James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:42 P.M. EDT

MS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone. 

Q    Hi, Jen.

Q    Happy Friday.

MS. PSAKI:  Happy Friday.

Q    Jen, what’s going on outside?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any additional information.  As soon as I do, we’ll let you know.

Q    Thank you. 

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  So, one item for all of you at the top.  Today, OECD’s agre- — today’s OECD agreement shows how American leadership and diplomacy can advance the economic interests of American working families.

A global minimum tax at 15 percent, up from 0 percent today, will finally even the playing field for American workers and taxpayers.  President Biden, Secretary Yellen, and the entire administration worked overtime to rally more than 130 countries, representing more than 90 percent of the world’s GDP, to ensure that profitable corporations pay their fair share and provide governments with the resources to invest in their workers and economies.

The President’s Build Back Better agenda, now being considered by Congress, will build on this agreement.  It will eliminate incentives to shift jobs and profits abroad, and ensure that multinational corporations pay their fair share here at home.

The international agreement is proof that the rest of the world agrees that corporations can and should do more that we — to help build back better.

I understand you’re all looking for a week ahead.  We will have one, I promise, in the later days of this weekend.  And we’ll provide that to all of you as soon as we have it.

And, last item, I know we talk about serious things in here, but we have one fun thing today.  Chris is —

Q    Just one?

MS. PSAKI:  One.

Chris is getting married in a week — (applause) — so you won’t — so you won’t see him for two weeks.  And nobody can call him or bother him for two weeks.  (Laughter.)

Bother me, Karine, Chris.  And just to embarrass him a little bit, I got him a little special sash — (laughter) — to wear, just for the briefing, because everybody should know that Chris is marrying up, as many people do.

Q    Put it on, Chris.

MS. PSAKI:  You can put it on yourself.

Q    Put it on.

MS. PSAKI:  And also, a pin.

Q    It’s got a Halloween theme, too.

MS. PSAKI:  Also a pin — (laughter) — I’ll let Andrew or someone else put on you.

But really, we just wanted to congratulate Chris, celebrate him.  Most important decision you make —

MR. MEAGHER:  I’m glad I got my mask on.

MS. PSAKI:  — is the person you choose to be your partner.

MR. MEAGHER:  My face is probably beet red.

MS. PSAKI:  Glad you have your mask on.  Exactly.

Okay, with that — with that, Aamer.

Q    I don’t know how I top that.  (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI:  You can give him —

Q    Impossible.

MS. PSAKI:  — give him advice. 

Q    So, I’ll try to ask a question.  Can you confirm that the White House is authorizing the National Archives to turn over documents covering all communications related to Trump’s activities on January 6th?

MS. PSAKI:  The administration takes the events of January 6th incredibly seriously, as the President said on its six-month anniversary.  That day posed an ext- — existential crisis and a test of whether our democracy could survive.  It was, in many respects, a unique attack on the foundations of our democracy. 

The President is dedicated to ensuring that something like that could never happen again, which is why the administration is cooperating with ongoing investigations, including the January 6th Select Committee to bring to light what happened.

As a part of this process, the President has determined that an assertion of executive privilege is not warranted for the first set of documents from the Trump White House that have been provided to us by the National Archives.

As we’ve said previously, this will be an ongoing process, and this is just the first set of documents.  And we will evaluate questions of privilege on a case-by-case basis. 

But the President has also been clear that he believes it to be of the utmost importance for both Congress and the American people to have a complete understanding of the events of that day to prevent them from happening again.

Q    The President had previously said that the American Rescue Plan would add 7 million jobs to the economy.  At this point, are you — is the White House still confident in that — reaching that 7 million number?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, that was, of course, based on outside economists providing their analysis.  You’re talking about the Build Back Better agenda, not the American Rescue Plan? 

Q    I believe it was the ARP was the 7 million.

MS. PSAKI:  Oh, sorry, I didn’t know if you’re asking about the bill that’s moving its way through —

Q    No.

MS. PSAKI:  — or the bill that has been passed.

Q    The bill that has been.  I thought 7 million — and I apologize if I’m wrong, but I believe that’s right.

MS. PSAKI:  No, no, no.  I was just trying to — I was just trying to understand which part of his agenda you were asking about.

Nothing has changed on — on the projections of economists, in terms of the American Rescue Plan that we’re currently implementing, yes.

Q    Okay.  And then, finally, today, the President became the first U.S. President to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day.  Why should the U.S. continue to celebrate Columbus Day?  And has there been any talk or discussion of — as many cities and, I think, a few states have shifted from Columbus Day to an Indigenous Peoples’ Day?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, today is both Columbus Day, as of now — and this is why you’re asking the question — as well as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.  I’m not aware of any discussion of ending that — either of — ending the prior federal holiday, at this point. 

But I know that recognizing today as Indigenous Peoples’ Day is something that the President felt strongly about personally.  He’s happy to be the first President to celebrate and to make it — the — the history moving forward.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  I want to ask you about the jobs numbers.  One of the things that the jobs numbers showed is that there are more jobs available — a historic number of jobs available compared to how many people are actually seeking jobs.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    Why do you think there are so many people who are still reluctant to reenter the workforce?

MS. PSAKI:  There’s a range of factors in our assessment.  One is people are still fearful of COVID and what it will be like in workplaces and ensuring their own safety. 

There are still challenges as it relates to childcare, eldercare — the cost of those and being able to afford it and also the availability, which is something we’ve seen a shortage of in many communities. 

And we also have seen that the pandemic — while it’s been incredibly challenging on many, many levels, it’s also prompted many people to rethink what their careers might look like and what careers they may — may pursue.

So, you’re right, there are an enormous number of jobs that are still available out there in the workforce, and we believe those are the range of factors that are — attribute to that. 

Q    And then I was wondering if you could give us an update on the negotiations with Senators Manchin and Sinema.  Democrats are expressing more and more public frustration with the two of them, arguing that they’re not moving off of their positions.  Are the two of them providing more concessions in private than they appear to be in public?  And is the President getting frustrated?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we don’t have the luxury of being frustrated.  This is a process.  The President, of all people, recognizes that — that the process can take some time, there can be ups and downs in the process.  And he feels that we’re continuing to make progress; that both Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema are negotiating in good faith; that there is a recognition that not only do some people have to come down from their expectations of what might be in a package, but some others have to come up.  That’s what compromise is all about. 

So, we’re going to continue to pursue these discussions and negotiations.  The President is confident we’re going to get this done.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  First, on the economy: There are a half a million containers floating off the California coast with nowhere to go, major issues in the global supply chain right now.  The Vice President warned that this could happen in August.  So, why wasn’t more done to prepare?

MS. PSAKI:  For the global supply chain issues?

Q    Yeah, she was talking in August about, “If you want to have your Christmas toys for your children, now might be the time to start buying them because the delays could be many, many months.”

MS. PSAKI:  I asked that because we’ve been talking about the issues in the global supply chain since January.  And the President has not only put in place a task force, but we have taken a range of steps to work to address. 

Now, it’s not just about ensuring that we are having different companies speak to each other; we’ve certainly done that.  We’ve been a forum for hosting different industry leaders to see what we can — what we can reduce, in terms of red tape in the process. 

The — one of the biggest issues in the global supply chain is also COVID and the fact that COVID continues to be a threat to supply chains that are happening globally.  So, we’ve also worked to be the — by far and away — the largest provider of vaccines, know-how, manufacturing capacity to the world. 

So, we’ve not only been talking about this since January, we’ve been working to put in place a range of steps to help address the challenges in the supply chains.

Q    And, as we understand it, it’s not just COVID; there are also labor shortages and issues with shipping lines here — overground shipping lines in the U.S.  Is the President satisfied that his task force is doing a good job?

MS. PSAKI:  The President recognizes that there are several, several layers of the challenge here that contribute to the bottleneck.  And on ports and transportation bottlenecks specifically, we appointed — the President appointed a White House Ports Envoy this summer, John Porcari, to work with Secretary Buttigieg and bring stakeholders — labor, private industry — together to help solve the global transportation supply problems. 

The fact that he designated and — and appointed someone at that level with a range of vast experience shows that this is a part of the issue we’re absolutely focused on. 

We’re also focused, as I noted, on the work of the Supply Chain Task Force, also the semiconductor shortage, which has been an issue that has impacted a range of industries.  And we’re working to attack the challenges in the global supply chain at every point they are in the bottleneck.

Q    Thank you.  The Democratic candidate for governor in Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, who President Biden stumped for over the summer now says, “The President is unpopular today, unfortunately, here in Virginia, so we’ve got to plow through.”  Why do you think the President is unpopular in Virginia?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, just if you look at facts and the polling, the President is the most popular figure in Virginia of anyone currently running for President or any former recent President.  So, I’d just note that, in terms of the data.

But I would say that the President’s agenda is incredibly popular — that’s probably the reason why former Governor McAuliffe is also running on that agenda — whether it is reducing costs for the American people on childcare, on eldercare; making sure the tax system is more fair; rebuilding our roads, rails, and bridges.  Those are all components of the President’s agenda that he has huge agreement with Governor Mc- — former Governor McAuliffe on.

Q    Thank you.  And then just one more topic, following up on his remarks yesterday: President Biden claims that he cold-called a Pennsylvania hospital to ask the desk receiving nurse why it was taking so long for a good friend’s wife to be seen.  What happened next?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the context of why the President told this story — which I think is important, and I promise I’ll answer your question — is that he was expressing that hospitals, frontline workers, nurses, doctors in emergency rooms are still seeing and feeling the impact of the number of people who are unvaccinated who are filling beds in emergency rooms, ICUs, and it is preventing, in some cases, people who have other illnesses, who may be seeking treatment, who may be ha- — fearful of a heart attack, who — other people who might be going to the emergency room from getting the care that they need.  I don’t have any other update for the privacy of this — this individual. 

Q    But setting aside the privacy of the individual, how often does President Biden call around trying to help his friends cut the line?

MS. PSAKI:  That certainly was not his intention.  He was not trying to do that.  He was checking in on a friend.

Q    And do you know if this particular hospital might have been having staffing shortages because they have a vaccine mandate and maybe some folks have had to leave because they didn’t want to get vaccinated?

MS. PSAKI:  I would love for you to account for me where that is the issue at — over — more so than the number of unvaccinated who are filling emergency rooms, filling ICU beds. That is the problem in hospitals across the country.

Go ahead.

Q    Jen, what does the President say to — inflation is a big issue right now for Americans from coast to coast —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — as we head into the holidays.  What does the President say to Americans right now who are worried about those rising costs?

MS. PSAKI:  The President would say we take the commitment — he takes the commitment of lowering costs for the American people very seriously.  We, of course, have seen — and from outside experts, including the Federal Reserve, OECD, and others — that the — their expectation is that these inflation rises will be transitory, that they will come back down next year, and that one of the best things we can do is pass his agenda.  That’s what outside economists — 15 — 17 Nobel laureates have conveyed in order to reduce the risk of inflation over the long term. 

But he’s also attacking this from everywhere he can.  If I — if you take, for example, the cost of meat in the grocery store, which we know is of concern to the American people, we believe that the lack of competition is a huge issue here, that con- — that the conglomeration of big companies in some industries is a huge factor.  So, he’s also taken that on.

But we would say to the American people that what we’re trying to do is lower your costs, whether it’s childcare, whether it’s the cost of meat, or whether it’s ensuring this is not an issue in years to come.

Q    And for clarity, the timeframe is still what the Fed said of next year?  There isn’t any better timeframe the White House can give Americans about how long we kind of got to hunker down to get through this?

MS. PSAKI:  Americans should know that the Federal Reserve is in- — makes independent assessments.  That’s an important thing for history.  And that’s — continues to be their assessment.

Q    Can I ask you then about the reporting earlier today, as it relates to the former President’s documents as they associate with the January 6th attack on the Capitol right now?  Can you help detail for us or characterize what types of documents these are that would be provided?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the documents are Trump-era White House records responsive to the Select Committee’s request to the archivist.  And so, there is a process where the former President would have a period of time to assert executive privilege and then the current President and team would have a period of time to review that request.  But in terms of the details of them, I’d point you to the Select Committee for more specifics.

Q    But more specifically, in terms of what the White House is saying, you can’t grant it — can’t exert executive privilege over — is it phone records, visitor logs?  Is there any way you — can you run us through that list?

MS. PSAKI:  That is something I would point you to the committee on. 

Go ahead.

Q    Jen, can you explain the standard of review then that the White House is undertaking?  What would be something that this White House might consider privileged or should remain secret that this former President or any other former President should have the privilege applied — to which the privilege should apply?

MS. PSAKI:  Are you talking about as it relates to January 6th or just in general?

Q    Well, just — well, specifically in this review, if there’s any information you could share about the process that has been undertaken, and more broadly.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the process that is — is not — is one that has been outlined through history and law is that the former President has the ability — not that there’s a lot of past precedent here, I will acknowledge — has the opportunity to exert executive privilege than — to documents that are in the National Archives.  And then, this President and this White House has the opportunity to review that. 

Now, I think it’s important to note — and I know I said this, but I will just reiterate — this is a — this is the first set of documents.  So, these will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.  And obviously, you know, we will be responsive to the requests of the committee. 

I would like to note, just broadly speaking, that, you know, what this committee is investigating is not the normal course of government business.  Right?  There is a — as you know, and as all of you know, there are normal requests for documents, for information.  There are — there are moments throughout history where Presidents and White Houses have asserted executive privilege.  We will continue to evaluate those on a case-by-case basis. 

But this committee is investigating a dark day in our democracy — an attempt to undermine our Constitution and democratic processes by the former President — and that context, I think, is important here too.

Q    I’d like to ask a — put a finer point on a question Aamer asked you about —

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    —  Indigenous Peoples’ Day.  The President today issued two proclamations —

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

Q    — one for Indigenous Peoples’ Day, another for Columbus Day. 

In the Indigenous Peoples’ Day proclamation, the President spoke of it as a day to be celebrated.  And in the Columbus Day proclamation, the President spoke of the need for reflection on that day.  And he also seemed to indicate that Congress has requested that the President proclaim Columbus Day.  So, my question is: Is President Biden begrudgingly proclaiming Columbus Day this year?

MS. PSAKI:  He’s declaring both a holiday.  Obviously, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is something that he’s honored to be the first President to be issuing a proclamation on and celebrating.

Q    Is it his wish that the federal law be changed — that Columbus Day no longer be the designation of the second Monday in October?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any prediction of that at this point in time.

Go ahead.

Q    Jen, going back to the documents that the January 6th Committee requested, can you clarify: We’ve heard — we’ve seen public statements from former President Trump and his lawyers about an intention to invoke executive privilege.  But did they specifically reach out and ask that certain documents not be shared?

MS. PSAKI:  There’s an entire process that transpires.  I would point you to them and to the National Archives.

Go ahead.

Q    Can I ask a follow-up on —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — sorry — on the economy really fast?  You talked about labor shortages.  You talked about supply chain issues.  How long does the White House expect those issues to go on?

MS. PSAKI:  Supply ch- — global supply chain issues?

Q    Yeah, what’s your best guess for how long we’ll have to be dealing with that?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, look, I think, as I noted earlier in response to Peter’s question, there are a couple of issues at play here. 

Q    I thought his question was about the length of inflation or —

MS. PSAKI:  He also asked me about the global supply —

Q    Two Peters.

MS. PSAKI:  Oh, yeah.  Oh, sorry.  Yes.  Yes.  Also about the — he asked me about the global supply chain issues. 

Okay.  (Laughter.)  Sorry.  So, that is true.  Two Peters over here. 

So, one of the issues is, of course, how quickly we can work as a global community to address COVID and get it under control around the world.  The United States is far and away the largest provider of vaccines, donating millions to — billions to the global community to get the pandemic under control. 

We have also taken significant steps — far and away more than any other country — on manufacturing know-how, on ensuring that we are providing the supplies that are needed to countries.

We continue to need other countries around the world to step up to help address, because the global supply chain issues are, in some part, related to manufacturing in other countries.

There are some issues we’ve seen, you know, some progress on addressing, but we also need to get the CHIPS funding passed and through Congress.  That’s something the President strongly supports.  A semiconductor chip shortage is a huge issue, as you all know, in the auto industry and manufacturing here in the United States and around the world. 

So, I would say there’s not a one-sentence answer on this because — I know you weren’t asking for one — but because there are a range of issues we’re working to — the point is: We’re working to address them on several paths and on several fronts, and I can’t make a prediction of when it will be concluded.  It is just a top priority of the President’s.

Go ahead. 

Q    Thank you, Jen.  Just a quick follow-up on inflation.  So, we’re looking at Labor Department data.  It shows that there is like 0.9 percent decline in how much Americans have earned per hour, on average, this August versus last year — so year-over-year data when you adjust it for inflation.  And so, inflation is clearly eating into people’s paychecks.

And, you know, I understand that you’re saying that, you know — and you have said this in the past — that impact from inflation is transitory, that the President will — you know,  when asked how he plans to address this — “We’ll talk about competition issues.  We’ll talk about meat prices.”  But are there any sort of near-term steps that, you know, the White House is now thinking of taking as you look at this data that is starting to flow in?  And is he starting to get — is the President starting to get increasingly concerned, perhaps, that this is now starting to actually eat into people’s paychecks?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, as you picked that wages piece of data, though, I think what’s important to note is that the progress that the President talked about this morning is on a range of fronts, which is also important. 

We’re at a faster projection of economic growth than we were at a year ago, far and away.  The 4.8 percent unemployment rate is down from 6.3 percent in January. 

Unemployment claims are down 60 percent since the President took office.  We have — we have seen close to 5 million jobs created since President Biden took office and wages actually went up month to month from last month to the prior month.

So, that’s all important data.  I understand we can cherry pick different data pieces from a year ago or two years ago, but what we’re seeing in the trend is encouraging and is progress being made.

As you well know, inflation is the purview of the Federal Reserve.  They make projections.  We rely on those projections. Those continue to say that it’s transitory and will come down next year. 

It is also important that we address this over the long term and we address the cost — that is really what we’re talking about — in terms of the impact on the American people.  People may not know — you hear “inflation,” it’s like, “What does that mean?”  That means rising costs — right? —  and how do you address those costs. 

And what the President is trying to do with his economic agenda is do exactly that: cut the cost for the American people — childcare, eldercare, you know, cut in half the child poverty — make sure the people have some breathing room.  That’s really what he’s focused on doing in terms of how it’s impacting people who are sitting at home, worried about their economic future.

Q    So are there specific, perhaps, commodities?  You know, you spoke about chips.  We’ve been talking about chips for a long time.  Are there specific commodities or specific bottlenecks in the global supply chain that are perhaps emerging more than ever now, you know, in the run up to the holidays, that the White House is particularly focused on?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I mean, I’ve talked about a couple of the areas where we are quite focused on doing more and ensuring we’re doing more, including addressing ports and transportation bottlenecks, which, as we know, can impact a lot of different areas because it is how goods are moved and transported, and ensuring there aren’t the delays that I think you all have reported on in a range of ways. 

And John Porcari is somebody who has a great deal of experience, having worked for the Department of Transportation in the past, and is working to address those global transportation issues.

I noted, of course, the semiconductor shortage, which, as you know, impacts a number of industries here.  And we have made some progress, in our view, including improving communications and trust across the supply chain, improvements in the supply chain practices, which may seem overly simplistic or just cutting through bureaucratic red tape, but it can help the process and move things forward.

I also noted food processing.  This is an area also where we have seen impacts in some communities from food processing and issues in the global supply chain.  And so we — and we know that the pandemic has revealed vulnerabilities in our food system.  That’s one of the reasons the Department of Agriculture announced the new Food Supply Chain Loan Guarantee Program. 

And we’ve also seen, as it relates to lumber — which was an area that we talked about quite a bit several months ago, and we saw the impact on how that impacted housing prices of new homes, specifically — since its peak, the cost of lumber has decreased by 60 percent and is one example of the market leveling off. 

So, point is, there are different — as you know, there are different issues as it relates to the supply chain in different industries.  We’re working to address them and attack them all at the same time.

We have seen some elements of progress, but we also continue to understand and know that as we’re coming back from a global pandemic — a massive undertaking — and the economy is turning back on, we’re going to have to keep pressing to make sure we’re addressing these issues.  And we’re doing that around the clock at agencies across the federal government.

Q    Thank you.  And on — just one quick question on gas prices.  Reuters has some reporting that shows a lot of American consumers we’re talking to have started to link the rise in gas prices to the administration’s policies that ban fossil fuels.  For example, a pause on federal leasing on land and water. 

And so, my question is: Why keep a lid on production at home with American companies and instead ask OPEC for more production where that production is perhaps not as environmentally regulated?  Is there any consideration perhaps being given to this — you know, keeping in mind, rising gas prices?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we are in touch.  We are not a member of OPEC, as you all know.  We are in regular touch with OPEC, and we have also raised issues of supply in meetings that members of our national security team and others have had in recent weeks, as I have confirmed from here.

We, of course, want to address the short-term supply issues.  One of those issues, as we know, was related to Hurricane Ida and the impacts in the region, which we took steps to address, certainly, at the time.

But our view — to go back to your original question — is also that while we need to take steps to address short-term supply issues, we need to also keep our eye on the long term and the impact of the climate — the crisis that is — we are in the middle of and ensure that we are continuing to encourage the production and rise of renewables and the clean energy industry, which is exactly what the President’s proposals would do.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  As the January 6th committee looks to enforce some of the subpoenas that it has been issuing for witnesses, will the President direct the Justice Department to prosecute criminal referrals from the select committee?

MS. PSAKI:  That would be up to the Department of Justice, and it would be their purview to determine.  They’re an independent agency. 

Q    And has the President discussed that at all with

the Attorney General or anyone at the Justice Department?

MS. PSAKI:  They’re independent.  They would — they would determine any decision on criminal prosecutions.  I’d point you to them and, of course, the committee.

Q    And then just going kind of big picture here: Today, we saw another jobs report that fell well below expectations — the smallest jobs gains in nearly a year.  Gas prices are at a seven-year high.  Inflation is up.  The President is struggling to get the rest of his Build Back Better agenda passed through Congress.  How do you assess where things stand right now with regards to his presidency?  And do you see a need, at this point, to course correct, perhaps?

MS. PSAKI:  We certainly don’t see things as darkly as you do.  Look, the President’s focus is on leading through a challenging time.  And that has been his focus from the first day he took office.  If you look at the data month-over-month, as I noted a few minutes ago, we have — he has also created 5 million jobs under his presidency.  We have created an average of 500,000 jobs a month.  We are at a faster rate of economic growth, a lower rate of unemployment than in quite some time.  That’s progress.  That’s moving exactly in the right direction. 

And as it — as it relates to the President’s agenda, we’re continuing to press forward with members of Congress who have a broad range of views about the path forward.  But we’re making progress.  The President remains confident we’re going to get it done. 

And this is what governing looks like.

Q    Do you not see today’s jobs report as a warning sign in any way that perhaps the economy is not headed in the right direction — that perhaps the recovery is not going at the pace that it should be?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t believe that’s what economists are projecting at this point in time.

Q    And just a quick foreign policy question.  It’s been three weeks now since President Biden authorized the use of sanctions against the Ethiopian government.  We’ve seen credible allegations of human rights abuses, allegations of genocide.  The Ethiopian government expelled seven senior U.N. officials last week.  What is the President waiting for to actually implement those sanctions?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, he signed the executive order in order to ensure we had the authority, should we determine — should we make the determination to put sanctions in place.  That’s, of course, an interagency process and a decision he would make the final sign off on, but I don’t have any update on the status of that at this point in time. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  The President signed the HAVANA Act into law today, but he did so out of public view.  His statement today said that the United States government is offering resources to people who suffered from Havana Syndrome incidents, but he stopped short of calling these incidents “attacks.”  So, at this point, what should the public know and what can the public know about what Havana Syndrome actually is and how it is caused?

MS. PSAKI:  The public should know that this President is the first President to acknowledge the existence of Havana Syndrome or anonymous [anomalous] health incidents — that, across the government, across the national security team, they’re taking this incredibly seriously. 

The National Security Council has worked closely with departments and agencies to take a number of significant steps: standardizing the reporting process so that all possible AHIs that are reported by U.S. personnel, regardless of department or agency affiliate — affiliation, are uniformly documented and quickly shared; improve the quality and speed of medical care, which is part of what this bill would help do; ensure there is financial support for that; ensure all relevant departments and agencies have messaged their workforce to provide guidance; increased intelligence collection and analytic focus on determining the cause of AHIs; and enlist U.S. government and outside experts to increase our understanding.

What is important to also know and understand is that we, of course, are determined to get to the bottom as quickly as possible of the — of the attribution and cause of these incidents.  The intelligence community is in the lead on that.  They have launched a largescale investigation into the potential causes.  They’re actively examining a range of hypotheses, but they have not made a determination about the cause of these incidents or who is responsible. 

So, our focus is on implementing — starting a process that did not exist when the President took office.  It’s a huge priority for the government, the national security team.  And the President was certainly pleased to sign the bill today.

Q    Is Havana Syndrome a threat to Americans, particularly those traveling abroad?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t think you should make that assessment.  We have not made an attribution —

Q    I’m asking you — yeah.

MS. PSAKI:  — you should not — we have not made an attribution of the source.  But we take every reported incident seriously.

And what we want to do is ensure that our national security team is using every resource at our disposal — intelligence gathering, assessing, treating every incident seriously, ensuring people receive medical care.  But without an attribution and without an assessment of the cause or the origin, I just don’t want to go further than that. 

Q    Can I follow up on that?

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead. 

Q    Thanks, Jen. 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I’ll come back to you, Patsy. 

Q    So, the Congress has now solved the — temporarily solved the debt ceiling and funded the government.  What is the President’s expectation for a timeline of any sort to move forward on the infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better agenda? 

You know, obviously, he’s had a lot of conversations with members of Congress, but now that those two more immediate things are passed, is there an expectation that there’s going to be progress next week?  Is that something that he’s conveyed to members of Congress that he wants to move forward on this particularly before these issues come up again in December?

MS. PSAKI:  The President wants to move forward as quickly as possible, but I’m not going to set new deadlines.

Q    And on the debt ceiling again, is that something — you know, it seems like he will be able to sign a short-term suspension of that.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    Are there any conversations about trying to avoid the situation that Congress faced this week so that it doesn’t happen again in December?  Or is the focus primarily on the two pieces of legislation?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think there’s no question our preference this week, last week, and in the future would be to fully address the debt limit and not put the American people in a position where they are worrying about their retirement savings, their Social Security, payments to members of the military moving forward.  So, we would like to have a longer-term solution; there’s no question. 

While it took us some time to get there, through a little blood, sweat, and tears — well, not blood, but sweat and tears, perhaps.  You know, we are — what last night showed is that this can happen through regular order.  And obviously, we — our preference would have been longer term, but there was a short-term extension.  It happened through regular order. 

We’re going to continue to press to raise the debt limit, and do it as — as it has been done in the past, in a bipartisan fa- — fashion.

Q    And just one — one last on that: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer gave a speech after it passed.  Senator Manchin and some Republicans criticized that speech.  Does the White House have any response to, kind of, the words that the Leader used on the Senate floor?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we also issued our own statement, so I’d point you to the tone of that statement as to what our view is. 

But I would say that our con- — our view continues to be that Leader Schumer has shown great skill in navigating this process — through a challenging process.  We have confidence in his ability to do that moving forward.

And I think it’s important to remember that the reason we were teetering on the edge of default and an economic calamity is because Republicans were refusing to join with Democrats, or even to allow Democrats to be the adults in the room and raise the debt limit themselves.

Go ahead, Tam.

Q    Jen, thank you.  Does the President support eliminating the debt limit entirely through some sort of legislative process?  There — there seems to be a growing chorus to just take away the cliffs.

MS. PSAKI:  I’ve heard that, read that, seen that.  You know, I would say our focus right now is on — we’re about six weeks away from another timeline and deadline.  We want to do what has been done in the past 81 — 80 — almost 81 times in the past, in raising the debt limit, doing it in a bipartisan way through regular order.  There’s plenty of time for discussion after that.

Q    Is there any possibility of putting the debt limit into the reconciliation, Build Back Better plan?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’ll lead the — leave the legislative strategy and approach to Leader Schumer.  Obviously, we just got agreement on the short-term extension last night.  And we’ll work closely with him and his team over the course of the period ahead. 

Q    And has the President spoken with Senator Sinema this week?  And do you have a sense of what the areas of difference are?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’ll let her — I wouldn’t say we see it as areas of different — difference with the President.  The President is working to — obviously, he supports absolutely everything in his package.  It was his package.  He proposed it.  He gave a big speech about it. 

He also understands and has known from the beginning that compromise was inevitable; people were going to have to give, including him.  He’s not going to get everything he wants out of a final package.  So, really what the stage we’re in now is, is about determining what a smaller package looks like.  We’ve been in that stage for a couple days, as we expected to be.  And we will continue to be, I would expect.

Our senior team has been in touch with Senator Sinema.  We believe she continues to work with us, communicate, negotiate, discuss in good faith, and we’ll work to continue to make progress.

Q    So, maybe if I rephrase it as “areas of requested compromise.”

MS. PSAKI:  Well —

Q    Do you know what —

MS. PSAKI:  — I’ll let Senator —

Q    Are there areas of requested compromise —

MS. PSAKI:  I’ll let Senator Si- —

Q    — you could — you could describe?

MS. PSAKI:  I will let Senator Sinema speak for herself on that and what her points of view are at this point in time. 

Go ahead.

Q    Jen —

MS. PSAKI:  Or — go ahead.

Q    Go ahead.

Q    Even as vaccination rates are going up and, as the President said, COVID cases are starting to come down, one of the main reasons why people are avoiding the workforce — workforce, according to recent data, is fear of catching the coronavirus.  So, what more can the White House do here in order to fix the labor shortage, because this seems to be the big issue?  Is there more the White House can do?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, one of the big steps we took is to announce a mandate for businesses with 100 or more employees, which — obviously, the next step would be OSHA regulations on how that would be implemented. 

A number of companies, as you know, have already put that — have already put their own mandates or requirements in place. 

And we’ve seen a great deal of success across the board on this front, where companies have been able to — United Airlines, for example — ensure there was greater certainty, employees knew they were working with people who were vaccinated.  There are fewer people who are, of course, out sick with COVID; fewer people who have even worse impacts than that.

So, one of the big steps we’ve taken and announced is to — is to put in place these requirements for businesses.  Hopefully, that will create more certainty.  And we — there’s no question, to your point, that fear of COVID, a fear of work environments — that people are not sure if they’re safe or not — is a contributor as we look at the number of open jobs out there.

Q    Jen —

MS. PSAKI:  Oh, go ahead.

Q    — just one more on immigration.

MS. PSAKI:  The courts cited, about two months ago, that the administration would need to restart the Migrant Protection Protocols program.  Is there an update on that?  Is the administration going to restart that soon?

MS. PSAKI:  We have been working in — to abide by what the requirements are under the ruling while, at the same time, the Department of Homeland Security, I believe, issued a new memorandum just a few — a week or so ago.  I’m happy to get you that after the briefing, too, on our path forward.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  The President has very tough approval ratings these days.  And I (inaudible) prefer it if I didn’t talk about polls — and you might say that they don’t mean anything, but it’s also fair to say the White House, when there are good polls, you — you’ve publicized them.  So, what do you make of these really terrible polls?  Are they that he’s doing something wrong?  Is it just the communication?  Or is it he’s doing unpopular things that have to be done?  Or something else?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    Thank you.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, look, I would say that this is a really tough time in our country.  We’re still battling COVID, and a lot of people thought we’d be through it, including us.

And we — because of the rise of the Delta variant, because of the fact that even though it was a vaccine that was approved under a Republican administration, even though we now have full FDA approval, and even though it’s widely available across the country, we still have a quarter of the country who have — less than that — 20 percent of the country who’ve decided not to get vaccinated.  No question that’s having an impact.

And, of course, as the President has said, the buck stops with him.  That’s far and away the biggest issue on the minds of the American people, and it’s impacting a lot of issues.

We’ve talked a little bit about the supply chain.  We’ve talked about, you know, people’s safety and feeling in the workforce.  And so, our focus is — yes, not — not exactly on the day-to-day up and downs of the polls; our focus is on getting the pandemic under control, returning to life — a version of normal — so people can have security in going into work and dropping their kids off and knowing people will be safe.  And that’s where we think we should spend our time and energy.

Go ahead, Kelly.

Q    On the executive privilege issue: Donald Trump has certainly suggested he might again be a candidate for the nomination of his party and run for the presidency again.  President Biden has said he intends to run. 

So, for people who are not familiar with the rules of executive privilege and might look at this as — through a political lens, what would your response to that be, in terms of how the public should judge this action from this White House?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Their — our view is that there is nothing political about working to ensure that the events of January 6th never happen again.  It shouldn’t be a Democratic thing, a Republican thing, an independent thing, a political thing at all.  This should a shared goal.

And a key part of that, in our view, is ensuring that the select committee has the information it needs to ensure accountability for these events. 

The Supreme Court has recognized that it is, quote, the current President who “is vitally concerned with and in the best position to assess the present and future needs of the Executive Branch, and to support invocation of the privilege accordingly.”

That’s exactly what we’re doing. 

And as I noted earlier, we’re going to evaluate on a case by case.  This is the first tranche of documents, and it is also important for people to understand that this is — the use of executive privilege — which I think you’re asking this — because people don’t entirely always know exactly what that is — we have been very cooperative with Congress.  We will continue to be, as it relates to a range of issues related to our administration as well, and evaluate on a case-by-case basis.

But this was a uniquely dark day in our democracy — a day that we need to get to the bottom of.  And, you know, that’s important context here as well.

Go ahead, Jen.

Q    Thanks.  I just wanted to come back to the — the incident — the protest that happened with Senator Sinema over the weekend and whether that’s something that the White House or the President has been thinking more about since then.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  I mean, I would say, I talked to the President about this, maybe two days ago — it’s all running together; in the last few days, I would say — and what he conveyed very clearly — just in case there’s any confusion about where he stands — is that, while, of course, we all agree — and as Senator Sinema said herself — the right to free speech and to protest is sacred to our country, he believes that what happened to her crossed the line and was absolutely unacceptable and flat out wrong to violate someone’s personal space in a bathroom.  It doesn’t need to happen that way.  We can peacefully protest without it crossing that line.

So that continues to be his point of view.

Q    And has he had any conversations with her or other senators about it?

MS. PSAKI:  We — our staff has been in close touch with her over the course of the last several days, working in good faith to move — to make progress and move forward.  I’m not aware of other discussions he’s had with other senators.

Q    And then, just on one other thing.  On the global minimum tax: Secretary Yellen said she wanted to see this happen through reconciliation.  Would that be a part of the Build Back Better bill, or how are you thinking about the strategy on how to deliver on the U.S. commitment on that?

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah, part of it is certainly making the tax code more fair and discussing that as a part of the reconciliation package.  Yeah.

Go ahead.

Q    On student loans: Fifteen House members sent a letter to the White House demanding the memo about the administration’s authority on forgiving student loans by October 22nd.  First, has the President seen the letter, been made aware that the letter and that frustration is out there?  And what’s your reaction to it?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not aware of the letter.  I haven’t seen the letter.  It — I’m sure someone in our legislative team — or I’m happy to check if they have seen the letter.  I’m happy to check with them, but I’d have to take a closer look at it.

I would say the President certainly believes we should lower the cost of college, make it more affordable to people.  He wants to ensure it’s a — an option.  That’s why he proposed an expansive plan on community college and making that accessible to people across the country. 

And he also continues to — would welcome a bill sent by Congress that would — that would eliminate $10,000 in student debt.  That hasn’t passed.  That’s something everybody could certainly work toward passing.

Go ahead, Patsy.  I promised to get back to you.

Q    One second.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah. 

Q    But is the review that the Department of Education was said to be doing — are they still doing that?  Have they started that?  Is it over and you guys are just figuring out –you know, typing it up?  Is the — (inaudible) — like, what — I guess, what is the — (laughter) — what is the —

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have it.  I don’t have any update on it.  I can — I can see if there’s an update from the Department of Education.

Go ahead, Patsy.  And then I’ll come back to you.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  Two questions to follow up on the HAVANA Act.  One of the complaints that I hear a lot from people who believe that they were targeted by these attacks and also suffering from the so-called Havana Syndrome is the disparity in acknowledgement and also treatment depending on the country in which they were attacked.

So, they’re saying, if they were attacked in Cuba, the government would admit and acknowledge, but if it happens in China, the government would not readily admit.  So, would you say this is a fair characterization?  Is the reason for this diplomatic or not?  And would you commit to treating all the victims and supporting them in the same way, no matter where they were attacked?

MS. PSAKI:  It’s hard to speak to anonymous sources here, Patsy.  I would say that, as I noted earlier, our objective and the President’s commitment is to standardizing the reporting process, is to ensuring we’re improving the quality and speed of medical care, is of ensuring every case that comes forward is taken seriously, treated seriously.  That has not always been the case, but that is our objective and the commitment of this administration.

Q    And just to follow up on that: I understand you’ve explained how you want to standardize the process of reporting, but will that include some sort of centralized support system, maybe a hotline or a task force, where the victims can go and call?  Because right now, when I’m talking to the victims, they’re saying they have to fight a skeptical bureaucracy.  They don’t know how to find care from doctors who understand the syndrome, for example.  And they just don’t know how to take care of themselves and their families having to fight all of this bureaucracy.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I’m not sure that your characterization — I — look, this is a priority for every national security agency.  It’s something that many members of our national security team have spoken to personally, passionately themselves and their commitment to addressing this.

We’ve also taken a number of very concrete steps.  Each agency has their own process and system, but what we’re working to do is coordinate it. 

So, it’s — it’s — I think it’s not really fair to speak to one or two anonymous cases when this is an across-the-government effort, commitment, priority.  The President signed a bill into law today.  We’ve put a number of steps into place that are incredibly concrete.  The President has acknowledged this a problem.  We’re using every resource in the government to address it, and I think that really speaks to the President’s commitment.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  Yesterday, hundreds of immigrants and activists protested outside the White House, calling for Democrats to still include a pathway to citizenship in the reconciliation package.

There’s been about 90 legal experts who’ve also submitted a letter saying that the presiding officer of the Senate can issue a ruling contrary to the Senate Parliamentarian. 

Has the White House discussed any of these options with lawmakers on Capitol Hill?  And would the President support, you know, kind of bypassing the Senate Parliamentarian’s ruling on including a pathway to citizenship

MS. PSAKI:  Well, just so everybody understands the process — and they may or may — they very well may, but just to give the additional context here.  We, of course, wanted compo- — key components of immigration reform to be in the reconciliation package.  The President supported that.  He was vocal about that.

The Senate Democrats went back twice and tried to get components into a reconciliation proc- — package.  And the Parliamentarian — as you noted, but just so everyone understands the process — twice ruled that they could not be included in the package.

In order to overrule a parliamentarian, it is not just waving a magic wand.  It requires a majority of votes in the Senate, and it requires the Vice President.

So, I would say that’s a legislative process.  I would point to Leader Schumer and others to ask the question of whether there is the opportunity or the appetite to do that.

Q    Many activists see it as though — see reconciliation as one of the last opportunities to get immigration reform passed.  President Biden said that that’s, you know, one of the — part of his agenda.

I don’t know.  What are — are there any concerns that this isn’t going to happen at all?

MS. PSAKI:  The President is nine months into his first term in office.  He introduced an immigration bill his first day in office.  And his immigration bill not only included a pathway to citizenship, it included investment in smart border security, and it included reforms to the asylum processing system.  It included ensuring that DREAMers no longer have to worry about their safety and security in the United States’ — security, primarily — being able to stay.  And that’s something he’s absolutely committed to. 

And there are a lot of Democrats in Congress who feel as passionately about it as he does.  So, we’re going to have to press forward and work to find the vehicle.  And what these activists are doing is great.  They’re out there advocating for putting in place long-overdue reforms.  We agree they need to be put in place, and we need to keep pressing to get the job done.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.

Q    Do you want to go, and then I’ll go?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    Thank you.  A couple of questions.  First, on India:  After last month’s meeting between President Biden and Prime Minister Modi, there have been a series of visits with the two countries ongoing and a few in the next several weeks.  Where do the India-U.S. relations stand now after the visit?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say, clearly, the Quad meeting that happened just a week or two ago — it’s all — time is running together for me, at this point in time, but — was just an opportunity to discuss the importance of the — of the relationship and the partnership, the work that can be done moving forward, as well as, of course, the bilateral meeting.  So, those two meetings in one day.

And now, at this point, the focus is going to be on continuing to work through high-level interlocutors, whether it’s the Secretary of State and leaders at the State Department or leaders from our national security team, about how we can continue to move forward on a range of issues, whether it’s economic security, physical — national security, addressing COVID and getting the pandemic under control.  So, that work will continue at lower — lower than leader-level, but still high levels in the weeks and months ahead.

Q    On immigration: The President has spoken about giving pathway to citizenship for illegal — both undocumented DREAMers as well, and the legal immigrants as well.  This month, 80,000 green card spots were lost and there are millions waiting for green cards.  Does the President think that was a waste?  (Inaudible) given faster pathway to citizenship to a lot of citizens who are (inaudible) —

MS. PSAKI:  The President absolutely wants to address the delays in the green card processing system as well.

Q    And one more on the Afghanistan attack.  A hundred people who died today — do you have something on that?

MS. PSAKI:  We — obviously any loss is a — is a huge — is an enormous tragedy, and our heart goes out to the families who lost loved ones. 

We, of course, will continue to work in partnership with leaders in the region to work to get partners who stood by our side out of Afghanistan who want to depart.  That’s something that there’s ongoing work on, as we speak.

I — I think is going to be the last one. 

Q    I wanted to ask about the COVID-19 vaccine rule that OSHA is working on.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    It’s supposed to be an Emergency Temporary Standard.  What does that mean in this context in terms of timeline?  Is it going to go through the normal OMB process?  Will it be expedited somehow?  What does that mean?

MS. PSAKI:  That’s a really good question, Courtney.  I mean, I think what the next step is — here — is, of course, they need to release their — the regulations publicly. 

As we said at the time, we expect it to be several weeks.  That remains the case.  I don’t have an update on the exact timeline.  In terms of the exact machinations of the process, let me see if we can get you something more technical to address that question.

Thanks, everyone.

Q    Thanks, Jen.

Q    Jen, we saw him coughing and sniffling earlier.  Is his health okay?  Before there’s wild speculation — is he all right?

MS. PSAKI:  He is doing great. 

Q    Thank you.

MS. PSAKI:  He’s got some allergies.

3:30 P.M. EDT

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