James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:38 P.M. EST
 
MS. PSAKI:  Hi everyone.
 
Q    Hello.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  I know we’ve done — hello — a lot of news in your inboxes this morning, so a couple of other notes for all of you and for those of you who haven’t caught up with everything quite yet.
 
As you may have seen already, today the President announced that his administration is extending the pause on student loan repayments for an additional 90 days, through May 1st, 2022.  This is an issue both President Biden and Vice President Harris care deeply about.
 
While the jobs recovery is one of the strongest on record — with nearly 6 million jobs added under President Biden, the fewest Americans filing for unemployment in more than 50 years, and overall unemployment down from 6 percent to 4.2 percent — we know some student loan borrowers are still coping with the pandemic and need some time before resuming payments.
 
So this pause gives the administration time to manage the ongoing pandemic and further strengthen our economic recovery.  In the meantime, the Department of Education — and they also issued a statement that hopefully you will have seen — will continue working with borrowers to support a smooth transition back into repayment and advance economic stability.
 
I would also note, for all the student — those who have student loans out there — the President also renewed his call for all student loan borrowers to do their part as well by taking full advantage of the Department of Education’s resources, considering income-based repayment plans or public service loan forgiveness, and getting vaccinated or boosted.
 
I was thinking — I was looking at what Trevor was looking at behind me, but — yes, this is another note.  Don’t worry, I’ll get there in just a moment.
 
Also, just wanted to note: The President, of course, just met with a number of business leaders and industry leaders about efforts to address bottlenecks in the supply chain.  I think you all saw him give his — give remarks on that as well.
 
But, as the New York Times said today, Christmas gifts are arriving on time this year.  Good news.  We’ve saved Christmas.  And that is because President Biden recognized this challenge early, acted as an honest broker to bring key stakeholders together, and focused on addressing practical problems across the global supply chain.
 
Here are just a few key points of progress:

The number of containers sitting on the docks at the Ports of LA and Long Beach for over eight days have fallen by nearly 50 percent.
 
The average amount of time containers sit on docks has fallen by a week.
 
The price of shipping a container between Asia and the West Coast has fallen by more than 25 percent since its peak in September.
 
And as the President also referenced, the stocks on shelves is at about 90 percent — retail stocks on shelves — at about 90 percent inventory.  It’s about — it was about 91 percent pre-pandemic, just to give you a sense.
 
So, people can go purchase — purchase present even — even at this point if they haven’t done their shopping.
 
And also we announced, as a part of the Port Action Plan, $230 million in Port Infrastructure Development Grants.
 
And then, finally, we’re up to the graphic.  Today, we also announced that, since November 15th, a record-breaking 13.6 million people have signed up for health insurance during Open Enrollment, with 4.6 million people gaining health insurance through the Affordable Care Act since the President took office.
 
The Rescue Plan reduced premiums by an average of $50 per person per month, meaning 80 percent of consumers can find a plan for $10 or less — for $10 or less per month. 
 
Okay.  Last piece I just wanted to give you an update on — sorry, I guess we’re getting a lot of news out before the end of the year: The Department of Treasury also announced broad authorizations that ensure that NGOs, international organizations, and the U.S. government can continue to provide assistance and support the Afghan people.
 
And we’ve talked a bit in here before about what additional steps we can take.  So these authorizations build on earlier authorizations issued in September.  They are consistent with the resolution adopted by the U.N. Security Council earlier today that established a carveout for humanitarian assistance in the U.N. 1988 sanctions regime to ensure urgently needed aid can reach the Afghan people. 
 
This resolution was drafted by the United States and unanimously adopted by the 15 members of the U.N. Security Council.  The resolution also requests periodic updates by the U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator to ensure assistance is reaching the intended beneficiaries.
 
I would just remind all of you: We’re the single-largest provider of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan.
 
In addition, we’re going to provide the people of Afghanistan 1 million additional COVID-19 vaccine doses through COVAX, bringing our total commitment to 4.3 million doses to date. 
 
Hopefully that’s enough news for you for the moment. 
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  I have a question on your favorite topic: Joe Manchin.  Senator Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn are two Republicans of a few trying to get him to switch parties.  What’s the White House response to that?  And is the President doing any sort of countereffort to keep him in the Democratic Party?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I know Senator Manchin has been asked about this himself and has spoken for himself, as I assume he will continue to do.
 
I would just note that the President considers him a friend.  He believes they share values about a range of things personally, but also about why they’re in public service — which is to make life easier for working people across the country; to give people more breathing room; to lower costs of childcare, of healthcare; to fight for good-paying union jobs. 
 
That’s been a common topic of discussion, of course, between the President and Senator Manchin, but I would really point you to Senator Manchin to speak to that.
 
Q    Sure.  And then, the Secret Service announced that up to — there’s been nearly $100 billion, at a minimum, stolen from the pandemic relief funds.  Can you talk a little bit about how this happened and if — you know, now that the administration sees this problem, if you’re ramping up any efforts to crack down on this kind of fraud?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would note, first, that we expect them to clarify — this was also a concerning headline we saw ourselves — but there is no new research, data, or analysis of fraud here. 
 
So just to give you the specifics, what happened is there was just an adding up of two old IG reports of well-known challenges at small — of small-business loans in states getting out UA — UI payments in 2020.  And there’s been a lot of reporting, I know, from the Associated Press and others about issues with some of those earlier programs.
 
So, it’s also important to note that even those two older analysis-combined payments that include mistakes in over- and underpayments, but it was a reference to two older IG reports.
 
Q    Okay.  And then one more on COVID.  The administration is working to gather 4 million doses of COVID-19 treatments by the end of January.  Is that accurate?  Is that accurate that —
 
MS. PSAKI:  You mean 500 anti-va- — which would piece are you talking about here?
 
Q    COVID-19 treatments, monoclonal antibodies —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yes.
 
Q    — that kind of thing.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Got it.  Yes.
 
Q    So now that the FDA has cleared Pfizer’s COVID —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Let me give you the exact numbers.  Well, continue your question, and then I’ll give you the accurate numbers.  
 
Q    My question is: Why is it just 4 million?  I mean, is that enough, considering we are now seeing some of these pills get cleared by the FDA, vaccine hesitation is still a big problem, and we’re seeing shortages in monoclonal antibodies nationwide?  I mean, why not focus on surging production of these treatments?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would first say that I know one authorization has happened.  We have purchased 10 million Pfizer doses, 3 million Merck, and we’ll be prepared to distribute them as another of our treatment options around the country as soon as supply is ready.
 
I think Doc- — I know there’s going to be a COVID briefing later this afternoon, and I know that Dr. Fauci has spoken to this before, and I expect that he will be asked about this again — on the difficulty of producing some of these antiviral treatments.  And so, we, of course, want to ensure that we are bringing to market and making available as many as we can.  But that is a reality in the production of these, as well, we also want people to be aware of.
 
Tr- — oh, go ahead, Phil.  Trevor is like, “I’ve asked all my questions.”  (Laughs.)  “I’m done.”  Go ahead.
 
Q    No, no, go ahead.  I’ll come after.
 
Q    No, I’m just — I’m excited I beat you, Trevor.  That’s a big day for me.
 
I’m not trying to be flip with this question, but can you characterize where Build Back Better talks actually are right now?  Like, are they back on?  What’s the process here in the weeks ahead, given some of the optimism we heard from the President last night?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  And I think you heard optimism as well, Phil, from a number of senators who came out of a meeting or discussion of the members of the Democratic Caucus last night.  
 
And I think what’s important to note there is that there is agreement by the vast majority of members that we absolutely need to move forward, and the cost of inaction makes it so that we don’t have — we — there’s no other option, I should say.  
 
And I would say at this point we expect there to be ongoing and continued conversations at a staff level.  Certainly, the President will be engaged with members and could be over the coming days, and we are looking forward to moving forward in January, as Leader Schumer has announced.
 
Q    And have there been any more contacts with Senator Manchin or his office since the President spoke to him on Sunday night?
 
MS. PSAKI:  We have been in touch with his team and his office, and I expect we will continue to be in touch with him as well, but I’m not going to outline all those specifics from here.
 
Q    And then, just one more.  Obviously, you laid it out and the President laid out in his statements, but what led to the — was there a specific thing that led to the shift on student loans?  And I think the administration had been pretty clear for several months that February was going to be the last — was the end.  Was it Omicron?  Was it a compilation of factors?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  I think a compilation of factors is certainly accurate.  But I think, Phil, as much as we know that there’s been a lot of progress in the economy, we know that, as was noted in the President’s statement, that a number of people — millions of people across the country are still struggling with the ongoing threat of the pandemic.  Many of them are student loan borrowers.  This is something the President has thought a lot about over the last several days in coordination and, of course, conjunction in discussions with the Vice President, and it led to the decision to extend until May.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    So, for the 500 million testing kits that you announced yesterday, when are you expecting that those will be kind of fully disbursed?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.  So, let me give you a bit of an update on the process and kind of how it’s working. 
 
So, as you mentioned, half a billion tests bought by the U.S. government will be distributed for free.  Right now, the Department of Defense and HHS are executing on what’s called an “accelerated emergency contract.”  This means the first delivery for manufacturers will arrive in January, and we anticipate having the full timeline of delivery of all 500 million in the weeks following.
 
So they will start to be delivered in January, and then we will start to make them available, and we will make the website — an easy and accessible website — available at that time when people will be able to go on and actually request them.
 
Q    Okay.  And do you know when all of them will be, kind of, out there?
 
MS. PSAKI:  It will be in the weeks following.  Obviously, you know, January is when they will start, given — thanks to this accelerated emergency contract.  But I can’t give you an assessment of that at this point in time.
 
Q    Okay.  And then, are there any plans by the President in any way to commemorate January 6th?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t want to speak on behalf of the President quite yet.  We’re still finalizing plans, but I think it’s safe to say that the American people will hear from him on that day.  But we’ll have more to say, I would expect, as we get closer.
 
Go ahead, Major.
 
MS. PSAKI:  A couple on Joe Manchin.  The senator has said that he has been consistent in his objections to Build Back Better.  Does the White House agree?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I think — in terms of what?  Give me more context of what he said.
 
Q    He said he’s been consistent about either cost, inflationary concerns — some things being permanent and some things not; some things being one year, two year — it varies on that.  He said he’s been consistent on that.  I’m just quoting him.  
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  
 
Q    Does the White House agree that he has been consistent in his communication with the White House about his concerns?
 
MS. PSAKI:  We have — we believe that Senator Manchin has been engaging with us over the course of time and months in good faith.  I think the statement we put out on Sunday made clear that we didn’t feel that his announcement on Sunday was aligned with what he’d committed directly to the President on, in terms of the framework of what he might support.  
 
So, I don’t want to characterize further than, you know, the President believes they’re friends, they can work together.  We need to work together to get this done.  They have some disagreements, but there’s a lot of things they want to get done.  And our focus is on moving forward.
 
Q    I know you’re not going to negotiate from the podium, but one thing he has said is: Whatever is in there should be there for a fixed number of years, and if there are things in it that are high priorities, they should become permanent.  In general, does the White House agree with that?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say first that the President has been clear that he wants anything that is in this package to be paid for, and he wants the package to be paid for.
 
Q    That’s a different priority.
 
MS. PSAKI:  He wants the package to be paid for.  There are components of this where there would need to be decisions made over the course of time about extending them.  The President has been clear about his intention of paying for that. 
 
Beyond that, I would note that there’s been a lot of negotiations leading up to this point — there will be more negotiations, no doubt about it; everybody stayed tuned and settle in — to continue to discuss.
 
And as a part of that, there was agreement on the length of time of different components of the package.  You know, obviously, “compromise” is not a dirty word.  We’re going to continue discussing it.  But beyond that, I don’t — I don’t think I have anything more to dig out for you.
 
Q    On the supply data that you provided at the top: What do you believe the implications are with that success, as you described it, for inflation in the country?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think part of our hope here, Major — and economists will tell you this — is: As you address the bottlenecks in the supply chain, more goods are able to travel, more on the shelves.  That will hopefully help lower costs.  And that is certainly what our objective and our focus is on.
 
Q    But does the White House believe, from an economic perspective, that was the central driver of inflation, or are there are other aspects of the economy that you still have to deal with to bring inflation down?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, there are a number of areas of different industries that we have seen price increases, right?  And as we talk about inflation, the way the American people consume that is: How much does a used car cost or a new car cost, or a pound of meat?  And so, what we have been trying to do is attack every issue in each of the industries as they are coming up, right? 
 
If you look at oil and gas and that — and the issue of oil and gas, part of that has certainly been about ensuring there’s enough supply in the global marketplace.  That’s something the President has been pressing OPEC Plus members on.  They’ve, obviously, abided by their commitment to release the necessary supply they committed to. 
 
But we’ve also taken steps to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.  That’s not about, of course, addressing bottlenecks; that’s a different issue. 
 
So, point is: We have certainly taken — a lot of our focus has certainly been on addressing bottlenecks, and we believe that will have a positive impact — as we’re already seeing — on ensuring goods are flowing, working to bring down prices, because more things will be on the shelves.  But we also are working to address issues that we’re seeing in different industries that are leading to increased costs.
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead. 
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  Following up on one of Major’s questions: We know that the White House and Senator Manchin have sort of been at loggerheads about some of the programs and priorities of Build Back Better, but we now know that he ultimately pulled the plug in that interview on Sunday because he was upset with White House staff naming him singularly in the Thursday statement from the President.  And we’ve been told about some of his objections to that that were shared with the White House. 
 
Has the staffer who is supposedly responsible for putting his name in there — have they faced any retribution for this or have been spoken to about it?
 
MS. PSAKI:  You know, Jacqui, I haven’t seen all of the comments that Senator Manchin has made on this.  I know that there’s been reporting on this, but I haven’t seen him speak in depth about the specifics of what has upset him.  I can dig further, if that exists out there, beyond the reporting.
 
But what I would tell you is that we have been working with Senator Manchin for months now.  The President has known him for years.  Many of the White House senior staff have known him for years as well. 
 
It doesn’t mean that there aren’t moments of disagreement or frustration; of course, there are.  This is legislating.  That’s the nature of — of sometimes how it gets done.

But our objective and our focus now is moving forward, both with our relationship with Senator Manchin and our efforts to get Build Back Better done, to have discussions with other members of the Democratic Caucus.  And we’re going to spend less time looking in the rearview mirror and more about looking forward.
 
Q    Is there going to be a softer, I guess, approach in dealing with Senator Manchin and some of the other, you know, Democrats in the party who have been very vocal about being disappointed in him?  Is there sort of a shift in strategy since this all blew up over bullying?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, I wouldn’t characterize it that way, Jacqui.  But I would tell you that Senator Manchin is somebody who has won many tough — tough foughts — fights in West Virginia.  He is — comes proudly from a coalmining family.  He’s a pretty outspoken advocate for the things he believes in and the things he doesn’t, and I would doubt he’s a withering flower on the side of the road.  So —
 
Q    Is Build Back Better being dead in the water the reason for extending the student loan moratorium?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, we would disagree with that characterization, as I think nearly every member of the Democratic Caucus would as well, and we’re forging ahead to get it done. 
 
I just gave you an overview of why the student loan extension.  Obviously, we’re still battling a pandemic.  We know that borrowers across the country, even as the economy has made progress, are still grappling with them, and this will give them a little bit more relief.  And that, hence, is why the President and the Vice President made this decision. 
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Continuing on Build Back Better: Up until last week, when Senator Schumer was moving toward a vote by the end of the year, you had been deferential, saying the White House supported the strategy outlined by the Majority Leader.  He convened, obviously, a caucus meeting last night in which he laid out the next steps that he intends to take, including a vote to move forward in January and potentially a vote — and potentially rules changes as it relates to voting reform.  Has Senator Schumer been coordinating that strategy with the White House?  Is that something you support at this stage? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  We — we coordinate very closely with Leader Schumer and work with him on legislative agendas, when — how to get things done, when to get things done, and work in partnership. 
 
And what the President’s belief is on voting rights is that if the Republicans continue to obstruct, then we are going to look at what needs to be done to get it done.  We’re not quite there yet, but we, of course, will continue those discussions with Leader Schumer.
 
Q    Do you support the idea of moving ahead with a vote in January, even as talks with Senator Manchin might still be in an early stage of trying to build it back together?
 
MS. PSAKI:  We’re — we’re — oh, that was good.  That was good there.  We — (laughs) — we are, of course, continuing to press forward, working in close coordination with Leader Schumer.  He hasn’t called the vote yet, but we agree with and support his effort to get this done.
 
Q    On COVID, we heard the President do something we don’t hear often, yesterday, which is speak approvingly of his predecessor.  He mentioned the fact that President Trump had gotten his booster shot.  He also praised — gave his administration credit for getting the vaccine on line. 
 
Can you talk about the strategy of invoking him there?  Was this an attempt by the White House to speak to a population that maybe hasn’t been listening to this President as it relates to COVID?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think it was an acknowledgment that the former President sent an important signal to many Americans about the importance of getting boosted.  And we can’t assess what that will mean or how people will digest that or if it will change their behavior, if they were opposed to getting boosted or opposed to getting vaccinated, but we certainly hope so.  And I think it’s a reflection of the President’s belief that the enemy of the American people is the virus and this shouldn’t be a political battle. 
 
Now, it doesn’t mean we are not going to call out misinformation or steps or actions that are being taken by any leader that we feel are detrimental to the health and wellbeing of communities around the country. 
 
But we can also call out actions that we think are positive and send a good message to people who may not be waiting for President Biden to tell them what to do.
 
Q    And then, a housekeeping question.  You mentioned a lot of news coming in just today.  The week ahead schedule that we had didn’t go beyond today.  Will we see the President for the rest of the week?  And can you give us a sense of how he will spend his first Christmas as President (inaudible)?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  So, he — you will see him tomorrow.  We are still finalizing the details of his schedule, but he will be here at the White House tomorrow, working through — through the course of the day. 
 
He will be, of course, spending — he will be spending Christmas at the White House with members of his family over the course of the weekend.  And he’ll be spending some time in Delaware between Christmas and New Year’s.  We’ll have the final details of that exact balance as we get a little bit closer.
 
Q    Jen —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead, Ken.
 
Q    Jen, on Iran, Jake Sullivan is in Israel to meet with Prime Minister Bennett.  What’s the administration’s level of confidence that the U.S. and Israel can find a common strategy on the best approach to containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions?  And what’s the level of concern that Israel may seek some kind of military solution if there –- if these nuclear talks break down?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, Ken, I would say that, as you noted, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is in Israel.  It’s the culmination, in our view, of a year of very close engagement between our government and the Israeli government.  Iran is obviously high on the agenda for the visit; it’s not the only topic on the visit.  And we expect the conversations to be a continuation of ongoing consultations on the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region in support for terrorist proxies. 
 
So, we have — we briefed them, as you know — but we briefed them — we’ve briefed them throughout the course of many of these talks and discussions.  We certainly share with our Israeli partners a deep concern about the advancements in Iran’s nuclear program following the previous administration’s withdrawal from JCPOA. 
 
I would note on that that there have been a number of Israeli officials who have recently come out and spoken about their concerns about the impact of the prior administration’s withdrawal from the JCPOA. 
 
I would also note that we talked a few weeks ago about our disappointment with how the Iranian members of the delegation had come to the last round of talks and the fact that the President had asked his team to prepare a range of options in coordination with our partners and allies out there, and — of contingency options.
 
So, part of that is something we’re continuing to discuss with partners and allies — including Israel, including many other countries — and expect that will continue as the talks are stalled currently.
 
Q    And just on Russia, Putin yesterday blamed Europe and the U.S. for tensions in the region.  He warned that in the event of hostility from the West, Russia would take retaliatory steps.  What is the level of concern over those comments?  And does the administration believe that the threat of a potential invasion has diminished in recent weeks at all?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, the good sign is that there is an open line of diplomatic discussion and engagement that is happening and that we expect to continue — we hope to continue. 
 
Ken, I would say that, in terms of the comments, I would remind you that President Putin has his own audience.  It is not the United States of America or the people who live here, I don’t think, for the most part. 
 
But NATO is a defensive alliance.  We don’t have aggressive intent with Russia.  The United States doesn’t, neither do NATO partners.  And certainly, the aggression we’ve seen at the Ukrainian border — the bellicose rhetoric — has been coming from one side.  So — and I think anybody can see that pretty clear as day.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  You promised Fed picks first in “early December,” then “before Christmas” —
 
MS. PSAKI:  (Laughs.)
 
Q    — and still haven’t done so.  Did the President have to backtrack on a selection after vetting?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I wish they were going to walk out here.  Wouldn’t that be a moment for Bloomberg?
 
Q    (Inaudible.)
 
MS. PSAKI:  It would be a big financial wire day here in the briefing room.  I don’t have any update.  I will tell you that what often happens is that the President has a packed schedule.  He needs time to consider it, wants to finalize.  So I don’t have an update for you on exact timing.  We are eager to get the next round of nominees out and, of course, to get them confirmed.
 
Q    And then on — another question on Senator Manchin.  He’s demanded that the Trump tax reform bill’s rates be lifted in his latest counteroffer.  Is the administration engaged with Senator Sinema on this to revisit this issue?
 
MS. PSAKI:  We’re engaged with a range of members, including all of those mentioned and more, about the path forward.  But I’m not going to detail any more specifics from here.
 
Q    One last question on COVID.  P.G. County schools, outside of D.C., has closed — shut down for a month.  Do you all think that was the right call?  And is the — is there concern that the U.S. is entering a lockdown against the President’s objections?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President laid out very clearly yesterday in his speech his view and the view of our health and medical experts that we do not need to head toward a lockdown.  We are in a different place than we were a year ago.  Two hundred million people are vaccinated.  We have the tools, the supplies, the resources we need, and that includes the equipment at schools to protect people from the virus. 
 
I would say that different school districts are going to make their own decisions.  Obviously, 5- to 11-year-olds are now eligible to be vaccinated.  We certainly encourage parents to go take their kids to get vaccinated, but school districts will make decisions about what they need to do to keep their kids safe.
 
I would note that in terms of the President’s view, he wants schools to stay open and he wants to make sure kids are learning, and we — he wants to do that in a safe way.  He thinks we have the tools to do that. 
 
One of the things he’s talked about is “test to stay,” which is — would be — allow for — I mean, if your kids go to school.  I know there’s some people here who have kids in school, as do I.  Typically, you might need a 10-day quarantine for a close contact.  Different schools have different policies.  And this policy would recommend both contact tracing and testing so that kids could stay in school.
 
So, that’s one of the policies that he’s talked about and we’ve been recommending.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    If I could go back to the 500 million tests.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.
 
Q    You talked — you talk a lot about being prepared.  I think you’ve talked about Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts yesterday.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.  (Laughs.)
 
Q    So I just want to make sure I have this right: You don’t yet have a contract, or a contract to announce.  You can’t say when the website is going to be up, but sometime in a matter of weeks.  You can’t say how many tests people are going to be able to order at a time or whether there will be a limit on them.  You can’t say when they’re going to receive the test or how quickly they will be shipped, but that all of that will happen in a matter of weeks, and it will be clear.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah, so — so here’s —
 
Q    Is that — I mean, is —
 
MS. PSAKI:  — here’s my — so what people should know across the country: Right now, there are 20,000 testing sites that are available.  We have quadrupled the size of our testing program in the last four months; that’s not including the announcement yesterday.  We are also working with FEMA to open up testing sites — one of the first will open up in New York City before the end of the week.

So, “accelerated emergency contract” means they’re working to finalize the emergency contract, and it would be — applicable to that would be all of the FDA-approved testing.  They would all be options for it — testing kits.  Right?  We’re not going to put the website up until we have the first batch of the 500 million, which we expect to get in January, because we don’t want to create confusion for the American people out there.
 
This is the biggest purchase that we have done to date.  It certainly represents a significant commitment and a recognition by the President that we need to be doing more.  But that’s the status of where things sit.
 
Q    And is the website designed yet? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  The web- — the website will be ready to go when we have the — when we have supply to be able to distribute because we don’t want to create confusion for the American people.
 
Q    Okay.  Thanks.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.
 
Q    Yeah.  Thanks, Jen.   Couple questions — and going back once again to Build Back Better.  Senator Manchin’s last counteroffer — I guess, that was early last week — included many of the priorities of the President, as well as the topline — funding them — number, but according to multiple reports, excluded the Child Tax Credit extensions.  This is obviously one of a key priority of the White House. 
 
But as you now kind of reignite negotiations here and try to get something done soon, would the White House be willing, would the President be willing to exclude that policy from the Build Back Better package?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, as Major, you know, said earlier, I’m not going to negotiate from here, but I will say that if anything is broken off, you would need 60 votes to get it done.  Right?  Because the reason why we can do a Build Back Better package with every Democrat is because it’s through a reconciliation process, and that would require 50 votes.  Now we only have 50 votes to get, so we need every single one of those votes from the Democrats unless there’s a Republican who has a moment over Christmas where they decide they want to lower costs for people across the country.  We will see.
 
But that is a key, important component to know here.  We know that the Child Tax Credit is a priority to the President.  It’s a priority to many people in the Senate whose votes we need as well.  It’s also a priority to millions of Americans who benefited from it.  It helped cut the cost of child — cut — help cut child poverty in half last year. 
 
So, I’m not going to negotiate from here, obviously, but I just want to give the context of some of the factors.
 
Q    So it sounds like the Child Tax Credit’s extension will remain in the negotiations on what the White House (inaudible).
 
MS. PSAKI:  Again, I think there’s a lot of discussions to happen over the next couple of weeks.  But on the question of “Could we just move it forward alone?”, you’d need 60 votes to do that.

Q    Then I have a totally different question.  USA Today reported this week that an employee of the press corps — peace — sorry, the Peace Corps.  No, no, not the press corps.  (Laughter.)
 
MS. PSAKI:  Oh, I was like, I don’t speak for all of you. 
 
Q    No, sorry.  The Peace Corps. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yes.
 
Q    We all know the Peace Corps.  Struck and killed a street vendor after a night of drinking in Tanzania in 2019.  Embassy officials rushed him home before he could face charges and continued paying him for more than a year after the incident.  Does the administration feel this was handed appropri- — handled appropriately, including paying for the — this worker to fo- — paying this worker to stay home and keeping him on staff for 18 months?
 
MS. PSAKI:  That sounds like an incredibly sad story.  I would point you to the State Department, who would be the right source for any information about this particular case. 
 
Go ahead.  Okay, I got to wrap it up in a second here.  Sorry.
 
Q    Jen, a couple questions on COVID.  I know, yesterday, the President was basically suggesting folks who are vaccinated and boosterized can celebrate Christmas travel as needed and as they had been hoping to. 
 
I just wanted to understand, though, the disconnect between what he is advising and what the WHO has been saying, which is suggesting that folks should cancel their holiday plans and rethink some of that.  And can you just explain to me what the administration’s thinking is?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, we abide by the CDC guidance and what their recommendations are, which continues to be — and I know there’ll be a briefing later this afternoon — that if you are — if you are fully vaccinated — ideally, boosted — that, you know, you can gather with your family members.  And that continues to be the guidance we’re providing to the American people.
 
Q    Do you have any advice for the parents of young children who are under the age of five who cannot get their children vaccinated — what they ought to do this holiday season?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I certainly understand that as a parent of a child under five myself.  And we understand one of the steps we’re obviously trying to take is to make testing more available.  We understand the frustration with that.  We’re trying to boost that as quickly, certainly, as we can. 
 
If individuals are not, in families, there are cases where wearing masks is something that the CDC has recommended.  But really, we would advise anyone with children to go to the CDC website, to get guidance from there and abide by it as you consider your travel and gatherings.
 
Q    (Inaudible) can feel, I guess, comfortable to travel as (inaudible) — since the CDC guidelines —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Again, I think we continue — that is what we abide by, that is what we listen to, and that is what guidance we follow from here. 
 
I can do one more, and then I got to — I got to run here.  Ed, go ahead.
 
Q    Thank you, Jen.  The President talked about the economy today.  In the last Fox Business poll that was released on Friday and on Monday, registered voters were asked if the economic policies have helped them: 38 percent of registered voters said it hurt them; 43 percent said it made no difference at all.  Also, 22 percent of registered voters said the President’s policies are putting inflation — are getting inflation under control is only 22 percent.  Half is saying that it’s hurting inflation.  At what point do you look at poll numbers like this and change course on the economic policies?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think our economic policies are driven by economists, not by polls.  And what economists and our policy experts think will help to continue on the record of job creation, the record of economic growth, the greatest in 50 years for any President that we’ve seen over the last year.
 
We also, though, are human beings here.  We’re empathetic, and we know, too, the challenges people are going through, which is that we’re still battling through a pandemic.  Life doesn’t look like what it looked like a few years ago.  That is our number-one priority: continuing to work to address that, making sure we’re getting more people vaccinated, getting more masks and getting more tests out there to the American public. 
 
But we’re going to be driven by policies.  We’re not going to be driven by the ups and downs of the polls. 
 
Thanks, everyone. 
 
Q    Jen, and one on supply chains, from the President’s meeting, real quick?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I’m happy to talk to folks later.  I got to run into a meeting.
 
But thank you so much.  We’ll see you later.
 
1:12 P.M. EST 

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