Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, November 23, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:12 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sorry.
Q What, you got a holiday to go to? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Whoa. We’re a little earl- — we’re just excited to see you guys. Okay, I realize we’re a little early.
So, good afternoon, everyone. Take your time. If people want to shuffle into their seats.
I know this briefing is a bit later than normal, but we wanted to make sure we had a special guest who could join us. And Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is here for, I believe, her third visit to the Briefing Room with us.
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: (Holds up two fingers.)
MS. PSAKI: Second? Okay.
Today, she’s here to speak about the President’s actions to make 50 million barrels of oil available from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to lower prices for the American people.
We’ll turn it over to her. She has a bit of a time hardout, so we’ll — she’ll take some questions and then we’ll send her on her way, and we’ll continue to do a briefing after that.
With that, I will turn it over.
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Thanks so much. Hello, everybody. Happy Thanksgiving to all.
So, let me just start by saying I was — I felt so honored to have joined the President’s Cabinet because I know his deep desire to make sure that we are doing everything in our power to reduce burdens for real people and to give opportunity to American families.
And top of mind, of course, as you have heard today, is making sure that every American has access to affordable energy, both at home and at the pump.
And while our Energy Information Agency — and that’s underneath the DOE — it predicts that we are going to turn the corner in 2022, the fact is, right now, that energy prices at the pump and at home are too high.
This administration realizes that people are seeing this every single day as they go to work, as they fill their cars with gas. And we also recognize who’s hurt the most from this.
Low-income families already spend up to 30 percent of their monthly income on fuel, on energy. And so, any price increase — for them, in particular — causes an undue strain, but it causes a strain on everyone, obviously.
So, to be really clear: Obviously, the President does not control the price of gasoline — no President does. But what we’re seeing right now is this global mismatch between supply and demand. Oil production is lagging behind as the rest of the economy roars back to life after the shutdown.
So, we, in this administration, are leaving no stone unturned as we examine the market to figure out what’s behind the high prices.
And, you know, that’s one of the reasons why the President sent a letter to the FTC last week to ask them to investigate why there is such a huge price difference between the price of unfinished gasoline and then the average price at the pump. And he explained that a little bit in his remarks earlier.
But, if historical averages were true today, people would be paying about 30 cents less per gallon at the pump, based upon the differential between unfinished gas and gasoline at the pump. So, he’s asked for the FTC to take a look at this.
But this administration has been looking at every single tool that we can use to shield families from the rising cost of fuel. And, you know, that’s why the LIHEAP funds were — is a very important tool for Low Income Home Energy Assistance. The American Rescue Plan has additional funds to be able to have — help families pay their utility bills this winter.
And, of course, the President, today, as Jen just said, has announced that he’s directing the Department of Energy to make up to 50 million barrels of oil from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve — or “SPR” — available.
We’ve been having these conversations with other major economies, as you’ve heard. And since that has been happening over the past few weeks, we have seen oil prices fall nearly 10 percent, which is, again, I think, a testament to the President’s leadership on looking for every tool possible to bring down the price.
Of course, oil is traded on a global market, and the more countries that can join us, the more the impact will be.
In response to the President’s announcement, clearly, the Department of Energy is moving to make two slugs of oil available. One is 32 million barrels from the SPR, available through an exchange. And that means that oil that is taken out today will eventually be replenished to the SPR with an additional premium — a premium of additional oil — when that amount is returned at a later date.
And that’s a tool that is very well suited to what we’re experiencing right now, which is the high cost of gasoline, and knowing that, over the horizon, the projections are that the oil prices — and, therefore, hopefully, the gas prices — fall. So, bridging that time is what the SPR is being used for.
And then that also means that we will be accelerating 18 million barrels of oil from the congressionally — from congressionally mandated sales that we are moving forward — 18 million barrels for that.
So, we’re taking these steps, obviously, because we have to meet the immediate need of affordable energy and protect families from further pain at the pump. Oil prices have not been this high in seven years.
And to be clear, the President is prepared to use every appropriate tool to ensure that Americans have access to affordable energy today.
Some — you know, because low-income families and middle-class families and working-class people are suffering the most, he wants to make sure that he has got a robust array of tools and he is prepared to evaluate them and use them.
But as we look ahead, the situation shows that we’ve got to stop relying on one source of energy, especially from volatile sources. So, we have a short-term issue and we have a long-term issue. Relying upon volatile sources or relying upon fuel from countries that may not have our best interests at heart hurts the American in the long and in the short run.
So it’s why we we’re working faster than ever to diversify our energy, to add more clean energy. It’s why the President’s vision of building out clean energy sources like solar and wind and hydropower and geothermal and advanced nuclear — that is the answer. That is the best strategy, long term, to protect American consumers from these energy price shocks.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that was just signed is going to expand our infrastructure, related to clean energy — the electric grids — so we can integrate more clean sources. It’s also going to — that Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, as you know, is going to help build a nationwide electric vehicle charging network. It’s going to help us build those electric vehicles right here at home with $7 billion for the battery supply chain.
I was just in Chattanooga yesterday at a virtual — not a virtual — a ribbon cutting for a factory that is producing a component of batteries for the electric vehicle, creating 300 jobs in Chattanooga. That’s just one tiny example of the whole ecosystem as a supply chain that will be created as a result of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and then, of course, the Build Back Better Agenda.
Just one other thing: The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also invests $21 billion in demonstration projects for technologies, like clean hydrogen and advanced nuclear, that will put people to work in every pocket of the country.
And then, of course, what’s really going to help us escape this — these energy price shocks in the long haul is the second part of the President’s agenda, which is the Build Back Better Agenda and — because the clean energy tax credits in that agenda will help Americans save an estimated $9 billion per year in energy costs. It will make electric vehicles and other clean technologies accessible to every American. And historic investments in manufacturing and supply chains as well will put Americans to work making the technologies — not just batteries, but wind and solar and vehicles — the whole array of clean energy solutions.
So, economists say that these bills, together, will ease inflationary pressures and grow the economy and create 1.5 million jobs every single year.
So, we’re laser-focused on ensuring all of these benefits are realized as we aim to achieve the biggest thing that America has ever done to address the climate crisis.
Our administration is deeply committed to tackling this existential threat by transitioning to clean energy while, at the same time, making sure that every American has access to affordable energy.
So, thank you so much. I’m happy to take your questions.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Let me just say I think it would be helpful if you guys go sit in some of the seats that are open, if you don’t mind, since there are some open seats. That’d be great.
Okay. Josh, why don’t you kick us off.
Q Secretary Granholm, thanks so much for doing this. EIA says, domestically, we’re producing about 11 million barrels of oil a day on average. That’s down from 12 million in 2019, pre-pandemic. Why hasn’t domestic production returned in a way that would lower prices?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Yeah, this is a great question — a really great question. We have 250 fewer oil rigs that are functioning today than we did before the pandemic. And yet, the oil and gas industry has leases on 23 million acres of public lands on and offshore, over 9,500 permits have been issued that are not being used.
At the same time, the energy industry is making enormous profits. They’re back up to above where they were before the pandemic started. So, they have taken advantage of that moment — the profits — to be able to engage in shareholder buybacks, for example.
But we want to encourage them to increase supply. We want supply to be increased both inside the United States and around the world so that we can reduce the pressures at the pump.
Q So, just to check: You’re saying that U.S. companies have not necessarily returned production —
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Have not — have not returned to production. They have not. In fact, there are 150,000 fewer workers in oil and gas today. The fi- — it was over 200,000 people who were working in the industry before the pandemic. They have not rehired people. They have not turned on the rigs. They have not taken advantage of the permits that they have on the land that they have.
MS. PSAKI: April.
Q Yes. Madam Secretary, as you talk about supply and demand and as that was part of the issue for this spike in gasoline prices and energy prices, COVID is here. COVID is part of the bargain. And you just kind of talked about that pre-pandemic versus what is happening pandemic. COVID is expected to stay. How do you marry the distance between what’s happening now with U.S. production -– COVID — and trying not to — to try to keep prices down as prices are going up?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Yeah, April, that’s a great question. This is why what today’s action was so important. We recognize, obviously, that there will continue to be spikes. However, this administration has been very aggressive, obviously, about getting people vaccinated, and that’s the ultimate answer.
But as we know and as the Energy Information Agency has projected, the price of gasoline will come down what they project to be below $3 a gallon in 2022 — early 2022 — and continue to ratchet down bit by bit.
What we want to do with today’s action is to bridge the gap between the high prices today — try to reduce it as much as we can within our power by increasing the supply that we have access to as we move through — and the market then corrects itself and hopefully increases supply from the private sector.
Q And a follow-up. You said your effort is primarily targeting working and low-income families. What do you say to those families who are feeling the pinch right now at the pump? The prices are very high.
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Yeah, no doubt. This is why the President has been really thoughtful about this.
I mean, this is — you know, we’ve looked at every angle of what the tools are to him. He feels so strongly that all Americans are feeling the pinch as a result of gasoline at the pumps. And short term, we have to do everything in our power, and that’s why we have the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
But he also feels very strongly that, long term, the strategy really is to go clean. I mean, right now, the price, for example, of solar and wind is cheaper tha- — in most places in the country — because it’s free fuel — than more traditional sources of energy.
So, he wants to bridge that time and double down on investing in clean while creating jobs, but do what we can within our power to lower the cost today.
MS. PSAKI: Ed.
Q Thank you, Madam Secretary, for doing this. There are various figures about this, so I’m curious if you know: How many barrels of oil does the U.S. consume per day?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: I don’t have that number in front of me. Sorry.
Q So some suggest it’s about 18 million, which would suggest you’re releasing less than three days’ worth of supply from the Petroleum Reserve. Why is that enough?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Well, we — what we are doing plus what other countries may be doing — which will be less than what we’re doing because we have the largest amount of strategic petroleum reserves — we believe will be this bridge.
I mean, the Energy Information Agency has said, for example, that, in December, the am- — this is what they have projected. Now, again, it’s probably more of an art than a science. Projecting is subject to a lot of different volatility. But that, in December, the price will be $3.19 a gallon, and then, in January, continue to go down.
So, this is really a question about a short-term strategy that allows us to make this bridge. So, it’s not — we’re going to not supply all of the oil for three days, obviously. We want to — we will be releasing it over a period of time. And we will have a certain amount that each particular cavern is releasing. But we’re not saying that we’re going to be supplying all oil for the country. We’re just going to try to do what we can to temper.
Q And it’s coming over several weeks then, you said?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Mm-hmm. It will be. It’s — well, first of all, we are not going to release it all at once. It will be thoughtfully done over the next bit of time. And it will be dependent on those who bid. So, that takes a little bit of time to do.
Q But listening to you just now –-
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Yes.
Q — it sounds like you’re saying the price is going to hit a certain amount in December and then, down into January, it will hit a lower mark —
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Yeah, it will be over a few weeks. It will be over —
Q So, we’re looking at increased prices continuing through the Christmas season.
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Well, we’re hopeful that this will — because it’s increasing supply and it’s the largest effort ever, we are hopeful that there will be a lid. Although some of this, honestly, has — there has been movement on oil. The price of per barrel has dropped about 10 percent since this conversation started and was out there.
So, we’re hopeful that prices will be stabilized and start to move down. We are not saying that there is going to be some dramatic difference. But we also are recognizing — and everybody needs to, I think, be a partner in letting people know that last year was an anomaly because demand during COVID for gasoline was so low that the prices that the prices were so low.
And when demand is high, the price goes up. And demand now has exceeded supply, and we are doing our part to make sure that we can alleviate as much of that pain as possible.
MS. PSAKI: Rachel.
Q Thank you, Jen. Thank you, Madam Secretary. So, bottom line: How soon will Americans see prices at the pump drop? And how long do you expect that to last?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Yeah, I’m –- I — I’m not going to make a prediction about how much and how long. I’m — what I’m saying is that these — this is the largest amount that we’ve ever done. And it won’t happen tomorrow, but it will happen over the next few weeks that people, hopefully, will start to see the difference.
Q Before the end of the year? Before the Christmas holiday?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: I think that people will start to see some ticked down over the next bit.
But again, we want to make sure that the gas prices at the pump are not being held artificially high for some reason.
So, as I mentioned, it is unusual that the price of gas at the pump doesn’t drop with the same — at the same rate as the price of unfinished gas. And they — people would be paying 30 cents less per gallon if that had done it. So, this is why the President sending the letter to the FTC was important.
Q Some experts have called it a short-term fix, simply putting a “Band-Aid” on top of a longer-term issue. So, should Americans be bracing for prices to go down just for maybe a couple of days or a couple weeks and then go right back up again?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Yeah, again, it’s hard to predict what gasoline is going to do because it is a global market. But we are doing what we can right now because this is a bridge to a longer-term issue. It’s a short-term pinch. We want to make sure we do what we can to sort of even out the market while these prices come down.
And in the long term, of course, the long-term solution is to build clean. And that’s what we’re doing.
MS. PSAKI: Let’s try to do like one so that we can get to more people.
Alex, go ahead.
Q Okay. I’ll just link them together. Is this –- would you say this is like a one-off, or will this become policy for the U.S. to rebalance the market in this way whenever OPEC starts to keep supply tight?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Yeah, I mean, this is an unusual situation because we’re coming out of a once-in-a-century pandemic. And so, we have a very unusual mismatch between supply and demand.
I do know that the President has got a lot of tools that he is looking at, and those tools remain on the table. But this is an unusual situation.
Q And one thing he mentioned — I’m sorry — in his speech was that “China may do more as well.” And I wondered if you could illuminate a little bit what he might be referring to.
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Yeah, I mean, China will make its own announcement. But I think the point is that the President has been doing everything he can to affect the global market, as well by reaching out to allies who have — I mean, not everybody has a strategic petroleum reserve, and nobody’s is as large as the United States’. So –-
MS. PSAKI: Scott.
Q You addressed this in your comments, but I wanted to directly ask about it. Are you concerned at all that the short-term message here for the short-term problem of “please drill more oil” undermines the administration with its long-term goal, which everyone talks about as a key goal, of completely transitioning the country toward clean energy?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: No.
Q I mean, it’s two very different messages.
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: It is — well, I mean, the message is that — we are in a transition, and the transition does not happen overnight. And we recognize we’re not going to flip a switch and be completely all clean because we haven’t done the investment necessary. The President just signed the bill.
So, this is a short-term strategy to be — make sure that people are not hurting. And the long-term strategy to make sure that the country doesn’t hurt into the future is to build clean.
MS. PSAKI: Monica, last one.
Q You just mentioned, Secretary — Madam Secretary, that the administration is still considering some other tools at its disposal. We saw the main one today. What are the other ones actively being considered and under what timeline?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Yeah, I’ll just say this: That the President has got a few options, and he will be the one to announce.
MS. PSAKI: All right.
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Okay.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you —
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Thanks. All right.
MS. PSAKI: — Secretary Granholm –-
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: — for joining us today.
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Appreciate it. And happy Thanksgiving, again, to everybody. (Laughter.)
All right. Bye-bye.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, a couple more items for all of you. And then we’ll try to get around to as many people as we can in the time we have left together.
Yesterday, CISA and the FBI urged organizations to remain vigilant to ransomware and other cyber threats this Thanksgiving holiday. We’ve seen in the past that sometimes those threats – there’s an uptick around holidays, so we’re mindful of that. Their — and their advisory is based on that.
These — the advisory lists best practices and recommendations for organizations to implement, including multifactor authentication, strong passwords, to identify IT employees for weekends and holidays in the event of an incident, and more.
We urge organizations to take a look at this advisory and implement these best practices before heading into the holidays. And this info is available online at StopRansomware.gov.
Today, the Department of Health and Human Services began distributing $7.5 billion in American Rescue Plan payments to more than 40,000 rural health providers in all 50 states who serve Medicaid, Medicare, and CHIP beneficiaries.
Healthcare providers in rural communities have historically faced significant financial challenges, which the pandemic has only made worse, and these payments are a key part of the administration’s effort and commitment to keeping rural hospital doors open.
Also wanted to note, as we gear up for Small Business Saturday this week — go to your local small businesses on Saturday, to give a little plug: We have good news from Etsy, which represents over 5 million small businesses.
The Etsy CEO, Josh Silverman, said that Etsy sellers are, quote, “well positioned to meet customer demand.” And according to survey data, Etsy small businesses are, quote, “less concerned about supply chain challenges this year than they were last year.”
And Small Business for America’s Future, which represents a network of 80,000 small businesses, says their owners are prepared to handle the increased demands of the holiday season.
In addition to these strong reports from small businesses, major retailers like DICK’s Sporting Goods and Best Buy are also ready for Black Friday and the holiday season.
Today, the Best Buy
CEO [CFO] said, quote, “We are looking forward to a strong holiday season and believe we are [strongly] well-positioned [for] both what tech customers want and fast and convenient ways to get it.”
With that, Josh. Do you have any more questions? (Laughter.)
Q I have just two more quick ones.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q First, what’s the status of FARC? Is it being delisted as a terrorist group?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on that. I will — I’m happy to check with our national security team and see if there’s anything we can get to all of you.
Q Secondly, Apple is suing the spyware firm NSO Group. The U.S. recently blacklisted NSO. Does the administration have any additional thoughts on these foreign companies operating in the U.S. that might be snooping in on political activists, journalists, and dissidents? How do you protect people who use their phones and make them feel safe?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I will also talk to our national security team about this. I suspect we’re not going to weigh in too much, given it sounds like it’s a case of litigation.
But I will say, broadly speaking, obviously we’re trying to do everything we can to help prepare and provide guidance to private-sector companies and entities out there — many of whom are providers to customers and provide services to customers — as we head into holiday seasons, where we see upticks in cyber threats or ransomware attacks, to ensure that customers can feel confident and the American people can feel confident.
And our view is: That is a role the private sector and the public sector can and should play together. That’s something we’re uniquely doing in this administration that hasn’t been done in the past.
But I will check and see if there’s more offer on that as well.
Q Thank you. Me, Alex. Okay.
MS. PSAKI: (Laughs.) Or another Alex. There’s another one over here. Either way.
Q I wanted to know if the U.S. has been in contact with Saudi Arabia or Russia about this move, and what has happened as part of those discussions.
MS. PSAKI: We have been in touch with OPEC member countries. As you know, there’s an OPEC meeting — OPEC Plus meeting coming up next week, and we are certainly aware of that and mindful of that.
We’ve been clear that our preference was producing countries take action, but we were clear we would also use tools — our own tools to take action, meaning we were asking for an increase in supply but also made clear in our conversations, we would use our own tools as needed.
As you know, we’re not a party to OPEC Plus, and we, of course, can’t speak to them. But we know that the world needs oil supply to meet the growing demand as the world emerges from the pandemic.
OPEC Plus has said they will release an additional 400,000 barrels, and our hope and expectation is that they will continue and remain — abide by that commitment when they meet next week.
Go ahead, Jeff.
Q The reserve was created for emergency purposes. Does the President believe that this is an emergency of an energy sake or more of a political crisis?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re emerging from a once-in-a-century pandemic, and the supply of oil has not kept up with demand as the global economy has emerged from the pandemic.
So, it’s certainly something that we are not just experiencing here in the United States, in terms of the supply issues, but many countries around the world, globally, are experiencing it. And the price of gas is also up around the world.
I would note that this is not technically an emergency release but tailored to market circumstances. The Department of Energy has broad authority to do exchanges, which, as you know, 18 million barrels of this sale is, in fact, congressionally mandated and the other set of barrels is through an exchange. So, we don’t even classify it as an emergency. It’s under the authority of the Department of Energy.
Q But is this being done primarily to try and stave off a political crisis?
MS. PSAKI: This is being done in order to take — use every tool at the President’s disposal to lower the price of gas for the American people. And it follows a step he took last week where he sent a letter to the FTC asking them to look into what we see as a concerning trend, where oil — there’s an increase in supply of oil and not a decrease in the price of gas. It’s something he’s asked the FTC to look into because that’s not aligned with what our expectation or the American people’s expectation should be.
Q Thanks, Jen. Just following up on that. We’ve heard, certainly, from some critics who say that this should only be used for supply disruptions. Previously, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer also said that it should only be used not for the ri- — for the rise in prices but just a “collapse” at — in times of an emergency. What is your response to critics who say that this sets a dangerous precedent?
MS. PSAKI: I think our response is that: We’re emerging from a once-in-a-century pandemic — we’re hopeful we’re not going to face an emergence from a once-in-a-century pandemic in the future; and that we’re using existing authorities, both in the form of an 18 mil- — moving up the 18 million barrels of sale that is congressionally mandated and also using authorities that the Department of Energy have; and that, as the President of the United States or as the White House or the federal government, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to ease the burden, cut costs for the American people.
If there are other proposals out there, we’d be happy to hear them. But the President is going to use every step, take every — use every tool in his toolbox to help address these costs for people across the country.
Q And just one quick follow-up to Monica’s earlier question: The White House is not ruling out any possible further action if the prices do not obviously settle down here. Could we possibly see that by the end of the year? Is that — is that off the table?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re continuing to evaluate. Obviously, we have a whole month left in the year, so I don’t want to give you a timeline from here, but we’ll continue to monitor prices, we’ll continue to monitor supply, and this is obviously a top priority for the President.
Q Well, and following up on all of these as well: To be more explicit, do you rule out releasing more from the reserves if prices don’t go down?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to rule out options from here. Obviously, we’re emphasizing a significant step the President took today; the Department of Energy is preparing to take, as you heard from our guest at the briefing room today. We’re looking at a range of options; we will continue to.
But we feel this is an important step — something that, as the Secretary noted, over the last several weeks, as these discussions have happened and as other countries have announced parallel releases, we’ve seen the oil prices go down about 10 percent.
But I don’t have anything to predict, preview, or rule out for you here today.
Q Just two more quick follow-ups. The Japanese were quoted this morning as saying they weren’t certain yet when or how they would do this. So, who exactly has committed, other than us, to doing this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, there have been a number of countries who have already announced planned releases, including China, including India, Japan, Republic of — I mean, Japan, I think it has the intention to — the Republic of Korea, and the United Kingdom. So, there are a number of countries that either have or will. You know, that’s part of the discussions we’ve had.
Q And have you —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to obviously speak for them. These are just the countries we’ve had discussions with — I should say — to be more specific.
Q Yes, there’s no confusion. You are not the spokesperson for the Japanese.
MS. PSAKI: No, I have enough on my plate.
Q And then, just real quick — you keep mentioning and others have mentioned this letter from the FTC — or to the FTC.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Have you heard back from the FTC?
MS. PSAKI: They’re obviously an independent actor, and we will let them speak for themselves. I would point you to the fact that we’ve sent a letter to them earlier this year where we expressed a concern about kind of monopolies or oil — conglomeration of oil companies. That’s something they responded to and took action, but I would point you to them for any intention of their response.
Q Thanks, Jen. A couple days ago, President Biden was in Michigan and he was thanking Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib for the “passport” into her district. Now she is supporting legislation that would release all federal prisoners within 10 years. Would the President ever support that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President did enjoy visiting Michigan and visiting Congresswoman Tlaib’s district. But let me be absolutely clear: The President does not support abolishing prisons. He does not support defunding the police. He thinks measures like that will make us less safe. And he would not support legislation that includes it.
What he does support is effective and accountable community policing and a fair justice system. And he supports investment in public health, education, the environment, housing, community-based programs. But he knows there are steps — and he believes there are steps that we know are going to reduce crime and make our neighborhoods safer, but that is not one of them in his view.
Q Another topic: Would the President ever apologize to the acquitted Kenosha shooter, Kyle Rittenhouse, for suggesting online and on TV that he is a white supremacist?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let’s be clear what we’re talking about here. This is about a campaign video released last year that used President Trump’s own words during a debate as he refused to condemn white supremacists and militia groups. And President Trump, as we know from history, and as many of you covered, didn’t just refuse to condemn militia groups on the debate stage, he actively encouraged them throughout his presidency.
So, you know, what we’ve seen are the tragic consequences of that when people think it’s okay to take the law into their own hands, instead of allowing law enforcement to do its job.
And the President believes in condemning hatred, division, and violence. That’s exactly what was done in that video.
Q But if — you’re saying that it was just a campaign video; it wasn’t. The President also gave an interview where he said this: “[Rittenhouse] was part of a militia coming out of… Illinois. Have you ever heard this President” — referring to Trump — “say one negative thing about white supremacists?”
These are all things — none of this was proven in the trial.
And Kyle Rittenhouse is saying that the President had “actual malice” in “defaming [his] character.” Is that what happened here?
MS. PSAKI: The President spoke to the verdict last week. He has obviously condemned the hatred and division and violence we’ve seen around the country by groups like the Proud Boys and groups that that individual has posed in photos with. But beyond that, I’ll leave it to his comments around the verdict.
Q Okay. And then just one more topic. What message does it send to the middle-class Americans President Biden says that he’s trying to help, who are struggling this week to cover the cost of the most expensive Thanksgiving ever, that the President is going to take a few days off at a billionaire’s compound in Nantucket?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say — I don’t know if you’ve cooked a turkey before, but a 20-pound turkey is a pretty big turkey. I think we can all agree. They’re about one dollar more. So, not to minimize that — any increase in prices is something the President is concerned about, as is evidenced by his announcement today and as his efforts to push forward on additional relief for the American people.
But I just want to be clear that there are abundance of turkeys available. They’re about one dollar more for a 20-pound bird, which is a huge bird if you’re feeding a very big family. And that’s something that, again, we’ve been working to make sure people have more money in their pockets to address it as the economy is turning back on.
Q But the President said today that he was “sent here” to look out for these working- and middle-class families who are strained right now. So, what should they read into him leaving now at this time of great personal and financial hardship for so many to go to Nantucket for the week?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say, Peter, that I hope you’re spending time with your family. I’m spending time with my family, and I hope everybody in here is spending time with their families.
This is a time to put politics aside, spend time with your loved ones, and talk about what you’re grateful for.
I will also tell you, from spending some time working for this President and a past President, that: You are President no matter where you are. He will conduct his work from wherever he is, on any vacation, on any time he is in Delaware, at Camp David, or wherever he may be spending time with his loved ones.
He has secure phone capabilities. He has staff traveling with him. And I think the American people can be assured that he will continue to press to lower their costs and ensure they have more breathing room.
Go ahead, Monica.
Q Jen, I’m curious — because of the President’s comments about the deadly events in Charlottesville being an inspiration for his decision to run for President: Has he been following the Unite the Right trial? And is there any White House reaction to the partial verdict today?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have — I’m not going to comment on it until there’s a final verdict or the — nor will the President.
I will say, obviously, it’s been covered extensively on television, so I’m sure, like many people, he has seen some components of it as he’s gone about his — his duties from the Oval Office.
But I would just reiterate, broadly speaking, that the President has spoken to his concerns about the division that we’ve seen in the country, spurred over the last couple of years: the allowance of violence, in some cases; the fact that white supremacists have been able to run freely around the country in moments, in protests. And that’s of concern to the President. That is one of the reasons why he ran.
And addressing racial injustice — certainly not something that will be done through any verdict, but — is central to his objective as President.
Q And on COVID, we’re seeing numbers again with cases rising, a thousand people a day are still dying heading into what many experts fear could be a winter surge. Is the message from the White House a little bit shifting more to “the virus is here to stay” and going from “pandemic” to “endemic”?
But heading into the holiday season, where so many are traveling again, where it is so different from last year, as the President has noted, what can you tell people who are a little alarmed by these growing numbers?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would encourage people — we would encourage people to look at some other numbers that are very encouraging, which is: Last year, we had 250 million adults in this country who were unvaccinated — because the vaccines weren’t approved yet — and highly at risk of illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID. People were not gathering with their family members last year.
This year, we’ve cut that number to 50 million adults who remain unvaccinated, given 82 percent of adults are now — have received at least one dose.
We now have vaccines that are accessible. They’re free. They’re convenient. They’re lifesaving.
And we now have vaccines for kids, as people are thinking about gathering with their children and young ones or grandchildren, et cetera.
So, things are certainly different than they were one year ago. And boosters are readily available. And we’ve dramatically scaled-up testing and millions of rapid tests.
So, I would think — we would encourage people — I would encourage people to look at the fact that: Now that vaccines are readily available — something 82 percent of the country — adults have taken the opportunity to get vaccinated — you’re nine times more likely to be hospitalized or die from the virus if you’re not vaccinated.
We are in a different place than we were a year ago. And certainly, we have more work to do, but we’re going to continue the fight against the virus.
Go ahead, Steven.
Q Back on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q The President made note of the fact that this is the largest release ever — larger than after Hurricane Katrina, larger than after the 1991 Iraq War.
The Energy Secretary, in response to Rachel’s question, was not able to explain what impact this might actually have for drivers. So, how did you arrive at 50 million barrels? What — where did that number come from? It’s the largest release ever. Why? What’s the goal?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I noted a little bit earlier, Steve, 18 million barrels of the sale was, in fact, already congressionally required, and the President is accelerating that, which is important for people to understand.
Yes, it’s a part of the largest release, but he just moved it forward several — a couple of months to provide immediate relief as we work to ensure there’s a bridge.
The remaining 32 million is from — in the form of an exchange: putting barrels on the market now in exchange for their return in the future. And the exchange is a tool matched to today’s specific economic environment.
But again, I would reiterate that we’re facing a once-in-a-lifetime recovery from a pandemic which has impacted us in many ways, including the cost of some goods around the world, including the cost of gas. And increasing the supply — something we’ve asked OPEC Plus member countries to do and we will continue to press them to do. But we’re going to use every tool at our disposal to do that.
And the President took this step because he’s going to do everything he can to lower costs for the American people. He knows that the price of gas is something that is impacting people as they go into the holiday season, as they’re working and looking at their budgets, and that’s why he took this significant step today.
Q I’m still curious how 50 million was achieved — was reached. But I want to ask you also — to follow up on Alex’s question about China.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q The President made a point of saying that India, Japan, South Korea, and the UK would release. But he also said, “China may do more as well.” Was he intending to separate China? Is China not publicly committed? You just said it a minute ago. I’m just trying to get some clarity.
MS. PSAKI: They announced last week they — that they were intending to, Steve.
Q So, why would the President separate China when he said that India, Japan, South Korea, and the UK would, but “China may do more”? Is — was he not wanting to speak for China?
MS. PSAKI: He doesn’t want to speak for any country. But again, you know, he’s had conversations — as our national security team has — with many of these countries. And we’ll let them speak for any announcements they have to make.
Go ahead, Alex.
Q Did President Biden bring up this topic with President Xi when they spoke?
MS. PSAKI: They did talk about it, which I think was in the readout we issued afterwards.
Q Okay. But he specifically asked him to help out with this effort?
MS. PSAKI: They did talk about the supply out there. I’m not going to detail it any further than that.
Q And secondly, on Ukraine, just a little bit more: Do you have any updates on how the White House is assessing the situation there? Are there any plans for a phone call, for example, with President Putin?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to preview along those lines at this point in time.
I will reiterate that we remain in very close contact with our European partners at — from the State Department, a range of levels from the President’s national security team.
While I have nothing to announce or preview today, I would just remind you all that we announced we’ll be sending more than $60 million in security assistance during President Zelenksyy’s visit to the United States earlier this year as part of the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Partnership agreement. And we have spent more than $400 million overall this year to support Ukraine’s sovereignty.
So, I just wanted to note that, given that with some time ago. But that is something that we had committed to during that meeting.
And we have repeatedly demonstrated, under this President’s leadership, that we are willing to use a number of tools to address harmful Russian actions. And that is something we will continue to convey, obviously, through direct conversations and in coordination with our European partners as well.
Q Just to follow up on that Ukraine question.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Ukrainian officials have publicly called for more U.S. weaponry to help them defend themselves. And is the administration willing to do that? And would the U.S. provide military advisors to aid the Ukrainian government?
MS. PSAKI: We are in close touch with the Ukrainian leaders, but I don’t have anything to preview today.
Q White House officials have previously said they think inflation is transitory. Is that still the view of the White House right now?
MS. PSAKI: That’s the view of the Federal Reserve and outside economic experts, most importantly.
Q And secondly, in terms of gas prices, you’ve talked a lot about bringing them down. Is there a specific price per gallon at the pump that the White House is aiming to get to or would be satisfied to see?
MS. PSAKI: We just want to continue to lower it, and we’ll look at a range of tools to do that. I would note that because — as Secretary Granholm touched on, because of the discussions around the parallel release of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, we did see a 10 percent decrease in the price of oil. That has not translated to a reduction of the price of gas, hence the President sending the letter to the FTC.
And I would note that record oil profits and oil CEOs bragging about the profits they make from the price of gas certainly sends the message that something isn’t quite right there.
So, point is: There’s a number of steps that the President will continue to press on and push on, but I’m not going to make a prediction of where it will be.
Q Thank you, Jen. Two question, if I may. The State Department is urging Americans to leave Ethiopia now that commercial flight remain available. “You have to leave now. Now is the time to leave,” two State Department officials told — said yesterday. The military will not be deployed to — for mass evacuation. Should we consider that diplomacy has failed or is failing in Ethiopia?
MS. PSAKI: The President — the State Department is simply conveying directly to American citizens who wish to depart that they need to do so while commercial airlines are still up and functioning.
Q One — one —
MS. PSAKI: I got to just keep moving because we’re going to run out of time.
Q Thanks, Jen.
Q Jen, I’m sorry, one quick question —
MS. PSAKI: No, no, I have to just keep going on.
Q Thanks, Jen. You announced yesterday that 95 percent of federal workers who are covered under the President’s COVID vaccine requirement have complied. I’m curious about which agencies have the highest compliance rate and which have the lowest.
MS. PSAKI: The good news, if you’re working tomorrow, is that OMB is going to release a chart that gives you all of this sort of data tomorrow. (Laughter.) They just needed a little bit of time to compile everything together. But we’ll have that out tomorrow, and you’ll see for yourself.
Q Okay. And one more thing: Do you know if that data will specify how many people at each agency requested a religious exemption and how many got one?
MS. PSAKI: There are exemptions for a varie- — not just religious exemptions. There are a couple of reasons for exemptions. That is all done through HR.
I haven’t seen the exact chart or data so I can’t preview that for you, but we will be putting that out through OMB tomorrow.
Q Just to look ahead on this issue of gas prices: When OPEC Plus meets next week, is the White House still calling on them to increase production to ease pressures in the longer term? Is that the (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I conveyed earlier, they’ve con- — they have committed to, I believe I said, about 400- –- if I’m correct here, let me just get it right –- release an additional 400,000 — barrels, I assume. And our hope and expectation is that they will continue and remain — abide by that commitment.
Q How worried are you that this announcement today could backfire and actually get them to say, “We’re going to — we’re not going to increase production at all”?
MS. PSAKI: Again, we are communicating directly with them. I’m not going to speak for them. They — as you know, they have a meeting next week. And we have been in close contact with them for months now conveying and advocating for an increase in supply –- a release of supply to meet the demand. But also, we have been very clear that we would take actions, if needed, as well.
Q Thanks, Jen. A month ago, you said that the President would, in the coming weeks, lay out options to fundamentally alter the filibuster. Can you give any update on that?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update. He spoke to this, as many of you know, at a CNN town hall a couple of weeks ago, himself. But I don’t have anything in addition to preview.
Q Do you know –- you said “coming weeks,” so should we expect something by the end of the year? Or –-
MS. PSAKI: We’ll see. We’ll see. We have a few more weeks in the end of the year.
Go ahead, April.
Q Jen, you spoke previously about the divisions in this nation as it relates to recent trial verdicts. What does this administration have to offer or say as we await the verdict in Georgia in the McMichael, McMichael, Bryan case?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak to any case that is — where there has not been a verdict. What — and I’m sure we will have a comment once there is. But I will say broadly, April, that, of course, you know, as we’ve watched over the last — not just last year — obviously, long before that — last few years and we have seen violence on the streets. We’ve seen people lose their lives.
The President spoke himself — has spoken himself many times to the case of Ahmaud Arbery. And while we’re not going to speak to the particular — an ongoing trial, I would point you to a long array of comments he’s made about his horror in that case.
And as was asked earlier, you know, one of the reasons he ran for President, as you’ve all heard him speak about, is to help bring the country together, to help address racial injustice in this country –- help do that through whatever role the federal government can play. Doesn’t expect that to be all done in the first year, but we’re going to continue to press forward.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, great.
Q Quick, Jen —
MS. PSAKI: Okay, Francesca, go ahead. One more.
Q Thank you very much, Jen. President Biden, you, other members of the administration have repeatedly told Americans that wages are up, unemployment is down, the shelves are being stocked, and that the administration is working to address rising prices, including in a speech that the President gave today.
So why does the White House think that its messaging isn’t convincing many Americans that the economy is getting better?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ve spoken about this a little bit in the past, but I would say that, one, we’re still in the middle of fighting a global pandemic, and people are sick and tired of that; we are too. And it impacts how people are living their lives, their fear about sending their kids out the door, about going to work. It’s impacting –- the economy is just turning back on again, and we’re seeing the impacts of that, whether it relates to the ability the — unsticking the bottlenecks in the supply chain or it relates to the rise in gas prices.
The important thing for the American people to know and understand is that the President has a plan to address these issues, whether it’s the action he took today to take one of the steps, in his view — we can take to lower the price of gas; or the steps he’s taken on anti-competition; the steps he’s taken to address meat conglomerates who are making record profits in rising the price of meat out there; or whether it’s the Build Back Better Agenda that will help lower costs for working people.
And what I think you’re going to see us do more and more is draw the contrast. We have a plan to address these issues — lower prices for the American people. And we’re not seeing a lot of ideas on the other side.
So that’s what you’ll preview for when we come back from Thanksgiving.
Everyone have a happy Thanksgiving with your families. I look forward to seeing you — or I’ll be here tomorrow, but we won’t have a briefing. But, all right. Bye, guys.
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