Q Can you let us know whenever he talks to McConnell?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Sure. I’m happy to do that.
1:13 P.M. EDT