Press Briefing by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, December 16, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:50 P.M. EST
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hello.
Q Heads up.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Heads up, indeed.
Good afternoon, everybody.
Q Good afternoon.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. So, joining us today is Deputy National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi, where he helps implement the President’s domestic climate agenda, coordinating the all-of-government approach to tackle the climate crisis, creating good-paying union jobs, and advance environmental justice.
Ali was formerly at Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy where he taught graduate students in STEM on economic and technology policy topics related to climate change. For eight years, Zaidi served in key roles within the Obama-Biden administration, including as the Associate Director for Natural Resources, Energy, and Science at OMB; as Deputy Director of Energy Policy for the Domestic Policy Council; and as a Senior Director for Cabinet Affairs.
He is here today to discuss the Biden-Harris Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan, which was announced earlier today.
I hope you all join me in welcoming him — welcoming him to the — to the podium and to the Briefing Room. It’s his first time.
So, all yours.
He’s going to take probably like two or three questions afterwards. I’ll let you know who gets called on. But thank you so much, Ali.
MR. ZAIDI: Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The podium is yours.
MR. ZAIDI: Thank you, Karine, and good to be with everybody here today.
President Biden and Vice President Harris believe that no child, no family, no American should have to worry about lead exposure from the water that they drink or the air that they breathe.
That’s why today we’re announcing the Biden-Harris Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan — 10 agencies stepping forward with 15 bold actions, the nation’s largest investment in infrastructure — to take on and tackle this public health crisis and this staggering source of environmental injustice.
Let’s do some of the numbers here.
Lead exposure threatens millions of Americans through their water — up to 10 million households and 400,000 schools and childcare centers; through lead paint in nearly 24 million housing units. This is where people live.
And we know that these exposures are highly unsafe, especially for our kids. We’re not just finding out. We’ve known this for over 100 years.
In fact, Congress passed a law banning new lead pipes in the year I was born. And in the years since, we’ve let these pipes persist in our communities.
And the truth is: They persisted the longest in low-income communities, whether rural or urban, and in communities of color.
The good news is this: We know how to get after this challenge and fix this problem.
And that’s why President Biden and Vice President Harris have made replacing lead pipes a centerpiece of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and why, today, Vice President Harris stood with child health champions and labor union leaders alike to join together and issue this Action Plan with a new goal to make rapid progress replacing all lead pipes in this decade — working in close collaboration with our state, local, and Tribal partners, with a focus on communities that have been underserved and overburdened, and in a way that creates good-paying jobs — jobs welding and fabricating, jobs fitting and installing these upgrades, jobs in infrastructure that can support a family.
Today’s Action Plan has three pillars. The first is about getting resources into the hands of communities. EPA is announcing that nearly $3 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will be deployed next year, in 2022, to replace these pipes. And we’re going to tap into the American Rescue Plan that the President passed at the beginning of his administration with its $350 billion in state, local, and Tribal recovery funds.
Second, the EPA is writing new regulations that will strengthen the Lead and Copper Rule, include — including enhanced testing requirements. This is absolutely critical that we pair the investments with clear standards about where we need to go.
And third, we’re marshaling tools from across our agencies — 10 of them — bringing actions to the table so that we can tackle this crisis head on. And just, as an example, we’ve got a Cabinet-level partnership, a bunch of agencies coming together at the very top of the agencies, focused on lead remediation in schools and childcare centers.
We’ve got the CDC working overtime to make sure we close those gaps that we have in critical health screening.
Across our federal housing portfolio: HUD, USDA, the Department of Interior — we are working to eliminate lead pipes and lead paint hazards.
And we’ve got EPA and the Department of Labor working with local communities, not only to accelerate projects, but make sure that we do them in partnership with unions.
Thanks to the leadership of the President and the Vice President, we passed a big-deal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. And that’s going to help us replace all the lead pipes. And we’re excited to get to work.
And with that, I’m eager to take some questions.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you so much, Ali. Go ahead, Jeff.
Q Ali, I’d like to ask you about the Build Back Better plan. The plan is clearly at risk right now in Congress. Certainly not — it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen before Christmas.
The climate piece is a good chunk of that. What will you guys do in your office if those provisions don’t end up getting passed? And how does the President then intend to proceed with his goals of reducing emissions without it?
MR. ZAIDI: Jeff, thanks for the question. You know, what we’re talking about today, I think, reinforces the case for investing in America. Every dollar that we invest in this challenge to take on the lead pipe crisis around the country yields $3 of benefits.
It’s going to unlock good jobs. It’s going to unlock public health benefits. It’s going to help revitalize communities left out and left behind.
And the Build Back Better Act does exactly that same thing — a playbook that is focused on boosting our economic resilience and taking on the climate crisis. And we’re excited to be involved in conversations that help us move forward.
But let me also note this: From day one in this administration, every single day, the President has been advancing critical climate action. If you look at some of the actions we’ve taken in just the last few months: tackling super-pollutants in the form of hydrocarbons; tackling methane emissions not only here, but bringing around — over 100 countries from around the world to take on the same challenge; making sure we’re shifting quickly to an electric vehicle future.
So we’re excited to be continuing to push forward in an ambitious way, in a bold way. And I think today’s announcement really brings home the point: If we invest in America, we create good-paying jobs and we unlock environmental benefits all at the same time.
Q Just to follow up, what are your biggest concerns about things that may be taken out of that bill, if it passes at all, in the climate space?
MR. ZAIDI: You know, again, I want to focus on what we’re doing today, because, as I noted, you know, this is action that is long overdue. I think the American people are excited to see us get to work in taking on something that’s festered in communities for over 100 years.
But we’re — look, we’re leaning in to every opportunity we’ve got. The President has been very clear: When he sees the climate crisis, he sees the motivation to move with the urgency and pace that’s necessary, at the scale that’s necessary, and he sees jobs. And we’re excited to be bringing those jobs into communities, helping sustain families all around the country.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Peter.
Q Ali, thank you for being here. The President had said he wanted $45 billion to deal with lead pipes and to deal with issue — this issue in the infrastructure bill. Obviously, he got close to $15 billion. You guys say that’s still enough to deal with it, 100 percent. How is that the case if he didn’t get — if he only got a third of the money you were looking for?
MS. ZAIDI: Absolutely. Thank you for raising that question.
One of the things that’s been remarkable — and I think this is the case on lead pipes; I think this is case on a lot of things — if you look at electric vehicles, for example, in just this last year — and it’s accelerated since folks got together on the South Lawn in August — we’ve had the Detroit Three invest almost $100 billion into the electric vehicle future.
The strength of this President’s leadership, the certainty and clarity with which he has projected the vision, I think is bringing folks to the table with resources and creativity. And one example of that creativity is the American Rescue Plan, which included $350 billion to support state and local governments.
We’ve got folks in Milwaukee who now have $6 million from that ARP funding that’s supporting job training to help replace lead pipes. We’ve got folks in Duluth, Minnesota: $11 million from that American Rescue Plan going towards lead remediation.
I grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania, so I’m particularly excited about the 6.5 million bucks that Governor Wolf helped unlock so that Erie can get after some of the lead gooseneck issues that they’ve got in the community.
So, one, we are seeing folks sprinting in this direction right now, right away.
The second thing — and this is where the action plan comes in — is we’ve been working really hard to make sure that we’re being inventive and creative in the way we go after this challenge. That means creating regional technical assistance hubs. It means making sure that we’re standardizing contracting, we’re using the best technology, we’re using data tools to help bend the cost curve — because this doesn’t have to cost as much as it’s always costed.
We have been learning along the way, and it’s time to harness those learnings to deliver the solutions that the American people are looking for.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: April.
Q Crunching the numbers a little bit more and drilling down a little bit more: When you talk about different areas, a lot of it is a heavy lift when it comes to piping and infrastructure and going into houses, going into streets. And then you have the paint in homes that’s easier to remediate.
Over these 10 years, can you give us the numbers — the anticipation of numbers that we’re going to see when it comes to the remediation pipes, lead pipes, as well as paint? Could you give us the status?
MR. ZAIDI: Yeah, absolutely. We know, today — we estimate that there are 6 to 10 million homes that are impacted by lead service lines, and we need to do everything that we can to move as quickly through that challenge as possible.
But we also recognize — and I think it’s important to be transparent about this — that a little bit of this is mapping the topography of the mountain as we’re starting to climb it.
We have to go out there. We have to collect the data. There communities around the United States where we don’t know where the pipes are. So, those are estimates. We need to figure that out on the front end. That’s why we’re investing in the data and the community engagement to figure that out.
But the goal is very clear: within this decade, making sure we’re getting after that challenge.
And on the lead paint front, that is a place where we need to continue to accelerate and marshal investment. It’s something where the Build Back Better plan actually does invest dollars. And we’re using the resources we have already available to us — talked about HUD, USDA, and also the Department of the Interior, which works in Indian Country — making sure that we’re making those resources available.
Q A follow-up: But as you talk about climbing the mountain, do you still at least have a baseline of what you want to see accomplished over this decade?
MR. ZAIDI: Yeah, the baseline is this: We’ve got $15 billion of funding in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. We’re going to move $3 billion of that next year. We’re going to leverage that significantly. We’re going to mobilize the resources we’re already mobilizing through the American Rescue Plan that are creating jobs right now and improving quality of life and health conditions in communities like Duluth, like Milwaukee, like back home in Erie, Pennsylvania. We’re excited about that work.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Ed.
Q Just real quick, Ali — and thanks for being here. You say $3 billion of the $15 billion will be sent out next year. Do you yet know when — precisely or approximately — the first lead pipe will actually be removed in the building and replaced with a new one?
MR. ZAIDI: We are seeing, Ed — thank you for the question. And I remember you from your Federal Eye days. So, good to see you. It — it is — throwback.
It is so important that we start making this progress right away. And you look at, for example, the city of Pittsburgh, which now has a plan to get all the pipes out by 2026, the funds from the American Rescue Plan already mobilized and taking pipes out of the ground, replacing them with a safer alternative. These dollars will accelerate that effort.
And I don’t think we’re skipping a beat here. What we’ve been doing, as an administration, is building the relationships and building, to use a maybe tried term, the infrastructure to deliver the resources that we need — make sure it gets metabolized in the system as quickly as possible.
So, I think that the short answer to your question is: It’s already making a difference in communities right now, and we’re really excited about that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Darlene.
Q Thank you for being here. Could you address environmentalists — their concerns about the plan, just setting a goal for removing the lead service lines versus mandating that these lines be removed? Can you explain why the administration has gone that way and not —
MR. ZAIDI: Absolutely. I’m really —
Q — mandated the removal?
MR. ZAIDI: — I am — as a — as an environmentalist, appreciate you asking that question. This is a multi-prong approach, and setting the goal is the motivation. And I think the point hopefully I’ve conveyed is: Simply by setting that goal, President Biden, Vice President Harris have motivated action in communities all around the country already. But that’s not enough.
And what the EPA is doing is embarking on rulemaking that will create new binding requirements so that we can have the certainty. I mean, you just think about — you put your kid in the car, you don’t just buckle them up with a regular seat belt; you put them in the car seat, you put the seat belt on. I would say a lot of my friends click four or five things before they start driving.
We’re going to invest. We’re going to set standards. We’re going to bring technical assistance. We’re going to be there shoulder-to-shoulder with folks as they take on this challenge.
And the EPA is doing that. And just to speak to the EPA process: On day one, the first day of this administration, the President signed an order reestablishing the scientific integrity of our rulemaking processes. And so, that is what’s going to dictate the process.
But the goals are very clear, and I think you heard them from Michael Regan, our administrator, how vigorously the EPA intends to develop standards, requirements to make sure that we’re delivering on the target.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, we’re going to take two more. Phil and Zolan after.
Q I’m going to follow my good friend Jeff’s lead and broaden it out a little bit, if you don’t mind. Given the scale of the administration’s climate ambitions — of which this is very much a good example of — have you guys felt any constraints on the regulatory side by concern over securing one vote, in particular in the United States Senate, in terms of what you’re able to do, how far you’re able to go, in terms of your agenda on the climate side broadly?
MR. ZAIDI: You know, one of the things that’s been constraining — and I don’t think folks write about this enough — is the incredible hollowing out of the U.S. government as we came in.
And one of the things that folks at EPA and other regulatory agencies have had to do is build up that strength, that capacity to be able to do the analytical work to underpin regulations. To the point earlier, we’ve got to make sure that these regulations are grounded in the best science, in the best data, the best engineering work.
But if you look at our record, you know — I’ll just tick through some of the sectors.
If you look at the industrial sector, we finalized regulations that will take hundreds of million metric tons out of the air in the form of hydrofluorocarbons avoided.
If you look at the oil and gas sector, we proposed the most sweeping methane action strategy and rules, requirements around reducing methane emissions. And we went and we galvanized the rest of the world to come along with us, over 100 countries joining that ambition.
If you look at the auto sector, which is going through transition, we’ve sit- — we’ve been at the table — and this is because of the leadership of the President and the Vice President — we’ve been at the table with the automakers, with the environmentalists, with the engineers, with the scientists, and with our brothers and sisters in the UAW. And we forged historic standards that will reach further than ever before on electric vehicles and on fuel economy.
So, as you just tick through it — sector by sector, we’ve made tremendous progress.
And the regulatory muscle is not the only one that we’re leaning on. Just last week, the President signed an executive order. Last week, he signed an executive order setting new goals for procurement — how we use our buying power as the largest purchaser of goods and services in the world — how we use that to accelerate progress in electric vehicles, in clean power — in 24/7 clean power, in the building sector, even in clean materials, like clean steel and clean cement.
So, I don’t think there’s any shot we’re not taking. I think we are excited to be able to lean in and do it in a way that’s grounded in the best science, grounded in the best analysis. And that’s going to bring folks along — bring along the good-paying jobs that the President talks about every time he talks about the climate crisis.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Zolan.
Q Let me follow up on Build Back Better — on Build Back Better. There’s multiple reports that Senator Manchin is objecting to including drilling bans off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, as well as Gulf of Mexico. How significant of a loss would that be? What is the White House doing to keep those in the bill?
And just, separately, a ban on drilling in ANWR is still in the package. What is the White House doing to ensure that that stays in the package?
MR. ZAIDI: Well, let me talk a little bit about what we’ve been doing. You know, this is a President that came in and — right over there — signed back the protections for Bears Ears, an incredibly important national monument, and Grand Staircase-Escalante. He halted leasing in the Arctic Refuge and in Chaco Canyon — important places to protect for posterity.
He set the first-ever national conservation goal and is galvanizing folks across sectors, across states and local governments in tackling the climate crisis in a way that recognizes it’s not just what we’re doing to nature, it’s that nature can be our partner in taking on the challenges that we face.
And, look, we’ve had incredibly productive dialogues, in the context of this bill and others, on how we take on the climate crisis in a way that marshals the power of nature-based solutions.
And the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, by the way — and, hopefully, I get to come back for the $21 billion we’re going to spend to remediate the places we fouled and that can now become hubs of economic activity and hubs of climate solutions based in nature. That was in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and brought together Democrats and Republicans in both chambers in the House to pass something historic.
So, we’re excited about that work and we’re moving forward.
Q But it does seem like the drilling bans are now not in Build Back Better. So, I mean, how significant of a loss would that be and can you still achieve your climate goals if that is left out?
MR. ZAIDI: So, I think I’m going to let Karine go into the — into the — (laughter) — well, into the minutiae of the negotiations. But let me just say, because I think it’s come up a few times — Jeff started it, so he gets — he gets tagged with it.
You know, we’ve got an incredible crisis that we’re taking on, in the form of climate change. The President set an incredibly ambitious national target: 50 to 52 percent emissions reductions by 2030. He did that in April. And we have done everything we can to pursue the multiple pathways that are available to us in every sector.
There’s no silver bullet when it comes to the climate crisis. But there is a thing as being too late. There’s a thing as not being ambitious enough. And we’re trying to make sure that we are as ambitious as we can be, leaning into every opportunity we’ve got in front of us.
And I think today is a great example of recognizing the intersections of these policy areas; recognizing the opportunity that’s embedded in the crises that are in front of our communities; and being — as, I think, the President and Vice President model for all of us — happy, excited warriors chasing after the prize here, which is to be partners to the American people and oftentimes folks who have been left behind and looked over. So, we’re grateful to be part of that work.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Awesome. Thank you so much, Ali. Thank you.
Q Could you take a real quick question about rural pipelines?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: He has to go. He has to go. Thank you, Ali.
Q There are rural people who don’t believe that (inaudible) will be able —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you, Ali.
Q — change lead pipes in rural areas.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: “Lean into the possibilities” — I love that.
Okay. I have a couple things for everybody at the top, But first, I want to welcome the members of our Domestic Policy Council who are here. I’m just — I’m continuing a tradition that Jen started earlier this week in welcoming some staff members here. And also, the climate team. They do amazing work, and we couldn’t be here without all of the policy, you know, wonks that — wonkiness that you guys do. So, thank you so much and welcome.
Okay, few things at the top. I think there is a — yep, there’s a chart. You know we love charts here.
Today, we received further evidence that our jobs recovery is one of the strongest ever. The average number of Americans filing for unemployment over the last four weeks is now at its lowest level since
1959 , as you see — ’69, pardon me — ’69 — giving ourselves 10 extra years, but I meant ’69 here.
We’ve added nearly 6 million jobs this year, the most of any first year President in history. And the number of people receiving unemployment benefits has dropped from 18 million to 2 million since President Biden took office.
Thanks to the American Rescue Plan and our successful vaccination program, Americans are back at work at a record-setting pace and families have more money in their pockets. Americans, on average, have about $100 more in their pockets each month than they did last year, after accounting for inflation.
But even as — even as we’ve built a — an historic jobs and economic recovery, we have dealt with rising prices and supply chain challenges because of the pandemic, along with every other developed economy.
Fighting that inflation and lowering costs for the middle class is the President’s top priority. While other countries face similar challenges, America, uniquely in the world, is racing ahead with more jobs, more growth, more new small business applications, and more opportunities, allowing us to tackle rising prices from a strength of position.
President Biden has taken strong, progressive measures to combat these challenges with a Port Action Plan, the largest release from our Strategic Petroleum Reserve ever, and actions to combat anti-competitive price gouging, including the industries that affect food prices.
And, today, the administration builds upon the President’s Port Action Plan and recent investments in our nation’s Marine Highway System with new actions to strengthen America’s truck- — trucking workforce, another critical link in our supply chain.
So, over 70 percent of American goods are shipped by truck, and, in most communities, trucks are the only form of delivery.
The Truck Action Plan will cut red tape, make it easier for people to get commercial licenses, expand trucking apprenticeships, and launch outreach efforts to recruit new drivers, including by reaching out to veterans who already have the skills and experience to fill these jobs.
This is the
largest [latest] action the administration is taking to address supply chain blockages with the goal of reducing prices. So, this is a big day for the administration: lead pipes and taking on the supply chain with the trucking — our truck announcement.
Yesterday, the Department of Education released new data showing that 99 percent of students are enrolled in full-time in-person learning this year — this schoolyear.
The data shows that not only did schools open their doors to offer full-time in-person learning this year, but that nearly all students and parents actually chose to come back as well.
This is very good news and in alignment with one of the President’s top priorities. It’s why he pushed so hard to pass the American Rescue Plan, which is giving schools funding to continue implementing mitigating — mitigation measures, as well as help get students back on track.
This week, Secretary Cardona also visited Baton Rouge and highlighted how American Rescue Plan funds can be used for tutoring, hiring additional educators, and putting in place other supports to help students recover and accelerate their learning.
And last but not least, today, Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber Anne Neuberger and National Cyber Director Chris Inglis put out a letter to directly communicate with CEOs and business leaders around the country about the specific steps they can initiate now to reduce the risk for their organizations during this time of heightened risk and into the new year.
Some examples of these steps include changing passwords and mandate multi-factor authentication, backing up your data, and ensuring you have an incident response plan in place.
There is not a specific threat we are tracking, but, historically, we have seen breaches around national holidays because criminals know that security operations centers are often short-staffed, delaying the discovery of intrusions.
And with that, I give it to you. Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Karine. Is there any comment on the release of the U.S. missionaries who were held in Haiti? Was the U.S. government involved in getting them sprung?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we welcome reports that they are free and getting the care that they need after their ordeal, clearly.
We are thankful for the FBI, the State Department, and Haitian law enforcement officials who have been working tirelessly to get these missionaries safely home.
As Jake Sullivan said when this ordeal began, the President received daily updates on this issue. The U.S. government has been working tirelessly over the past two months to get them released and get them the medical care and support they need after an ordeal like this.
Protecting the welfare of Americans overseas and freeing Americans held against their will is a top Biden administration priority.
For any specifics on the details of this, I would refer you to the Department of State.
Q And then, today, the President had a conversation with several senators about voting rights. Can you, you know, talk a little bit about that, the senators that he was talking to? And how did that conversation come together in the first place?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So —
Q Was it initiated by the White House or the senators?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, today, the President, as you just mentioned, Darlene, and the Vice President met virtually with Democratic senators to discuss voting rights. The senators provided an update on their progress. And the President and the Vice President reaffirmed the importance of acting to ensure that every American can vote and have that vote be counted.
The members they spoke with include Senator Schumer — Senators Schumer, Kaine, King, Klobuchar, Manchin, Merkley, Tester, and Warnock.
The President has been getting regular updates on this from his team who have made — who all of us have made voting rights a priority.
Q And then, one last one: Yesterday he was asked a question in Kentucky, and he said that “if we can get [the] congressional voting rights done, we should do it. If we can’t, we’ve got to keep going. There is nothing domestically more important than voting rights. It’s the single-biggest issue.”
Was he speaking generally about voting rights in the sense that if we can get it done, we should do it? Or was he trying to say that Build Back Better should now take a backseat and voting rights — the Senate should —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That’s a jump. (Laughs.)
Q Well, it would be.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That’s a jump. (Laughs.) So, let me just — let me just lay a couple things out for you.
The President has made clear that the systematic effort to deny people the right to vote in this country is just plainly wrong, unconstitutional, and goes against the very foundation that our democracy was built on.
The President believes the right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy and has repeatedly urged Congress to act to protect the right to vote and access to voting.
He has addressed this issue in front of Congress. He has addressed this issue privately with members of Congress and senators, as I just read out, of both parties — he’s done this. He has addressed this issue with civil rights leaders at the White House.
And so, you know, protecting the cornerstone of our democracy should not be a partisan issue but, sadly, what we’re seeing is that it has — this has been the case.
So, in the past voting rights has been a bipartisan issue. So, my question to Republicans — Republicans are: How has this changed? Why has that changed?
So, as the President said yesterday, to your point, there is nothing more urgent — nothing more urgent than vo- — passing voting rights and getting that done.
Anyone who knows this President has followed this — his career on voting rights and knows this belief is core to who he is and will continue to work with Congress to get this done. And he’s going to continue to focus on it and so will his team.
Q Thank you. Earlier this week, the White House described talks between the President and Senator Manchin as constructive and productive. But sources on the Hill say that these talks have actually been going, you know, very poorly, and it does now appear that Build Back Better doesn’t have a path forward this year.
So, I’m wondering how now would you describe the conversations between the two? And what, again, were those areas of productivity earlier this week?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you all know, you know, we don’t go into specifics. We have a policy of not talking about private conversations, and even Manchin said that himself — you know, person-to-person conversations should be kept private.
So, the President’s discussions with lawmakers, outside of readouts that we have, usually we keep that promise. So, I don’t have any more details to offer beyond what we’ve said this week.
You know, the President is determined to get this done as soon as possible, you know, to cut — we’re talking about cutting costs for American families. We’re talking about childcare, eldercare. We’re talking about prescription drugs — lowering the cost of prescription drugs, which is so critical and important to American families and just to Americans across the country, and also, universal pre-K.
All these things are critical. And that’s what the President is going to continue to focus on.
Q And I’m hoping you can clear something up here when it comes to the question of 2024. The Vice President did an interview with the Wall Street Journal, and she was asked if she assumed that Biden would run again. And she didn’t say yes; she just said that the two of them hadn’t talked about it.
Of course, you all and the President himself have said that he does plan to seek reelection. So, what’s the disconnect here? Why —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, I can’t speak to a conversation that the Vice President and the President has; I could only say what — and reiterate what Jen has said and what the President has said himself: that he is planning to run for re-election in 2024. I don’t have any more to add to —
Q But just be clear, when the President says he plans to run again, he means with Harris on the ticket?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes — (laughs) — he does. There’s no change. Yes. Yes.
Q Karine, can you give us a sense of where the White House sees Build Back Better right now? Do you expect to get any more progress before the end of this year? Or is it likely now, from your perspective as well, to be done in 2022?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: As you know, we love process questions here. Let’s see.
Q Glad to —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Let’s see — (laughs) —
Q Glad to provide one.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, there are a number of conversations happening behind the scenes. And I’m just not going to get — I’m not in a position to give you an update or to get ahead of that — of what the process is going to be here today.
What I can reiterate — how important getting Build Back Better done. This is a priority for the President, to lower costs, again, for Americans that I just listed out: childcare, eldercare, prescription drugs, universal pre-K. All of these things are highly critical to American families. And that’s what they want us to see — to see us do, is to deliver, and that’s going to be our focus.
Q And then one more on COVID. The variant is raging. Deaths and cases are up in this country and worldwide. The President unveiled his winter plan a few weeks ago.
Broadly, given where the cases are right now, do you feel, does the White House feel that its strategy is working?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we know that the tools that we have in place is — indeed works. Right? And the President, what he did with his winter plan that he put out a couple of weeks ago is just to build on that, build on what we know works.
So, our commitment — just to lay out a little bit here — is to sharing information transparently and as expeditiously as we can. We also want to make the most important thing clear, and we must all — in this moment of the pandemic, we both know and have the tools, as I just mentioned, we need to protect us — different than any other points of this pandemic.
If you think about where we were a year ago, we had less than 1 percent of the population that was fully vaccinated. Now we have 71 percent of the American public that’s fully vaccinated.
So, we are in a different place than we were before, and that’s because what we know is working. What we — the tools that we have, we know, are working.
So, the most important — important and encouraging news we have is that vaccines — in particular boosters — we know, protect us. And thanks to the President, they are widely available.
So, yesterday, Dr. Fauci told the American public that the existing vaccines are optimal for our protection against Omicron. So, we need to get everyone who is vaccinated now boosted. We’ve made them readily available. They’re free.
And, through the winter plan, as I just mentioned, we have AARP doing extensive outreach to our most vulnerable, pharmacies doing proactive outreach and expanding availability, and have a continued ramp-up paid media campaign driving Americans to their boosters.
We also know it’s critical Americans not lose sight of masking indoors where CDC recommends this. We’ve — we’ve been clear that we must follow this simple measure we know helps to stop the spread.
And beyond vaccine effectiveness, we’re looking at transmittable severity. We know vaccines and, importantly, boosters are critical, as Dr. Fauci also mentioned.
So, we also know this is a more transmittable variant, the Omicron, and so we have to do everything that we can to get people vaccinated quickly and get boosted — and also boosted as quickly as we can.
So — so, we’re just going to continue pushing forward the plan, the tools that work to get — to get Americans vaccinated and boosted.
Q Back to Build Back Better for a second. Some senators emerged from their lunch today suggesting the President himself would have a little more to say about the future of Build Back Better later today. Is that something we should still be anticipating?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I don’t have anything to share with you. Clearly, if the President has more to say, we will all — let you all know, but I don’t have anything at this moment.
Q Before you came out here — speaking of boosters — and it may have crossed paths with you guys coming out here — the CDC vaccine advisors to the CDC, apparently, voted unanimously to recommend people seeking vaccines or boosters go with Pfizer or Moderna instead of Johnson & Johnson.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q The CDC Director will have to make a decision ultimately, and it should be announced later today, I guess.
I’m just curious, at this point, what would be the message to somebody who has a J&J shot? And is it responsible for the United States to continue distributing that shot — not only in this country, but around the world — if the vaccine advisors are saying this?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you know, ACIP is an outside advisory panel. So the ACIP regular — regularly meets to discuss the vaccines and clinical usage, as Dr. Walensky said yesterday. So it’s not unusual. This is regular — regularly happening.
Whatever decision they come — they come to will go then to Dr. Walensky, and we will follow her guidance once we get that.
But what we know right now and can focus on is that — the importance of getting vaccinated and boosted. As I just laid out, we have three effective vaccines available to people widely around the country. And right now, what we know: It is critical to get vaccinated and boosted to protect yourself from Omicron.
So that’s what we know at this moment is that we have three that are effective.
Q If she were to come back and say — and this is a hypothetical, I’m going to stress that —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes.
Q — because I know we —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It is a hypothetical. We do not like hypotheticals in this room.
Q Do we know how — whether she could say we shouldn’t be giving out J&J anymore — and how quickly it could be removed from the market?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — we don’t — I can’t get ahead of what Dr. Walensky is going to say. We follow the science. We — you know, we listen to the public health experts. That’s our motto here — the “North Star,” if you will. And I’m going to leave it to Dr. Walensky.
Q Just to — I wanted to circle back to Russia. Have there been any updates, in terms of — I know there was, obviously, a U.S. official in Moscow — where things stand on the talks? Any announcements about future talks maybe coming in the days or weeks ahead?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. So, we are constantly consulting closely with our European allies and partners to determine the best way to proceed with the security talks that President Biden and President Putin agreed to very recently.
Today, National Security Advisor Sullivan had a call with his B9 counterparts. Yesterday, he spoke with Russian Presidential Foreign Policy Advisor. Today, Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried is in Brussels, meeting with NATO Allies to brief them on that conversation and on her meetings in Kyiv and Moscow, which she had this week.
Our focus continues to be diplomatic progress and de-escalation. That is the most important thing here. We believe progress is possible on ending the conflict in Eastern Ukraine through implementation of the Min- — Minsk Agreements in support of Normandy Format. So that is our focus right now.
Q Okay. And just one more on — sort of circling back to Build Back Better. I know the President is a veteran of these types of things, with 36 years in the Senate, Vice President. Does he view this as just kind of a step in the process? Is it a setback? What’s kind of his perspective on where things stand right now in these talks?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, so, just to step back for a second and look at the big picture of what we’ve been dealing here — dealing with here: So, this President and the congressional leadership team, working with two of the — are working with two of the narrowest majorities possible — has passed several of the most impactful economic legislation in American history.
He turned around a failing COVID response and a sputtering economy, and he’s taking strong action to address the financial challenges that Americans care about the most.
His leadership and bills — and those bills now resulted in unprecedented economic recovery that is the envy of the world, historic job growth, the fastest drop in unemployment in history, strengthened supply chains, and boosted competitiveness against China.
We delivered because we stayed focused on what the American people care about and did the work. That’s exactly what’s happening here.
Meanwhile, Republicans are actively seeking to hurt the pandemic response, explicitly rooting for infl- — inflammati- — pardon me — inflation to get worse. And so, they are — they are blocking what we’re trying to do for the American people, which is bringing down the cost and doing the work on behalf of the American people.
So, of course, any President wants anything to happen sooner, right? They want — he wants us to get this done as soon as possible. He wants to deliver the Build Back Better plan for the American families as soon as possible.
But we understand that it’s going to take a — it’s going to take time, and we’re going to — but we’re going to continue doing the work.
Q Thanks, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. Go ahead, Ayesha.
Q Another question on Build Back Better — I know that that seems to be the theme of today, but —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.) Yes. It’s all good.
Q You know, one thing that seems to be a sticking point is — for Senator Manchin — is the Child Tax Credit. And so, I do want to know: Is the White House willing to move the expanded Child Tax Credit — you know, the payments that people get each month — is that negotiable?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: When you say “move,” meaning —
Q To remove it from Build Back Better —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, let me —
Q — to not have it as a part of the plan.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, first, if — a standalone bill —
Q It’s a standalone bill —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Right.
Q — or, yeah.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, so, in order to do that, we need the 60 — 60 votes in the Senate, and we just don’t have that. Right? So, that is not — that is not an option here.
But, what we’re going to continue to do is move forward and have the conversation on Build Back Better, and to get that done.
That’s one of the reason the President included it in — the Child Tax Credit — included in the Build Back Better Bill.
Look, the CTC puts money directly into the pockets of families across this country at a time when, unfortunately, it costs — it costs — the costs of some everyday things have gone up. We’d hope that everyone in this town, regardless of party, would support it.
The President was clear when he signed the Child Tax Credit extension into law as part of the American Rescue Plan, he viewed it as a vital tool to fighting child poverty and helping families.
So, the President believes the Child Tax Credit is highly effective policy and needed now more than ever. And that’s why he included it in the Build Back Better plan.
Q And so must it remain in the Build Back Better plan? Because there’s some talks about it possibly being removed and maybe not being in a separate plan if Manchin will not support it.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I — all I can tell you right now is if we — what we’ve been hearing and people have been asking us — would we — would — what — how — would we support it being in a standalone. And that thing is — the reality is you need 60 votes in the Senate. There are no — there — we do not have 60 votes in the Senate to have — to do that as a standalone.
So, we’re going to continue to make sure that we work — we work with the Senate to really get Build Back Better done.
Q And just really quickly, on voting rights: I know you said that there’s nothing more urgent for the President right now than voting rights, but it does seem like Build Back Better, all these other things have taken a priority over voting rights — like, that there has not been movement. And there is a great deal of frustration from, you know, activists, voting rights activists about that.
So, I guess, how do you address that: to say that it is the most urgent thing but it does not seem to be the top priority legislatively?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Let me just run through a little bit of what we have done, because I think that’s important. I feel like sometimes that get — that gets lost as we’re talking about voting rights. And it shouldn’t because the President has made this a priority — voting rights — made this a priority throughout his career and practically on day one.
So, dozens of White House staff work on this priority every day. And it is fundamental to upholding the rule of law.
You all heard the President speak about this at length at the 10th anniversary of MLK’s Memorial, which is very — which was not too long ago, decrying the Big Lie and making the case for voting rights legislation.
Here’s what we’ve also done, because we are not waiting for legislation; we wanted to make sure that we moved forward very quickly and got some of these things done.
So, the President’s historic executive order in March, which he signed on Bloody Sunday and which agencies have now submitted actions plans for, leveraging the power of the administration to protect the franchise and make it easier to vote. That’s one.
DOJ has been doubling their voting rights staff at the Civil Rights Division, as well as taking steps to ensure compliance with voting rights statutes, launching a task force to combat the increase of threats against election officials and election workers, and issuing guidance on a variety of issues pertaining to fair and secure elections.
And the President appointed the Vice President, at her request, to lead this administration-wide effort using the bully pulpit and convening power to the White House.
So, the President believes the right to vote is critical, it’s crucial to the health of our system — of our system of government. So, that’s what we’ve been doing. So, I don’t want that to get lost.
Q Can I follow up on —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’ll get to you in a second, April.
Q Thanks, Karine. I wanted to also follow on this Child Tax Credit issue with Joe Manchin. I remember, a couple of months ago, we were sitting on the tarmac, delayed because the President, with much fanfare, came out and announced that he had a framework that had sort of sign-off from senators. And then, this week, we’ve learned that Joe Manchin has either asked for the Child Tax Credit to come out or sort of pitched a 10-year Child Tax Credit that would cost $1.4 of his $1.75 trillion.
So, based on that, has Joe Manchin sort of reneged on a commitment that he made to the President when you guys made that announcement? Or did you not actually have the announcement in hand before (inaudible)?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, Justin, as I said, we’re — I’m not going to get into private conversations. I’m certainly not going to lay out what has been negotiated or not negotiated. I’ll let the — I’ll let Senator Manchin speak for himself on what he wants included or not, and where he sees this.
Q And then, on COVID: In response to Jeff, you said that the tools that we have are working. And I take the point that if you’re fully vaccinated and boosted, the chance of severe harm from COVID to you — your personal risk is relatively low. But that doesn’t describe a majority of Americans.
And just in the last few weeks, we’ve seen cases up 40 percent, deaths up more than a third. And so I’m wondering, in light of that, are you guys still categorically ruling out the possibility that we might see lockdowns this winter, especially considering how boosters have not kind of had the uptick that we would need to see here?
And are —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well — oh, sorry.
Q Yeah. Are there going to be any operational changes here at the White House? Obviously, you know, the President is 79 years old; he’s been boosted, but the virus is swelling in a way that we haven’t seen, probably, in a year.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, as it relates to shutdowns — which is what I was trying to convey to Jeff as he asked me this question — look, you know, we’ve been very clear, Dr. Fauci has been very clear, our public health experts have been very clear: We know what works, and we’re going to continue to do what works, which is making sure that, you know, we do everything we can to get folks vaccinated.
We’re at 71 percent of people being fully vaccinated. That’s a huge difference to where we were a year ago, as I just stated. A year ago, we were at less than 1 percent. We’re at 83 percent — more than 83 percent of people who have at least one shot. So, we’re doing the work to get us there. With boosters — about more than 50 million people have gotten that booster shot.
And the President laid out his Winter Plan about two weeks ago to really talk about those dozens — the 12 tools –additional tools — to build on what’s working to make sure that we offer it. We have — the American public feels like they have that access and feel — and feel comfortable in getting that booster shot.
So, it’s important. We got to make sure that we take care of our seniors, our most vulnerable. So, that is what we know. We listen to the science. As I said, that is the North Star for us. We listen to health — health officials.
And so, we’re going to continue doing what we know works and continue to talk to the American public about that.
Go ahead, Peter.
Q Thanks, Karine. First, a little before you came out here, a report (inaudible). Why is the administration suspending talks for cash payments to the families of illegal immigrants separated at the border? The President has said, “You lost your child — it’s gone — you deserve some kind of compensation, no matter…the circumstance.” Did he change his mind? Does he no longer think that these people need compensation?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, Peter, it’s ongoing litigation, so I would refer you to the DOJ. I can’t speak from — from it from here — about it from here.
Q Okay. A question about crime recently. The mayor in San Francisco is now trying to add police funding because when she pulled it to reinvest in communities, crime went way up. So would President Biden, as the leader of the Democratic Party, advise Democratic mayors not to pull money from police budgets?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I can say this: It is absolutely unacceptable when gun crimes are taking lives, when families don’t feel safe going to the park or their local schools, when thieves feel impunity in stealing from retailers. So, we applaud the mayor making sure that there is more police presence in the city to protect Americans.
And so, if you’re a mayor — this is what we say to local leaders: If you’re a mayor or a local leader, there is a crime problem in your community, we think you should step up and do something about it, just as many mayors are already doing. And we’re — and we’ve made clear that we’re going to offer federal support to help you do that and to keep communities safe.
As just one example: The Department of Justice announced, last month, grants to help put 50 more cops on the beat in San Francisco and funding for over 1,000 more community-oriented policies — policies, roles nationwide.
The President has proposed doubling that program. So, we want to make sure that — that mayors and local leaders do indeed step up and make sure that they’re protecting their community.
Q And then just one more topic, really quick.
Q Karine —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We got to wrap it up.
Q Okay. Just quickly —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q Why is President Biden telling people still that the vaccinated cannot spread COVID?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Can you — can you say more?
Q Yeah. In a local interview on Tuesday, he said, “How about making sure you’re vaccinated so you do not spread the disease to anybody else?” The CDC says people who get vaccine breakthrough infections can be contagious.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I’ll say this: I — I didn’t hear this interview so I would have to see it in its full context.
What I know and what the President believes is that we have to listen to the science. We have to listen to our public health officials. And that’s what the President believes.
Q Tomorrow’s commencement address? Tomorrow’s commencement address?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, the — in South — in South Carolina?
Q Yes. What’s the topic? Is he talking about voting rights? Is he advancing that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — we’ll have more to share with you on that later, but we know we have to go. But — and if you want, you can come and see me in the back, and I can get you more information.
Q Thanks, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, everybody.
4:45 P.M. EST