James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:26 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay. I have two items for all of you at the top.
In Baltimore today, Secretary Becerra announced the Biden administration’s new federal Overdose Prevention Strategy, building on previous actions the administration has taken to address addiction and the overdose epidemic.
The overdose epidemic has evolved and our strategy to combat it is evolving as well. That’s why the new strategy prioritizes prevention, harm reduction, evidence-based treatment, and support during recovery.
The holistic focus on harm reduction and recovery support, in particular, are new and innovative approaches. That includes actions like increasing access to medication treatment for people with opioid use disorder; strengthening the recovery — the recovery support services workforce by funding community-based training programs for peer support specialists working in behavioral health; and expanding access to harm reduction services.
With drug overdose deaths increasing by more than 30 percent last year, the severity and worsening nature of this epidemic requires an all-hands-on-deck approach, and this strategy from HHS builds upon the Biden-Harris administration’s year — year one drug policy priorities and is a key part of addressing that rising challenge.
I also wanted to note another development or item of progress, I should say, on addressing the supply chain bottlenecks. This week, Union Pacific — one of the two railroads servicing the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach –announced that it’ll be offering a cash incentive through the end of the year for containers that move during the weekend.
This is another sign that the President’s call for the private sector to step up and help get the transportation supply chain to move towards a 24/7 pace is working. It builds on the announcements by the ports about 24/7 service that would move toward around-the-clock operations and leading great retailers’ announcements that they made, like Walmart and shipping companies like UPS, who have committed to and announced plans to begin moving more containers at night and during the weekend.
We’ve seen some signs of improvement throughout the supply chain — not just at ports, but also railroads, which are reporting reduced congestion and higher capacity at key hubs.
As I said yesterday — and I think we were going to have a chart, but we’ll provide it to all of you afterwards — this is in the context of record-breaking movement of containers through our biggest ports. And this is significant increases from last year. LA and Long Beach, for example, have already moved more containers this year than in any previous year. And as you all know, we’re still in the month of October. This reflects strong demand as our economy roars back and Americans have money in their pockets to spend again.
Operating at 24/7 pace will not only increase the number of containers moving out of the ports but will also make the system more efficient, reduce emissions in the surrounding communities. And combined with the announcement on Tuesday that the ports will begin charging ocean carriers for keeping containers on the docks for too long, this announcement, in our assessment, will speed up the movement of goods from ship to store shelf, which means faster delivery times for American families and lower costs for goods.
Aamer, go ahead.
Q Thank you. First, any updates on where things stand on negotiations? Does the President plan on going to the Hill today? And if you can just give us a general update on where things stand.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, last night, as you all know, the President met with Senator Sinema and Senator Manchin in the Oval Office and continued to make progress on finalizing details as we work toward an agreement.
This morning, we had a number of senior staff up on Capitol Hill; many of them may still be there now. Steve Ricchetti, Louisa Terrell, Brian Deese, and others of the key negotiators — Susan Rice as well, I believe — were up there having conversations with members to move the ball forward.
The President remains open to going up to the Hill. We haven’t made a decision to do that, and we are making decisions hour by hour on what would be most constructive to move things forward.
Q Many of the President’s progressive allies have come around — or seem to be coming around to the idea that you can’t let the perfect get in the way of the good. That said, just outside the White House, some young environmentalists are holding a hunger strike because they believe that the bill has been — or where things stand, that the bill could be weakened to an unacceptable degree.
What’s the President — to those young people and others that feel that this has been watered down too much and that perhaps the President should have been more publicly engaging in debate with Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema?
MS. PSAKI: The reconciliation package they’re protesting or the infrastructure bill or all of it?
Q The reconciliation.
MS. PSAKI: Well, what I would say first: The President admires the activism, the energy, the — of young people who are out there advocating for what they believe in and the changes that that he agrees should be made to how society functions, to long-overdue investments in our climate.
I think what we would say is: One, we are on track now to move forward once we get it in agreement, which we are — we are confident we are going to move ahead to, to have the biggest investment in addressing the climate crisis in history by the United States. It’s not just the biggest; it’s five times bigger than the second- — what would be the second-largest, which would be the Recovery Act. This is — would be a historic investment and something that would make an enormous — have enormous impact on addressing these issues.
And I would note that — and I don’t know all of the things that are of concern to them, but since you asked me about the framing — and I don’t know if climate is one of them, but I assume —
MS. PSAKI: — I assume it might be, so let me start there — is that what we’re talking about here is creating targeted manufacturing credits that will help grow domestic supply chains for solar offshore and — offshore and onshore wind, expanding access to rooftop solar and home electrification, expanding grants and loans to rural co-ops to boost clean energy and energy efficiency, expanding grants and loans in the agricultural sector.
And we are talking about a historic effort to make critical investments in environmental justice — something that is long overdue, that is central — that is important to the President, important to our climate and our clean energy team.
I’d also note that there’s been some reporting about this as well. And I don’t know if they were talking about childcare; I don’t know if young people are. I’m happy to hear that. But maybe they were — but what we’re talking about in terms of this package is also closing in on a deal that would make pre-K for three- and four-year-olds universal and free. This has never been done before — ever.
Right now, just to give you some context, the average cost of preschool in the United States costs $8,600. Only 2 million three- and four-year-olds are in publicly funded preschool across the country.
This legislation is on track to enable states to expand access to free universal preschool for 6 million three- and four-year-old children per year and increase the quality of preschool for more children already — many children already enrolled in publicly funded preschool.
And the last piece I’d note is that we know the Affordable Care Act was a — also its own piece of historic legislation. This would massively build on that: expand access, lower costs for healthcare, which is of utmost concern to many activists and certainly a big priority for the President.
So I would say we’re excited about this package. The President is excited about this package because it will — it will do so much in a historic nature to address longstanding problems that are overdue.
Q And if I can just quickly: Any reaction to Iran’s chief negotiator saying Tehran is ready to get back to the negotiation tables in Vienna?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know they’ve made similar comments over the last several days — or week, I should say. Our commitment remains pursuing a diplomatic path forward. I would leave it to the negotiators to determine when the next round of discussions will be.
Our framing continues to be compliance for compliance. And we’ll leave it up to the Europeans and our negotiators to determine when the next step would be.
Q Thanks, Jen. The President is leaving for Europe tomorrow. Negotiations are still underway over some of the thorniest issues — everything from the topline number to Medicare drug price negotiation, even the revenue options for how to pay for this. So is getting a deal by tomorrow still realistic?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. We’ll see.
Q Anything else to add?
MS. PSAKI: I would say that we’re — there is also another way to frame what you posed to me — and I know why you framed it the way you did — is that there is also broad agreement in Congress among Democrats who we need to support a unified path forward; that we need to address the care economy and take steps to lower the cost of childcare, of eldercare, of early childhood education and make it more accessible; that we need to do more to make healthcare more accessible and affordable and cut costs; that we need to do more to address the climate crisis. There is agreement on that.
What we’re talking about here is the nitty-gritty details, as I like to say. That’s always what the focus is on at this point in the negotiations. But it’s only 1:30. We’ve got some time.
Q For days now, we’ve been hearing, “We’re very close to an agreement” — from you guys, from folks on the Hill.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q And yet so many of these issues are still outstanding. And so, I just kind of wonder how it’s possible that that could happen within 24 hours.
MS. PSAKI: Have you covered a piece of legislation getting passed before?
MS. PSAKI: I think you have. Right? So, as you know, when it gets to the final stages of it, there is a discussion about how you can achieve the goals you all share an objective to achieve. That is what we’re doing now.
So, when you say there’s — we would disagree with your framing, as would anybody on the Hill, I think, who’s a part of these negotiations. Because what we’re really talking about here is agreeing on a range of revenue raisers as payfors that will make the tax system more fair. You’ve already seen developments and progress on that front over the last 24 hours.
What we’re talking about is which components of cutting costs and making healthcare more affordable and accessible there is enough agreement on to get this across the finish line.
So those are the final details that need to be worked through, and that’s what our team is on the Hill working on.
Q And let me ask you about something that the President reportedly told members of Congress last week. According to Congressman Ro Khanna, he said that the President told progressive lawmakers that “the prestige of the United States is on the line,” that he “needs this” — meaning a deal — to go represent the United States overseas. Does he still believe that the prestige of the U.S. is on the line if you can’t get to a deal?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he said since that time that it’s certainly his preference. Of course, he would love to head on his trip with a deal. But I think our National Security Advisor yesterday also addressed this question several times and made clear that what world leaders are looking at — and through his conversations with his counterparts — they’re looking at the President’s commitment to making a historic investment in addressing the climate crisis, to addressing some of the overdue infrastructure issues that we have in the United States that have made us less competitive, to making the global minimum tax a part of our law here.
They’re seeing we’re making progress. They’re sophisticated. They’re seeing we’re on the verge of getting to a deal and that that’s not — they don’t look at it through the prism of whether there is a vote in one body of the legislative body before he gets on an airplane.
Q And if I could ask you one last one on Facebook, which is: CNN reported today on leaks from Facebook which show that the company is struggling to stay on top of misinformation about the coronavirus and coronavirus vaccines. Is the administration in touch with Facebook about vaccine misinformation on the platform? And how concerned is the President about this latest report?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to read out private meetings or conversations we’re having in this space.
What I will say is that we’ve seen the reporting, of course, and what — and it is unfortunately not surprising for us to hear that Facebook knew of these problems, has known of the issue possibly as early as the beginning of this pandemic. That is what the reporting tells us; that does not surprise us.
A reminder that, in July, our Surgeon General came to this briefing room to label misinformation a “public health issue” and, importantly, conveyed that social media outlets are a prime channel for the trafficking of bad information, given their enormous role in our society. And since then, we’ve continued to see platforms regularly amplify anti-vaccine content over accurate information. That’s the basic problem. And that’s what we continue to see happen.
Q Jen, speaking of payfors —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Can we talk about the billionaires’ tax? Is the White House confident that a billionaires’ tax would withstand legal challenges? Which, I guess, is another way of asking, is it legal?
MS. PSAKI: (Laughs.) We’re not going to support anything we don’t think is legal. But I will tell you the President supports the billionaire tax. He looks forward to working with Congress and Chairman Wyden to make sure the highest-income Americans pay their fair share.
I would also note that there are a number of different components of payfors or components that could — will make the tax system more fair, as we like to say, including imposing a 15 percent minimum tax to make sure large corporations pay their fair share. We saw some aligning around that, I should say, yesterday.
Also, creating a global minimum tax, something I just referenced, that will make the United States more competitive and end the race to the bottom around the world, something the United States is leading the global effort to have agreement on.
On closing loopholes for high-income Americans, including a loophole that allows some taxpayers, like hedge fund managers, to escape a Medicare tax imposed on all high income.
And, of course, cracking down on wealthy tax cheats who are taking advantage of every honest taxpayer and invest in enforcement to stop the 1 percent from evading $160 billion in taxes.
So, we — that is an idea that’s been out there. That is part of the discussion. We support that.
There’s also another — a range of options that are also under discussion and there’s broad agreement around.
Q Any response to Elon Musk’s criticism of this, saying that once the government runs out of money, they come after other people’s?
MS. PSAKI: I think our response to anyone who has oppo- — opposite — opposes is that we believe that the highest-income Americans can afford to pay a little bit more in order to make historic investments in our workforce, in our economy, and our competitiveness, and that has a net benefit on people across the country.
Q And just briefly on one other topic. Turkish media is reporting the President Biden will meet with President Erdoğan in Glasgow. Can you confirm that and any other bilaterals that the President plans to make?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly understand the interest, and I expect we’ll have more on the bilats in the next day or two. But I don’t have anything to confirm quite yet.
Q When the Pope meets —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q On the —
Q — with the President, Jen, does the White House —
MS. PSAKI: I’ll come around to you. Owen, there’s no reason to scream over other people.
Q Okay. Just —
MS. PSAKI: I’ll come to you.
Q Thank you.
Q On the billionaires’ tax, Senator Manchin has expressed concerns that it’s too targeted. What is the White House’s thoughts on if this should be broadened out more?
MS. PSAKI: Look, there’s a discussion right now about key components of how to make the tax system more fair. The billionaire tax — which, I know we’ve shorthanded — is different from the original proposal we talked — that was proposed a year or so ago when many of you were covering the campaign trail. There have also already been some changes made. So that’s part of the discussion. I’ll leave that in the negotiations.
Q Is the White House confident that people like Elon Musk would comply with these new rules? I mean, a lot of it would rely on them reporting their own income, their private assets. Is this something that they would really do?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly expect member — American citizens to abide by the tax code. And obviously, we’ve taken steps — we will take steps that have been proposed to crack down on anyone who’s trying to cheat what they owe to the federal government.
Q And just to follow up on the supply chains you brought up —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — at the beginning: What’s your message to Americans who are still so worried about getting their Christmas gifts on time, Halloween? Is this going to be happening at a fast-enough pace?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think our message is that, one, what’s happening right now — and I wish I had the chart, but we’ll give it to all of you afterwards — is that so many people across the country are purchasing more goods online. Maybe some of it is from habits that developed during the pandemic when people weren’t leaving their homes. Some of it is because we’ve seen an economic recovery that has been underway for the last nine months, where 5 million more people are working, the unemployment rate has been cut in half. And that is leading to a massive increase in volume. That’s what’s happening at ports.
But what we would tell people is: We are addressing and attacking the supply chain issues — even with the increased volume, which is the root cause here — at every front, which means overseas, making sure people get COVID vaccines; which means making sure ports are fully operational; working with railroads; working with truckers and labor unions to make sure we have more people driving trucks, more people moving — moving goods. So, I think what people should know is this is a top priority. We’ve already seen progress. And we’re going to continue to stay at it.
Q Yeah. Two questions for you, as we live through another day of Groundhog Day. On the bill and what might be in it: In addition to this group that’s outside the White House here, there’s another group camped outside the Vice President’s Residence regarding immigration and the push for citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The President once again, last night, got interrupted by some immigration advocates when he was over in Virginia. What is the status of immigration in this legislation? And is the President comfortable signing something that doesn’t account for some element of immigration policy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Ed, as you know, the President and the Vice President strongly supported including immigration components in the original package. They strongly supported and have efforts by members of the Senate to put forward and come up with alternative ideas that might be able to make its way through the parliamentarian. And that work may continue; you should talk to members on the Hill about that. We strongly support that as well.
But what we’re looking at here is a historic package that will make changes to our childcare system, lower the cost of eldercare, have a historic investment in the climate, expand access to healthcare. That is what we are excited about in this package.
We know it’s not going to have everything we want. It’s not final yet. And you know the President is very committed to getting immigration done.
Q If the House can’t pass the infrastructure bill — the hard infrastructure bill — “BIF,” I guess — is that what we call it?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Bring back BIF.
Q — by Sunday, is the administration making contingencies for the expiration of surface transportation funding?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly we’re in close touch with — with Speaker Pelosi and other members on the Hill about the expiration of surface transportation. And so, that is on our minds as well.
Q Thank you, Jen. Seeing some reports — not sure if it’s accurate; I’m hoping you can clarify — that the billionaires’ tax and IRS enforcement might be out of the negotiation at this point. Can you say whether that is true?
And then also, how can the administration say that this is paid for if that change happens?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, on the billionaires’ tax — which is one of the ideas that’s been put forward and has been a part of the discussion — I don’t have an update, on this moment, on the status. But it’s possible changes could be made as they have been to all components of the — many of the revenue raisers and tax fairness components.
I would say this will absolutely be paid for because there are a range of options out there that would more than pay for what we’re talking about. That includes the corporate minimum tax, imposing a 15 percent minimum tax. It includes the global minimum tax. It includes closing loopholes for high-income Americans. And it also includes investing in enforcement.
So, I think there’s been some reporting — just for clarification — on reporting mechanisms, which is not the same as the IRS enforcement component, which is going after tax cheats who are evading paying taxes, which many outside experts have estimated is — amounts to about $160 billion in taxes a year.
So there’s been some reporting about the reporting components and the caps on those; that’s been an ongoing discussion. But there is no disagreement about the need to go after tax cheats.
Q So is having it paid for then a requirement for the President or the White House in order to get this thing passed, that they want (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: The President has been pretty clear that he believes that making the tax system more fair, that ensuring we are taking the opportunity to do that is a part of this package and what he expects to sign into law.
Q Jen —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q And just —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
Q And real quick, just in terms of the timeline for this.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Is there any feeling that there was time wasted between the end of last month and the end of this month, given the President is traveling and it truncated that timeline? And there’s some question about how long you can extend the surface transportation bill, if they end up having to go that route.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Jacqui, as you know, from your time covering the Hill, nothing is more clarifying then some version of a timeline. Now, it does not mean we will not continue our work if every component is not done. We will. We are going to get this done.
But it is clarifying. It focuses members on decisions that need to be made. That’s what we’re seeing happen right now. And that often happens as you get closer to the timeline, regardless of how much space you have in between.
People — legislators can be crammers, I guess, if you remember college.
Q Thanks, Jen. There’s also some reporting that a compromise is coming together around paid leave. It would not include benefits for sick leave but would include benefits for new parents. Is that consistent with your understanding of the latest version of what the paid leave benefits would look like?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a moment-by-moment update, Kristen. What I can tell you, though, is that paid leave is personal to the President. He proposed it in the very first iteration of the Build Back Better Agenda last year. He’s been fighting for it ever since.
As you know, there’s been an ongoing discussion about what it would look like. His preference would be for it to be 12 weeks and expansive, as was in the original proposal. Obviously, there’s not enough votes for that in Congress. That’s a reality of legislating.
So, right now, we’re fighting to keep it included, but I don’t have a specific update on what it looks like in this moment.
Q And to follow up on my colleague, Peter, who sat here yesterday and asked you a similar question —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — but I don’t know that we got a direct answer. Would he support a final piece of legislation that did not include paid leave in full — benefits for sick leave and new parents?
MS. PSAKI: I think, Kristen, what is important for people to understand here and know is: From the beginning, we have said the President was open to compromise. He has said that. He knew, and he knows from legislating for 36 years, you’re never going to get every single thing you want in a package. We know that.
Q So, is that a yes?
MS. PSAKI: What — I think, Kristen, this is kind of not — an unconstructive, I would say, line of questioning in the sense that what we’re talking about here is getting a package that would make a historic investment in childcare, in eldercare — we’re fighting to have paid leave included in that; address the climate crisis — five times larger than anything that’s ever been done before in history; and expands access to healthcare.
There will be things that may not be in the package he wants to see. But what any president and any legislator looks at is the totality of the overarching impact. And this has — is on track to be enormous, impactful, historic.
Q But — and I’m just trying to be clear, though: He’s not drawing a red line around this issue (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: I’m not drawing new red lines today.
Q Jen —
Q Very quick, though —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Just very quickly: He is scheduled to leave tomorrow morning.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Could that timeline get pushed back if negotiators are still working and potentially close to reaching a deal tomorrow?
MS. PSAKI: There’s some flexibility in the morning, but I would not suggest that he’s going to delay his trip. He doesn’t have the space to delay it much.
Q Jen, (inaudible) —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Owen. I said you could go. Sorry.
Q And then —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. And then I’ll go to Alex next. Go ahead.
Q Thank you. Thank you. As you know, millions of Catholics will be watching when the President and Pope Francis meet.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q The White House has said they will discuss working together on “efforts grounded in respect for fundamental human dignity.” Question one: Will that include the human dignity of the unborn?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Owen, as you know — although, you ask me most often, if not every time, about abortion — but I will say there is a great deal of agreement —
Q Is there a problem with this?
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish my answer. There’s a great —
Q Is there a problem with my questions?
MS. PSAKI: There is not. You can ask anything you want.
MS. PSAKI: But I wanted to note, since you follow this closely, is that there is a great deal of agreement and overlap with the President and Pope Francis on a range of issues: poverty, combating the climate crisis, ending the COVID-19 pandemic. These are all hugely important, impactful issues that will be the centerpiece of what their discussion is when they meet.
The President has met with him. This will be their fourth meeting. We expect a warm and constructive dialogue. You are familiar with where the President stands. He’s somebody who stands up for and believes that a woman’s right to choose is important.
Q Understood. But the Pope has said —
MS. PSAKI: The Pope has spoken differently.
Q And the Pope has said that —
MS. PSAKI: I have just outlined for you what the focus of the meeting will be.
Q Okay. Let me — the Pope has said —
MS. PSAKI: I think we’re going to have to move on.
Alex. Go ahead, Alex.
Q — “Abortion is murder.”
MS. PSAKI: Owen, I answered your question.
Alex, go ahead.
Q You give other people a chance to follow up, and I get (inaudible). I get nothing?
MS. PSAKI: Owen, I answered your question. Go ahead, Alex.
Q The Pope has said “abortion is murder” and “it’s like hiring a hitman.” Does the President agree or disagree with that?
MS. PSAKI: You know that the President believes in a woman’s right to choose. You’re very familiar with this issue.
Q That’s not answering — that’s not answering the question.
MS. PSAKI: We’ve spoken about it many times.
Alex, go ahead.
Q I’d like to follow up on the IRS bank provision.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Senator Manchin said that he spoke to the President about that, and the President agreed with him. Is that accurate?
MS. PSAKI: I think what we’re talking about here is not about IRS enforcement and going after tax cheats. We’re talking about reporting mechanisms. That is something Senator Manchin has talked about. I’m not going to outline more specifics about where the negotiations sit right now, but I just wanted to be clear about what the differences are, because sometimes it’s shorthanded, not with malintent.
Q The President, on the CNN forum, said that he — in talking about gas prices — said that he could raise the issue with the Saudis.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Is that something he plans to do on his trip?
MS. PSAKI: I think as Jake said yesterday — and there’s not a development since then, Alex, but we’re happy to keep you updated because I think we’re still assessing who’s coming from many different countries to these meetings. You know, the President will look for an opportunity to certain rai- –certainly raise concerns about supply and OPEC needing to release more supply. But in terms of if and when that will happen, we’re just not there yet.
Q And then, finally, is the White House going to take any regulatory actions on methane emissions before this trip? That’s — there’s been talk about that.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to preview at this point in time. Obviously, addressing methane emissions is something our climate team has talked about in the past. There will be more to talk about, discuss, but nothing to preview at this point in time.
Q Hi. Just a —
Q Jen —
MS. PSAKI: I’ll — go ahead. I’ll come to you next. Go ahead.
Q Just to follow up on supply and rising prices and inflation: A couple of weeks ago, you pointed to data indicating that the rate of inflation was decreasing month to month over the last couple quarters and that you — the forecasts expect that to continue in 2023. Does the White House believe that we’ve reached peak inflation, or does it expect prices to continue to rise over the holidays?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the inflation and prediction of inflation is under the purview of the Federal Reserve. And so what I often point to is their predictions and their projections, which they update, as you know, on a regular basis.
What they have projected is that inflation will come down next year. That remains the projection. The OECD has also projected — made similar projections about inflation and when it will come back down.
I’ve also said we also anticipated that there could be increases as the economy was turning back on. That is something that the Federal Reserve and other outside economists have also predicted and projected.
If you’re talking about different costs for different components of society, there are different issues that are happening, whether it is the price of food — we’ve talked a little bit in the past, or I have here, about the fact that there is meat conglomerates who — there’s a lack of competition. We are addressing that issue. Obviously, the price of gas is a separate issue.
So, we can talk about any component you are interested in. But in terms of the projection of inflation and data, that’s under the purview of the Federal Reserve and that’s what I would point to.
Q And just one question about climate change. So, the President, of course, is preparing for this climate summit next week. What role does the White House believe the U.S. military has in reducing things like emissions, the munitions disposals, et cetera?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, I know military leaders, members of the Defense Department, in the past, have spoken to the threat of the climate crisis, the impact it could have on countries, on national security, and on countries around the world because of drought, because of famine, and risks that poses.
The President wants to take on the climate crisis across government and ensure that we are approaching it not just in terms of what we’re passing into law, but what we’re doing with our federal fleet, et cetera.
Any additional announcements, I’d point you to the Department of Defense.
Q Is the idea of raising the corporate rate, is that entirely off the table in this Build Back Better plan?
MS. PSAKI: It’s — all of these tax components are under discussion. I have nothing to rule out at this point while there is live discussions.
Q Just one more question. General Mark Milley, earlier today, compared China’s hypersonic weapons test to a Sputnik moment. He said during an interview on Bloomberg TV, “What we saw was a very significant event of a test of a hypersonic weapon system, and it was very concerning…I don’t know if it was quite a Sputnik moment, but I think it’s very close to that…It has all of our attention.”
Does the White House agree with that assessment?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ve seen, of course, General Milley’s comments. I think what he was conveying was the concern we all have about China’s military modernization efforts. They continue to pursue capabilities that increase tensions in the region, and we continue to have concerns about that. And I think that was reflected in his comments.
Q Thanks, Jen. I wanted to ask: Is there any more you can share on President Biden’s perspective on progressives’ concerns that a framework for the social safety net and climate plan is not enough to move forward with an infrastructure vote?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President — first, I would reiterate that the President is absolutely committed to getting both pieces of legislation done. He’s conveyed that publicly; he’s conveyed that privately.
As you all know, yesterday, he had a very good meeting with chairs and members of the Congressional Black Caucus; Congressional Hispanic Caucus; Congressional Asian Pacific Caucus — -American Caucus; Congressional Equality Caucus; and Congressional Women’s Caucus. And they all came out and they went to the stakeout agreeing that this historic deal we’re nearing would represent enormous and long-sought triumphs for the constituencies they represent.
So, I would say we would reiterate and he would reiterate, as he has done privately, his commitment to getting both pieces of legislation done; that we’re on track for a historic package. And certainly, what he’s been working on is getting agreement on moving both pieces of legislation forward.
But I would also note that if you look at the infrastructure package, there are components of that that a lot of members are going to have to look inside their hearts and question what they’re for or against.
I mean, this package is for — would extend high-speed Internet to every American. Are you against that? Would ensure that children don’t — aren’t drinking poisoned water. Are you against that? Would make the biggest investments in electric vehicle infrastructure ever while bulking up transit and climate resilience.
These are key components of change, of progress that many progressives have expressed support and excitement about. And we shouldn’t lose sight about that either, even as we’re driving forward on getting both pieces of legislation done.
Q Is there a point that you would want to — that President Biden may push to move the infrastructure bill first?
MS. PSAKI: We’re going to leave the mechanisms and the order of events up to leaders in the House and Senate. But we want to get both pieces done.
I just wanted to note that sometimes what’s lost here in these debates is all of the components of the infrastructure bill that are progressive; that have historic impacts; that I think, you know, many have expressed excitement and support for for good reason.
Q Thank you, Jen. President Biden, over the past week or so, has listed a number of ways in which he’s attempting to compromise — dropping free community college from the plan, reducing paid family leave to a shorter timeframe than he would like. He spent an awful lot of time with Senator Manchin. From the White House perspective, in what ways has Manchin compromised?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll let Senator Manchin speak for himself. But what I would note here is it’s not the President giving up or taking anything. The President is trying to unify a path forward between a range of members in Congress — Senators and House members — and what they are for or against, or what they can support or what they’re against. That’s part of the role he’s playing in this negotiating process.
So, we’ll point you to Senator Manchin on what he feels he’s given up or what he’s for. He can speak for himself.
Q Secondly, the President is heading to Glasgow, and he’s hoping to signal the climate commitments. That’s where, I think, his “American prestige is on the line” comments are coming from. Absent a complete deal on any framework, is there any effort from the White House to achieve just the climate portion so that he can go to Glasgow with a framework within a framework?
MS. PSAKI: I would just go back to what Jake Sullivan said yesterday, which is that global leaders are quite sophisticated. They are watching and following and understand the fact that the President has proposed the most historic investment in addressing the climate crisis in U.S. history — five times larger than what was in the Recovery Act.
And that is an example of the President and the United States leading on this issue, as we should. As one of the world’s largest emitters, we have a lot of work that we need to continue to do.
So, what they know and what he will convey to them, regardless of the status, is that we’re talking here about fundamentally changing a range of sectors in the U.S. economy.
We’re talking about make — incentivizing rooftop solar and home electrification; solar offshore and onshore wind with manufacturing credits; industrial-sector decarbonization; rural co-ops.
We’re talking about fundamentally changing and incentivizing how industries and parts of U.S. society focus on climate and move toward a clean energy envir- — clean energy society. That’s what we’re doing here. And we’re on the verge of getting that done.
So, I’m just going to reiterate that world leaders are not looking at is there a vote in the Senate or the House before the President gets on the plane. They’re looking at what we’re trying to accomplish, our commitment to doing that, the fact that we’re making progress on that, and the President’s role in getting that done.
Q So, on the — at the heart of the debate here is a question that different groups of people answer differently as to how big this spending package ultimately is in context, you know, in terms of history.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q You — the little transcript here tells me you said the word “historic” 13 times —
MS. PSAKI: Oh.
Q — since we started.
MS. PSAKI: Counting.
Q It was actually, like, nine, but then you said it multiple times —
MS. PSAKI: Should I tell you what’s “historic”? (Inaudible) your question. (Laughter.)
Q So, here’s my — here’s my question: What does — where does the White House — the President talked a lot on the campaign trail about FDR, about the Great Society, Lyndon Johnson. Like, where does — if this — if some version of this, you know, in the range of what everybody is now sort of talking about, passes, where does the White House put this in history, since you used that term so many times?
What is — is this on par with the New Deal? Is this on par with what — you know, does this go — does this go beyond what Lyndon Johnson tried to do? You talked just now about just the sort of fundamental altering of society as it relates to climate change. How much should the people who are now debating this feel like they are doing in the context of history?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t know that we have a new label to put on it. Maybe in the future, people will look back and say, “How does this compare to Build Back Better?” We’ll see.
But I — what I’m talking about, with history here — and I’ll be short here, I promise — is creating infrastructures that could be built upon, similar to what happened with the Affordable Care Act. That’s what we’re doing — trying to do with universal pre-K.
That is something that, for decades to come, could be built upon and become better. And, as it relates to the climate crisis, maybe — hopefully — we’ll look back — (knocks on podium) — and this will be the moment where the United States, the President, Congress, takes a historic action that can — that can change our trajectory here. That’s what we hope to do with this package.
And, of course, building on making healthcare more affordable and accessible is something that is a continuation of the historic work that happened when the President was Vice President, but vitally important as well.
So, I don’t have a historic reference. I’ll leave that to outside historians to do, as much as I’ve used that term.
But the components we’re talking about here is — and what — it’s important — and why I keep using that phrase is because — is because it’s important for activists, for Democrats, and for the American people to know what we’re trying to achieve here and what kind of impact it could have on their lives.
Q And just one follow-up on that then. You know, I assume the President is making that argument — that sort of range of arguments that you made — to the people who are — whose expectations for even more have been dashed.
How much is the White House planning — and have you already started planning — for an extensive sales job afterwards, were this to sort of pass at some point tomorrow, next week, whenever?
You know, the White House that you served in — the last White House that you served in — promised to make a similar kind of pitch after the Affordable Care Act passed, and, by and large, it didn’t happen.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q And it certainly wasn’t very effective for a very long time. You know, what lessons do you guys — did you guys learn from that? And is there some, you know, plan to — to sort of, you know, reset expectations after months of compromise and hearing about things that are not as big as he wanted?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you can certainly expect not just the President, the Vice President, but also members of our Cabinet, who have been fanning out across the United States for months now, to continue to do that.
And I would say one of the lessons learned is certainly that — and having lived through several iterations of the selling of the Affordable Care Act — you know, what we learned, I think, by the end of that process is that you need to explain the components of the package and how it’s impacting people’s lives.
And that sounds patently obvious now, but, in the time, we were selling it as “bending the cost curve.” I still am not sure what that means. (Laughter.) But, by the end, we were talking about ensuring that kids who are under 25 could get covered with health insurance; that if you had a pre-existing condition, you didn’t need to worry about it.
Now, I will say, this is instinctual to President Joe Biden. He is somebody — and this is why he’s given the number of speeches he’s given over the last few weeks, why he’s gone to Scranton and Michigan and Connecticut to talk about different components of these packages to bring it to life for people, right?
If you care about the climate, this is going to have a have a huge impact on addressing the issue that is close to your heart.
If you are a parent struggling to make ends meet, we’re going to give you some more breathing room. We’re going to make childcare more affordable. We’re going to make universal preschool a reality. Right?
The things that are going to impact people’s lives is how we will continue to talk about this. And it is very clear that once you have a final package — (knocks on podium) — and you have what those components look like, it does make it a little bit easier to do that. No question about it.
Q Thanks, Jen. My colleague is reporting that a few dozen House progressives would only vote for BIF if there’s a framework deal and legislative tax that’s introduced, and having verbal agreements from the President and Senators Sinema and Manchin wouldn’t be enough. So, just to follow up, would the President press progressives for an infrastructure vote before October 31st even if there is no framework deal in place?
MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand your line of questioning. But, again, we’re working with leaders — Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer. I don’t have anything to predict for you in terms of the timeline or order of events here.
Q Is there any concern that you would lose Republican support that you have for BIF if Congress waits to, you know, align passage of the two as the progressives would like?
MS. PSAKI: I think Speaker Pelosi has quite a bit of experience calling a vote when she knows there’s the votes to be had, and that’s what we’re working toward.
Q Jen, one on overdose prevention —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
Q The American Trucking Association is urging the administration to push back an OSHA requirement for larger companies for the vaccine until after the holidays. They’re warning that some drivers would rather quit than get the shot. Given the supply chain concerns, is there something the administration might consider?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important for people to understand that the first step here is not firing or quitting; the first step is counseling, and sometimes there are alternative options as well.
So, there isn’t an expectation or anticipation by anyone who’s been through implementation of this, many in the transportation sector, that that would be the impact.
Beyond that, I don’t have anything to predict or preview for you into in terms of a change of timeline.
Go ahead, George.
Q You talked about the issues the President will talk about with the Pope. Can you talk a little more personally about the President’s approach? Does he have any sense of the history of being only the second Catholic President meeting the Pope, or have we reached the point where that’s just another routine meeting?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the President’s faith is — as you all know, is quite personal to him. His faith has been a source of strength through various tragedies that he has lived through in his life. Many of you who have served on pool duty know that he attends church every weekend, and certainly I expect he will continue to do that.
So, the fact that this is his — will be his fourth meeting — he has a very personal relationship with Pope Francis. We certainly expect it to be — to be a warm meeting.
And I would say yes, George, it absolutely has personal significance to him, in addition to being an opportunity to discuss the range of issues — poverty, combating the climate crisis, ending the COVID-19 pandemic — where there is alignment and the ability to have deep, substantive discussions.
Go ahead, Yamiche.
Q Hi. Thanks so much, Jen. The President, as you said, supports the billionaire tax, from my understanding. Senator Manchin has expressed criticism of it. He said, quote, “I don’t like the connotation that we’re targeting different people.” President Biden has been pretty open about the fact that he thinks wealthier people in this country should pay more. I wonder what the President makes of Senator Manchin criticizing the billionaire tax.
MS. PSAKI: I think, Yamiche, the President certainly knows there’s some agreements and some disagreements about which components of a range of tax fairness proposals are the best options. That’s why there are so many out there that he has proposed, that others have proposed, that what we’re doing now is working through what will be in the final package.
As I said a little bit earlier, he supports the billionaire tax. It has changed from the version that was proposed, you know, a year or two ago that received, understandably, a lot of attention.
We’re working with Congress and Chairman Wyden to make sure the highest-income Americans pay their fair share, something that he thinks is not only — would make the tax system more fair, but also would be a way to help pay for these — this historic bill — I did that for Mike Shear — to get it across the finish line.
So, I don’t have any direct response or — from him or anyone to Senator Manchin and his position on what he agrees and disagrees on. What we’re trying to do here is align in agreement on making the tax system more fair while pushing forward a historic package.
Q I’m wondering if you could square what sounds like confidence that a bill could still be struck by tomorrow with the real issue that — how to pay for it, along with what’s in it, is still seemingly a big problem here, a thing that has not been resolved.
MS. PSAKI: Well, if we had a deal, as you know, we would be telling you about it. But I think what members of Congress have conveyed to all of you and leaders in Congress, as well as the White House and the President, is that we are very close. That’s because we are very close.
And it does require working through specific details and components that need to be finalized before we have a final agreement. But that’s how everybody feels who’s a part of these discussions, and that’s why I think you hear everybody conveying a similar tone about the progress.
Q Can I ask you: How confident is the President that thousands of Department of Transportation workers won’t be furloughed, that public works won’t be — some public work won’t be shut down? I wonder what his message is to those workers who are worried about Sunday coming and possibly having to be furloughed. Is he confident that that won’t happen?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, again, we’re working with leadership — with Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer — to work on an extension of the surface transportation bill. Obviously, they’re going to be in charge of determining when those votes will be and what it looks like. But we want to avoid furloughs, of course, and protect workers. And that’s fundament- — central to the President’s belief system.
Q A follow-up on climate, Jen.
Q One last question.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Can I ask you just one last question —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead, Yamiche. Go ahead.
Q — on Haiti?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q I know that missionary — that there’s still significant assets —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — Jake said yesterday — going to Haiti to deal with the missionaries. I just — I also wonder if you could respond to criticisms of the Biden administration that there are deportations still happening and going on and people being sent back to Haiti amid the — not only the fuel shortage, but also this hostage situation continuing.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important for people to remember: One, we’re doing everything we can to bring these missionaries, U.S. citizens, home safely. We have FBI. We have sent an enormous number of law enforcement officials to help assist with that. And obviously, our embassy in Port-au-Prince is running point.
These are U.S. citizens. They are — we know — and we put — put out a warning in August and put out repeated warnings, I think, over the past several months and even before then — about the threat of kidnapping for ransom for U.S. citizens. That is different from the threats, which are different — and the challenges — that are facing Haitians, who are in Haiti or who are deported back to Haiti, through the system we apply across the board through our immigration system.
As you know, that’s an assessment that’s made by the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security. They have made the assessment that the conditions on the ground allow for individuals to return to Haiti. They continue to assess that, but there’s been no change to that.
But I think it’s important for people to understand there’s a bit of a difference between the U.S. citizens — the threat facing the U.S. citizens, which we have warned before is a threat of kidnapping for ransom and of great concern to us (inaudible).
Q Well, a lot of those Haitians have been getting kidnapped — 200, 300 percent increase. So could you explain the difference in the kidnapping threat to U.S. citizens versus Haitians who have been getting kidnapped for years?
MS. PSAKI: I think what you were — why — I was answering the question, Yamiche, because you were combining the things into one, and I thought it was important for people to understand the threat of the 17 individuals that we’re talking about is one that is — we have warned about, has been a unique threat that we have posed concerns about in the past. So I wanted people to understand — and sometimes it’s combined. I’m just trying to explain —
Q Yeah, I was just trying to figure out if you could explain that.
MS. PSAKI: I’m just trying to explain the policy. I would remind you again that we are a enormous contributor of assistance to the Haitian authorities. We will continue to do that.
And I would also note that on the oil shortage, what we’re working to do — and our focus right now is on supporting the Haitian National Police. What they are trying to do is secure transportation corridors to allow for fuel deliveries. And it is a challenge, obviously, because there are — as you know, Yamiche, there are parts of Haiti where it is hard to get to. That’s why these cor- — because of the threats of crime and — on the ground and challenging circumstances on the ground.
So these transportation corridors are meant to help enable these fuel deliveries to get fuel out to communities that need it.
And we — obviously, in response to also the seriously — the serious security situation, we’ve also allocated an additional $15 million to the Haitian police, including $12 million specifically to strengthen their capacity to respond to gangs. And we’re looking to increase this assistance even more. And this is related to your other question about the kidnapping and threats and risks to Haitians on the ground as well.
So, there are a lot of things to unpack — to unpack there, which I attempted to do.
Q A follow-up on China.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, one more in the back. Did you —
Q Follow-up on China, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thanks, Jen. A couple of things real quick. First, it seems like the paid leave might actually be out entirely. Is that something that you all can accept?
MS. PSAKI: It’s still under discussion. I would note that the President proposed 12 weeks of paid leave because he absolutely believes it’s long overdue to ensure women across the country, families across the country have access to paid leave. It’s something we’re continuing to fight for, but I don’t have a final package quite yet.
Q But he said at that town hall that 4 is better than 12, but, obviously, zero is worse than 4. Right?
MS. PSAKI: Again, we — I can convey to you what the President supports. What I think your understandable questions are, are: Is there 50 votes for paid leave for a package? We hope there are. That’s what we’re advocating for and we’re pressing for. The President wants paid leave to be in this package.
Q And second, there was a letter from the White House General Counsel yesterday to the National Archives, I believe. And it mentioned in there that there’s a subset of documents that the committee had agreed not to request at this time. And I’m wondering what — how those documents are different from other documents that the President has said, “Go ahead and turn them over,” that there’s no executive privilege that applies.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the deferred ref- — deferral referenced in the letter, which I think is what you’re talking about, is a routine part of the accommodation process between Congress and the executive branch in these types of matters.
The committee agreed to defer a small number of documents, so I would refer to you on what those documents are or what that looks like or the scope of those, that they’d be best equipped to address that.
Okay. Thanks, everyone.
2:16 P.M. EDT