Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, October 12, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:07 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay, a couple of items for all of you at the top. As the country recovers from this once-in-a-century pandemic and economic crisis, the private businesses that make up our supply chains and get goods to businesses and the American people have struggled to keep up. We’ve talked about this a fair amount in this briefing room.
This is not just happening here at home, but all around the world as COVID has led to shutdowns and disruptions at ports and factories around the world.
In June, the White House launched the Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force to address short-term supply chain bottlenecks. And after working closely with the leaders and companies at that port — on potential solutions, we announced a new port envoy to the task force in August.
Solving this issue is going to require cooperation between the private sector, including rail and trucking, ports, and labor unions. And so, tomorrow, the President will be meeting with the leadership of the Port of Los Angeles, the Port of Long Beach, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union to discuss the challenges at ports across the country and actions each partner can take to address these delays.
The administration will also hold a roundtable tomorrow with private sector companies, including Walmart, UPS, Home Depot, to discuss how the largest cargo owners and shipping companies can address congestion in the transportation and logistics supply chain.
We’ll also have a briefing later this evening with all of you, and people who are not in this room right now, to give you more details on any announcements for tomorrow.
I also wanted to note — I had one more item. I may — maybe I’ll get back to it at the end.
It’s also Jenny Leonard’s birthday, so we’ll just note that. Happy Birthday to Jenny.
There’s going to be a bilateral meeting with the President of Kenya later this week. I’ll get you more details after the briefing.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: And it’s a — it’s remote, obviously.
Q Is the administration going to sue Texas over the — opposing the order for the vaccine mandates? And is there a risk that, kind of, the OSHA efforts essentially get tied up in litigation rather than having the immediate effect?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Josh, these requirements are promulgated by federal law. So, when the President announced his vaccine mandates for businesses — that, of course, we’re waiting on OSHA regulations, as far as a next step — that was pursuant to federal law and the implementation of federal law because it’s an executive order.
So, our intention is to implement and continue to work to implement these requirements across the country, including in the states where there are attempts to oppose them.
I will say, since you gave me the opportunity, Governor Abbott’s executive order banning mandates — and I would also note an announcement by Governor DeSantis this morning, essentially banning the implementation of mandates — fit a familiar pattern that we’ve seen of putting politics ahead of public health. Over 700,000 American lives have been lost due to COVID-19, including more than 56,000 in Florida and over 68,000 in Texas. And every leader should be focused on supporting efforts to save lives and end the pandemic.
Why would you be taking steps that prevent the saving of lives, that make it more difficult to save lives in — across the country or in any state?
And I would also note that vaccine requirements have been standard in both the Lone Star State, Texas — in case you’re not familiar — and the Sunshine State, Florida, in schools for decades. Whether polio, measles, mumps, rubella, the chickenpox, there are vaccine requirements that have been implemented for decades in these states.
So, these decisions put these two leaders out of step with both longtime requirements — a history of vaccine mandates — but also many business leaders in their states. And many businesses that are based in their states, including Disney and American Airlines, that are — these leaders are taking steps to help boost vaccination rates, reduce deaths, hospitalizations — reduce hospitalizations, and expand the country’s labor pool.
So, bottom line is: We’re going to continue to implement the law, which the President of the United States has the ability, the authority — the legal authority to do. And we are going to continue to work to get more people vaccinated, to get out of this pandemic. The President will use every lever at his disposal to do that.
Q And then, secondly, the JOLTS report today indicated that nearly 3 percent of U.S. workers quit their jobs in August. That’s 4.3 million people. Does the administration believe that people quitting is a positive, because those people will get new jobs that pay more, or a negative, because of the gravity of the Delta variant?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that there are different circumstances, as you know, Josh, depe- — for different people’s lives. And there are certainly — what we’ve seen through the pandemic, on the positive note, is that people have made more — decided they have more choices that they can make. They have taken the period of the pandemic to maybe seek different forms of employment, different formats of that employment. Maybe it’s — some of it’s remote working; maybe it’s all remote working; maybe they’re changing industries and career paths. And some of that — some of the numbers of people departing — leaving their jobs is attributed to that.
There are also conditions — so, I can’t give you the exact breakdown. I guess I’m just conveying that our economists feel that all are true. There are some conditions where women have left the workforce because of childcare needs, of — ones they can’t afford, they don’t have the ability to pay, and because of fears of going into companies or industries or jobs where they fear that they — there are not the conditions to be safe.
So, it depends, really, Josh. I think it’s — some — some are positive conditions and some are more because there haven’t been steps put in place everywhere, in every industry, that can make people feel safe.
Q First, on the G20 call that the President had this morning regarding Afghanistan. The U.N. said, on Monday, that millions of dollars of aid are needed to stave off a humanitarian crisis there. I saw the EU responded by making a new commitment on that front. Did the President make any new commitments as far as what humanitarian assistance?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we recently announced nearly $64 million in additional humanitarian assistance — in advance of today, I should say — for the people of Afghanistan. The United States is the single-largest humanitarian donor in Afghanistan, providing nearly $330 million this year alone. And we will continue to take steps to alleviate the suffering of the Afghan people and call on other donors to step up their contributions to help deliver critical assistance.
So, the recent $64 million brought us up to 333 [million], and makes us far and away the largest donor.
Q Okay. And any change to the policy about not unfreezing the central bank assets that would be available in Afghanistan?
MS. PSAKI: There hasn’t been any change to that policy. No.
Q Okay. And then, one other thing. I was wondering if you had an update on Vienna talks and kind of where that stands. I know that there’s conversations today with the Israeli government. Do you see that restarting soon? And where is that now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we, of course, keep our partners abreast of our efforts to pursue a diplomatic path forward as it relates to the P5+1 talks with Iran. So, certainly, it was a topic of discussion. I don’t have a full readout quite yet, as it was happening earlier today.
But, in terms of where things stand, that continues to be our preferred path, our preferred choice. We believe diplomacy is — should always be the first option.
And I think you may have all seen the Secretary of State convey this weekend that time is not unlimited, and that remains the case. But we continue to pursue those — pursue those negotiations. Our team remains prepared to return for another round of discussions, but I don’t have an update on when those might occur.
Q In the President’s view, where do the talks on the reconciliation package stand right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I think you heard Speaker Pelosi convey this morning as well — I mean, the President’s view is that we’re continuing to make progress. We’re having important discussions about what a package that is smaller than $3.5 trillion would look like.
Those conversations have to happen with a range of members. Those are happening both at a senior-staff level and also with the President over the course of the last several days and weeks. Those will continue.
Obviously, we want to get to a point — we are at a point, I should say, where there are choices that need to be made. That’s the point we’re at now, given there will be fewer dollars that will be spent.
So — but a lot of those conversations are happening behind the scenes at the staff level.
Q And in his view, do Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema need to make a counteroffer of what they want this to look like?
MS. PSAKI: It’s more of an ongoing conversation than it is a passing back of dramatic paper every couple of days. So, there’s an ongoing discussion with Senator Sinema, Senator Manchin. There’s an ongoing discussion with a range of members of Congress, maj- — range of Democrats, I should say — about what this looks like.
And again, as Speaker Pelosi alluded to this morning — or said this morning, this is really the point where decisions need to be made, choices need to be made.
The President’s preference is the same as the Speaker’s preference. We — he proposed a $3.5 trillion package. He proposed a broad range of initiatives that will lower costs for the American people, whether it’s childcare, eldercare, college, invest in the climate. And no matter how you cut it though, his view is we can still do something historic and that will fundamentally change — change the economy for the American people.
Q And there are several challenges facing the White House right now: not just getting Democrats united on the President’s domestic agenda, but also skyrocketing gas prices, a bad jobs report last week. You’ve seen several issues, including the President’s poll numbers seem to be reflecting that. So, how is he viewing all of these challenges that are facing the White House right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he, one, has an incredible team that’s working on all these issues at one time. And his view is his responsibility is to continue to forge ahead every day and to work to address the challenges the American people are facing.
You didn’t mention COVID, but that continues to be front and center on the minds of the American people. People want to return back to a version of normal. They want to go back to knowing that their kids are safe at school, that they can go to their workplaces, that they don’t have to fear for their safety in communities. He understands that. That’s what he’s working on every single day.
I would say that he also recognizes that, right now, getting something done for the American people; working with members to — members of Congress to do exactly that; to forge a path forward to unite the Democratic Party is what people have elected him to do to address the challenges we’re facing over the long term.
So, I promise you: We don’t get too glum around here. Even if things look challenging, our view and his view is that he was elected to continue to press forward and address the challenges the American people are facing.
Q Thanks, Jen. Speaker Pelosi said in a letter last night to House colleagues that the overwhelming guidance she is getting is that members of Congress want to “do fewer things well” when it comes to the reconciliation package — the price tag and what gets included. Does the President support that approach: doing “fewer things well”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, she also gave a full press conference this morning where she addressed this, so I would point you to that. And what she said in that press conference was: If there are fewer dollars to be spent, there are choices that need to be made. And the President agrees.
And that’s fundamentally true, of course. If it’s smaller than $3.5 trillion, which we know it will be, then there are choices that need to be made. But the President’s view is that a bill that doesn’t pass means nothing changes, and the challenges we’re facing are too urgent to do nothing.
So, that’s why, at this point, what we have to do is work with a range of members who have a range of views about what should be included in the package; what — what, you know — what is a priority to them so that we can make some fundamental changes. We are — we are focused on the impact, and that’s what we’re keeping our eye on.
Q Is the White House concerned that with the House and Senate on recess right now, that talks will stall without having lawmakers in Washington?
MS. PSAKI: The good news is there are phones, and we are quite used to Zoom conference calls this day and age. And those have continued through the course of weekends, through the course of nights, even as members have been away. And we anticipate those will continue at full speed over the coming days.
Q And just one more, if I can, on — going back to Texas. What is the President’s message to businesses in Texas? You’ve mentioned several of them who are based there.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q When it comes to what the federal guidance is now, and now with the state executive order, what would the President say to those companies as they’re determining what they should be doing right now for their vaccine mandates?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we know that federal law overrides state law. I would note that earlier, when we put out our guidance on the President’s announcement about mandates several weeks ago, he made clear — it made clear that, again, as I said earlier, requirements are promulgated pursuant to federal law and supersede any contrary state or local law or ordinance.
Additionally, nothing in this guidance excuses noncompliance with any applicable state law or municipal ordinance. We put out guidance several weeks ago conveying that clearly.
But fundamentally, beyond the legal aspect — which is unquestionable, in our view — the question for any business leader is: What do you want to do to save more lives in your companies? How are you going to create a workforce where people feel safe to go into their workplaces? What is fundamentally in the interest of your businesses over the long term?
And we’ve seen from economist after economist — and, frankly, many business leaders who have already worked to implement mandates — that implementing these mandates creates certainty; it reduces the number of people who are out of work sick, and worse.
And that is good, ultimately, for businesses. It’s good for the economy. But also, saving lives is something, fundamentally, business leaders can do by continuing to work to implement these mandates.
But I would note that a lot of these businesses are doing them on their own to date. We’re still, at the OSHA — in terms of the federal level, the OSHA requirements are the next step, which we expect to have soon.
Q Thanks, Jen. Clearly, Governor Abbott knows that federal rules supersede state rules, so why do you think he did this?
MS. PSAKI: Politics.
Q Can you elaborate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s pretty clear when you make a choice that’s against all public health information and data out there that it’s not based on what is in the interest of the people you are governing. It’s perhaps in the interest of your own politics.
Q And then, I know you said that there’s going to be a background briefing later, but is there anything you can tell us about the stakeholders that the President is meeting with tomorrow and what the administration can do, is doing about some of these supply bottlenecks?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we’re taking a number of steps, which I’m happy to outline, but let me — let me focus on the ports because that’s clearly what a focus will be tomorrow.
One of the challenges we’re having is — as you’ve all seen and shown on many of your networks, and others have reported on — is the delay of goods getting through to our ports, enabling them to get to people in the country. We know that’s one of the bottlenecks in the supply chain.
Now, the supply chain bottlenecks range industry to industry, but we certainly know addressing that — those bottlenecks at ports could help address what we see in many industries across the country and, frankly, are leading people who are preparing for holidays, for Christmas, whatever they may celebrate — birthdays — to order goods and get them to people’s homes.
So that’s what he’ll focus on tomorrow, is to talk about what we’re going to do on ports — something that has been a focus of his for months now. And he’s, you know, hired people to help address it.
Q Thanks, Jen. I wanted to follow up on an earlier question. You referenced Speaker Pelosi’s press conference this morning.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q It seemed like she somewhat backtracked from her message yesterday about what, you know, sort of path Democrats need to take if there are fewer dollars. It seemed like she was indicating that programs — fewer programs done well would be the preference, but then this morning said that the first thing to go would be the timeline.
So has the President given any sort of a push in either direction on this?
MS. PSAKI: This is all part of the discussion, and I will let you convey — or ask questions of Speaker Pelosi herself. She’s, as we see — saw this morning, more than capable of speaking on her own behalf.
But what she was conveying is that while it was the preference — her preference, the President’s preference — to have the initial package proposed, what our focus now is on is building a real, tangible package that can become law and is going to make a transformational difference in people’s lives.
So, I understand and we all know why we’re talking here about the size and the cuts, et cetera. But a cut — it’s not a cut just because someone once proposed something bigger on paper. It’s not a pa- — it’s not a bill or a policy that’s going to change lives if nothing is passed. And that’s what we’re working through. There’s a lot of ways to do that, and that’s the discussion she’s having with her caucus and the President is, of course, playing a prominent role in.
Q So, the President doesn’t prefer, then, one avenue or the other?
MS. PSAKI: The President wants to make fundamental change in our economy, and he feels coming out of the pandemic is exactly the time to do that. And if we don’t do it now, if we don’t address the cost of childcare — to go back to Josh’s question earlier — if we don’t address the climate crisis; if we don’t ensure that universal pre-K is a reality now, we’re not going to have the same opportunity to do it for some time.
Q And I want to get to the supply chain issues. Is there any consideration of potentially lifting Trump-era tariffs to give some sort of an immediate relief to this problem? I know that the task force been talking about long-term solutions, but that’s something that some trade representatives and business leaders have suggested could have a real impact right now.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the task force has actually been talking about a range of steps that need to be taken. And I think, as you saw by our announcement or our ambassador — Ambassador Tai’s speech last week, we are open to considering policies or continuing limited — some policies if they are in the interest of the American people, in the interest of our economy.
But, ultimately, what we’re seeing is that — and what he’ll be talking about tomorrow — is that the ports and the ability to move goods through ports is certainly one of the big bottlenecks. That’s what he’ll be addressing.
Now, there are other issues in the supply chain, including manufacturing and international manufacturing hubs where the issue there is the number of people who aren’t showing up for work or factories that are shut down because of COVID. We are still the world’s largest supplier of vaccines, know-how, manufacturing capacity to help address that.
We’ve seen different types of supply-chain issues as it relates to lumber, as it relates to chips. There are different solutions for different industries, and we’re working to address all of them at the same time.
Q There are some people who say that the President should be pressuring unions to loosen work restrictions that are keeping, for instance, truck drivers limited on their hours behind the wheel or these ports operating at a less-than-full capacity. What’s the White House answer to that?
MS. PSAKI: I would say we have taken steps at times, when warranted, to loosen restrictions, as you saw in reaction to some natural disasters we’ve had over the course of the year.
Ultimately, the President’s focus is addressing the needs, the challenges, and the threats to the American people of — to their wellbeing, to their economic wellbeing. And he’ll consider a range of options. But, again, the Supply Chain Task Force has been working for months to address these issues.
Q And one last one: What’s his answer — what’s the White House response to people who say vaccine mandates have reduced the workforce and contributed to this problem?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know world-renowned business, travel, and health expert Senator Ted Cruz has made that point. But I wouldn’t say that that is widely acknowledged or echoed by business leaders who have implemented these mandates, by health experts who have conveyed the way to get out of the pandemic is to ensure that we’re doing exactly the steps the President has announced and we are working to implement.
It doesn’t mean this isn’t hard and challenging — of course it is; we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. But, ultimately, the job of the President of the United States is to lead, is to follow the advice of health experts, is to ensure that he is protecting the lives of people across the country.
So, I know there was a little hubbub over the course of the last few days about Southwest Airlines. We now know that some of those claims were absolutely false and, actually, the issues were completely unrelated to vaccine mandates.
But again, what we’ve seen, business to business, across the country, is this is the way to save lives, create more certainty; it’s good for the economy; and it’s something we’re looking forward to implementing.
Q Given how important the vaccine mandate policy is for the administration, why is it taking so long to get that rulemaking in place?
And it seems like a fairly discrete set of issues that — and I know there’s an interagency process —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q But hasn’t there been a vacuum left that gets filled by actions by governors or by dissent among union workers or whatever by not having the clarity of that rulemaking that we were told was coming weeks ago?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, at the time, just last month, we said it was coming in “weeks.” That remains the case. And when it’s out, that will be accurate. But also, there isn’t a big historic precedent for this and we want to get it right. And the team at OSHA, the team at the Department of Labor wants to get it right, wants to be able to create some clarity for businesses around the country.
I would say that requiring and mandating — for businesses of 100 people or over — vaccines is not a small task; that is a big, bold proposal, idea, and something that we want to implement with as much clarity as we can.
We know there will be questions even after these rules are put out. We understand that. But that’s — that’s why we wanted to take a little bit of time — not too much time — to get it done.
Q Can you describe what’s happening behind the scenes? Are there a group of people who are — this is the only thing they’re working on each day, or where does this fall on the priority of getting those answers?
MS. PSAKI: It’s — well, it’s a good question because I think it’s important for people to understand that OSHA, under the Department of Labor, is working on these regulations. This is not something that is being done out of the White House. They are the ones working through this, as they should.
And I can’t give you any expectation of when that will be finalized. There’ll be a public rulemaking. The — they’ll be made public so everybody can see them. There’ll be a comment period, as there always are for regulations.
Q The President has a long relationship with labor unions of various types. And in that community, whether they’re professional athletes in a labor union or law enforcement, there are some people who are speaking out against the vaccine mandates. And one of the things they’re saying is it should be a part of collective bargaining. How does the President view that, when it comes to these requirements?
MS. PSAKI: Look, as you know, the President is a huge supporter, throughout his lifetime in public office, for labor unions, the roles they play for collective bargaining, for the role they play in standing up for workers and workers’ rights.
I would note, though, we’re in the middle of a pandemic here. And what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to save more lives without delay, understanding there is a process for rulemaking, as there should be.
But we’re working to implement these as quickly as we can so that businesses can have certainty, so that workers can have certainty, so that people can return to the workplace who are fearful, so that we can work to return to closer — to a period of closer-to-normal.
So, he always welcomes the input, the views of labor unions, and certainly has heard their — their concerns in this regard. But — but I think it’s also important to remember we’re in the middle of a pandemic.
Q Two questions on diplomacy: On the G20 call this morning, it was reported that neither Vladimir Putin nor Xi Jinping were on the call. Was the President disappointed by that? And does he feel it was a fruitful meeting without them?
MS. PSAKI: It was a meeting organized by the Italians, so I would certainly point you to them for confirmation of who may or may not have attended.
But I would note that it is still fruitful, of course, to have an opportunity — or this is how the President views it — to discuss the efforts to work together on counterterrorism, work to — including against the — including against threats from ISIS-K, to ensure safe passage for those foreign nationals and Afghan partners with documentation seeking to depart Afghanistan.
And during this call, the leaders who did attend reaffirmed their collective commitment to provide humanitarian assistance directly to the Afghan people, something that was noted earlier through independent international organizations. And we are committed to working with our partners to do exactly that.
So, again, I would — it was a — it was a call or was a meeting organized by the Italians. They can confirm the list of attendees. But the President did see it as an opportunity and a constructive opportunity to discuss counterterrorism efforts and efforts to provide international humanitarian assistance.
Q Victoria Nuland is now in Moscow for meetings with the Russians. What’s the White House’s assessment of how those talks are proceeding?
MS. PSAKI: I’d really point you to the State Department on that, Steve. I — I would — I would guess that she’s having quite constructive, productive meetings on the ground while she’s there. I know she’s meeting with a range of leaders on the ground, but I don’t have more details from here. I’d point you to the State Department for that.
Q Jen, Joe Donnelly has been picked by the President to be the next ambassador to the Holy See, the Vatican. Why Mr. Donnelly?
MS. PSAKI: Mr. Donnelly is someone who has a long record in public service. He’s somebody who has — the President feels will represent the United States and our interests quite well as Vat- — as Ambassador to the Holy See. And he’s looking forward to his confirmation.
Q And when the President meets with the Pope later this month, what does he hope to discuss with the Pope?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details on the trip. I’m sure we’ll have some soon.
Q Thank you, Jen. I have a climate question. What is the minimum that the President wants Congress to do or give him before he goes to these important international climate meetings?
And if they can’t pass Build Back Better by the time he has to go, does going to these meetings empty handed undermine U.S. leadership on climate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, I don’t have a new deadline to convey from here. What is clear — but what you’re asking about, I think, is how will the international community will react to what’s happening domestically — just to kind of breakdown the question.
What I think is very clear to the international community — and they can all speak for themselves, too — is that President Biden came into office absolutely committed to regaining America’s seat at the table in international diplomacy, including in climate.
One of the first steps he took was to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. He has taken steps that he could take of his own accord here — working with car companies and auto manufacturers to ensure we are reducing greenhouse gas emissions, even without Congressional action. And he has proposed a bold, ambitious, climate agenda here in the United States that he’s working to move through Congress.
So, his commitment to these issues, his dedication to taking action here domestically so that the United States can be a leader internationally should be unquestionable on the international stage. And I think that’s the message he’ll convey, regardless of where the package stands.
Q Even if he doesn’t get it done?
MS. PSAKI: We — we want — we intend to get it, but I’m not going to set a new timeline.
Q Sure. The White House announced that Jill Biden is headed to Virginia to campaign for Terry McAuliffe. Can you give a sense of what Joe Biden will be doing over the next couple of weeks in Virginia or to campaign for McAuliffe? Has he been asked to come?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any updates on travel. I would expect we will have more to convey soon about his plans to support the election of former Governor McAuliffe.
Q And one more, just on the G20 this morning: I wonder if there was any sense of frustration on the part of our allies or a sense that the U.S. has an obligation to do more because of our withdrawal from Afghanistan. Can you give any more on that?
MS. PSAKI: More than being far and away the largest provider of humanitarian assistance?
Q That’s what I’m asking you.
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to our allies; I haven’t heard them have that complaint.
Q Thanks, Jen. As the price tag comes down on the reconciliation package, are you all — are there certain payfors that you are also becoming more amenable to negotiating on then — for instance, staying at the corporate tax rate now, for instance? Are there policies like that that you all are coming down on?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that because the package will not be $3.5 trillion — as you all know, it will be smaller, as everyone has acknowledged — you won’t need the same number of payfors, obviously. It doesn’t require a mathematician. I think that’s why you’re asking the question.
But, in terms of what those look like, there have been a range of proposals the President has conveyed he supports, as it — as it relates to payfors.
Ultimately, he wants to make the tax system more fair. Raising the corporate rate, asking the highest-income Americans to pay more is certainly part of — a part of what he has proposed. But that’s all a part of the discussion as we speak.
Q And earlier — you just said that if you all don’t act on some of this social spending, you’re not going to have the opportunity to do it for some time. Was that a speculation on the midterms or what — what did you mean by that?
MS. PSAKI: No, no it was not. It was conveying that this is a moment, coming out of a pandemic, to change fundamentally how we invest in our workforce, how we invest in American families, how we think about what our priorities are in the United States.
Is our priority making sure that people can afford childcare so that they can join the workforce? Is it or is it not? Is our priority doing more to address the climate crisis? Is it or is it not? And coming out of a pandemic is exactly a moment to do that.
It was not a political — it was not a political assessment. It was more about the moment we’re coming out of now.
Q Hi. So, it’s been six weeks since the drone strike in Kabul, and the administration said that they would consider giving compensation to the family who lost people. The L.A. Times reported today that no one has reached out to them. Can you say why?
MS. PSAKI: It’s really under the purview of the Department of Defense. I would point you to them. I’m happy to check with them too and see if there’s an update.
Q Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s case is before the Supreme Court this week, and the Justice Department is seeking to reinstate the death penalty in his case. Does the President support that approach? And if so, how does that square with the current federal death penalty moratorium and his campaign promise to try to outright eliminate the death penalty at the federal level?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more on this case. I’m happy to talk to the President and see if there’s more we can convey. I’d really point you to the Department of Justice.
Q Is the White House considering any out — options outside of Congress before December to deal with the debt limit, such as invoking the 14th Amendment?
MS. PSAKI: We had — as had been reported, there had been a look at a range of options that had been — and the — the decision or evaluation been made that there was not a viable option beyond working through Congress. That has not changed. So that will continue to be our focus.
We will work, of course, with Leader Schumer, with Speaker Pelosi about what the path forward looks like.
The good news is that, last week, we saw that we could pass — raising — raise the debt limit through regular order. That could happen in a bipartisan manner — something that’s happened 80 times prior to last week. But that is what we plan on pursuing.
Q And just a quick follow-up because Pelosi said today that she thinks a bill that would change the debt ceiling process by giving power to Treasury to lift it has — you know, quote, “has merit.” So, does the administration think that Congress should pursue a bill like that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have about — we have just a couple of weeks left before we need to raise the debt limit. So, that’s what our focus is on now. There’s plenty of time after that to have a discussion about what it looks like moving forward.
There’s no question that we don’t want it to be a political football any more in the future. But, right now, we’re focused on working with Congress to raise the debt limit.
Go ahead, Jenny.
Q Thanks. On inflation and the supply chain disruptions that you just mentioned: Federal Reserve official Raphael Bostic said today that inflation may not be transitory and that, “It’s becoming increasingly clear” — this is a quote — “that the feature of this episode that has animated price pressures… will not be brief.” And, “by this definition… the forces are not transitory.”
Does the White House still believe that inflation is a transitory problem?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know the Federal Reserve comes — I understand he’s a representative of the Federal Reserve, though —
Q Yes. (Inaudible.)
MS. PSAKI: — and it is under their purview, but they do have regular updates on predictions of inflation and what it looks like in the coming year. I don’t think they have revised that — unless you tell me otherwise — officially. The OECD has also predict — predicted that it would come down in the next year.
But bottom line is: Our focus is on preventing inflationary pressures from being an issue in the future. And that’s why the President is committed to moving forward with his Build Back Better agenda, with his Bipartisan Infrastructure Plan, investments on proposals that outside economists have said would help address this over the long term.
Q And then one more. Do you have any update for us on President Biden’s meeting with President Xi of China?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update at this point. It’s just something that we’re working through and in discussions about at a staff level.
Q Jen, the Foreign Minister of Israel showed concern about the — to Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor, that Iran is getting closer and closer to obtain a nuclear weapon. Do you think that President Biden will discuss (inaudible) on the table if Iran doesn’t — did not follow through with a negotiation with your diplomatic that is taking place in Geneva?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our objective continues to be moving forward on a diplomatic path. And there’s no question that we’re in the position we’re in now because the prior administration pulled out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, taking away that visibility into what their capacity, what their capabilities were.
But our focus is on working to see if we can return to another round of talks in Vienna. Beyond that, I’m not going to get into a hypothetical.
Q What does it take — what does it take — sorry, quick question: What does it take for the White House — on the Iraqi election, there’s a lot of changes. Some Iran — pro-Iran groups are saying this is not a fair election. So, what is the take of the White House?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: So, we congratulate the Iraqi government on having fulfilled its promise to hold earlier elections. We are pleased that the election days were largely conducted peacefully. We’ve seen the preliminary results announced by the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission yesterday and are waiting for the final certified results.
These elections included hundreds of international monitors and observers from the U.N. and EU, in addition to thousands of domestic observers. We look forward to reviewing their reports.
Once the final results are certified, we hope that the new Council of Representative members will form a government that reflects the will of the Iraqi people and which can work to address Iraq’s governance, security, and economic challenges.
Q Hi, Jen. Can you confirm that U.S. personnel in Colombia have reported anomalous health incidents that’s being investigated as Havana Syndrome?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t confirm individual reports. What we do do is take every report that comes through our interagency quite seriously, as we’ve talked about in here prior.
This administration has made addressing Havana Syndrome, or anomalous health incidents — whatever you want to call them — we have — we have refocused the efforts on it after they had not been focused on for some time. That includes ensuring that — the President signed a law last week, ensuring that health — that assistance — medical assistance, funding for medical assistance was provided to anyone who needed it; that we have a process within key agencies to ensure we’re addressing it, and making sure people get the assistance they need.
But we are still in the attribution phase. That is still being considered. And we don’t confirm individual incidents.
Q And then a follow-up on Texas. Unrelated issue.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q You talked about continuing on with implementation. Should we expect the administration to make legal filings in Texas challenging Governor Abbott’s order as the administration moves forward with implementation of the OSHA rule and of the federal — the mandate for federal employees?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the next step is the regulations coming from OSHA.
In terms of legal action, I’d point you the Department of Justice. I don’t have anything to predict on that front.
Q And on the — oh, thank you, Jen. It’s been a bit, so I hope to ask you quickly about three different subject areas if that’s all right.
The first subject area is: We, at the New York Post, reported on Friday that the First Son had sold five prints of his artworks for $75,000 each, and that a team of lawyers is reviewing the prospective buyers who are booked to be allowed into an upcoming New York show. That seems to suggest a departure from the White-House-brokered agreement where the purchasers would be anonymous. I was hoping you could say if the White House knows who purchased the five prints and whether there is indeed a departure to the arrangement that there would be an anonymity here?
MS. PSAKI: I know this is your favorite topic, but it, again — it still is the purview of the gallerist. We still do not know and will not know who purchases any paintings. And the President remains proud of his son.
Q So, White House — or —
MS. PSAKI: Did you have another question on something else? Otherwise, we’re going to move on —
Q Yes. Yes, I do.
MS. PSAKI: — to some other topics.
Q I do.
MS. PSAKI: Lots going on in the world.
Q Yes, so, I — about Build Back Better and tax policy. I’d like to ask you about proposed tax increases and proposed tighter tax enforcement. President Biden often describes raising taxes on higher incomes as a matter of fairness and enforcing current tax policy as a matter of people paying their fair share.
But Republicans in Congress, led by Representative Jim Banks, are pointing to a recent Congressional Research Service report which they say underscores that President Biden allegedly owes $500,000 in Medicare taxes that he didn’t pay by, allegedly, improperly categorizing $13 million in income routed through S corporations in 2017 to 2018.
So, tax law expert Robert Willens, who teaches at Columbia University, said, quote, in my case — “in my view, the case can easily be made,” end quote, by the IRS that President Biden owes back taxes under current law. So, as he campaigns for —
MS. PSAKI: This is a very long question. I think I know where you’re getting at. This has been debunked, as you probably know. Also, he’s released many, many years of his tax returns so people can check them out.
Q No, it hasn’t been debunked. Though, I did cite an expert —
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead, George. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q But, will President Biden be paying —
MS. PSAKI: I think we’re going to move on —
Q — the back taxes?
MS. PSAKI: — to some more topics.
Go ahead, George.
Q Yeah, I wanted to follow on your answer about the challenges — specifically, the calendar. There are 50 days between now and December.
MS. PSAKI: [Looks over shoulder.] I was like, “Is there a calendar up here?” (Laughter.) Okay. I was surprise — I was like thrilled to hear it.
But go ahead.
Q In your head. There 50 days between now and December 3rd. You lose a week to foreign travel.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q You lose a week to Thanksgiving. That’s not a lot of time for, you know, funding government, raising the debt limit, and your two bills. Can you talk for a second about the time pressure and the calendar challenge of getting this done?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, George, I think it’s going to be quite a busy week after Thanksgiving, so everybody get ready — get your rest during that period of time.
Look, I think Congress can get things done quickly and rapidly — often they do it under time pressure. We certainly understand that.
You are right that time is not unlimited, and we want to move not just, of course, keeping the government open and funding the government, as we should, but also raising the debt limit and also getting the President’s agenda moved forward and across the finish line. And so that is going to require a lot between now and the end of the year.
But, you know, we recognize the challenge of timing. That’s why there’s so much work happening behind the scenes, even when peo- — even when Congress isn’t in session, there’s calls, there’s video conferences, and we’re constantly working here to move all of these parts of the agenda forward.
There are some things that could happen quickly. Congress could just vote to raise the debt limit — an up-or-down vote — (snaps fingers) — would just be really quick. That’s possible. Same on funding the government.
All of that can happen. And then we can move forward on key components of the President’s agenda that will fundamentally change the economy and make the lives of so many people in this country better.
Yamiche, go ahead.
Q Hi. Thanks, Jen. My first question is: What role does President Biden see for himself in helping Democrats figure out what to take out of the bill? If — I understand that you don’t want to say whether or not he agrees with Nancy Pelosi — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying “fewer things” should be done “well.” But I wonder, what does he want this — is he actively giving people, “Here’s what I want to see in this bill”? Does he see that as his role?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he sees his role as doing what the American people sent him to the White House to do, which is to find common ground so that we can move forward with an agenda that the American people demand we pass.
And, you know, his view is also that building a real, tangible package is what our focus is on right now. It is not about dismantling a hypothetical package. It is about how we build the best package, based on the ideas he’s proposed, that can fundamentally change people’s lives and make them better. So, he’s going to be, of course, actively involved in the discussions as he’s been — has been at every point in this discussion.
But again, you know, his view is that an alternative to a deal isn’t a hypothetical bigger plan; it’s nothing. And we can’t afford to do nothing. So what he’s trying to do is move everybody forward toward a unified path so that we can make some big changes for the American people.
Q So does he see it as inappropriate then to say, “I want climate change and childcare definitely and other things might need to be cut,” in the way that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi essentially said today? Or does he think that it has to be the lawmakers that decide what comes out of this bill?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I — that’s not what I heard her say today. But again, she — she can, of course — more than capable of speaking for herself.
But what I heard her say today is that a bill that doesn’t pass means nothing; it’s nothing. So, what you need to do if you want to get all those things done — make a historic investment in climate change, if you want to address some fundamental inequalities in this country, if you want to cut costs for the American people — you need to find common ground.
It doesn’t mean you’re going to get everything you want. The President knows that. The Speaker knows that. That can be — you can have a moment of disappointment on that as well.
But ultimately, his role is to work to bring people together, to find a unified path forward so that we can get something historic done.
Q And one — and a quick follow-up or a quick other question, which is: This weekend, we saw former President Trump go to a rally in Iowa, make all sorts of claims that are clearly not true. But we saw high-profile GOP officials there, including Chuck Grassley, who is the longest-serving senator in Congress.
What does the President make of what — of not only what President — former President Trump is saying, but the fact that there are GOP lawmakers, elected officials who are willing to still stand by him and go up in front of these crowds with — with these claims that are clearly false?
MS. PSAKI: The President’s focus is on working to deliver for the American people. He didn’t watch the rally, I can assure you of that. I’m not sure he’s even seen clips of the rally.
Q Is he worried about the threat? Is he worried about this?
MS. PSAKI: Of course he’s worried about the threat. I think he’s talked about what we saw on January 6th — the threat of one of the darkest days in our democracy, what we’ve seen in the blind — people blindly following what we know are debunked, sometimes conspiracy theories, the spreading of misinformation, whether it’s about democracy or COVID. Of course he’s concerned about that.
But the best role he can play — the most important thing he can do is to work to lead the country, to bring people together in areas where we agree, to get things done, to deliver, to show the American people that government can work for them. And that’s what he’s going to spend his time and energy focused on.
Q Hey, Jen. Thank you. So, you said June — the Supply Chain Disruption Task Force was assembled. I’m just curious why it took so long for the President to get together with two port heads, as well as all the shipping companies, to figure out what’s wrong with the supply chain since it’s been an issue for most of the year.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that the President has — the Supply Chain Task Force has been working around the clock for months and months now to address a range of different issues that we see in the supply chain.
And as you know because you cover this pretty closely, there are issues at the ports and addressing the bottlenecks at the ports. Those have been on the rise recently, but it’s something that he’s been working on and his team has been working on.
There are also a range of different issues in the supply chain. It’s not just domestically; it’s globally as well. It’s one of the reasons we’ve been — of course, it’s morally right, too — but such a huge contributor to the global effort to get the pandemic under control, to ensure we’re making sure manufacturing facilities are staying open.
It’s why he’s pressed so hard for the CHIPS legislation, to ensure that the semiconductor shortage is something that doesn’t halt production for the auto industry.
So, it’s not just one issue in the supply chain, as you well know; it’s multiple issues. That’s why the team has been working for several months to address it. And tomorrow is another opportunity. We’ve done several supply chain events to lift this up and tell the American people what we’re doing to help address the bottlenecks.
Q But are they — are we behind the curve? Is the President behind the curve rather than trying to get in front of this issue?
MS. PSAKI: He’s been working on these issues for months. I mean, I know it’s been up in front in the news in the last few weeks, but these are issues the President has been focused on since he took office. And that’s why he has a dedicated team both in the NEC, in Department of Treasury, across the interagency to help address these issues. It’s a fundamental challenge, as the economy is turning back on, and one he has been focused on from the first day.
Q Jen, I just had a couple of quick timing —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — questions. On the FDA Commissioner — I know we keep asking you about this.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q One, do you have any update? And can you address concerns about morale and stability at the agency since this is taking so long to get a nominee?
MS. PSAKI: Have you heard there’s morale and stability issues?
Q Yeah. There has been reporting that, you know, just the lack of a permanent commissioner, people feel there is not stability there. Obviously, we saw concerns come to surface about morale when it came to the decision over the boosters in — with two of the vaccine officials resigning. So, yeah, there has been reporting for a few months around concerns there.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would, just to quote Nancy Pelosi — Speaker Nancy Pelosi — again: “An anecdote is not the basis of data.”
So, I would say, one, we are very focused on ensuring there’s an FDA commissioner in place, nominating exactly the right person. I don’t have an update on the timing. I understand why you all are asking about that, but I’m not going to get ahead of the President.
I will also note that the FDA and any of our agencies are full of career employees, talented officials, who’ve — many of them — who’ve worked at these agencies for years, if not decades, who have moved forward on the approval of vaccines, the approval of boosters, the approval of, you know, a range of treatments that can help save lives in the public.
So, they also deserve credit for what they’ve done. But I would say the overemphasis on a nominee takes away, in some ways — unintentionally — from the fact that there are people who are doing their jobs every day, and we have an acting FDA commissioner doing that as well.
Q And another thing we keep asking you about: the President’s physical. Last month, you said it would be soon. We’re now in October. Do you have any update? And why is it taking so long? Is the President just very busy? Does he, you know, not want to (inaudible) to the doctor?
MS. PSAKI: He is very busy, but it — but it is standard for every President to get a physical. He will get a physical too. When he gets a physical, we will make all of that information available to all of you.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Thanks, everybody.
Q Do you still plan on it being this year — for the physical — this year?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks, everyone.
2:56 P.M. EDT