Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jen Psaki En Route Avoca, PA
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Avoca, Pennsylvania
3:57 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Good afternoon. Thanks for joining our trip to Scranton. Just a few details about today:
As you may have seen, Senator Bob Casey is joining us on the flight to Scranton. And throughout the day, the President will also spend time with Governor Tom Wolf, Congressman Matt Cartwright, and Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti.
In Scranton, the President will tour the Electric City Trolley Museum, where he will see two trolley cars — a fully restored safety car and the only surviving car of the first-generation cars that ran on the Philadelphia and Western Railway — a little bit of history for all of you today.
As I mentioned yesterday, he will deliver remarks about growing up in Scranton and the way his childhood influenced his belief that we need an economy that works for working people, like those in Scranton, instead of the wealthiest Americans on Wall Street.
Just a few stats for all of you about Pennsylvania and the impacts of the President’s proposals. In Pennsylvania, there are 3,353 bridges and over 7,540 miles of highway in poor condition. Thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, Pennsylvania will receive at least $11.3 billion for federal-aid highways and $1.6 billion for bridges.
The average annual cost of child care for a toddler in Pennsylvania is $11,400, meaning a two-parent household needs to spend approximately 22 percent of their income to afford center-based care for two young children.
The plan — the President’s plan ensures that no middle-class family pays more than 7 percent of their income for high-quality care up to age five, cutting in half spending on child care for most Pennsylvania families.
Those are just a couple of the benefits.
Also wanted to note today Governor Gavin Newsom’s announcement, given a lot of interest in supply chains and what we’re doing, signing an executive order to help alleviate congestion at ports in California by tackling the shortage of truck drivers and container shortages.
Just for context, the two major ports in California, in Los Angeles and Long Beach, move about 40 percent of all U.S. imports and 25 percent of exports for the entire country.
And the executive order will temporarily lift weight limits so that trucks can carry more cargo. It also directs the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency to identify training partnerships to increase education, career technical education, job training, and workforce development — all opportunities to get more workers into the supply chain.
Also wanted to note — and we just sent an advisory, and I’m not sure you’ve all seen this yet — but, on Monday, the President will travel to Newark, New Jersey, to continue rallying public support for his Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and Build Back Better Agenda.
Any other political details would of course be announced by our political counterparts at the DNC.
With that, let’s take your questions.
Q Jen, a couple of quick questions on infrastructure. We understand that the President had a conversation with Senator Wyden and Congressman Neal today. Are there any details you can share with us on that?
And then we are also told that the White House is hoping to reach an agreement on the framework of the spending deal by Friday and then vote on the Bipartisan Deal next week. Is that still the plan?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say I think there is — and I’ll check on the President’s calls and what more specifics I can offer to all of you — there are a number of calls that have been happening, including with some of the members you mentioned, with high-level staff. They don’t all involve the President.
But the President has been engaged and will continue to be engaged in calls throughout the course of the day. If I can provide specifics on those, I will provide them to all of you.
In terms of the timeline, as I noted and as we noted in the statement I put out last night, we expect to make — continue to make progress over the next several days.
As I think you have seen from the statement we put out but also the statements from members, leaders, and others who were in the meetings yesterday, we all agree that there is a — that there has been significant progress made and that we’re getting closer.
We’re not yet at a final agreement, but we are further defining the contours of what that will look like. But I’m not going to set additional deadlines or timelines on that.
Q And a quick question on voting rights, Jen. As you’re aware, the third Senate vote on voting rights has failed. And the last time we really heard from the President on this issue, using the bully pulpit, was in Tulsa. And I’m wondering if he plans to do that again, you know, given the lack of progress on the issue.
And, you know, he also expressed his support for filibuster reform when it came to the debt ceiling showdown earlier this month. And then — but he hasn’t really —
MS. PSAKI: He didn’t actually issue a statement on that, just to be clear for the record of the transcript —
Q No, he did not. Correct.
MS. PSAKI: — or say anything publicly on it.
Q He did not issue a statement. But he said that — you know, that there is a high possibility. And that — that is where he limited his comments.
And I’m wondering if he’s reconsidering his position at all on the issue, given the — you know, the third vote on the issue has failed.
MS. PSAKI: Well, one thing I would note is: The President did issue a statement this morning about the Voting Rights bill and the vote that was going to happen this afternoon. I would expect he will continue to be out there and be out there in the future, advocating for the fundamental right to vote, for the need to get this done. His view is there is no alternative but to get this through Congress, to make sure that people’s rights are made law and protected through legislation passed federally. That is something he’s going to continue to fight for.
In terms of the mechanisms of that, we’ll continue to have discussions with members. But I would note that, today, what happened was Republicans in Congress refused to even allow a vote — even allow a vote to protect people’s votes across the country. What are they so afraid of? Why are they so fearful of allowing more people to have access, making it easier across the country? That is an incredible frustration to the President, to the Vice President, and to many members of the administration. I’m sure you will hear more about that in the weeks and months ahead.
Q Back on infrastructure, can you talk a little bit about the President? He seems to have come down on the side of doing more programs for a shorter period of time instead of going where Speaker Pelosi is going, which is doing “fewer programs well.” Shouldn’t he want to do your programs for a longer period of time, given the potential for Congress to not renew some of those programs that he’s really interested in?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me be very clear here. What the President is focused on with his economic agenda is having an impact immediately on people’s lives and making sure there is a long-term impact, including components of these packages that will be permanent.
So, there’s a range of reporting out there, understandably, at this moment in time. But the President is absolutely committed to ensuring there is a long-term impact, meaning components that are permanent, of this package. And that’s something that there is broad agreement among many Democrats about doing.
And as we’re in these discussions and in the heat of these discussions, working out the nitty-gritty details, what we absolutely know to be the case is that this package will ensure families crushed by the cost of care — whether child care, elder care, or pre-K — will get needed breathing room, including major components, again, that will be permanent and long term, and that it will also take historic steps in addressing the climate crisis.
What those look like, that’s what is being discussed and litigated now. But for clarity, he’s absolutely committed to having both immediate and long-term, lasting impacts.
Q And, Jen, on the trip today, what significance should people, the public take away from the fact that he’s going home to Scranton to make this speech from Scranton? And is there a possibility that he will go to the house?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any additional stops to preview for you at this point. But I will tell you that, just like anyone — just like many people, you know, the President’s hometown, where he grew up — you know, his belief is that growing up in Scranton instilled in him the values that he has today: how he governs, what’s important, what his priorities are. Home is where his — your character is etched. That is absolutely the President’s belief, and you’ll hear him talk about that today.
So as people across the country, whether in Scranton or Pennsylvania or other parts of the country, hear him talk about his fight for making sure people have access to clean drinking water or broadband access, or making sure families get a little extra breathing room and can afford childcare, that is all based in his roots in Scranton, how he grew up, the communities he grew up in, how he saw some people struggle, and what he wanted to do when he joined public — when he ran for public life and has been in public office.
Q I have a question about this report that Senator Manchin was thinking about switching parties. Senator Manchin obviously denied it, but is this something the President is concerned about? Has he spoken with Senator Manchin about it? Did it come up in negotiations? Because the report said the senator was upset about how negotiations were going, and that might make him switch parties.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak to an anonymous report about a senator who can speak for himself. I will say that the President considers Senator Manchin a friend, someone that he is aligned with on a range of values in terms of fighting for working people, making — giving families extra breathing room. And that’s something that’s been central to their discussions and negotiations that the President feels have been done entirely in good faith.
Q Jen, a couple of foreign policy questions. Can you clarify the administration’s position on these Chinese hypersonic missiles? I mean, under the wing, the President said that he was concerned about them. Earlier this week, the disarmament ambassador mentioned something or was reported to say something that appears to say that the U.S. should respond in kind to the militarization of this technology by Russia.
So if you can clarify U.S. position on that, that would be great. And then I have another foreign policy question to follow up.
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve actually spoken to this extensively from the White House, from the State Department. We’ve issued a statement on it — not from the White House, but from the administration.
So, in terms of the ask for clarity, I just want to be — state that clearly, I guess. We’re not — we’re still not going to comment on any specific reports. Generally speaking, we have made clear our concerns, and I think the President’s comments were reflective of this, about the military capabilities that the PRC continues to pursue. So that continues to be our point of view. And obviously, we raise that through diplomatic channels.
Q Okay. And another question on Iran. There’s been a lot of meetings and a lot of movements lately on Iran. The — Ambassador Malley is meeting with the Saudi Prime Minister, as well as Secretary Blinken meeting with Richard Gossi [sic] — Grossi. Can you give us a little bit more, again, clarity on — you know, something — I mean, right now, it seems to be on an impasse and the clock is ticking. Some — the IAEA director said that Iran may be capable of making nuclear weapons in a few months. So, is there anything that you can give, in terms of moving the needle forward for the negotiations?
MS. PSAKI: Our objective continues to be pursuing a diplomatic path forward, and we remain prepared to return to Vienna to have conversations about — based on compliance for compliance. Obviously, we’ve been doing these not directly to date, but that would be the next step in the process, and our negotiating team is open to pursuing those discussions.
But I don’t have an update on the status of them at this point in time. There’s no question that not having the visibility that we had when the JCPOA was in place, was law — was something the United States, I should say, was a part of — is not our preference. And it’s not in our national interest, and that’s why we’re eager to get back to the negotiating table.
Q And one more on Afghanistan. Today, I believe, Moscow is convening a meeting on Afghanistan with several parties. Does the White House, does the administration believe that these talks are helpful?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to get more detail on the exact nature of the discussions. Obviously, our focus remains working with like-minded countries and parties around the world to ensure that we are sending a clear message to the Taliban about the expectations that there is freedom for people to depart Afghanistan, that we are allowed to have flights in, get humanitarian assistance to the right people. That’s what we’ve been working through with the U.N. on and working through with 100 countries around the world. But I don’t — I can check on more details about these specific talks.
Q Jen, then one last one: Has the President wished the Vice President a happy birthday?
MS. PSAKI: I will — I will check with him. I will check with him. We all wish her happy birthday, but I will check with him if they had a — if he had a chance to do it in person today yet.
Q On the supply chain, it’s been about a week since the President’s announcements on keeping the Ports of L.A. and Long Beach open 24 hours. But now shipping terminal owners are saying that the cost to unload a container to a trucker on an overnight shift can be five times as much, that 30 percent of appointments are going unfilled because the costs are so high.
So, these associated costs — is this sort of undermining or defeating the purpose of opening 24/7? And is there anything the administration is looking to do to help with these increased costs on the overnight shifts?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, when we made the announcement last week about additional steps we were taking to break through the logjam in the supply chain, there were a couple of steps that we thought would have an impact over the short term. One of those is the 24/7 hours. We’ve seen some positive impacts — just to be clear about that.
Earlier this week, the Port of Los Angeles executive director said that we’ve already cut in half the amount of cargo that is sitting on the docks for 13 days or longer. That’s a huge step forward.
We also know that this required labor unions, it required workers, it required the private sector to all be at the table to have a discussion about the path forward. That’s what they’ve continued to work through.
It also requires that we have additional drivers on the — available. It requires that we have additional freight trains — freight capacity to move goods and move supply. We’ve had a series of announcements about those as well.
So, in our view, we’re continuing to make progress day by day. We just made this announcement last week. We’re also encouraged by the announcement by the Governor of California about steps they are taking. And all of our shared objective here is to address the bottleneck and ensure that goods can be moving more quickly.
But I would note that one of the challenges — and any of the people who are running these ports will tell you this — is that the volume is so far up from a year ago and even before that. There’s record volumes of goods. And so, what we also need to address is increasing capacity and ability to move these goods beyond what has happened in the past. So that’s why we’re working on it at every step in the process.
Q And just one on the foreign trip. The Kremlin said today that it’s realistic that President Biden and President Putin could meet again before the end of 2021. Is that something that could happen on the margins of the G20?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t know what President Putin’s travel plans are, nor do I have anything about the trip to announce from our end. But, you know, the President has engaged in face-to-face diplomacy with people he has agreements with and people he has disagreements with. But I don’t have anything to preview at this point in time.
Q Can I ask about the — it’s been widely reported that community college — the two free years of tuition — is coming out of the bill. Understanding that negotiations are still ongoing, can you — I mean, this was something that was a big priority of the First Lady; the President went and not only campaigned on it but has talked about it on the stump. If you lose that key kind of component of the bill, what does that — what’s that mean for this overall package? Is the President upset that it sounds like it’s something that’s coming out of the bill right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say the President knows that he is not going to get everything he wants in this package, nor will Speaker Pelosi, nor will Leader Schumer, and nor will any member of Congress, probably. And that’s what compromise and negotiations is all about.
I will say, without getting into any specific components of where it stands — because the negotiations are ongoing as we speak, right now, between members — what we are focused on is what we’re going to achieve out of this. Right?
So, one of the objectives is certainly making community college more accessible and affordable to people across the country. That is something that continues to be a central part of the discussion and, yes, is a priority to the President and is a priority to Dr. Biden.
If there are things, and there may be things that may not end up in a final package, he will continue to fight for them. But in terms of where things stand, right now we’re — they’re continuing to discuss the ways to make it more accessible and affordable.
Q You kind of talked about Scranton as a — and the President is going to talk there about sort of his formational things. You also mentioned items in the infrastructure bill.
I just wanted to ask kind of fundamentally: Is it tough to communicate about the Build Back Better bill, the reconciliation bill, when the, sort of, popular components are coming in, going out, that we’re — you can’t really tell us what’s in the bill because all of it’s sort of up for negotiations at this point?
MS. PSAKI: Actually, it’s much easier than you think because most people out there in the country, in Scranton and in Pennsylvania, they’re not — they’re not as focused on the machinations of who’s up and who’s down and the exact numbers. They’re focused on how this is going to help them and how it’s going to impact their lives.
So, as I said earlier, I mean, what is very clear here is this package is going to have a fundamental impact on the care economy and on issues that impact working people every single day: the cost of childcare, lack of access to universal pre-K, the cost of eldercare and worry about caring for parents, people’s concern about the climate and what impact that’s going to have on their children and grandchildren. Those are all impacts of these packages.
So, yes, there are negotiations that are ongoing. Once there’s a final bill — I’m not — I don’t know where wood is on this plane, but I’m going to knock on it — we will be very clear about exactly the components and how it will exactly impact each community, and we’re looking forward to that.
But in terms of what we’re trying to accomplish and what we’re trying to do, that’s what the President is going to be communicating about and talking about.
Q Jen, going back to the G20 for a minute: Does the President plan to announce ambassadors to the UK and Italy before his trip next week?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any personnel previews to announce for you. I’m not sure what the status is at this point in time, but I don’t — yeah, go ahead.
Q Oh, sorry. And a quick logistical question: I noticed the travel dates; he’ll be traveling on Halloween. Does that mean no Halloween event at the White House?
MS. PSAKI: I will — I will leave it to the East Wing to make any announcements about that. Obviously, there are steps and precautions we’ve taken, given we are still in a COVID environment. I’m not going to rule out all of us dressing up. I don’t know. We’ll see. Stay tuned. But, yes, he will be traveling on Halloween.
Q Senator Sinema said today — there are reports that Senator Sinema is not going to budge on increasing corporate income taxes and any income tax increase. This has been something that’s been central to Democrats selling this back home, is we’re going to — you know, it’s going to create more parity and tax the rich.
Where does the President stand on that? Is that something that he will budge on — not increasing corporate income taxes and so forth?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you are familiar with what the President proposed, which is raising the corporate rate back to what it was during a period of even the George W. Bush administration. And he thinks that is not only fair, it is long overdue and that companies that should be paying more — could be paying more, should be paying more.
I’m not going to get into what’s in and out, as these are ongoing negotiations. But it’s clear where he stands, why he wanted this in the package.
I will, though, note for you that there are a range of components on tax fairness that are in the package, including the global minimum tax — something that we’ve led the world on; something that would ensure that, of the 50 companies — top companies that paid no tax — they’d be required to pay a global minimum tax. And there are other components in the tax fairness elements that the President is also excited about.
But, yes, he proposed, himself, an increase in the corporate tax because he thinks it’s fair, it’s right, and it’s long overdue.
Q Thanks, Jen. Any timeline on the OSHA ETS, Jen? I know it’s with OIRA. I know you spoke to it a couple of days ago during the briefing. But — and, you know, they’re doing these stakeholder meetings, but the President said that it is — it can be expected soon. And I’m wondering if there was any timeline you can preview?
MS. PSAKI: It’s in the OIRA process. Just as a matter of policy, we just don’t preview the timeline on that or speak about their process as it’s ongoing.
Q One more thing on North Korea, Jen. A couple of hours after yesterday that you said that you were open to negotiation, or the U.S. is open to negotiation, they launched a ballistic missile. Can you comment on that, in terms of, you know, whether North Korea is testing U.S. resolve? And what is the U.S. prepared to do about it?
MS. PSAKI: That’s consistently been our view. So, we’ve stated our openness to having discussions with North Korea for months now.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.
4:18 P.M. EDT