Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, November 12, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:32 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.
Q Welcome back.
Q Welcome back!
MS. PSAKI: Thank you. Okay. I have a couple of items for all of you at the top.
First, let me say it’s great to be back with all of you, although as a longtime hater of heels, I do miss my slippers, so — which I’m sure some of the women in this room can agree with.
But just to reiterate, I had intended to go on the trip with the President about two weeks ago. I did not go on the trip because I had members of my household who had tested positive for COVID. So out of an abundance of caution, I stayed home. I received four negative tests, and then, on October 31st, I received a positive test.
And I put out that information out of an abundance of transparency. I had not seen the President or had close contact for five days, given the trip. And when I did see him five days prior, we wore masks and we were sitting outside.
As I noted in my initial statement — and was still the case even after that — I had mild symptoms, primarily fatigue. And I remain incredibly grateful for the vaccine and the impact of the vaccine in keeping me safe and other people in my house safe as well.
I also noted in my initial statement that I would be abiding by a 10-day quarantine, which, for the math, it started on November 1st, which was the day after I received a positive test. It ended on Wednesday, November 10th. And then, yesterday, per White House protocols, I had a negative test, and hence I am here back with all of you today.
So, I just wanted to outline that at the top.
I have a couple of other things.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
So, we’ve obviously had a very busy week as it relates to fighting COVID.
Our vaccination program for kids ages 5 to 11 hit full strength this week. Vaccines for kids are now available at 20,000 trusted and convenient locations. Our rollout is helping parents turn months of anxiety into action.
On Wednesday, we estimated that nearly a million kids have already received their first shot, and 700,000 additional appointments are already scheduled through pharmacies alone. That doesn’t obviously track everybody, but that’s still a significant progress. And we anticipate many more will be getting vaccinated in the weeks to come.
The First Lady visited a children’s vaccination site this week in Virginia and is headed to Texas next week to visit another site to help communicate with families, with parents about the safety and the efficacy of these vaccines.
I also wanted to give an update on the success of vaccine requirements. New data show that as vaccination requirements expanded, our vaccination rate also increased.
In the past week, we’re averaging nearly 300,000 first shots for people ages 12 and older per day. These are new people getting vaccinated. For comparison, in mid-July, before the pandemic began im- — before the President began implementing vaccine requirements, we were averaging less than 250,000 first shots per day.
It’s clear that these requirements, driven by the President’s leadership, are getting more people vaccinated, accelerating our path out of the pandemic, saving more lives.
The vaccine requirements we put forward are going to continue to accelerate our path out of the pandemic. That’s how we see our path forward.
I’d also note that we’re encouraged by the progress companies like JetBlue are making as they implement their own vaccine requirement. Here, we are firmly in the camp of accelerating our path forward, as we have conveyed.
I also wanted to note that over 27 million Americans have now gotten their booster.
And on testing: This week, we invested an additional $650 million in Rescue Plan funding to help point-of-care diagnostic test manufacturers scale up their production. It builds on aggressive actions we’ve taken over the past several months, including to quadruple the supply of at-home tests to over 200 million per month starting December. I know I ordered some from Walmart myself. They came the next day, and I use them at home.
Finally, on ensuring equity throughout our response: The President’s COVID Health Equity Task Force submitted its recommendations to help us build on this progress. Already, we’ve announced a $785 million investment in Rescue Plan funding to support community-based organizations that are continuing to build vaccine confidence across communities of color, rural areas, and low-income populations.
Finally, I would note 99 percent of schools are open for in-person learning, and we’re helping parents get their kids vaccinated, which means now 95 percent of people in this country are eligible to be vaccinated.
Finally, a week ahead:
On Monday, the President and the First Lady will participate in a Tribal Nations summit coinciding with national Native American Heritage Month. This will be the first summit since 2016 and the first time that this summit has been hosted at the White House. The President will address Tribal leaders and announce a number of steps to improve public safety and justice for Native Americans, and protect private lands, treaty rights, and sacred places.
The Vice President will be speaking at the summit on Tuesday, and members of the Cabinet will be joining to discuss dozens of agency-specific policy deliverables.
Also on Monday, the President will host, as you know, a bipartisan bill-signing ceremony for his Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, where he will be joined by members of Congress who helped write the historic bill and a diverse group of leaders who fought for its passage — governors and mayors of both parties, and labor and business leaders.
Also on Monday — very busy day — have your coffee and spinach, or whatever — whatever your — whatever you like for breakfast. On Monday evening, the President will meet virtually with President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China. The two leaders will discuss ways to responsibly manage the competition between the United States and the PRC, as well as ways to work together where our interests align.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the President will continue traveling across the country to highlight how his Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal delivers for the American people.
So, on Tuesday, he’s going to be visit — visiting the New Hampshire 175 bridge over the Pemigewasset — see how I did that? — River in Woodstock, New Hampshire, which has been on the state’s “red list” of bridges in poor condition since 2013. There, he will discuss how the Infrastructure Deal will repair and rebuild our nation’s roads and bridges while strengthening resilience to climate change.
On Wednesday, he will travel to Detroit to visit GM’s Factory ZERO electric vehicle assembly plant. He will highlight how his infrastructure plan will build electric vehicle charging stations across the country, making it easier to drive an electric vehicle, and also investing in a huge clean energy industry that will put many people back to work.
In both Michigan and New Hampshire, he will underscore the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal will create good-paying union jobs across the country.
On Thursday, the President will host Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada and President Obrador of Mexico for the first North American Leaders’ Summit since 2016. He will participate in individual bilateral meetings with each leader ahead of the summit that day as well.
And last, but certainly not least, on Friday, he will pardon the National Thanksgiving Turkey, continuing the
transition [tradition], in a ceremony in the Rose Garden. This is the 74th anniversary of the National Thanksgiving Turkey presentation. We’re all very excited to meet the soon-to-be-famous turkey and its alternate. Did you all know there’s always an alternate? Two lives are actually — two turkey lives are actually saved — which were raised in Jasper, Indiana.
With that, Zeke.
Q Thanks, Jen. And welcome back.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
Q On the health and COVID subject, could you speak a little bit about how frequently the President gets tested for COVID-19 right now? And then also, has — when does he plan to undergo his annual physical?
MS. PSAKI: He will be doing his physical soon. As I’ve noted before, as soon as he does that, we will provide that information transparently to all of you.
He is regularly tested under the guidance of his doctor. We do provide that information regularly to all of you. I’m happy to check and see when the last time he was tested and provide that to you after the briefing as well.
Q Thanks. And does the White House have any reaction to the sentencing of American journalist Danny Fenster in Myanmar? Any interaction from the White House or efforts on the part of the White House to try to get him free?
MS. PSAKI: I will say that, obviously, we are always concerned about the detention of individuals around the world — journalists, dissidents, people who are speaking freely and speaking on behalf of the media as well.
In terms of direct action, it really would be under the purview, at this point, of the State Department. I would point you to them for any updates on the status or engagement that they have with officials there.
Q And then, lastly, after this morning’s APEC meeting, there was no resolution on the U.S. bid to host in 2023. Can you confirm that Russia is the obstacle to the U.S. hosting — or hosting that summit in a couple years?
And then, on the topic of Russia, there have been a number of reports over the last couple of days about concerns on the U.S. government over a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine with the troop buildup over there. Has the President reached out to President Putin? What’s the level of engagement right now between the White House and Moscow?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let me start with your first question. APEC hosting requires the consensus of all 21 economies. We thank the vast majority of members for their strong support so far. One economy — and I’m not going to — I’m not going to confirm which economy that is — but is still undergoing consultations and has not yet joined the consensus.
And our hope is certainly that we move past this impasse, that it is resolved, and that we can continue the positive momentum on economic cooperation through APEC.
And then, in terms of — your second question, say it one more time. I apologize.
Q (Inaudible) that Russian troop buildup on Ukraine concerns the U.S. government about a potential invasion over there. And any White House-to-Moscow engagement in the last couple of days regarding that buildup?
MS. PSAKI: Well, in recent week, and certainly days, we’ve extensive interactions with our European allies and partners, including with Ukraine — but about our concern about these reports. And during these meetings, we’ve, of course, been discussing our concerns about the Russian military activities and their harsh rhetoric toward Ukraine.
We’ve also held discussions with Russian officials about Ukraine and U.S.-Russian relations generally. As we’ve made clear in the past and we’ve made clear directly to them as well: Escalatory or aggressive actions by Russia would be of great concern to the United States. We call for an immediate restoration of the July 2020 ceasefire. And we stand with our partner, Ukraine, and condemn Russian aggression against Ukraine in all forms.
And, obviously, our European conversations are about shared concern about the reports of this buildup and rhetoric.
Go ahead. Andrea.
Q Hey. So, welcome back.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
Q Thank you so much, Jen. I wanted to ask you about the Xi meeting that’s coming up on Monday.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q So are you expecting anything sort of concrete to come out of it? Or is this really more about reestablishing a — kind of a better basis for dialogue? Can you just say a few words?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let me — I think this is why you’re asking me the question. So, let me just go back just briefly of, kind of, what our strategy has been to date. I mean, this meeting is coming after 10 months of President Biden taking action so we can outcompete China in the long term. And that means investing in ourselves at home to strengthen our own competitive hand. It means working with our partners and allies to make sure we have a united approach and a coordinated approach as it relates to engagement with China.
We, of course, believe in intense competition. We believe and understand intense competition is part of that relationship. We also believe that that requires intense diplomacy. So, this is a reflection of that.
And if you go back to the President’s phone call on September 9th, where this was discussed — and, obviously, there was follow-up engagement — one of the disc- — part of the discussion was about the importance of that leader-to-leader engagement, not because we are seeking — and we’re not — specific deliverables or outcomes, more because this is about setting the terms, in our view, of an effective competition where we’re in a position to defend our values — which certainly will be part of the President’s conversation — and those of our allies and partners, and also discuss areas where we can work together.
So, I would see this, Andrea, as more of a continuation of that intensive diplomacy, given that we believe intense competition requires that. And I wouldn’t see this as an — I wouldn’t set the expectation, I should say, that this is intended to have, you know, deliv- — major deliverables or outcomes.
Q Yeah, so there were reports that President Xi could ask the President to attend the Olympics in February. What kind of signal would it send if the President were to attend the Olympics, given the concerns that have been raised about China’s actions toward Taiwan, its increased aggression and, kind of, flights there in that region? Is that — would that be a problematic situation for the President?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I understand why, but we’re getting a few steps ahead of where we are. I will also note for all of your planning purposes — and don’t want to ruin your Sundays — but there will be a preview call of the summit on Sunday that all of you will be invited to. So, in terms of the Olympics or any invitation, I don’t have anything for you on that at this point.
Q Okay, just a quick one on the economy — on inflation. So, one in four Americans, according to a new survey, have experienced some kind of loss of income as a result of higher prices. The President has expressed concern about this. I know that you were working on different fronts —
MS. PSAKI: On cue.
Q — to address this, but, I mean, how urgent is it? And how — you know, is there any sort of specific concern that this is going to affect not just political outcomes, but just the overall economy?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, Andrea, first, let me say that, you know, a lot of talk about inflation — I’m not saying from you, but in general out there — has been — it’s become a political cudgel and it shouldn’t be. It’s impacting, as you said, millions of Americans no matter their political party. And that’s certainly of concern to the President.
I would note that everyone from the Federal Reserve to Wall Street agree with our assessment that inflation is already expected to be subs- — to substantially decelerate next year. I know you’re not talking about that, but that’s an important component here.
And economists across the board also agree that the President’s economic agenda — the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill that he will sign on Monday and the Build Back Better Bill that we’re working to move forward — will not add to inflationary ples- — pressure, and will ease inflationary pressure over the long term.
But when we move past the economic jargon, which I realize is what you’re asking me, and talk about the real impacts on people’s lives, we’re really talking about costs to people. Right? And you talked about this on Wednesday. So it’s cost of childcare, cost of housing, cost of gas, cost of household goods. That’s how people are experiencing this on a day-to-day basis. And that is, of course, of concern to the President.
Our view is that the real risk here is inaction. And the reason we — I wanted to do this slide today — one, I love slides and graphics, so on my first day back we had to have one — but is because if we don’t act on Build Back Better, what we’re doing is we are — won’t be able to cut childcare costs in 2020. We know that is a huge impact on people’s daily lives and American families.
We won’t be able to make preschool free for many families starting in 2022, saving many families $8,600. We won’t be able to get ahead of skyrocketing housing costs.
I mean, that’s a part of this bill too. It has a major investment in building new housing — affordable housing units so that people can move into them and live in them and address the pending housing crisis.
And we won’t be able to save American — Americans thousands of dollars by negotiating prescription drug prices.
So our view is this — this makes a strong case — this is a strong case for moving forward with this agenda because what we’re really talking about is cost to American families, how it’s impacting them. And that’s something that if we don’t act now, we won’t be able to address these things in the short term either.
Q Thanks so much, Jen. And welcome back. The President has picked Dr. Rob Califf as his pick for FDA commissioner. We’ve already seen Senator Joe Manchin come out in opposition against him, citing his “significant ties to the pharmaceutical industry,” as Senator Manchin put it. Is the White House confident that Dr. Califf can get confirmed as FDA commissioner?
MS. PSAKI: We are. And I will say that the President chose Dr. Califf — and this was in his statement, but let me reiterate some of this — because he’s one of the most experienced clinical trialists in the country, has the experience and expertise to lead the Food and Drug Administration during a critical time in our nation’s fight to put an end to the coronavirus pandemic.
I’d also note that how we see this or how this President sees this nomination is a continuation of what he views as excellent work under the leadership of Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock, who’s led the agency through a challenging time because of what’s happening in the world and, of course, fighting the pandemic.
I would note that four years ago — five years ago, sorry — my math was a little off there — he was confirmed by a vote of 89 to 4. One of those four is the individual you mentioned. And every senator can vote for or against members — or people who are nominated. That’s their role. But we feel he’s a qualified person who has the exact experience for this moment.
Q Thank you. And how many Republicans should we expect to see at the signing ceremony here on Monday?
MS. PSAKI: We will see. We’ve invited a broad group of Republicans: some in Congress, governors, mayors, individuals who played a role in helping move the Infrastructure Bill forward. And as we get close to Monday or on Monday, we’ll provide you, of course, a list of attendees.
Q Have any Republicans, like Senator Mitch McConnell, said that they will not be at that signing ceremony?
MS. PSAKI: I think he’s spoken to this publicly, so I’ll point you to that. But, certainly, we have the invite out to a range of members. We’re — we would — the President looks forward to thanking them for their work, for working together to get this done for the American people.
Q And the —
Q Have any confirmed at all?
Q — last question on the President Xi meeting on Monday: Will the President hold a press conference afterward like he did following this meeting with President Putin? And does he plan to bring up the COVID-19 origins with President Xi, given he has said that China has been blocking investigators from getting access to information that’s critical to them?
MS. PSAKI: That is a remaining concern. And there will be a broad range of topics that will be discussed, and the President is certainly not going to hold back on areas where he has concern.
Again, I would point you to the fact that we’ll do this preview call on Sunday, where they’ll talk in more detail. It’s Monday evening, so I would not expect a press conference that — later after the call, given the time difference.
Q But anytime next week to hear the President talk about this meeting?
MS. PSAKI: I think there is one planned for after the — by — the meetings with the Mexican and Canadian leaders next week.
Go ahead. I’ll come back you. I just want to jump around.
Q Sorry. You just said the real risk on inflation is inaction. But, so far this week, we haven’t seen any action from the administration on gas prices. The President, in Europe, said, you know, we would see action sooner rather than later; on Wednesday, that it was his “top priority.”
So is he going to tap the SPR, ease biofuel blending requirements, ban crude exports? And if the answer is you still haven’t kind of decided on any of this, is the message to Americans headed into Thanksgiving — where everybody will be driving to see their family and friends — that you think that the current prices are acceptable?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly don’t think that. The message to Americans is that we’re not just closely and directly monitoring the situation — which, of course, we’ve been doing — but we’re looking at every tool in our arsenal. You mentioned some of them.
While I don’t have anything to preview today, the President is quite focused on this, as is the economic team. And I would note, again, that we have taken a range of actions. We’ve communicated with the FTC to crack down on illegal pricing; are engaging with countries and entities abroad, like OPEC, on increasing supply; and we’re looking at a range of options we have at our disposal. But I don’t have anything here to preview for you.
Q Axios reported that the President is considering appointing an infrastructure czar to oversee that program. Would that be somebody that comes in from outside the White House or the administration, or would we expect to have the Transportation Secretary or somebody like that to sort of hold this position?
MS. PSAKI: He does have an intent — he does intend to name a infrastructure coordinator and someone who could oversee the implementation of the bill. I don’t have anything to preview yet on that personnel announcement. I expect we’ll have something soon, and you can expect it will be someone from outside of the administration.
Q And then, last one. Senator Manchin was critical of, sort of, inflation this week. Obviously, there’s a question of if it’ll impact his vote on the Build Back Better issue, and I’m wondering if you’ve received any assurances from him that it will not.
But also, it plays into sort of a larger critique that he’s had about the Fed having, at some point, ramped down — he wishes that they’d ramped down bond buying and (inaudible). So I’m wondering if that is a criticism that the White House agrees with, especially as the President is sort of evaluating this position going forward.
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to get into critiquing the Federal Reserve from here or their decisions, given they make independent decisions. I would note that — and I’ll let Senator Manchin, of course, speak for himself and his support or concerns he may have.
You know, what we’re focused on is getting this bill passed through the House next week. And we have every intention of working with leadership to get exactly — to get that done. And we will remain, at a senior-staff level, at this point, engaged closely with Senator Manchin and answer any questions he has.
I will note that most — the vast majority of outside economists agree that this is not a bill that will add to inflationary pressure, and in fact, over the longer term, it will ease inflationary pressure.
And I would note just a couple of people who, at times, haven’t always been positive about our proposals. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers said about Build Back Better, “I don’t think that’s an inflation problem.” He said if he was in Congress, he would vote for it.
Moody’s Analytics chief economist, Mark Zandi: “I don’t think the Build Back Better agenda will be inflationary. I think it’s designed to lift long-term economic growth by improving productivity. That’s public infrastructure, roads, bridges, broadband. That will make us more productive. That should ease inflation.” As we know, increased economic productivity and growth eases inflationary pressure.
And, of course, our favorite, the 17 winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics, who wrote that “because this agenda invests in long-term economic capacity and will enhance the ability of more Americans to participate, it will ease longer-term inflationary pressure.”
I would also note, and then I will keep cooking around here, but that one of the reasons they don’t have concerns, as they’ve said in many of these interviews that I was just pulling out components of, is because it’s fully paid for. And the reason it’s fully paid for is because we’re asking corporations, the wealthiest Americans to pay more in taxes.
That is something — I don’t — you don’t need to be kind of a sleuth here to understand why some Republicans are speaking out against this package. Is it because they’re opposed to lowering childcare costs? Is it because they’re opposed to making sure that preschool is available for families? Is it because they’re opposed to lowering healthcare costs? No, it’s because they don’t want to raise taxes on corporations. We all know that. Hope people will ask them those questions.
Q Jen, can I ask you about COVID very quickly?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q And welcome back, by the way.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
Q The Colorado governor just signed an executive order making everyone 18 and older eligible for a booster shot, which defies guidance from the FDA and from the CDC, which says that the booster shot should only go to those who are at higher risk or seniors. What does the White House make of that decision and move?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we, here in the federal government, are guided by science and our country’s public health officials who are constantly reviewing the data to make their own independent, evidence-based decisions.
As you noted, this isn’t currently the guidance that’s being projected by our health and medical experts because they are looking at and understanding the data. So, we would certainly continue to advise leaders across the country to abide by public health guidelines coming from the federal government.
Q If I can, quickly, just to detail your own experience: Do you have any lingering symptoms? Have you had anything that stuck with you?
MS. PSAKI: I do not, fortunately. And as I noted earlier, I was — experienced a little bit of light fatigue in the first couple of days but none that prevented me from participating in meetings here, engaging with the President and the team on the road, and certainly probably calling members of my team so many times they were tired of hearing from me.
Q As it relates to the White House, has the White House determined whether it is safe to hold holiday parties, and will the White House do so this year?
MS. PSAKI: You know, it’s going to look a little bit different, Peter, and I don’t have anything to outline for you at this point in time. But certainly we expect to celebrate the holiday season. And we’ll have more details, I expect, in the coming weeks on that for you.
Q So, for clarity, when you say it’s going to look different, that means there will be holiday parties and they will look different but you’re not going to detail how they’ll look different yet?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll have more to convey to all of you about what it will look like, and I just don’t have those details at this point in time.
Q Let me ask one last question if I can, quickly. Across this country, we’ve seen this new phenomenon lately chanted at sporting events and on signs. The phrase is, “Let’s go, Brandon.” A sort of code for a profane slogan attacking President Biden. What does the President make of that?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think he spends much time focused on it or thinking about it.
Q The President said when he came into office on Inauguration Day — he said he was going to help get rid of the “uncivil war” in this country. So I guess, through that lens right now, does the President think there are things that he can do differently? Or how does he react to the stuff he sees out there when it is one of his primary promises or desires to help bring Americans together?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it takes two to move towards a more civil engagement and discourse in this country. And the President is going to continue to operate, as you said, from the promise he made early on, which is that he wants to govern for all Americans.
He’s going to deliver for all Americans, as is evidenced by the infrastructure bill that he’s going to sign on Monday, that’s going to help expand broadband to everyone, no matter your political party, no matter whether you voted for him or not. That’s going to replace lead pipes, make sure kids have clean drinking water, whether you’re a Democrat or Republican or not political at all.
That’s how he’s going to govern. And certainly we’re hopeful we’ll have partners to move toward more civil discourse with in the future.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Jacqui.
Q Thanks, Jen. Welcome back.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
Q Democrats are calling for the President to release barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to bring down costs. And that would be somewhat of an immediate action to mitigate these high gas prices as opposed to waiting for the BIF money to be implemented to address the long-term supply chain issues or the Build Back Better to be passed. Why has the President not yet done that? Does he plan to do that soon?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to preview for you. I can just reiterate what I conveyed a little bit earlier: is that certainly the cost of gas is on the minds of the — on the mind of the President, as it is on the mind of many Americans across the country.
And there are several steps we’ve taken, including pushing the FTC, or asking the FTC to look into price gouging — something we’ve seen and we have concerns has been an issue over the past few months as the availability and supply of oil has gone up and prices have not come down; pushing OPEC to release more supply to meet the demand. And certainly there are a range of other domestic options, but I just don’t have anything to preview at this point in time.
Q And then, can I get your response to this report from the Tax Policy Center that under the Build Back Better plan, most millionaires would get a tax cut; two thirds of people making over a million dollars would get a cut on average of $16,800, mostly because of SALT?
Separately, it finds that 20 to 30 percent of middle-class households would pay more in taxes — granted, it’s a small amount — between $100 and $230 depending on income levels. But how does the White House frame this reconciliation plan as a tax cut for the middle class, paid for by the rich, when this analysis is showing the opposite?
MS. PSAKI: It actually doesn’t. Just to give a little bit more context of what the report showed, it also showed that the average family with children making $75,000 to $100,000 per year will get an income tax cut of about $2,230. It also showed the average —
Q Isn’t that not until last year though?
MS. PSAKI: It showed the average taxpayer with income above $1 million per year will see their income taxes go up by $65,000. Seventy-five percent of the tax cuts go to families making less than $200,000 per year, with 54 million families making less than $200,000 a year getting a tax cut.
What we also don’t buy into, which is part of your second part of this, is that any tax that dares touch big corporations — many of whom are making record profits and not paying any taxes at all — is somehow a tax on the middle class.
Most economists agree with us: Build Back Better will clearly lower taxes, lower costs, raise wages, and economic growth — increase economic growth for the middle class.
The strategy — and just look at the 2017 tax cuts — that was argued at the time, that giving tax cuts to big corporations would trickle down to lower income people — it didn’t. None of that happened. So we’re just not buying into that notion
Q But doesn’t that not take effect — that cut that you’re referencing — until 2023?
So, I guess what I’m getting at is: Next year, 2022, the expectation is that middle-class families will be paying, granted, a little bit more, but still a little bit more if this passes. And then, also, you’re still dealing with issues like gas prices being high. You guys have talked about the actions you’re going to take or are looking at, but these are long-term solutions, mostly, that you’re talking about. So what will be done in the immediate future to address the next year?
MS. PSAKI: Actually, many of them are short term. But what is true and is not often out there is that a lot of these pandemic relief programs are ending — right? — are ending.
So if you look at the spending — (gestures upward trajectory) — I don’t really have a graph right now; I’m kind of making a fake one — but if you look at the spending from pandemic relief, that is going to go down because a lot of those programs are ending.
So when people are out there — this isn’t your question, but just made me think of it — when people are out there criticizing the influx of money into the economy, that’s actually misleading and inaccurate.
What we’re really talking about here is we’re ending those programs. The President supports that. There are programs, to your point, like the Child Tax Credit, that if we don’t extend the Child Tax Credit, 40 million Americans will no longer get the benefit of the Child Tax Credit. That’s an immediate benefit that would be happening next year.
I mentioned, before, investing in housing and building lower inc- — or available housing that allows for options for lower-income and middle-income families. That is something that will have an impact. Cutting childcare costs in half — that’s something that will happen next year.
That — those are all ways that we’re working — we’re trying to and focused on lowering costs for Americans. That would be a part of this bill.
Q And then, I want to ask you about real — real quick about Ukraine. I know you discussed earlier the Russian troops amassing on the Ukrainian border. Field hospitals, as we all know, started being set up in April, indicating that there might be some action there. Blinken’s comments about concern about Russia rehashing the 2014 invasion and then Jake Sullivan underscoring the commitment to Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. But has — it doesn’t seem there’s been any indication of more support on the way from the U.S. right now.
MS. PSAKI: To the Ukrainians?
Q To the Ukrainians. And then — so why is that?
And then, also, why did we send the CIA Director to Russia instead of the Secretary of Defense or our ambassador or Blinken to handle this kind of a diplomacy issue? Like, who is he speaking for in that trip?
MS. PSAKI: He’s speaking for the U.S. government. I’d also note that the CIA Director is also the former ambassador to Russia and the former Deputy Secretary of State. So he does come to it with quite a bit of experience. But the President looks at his national security team as a group of smart, engaged individuals who are representing his national interests overseas, and that’s what he’s doing.
I will note, on the Ukraine question, part of the reason I mentioned the engagement with European allies and partners is because, as you know, we operate in lockstep with our allies and partners. That’s how we’ve approached things. We are — we have a shared concern about reports of military buildup on the border. I don’t have anything to preview at this point in time, but that is something that we are very actively engaged with not just the Russians on and the Ukrainians, but also our European partners as well.
I just want to skip around because I know we’re not getting to enough people in the back, so I hear. Okay, let’s go all the way. Time.
Q Thank you. Thank you very much, Jen. I had a question about the meeting between Xi Jinping and President Biden on Monday. The U.S. Holocaust Museum this week came out with a report that China’s actions towards the minority population of Uyghurs in the country may amount to genocide. Its use of forced slave labor and forced sterilizations and other actions, is that something that the President is going to bring up with Xi Jinping? And is that something the President will hold up as something that Xi Jinping needs to take action on, to reverse, before the U.S gets closer in its relationship with China?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that one of the purposes of this leader-to-leader engagement is to also discuss areas where you have strong concern and disagreement. And, you know, it’s not just the President’s words, though; we’ve also acted. We are engaged, first of all, with members of Congress on technical advis- — providing technical assistance on legislation that’s currently working its way through Congress.
But in addition to that, we’ve also taken concrete measures on our own, including visa restrictions, Global Magnitsky and financial sanctions, export controls, import restrictions, the release of a business advisory, and rallying the G7 to commit to take action to ensure all global supply chains are free from the use of forced labor.
So this is an area where we have been — the President has been vocal, he has taken action.
Again, in terms of topics that will be discussed, there will be areas where we work together, and he will not hold back, as he never has, on areas where we have concern. But I will leave it to the preview call on Sunday to give you more detail on that.
Q Does the President believe that his personal relationship with Xi Jinping — going back to having a meal together in a noodle shop in Beijing in 2011 and their — the time that they spent together — will that have an impact on his ability to engage with Xi Jinping and get China to take actions that it’s been reluctant to take so far?
MS. PSAKI: I would say that he — you’ve heard him talk about this before, Brian, and he feels that the history of their relationship — having spent time with him — allows him to be quite candid as he has been in the past and he will continue to be as we look ahead to next week.
Q Just a follow-up on China.
MS. PSAKI: Let’s go all the way in the back. There you go.
Q On the Monday virtual meet, will concerns on the border tensions with India also be raised between the two leaders?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I know there’s a lot of interest in this meeting. I certainly understand it. We’re going to be previewing it later this weekend. There’ll be a range of topics discussed — you know, some where we have concern; some where we have areas where we can work together; some certainly security related; economic. There’ll be a range of topics, but I’ll leave it to the Sunday preview call.
Q Thanks, Jen. I wanted to ask about the numbers that came out this morning about the record number of people quitting their jobs in September. Is there a concern that this number might go even higher when the vaccine mandate goes into place? And what is the administration doing to help companies who are concerned about retaining workers once the mandate kicks in?
MS. PSAKI: You’re talking about because of the vaccine mandate —
MS. PSAKI: — being implemented? And is it specific companies? I just haven’t seen this data, so give me a little more information.
Q So there are some companies that are concerned, once the vaccine mandate goes into place, that they may have trouble retaining workers, especially hourly workers who may not want to get the vaccine. Are you afraid that these numbers of people quitting their jobs will go up? And what is the administration doing to help companies who are worried about this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first I’ll say that hasn’t actually been what we’ve seen at the vast majority of companies who have implemented vaccine mandates. And as you know, the deadline hasn’t come up for where it would be required. It’s coming up in the coming months.
But many companies — the airlines, of course; hospital systems — have implemented vaccine requirements. The vast majority of people have participated in them and abided by those requirements, and now they have a healthier, safer, more predictable workforce.
So, we haven’t actually seen that to date, so I don’t know that we would have that to predict in the future.
Q But also, companies that are worried about losing their workers are probably waiting to implement a vaccine mandate. Right? So as (inaudible) —
MS. PSAKI: I would see if companies convey that, we can speak to that. But, obviously, we’re working to implement the OSHA requirements — the regulations that were put out just last week.
And our view is that — and the view of a lot of outside economists and experts too — is that this will require more certainty for companies and that they will know their workplace is safe; that people will feel safe going to their workplace, which has been an issue throughout the pandemic; and that they will also know that workers are less likely to get sick from COVID, which has been, you know, in a range of industries, an enormous issue and created a great deal of unpredictability across the board.
Q Jen, can I follow on that?
MS. PSAKI: I’ll come back to you, Weijia.
Q Jen, with the Transgender Day of Remembrance fast approaching, 2021 is the — has the highest number of recorded deaths of transgender and non-binary people, totaling out at 45 this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign. The President brought attention to this issue as a candidate, but has he been briefed on it as — in the White House?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure, Chris, and I’m happy to ask the President and see with our domestic policy team if they have briefed him on that. That’s devastating, and that’s terrible and heartbreaking to hear. It is a commitment of the President to address violence, address threats to transgender people and anyone who’s facing those threats.
But I will see if he has been briefed on that.
Q What options are on the table for him to pursue on this issue?
MS. PSAKI: In terms of reducing violence? Let me just see if he’s been briefed. And I’ll talk to our domestic policy team and maybe we can connect you directly with them to get more information.
Go ahead, Weijia.
Q Thanks, Jen. So that report that my colleague was citing —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — was not directly just about people quitting because of COVID mandates.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay.
MS. PSAKI: That’s helpful.
Q But the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that, in September alone, 4.4 million people —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — quit their jobs after 4.3 million in August. So how are those figures accounted for when the President talks about the record 5.6 million jobs created in the first nine months, when he talks about job growth, economic growth, et cetera?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what you also see in the data, Weijia — I’m not sure if this data, but other data — is that people feel the vast majority of the American public, even when there — as there are concerns about cost of household goods and other childcare costs, et cetera — that this is a good time to change careers and look for a new job.
So, we’re also seeing that, and I think that’s likely reflected in that data as well. And we’ve seen that happen psychologically during the pandemic and also because people, you know, may have taken the moment to decide what they wanted to do with their lives.
So, in terms of — we have still created that number of jobs. There are people who are changing jobs. I can check with our economic — I’m not sure what your question is though. Are you asking how many of the new jobs created are people changing jobs? Or —
Q Well, I’m asking, you know, in two months alone, some 9 million people quit their jobs, and I don’t know that they’re all going to new jobs. So, is there any concern about this trend dubbed “the great resignation”? Is there anything you can do to reverse it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we know we’ve seen labor shortages in some industries. In some industries, that’s because they need to have a more competitive package to offer to workers. It’s a worker’s market right now. We know that. People are looking for more dependable benefits. They’re looking for wages that are higher. And that’s something that is incumbent on a lot of industries to meet the moment on.
But I can certainly dig more into this data and see if there’s more to provide.
Q And then, just a quick question on the infrastructure bill — because, in Baltimore, the President talked about how it will ease congestion at ports.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q But those projects are going to take time. So, when do you think that funding will actually have a direct impact on the bottlenecks we’re seeing now? And in the meantime, is there anything more the administration can do ahead of the holiday season?
MS. PSAKI: Well, one of the steps we took — there’s no question that addressing — being able to ensure that goods are moving around the country more safely, more easily, without congestion is a big objective of this infrastructure bill the President will sign on Monday, and it will help, hopefully, address that over the long term.
As we know, the supply chain issues are global, and we’re seeing them — you know, countries around the world impacted by the global supply chain issues.
So — but what he’s doing here and what he’s been quite focused on is really attacking the issue at ports and the congestion at ports, which we know is a big way that goods are coming in and where goods are moved.
So, we announced — I think it was last week or earlier this week; it’s all running together — that within 45 days we’ll be launching $240 million in grants to improve ports. And in the weeks and months that follow, billions of dollars of additional money will be flowing to improve our critical port infrastructure.
We’ve also seen big, dramatic improvements at a number of these ports, where they are quite crowded because the increase in demand and in goods that are moving has increased by about 20 percent. But because of the steps that have been taken, in terms of moving empty containers, in terms of putting in place, you know, requirements or consequences for congestion, that that has dramatically — we’ve already seen improvements in that.
So, the President announced this major ports plan. We’re going to get these — this funding out. He’s really focusing on the areas where we have the largest amount of traffic that’s coming into the country, which certainly makes sense. And that’s a part of what we can do more immediately.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Following up on Weijia’s first question about workforce imbalances, you said that it’s a worker’s market and that some industries need to create more competitive packages, that it’s a good thing people have more choices. Is that your way of saying that the White House doesn’t view this as a problem at all?
MS. PSAKI: I think I also said in response to Weijia’s question that there are some industries where we’re seeing labor shortages; there are a couple of reasons for that. But some of the people — the workers — and we’ve seen this statistically in a lot of surveys — people — many people across the country feel this is a good time to change jobs — right? — to look for a more competitive job. What I’m saying is: Ultimately, that’s a good thing. It is challenging in certain industries when they do have labor shortages.
Some industries, in terms of some short-term ind- — industries that have short-term workers or seasonal workers, COVID is an issue there and continuing to address COVID. In our view, putting in place requirements to provide more certainty, that’s an issue.
Another issue is childcare, something we’re working to attack and go after aggressively so that we can lower the cost of childcare and make sure people have a range of options to bring more women into the workforce. So, there’s a range of issues; I’m not saying it’s one thing.
Certainly, we have concern about any industry that has a shortage of workers, but also, I don’t think we should undervalue the fact that many workers feel this is a time to look for a better job with greater pay and more benefits.
Q And then following up on the questions about gas prices again — just kind of taking a step back, there’s some Republicans who have taken this moment where they’ve seen gas prices spike to criticize sort of the administration, big picture. Right? Canceling the Keystone Pipeline, halting leases for — new drilling leases on federal lands, saying that, sort of, the administration’s policies writ large have contributed to the rise in gas prices. What’s your response now to that?
MS. PSAKI: Our response is that, one, we haven’t — we haven’t cancelled existing. There are existing leases that are continuing. And just to be clear, I know you know —
Q Sorry. Not new leases.
MS. PSAKI: Not new leases.
Q You’re right.
MS. PSAKI: But just to be clear — and I know that’s been a criticism — so that’s why I said that — and not an accurate one.
Look, our view is that the rise in gas prices over the long term makes it an even stronger case for doubling down our investment and our focus on clean energy options so that we are not relying on the fluctuations and OPEC and their willingness to put more supply and meet the demands in the market. That’s our view.
We feel that — but we also feel that there are a number of actors here, including price gouging, that we have concerns and we’ve seen out there — we feel we’ve seen; we’ve asked the FTC to look into the need for OPEC to release more — that are the larger issues here and that’s why we’ve been focused on those options.
Q Jen —
MS. PSAKI: Let me just keep going around. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q Thanks. Just following up on this — and I kind of want to go at this inflation question a bit differently.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q I mean, it seems like the White House is making a lot of promises on inflation. But there are some concerns that the White House or a President doesn’t have any — a lot power over inflation. And even when you talk about energy prices, in particular, like gasoline — you’re talking about the FTC doing investigations — that’s a common tactic. It usually doesn’t turn out very much. Tapping the SPR, that’s a short-term thing; it’s not a long-term thing.
So, I guess my question is: For the White House, you’re making these promises — how do you deliver, especially on things like gasoline, food prices? Yes, you can, you know, deal with childcare costs, but these kind of bread-and-butter issues, how do you actually deliver on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the — some of the biggest costs — the reason I touched on those is: Some of the biggest costs for households and Americans — and the way they feel inflation is not typically looking at a graph, right? They’re looking at the costs and how things are impacting them — are things like housing and childcare and healthcare.
Q But also, gasoline is a very big cost.
MS. PSAKI: Correct. But those are big, big costs on people’s households. And that’s why I addressed and raised those issues.
I’d also note that every outside economist — most — a vast majority, I guess I should say — predicts that inflation will come down next year. That is what outside experts are predicting.
So, what we’re really talking about is how we cut costs in the short term. I’ve outlined a number of ways we would cut costs.
I would note that we don’t have partnership from — with — from most Republicans on that. We hear a lot of screaming about inflation. We don’t hear a lot of solution agreements or willingness to participate in a solution, and that’s really — or a discussion of a solution. And that’s really what we’re looking for at this point in time.
So, I noted that the way that we can, and how outside economists are projecting we can address inflationary issues, is by continuing to push this agenda forward — pass the agenda — because it will help spur economic growth, it will help spur productivity, and also because it’s fully paid for. And that’s why outside economist Larry Summers, Moody’s, Mark Zandi don’t think it will have a negative inflationary impact.
Q On a separate issue: On November 16th, there are about 200 acting positions in the federal government that will kind of lose their authority under the Federal Vacancies Act. Like, what is the White House planning to do about that? You know, is there any — are there plans in place about those acting positions, acting roles?
MS. PSAKI: We’d certainly love to get more people confirmed, as you know. I will check and see if there’s anything we can outline further for you.
Q Just a quick follow-up on Dr. Califf. Obviously, it was — so, when Senator Manchin released his statement yesterday, he talked about his ties to the pharmaceutical industry and then subsequently the industry’s role in the opioid pandem- — or epidemic. So, I’m wondering if the White House is concerned that this could be a tough vote for Democrats who come from states where the opioid epidemic is severe, such as New Hampshire and Nevada.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that, one, the President has been very clear on his view on the role of the pharmaceutical industry in the opioid epidemic. He has also been an advocate for lowering the cost of prescription drugs by allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug costs, something we know the pharmaceutical industry does not support.
So, I think the President is hardly in the pocket of the pharmaceutical industry. I think they would — they would agree with that component. That is true of the vast, vast majority of Democrats out there as well.
And what the President — the reason he nominated Dr. Califf is because he feels he is qualified, he has the experience, he’s ready to take on this job the day he’s confirmed, and that’s probably why — the reason why he was supported and passed with overwhelming support of Democrats and Republicans just five years ago.
Q Jen, can I ask you a question on Ethiopia?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Thank you and welcome back.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
Q Missed you the most. (Laughter.) And thank you for taking question across the room —
Q Who is behind you?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, it’s our regional reporter. We’ll get to him in a second.
Q Thank you for taking question across the room. Maybe the (inaudible) is see if we can limit the questions to two; that would be great for everyone to have an opportunity.
Ethiopia seems to be on the brink of a civil war. The U.S. State Department is urging Americans to leave the country and even providing loan for those who cannot afford to leave Ethiopia now.
The U.S., the EU, and the U.N. are urging Ethiopian leaders to embrace peace but we do not seem to be near any peace at the moment. Is there anything else the White House can do to avoid another Afghanistan-like exit?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would first say — and you may or may not have seen this — but this morning, the Treasury and State Departments announced the designation of six targets associated with the Eritrean government in response to the growing humanitarian and human rights crisis and expanding military conflict in Ethiopia pursuant to the President’s executive order in September.
And I know you’ve been asking when we would take some action pursuant to that executive order, and so we took some action this morning.
I would also note that we are briefly delaying plans to roll out sanctions targeting elements aligned with the TPLF and Ethiopian military to allow time and space to see if these AU-led talks can make progress. If they do not seize the opportunity and the parties continue escalating the war, we will move forward with these sanctions. But we are currently leaving space for these talks to continue.
Just one follow-up and then I got to go to him, and then there’s a Cabinet meeting.
Q It’s the President’s birthday on Saturday. Is there anything that he’ll be doing? He’s 79 years old. How does he keep fit? Does he exercise?
MS. PSAKI: (Laughs.)
Q We see him cycling. Does he do anything else?
MS. PSAKI: He certainly does enjoy a good ride on his bike and does keep fit, eats healthy, except for the occasional ice cream. Who among us doesn’t love ice cream?
And again, as someone asked earlier, you know, the President will be receiving a physical at some point soon —
Q Before the end of the year?
MS. PSAKI: — and we will release those details to you.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: And we will release those details to you as soon as that happens.
All right. Hello, thank you for joining us. We have here Rick Barrett from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Q Hi, Jen. Thanks for taking my question today.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, I don’t know if we can hear you very well. Maybe we can —
(Reporter in italics can be heard over livestream feed but not in the Briefing Room.)
Q Oh, can you hear me better now?
MS. PSAKI: — fix some audio issues. Let’s see if we can fix the audio issues because I just have to go in a minute. Let’s try again. Can — can we try talking again — we can see if we can hear you?
Q Yeah, Jen. Is that any better now?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, no.
Q Well, Jen, can I ask you one? I’ll —
MS. PSAKI: All right. He’s going to come back next Friday.
Okay, last one.
Q Thank you, Jen. I wanted to ask you a quick follow-up. You mentioned a second ago that the White House was offering technical assistance to members of Congress when it comes to human rights legislation. What techn- — what provisions were you talking about specifically?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I was answering a question. I don’t remember who asked it. That was — oh, it was Brian — right? — who asked about our concern about human rights abuses in Xinjiang, something we have taken a lot of steps on.
As you know, and I think you’ve asked about, there’s legislation. It’s pretty common for the White House to work with Congress on either technical assistance or other assistance. We want to make sure any bill is implementable.
Q A provision that would have banned science funding for entities that were implicated in the Uyghur genocide was stripped out of the reconciliation package last week. Is that something that the President was disappointed to see?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any other reaction. Obviously, we’re working closely with Congress. We share the concern about the human rights abuses. We are going to continue to take action as the President’s record shows.
Okay, thanks, everyone.
Q Jen, you thanked the vaccine. Do you have anything to say to celebrities who have promoted — like Aaron Rodgers — who promoted alternative — dubious alternatives to vaccines?
MS. PSAKI: You know how we feel about misinformation: We’re against it.
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