James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:12 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone.
Q    Hi.  Good afternoon. 
MS. PSAKI:  Good afternoon.  Okay, today we have joining us our NEC Director, Brian Deese, who is going to give some brief opening remarks.  He’ll take some questions, and then we’ll do a briefing from there.
Take it away.
MR. DEESE:  All right.  Hello, everybody.  It’s good to be here today.  All right. 
Q    Hello!
MR. DEESE:  Enthusiasm.  I like that.  (Laughter.)
So I just wanted to spend a couple of minutes on providing some context on where we are in the economic recovery and also use some charts, which should be really fun. 
The President — the President released a statement earlier today, saying that our economy — our economic recovery has two components: getting Americans back to work and getting prices and supply chains back to normal.  And so, I want to provide a little bit of context on our perspective on that issue. 
So first, today, we learned that the number of Americans filing for unemployment insurance fell to its lowest level since 1969.  And I will, as I think I have done every time I’ve come to this podium, reinforce that every time we look at data like this, one week — even one month — can be volatile, so we look at the averages and trends.
But if you look at the first slide here, you’ll see that the trend underscores that the four-week moving average for initial UI claims is now down by about 75 percent since the beginning of the year.  And another way to think about that is that at the beginning of this year, there were 18 million Americans who are collecting unemployment benefits.  And today, we learned that now that number has fallen to fewer than 2 million. 
So, in addition to that consistent trend, we’re also seeing a reduction in 16 million Americans who were previously relying on government benefits that have now transitioned off of it. 
We also learned last week that the unemployment rate fell to 4.2 percent, which is, again, the fastest year-to-date decline in the unemployment rate on record. 
And in this second chart, you see — there we are.  This — the second chart, you see that that is not only the fastest decline, but it’s also very significantly accelerated from what was projected at the beginning of this year. 
So, the — I guess mauve.  What color is that?  That light brown line. 
Q    (Inaudible.)
MR. DEESE:  Mauve — is that right? 
Q    Light brown.
Q    It’s not mauve.
MR. DEESE:  No?  No.  (Laughter.)  Okay.  I’m getting clear feedback from the front row that it is not mauve.  (Laughter.)
The brown line — the light brown line shows the projections from the beginning of this year, prior to the passage of the American Rescue Plan, which showed that it would — it projected to take our economy until the end of 2024 to get to an unemployment rate of about 4.2 percent. 
And now we have reached that in the fourth quarter of 2021, which underscores both the significance of the American Rescue Plan in helping drive a strong labor market recovery but also just the benefit for the American people of reaching that point. 
I would just note as well, in terms of labor market strength, that we have also seen encouraging signs in labor force participation, because when the unemployment comes — rate comes down, it can be because people are joining the labor force or coming out.  And we saw that the prime age employment population ratio, which is the metric of — that economists generally look at, increased by five tenths of a percent last month, and we’ve now recovered nearly 85 percent of our pandemic drop in that metric. 
So, we’ve seen very strong labor market developments, and that — those labor market developments are coupled by strong developments in overall economic growth and in household income and demand.  And so, that puts us in a position where, today, real household income is higher than before the pandemic.  So, real household income for the typical American family is $350 a month higher now than before the pandemic, in real terms, accounting for price increases, accounting for inflation. 
And so that strength — that strength of the labor market, that strength of household balance sheets, that strength of economic growth — positions us uniquely well to deal with the challenges that we face of prices and supply chain issues.  In fact, uniquely among industrialized countries, we are the only country that has seen GDP now recover from its pre-pandemic levels, has seen household income recover from its pre-pandemic levels.  So that positions us uniquely well.
And so, on that note, we are, as you all know, very focused on addressing the issue of prices and supply chain bottlenecks head on, from that position of strength. 
Tomorrow, we will get data on consumer prices for November.  And I’m not going to attempt to predict what those data are.  Outside forecasters expect those data to continue to show price increases at — to remain at elevated levels.  But I want to provide a little bit of context on that front as well. 
The first is that that data is, by definition, backward-looking, and so it won’t capture some recent price movements, particularly in the area of energy. 
And so, for example, prices of gas at the gas pump are now down nationally.  They’re down about nine cents.  But to put some context on that, this next chart over here, this shows the inflation-adjusted real price of gas at the pump over the last 10 years.  And what it shows is that, on average, over the last 10 years — and, in fact, this is true over the last 20 years — the average price at the pump for a gallon of gas has been about $3.13 in real terms, inflation adjusted. 
And so, today, 20 states now have pump prices that are below that 20-year average.  And as the — as prices come down nationally over the next couple of weeks, as we expect and hope that they will, we hope to see more states falling into that category.  Those price reductions will not be reflected in the data for November. 
In addition, this week we’ve seen natural gas prices fall.  They’re now down 25 percent from their average in November.  And that is — that is good news, particularly looking into the winter home heating season.  I know several of you reported on and were focused on natural gas price increases earlier this fall portending potentially big increases in heating costs over the winter.  The very dramatic decline in natural gas prices over the course of the last couple of weeks have changed that outlook quite meaningfully. 
So these declines are delivering, most importantly, some benefit to consumers and some benefits to consumers on a go- forward basis that won’t be reflected in that data. 
Secondly, we’ve seen some near movements on other commodity prices over the course of the last couple of weeks.  We’ve seen shipping costs to move a container from Asia to the United States come down by about 25 percent. 
Over the course of the last couple of weeks, the price of wheat, the price of pork has come down and, importantly, used cars as well. 
I know many of you have seen and tracked, in some of the recent price data, that used cars have played an outsized influence.  There’s been challenges in the used car market, including relating to — reflecting the fact that rental car companies sold off their fleets and were buying back.  We anticipate that some of the recent decline in used car prices at the wholesale level indicates that we may see prices decline there as well.  Again, that won’t be reflected in backward-looking data from tomorrow. 
And lastly, the consensus estimates of outside experts continue to forecast and project that price increases will moderate going into 2022.  The Blue-Chip consensus for core PCE inflation, for example, in — by the fourth quarter of next year is down to 2.2 percent, for example.
So, that’s, I think, important context for all of you in thinking about the data releases.  But most importantly from our perspective, it is a reason to redouble our efforts to focus on both the immediate-term and the medium-term steps that we can take to try to address prices and bring down costs for families. 
That’s what we’re focused on with respect to our supply chain work, our energy price work, and, of course, in moving the Build Back Better Act, which will do more than any piece of legislation in modern American history to reduce costs for families. 
So, with that, I will open the floor.
MS. PSAKI:  Kristen, kick us off.
Q    Thank you, Jen.  And, Brian, thank you for being here. 
Jumping off right there, on Build Back Better: As you anticipate and wait for this new data tomorrow — and I think there’s also going to be a new cost estimate of Build Back Better requested by Republicans — how concerned is the White House that it will complicate your efforts to win over those moderate Democrats like Joe Manchin?
MS. DEESE:  Well, we are quite confident that if the question is, “What can we do to address the costs that are most pressing to American families?” — that that — if that is the debate and that is the discussion, then the case for the Build Back Better Act is — only gets stronger and that we are building momentum around that set of arguments. 
If you step back and you think about a typical family’s budget and what they have to spend on expenses in a typical month, about 60 percent of those costs fall into housing, healthcare, prescription drugs, childcare, and transportation.  That’s what, you know, the bulk of a family’s budget is made up of.
And on each of those areas, the legislation that the President has prioritized and is moving through Congress would address and reduce those costs.  And so, I think that if that’s the debate and that’s the question — how can we address those costs that families are facing — again, the Build Back Better Act will do more to lower costs than any piece of legislation in modern American history.  And so we feel quite enthusiastic about being able to make that case.
Q    One quick follow-up on inflation: Fed Chair Jerome Powell said that “transitory” is no longer the right way to describe inflation.  He said, “It now appears that factors pushing inflation upward will linger well into next year.”  Given that, do you believe that this inflation is now more entrenched and not transitory? 
MR. DEESE:  What we — what we believe is that price increases elevated to the level that we’re seeing hit American families and their pocketbooks, and we need to do everything that we can to address those directly. 
We also believe that the strength of our economic recovery and the strength of our labor market and the strength of wage increases and the steps that we’ve taken to try to provide some relief to American families position our economy and American households uniquely well to address what is a global issue around price increases, in the context of supply chains and otherwise.
Q   But is Powell right?  Will these increased prices last through next year?
MR. DEESE:  Well, I — I am not going to get into the prediction business, other than to say — and I’ll echo what I noted at the beginning — is that most outside, independent forecasters continue to see price increases moderating, and moderating meaningfully, over the course of next year.
MS. PSAKI:  Mary.
Q    Along the same line, the President did try to set expectations in his statement today, saying, you know, you expect inflation numbers to stay high, but that doesn’t reflect the reality.  So, when do you expect the reports will actually reflect this?
MR. DEESE:  Well, I would just point to some of the real-world — you know, real-world data that we’re seeing, which is that we’ve seen gas prices come down.  We’ve seen natural gas prices come down.  We’ve seen real progress in unsticking some of the supply chain bottlenecks that have been — that have persisted in our economy.
I was noting on supply chains that there’s actually now some reporting that the principal concern is on the back end of the holiday season — too much excess inventory, and people have over-ordered. 
And so — so, certainly these are not, you know — these are things that don’t work themselves out overnight.  And we — I will go back to what I said at the beginning of this: We never over-index on any one piece of data or any one data release.  But we — you know, we’re going to stay focused on what we can do to try to address these prices in the immediate term.
MS. PSAKI:  Nandita.
Q    Thank you, Jen.  Just talking about sort of gas prices coming down, Brian, a group of bipartisan lawmakers, six of them from Texas, as you’re probably aware, sent a letter to President Biden about not reinstituting a ban on U.S. oil exports.  What is the position of the White House on that, considering the letter was sent, explicitly saying that the White House is considering a move to that effect?
MR. DEESE:  It’s not an issue that we’re currently focused on.  The President, in our focus on energy markets, has made clear to the team that all options should be on the table to try to address challenges in the market and bring relief to American consumers.  That’s certainly the approach that we have taken to date in our international engagements, our diplomatic engagements, and actions we’ve taken, including the exchange and sale from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve that the President announced about 10 days ago.
So, we’ll continue to work on those issues.  We’ll continue to work with states and localities to make sure that they have the support that they need, but that specific issue is not one that we’re currently focused on.
Q    Sorry, and just a quick — a quick follow-up.  In terms of sort of your overall, you know, economic growth sort of forecasts from the White House — you know, given the fact that the Omicron variant is spreading rapidly, some economists have started factoring in sort of a slowdown in demand and — you know, for services and hiring in general.  What are sort of your expectations just over the next few quarters, in terms of sort of overall economic growth in the U.S.?
MR. DEESE:  Well, we, like others, are obviously tracking very closely the questions raised by the Omicron variant and are waiting and watching the information as we receive it, with the understanding that we need to know more.  But we are learning some.  We’ve seen some encouraging data coming out recently.  But it’s something that we will continue to monitor closely and study closely.
In terms of, you know, the current — growth currently: All indications are that the economy in the fourth quarter continues to grow robustly, and we certainly expect that to continue.  And our focus is on how we can maintain the strength of the overall economic recovery, the strength of the labor market recovery, while also addressing head on these price challenges and these supply chain bottlenecks, and to be very clear that the risk exists that price increases become entrenched in the long term; that’s something that would be a real problem for the economy. 
We are working in looking forward and don’t see that in the current environment, but are focused on the steps that we can take to drive that kind of robust recovery going forward.
MS. PSAKI:  Weijia.
Q    Thank you, Jen.  And thank you, Brian.  Just a quick follow-up on Build Back Better, and then one on unemployment. 
Given how involved you are with negotiations, what is the most viable timeline right now for passing it, and is before Christmas still realistic?
MR. DEESE:  So, we want to move as quickly as possible.  And we are working very closely with Senator Schumer and the entire caucus on facilitating that outcome.  And Senator Schumer has indicated his intention, his timeline, and we’re both supportive of that and believe that that’s — that’s right and viable.
We want to move as quickly as possible here.  We think that the outstanding issues are getting worked through in the process.  We’re making a lot of progress.  So, we’re — we want to move as quick as possible, and we believe there is every reason why we can.
Q    Okay.  And in terms of unemployment, the system now — and I think you referenced this earlier — doesn’t account for gig workers and self-employed who were on uninsur- — unemployment insurance, but then they ran out, if they were pandemic related.  So, is there any way you’re tracking the number of those people who might not be included in the numbers but might still be struggling?  And is there anything that you can do to help them?
MR. DEESE:  So, the — there’s sort of two — two elements of that question. 
The first is that there were — people who were previously receiving unemployment insurance and are no longer receiving unemployment insurance are obviously not reflected in the UI claims.  And these reflect the people who are receiving government assistance.  And that has come down dramatically, as I said, from 18 million to less than 2 million.
Within that category, people who were on unemployment insurance and then come off of unemployment insurance, the way to track that data is really to look at the labor force data, because those people could either be in the labor force actively looking for a job, or they could be employed, or they could end up out of the labor force. 
And so one of the things from an economic point of view — one of the concerns that you have is to track the labor force participation, because if people come off of unemployment but they leave the labor force entirely, then that’s a — that’s an outcome that you want — you hope to avoid.
So that one of the positive indications in our current labor market is that what we’re seeing is: Even as the number of people receiving unemployment insurance has come down dramatically, labor force participation has stayed steady and started to tick up, which suggests that people are coming back into the labor market, finding jobs, in many cases, or are actively looking for jobs.  But that’s the sort of best proxy to get at what I think you’re trying to refer to.
MS. PSAKI:  Jacqui.
Q    Thank you.  Brian, some of the critics — administration’s critics have said over the last few months, as these reports come out and show inflation is rising, that the administration highlighting the bright spots like unemployment is glossing over the reality that people are paying more for food and things — basic necessities.  And a lot of the people who are impacted the most are the poorest or they’re on fixed incomes.  They might not be moved by an unemployment statistic.  So, what’s your message to those people, especially getting closer to midterms?
MR. DEESE:  Yeah, absolutely.  And just to be very clear that the — the issue of, you know, increased prices hits people in very practical ways in their lives, and no one likes to pay more at the gas pump.  Nobody likes to pay more at the grocery store.  And for people who are, you know, a lower income, it can be — it can be tough.
I think the message is that employment and our labor market are really important ways in which people can seek and find economic opportunity and prosperity.  And the fact that wages are increasing the most for people in the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution is something that hasn’t happened in our economy in some time and is really positive, because what it means is that there are more job opportunities and job opportunities at higher wages for people to move into.  That’s point one.
Point two is that, in terms of household income and their balance sheets, if you look at the bottom 25 percent or the bottom 40 percent of households and you look at both the increase in wages that people have received and the benefits that people have received — because, in the American Rescue Plan, for example, we passed a Child Tax Credit that is now going to families on a monthly basis.  We provided checks to people in there.
And you look in the aggregate: Household income for those people in the lower ends of the income spectrum is actually higher today, on a monthly basis, even when you take into account increased inflation. 
So that’s not true for every person, and every individual has challenges, and we want to speak to all of those.  But in terms of overall, economically speaking, because of the strength of the economic recovery, the strength of the labor market, and the support that we’ve provided over the course of the year, people are better positioned today to deal with these challenges, which are real and which are tough and which is why we’re focused every day on what we can do to try to alleviate them.
Q    Does the administration see inflation as a driving need to extend the Child Tax Credit?
MR. DEESE:  The — our view is that the Child Tax Credit is a — you know, a really important, basic support for families and that we should extend it.  And we should extend it because it’s doing what we hoped it would do, which is dramatically reduce child poverty in America, dramatically reduce poverty in America, and give families some breathing room in a very strong but uncertain recovery. 
So, certainly, it’s the President’s position that we should do that — and we can do that, I would just underscore.  We can do that as part of Build Back Better in a way that is fiscally responsible, fully paid for, won’t add to any inflationary pressures in the economy.
MS. PSAKI:  Heather.
Q    Yes, thanks.  Brian, can you give us any timing on when the President may name additional Fed nominees?  Is that process drawing to a close?  Could we see something next week?
MR. DEESE:  I cannot.  (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI:  Josh.
Q    You alluded to the forecast for tomorrow’s number.  You know, I know you didn’t want to name any, so allow me.
MR. DEESE:  Great.
Q    6.8 percent is our median estimate year over year; that’s higher than last month, with 6.2.  The month-over- month figure is 0.7, or 0.9.  So, in other words, they’re sort of showing different things.  (Inaudible) is getting worse, month over month getting better. 
My question for you is: Where are we, do you think, in the arc of inflation right now?  You referenced the forecast bringing it down by Q4.  Do you think the wave is cresting?  When you talk of backward-looking data, do you think that inflation is leveling off; the data aren’t just capturing it?  Or do you think it’s going to get worse before it gets better?
MR. DEESE:  So, a couple of points.  First, I’m not going to try to predict or project.  Your projection is an aggregated estimate of a lot of people who have thought about this, and I’m not going to get into the projection game.  We obviously do our own estimates. 
The second is, you raise an important point, and I think this is good context for — in the — you know, in anticipation of it, which is: Because of what we have seen over the course of the last 12 months or 11 months, the year-over-year headline number will be elevated compared to, you know, historic levels under any circumstances.  That’s baked in, and that’s largely a function — well, that is 100 percent a function of everything that happened starting before November of this year. 
So, in a sense, the year-over-year is — should be taken with that context. 
In terms of your question about, you know, the timing, I think that we are in a place where we are seeing some of the — when you look at what are the underlying issues that are driving this price pressures, we are seeing some movement that is notable — you know, as I’ve spoken about, on energy, with respect to the supply chains.  And our focus is on look- — tracking that across time because we think that that will be what will end up flowing through to affect those numbers across time. 
This is not — you know, I would not try to project on a, you know, week or month-by-month basis because these numbers move around.  You know, I mentioned used car prices, and a lot of people focus on what’s happening at the wholesale markets when dealers are buying used cars because that is really an indication of where the prices are going.  But that could take, you know, a month or two to filter through into data. 
So, in each of these cases, there are specific elements, and we’ll continue to look closely at them.  But I think you have seen — you are seeing, in some important areas, some movement that is notable.
Q    So do you think the wave is cresting, or is it too soon to say?
MR. DEESE:  You know, we will — we’ll just — we’re going to continue to focus on what we can do to advance this recovery and advance this recovery in a way where, you know, typical households continue to have some of that breathing room and more Americans are able to take advantage of a job market where there are, you know, historic opportunities out there.
MS. PSAKI:  Phil.
Q    Thanks, Brian.  Just two quick ones, if you don’t mind.  One of the concerns last month on the topline numbers was that perhaps it was broadening out a little bit.  I’m thinking particularly not just pandemic-driven price increases, but maybe rent being one specifically.  Have you guys seen anything in that side of things, not driven by the pandemic, that has raised concerns as you look at the data?
Well, I’m glad you raised this issue around housing and shelter prices — “shelter” being, you know, either rent or homes — because I think it connects to a point that, Kristen, you raised, which is: We have, for years, in this country had a problem of inadequate housing supply, of single-family homes to buy and of houses to rent.  It is decades in the making of underinvestment in affordable supply, particularly in areas of the country where there is the most economic opportunity. 
And so it’s a persistent challenge of people wanting to move to, you know, a different part of the country where they might have a job opportunity and are costed out of that because of housing. 
The answer to that problem is to make a historic investment in increasing the supply of affordable housing in America.  That is the real answer to that question.  And the sooner that we do that, the sooner that we initiate that process, the sooner that we are going to actually address that underlying challenge. 
And so, some of the price increases that are already baked in and will flow through to this — to these numbers, we know that everyone should anticipate that, but the real policy question it goes to why Build Back Better is so important is: Are we going to actually take some steps to finally address that issue so that we can say to the American people that, looking forward, they can actually expect some real relief? 
The housing investments in the Build Back Better plan are directed exactly to that issue: How do we build the kind of housing supply that typical people need across the country in urban, suburban, and in rural areas?
And so that is — that is a real present issue, one that will continue to be with us.  But hopefully, if we can get this bill done, we’ll actually have the tools in place to start to show people some real progress.
Q    And then, just from a broader perspective, do you guys view it inside your team as an acceptable trade-off if prices are high for a shorter duration, a shorter period of time, perhaps because of some of the demand-driven elements of ARP so long as you’ve been able to achieve some of the data — positive data you’ve been laying out over the course of this day and I think the White House has been talking about for the last several months?  Like, this is a trade-off that’s acceptable so long as those price increases don’t last or become entrenched?
MR. DEESE:  Well, I would start — we’re humble enough to not suggest that we control all the levers of the macroeconomy and we’re in a complicated, uncertain global environment, and — number one.
Number two, I think that our view, and I think borne out by what you’re seeing internationally, is that the challenges of supply chains, of price increases, of the issues of labor supply are persistent across industrialized countries.  But what’s unique about the United States right now is the strength of our economic growth, the strength of our labor market, and that is in no small part due to the American Rescue Plan. 
So we’re absolutely, you know, not satisfied or want to accept a situation where Americans are paying high prices when they can’t afford it.  I think where we are in this economy is one where we have real strength and that positions us to address real challenges that we need to. 
MS. PSAKI:  We can do a few more.  April.
Q    I want to go back to the Child Tax Credit.  December 15th could be that last check if BBB is not passed for the Child Tax Credit.  If it’s not passed, what does that do to this child poverty rate that you have been touting so much — how you slashed it?  Does it stay the same, or do you anticipate a rise for that?
MR. DEESE:  Well, we are confident that we’re going to get Build Back Better passed.  Extending the Child Tax Credit is one of many reasons why we need to do that and we need to do that as soon as possible. 
And so, that’s why you see this administration as focused as we are on working with our congressional counterparts to move — to move that agenda. 
There are multiple elements of this bill where if you look at costs and you look at, you know, typical household situations, the urgency is very clear.  This is one.  The lack of affordable housing is another.  The lack of affordable childcare is another that is not a “tomorrow” issue for so many families that are trying to figure out how to get somebody back into the labor market. 
And so, we’re — you know, that’s the case we’re making, and that’s — and we’re confident we’re going to get this done.
Q    And then, on housing, can you talk about the price of new housing, as well as existing housing?  Part of the problem, they’re saying, with housing prices — new housing prices — it deals with inflation and lumber.  The cost of lumber has pushed up the price of housing and the supply chain issue. 
How, in the short-term, do you plan to combat as you — combat that as you’re dealing with the housing issue?  And talking about affordable housing, houses to buy right now are up because of inflation, supply chain issues.
MR. DEESE:  Yeah.  So, it’s connected to Phil’s question. You know, the prices in the residential market are elevated, but a lot of that is a supply issue.  The supply issue is in part connected to near-term supply chain issues, but it is much deeper and longer-term — about years and years in which we’ve underinvested in supply, compared to the demand that — in the economy for housing, particularly in certain regions and geographies.
The supply chain challenges that are affecting the inputs that go into homebuilding are similar to the supply chain issues we’re facing overall, but we’ve tried to take a dedicated focus in a number of areas.  So, for example, we have an hours-of-service waiver for trucks that move across the country to be able to operate additional hours.  We extended that to cover building materials as well. 
The issue of helping to move a product through our ports is very important, particularly for building materials that are being imported. 
So, you know, we were — we’re focused on the supply chain issues in general, but, as they relate to building materials wherever they can, we’re trying to highlight them.
MS. PSAKI:  All right.  Let’s do Kaitlan and Courtney, and then we’re going to wrap it up.
Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  Thank you, Jen.  Thank you, Brian.  My first question is on Russia.  The U.S. and European allies have pledged “severe” harm on Russia if it escalates the situation in Ukraine. 
As you and the White House know, the economy is global, it is intertwined, especially the energy market.  And European consumers are already paying record costs to heat their homes this winter. 
So I’m wondering how the administration is thinking about mitigating the impact on the U.S. economy with whatever decisions you decide to take with regard to sanctions.
MR. DEESE:  So, I will leave the question of sanctions and the impact on our European counterparts to Jake and to Jen.  I think they’ve spoken to them and the, sort of, dynamic involved there, including as it relates to Nord Stream.
With respect to U.S. consumers, the — natural gas, in particular, is an issue that — is a commodity that doesn’t trade globally.  And so, the decline that I referenced earlier — 25 percent decline in natural gas prices since November — that’s the price of U.S. natural gas, which is about — I haven’t looked in the last day — but, you know, four to five times lower than in Europe.  And that’s for a set of reasons — the export constraint — export constraints.
But in terms of the American consumer, looking forward to this winter, there’s some positive news in terms of domestic natural gas and not a lot of flow-through to the issues you’re raising.
Q    And on wages, just to follow up domestically: I think the average American would find inflation more manageable if wages were also going up.  And in the last year, inflation-adjusted weekly earnings are down 1.3 percent.  So when can Americans expect to earn more money for the work that they’re already doing?
MR. DEESE:  Yeah, it’s a good question and good context to — connects to the earlier question as well.
So, if you look at wage growth, it’s important to look at it through a couple of lenses.  The first is: Where is that wage growth happening in the income spectrum?  And what you’re seeing is wage growth today that is fastest and strongest in the bottom half of the income distribution.  So, for working families that are making less, they’re seeing their wages increase more and, in many cases, significantly faster than price increases.  So that’s point one, distributionally. 
The second is in terms of overall household balance sheets — the income that families have.  And when you think about a family and they’re — them trying to balance their checkbook or the — this year, the question is, “What was my wage increase, and what was the support that I received through checks from the government, through the Child Tax Credit?
And when you take those into account and look at household income, consistent with the data that you just said, the typical family — the family, you know, at the 50th percentile — has actually seen their household income increase, even accounting for price increases.
Obviously, as we move forward in this recovery, what we want to see is — we want to see a strong labor market recovery; want to see wage increases, particularly for those at the bottom; and we want to see, you know, a balancing out here of prices.
That’s the scenario that we’re all trying to work toward.
MS. PSAKI:  All right.  Courtney, last one.
Q    Can you give an update on the Competition Council that you’re chairing?  It’s something I didn’t hear you mention in the context of all this and  —
MR. DEESE:  You said it’s something that’s what? 
Q    The Competition Council.  You never mentioned it in all of this.  Can you talk about some of the accomplishments of that council and what you all are working on right now? 
MR. DEESE:  Sure.  Sure.  I’m excited for the interest.  And we will have — (laughter) — and I mean that.  I mean that sincerely.
MS. PSAKI:  Settle in, everyone.  (Laughter.)
MR. DEESE:   No, I mean that sincerely.  So — and we will be — we’ll be convening the full council around the end of the year.  And so, look out for that.
It’s — I can talk about some of the specifics, but I will say that, actually, you know, it’s consistent with the general philosophy that does interact with a lot of the things that we’re discussing here, which is that the President’s — the core directive in the — in the executive order was to pursue pro-competition policies across the federal government, across agencies and use antitrust statutes — enforce them robustly — across agencies as well.
And so, this intersects with a number of the issues that we’ve discussed.  I would note positively that the House this week passed a bill on increasing competition in ocean shipping, which is something that we encouraged as part of that executive order. 
But more — you know, more directly, you take an issue like the railroads and the, you know, lack of competition in that sector.  Well, that affects this question of: How do we unstick bottlenecks if there’s not sufficient competition among rail lines? 
We talk about food prices.  And I think the last time I was here, I was with Secretary Vilsack.  When you look at most of the increase in food costs, you can isolate a significant portion of that to meat, beef, pork, and chicken in particular.  Those are very concentrated industries where a small number of meat processors control the industry.
And so, what you’ve seen is prices for the farmers go up, prices for consumers go up, and profits for the meat-processing companies in the middle go up.  And that’s an issue of concern and one that we have focused on both from an antitrust perspective, but also investing in helping competitors get into that market. 
In fact, today we’re making $500 million available to small meat processors to try to increase competition in that space. 
So, we’ll be happy to follow up and give you a full slate of where we are on the — there were — for those of you who were paying attention, there were 72 specific actions in that executive order.  We’re tracking against all of them.
MS. PSAKI:  Go through them all.
MR. DEESE:  But I will spare the rest of you that, and we’re happy to follow up.
MS. PSAKI:  All right.  Thank you, everyone, so much.  Thank you, Brian.
MR. DEESE:  Thank you.
MS. PSAKI:  I definitely kept him much longer than I promised, so we want him to come back.
All right, so I only have one item for all of you at the top.  As I think all of you saw this morning — or many of you saw — this morning, the President opened the Summit for Democracy and announced the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal — a landmark set of policy and foreign assistance initiatives to defend and bolster democracy, human rights, and the fight against corruption. 
The initiative represents a significant targeted expansion of U.S. government efforts to defend, sustain, and grow democratic resilience with likeminded governmental and non-governmental partners. 
In the coming year, the United States is planning to provide up to $424.4 million toward the initiative.  And these efforts will center on five areas of work crucial to the functioning of transparent, accountable governance, including supporting free and independent media, fighting corruption, bolstering democratic reformers, advancing technology for democracy, defending free and fair elections and political processes.
I know we’ll also have a call this afternoon — I’m not sure exactly the timing — to give you more information on the deliverables from this as well.
Colleen, why don’t you kick us off, or continue our journey here together?
Q    Thank you.  Do you have an update for us on the President’s call with Zelenskyy?  And another one, just sort of related — sort of: There were a couple of reports last night about a potential financial threat or a potential military action to Iran in regards to the faltering nuclear talks.  I wondered if you had a comment or update on that.
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Let me start with the first.  When I came out here, the President was still on the call.  So, our plan was to provide a written readout to all of you, which you should be getting as soon as it’s complete or following the briefing — whenever it’s ready. 
But I will highlight for you that the President’s intention going into this call was to provide an update for President Zelenskyy on his call with President Putin and underscore our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as Secretary Blinken did when he spoke with President Zelenskyy earlier this week.  So this is a follow-on to that call.
President Biden is also intending to — was intending to discuss his deep concerns with Russia’s buildup on Ukraine’s borders and his commitment to respond to strong measures in the event of a Russian military escalation. 
We’ve engaged closely with the Ukrainians throughout this process at a range of levels and have been in daily contact with senior officials in the Ukrainian government.  So, clearly, that is a component of it.
I’d also note — I think as many of you saw — that the President also provided an update to the B9 eastern flank countries, with a personal readout of his call with President Putin, to hear their perspective on the current security situation and underscore our commitment to transatlantic security and to our NATO Allies that are — with our NATO Allies — that’s sacred, and also to continue to stay in close coordination.
On the — but we will get you a readout as soon as that is complete.
On the Iran question that you also posed second, I do have an update for you.  As we’ve said many times from this podium and elsewhere in the government, President Biden is committed to ensuring Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon and believes diplomacy, in coordination with allies and regional partners, is the best path to achieve that goal. 
We believe a diplomatic resolution offers the best path to avoiding a nuclear crisis.  However, given the ongoing advances in Iran’s nuclear program, the President has asked his team to be prepared in the event that diplomacy fails and we must turn to other options, and that requires preparations. 
We have made clear to Iran that the only path out of sanctions is through nuclear compliance.  We have kept all the sanctions that we inherited in place, and we’ve consistently enforced sanctions, all while also presenting the clear path of their removal. 
If diplomacy cannot get on track soon, and if Iran’s nuclear program continues to accelerate, then we will have no choice but to take additional measures to further restrict Iran’s revenue-producing sectors. 
While I’m not going to get into additional specifics on that front, I can provide you a little update on some of the coordination that we’re doing on the international — on the international front. 
A senior Treasury official will lead a Treasury-State delegation to the UAE next week to talk about sanctions compliance.  The delegation, which will be led by OFAC Director Andrea Gacki, will focus on engagements with the private sector and key UAE government officials to discuss our understanding of the companies and financial institutions that facilitate non-compliant Iranian commerce that runs through its — or touches the UAE. 
This trip follows a range of conversations that our National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, and Brett McGurk had in October; that, obviously, Rob Malley and Brett McGurk had in November; and Deputy Treasury Secretary Adeyemo also had in November. 
And this is part of our extended outreach to our partners around the world to ensure that we were preparing for a range of contingencies.
Q    Jen, the timeline — you know, how long diplo- — the diplomacy is going to continue before (inaudible) to other actions?
MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to present a deadline today.  But what I can tell you is that we have presented a diplomatic path forward; that path is still open.  But based on the outcome of the last round of talks and the ongoing advancements in Iran’s nuclear facilities, we are laying the path for — the groundwork for another path entirely.  So, it’s just meant to be preparations.
Q    Jen, the President said he hoped to announce by tomorrow meetings between Russia and NATO Allies about Russia’s concerns.  Do you have any update on that meeting and who may be attending?
MS. PSAKI:  I think what the President was referring to is a range of discussions and engagements that we’re continuing to have today: the B9, as an example of that; obviously, there are a number of NATO partners involved there.  And, of course, we will — while I have nothing to preview at this point, the President — two presidents tasked their teams to follow up, and we expect that to continue as well. 
So, it was not meant to be an indication of a deal cut, concessions made, any formal format or anything along those lines — more about the commitment to ongoing engagement. 
Q    And you said, you know, you don’t know what Vladimir Putin’s next move is here; it’s not clear yet whether he’s made up his mind whether or not to invade Ukraine.  But just now, the Russian President said the situation in southeast Ukraine resembles “genocide.”  That was how he described it.  Is that something that you would view as a rhetorical escalation?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, the Russians are known for their rhetorical escalations, as they are also known for their ways of providing misinformation around the world and within eastern flank countries.  So, I think we have to take their own efforts to communicate to their public with a grain of salt. 
What we know is that the aggression here is on the Russian side.  The military buildup is on the Russian side.  There’s a path — a diplomatic path forward.  The part of the President’s objective — our President’s objective — in having the call was to convey that clearly — that certainly is our preference — but also to convey clearly that there would be consequences, they would be significant and severe.  And we’re going to coordinate with our European partners on that. 
So, I would, unfortunately — as I’ve said before, I’m not a spokesperson for the Kremlin, and I would take their — their words with a little bit of a grain of salt. 
Go ahead. 
Q    Thank you, Jen.  Just a quick question on — Ukraine has asked to become a member of the NATO Alliance and they’ve put that out for several years.  It’s been out there, but really has — there hasn’t been any decision on that.  What is the United States’ position on that issue?  I mean, does the President generally support the enlargement of NATO, or does he want the Alliance to add new members?  What is his position?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, Nandita, the President has spoken to this in the past.  And obviously, there are requirements that any country — which the President certainly supports — any country aspiring to join security alliances — NATO and others as well.  And he certainly supports the aspiration of Ukraine.  There are certain requirements that they would need to meet on a range of issues, including corruption and other topics.  And it’s obviously up to NATO partner countries and NATO, the Alliance, to determine what the path forward looks like.
Q    As sort of biggest member of the Alliance — largest member of the Alliance, what is the U.S. telling NATO on this issue, specifically?  And is the President, perhaps, offering any assurances to President Zelenskyy today as he speaks to him on this issue?
MS. PSAKI:  No, the President’s message has been clear. There are — he certainly supports the aspiration of Ukraine, as he supports the aspiration of a range of countries, again, to join security alliances around the world.  There are certain requirements that need to be met.  Those are well known, and the United States, as a member of NATO, supports that path. 
Q    Thank you, Jen. 
Q    And, Jen —
MS. PSAKI:  Oh, go ahead. 
Q    Sorry, a quick question on the Senate passage of the Republican bill yesterday to overturn President Biden’s vaccine mandate for private employers.  Are you concerned that given, sort of, the Democratic support that that — a bill actually was able to get — are you concerned that it perhaps will actually be able to, you know, interest some centrist House Democrats to maybe join in and, you know, and secure a vote on that?  I understand the White House has said that, you know, you will veto the resolution if it lands on the President’s desk.
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think what’s most important for people to know out there and to understand is the reason why the President proposed these requirements, which include not just a vaccine requirement, but also a testing option — testing once a week, which we feel and I think the American people feel is quite reasonable — in order to keep workplaces safe, keep schools safe, keep stores safe for people out there Christmas shopping and holiday shopping safe. 
We also know that it’s something — it’s steps that economists support.  It’s steps that 60 percent of businesses have already put in place. 
So, again, we’re hopeful that this doesn’t come to the President’s desk.  I can’t make a prediction of that.  I leave that to the vote counters or the whip counters in the House.  But if it comes to his desk, he will veto it. 
Go ahead.
Q    Thanks, Jen.  Apart from whatever President Zelenskyy might have asked the President for today, can you clarify what Ukraine has formally requested of the U.S. as they prepare for any potential invasion?  Have they requested support for air and naval defense or electronic warfare, as an example?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’re not going to get into specifics of private requests made through diplomatic and defense channels from the Ukrainian government.  If they want to speak to that, they certainly can speak to that. 
I would note that there were requests — there have been requests made over the course of time, and the United States has provided over the course of some time now, I guess, $400 billion, I believe this is correct — $400 million, sorry — “billion” would be a lot — $400 million in security assistance that we’ve committed to Ukraine this year, as a part of our efforts to support their sovereignty and territorial integrity.  And that includes $60 million of security assistance that we announced during the President’s visit in September, which we’re still providing, we’re still delivering to the Ukrainians. 
So, in terms of their specific requests, what they want to convey privately — if they want to convey that publicly, that is certainly their prerogative, but we would not do that on their behalf.
Q    And the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence service is quoted in the New York Times saying, “There are not sufficient military resources for repelling a full-scale attack by Russia if it begins without the support of Western forces.”  Has Ukraine expressed a similar sentiment to the administration, and do you have a response?
MS. PSAKI:  Again, I’m not going to get into private diplomatic conversations, but I will convey to you — and what — what the President would convey, has conveyed, I’m sure is conveying directly to President Zelenskyy: Our objective is to make clear the significant and severe economic consequences if Russia were to invade Ukraine, not just from us, but from the global community. 
Obviously, it’s up to President Putin to decide how he’s going to respond to that, what steps he may or may not take as it relates to that. 
But I think what the public should see clearly — whether it’s the Ukrainian public or the global public — is that the United States is standing up for what we believe are democratic values, for the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine. 
And our objective is to prevent that from happening.
Q    And one quick one on vaccines: Based on conversations Pfizer has had with the administration, should Americans be mentally preparing for a fourth shot?
MS. PSAKI:  I would point you really to what the CDC and our health and medical experts have conveyed, and they will continue to evaluate and assess what is needed for the American people and to keep people safe.  But I don’t want to get ahead of their reviews of data.
Go ahead, Jacqui.
Q    Thanks, Jen.  On vaccines, Amtrak, which we know is near and dear to the President’s heart, announced that they will potentially have to cut some long-distance routes because they don’t have enough employees to operate when the federal mandate takes effect.  And that’s despite the reporting on the Hill today that 94 percent of their employees are vaccinated overall. 
Amtrak got $66 billion from the infrastructure deal; now they’re talking about having to make cuts.  Is this policy undermining the President’s own legislation?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, I would say — and you touched on this, Jacqui, but it’s great news that 94 percent of Amtrak’s workforce is vaccinated.  That is an enormous percentage of their workforce, to state the obvious.  They also still have about a month before the deadline for federal contractors on January 4th, or at least a couple of weeks — four weeks, approximately.
Our — what we — what we have conveyed to employers is that post deadline, we expect employers will follow their standard HR process.  That means for employees not in compliance, they’ll go through education, counseling, accommodations, and enforcement.  That would be what the process would be to play out.
But, of course, these requirements — we don’t expect these requirements will cause disruptions to services that people depend on.  There’s some time to implement it.  We’re, of course, working with all federal contractors and federal employees and ind- — and parts of the federal government to implement this moving forward.
Q    And then, on Ukraine, there are some reports that the U.S. is pressuring Ukraine to cede land to Russia as a way to deter them from invading.  Is that true?
MS. PSAKI:  No, that’s absolutely false.
Go ahead.
Q    Jen, thank you.  Staying on Ukraine, Russian troops are still amassed along the border.  Do you have any indication at this point that the President’s strategy is working?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, Kristen, I think it’s going to be up to President Putin to make a decision about whether he is going to invade Ukraine and — and send a message to the global community that he does not respect the territorial integrity of a country when the United States, our European partners are sending a clear message that there will be significant economic consequences — severe economic consequences — beyond, as Jake Sullivan said the other day, what we have seen in 2014. 
So, at this point, obviously, you would know if they have made the decision to invade.  They have not.  But again, it’s — the ball is in his court.
Q    And we know that Ukraine — some lawmakers on Capitol Hill said that they want more military equipment now.  I know we don’t have a readout yet of the call.  But are there any discussions about potentially sending that equipment now and not waiting until there’s further invasion?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, there is equipment that we’re continuing to provide.  That is a follow-up from the President Zelenskyy’s meeting with President Biden back in September.  So, that is something they’re continuing to receive.
And, of course, there are a range of options under consideration, but nothing I can preview at this point in time.
Q    Because they want more.  They’re basically saying, yes, that is the case; but given this current situation, they actually want more.
MS. PSAKI:  Absolutely.  I understand that.  And they’ve conveyed that publicly.  I don’t have anything to preview at this point.  But certainly, we have been a strong supporter of not only the sovereignty of Ukraine, but also through security assistance.  And the President has a long record of that.
Q    If I could do one just domestically on the Child Tax Credit and really just following up on the questions that April was asking —
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
Q    Are there any discussions about potentially pulling that piece out of Build Back Better and passing it unilaterally as a standalone bill if Build Back Better doesn’t pass by Christmas so that there isn’t a lapse?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think April — I don’t know where she went.  Okay, there she is.  I was pointing to her in the ether there.  (Laughter.) 
April raised an important point here, which is that December 15th would be the last child — check from the Child Tax Credit because it would expire January 1st. 
One of the reasons that we have been pressing for the passing of the Build Back Better is because there are key components of this package that would lower costs for American families early next year.  So, when we talk about inflation and we talk about costs and how they’re impacting families’ budgets, that’s why we, Leader Schumer, and others have been pressing so hard to move this forward.
In terms of the mechanics of legislative vehicles, I’d really point you to the Senate on that.  But again, you know, that is a timeline and that is something that we are well aware of.
And to go back to — I can’t remember who asked the question before — maybe April, maybe Jacqui, I’m not sure — it is true that, in part, because of the Child Tax Credit, we cut child poverty in half. 
I’m not an economist.  I can check and see if there’s more predictions of what the impact of the lack of existence of that would be, but that sends a clear message about the impact that has had on low-income families, on families who are struggling to put food on the table.  And it’s been a pivotal contributor to our success in doing that.
Go ahead.
Q    Jen, thanks.  I just want to circle back the President’s comments yesterday about NATO Allies.  He said that he hoped, by Friday, he would, quote, be able to announce “meetings at a higher level, not just with us but with at least four of our major NATO Allies and Russia to discuss the future of Russia’s concerns relative to NATO writ large.” 
Are these meetings, conversations not happening?  And if not, what was he talking about exactly?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, he has a call with the B9 this afternoon.  That’s something that includes a number of NATO Allies.  And, of course, we are in touch every single day with a number of NATO Allies and partners.
And as I noted a little bit earlier, when he — when he had the conversation with President Putin, they discussed and agreed to have their teams follow up in ongoing discussions and engagements. 
In terms of any other format or forum, there is no current mechanism for that.  But right now, our focus is on engaging with the Europeans, many of our NATO Allies; doing that at a very high level, as the President referenced; and also following up, as was discussed in his call with President Putin.
Q    So we should not expect some kind of announcement tomorrow about some sort of conversation with these — the entities he’s talking about, about accommodation?
MS. PSAKI:  Not one that I have to predict at this point in time.
Go ahead.
Q    One more —
MS. PSAKI:  Oh, go ahead.  Go ahead.  Go ahead.
Q    The President, today, spoke about global press freedom during the Summit. 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
Q    I’m just wondering if he’s going to commit to holding a year-end press conference.
MS. PSAKI:  Well, one, I would say that global press freedom is something that he feels is important to stand up for not just here, but when he is traveling around the world and ensuring that your colleagues around the world who are dealing with circumstances where they don’t — they are put in jail, they don’t have access to any officials, they are restricted from covering global events, human rights abuses around the world — not that what you don’t all do isn’t very challenging; I’m not suggesting that — but there are a lot of circumstances around the world that I think even go beyond — go beyond.
I would say the President answers questions multiple times a week.  I think he’s done it already several times this week.  I don’t have a formal press conference with embroidered cushions to predict for you at this point in time.  But I can assure you that he will take your questions many, many times before the end of the year, and he looks forward, absolutely, to doing that.
Go ahead, Josh.
Q    Can I just ask quickly on Iran?
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
Q    You spoke to measures you’re preparing.  Are there particular sectors that these sanctions would be aimed at?  Or can you give us any more detail about what options are on the table?
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Certainly understand your question, Josh.  I think part of the effort of our OFAC Director in going overse- — going to the UAE to have these discussions is to have these discussions at that level about the range — a range of sectors and options, but I don’t have anything else to preview at this point in time.
Q    Is there a concern that existing restrictions are being violated with regards to this trip?  Like people are finding a way around existing —
MS. PSAKI:  We’re talking about — we have kept the sanctions in place.  We’re talking about additional steps, should they be needed.  Obviously, a diplomatic path forward and having a constructive dialogue through the P5+1 format is our objective, but we’re preparing a range of options in addition to what we have in place.
Q    Have you consulted any of the P5+1 on these measures?
MS. PSAKI:  That’s part of our discussions, and this is part of the — our OFAC Director’s trip is building on conversations that Brett McGurk, that Jake Sullivan and others have been having in Europe as well.
Q    Okay.  Thanks.
MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.
Q    Just a quick question on — just a real quick question on the Democracy Summit.
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.
Q    You mentioned the $424 million.
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
Q    Do you have a sense how much of that is already appropriated versus how much would need to be approved from Congress?
MS. PSAKI:  Let me check, Scott.  It’s a really good question.  I don’t have that in front of me, but I will check for you, and I’ll get that around to all of you after the briefing.
Go ahead, Ashley.
Q    Two quick questions on Ukraine.  One, why did President Biden immediately call top U.S. allies right after speaking with President Putin and waited two days to call Presidents Zelenskyy?
MS. PSAKI:  He was traveling yesterday — I think as you all know — and he was looking forward to having a good, lengthy call with President Zelenskyy today, which I expect he will do.  I would note that we also followed up with Ukrainian counterparts at a lower level than the President.  So it was just a matter of scheduling and getting it all on the books.
Q    And yesterday the President also said that combat troops on the ground in Ukraine are currently off the table.  Can you give us a sense of what would change that calculation — when they would be back on the table?
MS. PSAKI:  That’s not currently part of our discussion or part of our policy calculations, so I don’t have anything to predict on that front.
Go ahead, Zolan.
Q    Thank you.  On Afghanistan, there’s — in recent days, some parolees or people seeking parole have started to be denied who are looking to flee from Afghanistan. 
I understand the system has been flooded with, I think, roughly 30,000 applications, but some of the lawyers for those parolees or applicants have said that the documentation requirement, including specifying an address or a specific threat, given that it might have been 10 years ago or their home might have been destroyed, is a pretty high standard.  Is the President currently satisfied with this system of humanitarian parole?  Or is there any thought of lobbying Congress for another special parole program?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, here’s what we’re doing — I know you didn’t exactly ask me this, and you follow this closely, but for others: Through Operation Allies Welcome, we’re proud to welcome more than 74,000 Afghans to the United States and have received funding from Congress to accept up to 95,000 through Operation Allies Welcome through the current fiscal year. 
So, obviously, what we’re doing now is continuing to process, through a vetting process and through — and there are requirements of that, of course, as there should be.  That’s an addition to Afghans who are admitted through the U.S. Refugee Admission Program and other pathways. 
You touched on this, Zolan, a little bit, but the infrastructure to support refugee resettlement was decimated by the prior administration.  We’ve been working hard to rebuild that capacity.  I would say the success we’ve had to date of welcoming that number of people is a reflection of the fact that we’ve made some progress in that regard. 
And right now, DHS is processing applications for Afghan nationals located outside of the United States who are seeking humanitarian referral based on urgent humanitarian need or significant public benefit reason. 
There are going to be requirements, of course, through any of these systems, as there should.  As we consider welcoming people back in, we’re continuing to put in more resources so that we can process more people and continuing to try to take — do everything we do — can — do everything we can, I should say — sorry — to handle the surge in interest and in cases. 
But there will be people who don’t meet the requirements who aren’t going to be able to come to the United States, and we just want to be very clear and transparent about that as well.
Q    Jen, on — with the Democracy Summit, again.  At a CNN town hall, the President was asked about voting rights, police reform.  He said that he had been so focused on Build Back Better and infrastructure but that he was going to move on to that — indicated he would move on to that. 
Now that we are moving — you know, you’ve had some progress with that legislation — is there any update towards whether he would be more open to a filibuster carveout?  Or just what exactly is he doing when it comes to those two legislative measures, given the summit going on and (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Well, one, I would say: As the President — as you heard the President say, you know, having a summit like this is an opportunity to discuss how we can all improve our democracies, protect democracy around the world, and do that in coordination with not just leaders, but civil society actors, private sector, et cetera.  That’s the purpose of this summit.
There are dozens of White House staff working every single day on voting rights and this priority.  It’s fundamental to upholding the rule of law. 
You’ve heard the President talk about this many times since he took office.  He signed a historic executive order in March.  We’ve worked to double the voting rights staff in the Civil Rights Division.  He’s appointed the Vice President, at her request, to lead this effort. 
There are discussions, as you know, in Congress among a range of leaders about how to continue to move this forward, and we are eager, active participants of those discussions. 
I don’t have anything more in terms of views or his steps on the legislative process at this point.
Q    No change to his approach on the filibuster?
MS. PSAKI:  Don’t have any updates today.  Okay, I got to — I got to wrap in a second. 
Let me go to AFP.  Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q    Thank you very much. 
MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.  Go ahead.
Q    Thank you.  Thank you.  One on Russia, one on Ukraine —
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
Q    — and one on China, if I may.  Could you tell us a bit more about President Biden’s — how President Biden views Putin’s central argument that seems to boil down to: They — they don’t want Ukraine, A, to enter NATO and, B, also (inaudible) also not have any U.S.-offensive weapons or NATO-offensive weapons in Ukraine.?
So, when President Biden referred to looking for accommodations, was he talking about cutting some sort of deal with Putin about, “We won’t do this if you don’t do that?”
MS. PSAKI:  Let me be very clear: President Biden told President Putin in their call that one nation can’t force another nation to change its border, one nation cannot tell another to change its politics, and nations can’t tell others who they can work with.
We’ve consistently expressed support for the principle that every country has the sovereign right to make its own decisions with respect to its security.  That is written into the underlying principle of the Alliance and that remains U.S. policy today and will remain U.S. policy in the future.
As you know, NATO is a defensive alliance and they don’t have aggressive intent toward Russia.  They’ve conveyed that, leaders of NATO have conveyed that.  Every sta- — step we have taken to put in place the protective measures needed to defend our Allies. 
So, that — just to be clear about where the President stands — that is what he conveyed directly to President Putin.
Q    Okay.  And then a quick one on China — 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
Q    — because the Olympics are almost — would President Biden like European allies to join this diplomatic boycott initiative?  Is he disappointed in the French very publicly not doing so? 
And just more generally, you know, if you’re going to talk about genocide in a country — which is, you know, right there in the statement — is playing sports at all a kind of a reasonable thing to be doing?  Why stop at a diplomatic boycott?
MS. PSAKI:  Well — well, first, I would say this is the decision we made — the United States made.  The United States has been a leader in holding China accountable, as it relates to human rights abuses, the — what we’ve seen in Xinjiang, which, again, the President and we have referred to as a “genocide.”  And we have taken steps at the global level to lead this effort to put accountability measures in place.
Q    But, Jen —
MS. PSAKI:  As it relates to the Olympics, we made a decision — the President made a decision that we cannot continue with business as usual, that not sending a diplomatic delegation was making that clear not just to China, but to the global community.  There are others who have followed that same pattern and have taken that step as well.  We leave it to other countries to make their own decision. 
I’m not going to express support, disappointment, or anything like that from here.  They will make their own decision. 
And I will also just paraphrase — and I wish I had the quote in front of me — Senator Romney, where he said — and he — his quote was better than this, so I’m paraphrasing it here.  But that we cannot leave global diplomacy on the shoulders of athletes who have been training their whole lives to compete in the Olympics. 
If you look back at 1980 — and there was a boycott — all of those people who trained for the Olympics, it was left on their shoulders — young athletes who had been training their whole lives.  We are sending a very clear message about our view on human rights, but we made the decision not to leave that on the shoulders of athletes. 
MS. PSAKI:  Let me just go to Raquel, and then we got to wrap up. 
Raquel, go ahead.  Raquel. 
Q    Thank you so much —
Q    (Inaudible) is there any reason why you keep a travel ban on other African nations —
MS. PSAKI:  Can — can we let — can we let Raquel —
Simon, Simon, Simon —
Q    I have been trying to ask a question for one —
Q    A lot of us have, so —
MS. PSAKI:  Simon, I’m trying to answer your question.  And then I’m going to go to Raquel, okay?
Let me —
Q    Thank you so much, Jen, for —
MS. PSAKI:  Can I say one thing, Raquel, and then I’ll go to you?
Q    Sure.
MS. PSAKI:  Simon, we’re evaluating every single day.  We don’t want these to be permanent measures — 
Q    Jen, can I ask my question?
MS. PSAKI:  — and it is something that the President is getting updates from his COVID team every single day on.
Q    So — so, my question is: The Omicron variant is now in 57 countries.  The WHO issued a statement today and said that Africa has 46 percent of the nearly 1,000 cases globally.  But 70 — almost 70 countries in the world have imposed travel ban on only Black African nation. 
And the U.S. is among the countries that have imposed sanctions on only eight African nations, when the virus — when the variant is in 57 countries.  Why don’t you just lift it or impose sanctions on all the countries that have it?  What would you say to those who believe that this is a racist ban that targets only African and Black African nations?
MS. PSAKI:  Simon, I would convey to you that is absolutely not the intention.  That is not our policy.  This was a recommendation of the health and medical experts because there were a large number of cases in South Africa.  And they made a decision early on, out of an abundance of caution and to protect the American people, to slow the spread of the variant. 
This is not meant to be permanent.  It’s not meant to be a punishment.  And we are evaluating every single day decisions on whether to — when to lift these restrictions. 
Go ahead, Raquel.
Q    Thank you so much, Jen.  Since it’s —
Q    Jen, on the —
MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead, Raquel.
Q    — democracy day here today in White House, what is the White House assessment so far from what you guys are hearing or from world leaders and the commitment they are making? 
And also, what commitments would President Biden like to see from Brazil and other countries experiencing, right now, forms of democratic backsliding?  What is President Biden expecting to hear from President Bolsonaro tomorrow?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say, first, that the President convened the summit in order to have a forum at a global level to discuss publicly but also privately — and he convened a private discussion with leaders this morning — to engage, listen, and speak honestly about the challenges and opportunities facing democratic governments and how democracies can deliver for their citizens. 
And part of this is an opportunity, as I noted in my opening, to stand up for the freedom of speech, the freedom of press; for ensuring that, as a global community, we are lifting up democratic societies, we are fighting corruption, we are bolstering democratic reforms. 
And the United States wants to be a country that leads by example and builds and repairs from the damage done for four years. 
Thank you so much, everyone.  I appreciate you.  Have a good day.
3:23 P.M. EST

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