James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:23 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hi. I know — I know it’s been a slow news day these last couple days, so I know you guys, you know, have not missed the briefing at all.
But good afternoon, everybody. It’s good to see everyone. And welcome back to everyone who traveled to Europe with us.
Okay, so today’s unemployment claims data are another welcome sign of our economy’s strength as Americans get back to work and the Delta wave recedes.
Both this week’s claims and the four-week moving average are at their lowest level in nearly 20 months since the beginning of the pandemic. Importantly, they’re close to the levels we’d expect in a normal health economy.
It’s important to step back and consider the progress we’ve made. The week President Biden took office, more than 800,000 Americans filed for unemployment. This week’s — this week, we’re below 270,000 and the less volatile moving average has declined by over 60 percent since the inauguration.
We’re coming out of an unprecedented pandemic, and we knew the recovery wouldn’t proceed on a straight line. But thanks to the President’s success in getting Americans vaccinated and getting economic support to the middle class, we’ve created nearly 5 million jobs, unemployment is below 5 percent, and we returned to the pre-pandemic size of our economy faster than our global peers.
And we have an opportunity to build on our economic success by passing the President’s historic agenda to make long-term investments in economic growth, creating jobs, and giving the middle class breathing room by addressing costs like prescription drugs, education, and housing.
And with that, Aamer, you want to kick us off with the first question?
Q Sure. Thank you. House Democrats appear ready to vote on BIF and Build Back Better legislation. Some senators, House Democrats have demanded that the legislation receive an official cost analysis before the House takes it up for a vote. Does the White House think it wise to move forward with a vote before members have a firm understanding of what’s in it and how it will be paid for?
And on the flipside of that, considering this week and what voters have said, do you really need to do this now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: First of all, the President has been very clear — he wants to get this moving; there’s an urgency — along with the members of both chambers have been very clear on getting this done and making sure that we’re giving relief to the middle class — that economic reliefs that they so deserve.
And so, this Build Back Better Agenda, along with the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill, as we have said, is transformational, and it’s historic, and it’s important to get this done. And so, the President is going to continue to work with members in Congress to make that happen.
Look, the Build Back Better Act is paid for by having big corporations and the wealthiest taxpayers pay their fair share. The Treasury posted a blog this morning detailing estimates from the administration and the JCT, which is the Joint Committee on Taxation, that came out earlier this morning, where it actually released — where it released the top line of what it’s going to look like.
But I do want to make clear that the JCT — the Joint Committee on Taxation estimate does not include a number of important sources through which revenue is gained and money is saved, especially the increased IRS enforcement to crack down on wealthy tax cheats and the savings to taxpayers from giving Medicare the power to negotiate down the price of prescription drugs with pharmaceutical companies.
Those categories are scored by the CBO, not JCT. So the JCT went first, and then we’ll see from the CBO.
So, we did put out an estimate, like I just said — the blog — a blog that the Treasury put out. And so we are ready — we are ready to continue to work, as we have been, with members to get this done and with leadership.
Q Is it a legitimate, sort of, ask by some of the moderates to, “Give us a little time to read what’s in this bill”?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, we’ve been pretty clear. We put out our frame- — our frame- — the President put out his framework, I think about a week ago, almost a week from tomorrow, that laid out the components — very popular components, as we’ve talked about — for this kind of transformational, historical change — this investment that is so needed.
And in that — in that — in that framework, it had the back-and-forth that he was having, those conversations that he was having with members of Congress that included what he thought would get that 50 — the 50 votes in the Senate, would get the support in the House.
So the way — so it’s out there. And the Speaker has been working on this bill. There’s language on this bill. We put out, as we — as I just mentioned, a blog from the Treasury — put out what the — how this would be paid for, the revenue that it would raise. And so, I think we’re in a good place to move forward, and we’ll continue to have the conversations.
Q The White House had put out that the President had made some calls — congratulatory, conciliatory — to several Democrats. I was wondering: Has the President had a chance to speak to the governor-elect of Virginia yet? And if not, does he plan to do that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, they have not spoken, but the President congratulates Governor-elect Youngkin on his win. Obviously, the President campaigned for his friend, Terry McAuliffe, as he mentioned yesterday — you heard directly from him about having that conversation — and would have preferred a different outcome. But the will of the people is clear, and the President has always believed in working across party lines for the good of the American families. And he looks forward to doing that with Governor-elect Youngkin.
The President is very proud of the race that Terry McAuliffe ran, as someone who puts his heart and soul into everything he does. But now is a time to move forward.
Q And if I could just briefly: To what degree do you think race was a driving issue in Virginia and around the country, given Republicans were repeatedly focusing on critical race theory?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, America, as you heard the President say before, is a great country. And great countries are honest, right? They have to be honest with themselves about the history, which is good and the bad. And our kids should be proud to be Americans after learning that history. The President certainly is.
Fundamentally, we believe a school’s curriculum isn’t a federal decision. It’s rightly up to communities around the country — the parents, the school, the school board, the teachers, and the administrators. And that means that politicians should be dictating — should not be dictating what our kids are being taught.
But we also need to be honest here about what’s going on here. Republicans are lying. They’re not being honest. They’re not being truthful about where we stand. And they’re — and they’re cynically trying to use our kids as a political football. They’re talking about our kids when it’s — when it’s election season, but they won’t vote for them when it matters.
You know, Republicans did not vote for the American Rescue Plan. The American Rescue Plan, in that plan, it had funding to make sure that schools were open, to make sure that our kids got back to school. And they didn’t vote for that, and that was a key component of the American Rescue Plan.
We know how important it is to make sure that our kids have in-person learning for their mental wellbeing and also so that they can actually learn. And so that is something that the Republicans refuse — absolutely refuse to vote for.
So we got to be honest here, and they’re not being honest. They’re being incredibly dishonest.
Q Karine, are you expecting a House vote this week on the Build Back Better plan? And what’s the President doing behind the scenes? Is he talking to Senator Manchin? What’s he up to?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as far as timing of the bill, clearly the President supports Speaker Pelosi and is behind any timing she feels is right. The President has been in close touch with Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer, and their strong agreement that we need to get these both done for the American people, as we’ve been saying, as soon as possible. We cannot wait here. The American people cannot wait.
He has — he has been in touch, as I mentioned, with both members of the chamber. He has not spoken to Senator Manchin, but our White House staff, my colleagues have been in touch with him over the last couple of days.
Q And, separately, the OPEC members are saying the United States has plenty of spare capacity to increase oil supply to help keep the economy going. Why is he not doing that? Why is he not increasing oil supply?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, the U.S. operates on a competitive free market system, as you know, Steve, and individual companies make their own decisions. OPEC Plus is a collec- — collection of countries that set supply levels themselves. They have the capacity and the power now to act and make sure this critical moment of global recovery is not impaired.
And, you know, to be — to be clear, OPEC Plus production is what impacts global oil prices, which is what has an effect on gas prices at home.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thanks. When the President announced the vaccine requirement for large companies with more than 100 employees back in September, he said at the time, “Our patience is wearing thin.” If his patience is wearing thin, why wait until January 4th for this mandate to go into effect?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yep. Thanks for the question. So the goal here — the goal here is that we wanted to kind of streamline things, if you could imagine. We know that some employers may have workplace — workplace is subject to requirements for federal contractors and other workplaces subject to the emergency temporary standard — ETS — as you’ve heard us say.
In order to make it easy for — easier for businesses and workers to comply, the administration is aligning the contractor deadline with the deadline for workers to receive their shots in the CMS and OSHA rules.
Across all three requirements — OSHA, CMS, and the executive order for federal contractors — workers will need to have their final shot no later to January 4th, 2022, which is the date that you were inferring on. This will ensure that federal contractors implement their requirements on the same timeline as other employers in their industries, leveling the playing field. And we believe more people will get vaccinated as a result of a clear and consistent deadline.
Additionally, OSHA has clarified that it will not apply its new ETS rule to workplaces covered by either the CMS rule or the federal contract- — contractor vaccination requirement.
Look, so we — like I said, we wanted to make it easier. We wanted to avoid confusion. And so, we want to even the playing field, and this is why we moved that December, I think — December 8th deadline that you’re talking about to January 4th.
Q How did concerns about the supply chain and the possibility of workers maybe quitting because of these mandates play into that decision and that timing?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I mean, if you’re asking like if we think the rules impact supply chain, the answer is: No, we don’t think that it will. First of all, vaccine requirements work. We have talked about that. We’ve given examples. Like, earlier adopters have seen strong compliance — 99 percent at United Airlines, 99 percent at Houston Methodist, 99.5 percent at Rutgers University. Recently, Tyson’s Food announced that 96 percent of its workers got vaccinated ahead of its deadline.
So the emergency temporary standard is an even playing field across all employers with 100 or more workers.
So as to vaccination requirements for federal workers and contractors, we still have weeks to go, as I just mentioned, and it’s important to remember the deadline is just — it’s not a cliff.
Q And finally, how confident is the White House these will hold up in court with a lot of GOP states threatening legal action?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So we’re pretty confident. The administration clearly has the authority to protect workers, and actions announced by the President are designed to save lives and stop spread of COVID.
DOJ will be defining these laws. This is a once-in-a-generation pandemic. As we know, it’s taken more than 740,000 lives. And that’s what we’re trying to do here in this administration: we’re trying to save lives.
But I do want to — since you brought up the GOP, I do want to take a step back for a second and just — as I mentioned, that we have the legal authority. And as I mentioned, over 740,000 Americans have died. You know, people are sitting out of the workforce because of COVID concerns. Right? The worst disruption businesses have faced for nearly two years is their employees getting sick with COVID.
At the same time, we have tools at our disposal we know work. So these policies work. Booster — boost vaccination rates, as we have seen, in short, and they protect workers and they save Americans’ lives.
So, you know, the question that we always have and that we ask to the Republicans is: Why are they getting in the way? Why are they getting in the way of trying to protect and save lives? That’s all we’re trying to do.
And so, we have an authority to do that. That was the OSHA — that was given to OSHA to — a congressional authority to get that done, to make sure that we make sure that employees are not in danger — they’re not in grave danger.
So, this is the direction that we’re going, because, again, this is about putting the pandemic behind us, making sure that we continue to protect the lives of workers and to protect the lives of Americans.
Q Is it fair that people should lose their jobs —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q — if they don’t get vaccinated, Karine?
Q Thanks, Karine. Abigail Spanberger —
Q Is it fair that people should lose their jobs if they don’t get vaccinated, their livelihoods?
Q Thanks, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. Go ahead, Kaitlan.
Q Abigail Spanberger —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Kaitlan.
Q Abigail Spanberger, a Democratic congresswoman from Virginia, is issuing a warning about the President’s sweeping agenda today, telling the New York Times, quote, “Nobody elected him to be F.D.R., they elected him to be normal and stop the chaos.” Has he seen that quote? And what is the President’s response?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You know, I don’t know if the President has seen that quote. I’ll say this: If you — it’s been reported — you know, the way that we see it: One of the best arguments for the Build Back Better Act is that 17 Nobel Prize winners in economics agree that it will reduce inflationary pressures.
I mean, that is incredibly important, especially in the moment that we are currently dealing with this pandemic and trying to get this on the other side of that.
The Wall Street analytics Firm, Moody’s, said the same. And they just put out another analysis today with the Build Back Better framework that the President put out.
And so, again, Build Back Better, as we have said, is fully paid for and will even reduce the deficit over the long term. So we cannot wait. We have to move forward. We have to get this done for the American people. We have to make sure that we invest in our infrastructure. We have to ensure we invest in our human infrastructure, as we like to say it. And we’re talking about childcare.
You know, there are parents out there who are paying way too much out of their paycheck for childcare. So this makes sure that parents don’t pay more than 7 percent.
We’re talking about a middle class tax cut. When you look at the Child Tax Credit, which has cut child poverty by 50 percent, that’s what we’re talking about. Universal pre-K. This is incredibly important and popular for — with the American public.
Q With this quote, she seems to be saying the President is trying to do too much, too fast and has an agenda that is bigger than what voters wanted the President to do and why they put him in office. Does he agree with that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — you know —
Q And does — did Tuesday night reaffirm that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You know, Kaitlan, I’ll say this: You know, the President has been talking about his Build Back — Build Back Better Agenda for over a year.
Eighty-one million people voted, almost a year ago, to put this President where he is right now to make sure that we deliver for the American public. So this was out there over a year ago.
So, you know, we’re trying to make sure, the President is trying to make sure that we continue the investment that we started with the American Rescue Plan.
We are in the middle of a pandemic, you know, where millions of people have left the workforce, including women; you know, where we need to make sure that we have, again, childcare. We need to make sure that we do this historical investment in also climate change — do historical investment in really tackling the climate change.
So this is not too much. This is what needs to happen, and it should’ve happened decades ago. It’s been some time since we actually invested in our country and invested in the American public.
Q And just a quick follow on the CBO score question that moderate House Democrats are saying they’d like to see that before they can commit to voting for this legislation: Are you saying that the President does not agree that they need to see the CBO score since you’re citing this Treasury assessment?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I — I’m — that’s not what I’m saying. I’m just saying that we are doing our due diligence. We put out our numbers through the Treasury blog, you know, to make sure that people are aware of, you know, the revenue and how much this is going to raise. And so we think that’s important, so we’re taking those steps as well.
The JCT is — what I was just talking about — that’s one part, CBO will be next. I don’t know the timing. That’s something that happens on the House. But here on our end, we’re trying to make sure that we put out as much information as we can and be as much — as transparent as we can be.
Q Okay. Last, quick question on the President’s schedule: Will he stay in town this weekend if they have not passed these two bills yet and are still working on it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I can’t speak to the President’s schedule at this time.
Q Karine —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Back to Steve’s question of what he’s doing today on this: Has he spoken with lawmakers? Is he speaking with any specific lawmakers, if not Joe Manchin?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So he’s continuing to talk to members in Congress today, as he has been since he arrived from Europe. That is going to be a continuing process that he’ll be doing. I do not have any calls to predict for you at this time. As you know, we tend — we keep calls private between the President and the members that he’s calling.
Q The Moody’s report that you guys are using to point out that economists are backing up your claims that it’s all paid for and that it’ll help pay down inflation also makes an interesting point about — it says its “most serious concern with the legislation is around execution risk,” or that is that it is a complex piece of legislation, quote, “with lots of massive moving parts.” Scaling — “Successfully organizing them would be difficult even among the best-managed private companies. Scaling up existing programs, as [envisioned] in the in the legislation, is one thing…standing up new programs and tax policy is another.” They say later, it’s “especially the case for much of the new policy related to addressing climate change.”
The last time Democrats implemented a big bill — this President had an expression for it — there were some implementation problems. What would this administration say about its preparations for implementing all this and assuring —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — lawmakers, as they prepare to vote for it, and the American public that all of this will roll out as prescribed in the law?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, as you can imagine, Ed, this is incredibly important to the President. Right? This is something, as I mentioned to Kaitlan, that he’s been working on or talking about for over a year now.
And so, you know, we’re going to do everything that we can, once this gets passed, to make sure that it is indeed implemented and that the American public gets the relief that they need, that “breathing room” that the President talked about yesterday and he continues to talk about.
This is — you know, this is incredibly important. This is going to change the lives of millions and millions of Americans. And we’re going to continue to make sure that we get that implemented in a way that’s effective and gets to the American public.
Q And I got one on immigration. We obtained a nine-page Homeland Security Plan from July that would end the Title 42 border policy for families with children by, among other things, offering COVID-19 vaccines to all adult family members. But our reporting has found, from several presidential appointees, that the plan was scrapped because top White House officials, including Susan Rice, expressed concern about the political optics of unwinding this pandemic policy as the Delta variant spread.
What would you say to critics of the administration’s immigration policy — medical professionals, who say Title 42 is junk science — even Democrats — that political considerations are guiding this administration’s border policy?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’ll — you know, as you know, the — when you talk about the — kind of the disagreement within the administration — first, I’m not going to get into or respond to the gossip from here. That’s not something that we’re going to do. You know, every single member of this administration —
Q Several presidential appointees; I wouldn’t call it “gossip.”
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. That’s your opinion. But every single member of this administration, from the President on down, is committed to building a fair and orderly immigration system. That’s what we are committed to do — to doing.
And in a short period of time, the presi- — the Biden administration continues to make considerable progress on turning the page and undoing the chaos, the cruelty, and the misplaced priorities of the Trump administration.
So, our vision for immigration is rooted in ideas that work, like addressing root causes, expanding refugee processing, investing in the asylum process, creating a fair and orderly pathway.
The previous administration separated families and wasted tax dollars and — on an ineffective wall.
We have been trying to undo that. We have been trying to make sure that we do it in a moral way, in a humanitarian way. And that’s going to be the focus of this administration.
Q Political considerations are a part of that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m just not going to speak to — like I said, we believe it’s gossip and I’m not going to speak to it.
Go ahead, Kristen.
Q Thank you, Karine. I asked President Biden yesterday if he thought it would have made a difference if his spending plans had passed before election day; he said he’s not sure, but maybe. My question is: When he went to Capitol Hill last Thursday, why didn’t he call for a vote on that day when he met with House Democrats?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, you know, to your — to your question about — which one? About the economy? It was — I’m so sorry.
Q Yeah. When he went to meet with House Democrats last week, why didn’t he call for a vote on the infrastructure bill on that day? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wanted it to happen. People on the Hill familiar with the process felt as though they would have been able to rally the votes. Why didn’t he call for a vote on that day?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You know, I — you know, I’m not going to get into the private conversations that was having — that has been had in that room a week ago, as you just stated. But, you know, there are so many reasons to — it’s complicated. It’s a complex — it’s — it’s not like one answer, right?
Every election is different. And, you know, voters don’t usually go into a voting booth on one issue. And so that is — that is something that we just kind of have to — have to remember.
But like the President said, I think his most important thing is to act, is to move forward, is to make sure that we deliver the Build Back Better Agenda, make sure we deliver the infrastructure bill. And he did say — he did talk about, you know, voters probably being frustrated and making sure that, you know, we move a little faster here. And so that’s essentially going to be — going to be his focus.
Q And, Karine, can you just give us a sense — does he see this in the hands of Nancy Pelosi right now? He’s here at the White House. She wants a vote today. At this very moment, is he going to stay here, not going to go to Capitol Hill, and let her take the lead on this (inaudible)?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But, I mean, I want to say that they’ve been partners in this, right? The President is making calls, as I just stated — today he’s been making calls through — since he’s gotten back from Europe.
Q Any specific ones you can tell us about?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I can’t re- — I’m not — there — I don’t have any calls to read out. You know, we kind of try to keep these calls private.
And so, they’ve been partners in this. But when it comes to the mechanics of the House and mechanics of the Senate, he leaves that to Speaker Pelosi, and he leaves that to Leader Schumer.
Q And one quick one, if I could, on paid family leave. It has been added back into the bill. Senator Manchin has signaled that he doesn’t think it should be done this time around — doesn’t necessarily mean he would vote against it, but that’s what he’s signaling at this point.
Does the White House think this was a good strategy to add it back in? And what, if any, concerns are there that it could jeopardize its chances of passage in the Senate?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you’ve heard us say, this is — paid leave, medical leave is very personal to him — to the President. And the President, his team — we fought very hard for paid leave to be in the Build Back Better Act, ever since he first wrote the proposal during the campaign, as I mentioned, last year; pressing for publicly — pressing for it publicly as he travels — as he travels around and also has those conversations with congressional members and privately in the process as well.
So, his framework included provisions he thought could get those 50 votes — that’s the Build Back Better framework that he put forth — those 50 votes in those — in the Senate, those critical votes. And it’ll — he’s enthusiastic about including paid leave in the House bill and will work to see it gain approval in the Senate. So he’s going to cont- —
Q Would he sign a final bill that didn’t include paid leave at this point, given that he had all but let it go last week?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, that’s a hypothetical, so I’m not going to get too far ahead of where we are. He’s saying that he is — he’s proud of that — that it’s in the — it’s in the — in this House bill that currently it’s in and that he’s going to continue to fight to make sure that we get the Senate votes for it.
This is something that he originally put in his own Build Back Better Act. And so, like I said, this is personal for him; this is incredibly important. You know — and it’s time that, I think, you know, we get in the game in getting paid leave for the American public.
Q Karine, right here.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q First, on COVID: So, 750,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 now. And while you guys were overseas, the intel community said basically that they’re stuck and can’t figure out how it originated because Beijing continues to hinder the global investigation. So, would President Biden punish China in some way for that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, as you know, the ODNI — the COVID Origins Report we — the President received that not too long ago. So, I’ll speak to that, because that’s the closest to what we have at the moment to talk to that.
So, this administration has been clear that it is imperative for the global scientific community to understand the genesis of the pandemic. Understanding the origins of COVID-19 remains a key focus for this administration and for all countries around the globe.
The U.S. government, the intelligence community, and the academic and public health community will continue studying COVID-19’s origins and how this pandemic spread as part of their ongoing work.
So, you’re right; it’s incredibly important for us to get to the bottom of this. But, of course, to better understand the origin, some future studies must include additional access to data from China, as you are asking me about. Time is of the essence for access and analysis. And we and our partners will continue to press for transparency and answers from the PRC on key unders- — outstanding questions on the origins of the pandemic and its early days in China.
For any additional details and assessments, we refer you to ODNI. But we’re going to continue pressing, because we do have to get to the bottom of it.
Q Okay. Thank you. And then, President Biden is calling these reports about the administration paying up to $450,000 to illegal immigrants who are separated from family members “garbage.” He says it’s not going to happen. But the ACLU says that it is. So, who is right?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Are you talking about the question you asked him yesterday?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, if it saves taxpayer dollars and puts the disastrous history of the previous administration’s use of zero tolerance and family separation behind us, the President is perfectly comfortable with the Department of Justice settling with the individuals and families who are currently in litigation with the U.S. government.
You know, DOJ can obviously speak more to that process. The President was — what he was reacting to was the dollar figure that was mentioned — that you mentioned to him yesterday.
As press accounts today indicate — there’s been press accounts on this — DOJ made clear to the plaintiffs that the reported figures are higher than anywhere that a settlement can land.
Again, this is a — this is something that the Department of Justice can speak to. I do not have anything more to add to this.
Q But if it’s not — if he’s not okay with $450,000, how much money is he okay giving these illegal immigrants?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: This is some- — again, Peter, this is something that the Department of Justice is going to handle. I just laid out what he was thinking and how this is — the process was moving forward. The DOJ will talk to the specifics of this.
Q And so what changed, then, from yesterday? You’re saying that he would be “perfectly comfortable” settling with these families who broke the law to come here, but, yesterday, he said, “That’s not going to happen.”
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: First of all, let’s remember how we got here, how we got to a place where we’re dealing with families being separated. This is coming from the last administration’s cruel, inhuman, immoral — immoral policies against — against just people. It’s separating children from their families — 18-month-olds, 2-year-olds, 5-year-olds from their families.
That’s how we got here is because of the last administration. This is what we’re trying to deal with here in this administration. So, let’s be very clear of how we got here and what’s happening.
Anything else that you would like to know about this, again, I’ll — I’ll send you to the Department of Justice. I can’t speak to specifics — any more specifics on this.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jen.
Q Thank you. Another questions on oil please. Given the administration has gotten a pretty clear rebuff from OPEC on the President’s calls to increase oil outputs, will the White House — will the administration commit to an SPR release — a strategic petroleum release? And if not, will oil prices just go higher?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’ll say they — I say — I’ll say this, and you’ve heard Jen say it behind this podium: We are not a party of O-P- — OPEC Plus. And ultimately, it will make its own decision.
As you remember, we engaged with relevant OPEC Plus members a few months ago as well, urging a compromise solution to allow proposed production increases to move forward, which they did, but more can be done.
Now is the time for majority country producers to stabilize energy prices and ensure high prices do not hamstring the current global economic recovery. As we have said, we’ve been in conversation with energy consumer countries and we will consider the full range of tools at our disposal to bolster resilience and public confidence.
Q Does that include an SPR release?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything specific, but we are going to use every tool at our disposal to ensure that we address this.
Q And does this show the limits of American influence on some of the U.S. allies? Because, obviously, the administration put a lot of pressure on some of these oil-producing countries — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait. Does this show some of the limits of the U.S. influence?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, I wouldn’t characterize it that way. But we’re going to continue to — you know, continue to work on this — this is not the end — and have the conversations.
Q Thanks, Karine. Senator Manchin says the United States is not a left or center-left country. He said on CNN that the country is either in the center or center-right. And that at — and that fact needs to be — or that assessment needs to be taken into consideration. Does the President agree with that? And where does the President see the country? Does the President see it as a center-left, left, center-right?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’ll tell you this: The President believes he’s the President for all Americans. You’ve heard him say that. He’s not a President for only Democrats, and he’s not a President for only Republicans. He’s a President for the American public.
The President sees this — when you think about his economic policy, something that he has been talking about for some time — he sees this as not leaving anybody behind. And this is what’s been happening for years and years and years.
And what we have seen these last 18 months is how stark it is, how much that the everyday people have been hurt by this pandemic and have been left behind in losing their jobs and not having a cushion. And so, this is what the President is trying to do.
This is not about red or blue or even in between. This is about the American public and giving them a — some breathing room: actually having an economic plan that delivers for the middle class, actually making sure that women can come back to the workforce, actually making sure that we have universal pre-K for three- and four-year-olds, actually making sure that we invest in climate in — in ways to fight climate change.
The largest investment that we have — we will ever see as a country, that’s what the President is trying to do. And that’s what he will continue to do. And it has nothing to do with which side of the aisle that you sit on. It has everything to do with the American public.
Q Can I also ask, building on Aamer’s question about race and education — you mentioned that politicians should not be dictating what is taught and that — you said “Republicans are lying” about those issues.
But I wanted to ask: Is there something that the administration can do? Because it seems clear that these kinds of issues about race and education — they’re not going to go away. It’s likely to be more significant. And is the administration talking and thinking about ways to address this?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I think the first thing — and the President talked about this yesterday; I believe he was asked this question. And it’s — we have to be honest. We have to be honest about where we are as a country. And we have to be honest about, you know — it’s — the — I think what he was trying — trying to say is that, you know, there’s so much misinformation out there. There’s so much disinformation out there that’s actually taking apart — but taking our country apart.
And one of the things that the President was — was elected to do was to bring the country together. And so, that is what matters to him: to be honest about our past, to be honest about our history, but also not play into this misinformation — to call it out, to make sure that we’re not going down the rabbit hole of misinformation that’s actually going to hurt our country. And so that’s the focus for the President.
Q Thanks, Karine. Yesterday, the President said, and as others have asked, that it was important to move forward after Tuesday’s elections to pass both pieces of legislation, but also conceded that he wasn’t sure passing that would then have won the Virginia election or if Democrats would have performed better.
Looking forward, assuming — you know, the White House has said that that is — its focus is passing these pieces of legislation. Are there other strategic steps or new steps the White House is going to take to try to address some of the concerns that were clearly raised by voters in Virginia, in New Jersey, and other states around the country? Or does it feel — does the White House feel that passing those two are sufficient to try to make up some the — their loses?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I think what the President was trying to say is that the voters are tired of the inaction that they’re seeing and want us to get things done. And I think that’s what he is trying to say. And so, the President agrees, which is why he has been calling for Congress to vote on these — these pieces of his economic policy.
But I do want to — I do want to say one more thing — is that, you know, we all know that no election determines the outcome of future elections, that the midterms will be determined by voters in 2020 — in 2022. And this one — this one election is determined by voters in 2021. And the midterms are still a year away. And a lot could happen over the next weeks and months, which is what we’re focused on. Right?
This is why we’re trying to get — move forward with the Build Back Better Agenda, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. And let me remind you and remind — remind us, is that poll after poll shows — showed us that the components of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and the Build Back Better framework are very popular.
American families want historic investments in infrastructure, in care, in competitiveness, and addressing the climate crisis. This is something that they want to see happen. And so, this is what we’re going to continue to do. And we’re going to make sure that we move forward to do that.
Q And just to follow up on that, polls also show Joe Biden’s approval rating plummeting and also that most voters don’t necessarily know what is in this package. Maybe when you tell them explicitly, but then —
So, two things: One, what does the White House make of the polls showing that — those same polls — that Joe Biden’s overall approval rating is going down?
And then, two, does the White House have a more robust strategy to try to reframe the narrative about what’s in this bill, as most of the discourse is around what’s being left out of the bill?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. So, the President spoke to this at his press conference in Rome on Sunday. He was asked a question about the poll. And he — he basically said that’s not his focus right now. His focus is to get things done for the American public. But he also — also acknowledged that people are tired right now. Right? They’ve been dealing with COVID-19 for the past 18 months. It’s exhausting.
And, you know, there are things that — there are things that they are — we’re still trying to figure out as we’re restarting the economy — like Americans are trying to figure out, right? Which is why we’re talking about childcare, right? This is something that was critical and key for many families, which is why the Child Tax Credit is so important — which was in the American Rescue Plan — which has given the — the middle-class families that extra boost. Again, cut poverty by 50 percent.
And so, the President came here with multiple crises: COVID, the economy, the climate change, you know, dealing with race in America. Those are the things that he said himself were crises that he had to — that we all had to deal with coming into the administration.
And so, he has been focused on COVID, making sure that we’re getting shots in arms. Now we’re seeing more — up close to 80 — or 80 percent of [adult] Americans have at least one shot in arm — in their arm, which, when we started in the administration, was about 5 percent. So we are moving forward in that direction.
The economy — we’re starting that back up. It’s going to — we still have work to do, but we are starting that up — back up because of the American Rescue Plan.
So, we still have work to do. But in the last nine months, we’ve accomplished a lot.
I gave — I just gave a rundown of the unemployment benefits and where we are today, and how much — how much, you know — how much — how much we’ve moved forward, like where we are with our numbers. We’re — where we were 20 months ago, the pre-pandemic — that’s where we are today. That is a huge — a huge movement.
And so, we’re going to continue to do that work. We’re going to focus on that. And we’re going to get this — his economic policies passed.
Q Karine, can I follow —
Q Karine —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Zolan. Go ahead, Zolan.
Q On the OSHA rule — on the OSHA rule, what is the threshold in order for a private business to be fined? I still — I’m still unclear on that. How many violations can a business, kind of — you know, how many times can they violate this rule in order for them to actually be fined?
And then, secondly, has the White House been reaching out as well — I don’t know, in the past couple days, today — to governors as well, either encouraging them to implement their own mandates or on implementation of this mandate?
And then just one on immigration after that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Gotcha. So the goal here is compliance. And the administration and OSHA are going to do everything we can to maximize compliance. So that’s going to be our focus. The vast majority of employers, as they do every day with other workplace safety requirements, will voluntarily comply without ever being inspected.
However, if needed, OSHA can assess fines of $13,600 per violation. OSHA can fine an additional $13,600 per day that an employer does not abate if — that an employer does not abate the violation. And for a willful or serious violation, OSHA can fine employers $136,000. So that’s how the penalty is going to work here.
And as you can imagine, we have our Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. We have the COVID team. And they are constantly talking to governors on an array of issues and will continue to do that.
Q On the President’s comments yesterday, in terms of financial compensation to families that were separated at the border: So you just said that his main kind of objection was to the amount of money, but you said that he would be okay if DOJ, you know, works it out and reaches a settlement; he would trust that DOJ process. Would he be okay if that settlement also included a pathway to citizenship or any immigration relief for those parents?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not going to get ahead of this. So I would point you to the Department of Justice. I just laid out what he was thinking when he was asked that question by Peter and tried to, you know, give some — kind of some thoughts there.
I don’t have anything more to add.
Q But if you’re able to say publicly that he would object to that $450,000, I guess my question is: If DOJ goes through their independent process, would — and, I mean, finalizes a settlement that includes a pathway to citizenship, would he object that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So DOJ made clear to the plaintiffs that the reported figures are higher than anywhere that this settlement can land. Like that’s what DOJ said today. And so, like I said, again, the Department of Justice can speak to the process.
Q Yeah, Karine, thanks. You’ve been asked a couple of times about critical race theory. Does the White House believe Republicans had success in Tuesday’s election in part because of their messaging on critical race theory? Was that one of the major reasons why they had a good night and Democrats had losses? Or does the White House believe that the critical race theory issue and the messaging was not a major factor in what you saw Tuesday?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I used to play a political pundit on TV. (Laughter.) I’m not going to do that here. And so, I’ll leave all of kind of the thinking and the speculation on the races on Tuesday to all of you and to the political pundits, but that’s not something I’m going to do from here.
Q A follow on —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, April.
Q A follow on —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yep, go ahead.
Q — critical race theory. Karine — Virginia, in part, he did win because of critical race theory. And I know you don’t want to go down the rabbit hole, but many Republicans, many Republican strategists are saying that this was a successful strategy and they’re intending to use it in other elections and campaigns.
This President is the head of the party. How does he plan to combat this? We saw Donald Trump won with misinformation and lack of truth. You talk about facts and truth. How does this administration plan to go against that, combat against that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, thank you for the question, April. And you’re correct; I’m not going to go into any type of political analysis from here.
But, you know, I just want to be really clear: Like, the — President Biden ran on bringing Americans together. On — he ran on respecting the fundamental human dignity of every person, and that means addressing barriers that are holding Americans back. And it means people should be treated equally and judged by the context of their character instead of the color of their skin.
And so that is something that the President truly believes. And, you know, April, he — and he talked about this yesterday, as well. If you look at his view — and these are his words — his view on criminal justice, his view on — if you look at the policies that he’s put forward — the American Rescue Plan, the economic policy, even the COVID response — there’s — they’ve had equity at the center of everything that he has done.
And so this is incredibly important as I talk about the economic policy and not leaving anybody behind. And I think we believe that’s why it’s so important to move forward with the better — Build Back Better Act and also the bipartisan infrastructure, because that is going to really have an economic effect on everyone and make sure no one is left behind.
So that is the message that he’s moving forward with. That’s how he’s going to bring the country together. And that — that’s his focus.
Q And, a few weeks ago, the first Black woman to the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, talked about not wanting to hurt white people, white children because of facts — critical race theory. Facts, truth hurts sometimes. But what did the President say about that? Did he respond or think anything about what she said from — she has a lofty perch, or had a lofty perch.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q And for her to say something like that, that sent a ripple effect.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I do not know. I have not spoken to him about that. Look, you know, America — and I said this earlier — America is a great country, and it’s — and great countries — in order to be a great country, you have to be honest with themselves — right? — about this country — the good and the bad. That is important and that is critical.
And he believes that our kids should be proud to be Americans after learning that history. And the President certainly believes that. And so, you know, we should be honest as we publicly debate these issues and as we teach our history; that’s how we move forward as a nation.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you so much, April.
Go ahead, Alexa.
Q Hi. Alexa, from the Wall Street Journal. I know you said you can’t say more about the possible settlements for immigrant families, but I did want to ask: Was the President briefed by DOJ about the settlement discussions?
And was it appropriate for him to weigh in on a DOJ process when he’s emphasized the department’s independence?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, the President believes in the department’s — in the department’s independence, right? And that is something that he has been very clear about: The Department of Justice should be independent.
He was asked a question and he answered it directly. That’s it. He was asked a question and he answered it. I mean, there’s nothing much more to add to that. Any more specifics, I would send you to the Department of Justice.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, thank you. Thanks, everybody.
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