Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jen Psaki En Route Fort Bragg, NC
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Fort Bragg, North Carolina
5:00 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: All right, hi everyone. Okay, I have a few things at the top for you.
Welcome to our trip to Fort Bragg. The President and the First Lady will be attending a Friendsgiving meal, hosted by the Robert Irvine Foundation, as part of the First Lady’s Joining Forces initiative.
Fort Bragg itself is home to nearly 550,000 active-duty soldiers and 70,000 active-duty family members. Its mission is to maintain America’s Contingency Corps as a strategic crisis response force manned and trained to deploy rapidly by air, sea, and land anywhere in the world in order to fight upon arrival and win.
The President and First Lady visited the fort last in April of 2009 to welcome home the 18th Airborne Corps from Iraq, which included then-Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin, who was commander of the 18th Airborne Corps.
On the base today, the President and the First Lady will offer brief remarks thanking the service members and their families, serve part of the Thanksgiving meal prepared by Chef Irvine. After serving Thanksgiving meals, they will meet with service members and families in attendance.
They will also greet with a number of local elected officials. We’ll get you a list of that if you don’t already have that.
Also wanted to note – you may have seen some of this earlier today –- but as you know, today is the deadline -– later today, I should say; midnight –- for our federal vaccine requirement.
By the deadline for the vaccination requirement, we will have already achieved 95 percent compliance across the federal government, and 90 percent of those employees will have had at least one shot.
Across the Executive Office of the President –- a question you may ask — we have already reached a 99 percent vaccination rate.
The message today’s news sends is that vaccine requirements work. For example, nearly 25 percent of the IRS employees started getting –- of IRS’s employees started getting vaccinated after the President’s announcement, and nearly 99 percent of its employees are now in compliance with their requirement.
Two more quick things: Last week, we reported that the price of shipping a container between Asia and the West Coast has fallen. Also wanted to note we’re also watching where we have concerns about –- well, I’ll get to this.
Okay, while our nation’s importers are struggling with record shipping costs and our nation’s exporters, including farmers, are struggling to get their products shipped, new data from the industry experts show that ocean carriers have been making extraordinary profits this year. In the third quarter alone, they made $48 billion, which is nine times more than they made the year before.
So, last week, we called on the Federal Maritime Commission to use all its tools at its disposal to ensure free and fair competition and ensure there aren’t outsized profits.
Last piece I just wanted to note is that the — today, the Department’s Office of the –– the Department of Transportation’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection announced a record breaking $4.5 million settlement with Air Canada for denying timely refunds to thousands of consumers for flights that Air Canada had cancelled or significantly changed. That’s the highest penalty the office has ever –- has ever had against an airline.
This is just the latest effort by DOT to promote competition and lower prices for travelers as a result of the President’s Executive Order on Promoting Competition.
With that, where should we start?
Q Thanks, Jen. On the Ahmaud Arbery case, has the President been paying any attention to the trial? Does he have any reaction to how it’s been going so far? And then is the administration preparing for potential protests like we’ve seen with some past, sort of, heavily freighted cases?
And then, on COVID, Dr. Fauci has been advising Americans that they can safely gather with their families if they’re vaccinated, but we are seeing a new surge in cases. And given the threat of breakthrough cases, how do you reconcile advising Americans to gather this holiday? Isn’t there a concern that that that could exacerbate the surge that we’re already seeing?
MS. PSAKI: So, let me start with the first question. I’m not going to speak to, obviously, an ongoing trial. As we know, there’s closing arguments that have been broadcast on television. It’s certainly possible the President has seen those, but I’m not going to have a comment, nor will he, before they conclude.
I will note, though, that the President has spoken many times to this horrific event in the past. And it’s not just about this case, in his view; we have a lot of work to do as a nation. And it’s just a reminder of why the President has prioritized rooting out systemic racism.
We remain in touch with local authorities, as we had in advance of the Rittenhouse verdict. But in — as it relates to any area where we are preparing or there may be concerns raised by local authorities about protests, ensuring we offer –- offer support, offer any assistance needed, that remains the case here as well.
As it relates to Dr. Fauci’s comments yesterday, on the Sunday shows — I think you’re referring to — I mean, what he was referring to in his questioning was about whether vaccinated families or vaccinated people can gather together. And he conveyed “yes.” That remains consistent with the CDC guidance, which is what he was speaking to and echoing. And we are certainly in a different place in that regard than we were last summer.
We also know that the vast majority of hospitalizations and certainly deaths are from people who are unvaccinated. So, there’s remaining concerns, which he reiterated, of people who are unvaccinated and risks that they pose to themselves and others. But he was he cer- — he was simply speaking to what the broad recommendation is by public health officials and authorities.
Q Jen, a couple on Fed nominations. Just now, when the President spoke and Fed Chair Powell and Lael Brainard, they spoke extensively about containing inflation. And we’re wondering if there is some kind of agreement or understanding that could — tackling inflation and containing inflation is the single-biggest priority for the Fed right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, President Biden believes strongly in the independence of the Federal Reserve and decisions around monetary policy. And that was reflected in his conversations with them, as well as, of course, his announcement today.
We are — certainly recognize that any price increase, which is what most people understand inflation to be, around the country is something that impacts American families. But, you know, we would also note that — that we’re seeing, because of global supply chain issues and global economic recovery issues, inflationary issues across the globe.
And I would note that, you know, as the President said today, he feels confident in the leadership of Chairman Powell and his re-nomination — in order to independently make decisions about our monetary policy moving forward.
Q And for the economy, though, I mean, you know, containing inflation is sort of really important. And that kind of commitment has constantly been, you know, conveyed by the White House. And we’re wondering if — you know, if the President, perhaps, now feels that, you know, that has to be sort of the top priority for the administration overall? And that is, obviously, you know, the Fed is leading the charge on that.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I –- I think, yes, that the monetary policy and rate increases — or not — is, of course, the purview of the Fed and management of the — of predictions of inflation.
I would note, though, that the way most Americans understand and feel and experience inflation is by cost increases. Right? And they experience that, as it relates -– and we see what the largest impacts on cost increases are across the country, whether it’s gas prices or, in some cases, food prices or a variety of issues.
We know what the root causes of those are — right? — global supply chain issues. The best thing we can do as a government is to get the pandemic under control. That’s what the President’s number one focus is.
We also know that getting his agenda passed — his economic agenda further passed — Build Back Better specifically — as soon as possible will help cut costs for families. And what they’re really looking at is what their pocketbooks, what their checkbooks look like, how they pay for the cost of goods and experience that. And that’s what we’re working to do every day.
Yes, decreasing cost — cutting costs for families is our — one of our top priorities.
Q On oil, has the President weighed in yet on this proposal to do an SPR release and this idea of other — bringing in other countries to join as well?
MS. PSAKI: So, as you know, because you’ve been covering this very closely, as have others, we have been having conversations with a range of countries about the importance of making sure that the supply out there meets the demand and helps meet — prevent an imperiling of the global economic recovery.
But I don’t have anything to preview for you today. We’ve been talking with other energy consumers, as you know. But at the — when the President had his foreign trip recently and in ongoing conversations with members of the national security team, we continue to consider a range of options, as is evidenced by the letter that was sent by the President to the FTC last week about price gouging, but I don’t have anything more to preview.
Q And then, on Russia, on the buildup of troops at the Ukraine border, do you have any update for us on that? And also, is there — we know that there’s been some discussions about the possibility of a virtual meeting between Putin and President Biden. Is there anything locked in on that yet?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything yet on a scheduled meeting or engagement, though, certainly, high-level diplomacy is a priority of the President, as of — as is evidenced by his meeting just a few weeks ago — or last week, was it? — with President Xi. But nothing on that.
We continue to have serious concerns about Russian military activities and harsh rhetoric toward Ukraine. We call on Moscow to deescalate tensions.
We’ve had extensive interactions with our European allies and partners in recent weeks, including with Ukraine. We’ve discussed our concerns about Russian military activities and harsh rhetoric towards Ukraine.
We’ve also held discussions with Russian officials about Ukraine and U.S.-Russian relations general- — generally.
But beyond that, I would just reiterate that we are in touch with our lo- — with European partners. We continue to be — have serious concerns about Russian military activities, rhetoric, and reports of buildup.
Q And then one last thing, really quick. Has he met or interviewed with any of the candidates for the other three Fed board positions yet?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything in terms of the personnel process to convey to you. But I will tell you that we are hoping to — he is hoping to make decisions soon and that those additional three open positions are an opportunity to add additional diversity of experience and background to the board.
Q Jen, just a process question — a follow-up on the Fed process question: I mean, is there any indication from Senator Brown that, you know, he’s going to be holding the nomination hearing soon? Is there — is there anything the White House has heard from him?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any up- — I’d point you to Senator Brown and the Hill on what the timeline of that office — of that process might look like.
I would note that — you didn’t ask me this, but I’ll just add it in there — that Chairman Powell passed with 84 votes the last time and Governor Brainard passed with a 30-vote margin. So they’re both eminently qualified, as you heard the President say this morning, and we’re eager to get them confirmed.
Q Do you know if any candidates of color were interviewed for the Chair position by any chance?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more about the process to read out for you.
Q Jen, on COVID: Europe is bringing back economic restrictions. As cases start to rise here in the U.S., is such restrictions, lockdown policies back on the table or no?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t say — our process and our focus continues to be getting more Americans vaccinated. Every country has different challenges they’re confronting. We are fortunate in the United States to have more than 81 percent of people in this country with at least one dose. We have — that is great progress that’s been made over the course of the last few months. We also have readily available vaccines across the country. We have purchased anti-vir- — the antivirals to further add to our fight against the pandemic.
So, we will continue to rely on the advice of our own health and medical team. And that’s not something that they have recommended.
Q And would the — does the President plan to travel to Waukesha?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sorry, I couldn’t hear you for a second. I don’t have — obviously, as I noted earlier today and you saw the President speak to, you know, his heart, all of our hearts go out to the community, the families who have suffered a tremendous tragedy when they were out celebrating the holiday season with their family members. But I don’t have any trips or anything to preview for you at this point.
Q Over the weekend, there were reports that President Biden was telling allies that he is going to run for reelection in 2024. Can you confirm? Is he going to run in 2024? Is he telling staff that?
MS. PSAKI: He is. That’s his intention.
Q In 2018, then-Senator Harris voted against the confirmation of Powell. Did President Biden have to talk her into it? How involved was she in the decision-making?
MS. PSAKI: Look, the Vice President is the first in the room, the last in the room, and somebody that the President sees as a partner, and somebody he consults with and seeks the advice and counsel of on nearly every decision he makes. So, certainly, she was consulted and this decision was discussed with her.
I would note that, obviously, Chairman Powell has served in this position for four years during a particularly tumultuous and difficult time in the United States, as it relates to the pandemic and in keeping the economy going during the pandemic. But beyond that, yes, certainly he would have consulted with her.
Q Jen, with the release of two of the missionaries in Haiti, is the administration encouraged about the fate of the others?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that is certainly news to be happy about — that these two individuals have been released. As you know, there are a number who are still there. And we have obviously been working around the clock — our team on the ground. We have a number of law enforcement who are there, providing assistance and offering that.
But I just don’t want to get ahead or make predictions. We’re just working to continue to get more of the missionaries released and home.
Q Any details to provide about how these two were released (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t want to get into operational details because our objective is, of course, to bring the rest home.
Q The Washington Post reported earlier today that there’s, what they called, a “budget crunch” in the Executive Office of the President — that people have left and those roles have not been able to be filled because of the September budget laws. What is the White House doing to address that, if anything? Do they want to see more money for the EOP in the next spending bill?
MS. PSAKI: Well, because we’re still under the same CR –- right? — through the first week after Thanksgiving, you know, we’ve had to tighten our belts a little bit. We’re certainly prepared to do that, and we have done that as a result.
In terms of specific budgetary requests, I don’t have anything more. I can see if there’s more to get back to you on that.
Q Following up on that, last week, you were asked about a potential short-term CR or whether the White House favors a longer-term, sort of, government funding bill.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, we’re still having discussions. I understand the question. We’re still having discussions. I just don’t have anything to preview for all of you on that.
Q And then on Powell: He mentioned, I believe, and the President mentioned today the importance of climate change and how the Fed needs to consider addressing that going forward. That was a critique of progressives against Powell.
Did he give the President any assurances that he would, sort of, change his position and start looking into and dealing with climate change in his position going forward?
MS. PSAKI: So during his conversations with the President, he — Chair Powell reiterated that he will make it a top priority to accelerate the Fed’s efforts to address and mitigate the risks that climate change presents. I would note that you’ve seen, under his leadership, the Fed take important steps toward — forward in putting climate change at the center of their policymaking decisions: identifying it as a key risk that needs to be addressed, joining with other Central Banks in working to mitigate climate change, and hiring on one of the nation’s top climate economists.
But he did reiterate his commitment to that during their discussions.
Q And then one more quick one on the American Rescue Plan, which we haven’t talked about in a while.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q So, the Vice President announced another one point — $1 billion-plus going out to support diversifying the healthcare workforce.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Do you have any update on how much money has been spent from that bill and how much is remaining? I mean —
MS. PSAKI: I’m sure I can get you on from Gene Sperling. So I will do that. You just want to look for a total amount? Sure.
Q And then just —
Q Just a quick question. Sorry. Just a quick question on COVID — the vaccine mandate that the White House put out for private employers, Jen. : There’s obviously a stay and OSHA suspended it. A, and while many employers are still, you know, going ahead and asking their employees to get vaccinated, there are some — and increasingly, perhaps, expected to be others — who are sort of putting a hold on that decision.
And you’ve probably seen Disney came out this weekend and said that, you know, their theme park workers — they don’t need the — need them to be vaccinated. They’re putting a hold on that.
What more can the White House do to get private companies and employers to act on what it, you know, has been pushing for, given, you know, now the mandate is really stuck in the courts?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the Disney piece is important to differentiate because, as they’re based in Florida —
Q Sure. Sure.
MS. PSAKI: — and, obviously, the governor there has consistently taken steps to — take steps backward, as it relates to fighting the pandemic, not forward. So that’s where they’re based.
You know, I would note that a recent poll showed that 60 percent of business leaders wanted to move forward on their own with vaccine requirements, because we’ve seen them implemented at a lot of companies -. T- they’ve been effective. And, overall, it gives a lot of comp- — businesses certainty about their workforce. It makes people feel more confident in coming back to work.
So, one of the things we’ve done is csite a lot of the best practices and the examples of companies — many of the airlines and others — who have implemented these requirements, and done it effectively and efficiently, and now have a very vaccinated and confident in the — in the security — their health security — workforce.
We — there is a stay, as you noted. Obviously, that will be litigated through the process. But, you know, we are still encouraging companies to take steps to protect their workforce, and many are.
Q Even though you have over 90 percent, you know, vaccination rate in the federal government, that could also — I’m wondering, is the White House doing anything to prepare for that 5 or 10 percent being, you know, — left off the job? Is there plans to sort of make sure everything keeps running?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. We have no concern about that. I will say, it’s 95 percent compliance. Right? Which means there are exemptions. Which — that percentage is actually consistent with a number of states that have implemented vaccine requirements as well. So, as we’ve said a number of times, we don’t see this as a cliff.
One, we have until the end — they have till the end of the day. But part of the process here will be, you know, different agencies — through HR processes — consulting with, counseling with employees to move towards being 100 percent compliant. That’s our objective. And it’s certainly not a cliff where we’re going to look for the decreasing of the workforce anytime soon.
Q On the Olympics, are you hearing any chatter or discussion about a boycott of the Olympics, especially over this missing — the tennis star or for any other reasons?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new to convey to you about the Olympics. But, you know, obviously, human rights and the handling of human rights in China is something that we watch closely, and the world watches closely . So, when you say “chatter,” yeah, people are talking about it. But I don’t have anything new, as it relates to the U.S. government approach.
Q Is there a deadline to make a decision on the Olympics? I mean, February is not that far away. Is there any time for — timeframe to make a decision?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have an update on the timeline.
Q Can I ask one on the SPR release?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Especially if it’s like coordinated with other countries, I mean, how can that work and how will that work? And I mean, does that mean that the White House hais perhaps — I don’t know — you know, given up on asking OPEC to, you know, release more output? Is that — is this a result of that? I mean —
MS. PSAKI: One, no. Well, I’m not going to get ahead of any — of any process. And I don’t have anything to preview for you on this.
But I will say that, of course, we’re going to continue regardless to press OPEC to ensure that the supply out there meets the demand. And we will continue to press oil companies who have made record profits and are overseeing what we consider to be price gouging out there.
When there’s a supply of oil or the price of oil is coming down and the price of gas is not coming down, it does not take an economic expert to know that’s a problem.
But, you know, otherwise, we’ve been — we have been having conversations for some time now with other oil-producing companies –- countries, I should say — about how to meet this moment and make sure that the price of gas that we’re seeing around the country is not something — around the world, I should say — is not something that is going to hinder our global economic recovery.
Q Is the administration considering sending military equipment weapons to the Ukrainian border?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to preview for you on that.
Q Do you have any intel specifically that suggests that Russia is perhaps planning to attack Ukraine —
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak to intelligence.
Q Okay. Okay. Because, I mean, you know, Moscow is like obviously saying — you know, rubbishing the report, saying they’re inflammatory. But the U.S. continues to express concern. So, I’m wondering if there’s any actionable intel that —
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speak to intelligence. I would just note the long history of Russian propaganda.
Okay. Thanks, everyone.
Q Thank you, Jen.
5:21 P.M. EST