James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

3:03 P.M. EST

MS. PSAKI:  Hello.  All right.  Good afternoon.  We have our National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, joining us for the briefing, who will give a brief opening and then take some questions.  And then we’ll proceed with a briefing after that. 

With that, I’ll turn it over to Jake. 

MR. SULLIVAN:  Thanks, Jen, and good to see everybody here today. 

As you all know, President Biden held a secure video call today with President Putin.  The call covered a range of issues, but the main topic was Ukraine. 

President Biden was direct and straightforward with President Putin, as he always is.  He reiterated America’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. 

He told President Putin directly that if Russia further invades Ukraine, the United States and our European allies would respond with strong economic measures.  We would provide additional defensive materiel to the Ukrainians above and beyond that which we are already providing.  And we would fortify our NATO Allies on the eastern flank with additional capabilities in response to such an escalation. 

He also told President Putin there’s another option: de-escalation and diplomacy. 

The United States and our European allies would engage in a discussion that covers larger strategic issues, including our strategic concerns with Russia and Russia’s strategic concerns. 

We managed to do this at the height of the Cold War, and we developed mechanisms to help reduce instability and increase transparency. 

We’ve done this in the post-Cold War era through the NATO-Russia Council, the OSCE, and other mechanisms.  There’s no reason we can’t do that forward — going forward, provided that we are operating in a context of de-escalation rather than escalation. 

The United States, as we have been for some time, is also prepared to support efforts to advance the Minsk Agreement in support of the Normandy Format.  This could include a ceasefire and confidence-building measures that helps drive the process forward. 

As I said before, the discussion between President Biden and President Putin was direct and straightforward.  There was a lot of give-and-take.  There was no finger-wagging.  But the President was crystal clear about where the United States stands on all of these issues. 

We believe, from the beginning of this administration, that there is no substitute for direct dialogue between leaders, and that is true in spades when it comes to the U.S.-Russia relationship.  So President Biden welcomed the opportunity to engage clearly and directly with President Putin.

Indeed, as President Biden said after his meeting in Geneva in June with President Putin, “Where we have differences, I want President Putin to understand why I say what I say and why I do what I do, and how we’ll respond to specific kinds of actions that harm America’s interests” and indeed harm our allies’ interests.  That’s exactly what he did today. 

After the call, he spoke with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, and the UK to debrief them on the call and to consult on the way forward. 

Our team is presently debriefing the embassies of NATO members, EU members, and key Indo-Pacific allies. 

The President will be speaking shortly with the leaders of both houses of Congress and talking to them about ways in which the administration and the Congress can work together on a bipartisan basis to stand up for American interests and values and stand behind our friends and partners. 

And President Biden will be speaking with President Zelenskyy on Thursday, following on yesterday’s discussion between President Zelenskyy and Secretary Blinken. 

In terms of next steps, the President and President Putin agreed that our teams will follow up on the issues discussed today. 

The President and our Europe — his European colleagues agreed that our teams will work together to ensure that our engagement with Russia going forward both involves and is closely coordinated with European allies and partners so that we are all on the same page. 

There’s a lot of work to do in the days ahead.  As we pursue diplomatic channels, we will also prepare for all contingencies, just as we have been doing for weeks now, including through the preparation of specific responses to Russian escalation should they be required — specific, robust, clear responses should they be required.  That’s where things stand as we speak. 
And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.  Yes. 

Q    Thank you, Jake.  Could you elaborate on what you just said about fortifying allies on the eastern flank there?  Is sending U.S. troops to the region on the table here? 

MR. SULLIVAN:  So, what I’m referring to there is in the event that there is a further invasion into Ukraine, a military escalation in Ukraine, obviously many of our partners on the eastern front, our Baltic allies — Romania, Poland, other countries — will be increasingly concerned about the security and territorial integrity of their countries. 

They will be seeking, we expect, additional capabilities and potentially additional deployments, and the United States will be looking to respond positively to those things in the event that there is a further incursion into Ukraine. 

Q    So, is that something the American public should be bracing for — the possibility of seeing American troops on the ground in that region in the coming weeks and months if Vladimir Putin goes through with this?

MR. SULLIVAN:  I don’t know if I would say “bracing for” since we currently have rotational deployments in the Baltics.  We conduct exercises on a regular basis in both Poland and Romania.  The presence of American military service members in rotational fashion in these countries is not something new. 

The question here is not that — about whether or not the United States is going to send American service members to the territory of our NATO Allies; we do that as a matter of course.

The question is: What additional capabilities can we provide to ensure that they feel strong and confident in their own sovereignty and territorial integrity?  It is those additional capabilities that are on the table in those countries should Russia move in Ukraine in a more decisive way.

Yes.

Q    Jake, thanks so much.  In the days leading up to this call, the White House and administration officials said repeatedly their assessment so far was that Putin had not made a decision over whether to invade Ukraine.  So did President Biden get clarity from him on whether or not that is his intention? 

MR. SULLIVAN:  We still do not believe that President Putin has made a decision.  What President Biden did today was lay out very clearly the consequences if he chooses to move.  He also laid out an alternative path — an alternative path that is fundamentally in keeping with the basic principles and propositions that have guided America in the Euro-Atlantic area for the past 70 years. 

And, ultimately, we will see in the days ahead through actions, not through words, what course of action Russia chooses to take. 

Q    And one quick follow-up —

MR. SULLIVAN:  Yes.

Q    In your statement — sorry, Jake.  One quick follow-up.  In your statement of the readout of the call, you said that the United — that President Biden told him the United States was ready to take strong economic measures and other actions if needed.  What are those other measures that the United States is prepared to take?

MR. SULLIVAN:  I just spelled those out in my opening remarks: both the supply and provision of additional materiel, as well as the additional deployment of assets and capabilities to —

Q    Okay, so those are the other ones.

MR. SULLIVAN:  — to NATO members in the event that there’s a further incursion.

Q    Jake, could you tell us what are the “strong economic measures,” and how are they different from the ones you put on Russia in 2014, which didn’t deter Russia from taking Crimea?  Why will it — what are they?  And why do you think they’ll work better this time?

MR. SULLIVAN:  I will look you in the eye and tell you, as President Biden looked President Putin in the eye and told him today, that things we did not do in 2014 we are prepared to do now. 

Now, in terms of the specifics, we would prefer to communicate that directly to the Russians, to not negotiate in public, to not telegraph our punches.  But we are laying out for the Russians in some detail the types of measures that we have in mind.  We are also coordinating very closely with our European allies on that at a level of deep specificity. 

We have experts from the Treasury Department, the State Department, and the National Security Council in daily contact with the key capitals and with Brussels to work through that package of measures.  But I think it is not profitable for us to lay out the specifics of it standing here at this podium today. 

Yes.

Q    Thank you.  Did President Putin ask for President Biden to commit to not allow NATO — or Ukraine to join NATO?  And did President Biden make any kinds of concessions, such as a reduced U.S. presence, or any commitment on NATO and Ukraine’s membership?

MR. SULLIVAN:  I’m not going to characterize President Putin’s side of the conversation and — or go into details in terms of what they discussed, because I think they need to have that space to be able to have a robust exchange. 

But I will tell you clearly and directly he made no such commitments or concessions.  He stands by the proposition that countries should be able to freely choose who they associate with.

Q    And then, on the materiel that you said that you’re going to send — following up on Kaitlan’s question — how quickly can that be delivered?

MR. SULLIVAN:  We have an ongoing pipeline that delivers various forms of defensive assistance to Ukraine.  Indeed there was the delivery of defensive assistance to Ukraine just very recently, and that will continue. 

So, it really depends on the type or form, but it should — this should not be thought of as a circumstance in which you completely turn off the dial or turn on the dial; there is an ongoing pipeline.  Whether that pipeline needs additional supplements as we go forward will depend on how circumstances evolve. 

Yes? 

Q    Jake, thank you so much.  You have said that the administration will take action if Russia does escalate militarily.  Satellite images show that hundreds of Russian troops are amassing on the border with Ukraine.  Isn’t there already a military escalation underway?  Why wait to take action?

MR. SULLIVAN:  So, our view on this is that the fundamental object of the policy the United States is pursuing in lockstep with our European allies is to deter a Russian military invasion of further territory of Ukraine.

And the measures we have put on the table are designed to show the Russian government that should it choose to engage in such an invasion, there will be those consequences.  That, for us, is a clear and decisive laydown. 

And we also believe that there should be an alternative pathway by which we can make progress on diplomacy in the Donbas, through the Minsk Agreement and the Normandy Format, and by which we can address NATO and American security concerns and Russian security concerns through a larger mechanism consistent with the way we’ve operated over the course of the past 30 years. 

Q    And, Jake, some Republicans are accusing President Biden of being too weak on President Putin.  They cite the fact that sanctions were eased on Nord Stream 2 and the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was widely criticized.  How do you respond to that criticism that President Biden is being too weak with Mr. Putin?

MR. SULLIVAN:  I make three points.  The first is that Vladimir Putin, standing behind then-President Medvedev in 2008, invaded Georgia when we had 150,000 or more troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  So, the connection between our deployments in foreign wars and the calculus of Russian leaders when it comes to the post-Soviet space, there’s not good evidence to support that.

Number two, when it comes to Nord Stream 2, the fact is that gas is not currently flowing through the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which means that it’s not operating, which means that it’s not leverage for Putin.  Indeed, it is leverage for the West, because if Vladimir Putin wants to see gas flow through that pipeline, he may not want to take the risk of invading Ukraine. 

And then, number three, the President has shown over the course of the past eight months that he will do what he says he’s going to do in response to Russian actions; so, President Putin can count on that.  He said he would impose costs for Navalny, he said he would impose costs for SolarWinds; he did those things.  And if Russia chooses to take these actions in Ukraine, he will do the same. 

He’s not doing this to saber-rattle.  He’s not doing it to make idle threats.  He’s doing it to be clear and direct with both the Russians and with our European allies about the best way forward.  And we think this stands the best chance alongside a pathway to de-escalate, to avert a potential crisis with respect to an invasion of Ukraine.

Yeah.

Q    Russia suggested in recent days starting talks on a new European security pact.  Did Putin bring this up?  And did President Biden agree to start those talks?

MR. SULLIVAN:  Again, I’m not going to get into the details or characterize what President Putin said.  And I will say that formal agreements or formal treaties were not on the table in the conversation today. 

But the straightforward notion that the United States, flanked by our European allies and partners, would be prepared to talk to Russia about strategic issues in the European theater — that was on the table and we are prepared to do that, as we’ve been prepared to do that throughout both the Cold War and post-Cold War eras.

What the right mechanism for that is, what the agenda for that is, and what comes of that — that is all to be worked out as we see how things proceed in the coming days.

Yes.

Q    The news of the buildup has been going on since late October.  Why hasn’t the U.S. given additional materiel to Ukraine yet?  This has been escalating for weeks.  Why wait?

MR. SULLIVAN:  As I just pointed out in response to an earlier question, we are continuing to deliver defensive materiel assistance to Ukraine.  We have done so just in the past few days. 

Yes.

Q    Jake, the Kremlin readout said that President Putin proposed to President Biden that both lift all restrictions on diplomatic missions that have been imposed in recent years.  Can you say whether that’s something President Biden is open to or whether it’s something he spoke to on the call?

MR. SULLIVAN:  President Biden is open to creating functioning diplomatic missions in both countries, but he didn’t make any specific commitments with respect to the best pathway to do that.  What he said was that, as leaders, President Biden and President Putin should direct their teams to figure out how we ensure that the embassy platform in Moscow is able to function effectively and as we believe the embassy platform here in Washington is able to operate effectively for the Russians.

Q    And just to follow up on Nord Stream, have you sent any message or have any meetings with the incoming German government on this issue?  Are you urging the new incoming government to essentially threaten to pull support for this pipeline if there is an incursion — a further incursion into Ukraine?

MR. SULLIVAN:  We’ve had intensive discussions with both the outgoing and incoming German governments on the issue of Nord Stream 2 in the context of a potential invasion.  I’m not going to characterize it beyond that, other than it is an object of great priority for the Biden administration.

Yes.

Q    Would President Biden reverse his waiver on —

Q    Thank you, Jake.  Thanks.  I’m sorry.  So, the — obviously, the summit is being watched by a number of other adversaries, including Chinese President Xi Jinping.  Some observers have described a nightmare scenario where President Putin invades Ukraine and also, simultaneously, President Xi uses force to reunify Taiwan with China.  Is the U.S. prepared to deal with such a scenario?

MR. SULLIVAN:  The United States is going to take every action that we can take, from the point of view of both deterrence and diplomacy, to make sure that the Taiwan scenario you just described never happens and to try to avert the invasion and deter the invasion into Ukraine.  That is the object of our policy right now.  Those are the steps we are taking.  That’s what President Biden is doing in the messages that he’s sending to President Putin.

And with respect to Taiwan, the sum total of the efforts we’ve undertaken over the course of the past eight months in the Indo-Pacific have also all been geared towards avoiding any kind of scenario where China chooses to invade.

Yes.

Q    Was there any promise from the Russian side to use leverage to change Iran on its position?

MR. SULLIVAN:  The President and President Putin had a good discussion on the Iran issue.  It was productive.  Russia and the United States actually worked well together, even in tense circumstances back in the 2014-2015 period, to produce the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.  This is an area where Russia and the United States can continue to consult closely to ensure that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon.

Q    Why did Ukrainian officials first deny that there was any troop buildup when Washington started putting out the information, and then changed their tune after the meeting with Blinken?

MR. SULLIVAN:  So, I’m not going to characterize the decision making of the Ukrainian government, only to say that we are in daily contact with senior officials in the Ukrainian government.  I’m in nearly daily contact with my counterpart in the Ukrainian government.  And we believe that we are seeing a common threat picture here. 

And our message to our friends in the Ukrainian government, as our message was today to President Putin, is that the United States supports the Minsk process, wants to see progress made towards a ceasefire, towards confidence-building measures.  And that is the best way forward.

Yeah.

Q    Jake, is the world safer — is the world safe- —

(Cross-talk.)

Q    Hold on a minute.  Is the world safer today after that conversation between the two leaders or less safe?  And then I have a follow-up as to your answer.   

MR. SULLIVAN:  So, all I will say is that the ultimate metric for whether the world is safer or not is facts on the ground and actions taken, in this case, by Russia.  Let’s see.

We are prepared to deal with any contingency, as I said at the outset.  And I’m not going to make predictions or characterizations.  I’m only going to say that President Biden will continue to do all of the necessary prudent planning for a variety of different pathways that could unfold in the weeks ahead.

Yes.

Q    Jake, there is an impression in the Middle East that this administration is going to redo the Obama deal, lifting sanctions and freeze millions of dollars to this regime that is going to be spread to the proxies like Hezbollah.  Hezbollah became stronger and stronger from the money that Obama gave to this particular militia.  So, is it — this going to happen?  Are you going to address the proxies of Iran this time at the table of the negotiation?

MR. SULLIVAN:  So, I’d make three points in response to that.  Since Donald Trump made the decision to pull the United States out of the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2018, Hezbollah has continued to menace Lebanon and the region.  Iran’s proxies in Iraq and Syria and Yemen have continued to move forward.  So, not being in the nuclear deal has hardly been a solution to the proxy. 

Second, nothing about the nuclear deal stops the United States’ capacity to deal with those proxies.  And we are prepared to do so.

In fact, in response to attacks on American forces in Iraq, the United States has twice, under President Biden, taken action — direct military action in response to those proxies, in addition to undertaking sanctions.

And third, ultimately, an Iran with a nuclear weapon is going to be a greater menace in partnerships with its proxies than Iran without one.  And so it is our determination to ensure they never get a nuclear weapon, and diplomacy is the best way forward.

Yes.

Q    Can I follow up on Iran, please?  You know, the Iranians announced they are going back to negotiations on Thursday.  The administration criticized them last week, and they said they were not serious — in fact, they reversed the progress.  What makes you think that — apart from hope — that actually they are serious this time?  And how much of a time are you willing to do it?

And secondly, your counterpart — you negotiate with your Allies and you coordinate with them — your counterpart in the UAE is visiting Tehran as we speak.  So, is this is a unilateral effort from the Emirates to do it or — to reach Tehran — or do you think this is a coordinated effort with the United States?

MR. SULLIVAN:  I’ll — I’ll put this quite simply: The more Iran demonstrates a lack of seriousness at the negotiating table, the more unity there is among the P5+1 and the more they will be exposed as the isolated party in this negotiation.

So really, the ball is in Iran’s court as to whether it wants to show up and demonstrate that it’s going to be serious or not.

Q    Looking forward to the meeting with — or the conversation with President Zelenskyy later this week, are there any steps or compromises Ukraine might be able to make to find a way to end this peacefully?

MR. SULLIVAN:  So, again, as I mentioned before, we’re in constant contact with senior levels of the Ukrainian government.  Secretary Blinken just spoke with President Zelenskyy yesterday.

I’m not going to characterize the specifics of their proposals, but they have come forward with constructive ideas for how to move the diplomacy forward.  We’re encouraging that.  Those are steps they’re taking.  And they’re asking the United States to support them in trying to get towards a ceasefire and then, ultimately, get down the track of diplomatic resolution.

We believe that that is good and positive.  And I believe that President Biden and President Zelenskyy will discuss that diplomatic pathway when they speak on Thursday.

Q    Can I just ask you about Nord Stream 2?  You said Putin should — you know, if he wants to risk the pipeline not being turned on.  Have you made clear to allies that you will, in fact, sanction the remaining entities that are involved in that project if there is an invasion?  And have you received any assurances from Germany? 

When Chancellor Merkel was here, there was discussion about what to do if Russia weaponized those gas supplies.  But nothing came of that, even though there were some pretty — there was some saber-rattling by the Russians in recent months.

Have you now received assurances from Germany that they will, in fact, not proceed with that?

MR. SULLIVAN:  So, in response to an earlier question, I said I wasn’t going to get into the specific sanctions measures that we intend to impose, although we will be communicating those directly to our Russian counterparts and we will be working through them detail-by-detail with our European counterparts.

What I will tell you is that the subject of the future of Nord Stream 2, in the context of an invasion of Ukraine by Russia in the coming weeks, is a topic of utmost priority.  It has been discussed thoroughly.  I’m going to leave it at that for today.

Q    Mr. Sullivan, how will the tensions between the United States and Russia can affect African countries? 

And my second question is: How do you summarize this meeting?  It was productive, it was good, or not?

MR. SULLIVAN:  It was a useful meeting.  It was useful in the sense that it allowed President Biden to lay out, in clear and direct and candid terms, where the United States stands on this issue.  And to do so having coordinated closely with his allies and partners beforehand.  And also to talk about a potential way forward.

Q    And how —

MR. SULLIVAN:  Now, on the question of African partners — this is true the world over: The attempt to change the territories of another country by force should be vigorously opposed by every country in the world, including every country in Africa.

I’ll just take one more question.

(Cross-talk.)

Q    What was Putin’s demeanor over the course of the two hours?  Did he signal any willingness to back down?

MR. SULLIVAN:  Again, I just make it a practice not to characterize the other side’s position.  He can speak for himself.  I would say that his demeanor, like President Biden’s demeanor, was direct and straightforward. 

And again, as I said in my opening remarks, this was a real discussion.  It was give and take.  It was not speeches.  It was back and forth.  President Putin was deeply engaged.  And I’m going to leave it at that in terms of trying to characterize where he is. 

All I can tell you is: There is a task in coming out of that meeting by the two Presidents to their teams to start talking about how we might think about the diplomatic path. 

The President made clear throughout that diplomacy has to come in the context of de-escalation rather than escalation.  And now we will watch what unfolds in the coming days.

Thank you, guys.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  Thank you, Jake.  You’re welcome back anytime — I think I can speak for the group. 

Okay, I just have a couple of items for all of you at the top.  I wanted to just preview tomorrow: The President will be headed to Kansas City, Missouri, where he will continue highlighting how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law delivers for Missourians by rebuilding roads and bridges, upgrading public transit, replacing water infrastructure, and creating good-paying union jobs.

The trip is a part of the President and the administration’s nationwide tour that demonstrates how the President is following through on his promise to forge bipartisan consensus and prove our democracy can deliver big wins for the American people.

And while he’s there, he’s going to be engaging with Governor Mike Parson, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, Representative Sharice Davids and Emanuel Cleaver, and a number of other state and local elected officials.

He’s going to be visiting the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, and he will discuss how the historic investments in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will provide more than $670 million in formula funding for public transportation, making commutes easier so people can get to work and home faster. 

The investments will also hope — also help Kansas City’s ambitious “zero fare, zero emissions” plan to reduce pollution and increase opportunity by providing free public transit.

He’ll also discuss how the investments will help repair some of the 2,190 bridges and over 7,570 miles of highway in poor condition — with Missouri receiving $7 billion for highways and bridges, and nearly 30 percent increase in federal funding. 

And finally, he’ll talk about how — the support — this bill will help support Kansas City’s upgrades to its old and overwhelmed sewer system, which could cost the city $1.4 billion to complete.  Missouri will receive more than $860 million to improve water infrastructure that will help deliver clean drinking water in every community.

I also wanted to note that, today, the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a new health advisory calling for immediate action to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis.  No child should feel like they have to go through a mental health battle alone.  Students and families should feel supported, confident, and empowered.  Everyone has a role to play in protecting and promoting the mental health of our youth.

This Advisory on Protecting Youth Mental Health lays out a series of recommendations that individuals; families; community organizers — community organizations — excuse me; social media companies; governments; and others can take to improve mental health for children and adults.

I also wanted to note that the Vice President — also she hosted a summit to mark — today — to mark the first-ever White House Maternal Health Day of Action.  She issued a nationwide call to action, to both public and private sector, to help improve mental health — maternal health outcomes in the United States. 

In conjunction with the summit, the Vice President announced a new Department of Health and Human Services report showing the impact of pregnancy-related Medicaid coverage and that the Centers for Medicaid — Medicare and Medicaid Services is proposing the establishment of Birthing Friendly Hospital Designation and guidance to states on how to cover Medicaid postpartum services for a year.

Aamer, why don’t you kick us off?

Q    Thanks.  Does the White House have any reaction to a federal judge in Georgia’s decision to block the administration from enforcing the COVID-19 mandate — vaccine mandate for employees or federal contractors?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the reason that we proposed these — these requirements is that we know they work, and we are confident in our ability legally to make these happen across the country.

As you know, the federal government — the largest employer in the country — we have successfully implemented these requirements in a way that has not only boosted vaccinations in the federal government with more than 92 percent of people vaccinated but also helps avoid disruptions and operations. 

And our implementation sends a clear message to businesses, including federal contractors, that similar measures will protect their workforce, protect their customers, and protect our communities.

I’d also note that a number of businesses across the country have also implemented these requirements — vaccinating or testing requirements, depending on the organization.

And the CEO of Lockheed said last week that they’re at — they are at over 95 percent on track to be compliant and are well on their way to be able to maintain operations.

So, I would just note, of course, the Department of Justice will vigorously defend this in court, but we know it works.  That’s why President and the administration will continue pressing forward.

Q    And how is the AWS outage affecting the government?  And has the White House had any — gained any insight or understanding of cause?

MS. PSAKI:  We have, of course, seen those reports, Aamer, which I know were just out earlier today.  I don’t have anything new to update you on, but we can check and see later this afternoon if there is.

Q    And finally, on the arrest in France of the Khashoggi suspect — I’m just wondering if the White House had any immediate reaction?

MS. PSAKI:  We did see the report, but I don’t have any additional comment from here.

Go ahead.

Q    I just wanted to ask you about the debt ceiling.  It looks like there was some movement on that.  Can you tell us whether you — whether the President has spoken with McConnell — Senate Majority Leader McConnell on that issue?  And if you feel like you’ve kind of gotten over that hurdle, does that open the door to other compromises and more bipartisanship?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President has always felt the door is open.  He’s never closed it. 

But I will say, we are heartened to see the progress being made today and hope for quick consideration so we can focus on the President’s economic agenda, his Build Back Better Agenda that will lower costs for Americans across the country as early as next year — childcare, eldercare, healthcare, et cetera.  And this would leave space to spend time and focus on that. 

We have seen Leader Schumer and Senator McConnell engage in discussions in good faith to move this forward, to prevent a default.  That certainly is a good sign, and today was a positive development.  We’ll, of course, defer to Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi on the legislative mechanics and the path forward.
Q    Since we’re on the subject of Build Back Better, can you map out for us what’s going to be happening over the next few weeks?  Like, what is your sense of a timetable for a decision on that? 

And the one issue that seems to have sort of fallen out is paid leave.  I realize that, you know, there are other priorities that are in the measure, but can you just say what you will do to worry about paid leave going down that road then?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, let me first say that the President absolutely wants paid leave to be law in the land.  He proposed it in his package.  We have fought for it in negotiations.  We also fully recognize we need every single Democrat to support this bill in order to move it forward. 

I would note for the first part of your question, Andrea, in terms of what will be happening, I would really point you to the “Dear Colleague” letter that Leader Schumer put out yesterday, which outlined in great detail what’s happening behind the scenes, whether it is the ongoing discussions between Senate committees and the “Byrd-proofing” process, as we call it, to review and consider components of the Build Back Better Agenda and whether they will pass the “Byrd Bath.”  That is ongoing; the parliamentarian is clearly reviewing that. 

I would note that, as he noted in his letter, that on Friday and Saturday, 8 of the 12 Senate committees that were given reconciliation instruction submitted their final Senate texts to the parliamentarian, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Senate Republicans. 

So this is a process that is, behind the scenes, largely — an important component of moving legislation forward. 

But I would also note that Leader Schumer conveyed in this letter, and has repeatedly conveyed, his intention and objective of moving this forward in advance of Christmas.  We support that, and we’re encouraged by that effort and that leadership. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  A few follow-ups on the call today that happened.  One, when it comes to the calls that the President had last night with European allies, did he get commitments from them that they would, in conjunction and coordination with the United States, implement those economic sanctions?

MS. PSAKI:  We’re not going to speak for them, Kaitlan.  Obviously, they can speak for what they have any intention to do.  But there is agreement about the need to impose strong and significant economic consequences if Russia were to invade — invade Ukraine. 

Obviously, that may look different from country to country.  And we’re focused on what our objectives are.  The President laid those out to — in those calls yesterday and in a follow-up call again today, and we’ll let them speak for themselves on what they have the intention of doing.

Q    And Jake just made clear that the President delivered some warnings to Putin today.  What is, in his view, the timeline that he’s looking at if Putin does heed those warnings and does deescalate?  What’s the timeframe for that?

MS. PSAKI:  For when Putin might deescalate?

Q    How long does he think that would take?  What’s he — is he looking at the next several days, the next several weeks?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to give you an assessment for that.  That’s really up to President Putin.  Our objective is to prevent Russia and President Putin from invading Ukraine.  So, of course, we want them to deescalate, but that was the clear bottom line of the message. 

Q    And one last question, just logistics: Is the President going to attend the funeral for Bob Dole? 

MS. PSAKI:  He, of course, considered former Senator Bob Dole a friend, somebody he admired greatly, as you saw in the statement, but I will let them announce any specifics of the plans for the funeral. 

Go ahead.

Q    Just quickly, on the call.  Jake said that — characterized it as “useful.”  Says there’s “more work to do.”  But big picture: Is there a sense that, as one of the results of this call, that tensions are now lessened as a — like, sort of what is — what’s the sense of tension? 

MS. PSAKI:  The way we see our relationship with Russia is that the President and leaders in this administration are going to be direct and clear where we have concerns, as the President was on this call.  There are also areas where, in the same call, we are going to discuss how we can work together. 

Our objective, a large portion of this call, as Jake Sullivan just outlined, was on Ukraine and our concerns about the military buildup on the border and our concerns about the bellicose rhetoric.

But the proof is in the pudding and the eating — I can’t even remember exactly the President’s statement on that or his saying he likes to say. 

But, really, our objective and our focus is not on the tone; it is on what their actions are.  And we would like, of course, to see them deescalate and, most importantly, not to invade.  If they do, part of this call was to convey clearly there will be consequences and significant ones.

Go ahead.

Q    What would be a sign to the President that Putin got the message today?  Would it be for him to start to pull troops back?  And when?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, I’m not going to assess that or provide an assessment of that from here.  We will know if Russia and President Putin decides to invade Ukraine.  I don’t think that will be a secret.  And so we will certainly be watching that. 

Our preference is, of course, for that not to happen.  And for — and the President made clear that there is an off-ramp here and that we want to have a diplomatic pa- — we have a diplomatic path forward to have these discussions.  But I think that will be clear.  I don’t think it will be a secret.  That is what we’re working to prevent.

Q    Is the administration starting to put plans in place in case Americans in Ukraine need to be evacuated quickly?

MS. PSAKI:  I know there was some reporting about this.  Of course, the military does contingency planning for a range of potential scenarios in order to keep the U.S. personnel safe.  And when a security situation warrants it, the State Department issues travel notices and security warnings to U.S. citizens.  That’s how the process broadly works, but it’s not the standard process for the United States government to evacuate U.S. citizens.  Typically, when — if a security situation deteriorates, the State Department issues a travel warning or a travel advisory.  Obviously, our embassy would provide consular service.  We’re not even at that point right now.

Q    Are there any lessons that were learned during the mass evacuation in Afghanistan that are already being — you know, being heeded this time around as you begin contingency planning?

MS. PSAKI:  I think it’s really important for people not to compare the two.  I mean, you — of course, you can ask any question you want.  But Afghanistan was a war zone; we were at war for 20 years.  What we’re talking about here is a situation we are trying to work to de-escalate and move towards a diplomatic path.  But it is not a comparable situation, in our view. 

And also, I would say that it is not standard, as you all know from our discussions about Ethiopia, for the U.S. government to plan for — I mean, we plan for everything — but to evacuate on military planes American citizens.  There is a lengthy process that we undergo, typically, around the world.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Jake talked a little bit about conversations with Germany regarding Nord Stream 2.  Can you at all characterize the process of arriving at some sort of an agreement about what might happen involving Nord Stream 2 if Russia is to move forward?  And does the administration have any regrets at this point about not — about waiving sanctions against North Stream 2 back this spring?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would first note that — and Jake broadly referenced this — but back in July, there was a joint statement of the United States and Germany on support for Ukraine energy security and our climate goals.  And what it conveyed in there is, quote — that it made — in the joint statement — would — we would take — there would be action taken if, quote, Russia attempts “to use energy as a weapon or commit further aggressive acts against Ukraine.”  Obviously, invading Ukraine would be an aggressive act.

And part of these discussions are what the contingency planning would look like if they were to take that step.  That is one of the lessons, and I think Mara asked this very good question yesterday and today about, “What are the lessons you learned from 2014?” 

What you can look at, for people who covered this back then, is that there’s an enormous amount of preparation, contingency planning, tracking of social media and the use of disinformation tools.  A lot of that is done because we did learn some lessons post twent- — in 2014, leading up to it. 

I think what’s important to also note is that I know there’s a lot of members on the Hill — not a lot, some — who are vocal, who are conveying that Nord Stream 2 is the answer here.  And what — the point Jake was making — or additional steps on Nord Stream 2 — is that that is actually — would actually not be an effective deterrent, that that is not effectively going to change the behavior of President Putin. 

So, yes, Germany, in our joint statement, made these commitments.  There are a range of economic tools and options we have, our European partners have, should they decide to invade.  Obviously, our preference is that we not get to that point.

Q    And then referencing — because you brought up the members on the Hill who often talk about Nord Stream 2 — and Jake’s July statement — these members say that Russia has taken action, that — you know, using gas as a geopolitical weapon.  They point to, you know, coercing and manipulating countries in Europe over the course of the summer; you know, taking advantage of the energy crisis, for instance, just a couple months ago.  And Biden and Merkel promised sanctions if those events were to transpire.  Does the White House believe that what we’ve seen up until now is not Russia using gas as a geopolitical weapon?

MS. PSAKI:  I think what we’re talking about here and what we’re trying to achieve here is a deterrence of actions that would be detrimental and, of course, hurt the territorial sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine.  And what I was referencing is the fact that there are some who are suggesting that this would deter, and our assessment is that it would not. 

Now, again, we’ve been having conversations with a range of partners, including our important partners in Germany.  And, yes, there is a reference, as I referenced, in July to this joint statement.  But again, you know, I would really — I don’t have anything new on Nord Stream 2 at this point in time.  I just think it’s important to understand what would be a deterrent and what would not be.

Q    Real quick on crime and another topic.  Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot appeared to pass some blame onto retailers for these smash-and-grabs, saying that she’s disappointed that these stores are not putting security officers in place, having working cameras, and chaining up high-end bags. 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — congresswoman — said earlier this week also that she doubted allegations of organized retail thefts.  She believed it was a Walgreens in California that cited it, but the data didn’t back it up.  Does the President believe that organized retail theft is really happening?  And should it be on the stores themselves to take action to prevent it?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we don’t agree.  And I think our actions and the work that we have had in working with the Justice Department, the FBI, and federal law enforcement show that we take — we’ve seen some of these extremely video — extremely disturbing videos showing retail thefts in both major retailers — as well as state and local leaders, like Governor Newsom, have identified this as a serious concern. 

We agree.  That’s the reason why we have sent additional support from the FBI, providing additional assistance.  It’s one of the reasons why we have also been — the President and members of our administration have been longtime advocates for supporting and funding the COPS program, something where the President proposed almost $300 million in additional assistance through his budget from what it was last year, and why we have also provided money to get — provided assis- — provided financial assistance to get money to hire 50 more police officers through the COPS program that the President has championed in places like San Francisco and an additional 20 officers in Los Angeles. 

So, I think his record speaks for itself on this.  We are going to continue to advocate for supporting programs like the COPS program, ensuring that our law enforcement are good partners as we’re working to address these retail thefts across the country.

Go ahead, Kristen.

Q    Jen, thank you. I have a foreign policy and a domestic.

MS. PSAKI:  Great.  Okay.

Q    I’ll start with the foreign policy.  It’s a big-picture question.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

Q    The withdrawal from Afghanistan over the summer was widely criticized.  There are increasing tensions with China and Taiwan, and now you have Russian troops amassing on the border with Ukraine.  Candidate Biden campaigned on a pledge to restore America’s credibility on the world stage on his foreign policy experience.  Is he living up to that pledge?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Kristen, he also campaigned on a promise to bring an end to a 20-year war that should have ended 10 years ago and to bring our troops home, and not to send another son, grandson, granddaughter, or daughter into a war that the Afghans aren’t willing to fight themselves. 

He also pledged to stand up for democracy and pledged to stand up for countries like Ukraine and their territorial integrity.  And that’s something that he is standing up for and vocally doing now, and raising concerns he has about the bellicose rhetoric and the military buildup. 

And he also pledged to stand up for human rights.  And you saw the decision we made yesterday that’s — not made yesterday, but the announcement, I should say, made yesterday about the decision to not send a diplomatic presence to the Olympics, because he believes it needs to be more than words; it needs to be actions.  And I think he is certainly delivering on his values and how he proposed he would be leading in the world.

Q    Domestic question, Jen.  Jon Tester just told NBC News that he plans to support the provision to essentially nix the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for big businesses — so he, along with Joe Manchin.  What is your response to that fact that some Democrats are joining on to that?  And should it make its way through the House — obviously, facing an uphill battle there — would the President veto that?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, let me first say that the President has a great relationship with Senator Tester, one with Senator Manchin.  And he has always had constructive and open dialogue with both of them. 

I think it’s important to remind everyone what this OSHA rule is all about.  One, it’s based on a 50-year-old law, and we are confident in our ability to implement it.  It’s about not just requiring vaccination, but — unvaccinated people to get vaccinated — but the alternative of testing: so, testing once a week.

And I think our view and the view of many Americans is that if people aren’t vaccinated, having them test once a week is quite reasonable as we’re thinking about how to protect our workplaces, how to protect stores and retail locations as people are out shopping for Christmas and the holidays, how to protect our children in schools and public places.  And we also know that more than hundred leading public health experts have endorsed this rule. 

It’s also building on what we’ve already seen businesses do on their own.  Sixty percent of businesses across the country are implementing this requirement because they know they work, they know people will feel confident being in their workplaces, and they know that they will provide a more stable work environment. 

So, we certainly hope the Senate — Congress — will stand up to the anti-vaccine and testing crowd, and we’re going to continue to work to implement these. 

If it comes to the President’s desk, he will veto it.  And we’ve got a new variant, and cases are rising.  The President has been clear we’ll use every tool to protect the American people, and we hope others will join us in that effort.

Go ahead.

Q    Given the stakes with regard to Ukraine, are there any plans here for the President to address the American people on the issue?

MS. PSAKI:  We — the President does speak to the American people nearly every day.  But we will certainly keep you updated if there’s something more formal to announce.

Q    But specifically on Ukraine, I mean, you’re talking about the possibility of serious consequences — I mean, economic and otherwise.  Is this something the President intends to talk to the public about?

MS. PSAKI:  I understand, Steve.  I’m sure the President will certainly be communicating with all of you and the public about this and many other issues in the days to come.  I don’t have anything to preview for you at this point in time. 

Q    Quick follow-up: Late last week, you told us the President took a COVID test for at least three days.  Have those tests continued?

MS. PSAKI:  He did take another test on Sunday.  He tested negative.

Q    Jen, just —

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead, Alex.

Q    What is the reason for the call with President Zelenskyy happening on Thursday as opposed to, say, today or tomorrow?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President also had a call with Eur- — his European partners today.  He is traveling tomorrow.  So, I think it was just a matter of getting it on the schedule. 

Q    What’s his message going to be that we don’t already know or is not already public?  I mean, what’s his message to him going to be?

MS. PSAKI:  The President will convey, as we’ve conveyed publicly and as he has conveyed publicly, that he strongly supports the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine, that we will continue to be a strong supporter through a range of assistance.  We have provided, I believe, $400 million in assistance since the beginning of this year, $60 million as a follow-up to President Zelenskyy’s visit here earlier this fall.  And that we will continue to be close partners and work in close coordination with them in the weeks and months ahead. 

Q    A number of Democratic senators are expressing some frustration over Guantanamo Bay — the detention center there, the prison — and why it’s not — more progress isn’t made in shutting it down, something the President has said he wants to do.  How come it’s taking so long?  And what commitment does he have to seeing that come to fruition?

MS. PSAKI:  He absolutely remains committed to shutting down Guantanamo Bay — something he has stated many times in the past as Vice President, running for office, et cetera.  I’m sure I can get you an update from the Department of Defense on the number of detainees who are still there.  That’s something that is under constant review, but we can get that to you after the briefing as well. 

Go ahead.

Q    Can I just ask — the readout referred to these countermeasures coming in the event of, quote, “military escalation.”  How do you define “military escalation”?  Is it Russian troops setting foot further into Ukraine or would other things count?

MS. PSAKI:  What would the oth- — tell me — tell me more. 

Q    Putin has a history of, you know, sowing, you know, discontent or unrest in regions — you know, supporting indirectly or with, you know, deniability separatist movements or that kind of thing.

MS. PSAKI:  And we’ve — we’ve already seen this.  We’ve already seen this happening — right? — over the course in —

Q    Well, this is what the case has been in the Donbas, right?  And he could, for instance, maybe follow up with troops into the Donbas in a way that he hasn’t before or similar sort of first-step measures that aren’t a full military incursion.  Would the U.S. and its allies consider that a violation and start triggering some of these countermeasures, counterpunches that you’re threatening here?

MS. PSAKI:  I certainly understand why you’re asking.  I’m just not going to parse the different scenarios.  I think we have been clear — Jake Sullivan was clear, the President was clear with President Putin that — that if they invade Ukraine, we have a range of economic options to take, and they will be significant and they will be severe. 

But I’m not going to parse what every different element might look like.  Those are conversations we would have — continue to have with our European partners, with Congress. 

And beyond that, I’m not going to parse further from here. 

Q    But the line is invading Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI:  I think Jake Sullivan spoke to this pretty clearly just a few minutes ago.

Q    And can you give us an update on the remaining Fed nominees?  He’s got a few left to make.

MS. PSAKI:  He does.

Q    Any this month?

MS. PSAKI:  We hope to have those soon.  And we continue to hope to have those out to you this month.  Yes.

Q    Thank you kindly.  Thank you.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah, absolutely.  Go ahead. 

Q    Thank you.  Following up on the announcement of not sending a American delegation to Beijing —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — for the Winter Games.  You were just saying this is an example of action that the President would take.  Would the President support the IOC moving the games from Beijing altogether?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t — I have not heard that’s an option under consideration.  I can just speak to what the decisions are we’re making here from the U.S. government, which we spoke to yesterday.

Q    He believes, though, that the Olympic Games should be played in Beijing?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not aware of a consideration of them being moved.

Q    And also, is the President right now engaging with Democrats in Congress on the current debate over lifting state and local tax cap for those who make over $400,000?

MS. PSAKI:  The SALT deduction?

Q    Correct.

MS. PSAKI:  That is something — as you know, there is some support for in Congress.  It’s not something the President proposed, but it is something that certainly is part of the discussion as some of these members who support it, they’ve raised — which won’t surprise you — they’ve also raised it publicly with members of our team. 

So, it is part of the discussions and negotiations that are ongoing at a senior staff level. 

Q    Does the President oppose it — SALT?

MS. PSAKI:  He didn’t propose it initially, but we are working to get this bill done. 

Q    But does he oppose it?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, he didn’t propose it initially.  We’re working to get this bill done and across the finish line, but it was not his proposal. 

Our objective continues to be to lower costs for the American people across the country on childcare, on eldercare, on healthcare.  This bill will do exactly that: create universal — a universal healthcare sys- — I mean, a universal pre-K system that has never existed in the past. 

There are components that there is support for that are still part of the discussions, but I think you can note the President didn’t propose that initially. 

Go ahead.

Q    Yeah, thanks, Jen.  Yesterday, you seemed to dismiss the idea of sending COVID-19 tests to all Americans, but other countries have taken similar aggressive steps to make free test — testing free, available to all citizens. 

Singapore, for example, sent six test kits to all citizens in September. 

In the UK, any citizen can order a pack of several testing kits all at once. 

Is the White House’s position on this simply a cost analysis or are there other reasons why the administration doesn’t think that sending tests — COVID-19 tests to all Americans is a good strategy?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, let me — let me give you an overarching, comprehensive understanding of how we’re approaching this to give you a sense — and I appreciate the question. 

So, our objective is to continue to scale up our testing program to meet demand and ensure the people who want tests are getting tests. 

And there are a range of ways people want tests.  Some people want to do it in their homes, certainly, and we’ve seen an increase in demand for that in recent months, and we’ve quadrupled our capacity in that regards.  We’ll keep building. 

Some people want to go to their — their primary care physician. 

Some people want to go to a community health center or a rural health center. 

Some people want to have their kids tested at school — an option that many public schools have made available — and private schools, I guess, as well have made available. 

So what we’re — our focus is on is ensuring that everyone in America has access to free testing, whether at a doctor’s office, pharmacy, community testing site, or, now, at home. 

And there’s a couple steps we’ve taken.   From the beginning, we haven’t always — there’s obviously a lot of interest in testing now, for good reason.  And one, in February, we wrote new guidance to make insurers cover asym- — asymptomatic PCR and point-of-care tests critical to helping the majority of Americans who have private insurance not worry about burdensome test costs. 

So, what that means is: Before that, if you went to get a PCR test — as we know, which is a test that can certainly track very closely whether you have components of the virus — you had to pay for it.  Our — our private insur- — we now ensured, many months ago, that was not the case. 

As I noted, we quadrupled the number of free pharmacy testing sites with a priority on vulnerable communities in addition to state and local community sites.  So today, there are 20,000 sites across the country with free quality tests.  That means you can walk into the pharmacy, get a free test, get it done, ensure you’re taking that step.  That’s the preference for some. 

We’ve also secured funding from the Rescue Plan, invested it in hardest-hit areas — $10 billion for schools — to conduct testing, nearly $1 billion for rural clinics and hospitals. 

And toward the summer, we also planned for the school year, ensuring school districts had the resources to set up a testing program to ensure kids stayed in school. 

We also doubled down our work to get testing to congregate settings that were more vulnerable and where demand was higher. 

As Delta hit in the summer and demand increased for testing, we immediately jumped into action.  And as we’ve seen at-home tests have become more in demand, we’ve taken steps on that front to make them free. 

So, if you have private insurance, we’re making sure you’ll get reimbursed by your insurer for at-home tests if that’s your preference, if that’s what you would like to do.  And we made sure that the tests you get from your healthcare provider — like PCR tests — are covered with no copays. 

I also would note that we also announced last week we’re sending 50 million free tests, starting this month, to convenient locations like health centers and community sites. 

So, overarching, our objective here is to make them accessible, to make sure that people who want to get tested can get tested in any means they choose to do, and to make sure they’re free for everyone in America.

Q    And I understand all these efforts, but why is — wouldn’t it be a good idea to just send them to all American homes?  It seems like that would make it more readily available to just, you know, have it sitting — knowing that one is just sitting in your kitchen somewhere.  You know, why isn’t that a way that would be an effective strategy?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, our assessment is that the best way to make these tests readily available and accessible to people is to make them available — meet people where they are and make them available at places where people go — community health centers, rural health centers, pharmacies, doctors’ offices, schools — and also have a component where people can have tests for free at their home. 

But we — our approach is not to send everyone in the country a test just to send — to have millions of tests go unused where we know others can make use of them. 

So we’ve made an assessment about how to make them free and available to Americans across the country.  That’s absolutely our objective, and we’ll continue to build on it.

Q    And you did seem to reference cost yesterday.  So, is that a concern with just how — logistically, financially — how hard that would be to get to all American households?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, our objective is to make them readily available to people where they are across the country.  And we have made the assessment that doing that is most effective by making them — by donating these 50 million tests to community health centers and rural health centers, by making them available at 20,000 pharmacies, by working with schools and workplaces to make testing available, and also to have — providing the option for people to get free tests in their homes.

Go ahead.

Q    Two polar opposite questions.  One Ukraine and —

MS. PSAKI:  I always — I like the set up today that everybody is doing.  “Polar opposites.”  “Different topics.” 

Go ahead.  

Q    Well, they are, really.  Ukraine —

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

Q    — Ukraine and the messaging, and the results on the vaccines — not just being fully vaccinated, but now the boosters as the vaccines are waning. 

On Ukraine, you talked — well, Jake talked about “clarity.”  He talked about “deescalating.”  He talked about being direct — the President was.  But is there any room, as the effort is to deescalate — is there any more room for the President to maybe have another conversation — another direct conversation with Putin on this and efforts as we seem like we’re at the 11th hour?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure, I mean — and, April, I will say that the President certainly values leader-to-leader diplomacy, as you’ve seen evidence of over the course of the last several weeks. 

What they agreed to at the end of the call was that there would be close coordination and discussion at national — the level of senior national security staff.  That’s the next natural step here.  It’s really up to President Putin to determine what the path forward will look like. 

So, I don’t have any calls to predict or preview at this point in time.

Q    But it’s not hypothetical to say, leader to leader, Putin is someone that this — this country has had some issues with over the years.  And it’s not about trust; it’s about watching what he does. 

So, the question, once again, is: Is there an opening, a possibility if it needs be — if there needs to be a conversation, would the President be amenable to talking once again to Putin if —

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President just ended a call with him just a couple of hours ago.  So, I think we’re going to see how this goes here with conversations and important follow-up.  But I don’t think the President has ever hesitated to have leader-to-leader conversations if that is going to be effective and helpful in resolving any circumstances.

Q    And the last piece.  On the booster, with the messaging — what is the next piece?  What are you getting back from the nation as you’re asking for boosters? 

Dr. Fauci has said that, you know, the two shots are now waning.  We’re seeing more people who were vaccinated in the hospital from breakthroughs.  And now it’s boosters.  What are you seeing from America?  Is there a weariness, or are people responding to the call?

MS. PSAKI:  We’ve — we’ve seen people responding to the call, April.  I mean, our boosters program is off to a very strong start in our assessment.  Forty-seven million people have already received a booster.  About 1 million people are getting boosted every single day — more than ever before. 

So, this is in strong demand, which is good news because, as you noted, it will help protect people further, it will help give another layer of additional protection.  And we have plenty of supply across the country — 80,000 sites — and we’re working with governors and FEMA to ensure we have plenty of easy and convenient locations.

So, there has been an increase in boosting by people over the past week-plus — 1 million people a day — and we’re continuing to make sure they’re accessible around the country.

Karen, go ahead.  Okay, I’ll go to Karen because I just called on her.  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  Somewhat of a follow-up on the testing: The CDC is now urging people to use a rapid test before they go into an indoor gathering, even if they’re vaccinated or don’t have symptoms.  You talked about the free tests that will soon be out there for Americans, but it’s still going to take some time.  Right now, they’re still a little bit pricey.  The administration has invested billions of dollars to bring the cost of that down.  When do you anticipate they will be cheaper for Americans to buy if they wanted to just walk into a pharmacy?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we do know now that we are donate- — or we are giving 50 million tests now, this month, to community health centers and rural health centers across the country.  And there are already 20,000 pharmacies across the country where free testing is available.  And you can also go to your doctor and get a free test.  So, there are options. 

We are working to implement some of these specifics by mid-January, in terms of how people can get reimbursed for tests — I think is what you’re asking about.  We’re doing that as rapidly as we can, as people are looking to get home tests. 

They’re about $7 a test, and certainly we’ll continue our objective here.  Our larger objective is also to create a market so that that cost continues going down, that there are more tests on the market, and the costs continue to decrease over time.

Q    Thanks.  And why didn’t we see the CDC make this recommendation before the Thanksgiving holiday — that people should start doing it — before people were gathering indoors with family and friends, that they should consider doing these rapid tests?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, I would — I would really point you to the CDC because they look at a range of data and science as they make assessments or make additional recommendations.  And I would encourage you to ask them that exact question.

Thank you so much, everyone.

4:04 P.M. EST

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