Press Briefing by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:07 P.M. EST
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hi, everybody. Wow. This is all for Pete. I know. I know, it’s all for — we like to call him “Secretary Mayor Pete.” (Laughs.)
All right, good afternoon, everyone. Good to see everybody. Joining us today, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who — surprise, surprise — is here to talk about the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal.
I don’t want to steal the Secretary’s thunder, but as you all know, the once-in-a-generation bill is the largest-ever federal investment in public transit, clean energy transmission, and electric vehicle infrastructure, and clean drinking water. It delivers for the American people by rebuilding our roads, railroads, and railcars, bridges, buses, ports, and airports, all while creating good-paying union jobs.
With that, I’ll turn it over to Secretary Buttigieg. This isn’t his first time at the podium, as you all know; I think this is — might be his third time. But it’s his first time joining us as a father.
So, on a personal note, congratulations to you and Chasten on the birth of Gus and Penelope and one of — and the news last week, which we, you know, really thought that was wonderful, great news.
And so, with that, I’m really happy to introduce you. Here we go.
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Thank you. Good afternoon, everybody.
Q Good afternoon.
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: And thank you, Karine. And thanks for the chance to address you. We are so thrilled, so excited. When our communications team presents me with copy, I usually cross out the word “excited” because I think it’s overused and I often rub out the exclamation points because it’s not always my style. But we are “excited,” with an exclamation point, about what we’re going to be able to deliver.
We are so thankful to everybody who’s played a role in this. Thanks for members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, President Biden’s historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal will now become the law of the land.
And it couldn’t come at a more urgent time. I can tell you, in the 10 months that I’ve been in this job, I’ve traveled the country and seen the state of our infrastructure firsthand. I saw mesh nets hung under bridges to catch pieces of concrete that fall off from time to time; century-old tunnels corroded by seawater that hundreds of thousands of people depend on every day; roads where community members are installing memorials to lives lost in preventable traffic crashes; highways that have cut communities in two.
Infrastructure is so elemental to our society that when it’s not there to serve us in the right way, all of us are impacted. But when it is — when it’s strong — every community — large and small, rural and urban, privileged and marginalized — every community feels the benefits.
When combined with the Build Back Better Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal — which, collectively, I like to think of them as the “Big Deal” — an answer to the New Deal or the Square Deal before that — they’re going to create a generation of good, union jobs. They’re going to make historic investments in equity and in the fight against climate change. They’re going to make sure that America can compete and win in the decades ahead.
This is the largest investment in roads, bridges, and highways since the creation of the Interstate Highway System, including the largest investment in our bridges ever so that we can avoid devastating closures and disruptive collapses like we’ve seen, including what we saw in Tennessee, in Florida, and far too many other places.
It’s also the largest investment in public transit ever, with funding that will expand service to communities of all sizes, including improvements for seniors and for people with disabilities. It’s going to replace thousands of outdated buses with clean, zero-emissions vehicles and aging railcars with state-of-the-art new ones.
It’s the largest investment in passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak itself. And transformative impacts in traffic safety will be achieved. And it’s going to strengthen our supply chain by improving our ports, our airports, and our freight rail.
It’s going to dramatically increases funding for major projects. Every year, we have our discretionary programs, RAISE and INFRA, where we support projects that are vitally important for local economic development and the national supply chain. We’re going through the current round of applications for RAISE right now. And for every dollar that we have to give out, there are about 10 in impressive applications coming in. This allows us to grow those programs that we can use in very direct ways to address the issues of our time.
I’ll give you an example from the INFRA round of grants that happened earlier this year. We announced funding for a project in Georgia. It’s an inland port to help goods move onward from the Port of Savannah. It is to create a new 300-plus mile freight connection between the seaport and the inland port that makes it faster to get the goods out of the Port and then sort them so that they can get on the way to shelves.
But like I said: For every project like this, there are many more that are worthy but that we can’t support. This helps us to change that.
Later today, I’ll be headed to Glasgow, and there look forward to discussing how this legislation can help ensure that transportation — which is the biggest sector contributing greenhouse gases in our economy — can be a big part of the solution.
You know, we’ve seen so many impacts of climate change on American lives, on our transportation systems themselves, and that’s part of why this plan includes funding to put people to work electrifying our power grid, make our infrastructure more resilient to extreme weather, and build out a national network of half a million electric vehicle chargers, and expand public transit, as I mentioned earlier, which is also a huge part of the climate solution.
And, of course, there’s a lot beyond our transportation elements of this: lead pipes, cleaning up pollution, broadband, and more.
But what all of these investments have in common is that they will create jobs: pipefitters to replace those pipes, electricians to install those EV charging stations, autoworkers to build the cars that plug into them. We need mechanics maintaining transit vehicles, drivers operating them, construction workers rebuilding those roads and bridges. And most of these jobs will be available whether you have a college degree or not, which is why the President often talks about this as a blue-collar blueprint for American competitiveness.
And it’s a generational investment in every sense of the word — something that means a lot more to me now as a new father, because this is how we do right by the next generation before it’s too late.
So, thanks again, and eager to take some questions.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Go ahead, Jeff.
Q Secretary Buttigieg, thanks for being with us. Congrats on your — the birth of your children. A question about the bill. This bill gives your department an unprecedented amount of discretionary funds — $100 billion in competitive grants. Can you spell out how you plan to prioritize that money? And just give us a sense of what projects you see or we should expect to see getting money and getting started first.
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Yeah. So, our department has been gearing up, hoping that this bill would pass. And now that it has, we’ve taken it to the next level.
I would break it into two parts. Part of it is handling increased funding for programs we already have, like discretionary programs such as RAISE, formerly known as TIGER, and INFRA.
There, what you’re going to see — within the framework, of course, that the law puts forward — is an emphasis on projects that, taken together, give us extra value in the priorities of this administration: economic strength, safety, climate, equity, preparing for the future. And we see a lot of projects that overlap in that sense.
Again, if you look to what we funded with the last round of INFRA, that’ll give you a sense. And you’ll see that when we announce the RAISE projects for this year, too. But we’ll have so much more to work with.
Then, there are areas where we have to stand up whole new programs. Safe Streets for All — we’ve never had a multibillion-dollar safety initiative like that. Reconnecting Communities, which we’ve been talking about all year, responding to where sometimes it was federal dollars that divided a community, often along racial lines.
I think the intent of those programs is clear, but the mechanics of those, we’ve got to work very hard to make sure that we get it right, that the criteria are transparent, that it is easy to understand how to apply, whether you are a big city with full-time staff here in Washington, D.C., or a small, rural community trying to navigate that federal process. And, of course, that all those dollars are spent accountably, because we’re talking about a lot of taxpayer money.
Q And do you have something in place — sorry, just a quick follow-up. Do you have something in place to prevent mismanagement of that money and fraud?
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Absolutely. Yeah. And that’s something that I know is also happening at the administration level. There’ll be, you know, very — and the President made this very clear to us in the Cabinet when the Rescue Plan dollars came through. We know that we’re going to be held to a very high standard by the President as well as the public.
So we have an executive council with the Deputy Secretary and Undersecretary, as well as myself, paying close attention to how we can make sure we have all of the right controls, the right rigor to make sure these dollars are spent well.
Q Secretary — Secretary Mayor Pete, could you give us the breakdown of the implementation of Justice40 with the infrastructure package that has now passed and signed into law? And also, can you give us the construct of how you will deconstruct the racism that was built into the roadways that you talked to theGrio earlier when you broke that information with us? Can you talk to us about how that could be deconstructed?
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: For sure, yeah. So, the principle of Justice40 is that at least 40 percent of the clean investments in this bill will go to benefit the communities that are overburdened and underserved.
So, part one of that is defining those investments that are eligible, and that’s a lot of it, and we’re working to map out kind of program by program, mode by mode, what would qualify.
For example, if we’re buying clean buses — right? — how do we make sure in terms of where those buses go, but also looking at the business opportunity — the jobs that are going to be created, the businesses that will have a chance to compete for the business opportunities it creates. That too, I think, is a very important element of equity here that’s in the spirit of Justice40.
And again, we have a lot of guidance and oversight from the White House since that’s an administration-wide initiative, but we know that we’ve got to build our own internal, kind of, ways of aligning and defining that inside the administration.
As to where we target those dollars, you know, I’m still surprised that some people were surprised when I pointed to the fact that if a highway was built for the purpose of dividing a white and a Black neighborhood, or if an underpass was constructed such that a bus carrying mostly Black and Puerto Rican kids to a beach — or that would have been — in New York was designed too low for it to pass by, that that obviously reflects racism that went into those design choices.
I don’t think we have anything to lose by confronting that simple reality. And I think we have everything to gain by acknowledging it and then dealing with it, which is why the Reconnecting Communities — that billion dollars — is something we want to get to work right away putting to work.
Q But that’s such a heavy lift. I mean, you’d have to reconstruct communities that this happened to. As you said, some of these beltways and interstates and roadways were built before the Civil Rights Act, before the Voting Rights Act, and were made — meant to be racist. But how do you go about redefining and replanting these roadways and communities that are already settled in since then?
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Yeah. So, what’s interesting is it’s going to vary by community and we have to listen to the community. Sometimes it really is the case that an overpass went in a certain way that is so harmful that it’s got to come down or maybe be put underground.
Other times, maybe it’s not that way. Maybe the really important thing is to connect across it; to add rather than subtract. And that’s where we don’t want to impose a one-size-fits-all answer from here.
But when we were out in Syracuse, for example, looking at I-81, we saw the local vision for how they want to get past those divisions. And those local ideas are going to be taken very seriously as we try to meet the spirit of this law.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Kaitlan.
Q Thank you, Secretary Buttigieg. You just said this bill and the passage of it could not come at a more urgent time. So, do you know when President Biden plans to sign this bill?
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: I’d have to refer you to my White House colleagues on that, but I’ll tell you that I’ll be there with bells on.
Q But he has not signed the bill yet, right?
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: No.
Q And can you talk about what the campaign to sell this bill is going to look like, given it will take time for some of these projects to actually go into effect and to be completed, and the White House is one year out from the midterms, of course, which they have tied this bill to?
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Well, I expect that that’ll be led by the President traveling to show where the need is and where the action is. But I’m certainly eager to be part of that effort.
I mean, look, a lot of this sells itself because communities never needed to be persuaded that their bridge needed to be fixed or that their airport needed an upgrade or that their ports needed investment. They’ve been trying to get Washington to catch up to them.
But I do think it’s important for us to go out there, especially in communities where a member of Congress or the Senate played an important role. And, as you know, members from both sides of the aisle played important roles in delivering this bipartisan win, and I can’t wait to be out there celebrating the good news.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Let’s take one from the back.
Q Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. And thank you, Karine.
As you pointed out, this was a bipartisan bill. Was there any discussion of the President not letting Democrats oppose some of the Republicans who are running or giving them a pass in the next election?
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Not that — not that I’ve been part of. But what I’ll say is that, you know, we’re really proud of the bipartisan character of this bill. And, you know, the conversations that we had, it wasn’t transactional like that. It didn’t have to be, because these investments were already so good for the communities that these members represented.
You know, there are times when you ask somebody to take a tough vote. To me, these provisions were, rightly, so popular that the only thing that was tough was for some Republicans to stand up to those who wanted them to choose party over what was right for their community.
Q So there was no discussion from your side about the partisanship of it?
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: I don’t ever remember talking about — when I was talking to any member of either chamber, of either party — talking about campaigns and elections in that way. What we talked about was how it would be good.
Now, of course, I believe strongly that good policy is good politics, and I think it’s going to reflect well on anybody who voted to deliver these big wins and these jobs for their communities. But I think that’s just clear on its face from it being such good legislation.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q I wanted to ask about the money for ports in the bill.
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: For what? Sorry.
Q The money for ports in the bill.
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: For ports, yeah.
Q How will that help the supply chain issues that the U.S. is facing right now? I know that’s something that you’ve said often when you’re talking about the supply chain. Is it going to help?
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, let me offer a couple of examples. I mean, one is that we need to make sure our ports are as efficient as possible, right? And there are cases where more technology, sometimes physical technology around the berths, but sometimes it’s more to do with the systems that help the different players talk to each other.
Remember, ports — not a single entity, right? You got the port itself, which is kind of like a landlord. Then you got the terminal operators. Then you got the truckers. And all of them are interacting with competing shipping companies — right? — to try to efficiently move these containers. They need to be able to exchange and share data. We’ll definitely want to support ways to do that. So, that’s an example.
Some of it’s multimodal. If you see a backup of ships at a port, it might actually be because of something that’s not so much onboard the ships, but inland. That’s why I was pointing to that example in Savannah — serving Savannah, where we have an inland port so you can rush those containers out of that precious port space and then sort them out. And that’ll be more efficient and more speedy.
So, there’s — those are a couple of examples.
Let me point to one third thing: the idea of the Healthy Ports Initiative. So, there are a lot of emissions around ports — from the ships themselves, from the trucks, from the equipment. And right now, one thing that is tough is the neighborhoods that are close to them feel that impact, including in increased asthma rates in what are, by the way, disproportionately Black and Latino neighborhoods.
The Healthy Ports Initiative helps electrify them so that you don’t have to worry about the emissions. And, to me, that goes hand-in-hand with those efficiency gains that we’re trying to drive.
Q I wanted to follow up. Also, you mentioned truckers. Have you thought about at all relaxing Motor Carrier Regulations further to allow people 18 to 20 to participate and to be truck drivers?
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: So, I believe there is a provision in this legislation —
Q Yeah, in the pilot program.
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, exactly. But we got to be very careful about safety. And so, the way the provision works is it’s a mentorship type, apprenticeship type of initiative that tries to manage the potential for there to be a safety tradeoff.
We want as many people to be qualified drivers as possible, but never at the expense of safety. And we’ll always look at other — you know, other steps we can take.
But let me mention: We’ve got to just make truck driving a better job. Truck drivers — there’s a reason the turnover is so high. And the way they’re compensated, they’re often not compensated for their time, which means that their time is wasted freely sometimes when they’re waiting for a load at a port, for example. Truckers have not had the option to work from home on Zoom. They are the absolute backbone of a big part of our supply chain, and we need to respect and, in my view, compensate them better than we have.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Sabrina.
Q Thank you, Secretary Buttigieg. President Biden said Americans will start seeing the effects of the infrastructure bill within two to three months. Is that also your assessment?
And just to follow up on Jeff’s question, can you provide a more detailed timeline on when specific programs will go into effect?
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: So, again, I would break it into the existing programs that we’re just going to be able to plus up and then the new ones that we’re going to have to stand up.
So, with something like INFRA, RAISE, I think that sees more than a two-fold increase in the authorized funding. So, here you have — and, by the way, they’re not waiting on us in Washington to invent these construction projects, right? The communities are applying with them, and then we’re just able to fund that many more. And we’re already — even though I’m going through the applications for this year’s RAISE program now, we will, in very short order, be working on next year’s. And you’ll see a notice go out.
But, again, some things we need to stand up a whole new program — Safe Streets for All, Reconnecting Communities, Healthy Ports. And so that will take a little bit longer.
Remember, this isn’t 2009; this is an era where it’s about making sure we hit every shovel-ready program to — for that immediate short-term boost for the economy. It’s short term, but it’s long term. That’s why the President talks about looking back on this moment from the 2050s.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And we can do two more.
Q Just to follow up on that: We were down in Mississippi talking to farmers who have had bridges close down in their area for two or three years. So, when exactly can Americans expect to see a difference in their lives? Will it be two to three months, or will it be sometime sooner?
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Well, that’s the beginning. Right? I mean, you know, the short answer is: as fast as many of these agencies and workforces can absorb those dollars when the formula increases or when a new grant is available.
So, some things soon. But again, this is about many, many, years ahead, starting now.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, (inaudible).
Q Secretary —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You go first, and then (inaudible).
Q A quick follow-up on Jeff’s question. On — when you’re reviewing the applications, do you have adequate staff at DOT to review all of the applications that’ll be coming in? And then I have one more question.
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Great question. Yes, but we’re going to have to grow as well. And that’s one of the things we’ve been one working on, is how to make sure we’re staffed up properly and how to make sure we’re organized properly. And we’re talking about, I believe, $660 billion over that stretch of years that we need to manage responsibly.
Of course, there’s an admin dimension to that to make sure that we have the right — the right staffing, human power.
Q And in terms of the highway money that will go directly to states, is there something that you can do to encourage or to make sure that that money isn’t used to just widen roads and encourage more people to drive? Because I know that’s been a concern of some of the progressives in the transportation community.
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Right. I mean, this is not just about adding, this is about being smarter in terms of how people move around.
Now, you know, the best way to allow people to move in ways that are better for congestion and better for climate is to give them alternatives. So, I know our transit funding doesn’t sound like a highway policy, but actually, part of what takes the pressure off the highways is this unprecedented historic funding for transit. Right?
Having said that, you know, we’re certainly, when there’s any discretion involved — so, especially on the discretionary programs — we’re going to think about what’s really going to help solve the problem. Sometimes you add lanes to a road, you just get that many more cars, and you’re no better off in terms of congestion or pollution.
We’re also interested in some of the performance measures that are being contemplated as part of the second round. But with this legislation, we definitely have the tools to make a positive difference on that front.
Q Mr. Secretary, just spinning forward to the next bit of legislation — the larger social safety net bill — the House version of that legislation includes family leave — paid family leave. The Senate has indicated it will be stripped out, and it didn’t meet the President’s framework a couple of weeks ago.
You just came off some family leave. I was hoping you could talk to — about the benefits of that and the — number one.
And then, number two, given your experience, do you think that should be a red line for the President to keep that in there so that all Americans have access to that benefit?
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Well, the President put forward a framework that he’s confident can pass the House and the Senate. I think it’s also no secret how I feel about family leave and how the President does, which is why, you know, he proposed it, I think campaigned on it, and will continue to fight for it.
Q Thank you. And —
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: And the importance of it is that it’s — you know, it’s not — it’s talked about as “time off.” It’s time to do work — good work, joyful work, meaningful work. But it’s time to do important work.
But let me also say, as a new parent, thinking about the difference that will be made by what’s in the framework: the universal access to three- and four-year-old — preschool; making childcare affordable for families across the spectrum; that Child Tax Credit — I mean, that’s going to be huge and it’s going to make such a big difference for new parents.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, last question. Josh.
Q Hi. Thank you. Can you circle back to the — your other hat is supply chain — sorry, (inaudible). On the trucker issue, the Teamsters have said that these truckers should unionize, should be treated like other stakeholders. Do you agree with that? Should they be able to unionize?
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Well, you know, we’re very pro-union. One of the things we’re proud of is how this legislation will create more good-paying union jobs. And I think truckers who are unionized have more of those protections in terms of their health, in terms of their compensation. And that has a lot of benefits in terms of their effectiveness.
Look, if you have an industry with 90 percent turnover — 90 percent per year turnover at the larger employers of truckers — there’s clearly an issue with the quality of the job. And one tool for improving the quality of that job is union representation.
Q But the administration has been silent on the Teamster’s specific call for this. Do you endor- — so you’re endorsing these — the short-haul truckdrivers’ (inaudible)?
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: I mean, I don’t know if you’re applying that to a particular employer, but what I would say is that, you know, we believe in what unions can do to enhance the standing of workers in any industry.
And — but also for — you know, for independent truck drivers, I mean, it’s very clear that there’s an issue with what happens when they get to the gate of a port, for example. And that largely has to do with compensation structures across the industry that are over and above what the union issue speaks to.
Q Do think the bottlenecks are still in Los Angeles and Long Beach, or are they moving in the most recent weeks as steps have been taken to sort of ease the congestion?
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: So, I think we’ve — we’ve certainly seen —
Q What’s the state of things right now?
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, we’ve seen some steps that are, we think, making a big difference there in terms of moves to clear the containers — obviously the 24/7 ops.
But, look, the bottom line is — and I think this is important — not everybody may be following this: It’s not that the ports are moving less goods, that they’ve somehow been less able to move. They’re moving more goods than ever. It’s just that it’s still not keeping up with the demand.
National Retail Federation predicts an all-time record high this year, and that’s enormous pressure. And whenever you have enormous pressure on a system, you will find the weakest links in that system. And that, frankly, could pop up at any juncture around the U.S., which is why we’re very focused on LA and Long Beach, because that’s 40 percent of the containers coming in.
But, you know, anywhere, including 1,000 miles inland at some multimodal facility that’s gummed up. I mean, anywhere in the country you can see these issues.
Q So, are they not the bottleneck anymore?
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Huh?
Q Are they not the bottleneck anymore? Is it moving to —
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: What I’m saying is it’s not a matter of “the bottleneck.” Right? It’s a matter — I mean, anywhere — literally, anywhere in our economy, there is a relationship between a manufacturer, a shipper, and a retailer. There are a thousand points in that chain where something can go wrong.
And we’re seeing a lot of those points reveal themselves because of the enormous demand, the constraints on supply, the outdated infrastructure that it all runs across, and then the fact that the pandemic is poking holes in all of the above, which is why the other thing I think is important to point out, having seen shortages in — you know, it started with toilet paper, then it was beef last year.
The best way to end a pandemic-related shortage is to end the pandemic, and that’s why the vaccine push is so important.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Great. Thank you so much.
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Thanks.
Q Thank you.
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Thanks again. Really great being with you.
Q Thank you, Mayor Pete.
Q Safe travels.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Inaudible.) (Laughs.)
SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Thanks.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you so much. Have a safe trip.
All right, I got one thing at the top and then we’ll dive in.
So, later this afternoon, the First Lady will kick off a nationwide effort urging parents and guardians to vaccinate eligible children. The CDC’s recommendation of pediatric COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11 represents a major step forward in the country’s fight against COVID-19.
The First Lady and U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, will visit a pediatric COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean, Virginia, the first school to administer the polio vaccine in 1954 — a fun fact.
Coupled with First Lady’s push, on Monday Secretaries Becerra and Cardona sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to school superintendents and elementary school principals across the nation to take a series of steps to encourage children vaccinations, including by holding vaccination clinics at schools, hosting community conversations with pediatricians about the importance of vaccinations for children and to answer parents’ questions about the vaccine, and providing parents with trusted information about the vaccine as well.
The administration is also encouraging districts across the country to set up school-located vaccine clinics by using their American Rescue Plan funds to help operationalize these clinics and by using providers through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program to administer a vaccine.
With that, Zeke, go for it.
Q Thanks, Karine. We heard this initial White House response to the Fifth Circuit staying the OSHA rule — the vaccine or test mandate that was (inaudible) — really take effect there beginning of next year. What’s the — is the White House concerned that the legal wrangling surrounding that rule could delay the implementation of that? And what’s the administration’s message to businesses and Americans, you know, who are subject to that rule?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, broadly speaking, at least on the confidence, defending a policy is not a new thing from an administration, regardless if it’s a Republican or Democratic administration. This is something that happens all the time.
The administration clearly has the authority to protect workers, and actions announced by the President are designed to save lives and stop the spread of COVID-19. And as DOJ said, they will be defending these lawsuits.
But I also want to step back for a second because there is precedence here. You know, the Department of Labor has a responsibility to keep workers safe and the legal authority to do so. The Secretary determines — the Secretary of Department of Labor determines workers at risk or what is called “grave danger.”
And if you look around and if we really, you know, zero in, this past year, more than 750,000 people have died of COVID. You have more — about thirt- — approximately 1,300 people a day who are also — who continue to die a day, as I said, from COVID. If that’s not a “grave danger,” I don’t know what else is. Right?
So, I want to be really clear as well — is that the Congress empowered OSHA with — through a law — through a law that has been in the books for more than 50 years. So, this is an authority that we believe that Department of Labor has. We are very confident about it — confident about it. And just to — just to say this is about keeping people safe in the workplace, and it’s critical and it’s important to do. And so that’s the message that we want to send out.
Q And what — you know, simply, though, to a business owner that sees the headlines that, you know, the rule has been stayed now, just, you know, will — should they prepare their employees now to get vaccinated, or should they wait while this law is — plays out?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, that’s a great question. I appreciate the question. We think we — people should not wait. It’s — we say: Do not wait to take actions that will keep your workplace safe. It is important and critical to do, and waiting to get more people vaccinated will lead to more outbreaks and sickness.
So, this is about keeping people in a workplace safe. And so — and what we’re seeing is more businesses and school closures and most lost jobs in — keep us — keep us stuck in a pandemic that we’re trying to end. Like we do not want that to happen. We’re trying to get past this pandemic, and we know the way to do that is to get people vaccinated.
So, people should not wait. They should continue to go — move forward and make sure that they’re getting their workplace vaccinated.
Q And can I just follow up on Kaitlan’s question to Secretary Buttigieg earlier? What will the President’s sales pitch look like on the infrastructure bill when he signs it? Is he going to be traveling? Is he going to be sending his Cabinet out there?
And particularly, this time, given the lessons learned from the Affordable Care Act and other Democrat priorities, the importance of actually going out and selling it, how important does the President believe that his voice out there, talking about the benefits of that bill, will be to his legacy?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, it’s critically important. And you’ve — we’ve — you know, you’ve traveled with us. We’ve been across the country — in different regions of the country where the President has talked about his economic policy — Build Back Better Act and the bipartisan infrastructure.
And it’s — it’s critical. This is a once-in-a-generation investment that the President talks about, we talk about — I mean, this is one of the reasons we had Secretary Buttigieg here is to have that conversation, continue to talk about the key components in here, which is the roads and — and also, let’s not forget climate change and the bridges and the ports — all of the things that we need to make sure that there are good-paying union jobs and to make sure that we are investing in our country, make sure that we are competitive with China.
So, the President is going to continue to have those conversations, continue — you’ll hear — continue to hear from him. He will travel and make sure that, to your point, the American people hear directly from him about the importance.
But also, you’ll have the Cabinet Secretaries out there. You have White House officials out there.
And so, it is important to sell this — yes, to sell this, but to — for the people to understand that this is going to make a transformational change in their lives, an investment that we haven’t seen in — in my whole entire lifetime. And it’s going to be critical and important.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, Jeff.
Q Thanks, Karine. The President has indicated that he will be making a decision on the Fed Chair soon. He appears to have interviewed two candidates. Can you give us an update on anyone else he’s interviewing and give us any sense more on the timeline?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I cannot confirm any — any interviews that he may or may not have had. Somebody asked — asked me about this on Friday.
Look, I mean, the President spoke to this last week; you were — you were with us in both Scotland and in Rome where he was asked that question. I believe in Scotland he was asked that question during his press conference.
And so, I don’t have any announcements for you today. The President will continue to engage with his senior economic team in a careful and thoughtful process to appoint a Federal Reserve Chair. And that’s all I have for you today, Jeff.
Q One other topic. The President’s and the Vice President’s poll numbers have been falling. How big of a concern is that for this White House, particularly with an eye towards the midterm elections just a year from now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Are you talking about a particular poll?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No? Just in general?
Q In general.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, you know, one of the things that I want to say is that we are confident that our policies will improve the lives of nearly every American, and so grow our economy and create jobs. That’s our focus: to make sure that we continue to push the President’s economic policies.
And, you know, look, polls are all over the map. And that’s not going to be our focus right now. The President was also asked this last Tuesday. And he wants to make sure that we deliver for the American public. And that is — that is what we’re going to — that’s what we’re going to focus on.
And, also, like poll after poll, including the poll that you may be thinking of or other polls that are out there, has showed us the components of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and the Build Back Better framework are very popular. And that’s important to note.
And American families want to see these historic investment in infrastructure. They want to see it in care. They want to see in competitive. They want to see in this — addressing the climate crisis. And so, that’s what we’re seeing. And that’s what matters as we’re moving forward — is delivering for the American public.
Go ahead. Go ahead, Weijia.
Q Karine, thank you. To follow up on what Jeff and Sabrina were trying to ask the Secretary: The President said Americans would feel the impact of the projects within two to three months, but I didn’t hear a single specific project that will be launched. So, has the administration identified any? Any that you can share?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything — I don’t have anything to announce as to any specifics. We’ll have more on the implementation of this as the days go by, the weeks go by. And so, stay tuned. We’ll have a lot more to share.
But, as you can imagine, implementing this is critical and important to us. If you look at the American Rescue Plan, which we believe was a success, that’s one of the reasons we saw the job numbers that we saw on Friday with 531,000 jobs in the last month.
So, we want to continue making sure that we deliver. And so, just like we did with the American Rescue Plan, we’ll make sure to do this with the bipartisan infrastructure framework as well.
Q For so long, you and President Biden have talked about the urgency of passing this bill. Now it’s passed, so why is he waiting to sign it? And when will he sign it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, he talked about this on Saturday. He — and he basically said he wants to make sure the congressional members who worked very, very hard on this, when they come back, then we’ll — we’ll figure out a time to sign it. But you’re right, it’s — it’s urgent, but we also want to make sure that the people who spent the last couple of weeks, last couple of months just all in, delivering on this — on this promise, are here for the signing as well.
Q So, do you have a date in mind?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I do not have a date, but it will be very soon.
Q And then, turning to reconciliation, does President Biden believe Congress should wait for a CBO score to vote on it, or not?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, here’s the thing: As you know, Weijia — and I talked about this probably on Thursday, probably on Friday — I can’t remember now. But, as you know, we put forward our score. We put forward, through the Treasury — there was a Treasury blog. There was also the JCT that put out a number as well, which — which was the — kind of the first part before — before the CBO puts out their number.
And we said that there’s more — it’s going to be more than paid for. I believe our number was $2.1 trillion. And so, we are confident that this is going to be paid for. We are confident that it will add zero dollars to the deficit. Moody’s has said this as well, and so — and other economists have said this.
And so, we’re going to, you know, continue to move forward. And that’s why we wanted to be transparent, which is why we worked across the — across agencies, across — across the administration to make sure that we put out a number to show that it could be raised.
Q So, he wants them to use that number or wait for the CBO?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, we just wanted to make sure that, again, we were transparent; we put out what we thought it would be — would be raised. And so, that’s what we put out there last week.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Peter.
Q Thank you. The Energy Secretary says, about the cost of Americans heating their homes in the winter, “It will be more expensive this year than last year.” So, why is the administration now considering shutting down the Line 5 pipeline from Canada to Michigan?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, Peter, that is inaccurate. That is not com- — that is not right. So, any reporting indicating that some decision has been made, again, is not accurate.
But what I will say is — I’ll lay this out for you for a little bit here: Where we are at — where we are is — with this is that Canada has decided to invoke, dispute resolution provisions of the 1977 Transit Pipelines treaty.
We expect that both the U.S. and Canada will engage constructively in those negotiations. In addition to being one of the closest allies, Canada remains a key U.S. partner in energy trade, as well as efforts to address climate change and protect the environment.
I will also add this, too: is that the current — the current Line 5 pipeline is subject to litigation between Enbridge and the state of Michigan.
So, again, I would — it is inaccurate what you just stated, but —
Q What’s inaccurate?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The reporting. The reporting about us wanting to shut down the Line 5.
Q I didn’t say “wanting.” I said, is it being studied right now? Is the administration studying the impact of shutting down —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — the Line 5?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, we are. We are. That —
Q So then what’s inaccurate?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I thought you were saying that we were going to shut it down.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But that is — that is not inaccurate.
Q Just asking.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Great. Great, great, great. But the Army Corps of Engineers is preparing an environmental impact to look through this.
Q Okay. And then, now that the President is on the record, as of Saturday, supporting compensation for illegal immigrants who were separated from family at the border, who counts as separated? If somebody was just separated for a few hours or a few days, would they be eligible to settle a suit and get this payment from DOJ?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, Peter, I will direct you to the Department of Justice for any specifics on that. We have — we have — you’ve asked us this question, we have answered it, and I will refer you to the Department of Justice on any specifics.
Q The President is going into great detail, though, about the policy. So, if he can answer it, I just — I’m curious — going back to 2018, some illegal immigrants were given a choice: get deported alone or get deported with their kids. If somebody chose to be separated, chose to go back by themselves without their family, would they be eligible to settle one of these lawsuits?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Peter, I’m going to refer you to the Department of Justice. I don’t have anything more to say. And I’m going to move on, okay?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, thank you. Go ahead, Kaitlan.
Q Is the White House’s assessment still that Democrats should be able to pass the second piece of this legislation — the Build Back Better Agenda — by Thanksgiving?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we’re going to work very hard to make sure that this gets done. As you know, on Friday, the House voted on a rule to make sure that on November — the week of November 15, that it moves forward out of the House.
And so, we’re going to just continue — the President on Friday was, you know, burning — burning the phone lines and calling members. Clearly, I’m not going to get into specifics on private conversations, but making sure that the support was there to move that out of the — out of the House.
And so, we’re just going to continue to do that — have conversations with members of the House, have co- — and the — and the Senate, clearly. And that’ll be on the President’s level and also a staff level.
But I don’t — I don’t have any specifics there. But that is our plan: to try and get this out as soon as possible.
Q So is Thanksgiving, though, generally the timeline when you talk about this?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have a timing for you. I’m just saying that we’re going to work really hard to get it done. It’s — it’s going to go for a vote the week of November 15th out of the House, and then we’re going to work with Leader Schumer to make sure that get — that it gets done.
Q Okay. And on what Secretary Granholm and what she was saying yesterday, what options, besides tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, does the President have to counteract higher gas prices?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, you know, we’ve — I’ve talked about this a couple of times. You know, we have — we don’t have an announcement yet on anything — anything to share at this time. You know, but we’re monitoring it. Right? We’re monitoring the prices and we’re making sure that we have tools in our toolbelts that we can — we can — we can try and use. But at this time, I don’t have anything new to share.
Q But just what else are you reviewing? Because Secretary Granholm has confirmed that is an option that’s on the table, and the President has said there are other tools that you could potentially use. So, could you just lay out what those other options are that he’s considering?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I don’t — again, I don’t — I don’t have anything specific here. The President spoke to this recently. But he’s also asked the FTC to crack down on illegal pricing. Right? That is one thing that he did on gouging in the market. And the FTC is responding. But, also, we’re going to continue to monitor the situation and have a number of tools in our arsenal. As I just mentioned, I don’t have anything specific.
Okay. Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Karine. We know President Biden signed an executive order on September 9th that requires White House and agency employees to be fully vaccinated by the — November 22nd. We know that a person needs two weeks after their last shot to be considered protected, so that means that workers would have to be vaccinated by the end of today. So do you have an estimate of how many in the federal workforce are on track to meet these requirements?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, agencies will release their vaccination rates once they complete — complete their process. But I just wanted to say: Vaccine requirements — as we all know, as we’ve talked about here — work. We already know the Department of Defense is at 97 percent of their active-duty troops vaccinated, and we’re seeing strong compliance across the federal government. Tens of thousands of federal workers get vaccinated each week. Additionally, agencies are moving forward in real time with collecting vaccination and compliance data. And as expected, numbers continue to rise as we approach the deadline and more federal employees input their documentation.
So federal workers have until November 22nd to get vaccinated. And as we have made clear, the deadline is not a cliff for employees in comp- — compliance; they will go through education, counseling, accommodations, and enforcement as is standard to their agency.
But, again, agencies will release their own on — their own numbers.
Q And we can expect them to be transparent about that — releasing the data?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, absolutely. We — they will be transparent.
Q Can you — just following up on the Line Five thing, you’re saying the Army Corps of Engineers is studying —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — the prospect of closing it or just studying it (inaudible)?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I’ll —
Q I just want to —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yep.
Q — clarify what you said.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, no, happy to.
So, the Army Corps of Engineers is preparing an environmental impact statement on Line Five and the construction of that replacement line.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So that is at issue here.
The EIS will help inform any additional action or position the U.S. will be taking on the replacement of Line Five. This is a — consistent with the President Biden’s commitment that every infrastructure project — potential pipelines very much include — included must undergo a full and fair review that considers the environmental impact that those projects would have.
And so, you know, any other further information on that, I would refer you to the Army Corps of Engineers.
Q Is it fair to say the administration is waiting on the result of —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’re waiting, right?
Q — the review?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: There is a review, and we’re waiting.
Q And going back to the Fed question earlier, one of the members of the board announced his resignation today. Do you have any comment or reaction to the Governor Quarles’s reaction?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, yeah, I don’t have anything on that for you. But this obviously just happened a couple of hours ago. And so, we’re — and we’re certainly thankful to Randy Quarles for his service. And I’m sure the President will engage with his senior economic team in a careful and thoughtful process to find a replacement.
Q And do you see any link — you now have three spots to fill over the coming months, aside from Chairman Powell. Is there any link between the number of vacancies and your decision whether to keep the Chair? In other words, does having an opportunity to remake the Board without switching the Chair factor into the President’s decision at all?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, I — you know, I’m not going to, you know, go into what the President — how is he — he’s making his decision. All I can say is that this is incredibly important to the President and he’s taking this very seriously.
Q And is this a days, weeks, or months — you know, months thing?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t — I don’t have a timeline. I know — I know this is an important question.
Q We are so into it, Karine. (Laughter.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I know. You guys are so into it.
Q It’s our biggest thing.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I know. I know. I know.
Q So are we. So are we. (Laughter.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I know. I know.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I know. I know.
Q He’s — you’re joking, but, you know, it’s (inaudible).
Thank you very much, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. I promise, as soon as we know, we’ll sha- — we’ll share that information.
Q Very kind. Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q When you look at the situation with a vote on the Bipartisan Infrastructure the other night, there were a handful of progressives who voted against it; they explained their reasons.
Going into Build Back Better, there is no margin among Democrats — really just a couple of votes — that you could possibly lose in the House, none in the Senate.
What is the strategy when you know you’re not — more than likely not going to have any Republican support to cover for that, when it is possible there will be changes made by the Senate that may not be in the interest shared by the Progressive Caucus — tightening up some of the provisions within that? So how will the President approach that, trying to keep progressives on board when six very prominent progressives voted against the first piece of the Biden agenda?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You know, Kelly O, I’ll say this: You know, we’re going to approach it the same way we approached American Rescue Plan — right? — which people thought we weren’t going to get that done. We’re going to approach it the same way we’re — we approached the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, which folks said we wouldn’t make that happen.
And so, right now we’re two for two. Right? And so, we believe that this is going to get done. The President is committed to this. This is part of his agenda — right? — the economic policy agenda that you hear us — we say this all the time, that 81 million people voted for, last year — just a year ago.
And so, this — these are popular components of his economic policies, when you look at both the BIF and the bipartisan — bipart- — Build Back Better Act.
And so, we’re going to just — he’s going to — we’re going to continue to work with Congress. We’re going to continue to work with the Speaker. We’re going to continue to work with Leader Schumer and have those conversations across the aisle to get it done. Because this is something that the American public, the American people need. This is a once-in-a-generation, you know, investment. We’re talking about childcare. We’re talking about eldercare. We’re talking about making sure that, you know, medical expenses are — you know, are not your whole entire check, when you think about pharmaceutical drugs.
I mean, we’re talking about child — a child — I said childcare already, but all of these things — climate change. Right? When you put those two bills together, it’s historical in the way that’s going to get us to where we need to go to fighting climate change in a real way.
So, these are so important to the President. We’re going to continue to work on it. But, you know, we got the American Rescue Plan done. We got the Bipartisan Infrastructure done when people didn’t think we would.
Q Do you expect the President will add sort of to his Daily Briefing the update on what’s happening with infrastructure projects and things so that there will be —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — an inflow of information about what these projects are in a practical sense? Will there be a — sort of an in-house, inside the White House sort of central clearing house for this since it does deal with many departments of the government?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. Well, as you know, this is nothing new to the President. When he was Vice President, he — he was — he led the Rescue Act — Recovery Act, pardon me. And so, he knows how this is done. He knows how implementation works. And so, knowing this President, he’s going to want to know every component of how it’s going. And so, we’re going to stay on top of it. It’s going to be key.
In order for the American people to feel this, this has to be implemented. So, we’re going to make sure that happens.
Go ahead, Sabrina.
Q Karine, thank you. The U.S. is now accepting fully vaccinated travelers from countries that were previously restricted during the pandemic. And given how rapidly the Delta variant spread here within the United States over the summer, why are there still no vaccine or testing requirements for domestic travel?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, you know, we say this all the time: Everything is on the table. We just don’t have any announcement to preview right now on this. So, I don’t have anything more to share on the domestic travel.
Q And separate topic —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q Before his foreign trip, the President signaled he was considering some changes — possible changes to the filibuster and would have more to say soon. Do you have any update on where he stands? And would he support a carveout, for example, for another debt ceiling increase this December?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything more to share on that. But I would say — we’ve talked about this with the debt ceiling: We believe that it should be done in regular order, just like it was done just a couple of weeks ago. And that’s the way that we think we should move forward. But clearly, we’re going to work closely with members on the Hill, with Leader Schumer on the next steps on the — on this.
Q Thank you. Thank you, Karine. On foreign policy, I have two related questions on the U.S.-Russia relationship, if I may. First, could you give us a readout on talks that CIA Director Burns held in Moscow last week? He was there at the request of the President.
And, secondly, there was a discussion of a new contact or a meeting or whatever between President Biden and President Putin. There was a pull-aside between President Biden and Foreign Minister Lavrov in Rome. Could the two Presidents meet virtually or in person before the year is out?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, on your second question, I don’t have anything to preview on any meeting.
On the first one, as you stated, CIA Director William Burns, at the President’s request, led a delegation of senior U.S. officials to Moscow on November 2nd and 3rd, as you just stated. They met with members of Russian government to discuss a range of issues in the bilateral relationship. I don’t have anything further.
Q Thank you so much. Regarding the OSHA vaccine case, you mentioned the high number of Americans who died over the course of the year. But cases are falling, many workplaces have already implanted safety measures that appear to be working. So how does the administration explain what is the grave danger at this time — now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, we still have 1,300 people a day — approximately 1,300 people a day dying of COVID. That is — that — we should not — that should not be the number that we’re looking at.
And we believe that in order to get this pandemic behind us, we get — we need to get more people vaccinated, and this is a way to do that.
And we see vaccination requirements work. And also, it’s important to keep people safe in their workplace. That should be — you know, that should be mission critical in making sure that that happens. And so we’re going to — you know, we feel confident about the legal component of this. The Department of Labor have the — has the authority to move forward in making sure that they keep the workplace safe.
And so, yeah, we have to make sure that we get this pandemic behind us.
Q On infrastructure, the President is going to be out promoting. You’ve talked about that he’s going to be, you know, getting his voice out and talking to the American people directly.
I just wanted to ask, though: How does he balance promoting infrastructure while also, kind of, you know, kind of digging in to make sure that the bigger social service/climates package is conducted? I mean, how does he tour as well as, you know, work the phones and meet with members here in Washington to get the up — to get the bigger package done?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, the President can manage multiple things at once. That’s not unusual from — for any president or for this president.
And when he did travel — when he was traveling, talking about his economic policy, he talked about both. If you listen to his speeches, he laid out the advantages and the importance of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, and he laid out the importance of the bipartisan — I’m sorry, the Build Back Better Act, and laid out why those two key pieces of policies are going to get America back on track, to continue that investment that we saw with the American Rescue Plan. So, this is something that he has been doing and he will just continue to do.
Q Just a follow-up on the messaging questions. Are there specific lessons that the White House learned from selling the American Rescue Plan earlier this year that they’ll apply or do better or do differently this time around with the infrastructure legislation?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That’s such a great question. I don’t have any specifics to pull out or to call out on things that we can improve on.
We believe the American Rescue Plan was incredibly successful. I mean, if you just, again, look at the jobs numbers for last month; if you look at how much the economy is coming back: 620,000 jobs a month since the President took office; 5.6 million jobs; 531,000 jobs just last month. And a lot of that was because of the American Rescue Plan and the decisiveness — the decision that the President took to make that happen, and also getting people vaccinated.
His vaccination strategy played a big role. So, that’s to — you know, to your question, over here: The importance of getting our — turning our economy back on is also to get people vaccinated. It’s all correlated. It’s all connected. And so that’s — that’s the important thing to remember.
Q Karine, can I follow up on vaccinations?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Sure.
Q Kansas Governor Laura Kelly, a Democrat, put out a statement Friday criticizing the OSHA rule, saying she doesn’t believe this directive is the “correct, or most effective, solution for Kansas.” You’ve repeatedly pushed back on Republican officials —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — in this context. But does a statement like that, from a Democratic governor, undermine the White House’s message and complicate your ability to persuade the public that this is the best policy?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, look, I mean, the way that we see it — and we — and this is the thing that we repeat all the time: We know the vaccine requirements work, and we’re going to continue to push that. I know — we’re going to make sure that we get as many people vaccinated. It is — it is so important to get this pandemic behind us and to get the economy going.
And so, that’s — I mean, that’s going to continue to be our message is to tell anyone that we’re working with, whether it’s a Democrat or Republican, that this is how we have to move forward to make sure that we get out of the situation that we’re in, to get out of this pandemic again.
Q May I also follow up on vaccination?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q You just mentioned a lot of stats that you guys were citing on Friday with the latest jobs report but also just jobs in general since the President took office and the progress from the Rescue Plan. How do you square that with how voters sort of reacted and felt in the states on Tuesday? Obviously, New Jersey, Virginia, elsewhere. Clearly there’s a lag, at least, in terms of how people are feeling about the economy and about the results so far.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I mean, it’s basically what the President said — you know? — which is why I think it was a huge step forward that the bipartisan infrastructure plan got passed last Friday. And that’s — and that’s in — to credit the members on — in the House — in both chambers, actually, and also the President working in partnership with them.
And so, you know, we have to deliver. That’s what the President said. We have to deliver and make sure that the American people see what we’re doing here in Washington, D.C.
So, we’re going to continue to do that. Build Back Better is going to get done. We’re very confident about that. You heard the President say that himself on Saturday. And he’s going to work very hard to deliver that.
Q And can you provide any more clarity on the upcoming virtual summit with President Xi? Is that — do you have maybe a closer approximation of a date for that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, let me see if I have something.
So, as we’ve said, we have an agreement in principle with the PRC that President Xi and President Biden will have a virtual bilateral meeting before the end of the year. This is part of our ongoing efforts to responsibly manage the competition between our countries, not only — not about seeking specific deliverables, so I want to make clear on that. And working-level discussion — working-level discussions are underway to confirm details, but I don’t have any updates for you at this time or announcement on a time on this.
Q Can you say whether that’s going to be before Thanksgiving or after?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t. All we have is “before the end of the year,” as I just stated.
Q A question on COVID. You mentioned that there are still, you know, an average of like almost 1,300 people a day —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Approximate — yeah, approximately.
Q — people dying. At the current rate that we’re going, do you have an idea of when the pandemic could become an — you know, could cease to be a pandemic? And what would that — what does the endgame look like at this point?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, I — I do not know. I would refer you to public health experts, the CDC. I — that’s not something that we’re zeroing in on.
Our focus is to make sure we do everything we can to save lives and get people vaccinated.
Q Because people are sort of wondering, you know —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — what does that look like and how much longer is it going to go on. And obviously, you can’t see the future, but is — you know, is there a picture of what people can expect as we, you know, try to wind this down?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, honestly, Chris, our focus is to make sure we get as many people vaccinated, right? We want to — I mean, if you think about it, this time last year, there were no vaccines, right? We’ve come a long way in just these first 10 months in making sure — like, we have 80 percent of Americans have at least one shot; 70 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated. Now we’ve opened it up for the ages 5 to 11, thank you — thanks to the CDC and FDA and their ruling and their decision.
And so, our job that we see here in the administration is to make sure that these vaccines are readily available, that they’re free — right? — and that we make it as easy as possible for people to get vaccinated, and that we message that out.
And so, that’s our focus: to be in a different place than we were, you know, six months ago, different place than we were a year ago, and really just kind of move forward on getting people vaccinated.
Go ahead. Go ahead, Karen. Go ahead, Karen.
Q If I could follow up on that. You talked about the First Lady going out there today to Virginia and that she’s going to be doing events like this in the coming weeks. What is the goal to have the First Lady out there? What message is the administration hoping she can convey? How can she be an effective messenger?
And then, I asked this question a couple of weeks ago, maybe months ago: Now that we’re here and that the 5 through — age 5 through 11 can get vaccinated, how has the administration shifted its approach and strategy toward convincing those parents who are hesitant? Because the polls are showing a very significant portion of that age group, their parents are worried and waiting a little bit. You’ve done this for adults, you’ve done this for teens, but now these young kids. How does that strategy change?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, on your first question about Dr. Biden — the First Lady: I mean, she is a powerful voice just as First Lady and also as herself, as Dr. Biden, and, you know, a mom, a grandmother. She understands what parents are feeling. Right? She understands what it means to go through this process.
So, I — you know, I think that — we think that she is incredibly credible — right? — and has a powerful messenger, going to schools and really comforting parents if they have questions or comforting kids who are — you know, who are getting vaccinated.
And so, we’re happy to see her out there. She’ll be out there more. And, you know — and we’re going to continue to try and make sure that parents feel comfortable and people — and more kids get vaccinated and more adults get vaccinated in the process.
Q And a follow-up, just in terms of the strategy.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, I — Vivek — Dr. Vivek Murthy talked about this — talked about what is it that they’re doing to address the hesitancy of parents.
As you could imagine, we say — we’ve said this the last couple of months: is having trusted voices are key — right? — your pediatrician — making sure you’re talking to your pediatrician about this, making sure you’re talking to public experts.
And so, we’ll continue to have those conversations. And I would also refer you to Dr. Murthy and what he has said in the past on this as well.
Q Can I follow up on a question? Can I follow up on a question — the answer to the question you gave about the vaccine mandate for federal employees? You said agencies will release their vaccination rates once the process is completed. Will that include how many employees have asked for religious exemptions and how many are being granted them?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have specifics on how the breakdown is going to be, but I know that that’s where it’s going to come from, and they’ll release the numbers. I don’t know like the specifics.
Q But that’s something they’re not telling us now.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay.
Q We’ve asked and others have asked, and they’re not (inaudible).
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. I can — I can go back and get that particular question for you answered, but I know that that’s where it’s going to come from.
Q Karine, a question from the fifth row, please.
Q Karine —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q Thank you. Quick question: You talked about how this infrastructure plan is going to impact jobs numbers, and we’ve heard in the jobs report in the past. Within the Black community, it’s a little bit different. So can you talk about — which the rate is almost double. So can you talk about, with this plan, how — is there any target number? Or how specifically is it going to impact the Black community?
And also, with the — going back to the American Rescue Plan with $1.9 trillion almost hitting the streets, municipalities getting a hold of this pot, how are you making sure to track that this money has been distributed equitably?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, that is something that the President has been very clear about, about all of his policies — even if you look at his COVID strategy — is to have equity at the center of this.
If you look at — talking about the American Rescue Plan, if you look at the Child Tax Credit, about 34 — and when we talk about it cutting up child poverty for the American — for the Black American community, it’s about 34, 36 percent it cut child poverty.
So those things are important and critical. But we’re going to continue to make sure that all of the — all of this is done equitable — equitably. I mean, like I said, if you look at the COVID strategy that we had, it was done in an equitable way, and we’re going to continue to do that with the Ameri- — we did that with the American Rescue Plan, and we’ll continue to do that with both of his economic policies. Bipartisan Infrastructure clearly has been passed. And we’re going to make sure once the Build Back Better Act is passed, that it — we see that — that equity at the center of everything that we do.
Q And concerning the jobs numbers?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, so you’re talking about the Black unemployment rate?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. So we know there’s a lot of
votality [volatility] when it comes to individual groups because of small sample sizes. So it’s critical to look at broader trends instead of individual data points.
So, when you do that, you’ll see that we’ve made real progress across the board, including the African Americans going from — with African Americans going from 9.2 — 9.2 percent unemployment when the President took office to 7.9 percent. Like, we know that’s still really too high and there’s still a lot of work to do, but there has been a difference that we wanted to point out.
So, we need to continue to build on the strong labor market. We have to ensure that the growth we’re seeing is broadly shared, which is so important. And we need to deliver on the President’s economic agenda, which is going to make critical investments in pre-K, the care economy, education, housing — which, Ebony, I know you ask about a lot on housing — and other areas that are key for creating jobs, better jobs, Black workers, and workers from every race and background.
So, equity at the center of everything that he does, every policy, remains to be — remains to be the key here.
Q Can you talk about what he’s going to be saying on Wednesday when he’s in Baltimore?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything to preview for you. Hopefully we’ll have something tomorrow to preview for the next day, but I don’t have anything here for you right now.
Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q Okay. So, Karine, the President said, in Baltimore, that he could not move on voting rights at that moment, as they were dealing with infrastructure. Now the heavy lift on the Hill is done with infrastructure. What’s next as it comes to voting rights in his push to lean in to deal with the filibuster?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, so, as you know, in March, the President said he had an “open mind about dealing” — this is quotes — “about dealing with the certain things that are just elemental to the functioning of our democracy, like the right to vote — like the basic right to vote. We’ve amended the filibuster in the past.”
So, he’s open to it. I don’t — I think someone just asked me that question. I don’t have anything new on that particular piece.
But, look, the President is committed to making sure that the fundamental right to vote is — you know, it still exists — right? — and is going to continue to fight for this. And he’s done things within the administration to make sure that we’re dealing it and doing everything that he can from the power of the White House. So the President’s historic executive order in March, which agencies have now submitted action plans for; working to double the Voting rights staff in the Civil Rights Division at DOJ; and appointing the Vice President, at her request, to lead the administration-wide effort using the bully pulpit and convening power of the White House.
Look, you know, we are frustrated just like everybody else is frustrated on this. And so, we’re going to continue — the President is going to continue to voice — you know, voice his concern and continue to fight to make sure that we really address the issue of voting rights, especially with all these pieces of legislation that we’re currently seeing across the country.
Q So, Karine, does the President believe that he’s racing against the clock in dealing with the filibuster and voting rights?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think he sees this as a very important issue that needs to be addressed. And so, he’s going to continue to do that. He did that — when he was in Pennsylvania, he talked about it. He does that when he’s having conversations with congressional members, when he’s had conversation with civil rights leaders about how to move forward and how to make sure that we’re protecting the right to vote. And so, he’ll continue to — continue to make that a priority
Q And because this is such a weighty issue, did the President — was the President aware that MLK III was arrested last week? Is he aware that Joe Madison, former board member of the NAACP, is now on a hunger strike over voting rights?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I haven’t spoken to him about that. I’m happy to ask — ask him and see what he knows.
But I do want to make clear he — he’s committed to this issue. This is a very important issue. The President has been fighting his entire life on voting rights. And so, this is — he did this during his Senate years and he’ll continue doing it as President.
Q Thank you.
Q Thank you, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Oh, great. Thanks. Thank you.
Q Thanks, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No problem. Thanks, guys. See you tomorrow. Thanks, Peter.
Q You forgot half the room.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right.
Q You should take questions from this side of the room.
Q Yeah, there’s like five more rows here.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Tomorrow, guys. Tomorrow. Tomorrow. I’ll get the back tomorrow.
Have a great day, guys.
2:14 P.M. EST